Friday, 1 August 2014

New places again and popularity.

On Tuesday, walking back from chess club we popped into a cafe at the end of Aragón, the end where you see the crazy fountains that change into lurid colours in the evening. It was a hot evening and we fancied a refreshing drink on our way back, and then we spotted this cafe with wifi and went in. It's called Mid Century and is nicely decorated with odd artefacts from the fifties, such as one of those portable record players that fold up into a mini suitcase. You have to be a certain age to remember those. The music is fifties/sixties music as well and on Thursday evening the TV screen was showing a jive dancing session. All very nice. 

We've passed it numerous times before and have always remarked on how empty it is. On Wednesday evening, wanting a bit of a walk as the evening got cooler, we went back again and found more people there, both inside and out. Now, this may, of course, be just a coincidence but I have my doubts. At lunchtime we had been commenting with friends on the oddness of what makes some places popular while others remain empty. Remembering our friend Colin's theory that Spaniards, entering a cafe or restaurant, will choose to sit a table close to another occupied one (unlike the British who typically sit as far away from strangers as possible) we wondered if this had anything to bear on the question. 

We have often joked about offering our services to quiet restaurants: regularly sitting at a table where passers-by can see us and thus encouraging them to come in. The restaurateurs could offer us cheap food in return. Is this what has happened at the Mid Century? Did people see us in here on Tuesday and decide to try it out? 

At the weekend the Mid Century is organising a mini fiesta. People are invited to turn up in fifties/sixties clothes. On Friday there will be a make-up demonstration with Mary Kay cosmetics - these are the cosmetics sold by Evelyn Couch in the novel/film "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe". And then on Saturday, dance teachers will be there to teach customers to jive, or rather, to do the Lindy Hop. We found this out when we congratulated the charming young lady running the place on the decor and the music. It's all happening at mid Century!!! 

Oh, and the loos are very nice too. This is an important factor. I say this, having listened to Phil and our friend Grant complain about the gents' toilet at the Pygmalion, where the lights have a tendency to extinguish themselves far too quickly, apparently. The ladies' seemed all right to me but there you go. 

New words always interest me as well. My Italian friend Adalgisa used this on Facebook: selfiearsi, meaning to take a selfie. And on Travesía de Vigo, here in Vigo, I saw a shop called Mi Leidy, a boutique, I suppose. Then I worked it out; it is supposed to say "mi lady". It's that lovely Spanish habit of changing the spelling to match the pronunciation. Unlike penálty for pénalty, which I commented on in my last post. 

In the Spanish novel I am currently reading, "Malena es un nombre de Tango" by Alamudena Grandes, the protagonist is studying English at university. One evening she is chatted up by a chap who asks if she gives private English lessons as he is keen to improve his conversational English. She suggests he might be better with a native speaker, especially as she admits her pronunciation leaves something to be desired. His response - " Well, yes, but I don't understand them." - is so typical of Spaniards talking about learning English that it had me laughing out loud. 

Having said that, I remember teaching a pair of sisters in an advanced. French class who could read and write French quite competently but had been taught the most execrable pronunciation imaginable. 

You see, we and the Spanish have so much in common really.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Out and about!

A friend told me that today Vigo was forecast to be one of the hottest places in Spain, 35 degrees. Only Andalucía was supposed to be hotter, 36 degrees. I could well believe it. The billboard at the end of the road read 23 degrees at 9.15 this morning. 

That's a good time to be out and about. If you need to be somewhere in a hurry, it's still relatively cool. I occasionally see runners in the street at 5 or 6 in the afternoon. Much too hot. This morning, for the first time, I crossed someone running on my route in the opposite direction. Maybe I have started a trend. 

Late morning, I went down to the pool for a quick swim before going out for lunch. Once again my timing was right. I had swum and got out before the little boys arrived to play splashily. They seem to have two favourite games. 

One is "Penalty" involving one of them standing at the shallow end, near the steps and acting as a goal keeper while the other's throw a ball at him. If he saves the goal, he gets to change places with one of the others. If they score goals, there are cries of, "¡Gol! ¡Gol! ¡Gol!" or even "¡Qué golazo!" They obviously watch too much football commentary on TV. 

