Monday, 29 June 2015

Things fall apart. But not all things.

Apparently about 30% of the Great Wall of China has disappeared. Natural wear and tear is part of it. After all, that wall has been there a long time - they started building it in the third century BC - and for a good deal of the time it has stood there people weren't really aware of the need to preserve monuments. And then people have been more than just careless; some people have stolen bricks to build houses. I suppose that has always happened to ancient constructions. And in more recent times, visitors have been stealing stones as souvenirs. Not quite the same as picking up a few sea shells when you go on holiday! And we know places that won't allow that! 

And Greece is seriously heading for meltdown. Imagine none of the hole-in-the-wall cash machines in your town, no, your whole country, just not working! What do you do when you have spent up the cash in your pocket. Presumably the credit card system doesn't work properly either, 

Ancient civilisations are falling apart! 

It's a good job poolside life is still carrying on in a stable fashion here in Pontevedra, or rather, Poio, where we are now spending a couple of nights at our friend Colin's house. Golden girls are working in getting there tan even more evenly golden, children are leaping into the water and playing a kind of watery blind-man's buff where one child closes his eyes and calls out, "Marco", to which the others respond, "Polo" and the first has to try to catch them, and grandfathers are still teaching the little kids to swim. 

 This after Phil's eventual success at the Sanxenxo tournament. After working manfully to defeat the oldest player in the tournament, a grand old man of about 85, in the last round, Phil scored enough to put him in line for a prize. Not just any bold veteran's prize, which he has won before now, but the prize for the "Superveterano", winning him not only a cash prize (a contribution to our hotel bill) but also a boat. 

Okay, it's only a pot boat but it is really quite charming, undoubtedly the best-looking trophy he has ever won.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Endings. Words. Clothes.

So, another Sanxenxo chess tournament draws to a close. We have eaten the "cena especial" and thoroughly enjoyed it. We have made a few new friends and been reunited with some old ones. Phil has masochistically sweated over the chessboard while I have swum in leisurely fashion up and down the pool and walked, Spanish fashion, up and down the tideline on the beach. This morning I paid the bill while Phil played his last game, fortified with the occasional cafe cortado, transported by yours truly to the playing area. 

Here are some odd words I have culled from items in the local papers. El disyoquei - this is the Spanish for disc jockey. The word has been hispanified in the good traditional way, missing sounds out and adjusting others to match the Spanish tongue, not to mention Spanish spelling. Disyoquei is the profession of Calvin Harris, boyfriend of the singer Taylor Swift. The couple are known collectively as Tayvin. Kanye West and Kin Kardashian are known as Kimye. This might seem like a new trend but decades ago Phil and I were known to friends as Phil'n'Anth. We never knew we were trend setters way back then. 

Yesterday the much talked about wedding took place in the hotel. Paula and Daniel (perhaps now known collectively as Pauda - you never know) were married with much cheering and shouting. This was the noisiest wedding I have ever heard but perhaps this is normal for Spain. Later in the afternoon there was also a baptism party for a little Rodrigo, also a very noisy affair and which was still going strong at 11.30 when we returned from eating out with one of our new friends. 

Another word I found is "el bum" - the boom, as in, "El bum de los pazos y las fincas entre los novios comenzó en torno al 2008". Not so much a "boom" as a "trend" or "fashion" - the fashion for getting married in stately homes began around 2008. 

The Spanish, and he French for that matter, have long had the habit of inventing would-be English words ending in "ing". In some cases they are novel uses of a word that does actually exist: "el camping" for a camp sight and "el parking" for a car park are the oldest examples I can remember. Then came "el footing" for jogging, a silly word if ever there was one. 

Now I have come across "el scrapbooking", which seems to mean anything from making your own greeting cards to the kind of craft projects where you make cardboard holders for letters or fancy photo frames with a personalised look. All have something to do with cutting and sticking but not a lot to do with scrapbooks. Holiday-related stuff gives us "el vacacioning" and "el crucering", the latter based on the word "crucero" which means cruise. As far as I am concerned these all beat the false Spanish of "no problemo" used by loads of English people, probably originating in some cartoon series on the television. Oddly enough, I heard a small Spanish girl say it down by the pool the other day. Drives me mad! 

