Sunday, 28 February 2010

Todo en la vida es como una canción!

Todo en la vida es como una canción, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, sang Massiel just over 40 years ago and with those words she stole the Eurovision Song Contest from Cliff Richard. When I came to Spain as a student not long after her success I discovered that originally Joan Manuel Serrat was going to sing that song. Unfortunately he was insisting on singing it in Catalán, a forbidden language in Franco’s Spain. Consequently he was replaced as Spain’s representative in the competition. Apparently his works were banned and his records burned on the streets of Spain. He was also criticised later by Catalán nationalists for singing in Castellano. It seems as though you can’t win.

And now
I’ve just bought Joan Manuel Serrat’s latest album, Hijo de la Luz y de la Sombra. I could have downloaded it free from the website of the newspaper El País but if I start downloading music I’ll have even more problems with my mobile internet connection. So I went out and bought it in the old-fashioned way and got a DVD as well as the CD as part of the package.

This latest album is a collection of poems by Miguel Hernández, set to music by Joan Manuel Serr
at. The poet Miguel Hernández was active in the republican party during Spain’s Civil War. He was arrested at the end of the Civil War and died of tuberculosis in 1942 in one of Franco’s prisons, apparently writing his poetry on the walls of his cell to the end. The album has been released to coincide with the 100th anniversary of his birth. There were reports of the anniversary in the news and interviews with Joan Manuel Serrat about the making of the album and the selection of the poems. Miguel Hernández is not the first poet Serrat has sung. He is also well known for setting the works of the poet Machado to music.

I tried to think of a parallel situation in the UK, imagining Tom Jones or Cliff Richard singing the poetry of Sassoon or Wilfred Owen. Somehow it didn’t work. We just don’t do that kind of celebrating culture and heritage publicly very often. The nearest I could get was Carla Bruni (yes, Madame Sarkozy, I know, but I did appreciate her songs before she became the first lady of France!) setting the poems of Yeats, Auden and others to music. From an Italian family originally, married to the President of France, good grief, she’s not even a British singer!!!

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Hey, ho, the wind and the rain...

Well, we had a small tregua or truce yesterday with the weather gods. The wind abated somewhat and we had a kind of cloudy-bright day with occasional moments of blue sky and sunshine. Today however, the wind and rain are back with a vengeance. You can tell it must be serious because the chess association has cancelled all matches in the area this weekend because of the bad weather. Cangas and Moaña across the water keep disappearing in a cloud of rain. There are actually proper waves in the estuary. And the tree in the gardens around our flats is leaning dangerously!!!

As I walked back from the supermarket towards the end of this morning in one of the few parts of the day when the rain slackened off to a bit of drizzle, I noticed that the bench at the top of the local park was empty. This park bench is the place where a group of local drunks congregate on a daily basis at around midday. I can quite understand their not being there today. I wouldn’t want to sit on the back of a park bench in the rain either. I did wonder, however, where they were. Where do you go in the inclement weather to share your cartons of cheap wine?

Last year I remember seeing that another bunch who hang around Puerta del Sol had managed to ensconce themselves in the doorway of a bank. Heaven help anyone who wanted to use the ATM in that doorway!! And then there is the entrance to a shop, closed now for a good while, at the end of García Barbón, which appears to become the home of a down and out. When he’s not at home you can see his mattress, his chair, a bundle of bedding and various other belongings, arranged quite neatly waiting for him to return.

It got me thinking about the whole problem of homelessness and begging here and in other countries. Since we have been here in Vigo we have noticed an increase in the numbers of beggars on the streets. There are the regular buskers on Príncipe who almost don’t count as beggars but are rather part of the street furniture. There’s my old friend ¡Nadie Da! Who appears with less regularity than he used to at the end of Príncipe, on his knees, holding his hands up humbly and explaining in his sing-song whine that he is hungry and nobody gives (nadie da). And then there are the parking beggars who you see all over Spain, “helping” people park their cars, pointing out spaces, guiding drivers in, even indicating where the ticket machine is so you can avoid getting a fine and then expecting to be paid for the service. And most people give in to the blackmail. Would you want to come back and find something had happened to your car? You never know!

But where there has been a decided increase is in the number of older men, looking more down on their luck than down and out, sitting outside the supermarkets with a notice saying that they are out of work, without resources and would appreciate a little help, if you can spare it.

Just recently I read an article about La Farola, the Spanish “equivalent” of The Big Issue. I say “equivalent” in inverted commas because whereas you see The Big Issue being sold all over the North West of England (maybe over the whole of England) you rarely see anyone selling La Farola here.

