Thursday, 17 December 2009

Reasons to be cheerful - part 2!!

Here’s another little list mostly but not exclusively of things I enjoy but can’t have in Vigo:

  • Oasis, Gap and Accessorize: three of my favourite shops. It’s probably just as well they don’t have branches in Vigo as I would spend far too much money.

  • Eccles cakes – a concoction of raisins and flaky pastry which shouldn’t work but does.

  • Infant school nativity plays with fidgety little people busily waving to mummy, picking their nose and taking their costume off.

  • Mince pies – my granddaughter wants to know why they are not available all year round like hot cross buns, once only sold for Good Friday.
  • Reading Spanish newspapers online and discovering that one of my favourite Spanish singers, Juan Manuel Serrat, has just been awarded the Premio Nacional de las Músicas Actuales 2009. According to the newspapers “el jurado ha querido destacar su «incuestionable talento y trayectoria»; su influencia en el imaginario popular, «que ha trascendido generaciones»; su permanente presencia en los escenarios con Serrat cien por cien, y el hecho de haber puesto la música al «servicio de los grandes poetas».”

  • Singing Christmas carols in Manchester cathedral and unexpectedly meeting old friends there.
  • Winter sunsets from industrial parks.

  • Snow ... provided I don’t have to drive in it.

  • Gritters making the roads safe for me to drive on.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Saint Nicholas has his day!

On Saturday I tried to drive into our village late in the afternoon only to find both access routes blocked. Then the sky exploded into fireworks and I remembered that Christmas has arrived and the Wake Up the Village Committee was officially switching on the Christmas lights. Crowds of people gathered to watch fireworks in the rain, rather cold rain at that so maybe the fireworks cheered everyone up. The village certainly looks very bright and sparkly since then.

I also remembered that Saturday Dec
ember 5th was the day that the Concello de Vigo planned to switch the Christmas lights on. I don’t remember there being fireworks last year for the official switch-on.

Why December 5th? I wondered. I was aware that the weekend involved some kind of festivities in Spain (on
e of my former students had been agonising on Facebook about where to spend the puente, bank holiday weekend) but I was blowed if I knew what it was all about. My low church Anglican with a bit of Methodist thrown in upbringing did nothing to enlighten me.

So, of course, I Googled it. It turns out that December 6th is the feast day of Saint Nicholas who over time and with a bi
t of help from Coca Cola turned into Santa Claus and started to wear a red suit and deliver presents to everyone. So that explains it!

Here in Greater Manchester the rain continues to fall with occasional moments of respite, just enough for a quick stroll. I seem to have changed my view of the ría for views of fields of sheep and some rather fine winter skies.


I read in the Galician newspapers online that there have bee
n floods in some parts of our borrowed homeland. So maybe I should count my blessings and be glad to be in the land of over-decorated houses ready for Christmas as seen in this amazing picture from yesterday’s Guardian newspaper.

Global warming obviously doesn't worry some people.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Reasons to be cheerful!!

Here is a list of things I have rediscovered in the UK and which I don’t find in my otherwise extremely pleasant life in Vigo:

• Bramley cooking apples – the essential ingredient for the perfect apple pie. I have looked for them in Galicia without success. When I have asked specifically, I have been greeted with looks of blank incomprehension and then been offered an inferior rather fluffy dessert apple instead. I’m afraid you really need the tartness of a good Bramley (green, misshapen and no
t at all pretty to look at) to make good English apple pies or baked apples!

• Houmous available every day of the week in any superma
rket, even the little co-op in our village. This is a delight compared with waiting until the chef in El Nuehz restaurant DECIDES to make some. No amount of ¡Ay, qué rico cuando lo hace! makes up for it. He clearly doesn’t make it often enough, no matter how rico it is. Mind you, it’s probably a matter of supply and demand. Most gallegos have no idea what houmous is and when I describe it to them they seem to regard it as a very odd thing to do with chickpeas!

• Cadbury’s chocolate. Now, I know some people declare it to be inferior to some
continental brands. Others go so far as to say it should not even be called “chocolate” but “chocolate flavoured sweet” because of some anomaly in the production process. I, however, prefer it to other brands. And I’m not alone. I recently overheard a Spaniard complaining that he could not find it on the shelves of El Corte Inglés where it does make very occasional appearance.

• Car drivers who signal their intentions, even maintaining reasonable lane discipline on roundabouts. Ok, so not all of them do so but far more here than in Spain as far as I can see.

• No excessive honking of horns if you fail to zoom away the very second the lights change at a road junction.

• The lack of parked cars on zebra crossings, on the approach to zebra crossings, on street corners (and I mean on the corner itself) or alongside another v
ehicle which is already parked, thus blocking it in. (I have to admit that the last of these, a major pain in Spain, does occur in the car park at my grandchildren’s school but as everyone is dropping off or collecting at the same time it doesn’t really constitute double parking. At least that’s what my daughter says each time I moan about it!)

• Drivers who stop for you when they see you waiting at a zebra crossing rather than you having to take your life in your hands by stepping out into the traffic. Yes, I know UK zebra crossings operate
differently but even so .....



• Clog dancers in the middle of the shopping area, reminding me that Lancashire can be as folksy as Galicia when it chooses.







• Bright, crisp, cold mornings (when it chooses not to rain and it does happen sometimes) when it’s good to get up and walk round the reservoir.


• And, of course, last but by no means least, my old
familiar hairdresser!!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Going Native!!!

I recently heard someone on the radio here declare that England has too many “wet led” pubs. This interesting term turns out to mean pubs where people go solely to drink; drinking (alcohol as a rule) is the major activity of the establishment and you are lucky if you can find as much as a packet of crisps let alone anything more substantial to soak up the alcohol. I wanted to shout out my agreement. I am missing the gallego habit of giving you a little something – tortilla, crisps, olives, some unidentified food item on a chunk of bread – when you go for an early evening drink.