Second hand clothes feature in the news as well. This comes from one of those society magazines that abound in hairdressing salons and on the bar in the cafeteria here in the Hotel Carlos I Silgar. Somewhere in the USA they are auctioning, among other things, the dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in her last film and a Versace dress specially designed for Princes Diana. The former is expected to fetch between $300,000 and $500,000 and the latter between $60,000 and $80,000. Hollywood royalty trumps British royalty! 

But in the end, they are still second hand clothes.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

This Sporting Life. Beach football.

I am sure it is great fun to play. You scrabble together enough people to make up two five-a-side teams, mark out a pitch in the sand and away you go. At least that's what I thought happened. And then the other night, there it was on the screen of the TV in the cafe where we were having a light supper. International beach football. Spain versus Italy. Yes, they still played barefoot on the sand but there were tiers of seats for spectators and it all looked very professional. Even the rolling around on the sand in agony when they didn't enjoy being tackled looked authentic. 

I must say, I was surprised. What's next? Beach ping pong? You know what I mean, you buy a couple of bats that look an awful lot like table tennis bats, and a brightly coloured ball. As there is no table to bounce off, you have to keep the ball in the air. They could organise leagues in two types of beach ping pong: beach ping pong on the sand and beach ping pong in the water. It might be hard to make the spectators' seating around the latter but with a bit of ingenuity, it could be done. 

Then there is sandcastle building. I am sure that has been done in individual seaside resorts but, as far as I know, never on a national scale, let alone international. For this, and for beach ping pong, you might need to work out some rules and regulations but you can always find someone who enjoys that kind of administrative task. 

Perhaps I should put together a proposal (is that the right term?) and tout it around the TV channels. After all, they televise darts and snooker! 

By coincidence, today I came across something called "calcio storico ", Italian for "historic football". It was invented in 16th century Florence and involves two teams of 27 people, having a free-for-all to gain possession of a ball and posting it through a very small goal. The original name meant something like "Florentine kicking game". The Italian word for football, "calcio" derives from this. "Calcio storico" has rules, of sorts. Sucker-punches and kicks to the head are prohibited but headbutting, punching, elbowing, and choking are all allowed. Here is a link to some photos of the game in action.

It would not be the only brutal sport to go on, even now in the 21st century. Just the other day someone died when a bull managed to gore one of his tormentors. It was one of those small town Spain fiestas. A bull is released into a small square, People enter the improvised ring and harass the bull. When he is provoked to charge, they run and hide behind barriers. This time the bull was very determined and the barrier was too flimsy. The bull got his own back! 

I am not quite convinced this is really the 21st century!

Friday, 26 June 2015

Things seen and lost from the terraza. Invitations.

Years ago, when "Friends" was still at the height of its popularity as a TV series, there was one episode where the very juvenile young adults gathered to look excitedly through a window into the flat opposite. One of then had discovered that the bloke who lived there tended to walk around without any clothes, disregarding uncurtained windows. They referred to him as the "ugly naked guy", largely because he was rather plump, not a perfectly toned, sun kissed god of a man. (I have read that the latest fashion is not for toned and tightly-muscled but for a slightly plump man with just a hint of beer belly. I so hate being told what is the ideal man!) 

I was reminded of this episode of "Friends" as I sat on our terraza this morning and, chancing to look up, saw a large, naked male backside in a window opposite. The owner of the aforementioned backside must not have realised how close to the window he had strayed nor how visible he was. One should always be careful about displaying one's charms in windows. This is not Amsterdam, after all. 

That was not only terraza incident this morning. Some time later I heard an expletive. A chessplayer of our acquaintance was looking down from a balcony round the corner and one floor up from our terraza. On enquiring, I discovered he had hung a towel and a pair is swimming shorts on the balcony rail and they had disappeared. The obvious answer was that they had fallen but he could see no sign of them below. I saw him at the pool later and had been able to reclaim them, so all was well. Otherwise I might have thought they had gone the way of my towel and Phil's cushion. 

Yesterday, at lunchtime, we arrived at the dining room to find the door closed. This was a short while after the usual time. Other people were also waiting. Eventually word filtered through that we had all been moved to another dining room on the lower floor. A notice to that effect would have been useful. It turns out that they were preparing the room for a wedding party. As the room still looks as though it is being prepared, I do not know whether the wedding has taken place or not. If it has, then they have been a very quiet bunch of wedding guests. We have heard no music, no sound at all in fact, and I have not seen hide nor hair of a bride! Another mysterious disappearance! 