Now, some time in the late 1990s I found a very positive article about La Farola which I used with my A-Level Spanish classes on the topic of homelessness. It talked about how a certain Georges Mathis had started up a street newspaper in France called Le Réverbère (the lamp-post) which had been very successful in helping the homeless who sold it on the streets regain a little financial independence and dignity. He was visiting Barcelona, it seemed, to help set up a similar enterprise called La Farola (also meaning the lamp-post). I even bought a copy of it, in Malaga I think it was.

The more recent article talked about the reappearance of La Farola on the streets of Madrid. It had disappeared some years ago after accusations of swindling and tax dodging. Apparently back in 1996 the magazine sold some 3,500,000 copies throughout Spain. Mathis sold them to the street vendors for 50 pesetas and they sold them on for 200 pesetas, making a profit of 150 pesetas. Not a huge profit for the vendors, perhaps, but the company was making something like 175 million pesetas a year, just over a million euros. None of this income was declared and in the end Mathis had to fold up the operation.

Now it seems to have reappeared but the descriptions of the paper are not very complimentary: se trata de una publicación humilde y extraña: 24 páginas que mezclan artículos de autores extranjeros -no siempre bien traducidos-, publicidades de productos milagrosos, editoriales de difícil comprensión y portadas de creatividad cuestionable – it’s a humble and strange publication: 24 pages which mix articles by foreign writers – not always well translated – with adverts for miraculous products, hard-to-understand editorials and headlines of questionable creativity. The street vendors seem to be mostly Nigerians and those interviewed claim not sell many; they use it as a kind of visual aid to help with their begging. This bears out what I have seen recently as well: a beggar with a copy of La Farola in a plastic wallet, asking for money but making no attempt to sell his only copy of the paper.

It seems rather a pity that the usually cheerful, sometimes cocky, as a rule apparently fairly independent sellers of The Big Issue are reduced here to just another version of the standard street beggar.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Wild weather – random results!

At the weekend a notice appeared on the door of our block of flats. ¡Cuidado! it said. Careful! There was, it transpired, some danger of stones falling from the sixth or seventh floor of the building onto the area opposite the swings in the children’s playground. Residents were asked not to merodear, wander around, in that area. And, just like the scene of a crime, the area was cordoned off with stripy plastic tape, which we have heard flapping in the wind ever since.

Looking up, from a position of safety I hasten to add, we could just make out something sticking out at an odd angle. From the looks of it, the building, to all appearances made of solid stone, is in fact only stone-clad. Not a problem in itself but I suspect that the nasty weather we have been having has caused this new problem of bits falling off. There is nothing like a bit of rain, frost and wind for finding a weak spot and taking advantage of it. A piece of stone cladding was about to take a nose-dive!

I still feel that here in Vigo we are managing to avoid some of the worst excesses of this winter, although I seem to have had a few close calls. On Monday evening I decided to catch the bus home from the town centre after my various social activities rather than walk home. I was glad I did so because I was barely off the bus when the sky lit up with the start of an impressive thunderstorm. Scuttling up the hill to home I succeeded in getting inside before the torrential rain came down. Much the same happened today as I returned from the hairdresser’s.

Last night at my painting class someone was telling us about a tornado in nearby Baiona, reported in this morning’s papers. And a neighbour who was there for a day out – well, when you have visitors from Scotland you have to have days out even if there is a risk of bad weather – reported driving home through hailstones!!

It is generally agreed that the winter has been going on too long now: Este invierno se hace largo. We’ve really had enough and are ready for a touch of spring.

On Monday the mayor of Bilbao was advising people in that city not to go out as there was a serious risk of being blown over. But then Bilbao is a fair way from here and facing onto the Bay of Biscay, noted for winter storms. Even so, we are on yellow alert and the Xunta de Galicia has taken the decision to suspend all outdoor activities in schools here until the storms have abated.

Late this afternoon, just before yet another storm rolled noisily and impressively over us, we noticed a rope waving around outside our window. Nothing seemed to be attached to it and, rather irresponsibly perhaps, we dismissed it as nothing to do with us. Just as I was commenting that I wouldn’t like to be a repairman in the current weather conditions, a man in a safety harness descended slowly past our window. Presumably he had been involved in some kind of repairs or at least stabilising activity on the stonework higher up the building. Rather him than me!