It’s not that Spain doesn’t have its share of semi-professional drunks. There’s a little group of them who gather around midday at the top of our local park with cartons of wine. They perch on the back of the bench - for all the world like the corner boys from the American police series The Wire except that they are older and fatter and not black – and chew the fat until the police come along and move them on. So yes, there are those who drink just to get drunk but as a rule people still nibble as they drink and even the botellonistas take a pizza or something similar along.

Maybe I’m just going native, adjusting so well to my Vigo life that Greater Manchester seems strange. Further evidence of this was my reaction to the faces of the children at my grandchildren’s primary school. I went along to meet them one afternoon and found myself thinking as I looked at all the little ones coming out, “Ooh, don’t they look pale and pasty!” Then I remembered my friend Rosetta meeting my grandchildren on their first visit to Vigo and commenting, “¡Qué blanquitos son!” (How pale they are!) I have clearly grown accustomed to the more sunkissed faces of Spanish children, even in relatively rainy Galicia.

On that same afternoon outside the school, my daughter sent me over to “talk Spanish to Ana” on the grounds that this madrileña married to a Mancunian doesn’t get much chance to speak her own language. So I went and introduced myself. “¿Dónde aprendiste el español?” she asked me, “Tienes acento gallego.”

Well, how about that!?!

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Employment prospects and new words.

Well, I’ve been back in the UK a week now and I fail to be impressed. Today was the first day that I felt inclined to take myself out for a long walk. A week of damp and dreary grey weather has not been conducive to going out much. Today started fine and dry, although very windy, so I took myself out. It’s a good job I got out bright and early as the day deteriorated later.

I understand it’s not been much better in North West Spain, despite the fine and sunny send-off Galicia gave us last week.

Scanning the papers online I discovered from El Faro de Vigo that I may be missing an employment opportunity in my absence. As part of the Plan de Competitividad Turística de Vigo the ayuntamiento plans to recruit retired people and train them as volunteer tourist guides. They will receive some language tuition so that they can greet people, give them directions and do some basic conversation in English, French and German. I can do all that already so I could save them some time. Then the volunteers would be taught some history of Vigo, a little information on places of interest to visit and so on. I could cope with that. They would be expected to point out good places to eat in the city. I already do that to any visitors who come our way.

Volunteers would be able to visit all sorts of places of interest free of charge, including the Islas Cies, one of my favourite places. The drawback is that all the volunteers would be expected to wear una indumentaria identificativa, in other words, a uniform. Uh, oh! Not my idea of fun. Maybe I should be happy to give it a miss. However, on my return to Vigo I shall look out for retired folk in uniform and maybe test their knowledge of Vigo history and see if they can give me the information in a range of languages.

Meanwhile I have learnt another new and interesting word in Spanish, again from scanning the newspapers online. This is another slightly twisted borrowing. It appears that because of la crisis fewer workers are eating out at lunchtime. Instead they are taking a packed lunch. This packed lunch is carried in un tupper. Now, is that not a quite delightful corruption of Tupperware? I am once again impressed by the versatility of the Spanish.

The article from which I gleaned this linguistic gem also informed me that despite la crisis the Spanish continue to eat well. The amount spent on food has only gone down by 1.5%, a miniscule amount compared to the reductions in spending in other sectors of the economy apparently. Spain remains in second place in the list of countries where most people go out to eat.

I am only surprised that it is not in first place. (The article fails to tell me which country is in first place.) With a host of places where you can get a good three course meal + wine for under €10 per person, Spain gives really good value for money. Long may she continue to do so.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Step by step by step.

Travelling back to the UK this week has been rather like going through progressive boxes, rather like a deep sea diver going through decompression chambers on his way to the surface.

On Tuesday, we went out to lunch in Vigo, taking a friend to Casa Pepe where we took our visiting ches players just a couple of weeks ago. It turned out to be a little like a reunion with old friends as the owners greeted us cheerfully, gave us un chupito at the end of our very tasty and very reasonably priced meal and even presenting me with a red carnation as we left.

The weather had improved during the day and strolling home after lunch I spotted a distinctly Great Britain shaped cloud in the now blue sky. Definitely a portent of some kind as we were due to fly to London the next day.

Wednesday saw us walking to the bus station in bright sunshine. Earlier in the morning it had been crisp and chilly but by the time we set off it was warming up nicely. After the recent few weeks of grey skies, drizzle, high winds and occasional storms the weather had obviously decided to get back on its best behaviour to see us on our way.

By midday we were in Portugal and set off to fly to London. The beautiful clear day gave me a new and different view of the Islas Cíes as we flew over the rías.

We were met at Gatwick by our son’s fiancée and her parents who whisked us off to Surrey for coffee and cakes and then into London to stay overnight with our number one offspring.

London on Thursday morning was quite cold but relatively bright. We knew for certain we were back in England –and how! – when we bought coffee at Euston Station. A “small” latte was at least twice the size of any café con leche grande I’ve been served in Spain. No wonder some people are concerned about their caffeine intake if they regularly drink several “regular” or even “large” coffees a day!!

Manchester was noticeably colder and greyer when we got off the train at Piccadilly and caught the bus to Oldham. Later in the afternoon the Christmas lights came on there, much to my continued surprise at how early Christmas starts. Now, the concello de Vigo has recently stated that the lights will not be switched in the streets until December 5th, doing their bit to save some of the world’s resources at least.

No qualms in Oldham though. In fact, quite the opposite, rather proud of it. You might expect the lights to spell out “Merry Christmas” or “Goodwill toward men” or some such seasonal message. Not so, however: these lights just say “Oldham Lights”. No comment!!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The delights of dubbing and other language issues.