Tonight we shall eat "arroz con bogavante", a local speciality dish with rice and lobster. It's the special chess tournament supper event. We feel privileged to be invited. Not everyone in the tournament gets to go. Perhaps you have to be staying at the event hotel. Perhaps you need to have got to know the organisers quite well, which we have over the years. Anyway we look forward to this event every year and had begun to wonder if it was cancelled or if, even worse, we were not among those invited! Shock! Horror! 

But invitations were issued over lunch yesterday, along with free passes for those accompanying chessplayers, but not the players themselves, for a free session in the "piscina dinámica" (whatever a dynamic pool is!!!) and for the "sillones relax (again, whatever, exactly, a relaxation armchair is). 

Hmm, they do head massages here, I wonder if I could swop those free sessions for a free head massage!

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Stuff to do to improve your complexion!

Still on the subject of traditions connected with Saint John and the midsummer festivities, here's a little something. A friend of mine wrote yesterday on Facebook, "La nuit de la Saint-Jean, il est costume de cueillir des plantes du jardin et de les laisser toute la nuit dans de l'eau au frais." Which means that it is customary on the eve of St John to pick certain plants from the garden and leave them overnight in water in a cool place. My friend also explained the next step which is to get up at dawn and wash your face in the water the plants have stood in overnight. It's supposed to be really good for your complexion. 

I was staying with a friend In A Coruña one year at this time and she offered to wake me early so that I could wash my face in the flower water she had collected. I declined. Somehow I think my complexion benefitted more from a good night's sleep than from being washed in water from a flower vase! I wasn't quite so rude as that when I turned down her offer, I hasten to say. 

Getting back to my friend who posted on Facebook, the automatic translator wrote this, "The night of the Saint-Jean, it is customary to gather plants of the garden and let them all night in water at the expense." Oh, the joy of automatic translators! The sentence begins reasonably well, perhaps a little stilted but at least comprehensible. It starts to go wrong when it selects "let" instead of "leave" as a translation for "laisser". Both English words are correct but you have to use them according to the context. Then it goes rapidly downhill into translationese gobbledegook. In French, "au frais" means "in the cool" or "in a cool place". "Les frais" means the costs or the expense. "Les frais du voyage", for example, would be "the cost of the journey" or "travel expenses". 

Hence the weird, nonsense end of sentence: "let them all night in water at the expense". 

The moral of the story is never to trust automatic translators. These computer programmes are fine for individual words. In fact the best of them will even give you examples which put those individual words into context. What they can't deal with are whole sentences. Even less, whole paragraphs. So far, human beats computer hands down in the area. It will undoubtedly change! 

Here is a list of the plants/herbs/flowers you should stand overnight in water on the eve of St John: 

Romero.     Rosemary.
Espliego.    Lavender.
Tomillo.     Thyme.
Lavanda.    Lavender 
Melisa.       Lemon balm.
Helecho.    Fern.
Rosas .       Roses.

Notice that there are two Spanish words for lavender. Now, I always thought that lavender was just lavender but it would seem that I was wrong. I have no idea what the difference is between "espliego" and "lavanda" but I expect horticultural experts would know. Oh, yes, and witches. Because there is a little bit of witchcraft in here as well. You have to wash your face in the smelly water at dawn. Goodness knows what happens if you do it at the wrong time. Maybe you turn into a toad or something. 

Other people, frequently famous people, also do odd things with their faces. Rachel Cook, a food writer, was writing about honey, in particular about specialist honey recommended by food-faddy "celebrities". There is a honey called Manuka, apparently. Rachel Cook expresses her loathing for any kind of foodstuff that comes trailing celebrity fans. In this case, Gwyneth Paltrow is a great believer in manuka and maintains it has a large number of good qualities. And Scarlett Johansson, someone I thought of until now as quite a sensible actress, rubs it into her face – here’s the science bit – to “pull out the impurities”. Really! I know honey is good for a body but I understood that to be from eating it, not rubbing it into your skin! 