(I resist the temptation to correct their pronunciation of "penalty", which they say with the stress on the second syllable instead of the first. I'm getting quite good at forgetting that I am, or was, a languages teacher. When someone stopped us on the street the other day and asked us, "¿Tenéis fuego?" (Have you got a light?) and then, noticing that we had been speaking English, went on, "Fire? Fire?" I did not ask him where the fire was but simply told him, in Spanish, that we don't smoke. Such restraint on my part is quite admirable.) 

The other pool game is "mi primer amigo", also called "mi peor enemigo", and seems to consist of one person choosing another to throw the ball at, declaring, "Mi peor enemigo es ....". If he hits him he scores points. Who says children can't invent games? Mind you! I suppose it's quite hard to play with electronic games in the pool. 

After my swim we went out to meet friends for lunch, at the Pygmalion Restaurant, on Castelar, down near Vigo harbour. Very nice. Slightly more pricey than our usual menú but not extortionate and the food was good. 

 This is the second new (to us) restaurant we have visited in a week. The other was El Punto on Rua do Canceleiro, off Rosalía de Castro, where we went last Friday when El Puerto restaurant was closed. Definitely worth a visit. 

It's always good to try new places.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Sailing by

Somewhere between 8.30 and 9.00 yesterday morning I watched one of those big boats bringing people on a cruise for a stop in Vigo. As they went past the Islas Cíes I thought to myself that that was not a bad way to start the day. The islands look especially lovely in the early morning or the early evening light. Maybe it's time we took a boat trip there ourselves. Of course, the people on the cruise don't get to visit the islands. I suppose they might just have time to get a boat out there from Vigo harbour, take a quick look at the beach and then catch the next boat back before having to board their huge floating hotel once more. And then off they would have to go to their next destination. Not my idea of the ideal holiday but it wouldn't do for us all to have the same tastes. Differentiation in all things!

Here's a wrong kind of differentiation. A Guardian investigation has discovered a growing trend in the capital's upmarket apartment blocks – which are required to include affordable homes in order to win planning permission – for the poorer residents to be forced to use alternative access, a phenomenon being dubbed "poor doors". Even bicycle storage spaces, rubbish disposal facilities and postal deliveries are being separated. Apparently this also happens in the USA and the mayor of New York is trying to make it illegal. This kind if thing is where differentiation turns into discrimination.

And then there's Islamic State (Isis), the al-Qaida offshoot that seized large swathes of northern Iraq last month. It has warned women in the city of Mosul to wear full-face veils or risk severe punishment. The justification? "This is not a restriction on her freedom but to prevent her from falling into humiliation and vulgarity or to be a theatre for the eyes of those who are looking."

They claim that it's not just to protect the women either, but the whole of society. "Anyone who is not committed to this duty and is motivated by glamour will be subject to accountability and severe punishment to protect society from harm and to maintain the necessities of religion and protect it from debauchery," Isis said.

Isis has provided guidelines on how women should dress in Mosul, one of Iraq's biggest cities. Their hands and feet must be covered, shapeless clothes that don't hug the body must be worn and perfume is prohibited. Women have also been told to never walk unaccompanied by a male guardian. Exactly why do hands need to be covered? It beggars belief!

But then, Isis has even ordered shopkeepers to cover their store mannequins with full-face veils. It's all just too extreme. (Are men really tempted by store mannequins?) In case you might think it's only the women who are being controlled, the report told us that a man was recently whipped in public for sexually harassing a woman. Of course, if you had an equal society and made women equal citizens, then there would be no need to whip the men. And somehow I suspect that fewer men are whipped than women are punished for wearing the wrong clothes.

Goodness knows what they would make of the state of undress at the average swimming pool. This morning down at the pool there was another of those young women with tattoos all over her back. This time it was an intricate design of swirls and patterns. (Again, I wonder why she had it done and what she will think of it when she's in her sixties and her flesh is perhaps less taut and toned than it is now.) One of her companions was trying to photograph her tattoos. Unfortunately he wanted to take the photo while she was in the pool and she was having some difficulty remaining still, floating face down while he took the photo. One has to suffer for art or at least that's what I have heard. It was, of course, the young lady who was going to suffer for the photographer's art. There you go!