Zapping (Spanish channel hopping) the other day, I suddenly found myself watching “The Magnificent Seven” in gallego. This is a film inspired by Kurosawa’s 1954 Japanese “Seven Samurai” turned into a spaghetti western by John Sturges in 1960, probably filmed in Spain and involving at one point strange ritual dances from Mexican indian culture. It was already such a wonderful cultural hotchpotch that it’s strange to think of anyone going to the trouble of dubbing it into gallego. I suppose it must provide work for frustrated Galician actors but it was certainly odd to see familiar faces such as Yul Bryner and Steve McQueen spouting words in gallego. On reflection though, I’m just surprised they didn’t dub the sound track as well to include some gaita music.

Everyone here, of course, just takes dubbing of films and television series for granted. I keep seeing trailers for familiar films with slightly odd titles, such as recently when I came across “El Ultimatum de Bourne”. There are hordes of people who admire actors like George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt and so on who have never actually heard their voices. Parallel to that there are a lot of actors who must regularly provide the voices of these well-known faces and get little credit for it. If they dub into Spanish (castellano) then I suppose it’s logical that they also dub into gallego, catalán and vasco.

I have just finished reading “A Woman Unknown” by Lucia Graves, daughter of the poet Robert Graves. She writes about her childhood, growing up not just bilingual but trilingual on the island of Mallorca. Her father had lived there before the Spanish Civil War and returned there in 1946, taking his family with him, Lucia then being a small girl. So she spoke Spanish at home, Catalán with her friends and Spanish (castellano) at school. This was of course Franco’s Spain where the regional languages were banned and everyone had to speak Spanish in school, at work and in public places. It is interesting to read her descriptions of the persistent brainwashing that went on in the schools and how it was only as she began to grow up that she realised that some of the people she was fond of and respected were in fact the dreaded “reds” she was warned about at school.

Like many people educated in the language of their parents’ adopted country Lucia found that she had some difficulties with literacy in that parental tongue. When she was sent off to an international school in Switzerland she was ashamed to find she had to have several goes before passing O-Level English. It is, however, a very common thing. I have known a number of bilingual students who could read and speak French, Spanish, German or whatever very fluently but had great difficulty writing it simply because of lack of practice.

She overcame the problems however and went on to study languages at the University of Oxford. As she described a translation class working on a passage from a novel by the Spanish writer Galdós I found another example of the problems of growing up outside your “native” country. She explained that the verb “varear”, one way of saying to measure, has connections with “la vara”, the rod or measuring stick used to measure cloth sold by the yard or metre, speaking as though this was a purely Spanish thing. And yet I remember the yardstick being used in just that way in England. Growing up elsewhere, Lucia lacked that bit of English culture. A small thing, but interesting to me.

On the reading front, I finally laid my hands on an illicit copy of the book being read by the Club de Lectura Frances, of which I am not officially a member because I belong to the Club de Lectura Castellano/Gallego, both of these at the local municipal library. However, I have not been able to read it. A crisis has sprung up at home in the UK and I need to fly off. So, not wanting to cause problems for the club coordinator who lent me the book, I tried to leave it at reception in the library to be returned to her. No go! The bulldog/terrier/rottweiler at reception insisted I had to “return” it properly in the main section of the library. They would then return it to her so she could put it in the cupboard. So now I need to email Maribel, the coordinator, and explain it all to her.

While in the library I tried to glean a little more information about the possible Club de Lectura Italiano. All I got from the bulldog/terrier/rottweiler at reception was a growled “Ya no empezó” – It’s not started yet!!!! She started to tell me they were taking names for the club but then looked at me and snarled, “Ah, pero tú no puedes inscribirte” – Ah, but you can’t sign up! She may be the bulldog/terrier/rottweiler at reception but she has the memory of an elephant and knows I already belong to a club de lectura. End of story Once again Library Rules, OK!

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Over the ría and into Moaña.

I am writing this in Moaña, across the river from Vigo. The last time I was here was in August on a hot, hot day. When I arrived with my friend Heidy it was low tide and there were women collecting shellfish down at the tide line, backbreaking work. We had to walk what seemed like miles to the water.

I was also here almost exactly a year ago on a surprisingly warm day for mid-November. On that occasion I came across a man setting up to fly his motorised hang-glider up into the blue sky over the ría. Today, by contrast, it is windy and cool, not cold but with an edge to the wind and promise of rain to come later.

It is, of course, the Moaña chess tournament where my Phil won the grand sum of €20 last year. The venue is a local school: Colegio Público Reibón, proudly announcing its gallego heritage in the entrance hall where even the meiga (the witch in the picture) declares that she speaks gallego. There is lots of evidence of small people around: a small gym which doubles as a classroom to judge by the chairs and tables set up in it, the remains of a display for Hallowe’en, toilet facilities of very small size, coat pegs at an adult’s waist height and even the table I sit at is very low with a diminutive chair to sit on.

Fortunately the adult chess players do have adult size tables and chairs. The event was due to start at 4.00 pm. By 4.40 everyone was still milling around, waiting for pairings to be announced and organisers were running around changing numbers on tables and combining the under-12s with the under-14s. Organised chaos to all appearances, further confused for us by announcements made in gallego over a public address system which did not work too well.

By 4.50 the under-10s and under-14s competitions were underway after some confusion about youngsters whose names were on the list but who had not actually acknowledged their arrival or paid their entry fee. The adults were then still waiting for pairings. Finally at around 5.00 pm they all got started and I p
opped outside to switch on the Netbook - outside to ensure that the sound was muted; no way did I want my Phil to be disqualified because I let the computer sing its little start-up song.

A few hours, a long talk with a friend and several cups of coffee later it was just coming to a close. But in the end my hero, Phil, of course, walked away with a prize of
40, twice what he won last year. Progress indeed!!

Thursday, 12 November 2009

An artistic discovery – and made in Galicia!

It’s interesting when bits of your life connect up and you find out about someone new to you, interesting in their own right, whose life is linked with that of others you have studied or admired. And that is what happened when I went along to an exhibition at the Casa das Artes in Policarpo Sanz, here in Vigo.

