Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Being back in Vigo, weather, and maternal modesty or aggression!

Here we are back in Vigo after a week in Sanxenxo, where Phil became the superveterano in the chess tournament and won yet another ceramic boat. Pretty soon he will have a whole flotilla, and a couple of days in Pontevedra, where we made up for drinking very little in Sanxenxo by having some very nice wine with just about every meal. Well, not breakfast - we are not quite that bad! As usual I walked down from Poio, where our friend lives, almost into town to buy bread for breakfast. I had been assured there was a shop halfway down the hill but failed to find it ... until I discovered that it didn't open until after 10.00 in the morning. Not a lot of use?

The Sanxenxo tournament was a week earlier than usual this year, which is just as well as the weather has turned blustery and intermittently rainy today. We had a splendid week in Sanxenxo, mostly not too hot but just right. One lady I spoke too on one of the hotter (28 degrees) days told me how nice and cool it was compared to her home town, which turned out to be Toledo, where temperatures were up to 40. Excessive!

Also excessive, in my opinion anyway, is the modern obsession some famous women seem to have with showing off their pregnant bellies. Beyoncé did it and the latest is Serena Williams whose naked photo appears on the cover of Vanity Fair. It's quite tasteful, nothing too garish and with a carefully placed hand over her breasts. But why does she feel a need to show off her naked bump at all? She also tweeted it, inviting people to guess whether she was having a boy or girl. “I’m waiting to find out but would love to hear your thoughts,” she said.

On the same day that her photo appeared John McEnroe, never renowned for holding his tongue, apparently refused to apologise for saying Williams would be ranked around No 700 in the world if she played in the men’s game. A rather mean comment, in my opinion! In response to this Serena Williams told McEnroe to “respect me and my privacy as I’m trying to have a baby”. Where does privacy come into it when you are prepared to bare your body to the world?

I hope I am not turning into a prude!

Other creatures are much less prepared to show off their young. I read today that bears are attacking people in Alaska. I found the headline quite alarming until it became clear that this was in wild woodland areas. On four occasions recently people running and cycling have been attacked, two of them fatally, probably because they went, probably unwittingly, too close to where the bears had their cubs. I have heard of people in Cornwall having to avoid certain roads and paths which go too close to where seagulls are nesting so surely it makes sense to avoid paths near places where bears make their dens. Both species are known to be very protective of their young but the bears are probably more dangerous.

Mind you, I wouldn't tangle with a seagull!

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Seats on plains, buses and potties!

Here are a couple of odd stories about seats on planes and buses. First of all this article on who "owns" the space a seat on an airplane can recline into. Some people get very territorial about it. Personally I am inclined to ask people on buses not to recline their seats as the space left for me and my legs and my book is usually very inadequate. I only do short haul flights so it's not usually a problem on planes.

 More seriously, an 82-year-old Holocaust survivor and a former lawyer, Renee Rabinowitz, has recently successfully sued Israels national airline, El Al, for gender discrimination. Flight stewards can no longer request female passengers to move seats to accommodate ultra-orthodox men who do not want to sit next to them. It seems to me that if ultra-orthodox Jewish men don't want sit next to women on planes then they should not get on planes. If you want to live according to rules from a previous age, you should not expect to use the trappings of modern living!

We should congratulate Renee Rabinowitz for her successful action. "Chapeau", as the French would say. We take our hat off to her. Oddly enough, the other day I was reading a Spanish novel in which a character congratulated another on something by saying "chapo", clearly a Spanish version of the French word. Not an uncommon event, after all "croissant" has been gradually changing into "curasán".

I hear that there are plans afoot to dig up Salvador Dalí. 58 year old Pilar Abel claims that she is the daughter of the artist, the outcome of an affair her mother had with Salvador Dalí back in the 1950s. A court has decreed that the artist can be exhumed so that DNA tests can be carried put. Such are the wonders of modern technology.

Among the other odd things I have read recently is an article about potty training. Opinions abound about bringing children and how to look after your tiny baby. This one reckons that you should start potty training from birth, learning from day one to recognise the signs that your tiny one is about to pee or poo and holding the minuscule bottom over a little potty. Enthusiasts say that babies learn quickly and thus you can be environmentally friendly by not using disposable nappies or even having to use detergents on terry nappies. “Also, it’s fun,” adds Amber Hatch, author of a book on the subject. “It’s really confidence-boosting to hold a squirming baby over a potty and see them do a wee or poo. You get this instant feedback. And cleaning them is much easier: just one quick wipe and you’re done. It’s not a big operation on a changing table using hundreds of wipes. It’s quite a pleasant way of dealing with your baby’s wee and poo.”

It strikes me that Ms Hatch is perhaps a little too obsessed with these bodily functions! Surely other aspects of child development are more fulfilling. Our daughter delights in all sorts of things that her tiny daughter achieves but somehow she has missed the boat on potty training as the child is now almost ten months old!

So it goes!  