As I said though, we have seemingly escaped some of the major extremes of weather. Other places and other parts of Spain have suffered a good deal more than us. I received an email today from my sister in the south of Spain. She and her husband have just done a pilgrimage to London with a group of friends to see the guitarist Eric Clapton. The London bit of their trip was a piece of cake, very enjoyable and involved no more problems than might be expected with a group of eight or nine mostly Spaniards losing each other from time to time in the capital of the UK. It was their journey that was the nightmare.

They had flights booked from Gibraltar, quite close to where they live, to London. On the outward journey the plane they were due to travel in was unable to land at Gibraltar because of bad weather. They were put on buses and had a three hour ride to Malaga where they caught another plane. Returning to Spain was even more difficult. First their Gatwick – Gibraltar plane was once again diverted to Malaga because of bad weather. Then the plane tried three times, unsuccessfully, to land at Malaga and they were diverted to Granada.

Her email continued: “Twenty minutes later, and with great general relief, we landed at Granada airport. But now the trouble was they didn't know what to do with us. Maybe the coaches would come from Malaga to take us to Gibraltar, but meanwhile we had to sit in the plane till further notice. An hour later we were told, to our dismay, that they had decided to fill up the tanks and try again at Malaga as the weather there had improved. The bad news was that the storm was coming our way and we would have to go through it to get to Malaga. So half an hour later we set off, and finally arrived at what seemed to me an equally stormy Malaga, although this time we managed to land. Did we clap? Sure did, out of sheer relief!!!!”

(Now, before she made her visit to London my sister and I had had a small disagreement about clapping. As she was travelling with a group of Spaniards she said that she expected them to be very noisy and excited on the plane. So I asked her, rather maliciously I do admit, if they intended to clap when the plane landed. She replied huffily to that, telling me that the only people she had seen clapping on planes were drunken English sun-seeking package-holidaymakers, so there! Living in a rather more refined bit of Spain, I have not travelled recently with drunken English sun-seeking package-holidaymakers but on more than one occasion I have landed at Liverpool in a plane full of Spanish and Portuguese travellers who clapped like mad when the plane touched down. Who started it, that’s what I want to know.)

My poor sister was blamed by her friends for all the problems. If she had not booked flights from Gibraltar, all would have been well. Hmmmm, I rather suspect it might be the gods of weather who caused the chaos! Be that as it may, my sister is now advising all and sundry NOT to fly from Gibraltar!

Sunday, 21 February 2010

More Galician Pride

A couple of weeks ago I came across an article brimming with indignation. It appeared that a Catalan swimmer, David Meca, had been paid a rather large amount of money to take part in a challenge of some kind intended to give publicity to Xacobeo 2010. Quite a large number of Galician sports personalities – cyclist Óscar Pereiro, winner of the Tour de France 2009, Cano Rodriguez, paralympic swimmer, Estefanía Hernández, European Taekwondo champion, and many more – declared that it was una vergüenza, unha vergoña (Spanish and gallego for “a disgrace”) to give money to someone from outside (de fuera, de fóra) when there are plenty of Galicians who could have taken part instead, probably for less money.

Hopefully they all felt better when the Goyas were presented last week. This Spanish version of the Oscars saw a lot of awards going to at least two gallegos. Emma Lustres hails from O Grove and runs a film company Vaca Films with her husband Borja Pena. Emma explained that the name of the company is muy gallego, short and with 2 “a”s, just like Zara, a VERY well known Galician name. Besides, Julio Bardem’s very gallego film “Vacas” is one of her favourites. Her film Celda 211 won 8 awards in the Goyas as well as being a great success with the public. She told the press, En Galicia se pueden hacer cosas que gustan al público. Emma Lustres is reported to have been seen going around the carnaval in O Grove with her estatuilla in her hands.

The star of the film, Luis Tosar, from Lugo, picked up the award for best actor. This is his third Goya. In 2003 he won one for best supporting actor in Los Domingos al Sol and in 2004 he was best actor in Te Doy mis Ojos. Obviously he is going from strength to strength. He thinks his mother might just find room for this latest award.

When the actor made his acceptance speech, in gallego of course, he caused great excitement in the Pub Atlántico in Santiago de Compostela. A party full of celebrities was underway but extra excitement was caused, it seems, by Luis Tosar mentioning the place in his speech.

Galicia does it again. All they need to do now is prove that Pe(nelope Cruz) is from this end of Spain!