On Monday evening at the end of the French book club my friend Carmen said she’d been want
ing to go to this exhibition for a while but didn’t want to go alone. So on Wednesday evening I met Carmen and another friend, Conchi, at the Casa das Artes where we joined a guided visit of the exhibition of Maruja Mallo’s work. A very enthusiastic young lady filled our heads with information about this Galicia born artist who is apparently better known outside than inside Galicia.

Born in Vivero, Lugo in 1902 (approximately, as she was rather cagey about admitting her true age), Ana María Gómez González, aka Maruja Mallo, was fortunate enough to have enlightened parents who not only allowed but actively encouraged her to go and study art in Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid in 1922.

There she worked on developing her own style and got to know many of those who became the Generation of ’27 such as Salvador Dalí, Federico García Lorca, Luis Buñuel and Rafael Alberti. With the last of these our guide told us Maruja had a relación amorosa which was never officially acknowledged in the poet’s biography because her successor in his emotions was too jealous and possessive to allow it!!

Another little gem our guide imparted to us was that the women artists in Madrid, even though they associated freely with the male artists of the Generation of ’27, were not allowed into their café tertulias (women sitting around talking in cafés was frowned on) an
d so they would gather outside and press their faces to the windows in disconcerting protest.

Federico García Lorca said of her: "Maruja Mallo, .... sus cuadros son los que he visto pintados con más imaginación, emoción y sensualidad." (Her pictures are the ones I have seen painted with the greatest imagination, emotion and sensuality.)

Maruja Mallo and Rafael Alberti applied together for
grants to go and study in Paris and were both awarded them but in the event went there separately in 1931 as their relationship had fizzled out by then. In Paris she made the acquaintance of artists such as Magritte and Miró and did get to attend tertulias with the likes of André Breton (who bought at least one of her paintings) and Paul Eluard.

She had had her grant extended to stay in Paris for a longer period but in 1933 returned to Spain for family reasons. According to our enthusiastic guide, had she stayed in Paris Maruja Mallo might have become one of the big names of the European artistic world. However, she returned to Spain and passed oposiciones to work as an art teacher but soon found that the rather sedate life did not suit her. Rather than simply hand in her notice this seeker after notoriety apparently provoked her dismissal by riding her bicycle round and round inside the church during mass and headed back to Madrid.

As Spain headed towards the Civil War, Maruja Mallo was working with the republicans in educational projects and her art of the period is full of images of workers. She had an affair with the poet Miguel Hernández, republican poet imprisoned and executed by Franco’s troops.

As the Civil War progressed Maruja Mallo hid for
a while in Vigo, then went into exile in Portugal and eventually South America where she gave talks on what she had seen of the events in Spain, fully expecting to return to Spain when the republicans won. In the event, of course, Franco won and Maruja Mallo remained in Chile where she had an affair with Pablo Neruda, another of the poets I have read and admired.

It begins to seem as though our guide spoke about nothing but the painter’s romantic links with Hispanic poets but in fact she gave us a fairly comprehensive overview of Maruja Mallo’s progression from a very ordinary photographic portrait painter to an artist who, although influenced by other painters and their styles, never really belonged to any one school of painting, just as she never belonged to any political party although she supported the republic, had affairs with a number of famous men but never married. Her range of style and subject matter is impressive.

During her time in South America she produced a series of what she called natura viva, refusing to use the Spanish term for still life, natura muerta
(literally “dead nature”), as she said her work had nothing to do with death. She returned to Spain in the 1960s and kept a low profile until after Franco’s death when had another period of relative fame and was in a way “adopted” by the movida madrileña as a kind of symbol of nonconformist womanhood. She certainly had her own style in all things. Already acknowledged as a beleza galega, she brought back from Paris in 1931 what our guide called “su look”, lots of bright blue eye shadow and red lipstick, a look which she maintained into her old age.

She died in 1995 and it would seem that since then studies of her work have
been carried out and paintings that had been lost were relocated. One result is the exhibition here in Vigo which is well worth a visit.

The English entry on Wikipedia on Maruja Mallo is very short, so here is a link to the Spanish entry.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

What to call a language, among other things.

A friend of mine criticised me yesterday for using the word castellano to speak about the Spanish language. As far as he is concerned castellano means “from Castilla”, not Spain, just another of its regions. He insisted that I should say español which is what I have always used until I picked up castellano from people here. To the gallegos it means Spanish but not from Galicia. For example, this evening new friends were introducing themselves; one said that she is a gallega, born in Teis, Vigo, but her friend, born in Salamanca, is a castellana, even though she moved here when she was about three years old.

It’s a complicated issue in some ways. After all, gallego, catalán and even vasco are all official languages of Spain and, as such, have the right to call themselves español I suppose. I’m not sure what a dedicated regionalist would feel about his local language being called Spanish however. My friend, a Peruvian, argued that in Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile and other Spanish speaking countries they consider that their language is Spanish, español, rather than peruano, boliviano, argent
ino, chileno and so on, despite some differences in vocabulary and sometimes in grammar. It’s rather like the North Americans and Australians who speak English rather than "UnitedStatesish" or Australian.

Meanwhile defenders of gallego as a long established and distinguished language have recently been happily working in the University of Vigo Philology Department on the Ystoria dela Santa Yglesia de Iria Flavia y translacion ala compostelana, a document written in gallego in the early 18th century, one of the séculos oscuros (the dark centuries – like the dark ages). This document is very exciting as it provides
evidence of the use of gallego as an official written language at the time. This is what the document looks like:

At the same time a certain Morace Park from somewhere in SE England recently bought a box of film on eBay and was amazed to discover some unseen footage of Charlie Chaplin: a
bit of film made to encourage troops in World War I apparently. So, cultural discoveries in both countries.