Wikipedia says, 

"Mānuka honey is a monofloral honey produced in New Zealand and Australia from the nectar of the mānuka tree. The honey is commonly sold as an alternative medicine. While a component found in Manuka honey has demonstrated antibacterial properties in vitro, there is no conclusive evidence of benefit in medical use and no evidence that the whole honey has any benefit." 

According to Rachel Cook a jar of Manuka honey could cost you £33.95. Maybe that's why celebrities favour it: the exclusive nature! What's more, Ms. Cook is not impressed by the taste: "its bitter taste has always seemed to me to be the very opposite of what honey should be, which is to say sweet and comforting." 

I suppose someone has to make money out of alternative remedies to stuff. Florists here in Galicia were selling bunches of "hierbas de San Juan" but I don't think they see charging silly prices for them.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Bonfires, ice cream and disappearing stuff.

At midnight last night, or thereabouts, we could hear fireworks going off but we could see nothing at all from our hotel balcony. It was the "Noche de San Juan", the eve of the feast day of Saint John, John the Baptist I think. On the night of the 23rd of June in Spain and Portugal and indeed in all sorts of places all over the world, including Norway and Denmark, bonfires are lit. According to Wikipedia this is a Christian, but also pagan, festival. Well, of course, celebrating the summer solstice and incorporating it into the Christian calendar. That sort of thing happened a lot. 

Here the tradition is that you should jump over the bonfire as it dies down. The more times you manage to leap over it, the more good fortune you will have. Some say it also cements your relationship with your boyfriend/girlfriend. The local newspaper yesterday had information about where to go to see a good San Juan bonfire. It said A Coruña's Riazor beach is one of the best places. I can vouch for that. The year I saw it, the beach was full of bonfires, all rather too close to each other for my liking. My British awareness of health and safety issues was coming to the fore. But the sight was quite spectacular. 

During the day people carried stuff down to the beach to build their bonfires. There were police at the access points, preventing people from getting rid of their old sofas and other dangerously toxic rubbish. In the places that allow bonfires on the beach, they try to control what goes onto the fires. 

Many places don't allow bonfires on the beach. We asked at the restaurant where we ate last night if there was one near here. Sanxenxo's Silgar beach bans fires; it's too close to the town centre, apparently. That does not appear to affect things in A Coruña though. But they make a very big thing about it there, with a kind of "statue", similar to the "fallas" of Valencia, usually depicting something satirical about the local council. They set fire to it with great ceremony at midnight. 

The nearest one our waitress knew about was in Poio, rather too far for a late evening stroll. This morning, however, we found the remains of a fair-sized bonfire in a little square at the junction of several backstreets. (We tend to find all the back ways in places we visit.) it was still smouldering away nicely. I was reminded of the morning after Bonfire Night in my childhood, when we would go out into the garden to see if we could coax the fire back into life and extend the fun a little longer. The attraction of fire must be universal. 

Even if I were daft enough to leap over any bonfire, I would not have liked to leap over the bonfire whose remains we found, a good six feet across, practically the long jump as far as I am concerned. In yesterday's paper there was a little section on advice about burns. Along with the usual stuff about not bursting blisters and not applying cream there was this little item: "First of all, if you are jumping bonfires, always wear cotton clothing, never synthetics". Good advice; synthetic fabrics tend to melt into the skin, aggravating the burn. My advice, however, would be much simpler: DON'T JUMP OVER BONFIRES!!!! 

In some parts of Italy, I discovered, the 24th of June is a public holiday. In Florence, a parade traditionally occurs at the city centre, followed by fireworks over the Arno River in the evening. The web page where I found that information went on, "A popular activity while watching the fireworks is eating gelato, which is similar to ice cream." How amazing, "gelato", the Italian for ice cream, is "similar to ice cream". Who knew? 

Similar to ice cream is frozen yoghurt, something which has become very popular in recent years. I suspect someone decided it was healthier than ordinary ice cream. Mind you, with the amount of sugar that some yoghurts contain, this is probably not the case. Anyway, there is a chain of frozen yoghurt parlours (there's another term to play with!) called Smóoy. There's one on the promenade here in Sanxenxo. I have often wondered exactly how the Spanish pronounce it. Well, yesterday I saw an advert for it on TV. A crazy-looking young man was yelling into his mobile "¡Estoy en Smóoy!" Pronounced to rhyme with "estoy", it comes out as " ess...mo...oy", with the stress on the middle "mo". So now I know! 