On Sunday, the cruise people would have had no view of the ría at all. Sea mist rolled in early in the morning and stayed over the water all day. We had a fine sunny day in the area around our flats, a little higher and further inland but it was just as if a bank of thin cloud had been unrolled over the water. It moved around but did not shift until well after the sun went down. the promontory of a Guía looked for all the world as though it were wrapped in cotton wool. Very strange.  

And then, after dark it went and we were treated to a late night firework display beyond the Rande bridge, presumably at Redondela. I had already retired to bed with a book but, lured by the noise, managed to catch the last bit of the display.

Amazing stuff!

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Tattoos, timing and DIY.

Down at the pool yesterday, late morning, coming towards lunchtime, there was a group of "beautiful people", probably late twenties, maybe early thirties, a little bit hippyish, the men with long hair, some in ponytails, one with dreadlocks. All were slender and bronzed. They sat on the grass in the garden and the chap with the dreadlocks played the guitar - quite well, I have to say - while the rest sat around and chatted. Their own little music festival! 

 I thought briefly that one of the girls was wearing a swimsuit with some kind of grid or net arrangement on the back and then I realised that her back was covered in lines of writing tattooed onto her skin. It just toned in with her black bikini. A curious effect. Now, I am not a great fan of tattoos and I find myself wondering why you would cover your whole back with a poem, a novel, a political statement. I am only hazarding guesses as to what was written there as I never got close enough to examine it closely. 

The beautiful people barely ventured into the pool so for the most part it was practically empty. My own private pool - or very nearly. Late morning is obviously a good time to swim; the temperature has not yet reached its maximum and there are relatively few people in the water. 

On Thursday I went down in the late afternoon and had to give up on the idea of swimming altogether. Mr Bossy, someone from the "comunidad" who has availed himself of a high vis vest labelled "monitor", was organising a group of smallish boys to dive for tokens that he threw into the water. All very commendable and I truly appreciate the value of community spirit and all that, but it wasn't very conducive to a quiet swim. Altogether too splashy and too many smallish bodies leaping around all over the place. When I do my dormouse (from Alice in Wonderland) impression, I prefer the pool to be a little quieter. 

On Friday we had planned to meet some friends and go for lunch at El Puerto restaurant, one of the best fish restaurants in town, but when I tried to book a table the other day, they reminded me that Friday was a "día festivo"' a bank holiday, and they were not going to be open. We met anyway and found another place to have lunch. A good time was had by all. 

 Friday was a bank holiday because it was the 25th of July, the feast of Saint James, Santiago as they call him around here, patron saint of Galicia. The saint's day has morphed into Galicia Day, celebrating the whole region, not just the arrival of pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela. 

They do a fabulous montage of fireworks on the facade of the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela at midnight on the 24th of July. It's quite a sight to see. This year apparently the firework display included a tribute to the people who died in the horrific train crash just outside Santiago last year at this time. The papers on Thursday were all full of stories of survivors one year on and stuff like that. 

In the Guardian newspaper yesterday morning I found a feature called "The secret pupil", made up of quotes from pupils, commenting anonymously about their teachers. Most were very favourable but there were some complaints about poor teachers who clearly didn't know their stuff and sent pupils away to find out things on the internet. Meeting deadlines and handing back marked work featured quite a lot as well. One pupil wrote, "On the theme of marking, I would much prefer to get my work marked by a teacher than Joseph Barker who has been picking his nose for the last half an hour." I always did have my doubts about the pros and cons of "peer marking". I'm sure it only works in subjects like Maths where you can have a definite right or wrong answer. Anything that is in the least subjective gives rise to too many arguments. 

We spent part of Saturday afternoon rebuilding a sofa bed in our flat. I believe it was bought originally from a certain Scandinavian furniture company who specialise in build-it-yourself stuff. In a few weeks time we will have a group of young chess players overnighting with us on their way back to the UK from a chess event in Pontevedra. Part of the arrangement involves a couple of them sleeping on the sofa bed in the living room. So we decided to check it out. Just as well! There was just no way to open it up and make the legs touch the floor. 

On closer examination we worked out that the main section of the sofa bed had been put in the wrong way round. So we bought ourselves a cheap set of Allen keys from the Chinese shop down the road and took the thing to pieces. Reassembled, it works perfectly. Whoever put it together clearly didn't test it or, if they did, decided they couldn't be bothered putting it right. 