My own linguistic development – and my ongoing moaning and groaning about the library – has also seen new developments. I was delighted to see a notice in the said library announcing enrolment for an Italian book club. Whoopee!! All last year I badgered them to start just such a group so that I could pratticare il mio italiano and now it was on the point of becoming a reality. Ah, but ..... and it's a big but ....


I am already enrolled in the castellano/gallego book club (there’s that word castellano again) and if I wanted to join the Italian group I would have to leave the other one. Now this is despite the fact that there is only one person so far on the list for Italian which means it might not happen after all. Surely, I reasoned, it had more chance of getting off the ground if they let people who are in other groups join this one as well. Maybe they could my name on with a question mark to indicate interest shown.

No, rules are rules and must be adhered to!


And, naturally, if I have my name removed from the castellano/gallego list and the Italian group does not come into fruition I might have lost my place on the original list.

Ooooh, this is getting too complicated.

I just LOVE bureaucracy!

GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!

Friday, 6 November 2009

Immigration, emigration, adapting, fitting in.

My life seems to be returning to its usual rather sedate pattern: a round of book clubs, yoga and painting classes with occasional coffees with friends in between. This week, however, the coffee has turned into una caña on more than one occasion and the conversations seems to have centred quite a lot on immigrants and emigrants one way or another.

First of all there was the French book club of which I am no longer officially a member. This means that I’m not on the list but go along for a chat even though I don’t receive a copy of the book they re supposedly discussing. This is of absolutely no importance as half the members don’t read the book anyway and the conversation rambles along its own route. On Monday, because the library was being de-ratted, de-bugged and so on, the group met at the nearby jamonería for a drink, which is something we do about once a month anyway.

The book which I am not reading is about the experiences of a pied noir, a person of French nationality born in the former colony of Algeria, forced to “return” to France when that country gained its independence in the 1960s. For such people life in France was difficult; they had lost their homes and often arrived in France with no more than the clothes they stood up in. They found France cold (the climate and often the people), inhospitable and above all foreign, even though they were officially French. There was a good deal of talk about the immigration/emigration and how different groups of people were treated in different places and, of course, discussion of gallegos who go to work in other countries and return or don’t, as the case may be, about how gallego they remain and how they feel on returning to Galicia.

In the middle of all this one of the ladies launched into a great complaint about the situation of gallegos in their own country. According to her they are seriously discriminated against and it is a disgrace that all official documents are in castellano instead of gallego. Now, she must live in a different Galicia to me as my experience has been the exact opposite. Others of the group backed me up, even pointing out that many road signs, universally comprehensible, have explanatory messages only in gallego, such as agas sábado. How, they asked, is a non-gallego Spaniard supposed to know that means "except Saturday"? Good point!

My other beer came at the end of the painting class. It was the teacher’s birthday this week so he invited us all to copas: very civilised! Talking about the purchase of acrylic paints and other equipment one of the ladies said, “Compro todo a los chinitos” – I buy everything from the Chinkies. It was said with the same casual, unintentional, almost certainly unintended racism that I used to hear in the UK when people spoke about the "Paki shops". The bazar chino in Spain and the corner grocery store run by Pakistanis in many parts of the UK are a regular feature of both societies.

And the topic of immigration/emigration/integration was there again at the castellano book club. (I say castellano with some reservations. Half the books on the list, at least, are translated into Spanish, or sometimes gallego, from other languages. We’ve just finished the Anglo-Indian Jumpa Lahiri’s “Interpreter of Maladies”, translated into Spanish as “Intérprete de emociones”. Next on the list is “El curioso incidente del perro en la medianoche” by Mark Haddon!) As Jumpa Lahiri’s book is a collection of stories about Indian immigrants to the USA, the discussion inevitably involved adapting to a new society, the rights and wrongs of keeping the traditions of the “old country”and in this case, of course, the vexed question of arranged marriages. Very interesting, especially the last topic in a country where girls were rarely allowed out without a chaperone when I visited it as a student in the late 60s!

Strangest of all, though, was finding myself having to explain what a curry house is and even being asked exactly WHAT curry is. Is it a spice, a sauce or a dish? Well, all three really, I had to say but why not go along to the Taj Mahal restaurant here in Vigo, closest thing to a curry house, and find out for yourself? Of course, the menu won’t be in gallego and not many of the dishes come with potatoes!

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The Trials and Tribulations of Media Personalities!

Imagine sharing a moment of fame with Martin Sheen!!! Well, all right, I exaggerate but Martin Sheen and I DID both appear in El Faro de Vigo newspaper today.

Last week I began my media career by appearing on Radio Onda Cero. Some of my Vigo friends even heard the broadcast. I was astounded. Today the Manchester-Vigo Chess Cultural Interchange was reported in the “Campeones” supplement of El Faro de Vigo and, lo and behold, I was quoted. Nonetheless, I suspect that is probably the end of my media superstardom.

Now Mr. Sheen’s case is different. He is more used to the media presence and probably gets less excited about it. He is currently in Santiago de Compostela making “The Way”, a film about the Camino de Santiago directed by his son Emilio Estévez. In the summer both of these descendants of Galician (and Irish) emigrants to the USA visited Santiago de Compostela and obtained permission to film inside the cathedral, even in parts where no camera has been allowed for more than 40 years.

More recently they sent a copy of the script and, as the Faro de Vigo puts it, ciertas personalidades in the archdiocese decided that the “essence” of the film was negative. Not only did it not exalt the spirituality of the Camino de Santiago but in some scenes it did quite the opposite. Some of the scenes and the expresiones verbales were also deemed in poor taste. Permission to film withdrawn!

So Mssrs Sheen and Estévez have adjusted the script, apologised to the Galician church for any unintended offence to the apostle and managed to regain permission to film within the cathedral. Phew! Apparently la caballerosidad, la exquisita educación y las buenas maneras of the father and son team played a big part in putting things right. I knew when I saw Martin Sheen as President of the United States in The West Wing that he was a polite bloke. Good manners work!