I returned to the indoor pool yesterday (la piscina climatizada) as it was still a little chilly for outdoor swimming, even for me. Down I went in the lift, hotel bathrobe over my swimsuit, my door key and the obligatory swimming cap in the pocket of my robe, and the hotel towel, the one clearly intended for use in the spa section of the hotel, over my arm. I swam for a good while, up and down the pool, until I had had enough. When I got out and went to the lounger where I had left my towel and robe, there was no towel. Thinking back, I remembered a group of elderly folk being called out of the pool to go for their pre-booked session in the spa. I also remembered seeing one of them with two towels, one over his arm and the other still neatly folded. The silly old fool had clearly commandeered my towel as well as his own, even though his own stuff, including a robe, was on a lounger at the other end of the line. I suppose I was lucky he did not take my robe as well or I would have had to go to reception in nothing but my soggy swimsuit to explain that I could not get back into my room! 

Now, if they do an inventory of stuff in our room (or NOT in our room) they will find that we are missing a spa towel and a cushion. The other day Phil took a cushion down to the chess playing room to boost his seat a little. The chairs are elegant and quite comfortable but a little low for sitting at a chess board. After his mammoth game he forgot to pick up the cushion. By the time we thought of it, the room was locked. Next day there was no sign of it. 

I just hope they don't think we are spiriting stuff away to sell on the black market, or on the Sunday flea market in Pontevedra!

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Out and about.

This morning after breakfast we took a stroll to nearby Portonovo, where there are some nice beaches but the place looks a bit more rundown than Sanxenxo. It's not a walk to do in the hot sunshine but today is a bit overcast so it was a good walk, mostly along boardwalks close to the beach. 

We had hoped that there would have been time for our room to have been sorted by the hotel staff in our absence but they had not reached our door by the time we got back. We may have to make do without housekeeping today! The playground we went past on our way to Portonovo was jam-packed full this morning. It might, of course, be because the schools have now broken up and there are just more children around to play there. Or it may be that parents of holiday-making children have decided that today is not a beach day and so are availing themselves of the playground. I fail to understand the reluctance to go and play in the beach in cloudy weather. OK, it may not be the kind of weather for going in and out of the sea or stretching out and toasting yourself but it's perfect for building complicated sand castles, which used to be a favourite holiday occupation of our son. How often we waited for the tide to come in and fill the moat of a very elaborate construction! But this morning, apart from a few hardy souls walking the timeline, the beach was almost as deserted at 12.00 as it had been at 9.00. 

Among other things, yesterday I read in the newspapers about new immigration rules to be introduced in the UK which will mean that lower-earning non-EU workers can be deported. After April next year non-EU workers who are earning less than £35.000 a year after being on the UK for six years will have to go. This is causing consternation for the Royal College of Nursing because it means that loads of foreign trained nurses, recruited at great cost by the NHS, will have to leave. A spokesperson said, “The NHS has spent millions hiring nurses from overseas in order to provide safe staffing levels. These rules will mean that money has just been thrown down the drain. “The UK will be sending away nurses who have contributed to the health service for six years. Losing their skills and knowledge and then having to start the cycle again and recruit to replace them is completely illogical.” 

Did no one see this coming? Why are they not recruiting in the UK? I know from my experience as a sixth form tutor how hard it is for young people to get onto nurse training courses. The system is crazy. 

Meanwhile, I have seen on the streets of Sanxenxo a beggar with a cardboard sign that read "ESPAÑOL sin recursos" pointing out that he is a SPANIARD without any means of support, not some FOREIGN beggar, I assume. 

And last night, as we strolled along the promenade here, we spotted an odd young man, long and lean and sunburnt, scruffily dressed, barefoot, wrapped in a blanket of sorts. He was walking along with two young women - mincing, rather than walking, doing an odd sort of dance along the pavement, perhaps because the hard surface hurt his feet - laughing and chatting with them. Suddenly he thrust a plastic cup in our faces, making some comment to the young women at the same time. A beggar! But one with would-be style and panache, trying to impress the girls! We had moved on before we really had time to realise he was asking for money. 

How very odd!