Monday, 26 June 2017

Coincidence and likely stories in the Southwest of Spain.

My sister, who lives in the Southwest of Spain posted something on Facebook today about coincidences.

Years ago, when I was still working as an A-Level Spanish teacher, students could choose a Spain-related topic to research and then write a piece of coursework in Spanish on that topic. A good choice of topic was always something related to El Coto Doñana, the nature reserve down in the Southwest corner of the peninsula with lots of environmental questions to answer, gaining good marks for students.

An area of natural wetlands, Doñana was always under threat from agricultural projects that wanted to make use of the water supply. Intensive polytunnel developments, growing those all-year-round strawberries and other soft fruit sold in supermarkets in the UK, were amongst the most guilty. The WWF and other environmental organisations have long fought to protect it but it's hard work. There is a National Park there with research facilities in the middle of what they refer to as the natural park. 

On the 26th of June this year fire broke out in the woodland areas of the natural park, near a development of polytunnel greenhouses. As the fires in Portugal have shown, fires of this kind are devastating. Fire fighters managed, I think, to prevent the fire from spreading to the National Park area. Some people, like my almost Andalusian sister, have been pointing out a series of coincidences: 

In 2014, a law was passed, the Ley de Montes, which says that woodland areas can be reclassified after a fire provided the government agrees that project requiring that reclassification can be declare to be "of public usefulness". (A fair number of forest fires have been suspected of being deliberately started as a result.)

In 2015 Gas Natural Fenosa came up with a project for gas storage tanks in the Doñana area.

In 2016 the government declared this project to be "de utilidad pública".

And in 2017 there is a forest fire in the Doñana natural park.

 It's rather a shame I no longer have students looking for interesting topics for coursework projects.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Hasta la vista, Sanxenxo.

And so we say goodbye to Sanxenxo for another year. And another tournament comes to an end. The final result later today.

We shall not be indulging in the latest insurance scam. I read this morning that the latest thing for the ambulance chasing insurance companies in the UK is to approach people on all-inclusive holidays in Spain, Greece, Turkey or wherever and persuade them to sue the hotel for food-poisoning!! They have no need of a medical certificate and the hotels end up paying. But the greedy tourists may be shooting themselves in the foot as some hoteliers on the Costa del Sol are talking of withdrawing the all-inclusive deals for British tourists. Whatever will they do when they can no longer eat and drink as much as they like?

But not us. We don't do that.

And so ...

goodbye to the fine views over the ria..

goodbye to La Madama de Silgar ...

and goodbye to sand dragons on the beach ...

See you next year!

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Food stories.

Beware of electronic kitchen itensils. "A popular French fitness blogger has died after a whipped cream dispenser exploded into her chest. Rebecca Burger, 33, who wrote about fitness and travel on social media, where she had 55,000 Facebook and 154,000 Instagram followers, died last weekend in what her family described as a “domestic accident” at her home at Mulhouse, eastern France." I read about this and, while sorry that she had died, found myself with a couple of questions. What was a fitness blogger doing using whipped cream? And what's wrong with just whipping it with a fork or a hand whisk? Far less dangerous!

Belgium is famous for chips. The French used to make jokes about it, rather like people used to make jokes about the Irish being potato eaters. I doubt if any of those jokes are acceptable these days. Whatever the truth of that might be, Belgian chips have been in the news because the European Commission is trying to tell the Belgians how to cook them. Apparently local politicians say this amounts to an attempt to ban the national dish, the frite – or frieten, as they say in the Flemish-speaking north of the country. "Whether eaten with mayonnaise or taken au naturel, the Belgian chip is up there with chocolate, beer and the national football team in the nation’s psyche." Or so they say.

"No public square is complete without a frietkot, or chip stand, where sellers swear by double frying bintje potatoes in beef or horse fat to achieve the ideal combination of a succulent centre and crispy exterior. In a move that appears to demonstrate a dazzling lack of common touch on the part of EU officials in Brussels – which is both the capital of Belgium and the home of the union – the commission is proposing that the potatoes should be blanched first to prevent the formation of acrylamide, an allegedly hazardous compound that can form in the frying process when certain foods are heated to a temperature above 120C."

There I was, prepared to be full of sympathy, until I read the bit about frying the chips in beef or horse fat. Quite gross! I know of a fish and chip shop near our home in Greater Manchester, a fish and chip shop of some renown, where they fry the chips in dripping. It's the same principle: animal fat! I am sure both lots of chips, Belgian and English, taste fine but the animal fat thing is rather off-putting to someone like me who rarely eats red meat!

Here's another quite gross food item, from Wednesday:

 "Police in Canada have launched an investigation after a patron at a Yukon bar allegedly stole the famed ingredient of their signature drink: a mummified human toe. For more than 40 years the Downtown hotel in Dawson City has served up the sourtoe cocktail, a shot of whisky with a blackened toe – nail and all – bobbing inside. Those who manage to touch the gnarled, severed toe to their lips earn a certificate.