Except that they don’t work all the time. I was as nice a pie in my conversation in the library today and it did no good. This is what happened. Some time ago I reserved a book. On Wednesday, as reported in my last blog post, the library phoned me when I was on a bus to Santiago with a bunch of chess players. On Thursday I did not go to collect my book as I was busy with the same chess players, interpreting for bigwigs from Vigo’s Círculo Mercantil who were giving out prizes and, of course, talking to newspaper reporters. On Friday, as reported in my last blog post, I found the library closed for interesting reasons. On Tuesday I nearly made it but left my library card at home. Today they told me I could not have my book as too much time has gone by since they notified me and they have given it to the next person on the list!!!!

I politely pointed out that they told me last Wednesday and so if you discount the days the library was being disinfected only three days have gone past. However, they count the day of notification as well, which makes it four days: one too many!

Library rules, OK!!! I can’t belong to two library reading groups; I can’t take out books for my husband on his ticket if he is not present; I have to put my bag in a locker like the ones they have at art galleries; if I have an overdue book I can’t take any more books out for a week; and now I’ve missed my chance to borrow a book I have been looking forward to reading because three days have gone past. And they wonder why more people don’t use libraries!!!!

Well, anyway, I have ordered the book again. I am back to the bottom of the list, in position four. (It’s a popular book.) With my current run of luck, they’ll probably call me in late December when I’m back in the UK for Christmas!!!

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Cultural exchanges.

The group of Manchester chess players, la delegación de Manchester, as our friend Roberto calls them, left us on Friday after what seemed to be a very successful visit. We even managed to arrange for the sun to shine on them just about every day. It’s only since they left that we have returned to damp and misty weather.

As on their journey here, they once again had problems with their flight reservations and were unsure whether all of them were getting all the way back to Manchester in one day. Four of them only had boarding cards for the Vigo-Paris leg of the journey and would hav
e to argue the toss with the Air France people at Charles de Gaulle airport. They even considered staying another day but the girl at the check-in desk said they could well have the same problem the next day! The wonders of modern travel arrangements! Maybe I’ll just stick to Ryanair; perhaps they are thinking of charging for the use of the toilets on the plane but I’ve never yet got to the check-in desk to discover they don’t have my name on their computer.

The children in the party were quite oblivious to any of these
problems and continued playing chess to the bitter end, even sitting on the floor in Vigo airport. I was most impressed!

I left them at the airport, keeping my fingers crossed that they would all get home in one go and headed for the library. They had phoned me while I was on a bus to Santiago de Compostela earlier in the week to let me know that the book I had reserved was waiting for me. I had been too busy to go and collect it b
ut this seemed like a perfect opportunity. Imagine my frustration when I got there to find this notice on the door.


Yes, the place was closed for several days for de-ratting, de-bugging and general disinfecting! It is a very old building but I have to admit to finding the sign somewhat disconcerting. It is not a sign I have ever seen on libraries in the UK. There the libraries, especially in small places, are more likely to be closed because of cutbacks several days a week.

Another sign that I have never seen in the UK but which is c
ommon here in October is the notice in florists’ windows: Se recogen pedidas para Todos los Santos – we are taking order for All Saints’ Day. Traditionally on the 1st of November you visit the family graves, tidy them up and put fresh flowers there. (That is what is going on at the start of Almodóvar’s film Volver.) In the couple of weeks running up to All Saints’ Day the cake shops here sell huesos de santos, marzipan representations of saints’ bones while in Mexico they sell sugar skulls! Remembering your own dead has always been more important in Spanish culture than being scared of the spirits out and about on Hallowe’en.

In recent years, of course, like everywhere, else Spain has been invaded by the American version of Hallowe’en with Trick or Treats. The local Irish bar was advertising a Hallowe’
en party: Con cada pinta una terrorizante máscara – free scary mask with every pint. Early yesterday evening the centre of town was full of young people dressed up as witches, werewolves, skeletons, vampires, ghoulies and ghosties. It is significant, however, that the Spanish use the Anglo-Saxon term Hallowe’en. Somehow la víspera de Todos los Santos doesn’t have quite the same impact.

Finally, just after midday today there was a ring at our doorbell. I could hear a lot of giggling before I opened the door so I was not surprised to find a bunch of children, all dressed up as witches, ghosts, vampires and other would-be scary creatures. They held out hats and plastic pumpkins to receive our offerings. Thank goodness I had a bag of toffees available.

It was the local children doing the Trick or Treat rounds of our block of flats, going from floor to floor in the lifts and having the time of their lives. I didn’t have the heart to point out to them that they were almost a whole day late. Perhaps they have misuderstood or then maybe it’s just another example of mañana and the Spanish turning up fashionably late.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Rainstorms, sunshine and chess matches!!

Well, it’s been a funny old week so far. It started on Saturday, if a week can be said to start on Saturday, with another rainstorm that once again flooded the centre of Vigo with buses and cars ploughing through a couple of feet of water. On Sunday it improved somewhat but we had intermittent mist and cloud; the city came and went and the cranes on the port seemed to float independently.


Monday brought the arrival of a group of young chess players form Manchester to challenge a group from Vigo. The problem was that only half the group turned up. AirFrance indulged in a spot of “overbooking” and the group, despite having booked tickets on line, had no seats on the plane. Half the group got it sorted all the way to Vigo but the rest had to spend an unplanned night in Paris.

By Tuesday, ho
wever, we had the whole party and in the afternoon I started my new “career” as a media superstar, taking part in an interview on Radio Onda Cero, interpreting for the leaders of the Manchester party. We were most impressed with the mini museum in Onda Cero’s Vigo headquarters, displaying recording machinery such as I have not seen in fifteen years. In the interview the Manchester leaders promised to “kick ass” in the chess match. The Vigo bunch did not believe this was possible but in the event Manchester won the match 7-4.