And then came the news from the fashion world. The Cibeles Fashion Show in Madrid has apparently been dominated by a Galician fashion design company called El Ego. The very un-Galician named Sara Coleman from La Coruña who has been with company since 2007 and the viguesa Isabel Mastache who only five months ago finished her fashion design studies in Pontevedra were the stars of the show, according to La Voz de Galicia.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Carnaval Post Script

Well, Carnaval came and went, rather wetly in the end in Canarias where the rain came down once again. Andalucía suffered floods in Jerez as well, closing the airport there and causing general chaos in an area that has suffered more from drought than flooding in the last 20 years or so. Today I read that in the UK Birmingham airport is closed because of snow. If the odd weather patterns continue in this way, pretty soon air travel will grind to a halt. I’m not sure that any other means of travel will be much better, however.

Here we had rain on Wednesday evenin
g as well but it didn’t stop the fireworks in Cangas which we could just see from our window, standing on tiptoe and peering over the block of flats to our left.

I did not watch any sardines bein
g buried in Vigo but I did discover that Goya had painted a small picture called El Entierro de la Sardina, sometime between 1812 and 1819, as part of a series on costumbres españolas.

By Thursday morning the decorations and lights were being removed from the centre of Vigo and things were getting back to normal.

Our internet connection continues to be mega-slow so this
morning I bit the bullet and phoned Orange, our internet provider. As usual I had to go through the routine of if you want option A, press 1, if you want option B, press 2 until finally I was put in a queue to speak to a real person. “Mantenga la espera. En breve le atenderemos,” I heard at least 5 or 6 times before María or Charo or whatever her name was finally informed me that we have used up our official quota for this month. Consequently for what remains of February our connection will be slow and if we want to download anything or add files or photos to emails it will be virtually impossible. ¡Vaya fastidia! How did we manage to use up so much in just over two weeks?

I was tempte
d to try to barter. We didn’t use any gigabytes in December as we were in the UK and, having had to pay over the odds on the occasion when we accidentally used our mobile connection in Portugal, we left the dispositivo out of harm’s way in our flat in Vigo. Couldn’t we use our December allowance to counterbalance our February excesses? Unfortunately the system doesn’t work like that. Internet works in the present only!

So here I
am posting this blog in a WIFI café and adding a selection of pictures that didn’t get posted earlier in the week. Here we have Minnie Mouse and even Minnier Mouse on the way to the Carnaval parade.

The mobile jazz band,

a whole boatload of pirates

and lots of Bob Esponja lookalikes.

Double trouble on the bouncing castle.

A member of the Carnaval Royal family, her friend the dragon and a couple of Carnaval “queens”.

finally a bevy of Galician beauties/crossdressers singing Dirty Old Town in gallego.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Problems in the Casco Vello

Vigo’s Casco Vello, like the old quarters of most Spanish towns, is made up mostly of narrow winding streets, barely wide enough for modern traffic. Unlike the old quarters of places like Santiago de Compostela or Pontevedra, Vigo’s old town is not really its best asset at the moment. The tunnel through from Plaza de la Princesa to the biblioteca pública is still rather unpleasant and often smelly. The Plaza de la Constitución is a delightful square but it still looks like a work in progress at the moment. Calle de los Cesteros (Basket Makers street) is, it has to be admitted, a very pretty sight but if you progress further into the old quarter you can see that it needs work.

This week the decision has been taken to restrict motorised access. As from Monday of this week only residents and public services can drive through the barrio histórico and can’t go any faster than 20 kilometres per hour. The idea, according to Xulio Calviño, conjecal de Tráfico, is to give priority to pedestrian access, no doubt as part of the improvement and eventual inevitable gentrification of the old quarter. Bollards have been installed to restrict access and parking is strictly limited. Deliveries can be made between 8 and 11 in the morning but otherwise the streets should be seriously pedestrian-friendly.

This was a timely move. On Monday and Tuesday the merdeiros from the Carnaval were able to run unhindered through the streets whacking away at passersby at will and in no danger of being run over in the process. It featured in television reports on Tuesday evening.

Other people, however, seem less pleased with the idea and there have been protests, also reported on television. Despite assurances that alternative parking has been provided at a reasonable price some people are saying that many residents are going to have problems. Very few houses in the old quarter have garages – understandable as they were built at a time when the people living there would not have had cars – and the general improvement plan does not permit converting the bajos, ground floor sections of the building, into garages.

The cynic in me is not surprised. I can visualise a future time when those
bajos are all twee boutiques and souvenir shops (aka tat shops), cafés, bistros and fancy restaurants. The old quarter is a place where people still live. The casco vello is also potentially a huge tourist attraction but it should not be a Disneyworld tourist attraction. The problem is going to be finding a middle road.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

On the streets of Vigo … again.