On Saturday a customer took it one step further, allegedly making off with the wrinkled digit after swallowing his drink. “We are furious,” said Terry Lee of the hotel. “Toes are very hard to come by.”

The man had apparently boasted of his plans to steal the toe earlier in the evening. He later convinced a staff member to let him try the drink outside of the designated two-hour window known at the bar as toe time. “And this is how he pays her back,” Lee said in a news release. “What a lowlife.”

The  tradition claims to trace its roots to the 1920s, when a rum runner preserved his frostbitten, amputated big toe in a jar of alcohol in his cabin. Fifty years later, the pickled toe was discovered by a Yukon native who brought it to the Downtown, where it became a celebrated ingredient in its drinks. After Saturday’s theft, the hotel contacted the police and began offering a reward to anyone with information. “We fortunately have a couple of back-up toes, but we really need this one back,” said Lee. It was the newest addition to their collection, donated by a man who had had to have his toe surgically removed. After curing it for six months in salt, the staff had only begun adding it to drinks this week."

"Toes are hard to come by"!!! "Back-up toes"!!! Some things are just too disgusting to think about. Worms in drinks are quite enough, without human body parts.

 On a more cheerful note, this is part of what we had for our evening meal quite late yesterday.

Since it was "la noche de San Juan", there was a smell of bonfires on the air, and the delicious aroma of sardines grilling. We got a free sardine with our first drink but we did not leap over any bonfires.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Ritual meals and such like nonsense!

Last night we went to the annual special dinner organised for the chess tournament. Those chessplayers and accompanying family members who are staying in the hotel are invited every year. It's usually very fine. Last night was no exception.

We began with copious helpings of very nice "croquetas" together with pan a la catalana (ie bread rubbed with garlic and tomato) with rather fine serrano ham on top. After this came little empanadas, looking for all the world like tiny Cornish pasties. And then we were served so many plates of octopus (very nice, tender octopus too) that jokes were being made about how it could be recycled for today's lunch: a kind of sopa de pulpo for starters, an empanada de pulpo for the main course and a mus de pulpo (octopus mousse along the lines of chocolate mousse) for dessert.

Some guests were disappointed that there were no percebes (goose barnacles), a seriously over-rated and over-priced regional shellfish delicacy in my opinion. Much discussion ensued. According to one couple, it is still too early in the season. Another denied this, telling a tale of a goose barnacle caught/prized off a rock recently as big as a fist. Sceptics thought this might not taste as good as usual but were assured that it was tender and flavoursome.

Comments flew around about everyone's favourite shellfish. The local nécoras - razor clams - came in for much praise. I tried to think of how a similar conversation might go in England. Apart from black pudding in some parts of the north of England, it was rather hard to think what food items people would get quite so regionally patriotic about. Maybe certain kinds of cakes.

We were all of us trying to resist the temptation to eat too much in these early stages of the meal. We were saving ourselves for the main course: arroz con bogavante - a tasty rice dish with lobster. Some people regard it as paella but it is not really the same. It was delicious, as usual, although I am always left wondering whether dishes that involve cracking open the claws and bony shells of sea creatures to obtain a fairly small amount of meat are really, truly worth the effort involved. No doubt Galician friends would regard this as a kind of heresy.

Here comes another bit of heresy. At the end of the meal, during which we had all downed a fair amount of excellent Albariño wine, we were invited to go down into the deepest depths of the building for a "queimada". This is a drinking ritual where large quantities of orujo, Galician firewater, are mixed with sugar and chopped fruit and set alight. As it burns, the mixture is stirred, large ladlefuls are raised up, spouting blue and yellow flames, and then dropped back into the cauldron, by whoever is brave enough, daft enough, fireproof enough or paid enough to do so. In this case it was one of the waiters.

While this went on a recording told us all about it in respectful tones.

Whenever I have seen this done before it has involved people dressed up as witches and magicians, some walking around on stilts or doing wild dervish-like dances, and a general atmosphere of ritual magic. We had none of that this time but there was inevitably some gaita - Galician bagpipes - music.

Eventually the flames died down and we were all served a little glass of hot, fruity firewater.

All well and good but personally I would have preferred a little chupito of licor de café.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

The solstice.

So yesterday was the summer solstice, which won't be celebrated here for a few days yet as they celebrate it with bonfires on the eve of St John's day. The longest day has been and gone. You might say thatvit's all down hill from now on and the days will start to get shorter. However I don't think we'll notice it just yet.

In the southern hemisphere, of course, it was the winter solstice. I read about a place in Australia where they celebrate the midwinter day by having a swim in the cold water of the ocean. SOme places do this on New Year's Day. Anyway this place in Australia had so many participants signed up for it this year, and so manybwho actually turned up on the date - as a rule more register than turn up -  that they ran out of towels and some people had to stand and shiver after they got out of the water. If only all the world's problems were so easily.

So here, to celebrate the summer solstice, are some pictures of our visit to Sanxenxo.