Yesterrday the Mancunian players relaxed in Santiago in the amazing sunshine. As I write, the return match is taking place in the prestigious Círculo Mercantil here in Vigo. The chess club here has pulled out all the stops to have their best team this afternoon. We shall see what the result turns out to be.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Giving a good performance!

I once read somewhere that we should try to extend our vocabulary on a regular basis, a few new words every week. I used to try to encourage my A-level French and Spanish students to aim for five a day at least (like the UK government and fruit and veg) and I do know an idealistic young History teacher who has his “word of the week” which he encourages his students to use.

Well, in the last few days I have been extending my vocabulary, just a little, in both Spanish and French.

First of all, in the television news I came across a presenter using the verb ningunear, a new word for me but one whose meaning soon became clear.

Now, ningún is a word that means not any, as in ninguna idea – no idea. In other circumstances it is one of the ways to say no-one or nobody. I didn’t know it could be converted into a verb. Maybe Spanish is developing that very English habit of adapting the grammatical use of words – nouns to verbs to adjectives in a very free and easy manner.

What happened was that the (female) vice-president of the Spanish government, Elena Salgado, presented a budget proposal which was voted on in the cortes, the Spanish parliament. The leader of the opposition, Mr Rajoy, commenting on her report, began by saying he had nothing against la vice-presidenta personally but he wanted to address his remarks to the president, Mr Zapatero. Ouch!!!! He was disregarding her, bypassing her completely; so this is what they meant by ning
unear.

Lots of discussion ensued about whether he was being macho and, interestingly, whether Ms Salgado was “hiding behind her femininity” when she presented her report. I don’t know enough about the ins and outs of the politics and economics to comment on how good her report was but Mr Rajoy’s remarks do seem rather sexist to me. And I tend to agree with one of the pundits interviewed on the television that, regardless of any gender issues, Mr Rajoy was in fact belittling the very post of vice-president by speaking as he did.

Be that as it may, I now have a new word and need to find an opportunity to use it.

My other linguistic acquisition came with the purchase of a printer. We finally decided that it’s a real nuisance having to go to a cybercafé to print documents – boarding cards when doing on-line check-in for RyanAir for instance. So we took ourselves off to A Laxe shopping centre and bought a reasonably priced printer from MediaMarkt.

The box is labelled in French and English and informs us that the machine is économique et performante (economical and reliable) and gives impression rapide et performante (quick and detailed printing. This word performante seems like a useful one to include in my vocabulary, covering efficient, effective, reliable, detailed and no doubt almost anything that expresses performing well. Once more the French appear to have taken an (almost) English word and adapted it to their own idiosyncratic usage.

I don’t like it quite as much as relooker (meaning to revamp, to restyle) which I came across a few years ago in a car advert but, almost certainly in spite of protests from the purists in the Académie Française, this word seems like a good addition to the language: positively performante.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

(Not quite) back in the old routine!!

October seems to be fairly racing along. Here we are, two thirds of the way through the month, the weather’s definitely autumnal and many of the local small dogs have already got their winter coats on. I suppose that like the rest of us they have to show off their new winter fashions as soon as possible. As I said, time is rushing past.

And yet I’ve still not managed to get my life organised into what had become its routine last year, Circumstances keep combining to make my life more complicated than it needs to be. Some of it is my own fault but not all of it by any means.

Once our flurry of summer visitors was out of the way I started to harass the library for information about the book clubs I attended last year, one for books in Castilian and Galician and one for books in French. Eventually they phoned me to see if I was still interested, to which I replied, “Sí, claro, sign me up!” It is worth noting that they, the library people, phoned me up twice about this, got all the necessary details from me and said nothing about restrictions of any kind!! (More about this later.)

At the same time, or maybe a week or two earlier, I received a leaflet from the Asociación de Vecinos Fonte do Gallo, telling me about this year’s activities. So I went along to renew my membership and enrolled once again for yoga and this year for a painting class. All sorted out in plenty of time.

We had already planned to shoot off to the UK for a flying visit in early October but this was not going to be a problem. I had time, just, to attend the first meeting of all my activities, make myself known again and explain that I would miss a week or so and then be back.

It was then that things went slightly pear-shaped. First there was the torrential downpour that prevented me from getting to the library for the first week of the French book club. The following day I missed the first painting class because of a lunch with friends that went on rather longer than expected. Then we set off on our travels a day earlier than originally planned and the Castilian/Galician book club fell by the wayside as well.

To cap it all, when I was in the UK, Vigo library phoned me, yet again, not, as I had hoped, to tell me that the book I had reserved was now available, but to let me know I had been rumbled. It had taken several weeks for the results of their earlier phone calls to be processed and they had just found out that .... wait for it ... my name was on the list for TWO book clubs! Shock, horror!!

This year there is a rule that members can only attend ONE book club. That sounds sensible! A good way to encourage people to use the facilities to the full! No explanation was given. Is the library a victim of its own success? Are the book clubs SO over-subscribed that they have to limit membership? I am making enquiries and intend to find out why their rules are interfering with my social life.

So there it is; so far this year I have managed to attend a couple of sessions of yoga (yesterday morning’s was hi-jacked by negotiations for a Manchester-Vigo junior chess exchange) and one painting class yesterday evening. As the chess exchange is likely to monopolise a good deal on my time next week, I can see it being Christmas before I have my social life organised to my satisfaction once more!

Monday, 19 October 2009

Communication Problems

Back in the North West of England autumn is already making progress: piles of leaves all around and trees turning interesting colours. We appeared to have taken the fine weather with us on our short visit, maybe not the warmth but at least the sunshine.