A cold coming they had of it … oh, no, it wasn’t the three kings this time it was Carnaval. (Apologies Mr T. S. Elliot for misquoting your poem!) And they certainly had a cold time of it. The Carnaval procession made its way along Rosalía de Castro accompanied by the most biting wind imaginable. At least it didn’t rain or snow, as it did in some parts of the country. The cold did not prevent lots of people from turning out in fancy dress and did not seem to damp the enthusiasm of those taking part in the parade.

Even before the parade started there was plenty to see on Plaza de Compostela: There were what appeared to be mobile jazz bands, a group of large shellfish and an impressive green dragon as well as hundreds of pirates and a whole hoard of Bob Esponja lookalikes (non Spanish speakers, that’s your old friend Sponge Bob Square Pants).

Once it got started, the parade went on and on and on. Some of the dancers looked as though they were risking hypothermia. The more sensible of them had bodystockings under their bikinis and flimsy skirts but not all of them. The newspaper the next day complimented the participants on the wonderful show and declared that algunas jóvenes bailarinas vestían unos ventilados modelitos que quitaban el hipo. Now, that is a wonderful way of saying that their skimpy costumes took your breath away but means literally that they shocked your hiccoughs away. No further comment needed.

Mind you, for the best of the carrozas (more or less “floats”), it would be worth their while. Each one was numbered and there are prizes for the ones judged to be the best: 400, 300 and 200 euros.

Sunday was only slightly less cold but many still turned out in their costumes to wait inline for turns on the many hinchables (bouncing castles) on Plaza de Compostela while at the other end of the alameda a group of drag princesses were on stage singing Dirty Old Town in ... yes, you’ve guessed it ... gallego.

In Plaza de la Constitución the merdeiros were out and about. Vigo’s Carnaval apparently belongs to the fishing community and the merdeiros are apparently a satirical comment on agricultural workers who collected the manure for their fields. In their modern guise they chased children, and some adults, around the square threatening them with big sticks and trying to put them in the rubbish bins.

The fun and games continued yesterday and today. At this time of year it’s hard to move around the old part of town without coming across a procession. Today it all comes to an end with the burying of the sardine, another excuse for dressing up and parading through the streets down to the harbour where a mock burial service will take place. In Santa Cruz de Tenerife, however, they continue with the jollities and don't bury the sardine until Saturday. But then, apart from recent rain storms, as a rule they have better weather for dancing on the streets.

One explanation for the Entierro de la Sardina is that a group of university students in 19th century Madrid decided it would be a good idea to conduct a funeral procession for a sardine, As with many odd acts of behaviour in Spain, such as throwing tomatoes at each other or running in front of wild bulls, the Spanish decided to make a festival out of it. Others give it more importance and say that the Entierro de la Sardina is symbolic for the fasting and abstinence that follows in the period of lent. It sounds like another case of pagan rites of spring with sacrifices to ensure good harvests in the coming year being incorporated into the Christian calendar.

And although there have been pancake making competitions and concursos de postres de carnaval, I have not had a single pancake. However, yesterday morning my panadera did give me a bag of broken orejas de carnaval, strange confections made from batter, I think, which when whole look like the ears of the BFG and which all the children love to take to school for Carnaval parties!!!

This blog should have been festooned with photos but unfortunately the system let me down. Apologies to anyone who was looking forward to a visual feast!!!

Sunday, 14 February 2010

International culture?!

I was struck by a headline in the newspaper El País the other day. Es increíble lo mal que Francia conoce la cultura española, it said. Frédéric Mitterrand, French Minister for Culture and Communication and nephew of another well-known Frenchman of the same name, was expressing some concern about how little the French know about Spanish culture. He was visiting his Spanish counterpart in Madrid, Ángeles González-Sinde, discussing among other things the problems of piratería, declaring that the French music industry is suffering terribly from people downloading music and trying to drum up support for international counter-measures.

I susp
ect that they might be fighting a losing battle. While fuddy-duddies like me might enjoy buying albums, remembering nostalgically the pleasure of waiting for the release of a new album, buying it, taking it home from the shop and finally playing it, a younger generation is into the I-want-it-now-today-if-not-sooner culture. They can and will download tunes and legislation is unlikely to stop them. But I do sympathise with Monsieur Mitterrand.