When first we saw this piece of furniture, I was surprised to discover that, in order to keep the back of the sofa upright, you had to have it against a wall. At the time I put it down to a basic design fault. I should have known better. These things are tried and tested and intended to work. So, there you go, a little bit of jigsaw-solving thinking and the wonders of Scandinavian furniture technology can be made to work as planned. 

Having said that, I can think of occasions when I have torn my hair out trying to follow their instructions in diagramese. 

 On the whole, quite a successful day!

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Bits of daftness!

Today I looked out of the window and noticed that there was a cruise liner down in the port. I went out for a run and bought bread. When I returned, the cruise liner, a moderately sized boat, was completely dwarfed by another, one of those huge ones, almost as tall as a ten storey block of flats.This is what happens when you look away.

Consequently, when I went into town later in the morning, the place was full of pink cruise people (pink from the sun, I suppose) speaking English in a range of accents: Liverpudlian, Cockney, American, Scots. No Welsh! Maybe they're all at home speaking the oldest language in Europe. 

An amazing number of the tourists from the boat were weighted down with numerous bags of shopping. Do they shop in every place the boat docks in? Maybe the boat's motto is "We stop, you shop!" Do the companies advertise them as shopping holidays? Do the tourists come with empty suitcases with shopping in mind? 

And often they buy in shops that exist back in the UK. I watched an English woman spend €87 in H&M today. I know it's slightly cheaper to buy the stuff in euros rather than pounds but surely if you can afford to go on a cruise, you don't worry about saving a few pounds. Unless of course, that is how you save the money for your next cruise. I remain mystified! 

Yesterday I went to have my hair done. I got the colour refreshed (I wonder if that's hairdresser speak.) and got my eyebrows tidied up into the bargain. And all for a third of the price I pay in the UK. They offered to dye my eyebrows to match my hair but I declined. I have never had ginger eyebrows and I don't plan to start at my venerable age. They also wanted to massage my hands - all par of the same price - but I turned that down as well. 

 Today I ventured to the library, in search of reading matter. None of the books or writers I had on my list were on their computer system. Which was a pity because I then had to wander the shelves waiting for something interesting to catch my eye. Their system is as chaotic as ever. I saw at least four copies of Don Quijote de La Mancha, not all together, as one might expect, but scattered around the library. In the end the heat got to me and I settled for a historical novel about Catalina de Aragón (that's Katherine or Kathryn or Catherine, however the British choose to spell it) and a novel by an lady journalist, a favourite of mine, Alamudena Grandes. 

During my wandering about over the last couple of days I have seen quite a few examples of people talking on their mobile phones while driving, even in one case taking both hands off the wheel so he could gesticulate. Crazy! 

And I have spotted a number of men walking along with very new-looking babies precariously held in their arms, while their wives push the empty pram. In one case the very new person was being exposed to quite fierce sun!!! Why risk someone bumping into you and knocking the infant to the ground when you have a perfectly safe pram to put it in? If you really want to have constant contact with your new child, why not us a sling? More crazy stuff! 

Finally, overheard in the chess club the other day: 

Phil: Bieito, did you play for the chess club's team last season? 
Bieito: No. 
Phil: Why not? 
Bieito: I wasn't here. I was in Pontevedra. 

Quite likely he was studying at the university. Now, Pontevedra is half an hour away by train!!! Not exactly the other side of the world. I wonder what he'd say to the idea of travelling for an hour or more to work every morning - and back again at the end of the day. Different ways of looking at things. 

The world is full of strangeness!

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Getting hot under the collar.

24̊ - that was the temperature at the roundabout at the top of the road at 9.15 this morning. It just got hotter as the day wore on. We came out to walk to chess club at about 8 this evening and it was still very hot. I'm ok though; I've been in the pool for part of the day. Phil is threatening to join me tomorrow. He must be feeling the heat as he rarely makes it into the water. I am not holding my breath. 

I'm just very glad I didn't have to cycle up very big hills in France today. It must be quite excruciating. Although the downhill runs probably cool them off some. Nibble remains in the lead. I am seeing none of it at the moment. I just catch up on the Tour website at the end of the stage. 