It would seem that the obras also followed us there. Last Monday morning I set out to catch the bus int
o town from the crossroads near our house, only to find road works in progress there. Then the driver of the bus I intended to catch decided to miss out the usual detour through the village centre because he could not get round the road works. Those of us at the bus stop watched him turn left and disappear!!

Between buses cancelled in Vigo because of flooded roads and drivers taking one-man decisions to change the route, I am clearly fated to have a bad time with public transport at the moment.


Having finally made it into town on a later bus which did manage to get around the road works a
nd collect its passengers, I discovered to my surprise that Christmas has arrived already. The shops do still have witch and ghost outfits for Hallowe’en (fair enough that’s only a couple of weeks away now) but they are also full of Christmas cards, Christmas wrapping paper and boxes mince pies on two for the price of one offers. I wasn’t really surprised at that but I WAS astounded to find that the streets were already festooned with Christmas decorations. Somehow I expect to get bonfire night out of the way first.

My other (not so) little moan about the UK is the relative lack of WIFI facilities around the town. In our haste to pack our bags and set off on our travels we managed to leave behind the one mobile phone which gives us an internet connection on the laptop. So there we were without internet, unable to check our email at intervals throughout the day, a very strange experience in this age of instant communication 24-7, as they say. We had to make use of visits to friends and family to use their internet connection.


When we arrived back in Vigo yesterday we expected to get onto the internet in our usual way, using our mobile dongle –Orange’s Internet Everywhere. No way, José. We just kept getting the message: No ha sido posible establecer conexión. So we phoned the Orange helpline, were passed from pillar to post in the usual fashion. You know the sort of thing: If you want to do this press 1, if you want to do that press 2, hold the line, don’t hang up, listen to this boring and repetitive music, ad infinitum.

Eventually this morning we went to the Orange shop and went through the whole procedure again but this time with a result.
It turned out that we had inadvertently, carelessly, thoughtlessly used our Orange dongle in Portugal. Well, it’s nearly the same country!! And it connected!! BUT it charged us a ridiculous amount of money per minute. The Orange people noticed this and decided it was possible our device had been stolen and used by someone else so they closed our connection.

Only after we had assured them it was not so AND had paid the extortionate amount of money did they reconnect us.
Fortunately it’s easier to find a cafe with WIFI in Spain and we weren’t obliged to go to Starbuck’s or MacDonald’s to check our email which is what happened in Manchester!!!

Monday, 12 October 2009

To Portugal again.

On Wednesday we left rainy Vigo for slightly less rainy Oporto – at least it didn’t rain until the early evening and then it was nothing like the tromba" which drowned Vigo on Monday evening – en route eventually for the UK for a brief stay. Rather than catch a 7.00am bus from Vigo to Oporto airport on Thursday for a 9.45 flight to Liverpool, we chose to go to Oporto on Wednesday, do a little tourism and be able to set off for the airport just a bit later. We arrived to find Oporto blustery but mainly dry with occasional sunshine although I read in their local paper about damage done by heavy rainstorms at the weekend. Clearly they had the same problems as Vigo weather-wise.

We booked into our hotel at lunchtime, late lunchtime given that we had to put our watches back an hour to Portuguese time. Our first priority was, indeed, lunch. It seemed a long time since breakfast.

Down by the waterfront, which looked remarkably like Newcastle on this day of grey skies, wind and threatening rain, we looked at tourist-trap restaurants and decided against them. For once we had not done our homework; usually we go armed with a list of possible eating places meeting our criteria.


We ended up at a little place called O Caravela da Ribeira on Rua Mouzinho da Silveira which offered a perfectly acceptable prato do dia for €5 each: vegetable soup followed by bacalao in a kind of warm potato salad or little fish (unnamed) with salad. Haute cuisine it wasn’t but good basic fare which filled a space nicely. We must have started a trend; some Italians came in after us and then a couple of groups of Spaniard. A restaurant needs customers to attract customers. There is little less appealing to potential diners than an empty restaurant. We have considered offering our services – we would happily sit and eat near the window to act as a magnet for other clients!!

After lunch we went exploring, walking the walk, one of our favourite pastimes. Last time I came to Oporto I promised myself I would cross the Luis I bridge on the top level. However it was not immediately clear how to access that top level where the trains run. Clearly you were not intended to use the ladders in the structure itself; even Iberian health and safety would not allow that!
We looked at a huge flight of steps going up the hillside and opted for the cable car. However, when we reached the top it still was not obvious how to get to the bridge but we found it and successfully made our windy way across, oohing and aahing at the view from up there.


On the other side of the river we had to ask some locals how to get down again to the lower level for the return journey and then went down some steps and through narrow old streets down to the water’s edge.

Back from Gaia to Oporto we headed back up the hill towards our hotel as it was just starting to rain, calling in at the impressive railway station on our way. It’s worth arriving at Oporto by train just to see this amazing station.
En route we bought fruit: 2 oranges, 3 small pears AND a small bottle of water for a grand total of 85 cents.

After a short siesta we set off on a fruitless search for the oldest bookshop in Oporto, Libreria Lello, former haunt of the intellectuals of Oporto. We never found it but we did come across FNAC, one of my favourite bookshops – in Madrid, Paris, Barcelona and now Oporto, this is one of the best organised bookshops I know.

We also found, after much searching, the Café Majestic, where writers and artists are said to have met and talked in the early 20th century although in the end we did not go in. It had taken us so long to find it that the moment had passed. We had a small rant about the poor quality map in our little Spanish guide book and about the map provided by the hotel. Between un-named streets in the one and small streets just eliminated from the other it’s a wonder we even found our way back to the hotel.

On Thursday morning we were up bright and early watching the sun come up through the early morning clouds as we travelled to the airport on Oporto’s efficient metro trains. The, after a quick breakfast at the airport we joined the queue to get on our flight to Liverpool. By late Thursday evening we knew we were back in the UK – colder than we’d been since last Christmas!