Walking down the road earlier, I saw a young bloke get out of his car and spit on the pavement. I see this more and more, both here and in the UK. When did it become socially acceptable to do this? 

What you don't see much of here here is young men walking along with their chests out. You see this all the time in the UK. Last year I read that several seaside places here in Spain had introduced by-laws forbidding people from walking along the street in a state of undress. And you might expect people to walk around in their swimwear when they're just coming back from the beach. However, you don't see people here doing it in the centre of the ordinary town. Whereas in the UK, the minute the sun comes out blokes think it's ok to strip to the waist and strut their stuff. It's a kind of hangover from bad behaviour on holiday in the sun. One of my favourite fashion gurus, Hadley Freeman, was protesting about it the other day. I quite agree with her. 

Just now I've read a rant by someone called Ellie Mae O'Hagan about how Welsh should be taught in all UK schools. She grew up speaking Welsh (although I'm pretty sure O'Hagan is not a Welsh name. Aren't they all called Jones or Williams or Evans?) and regrets the fact that she is very rusty now. I'm all in favour of children growing up bi-lingual. And I believe everyone can benefit from learning to speak as many languages as they can manage. Oh, and I agree with preserving ancient cultures. But I think school kids can perhaps learn something more useful than Welsh. 

 She claimed that Welsh is the oldest language in Europe. Really? Well, it may very well predate Anglo-Saxon and Latin and so on but I think she might find that Basque is the oldest!! 

I also get a little fed up of hearing about the English domination of the Welsh and the Scottish. It's the same with the Castilian domination of the Galicians and Catalans. 

It's time we all got along. That's what I think anyway.

Monday, 21 July 2014

New words, bad habits of the Brits and how we don't conform to that norm.

I've learnt a new word: el balconing. I read about it in La Voz de Galicia, one of the local newspapers. El balconing is a sport practised by young, drunken British tourists in places like Mallorca and Ibiza, especially Magaluf. It consists of leaping off balconies, sometimes into pools, sometimes just into the street or into crowds of people. Spanish authorities are more than a little concerned at the "orgías etílicos y sexuales" which crazy young people from the UK indulge in every night. (Etílico is an excellent word for alcoholic, is it not?) I quite agree with them. 

We once went to Magaluf, by mistake I hasten to add. Phil was taking part in the Calvia chess congress which turned out to be in Magaluf. Even in October it was a regular thing every morning to see barmen sweeping up masses of broken glass outside their bars. Bars which advertised, in English, one litre of vodka and coke for €2!!! Which comes first, cheap alcohol or the demand for cheap alcohol? Anyway, I think the Spanish newspapers are right when they say that young Brits seem to leave all sense of morality and general decency behind when they get off the plane in places like Magaluf. 

I'm not going there again. And Phil didn't even win a prize! 

We are much more restrained in our drinking habits, following the great Spanish tradition of eating something, preferably free tapas, while we drink. So we pop into wifi cafes and slake our thirst responsibly while catching up with out internet needs. 

Yesterday this led to our having a little chat with the waiter in the Nuevo Derby about the British Open Golf Championship, just finished in Hoylake, Liverpool. It was on the TV in the cafe. He asked if we knew how much tickets for the event cost. No idea! Golf doesn't really interest us much. And then I saw on Facebook that my sister-in-law was there. I didn't see her on screen though. 

When we first came to spend time in Vigo, amazingly almost six years ago now, we lived right in the centre of town, in the middle of all the activity. Now we have a flat at the far end of town, almost in Teis, and it's positively rural. Although there are huge tower blocks of flats, just like ours, all around there are smaller properties with little vegetable gardens attached. It's a whole self-sufficiency thing that's going on. We, however, amount to no more than a pot of basil on the window ledge. 

Back to new words, I recently discovered Sean Bean's version of John Denver's Annie's Song. It goes like this: 

"You fill up my senses, 
like a gallon of Magnet, 
 like a packet of Woodbines, 
like a good pinch of snuff; Like a night out in Sheffield, 
like a greasy chip butty…". 

I just thought I would share that. 

I've just seen the weather forecast for Spain for tomorrow: sunshine everywhere, except possibly the Basque Country, where they can expect rain! Oh, and a few clouds down in the far south, near where my sister lives but that might be good for them as it gets far too hot down there.