However, it was the headline above all that interested me. He
told us that he had in a way grown up on the cinema, a lot of American cinema but also Spanish. That is where he went on to deplore the French ignorance of Spanish cinema, in fact of all sorts of cultural “things Spanish”. But then, he went on to say, in France you can do your baccalauréat (Spanish bachillerato, English A-Levels) without reading a single work of Shakespeare. Not quite a non-sequitor as he had been going on a bit about international culture.

What he needs to be aware of, however, is that it is almost possible in England to do your A-Levels wit
hout reading a single work of Shakespeare, let alone in France. To study A levels it is generally accepted that students need GCSE English and I know that when English students take their GCSE in English it is supposed to include some literature and that is supposed to mean studying a Shakespeare play. But, and this is quite a big but, I have known a fair number of students in England who managed not to read any Shakespeare. Their set Shakespeare play was Romeo and Juliet and instead of reading the whole play they watched the film of that name starring Leonardo di Capprio and only read “key” scenes from the text itself. I suspect old Shakespeare himself might have approved of this. After all, he meant his plays to be performed rather than just read.

What really struck me though was a difference in attitude. It seems to be generally accepted in both France and Spain that young people should be given an overview of their cultural heritage, at least as far as literature is concerned. Somewhere along the way this seems to have been lost in the UK, which seems to me to be really rather a pity.

A completely different aspect of internatio
nal culture is the news that an Australian farmer is growing and selling pimientos de Padrón. In his marketing material he uses an old gallego saying about these little green peppers, os pementos de Padrón, uns pican e outros non, translating it as “The peppers of Padrón, some are hot and some not”. He also stresses the nutritional value of pimientos de Padrón, informing the Aussies about vitamins A, B1, B2 and C and iron found in the peppers, as well as their ability to reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol and generally aid digestion. There you go. As I have commented on a number of occasions, Galicia IS the centre of the universe.

If further proof of this last fact is needed, simply consider el sacacorchos de Koala Internacional. This internationally selling (apparently) nifty little special opener for bottles of champagne and, of course, cava was invented by the Koala company run, despite its very Australian sounding name, by a vigués by the name of Francisco Barberá. Some 700 000 were sold all over the world last year.

Another successful gallego!!!!

Friday, 12 February 2010

Typically ........

I was laughing yesterday as a friend of ours railed against the inefficiency of certain nationalities, declaring that if you wanted to get things done you needed the organisational skills of northern Europeans, especially the British or the Germans. Wow! The stereotypes were pouring out there. And then it got me thinking about the meeting of the French book club at the library earlier this week.

We should have been discussing a book called Persepolis, a novel in cartoon form, a “graphic” novel they call them nowadays. Marjane Satrapi uses the story of her life as an idealistic child and rebellious teenager to write about the Islamic revolution and the overthrow of the shah of Iran. When it was made into an animated film in 2007 with Catherine Deneuve as the voice of one
of the characters, the Iranian government complained about the image it portrayed of their country, probably in part because it won prizes at the Cannes Film Festival and therefore received a lot of publicity.

Even though
last week we had spent a good deal of time talking about veils and burkas and the situation of women in some Islamic countries, this week the book and its theme were barely mentioned. Instead there was a lot of excited talk about a planned visit to Paris later this year.

This led on to the attitude of the French and of Parisians in particular to foreigners attempting to speak their language and before we knew it we were onto racial stereotypes.
Parisians are cold and haughty. Southern French people are generally ni
cer than those from the North. The Spanish are too direct and the English are too restrained. And the Galicians?

Well, that opened a whole can of worms. W
hat it came down to in the end is that gallegos are downtrodden, undervalued, the butt of Spanish jokes and generally the underdog. That was not, I hasten to say, the view of everyone but there was a significant vociferous minority telling us, in French of course, the following things:

• around here there are no road signs in gallego. So how is it that I learnt the gallego word for except –
agas – from a road sign? What about all the traffic information notices at the roundabout near our block of flats?
• printed information is always given out in castellano. I beg your pardon but my first reading matter in gallego was information leaflets I picked up here, there and
• you never hear gallego spoken in streets and shops. Well, I do, all the time. No, it’s not the main language you hear in Vigo but it’s still there. One of our number pointed out how much you DO hear if you are in Santiago de Compostela.

• films are not dubbed into gallego but always into castellano. Well, maybe not for the cinema but I’ve been highly amused to see well known actors from old American cowboy films speaking gallego. An
yway, they should, as I have said before, be watching films in their versión original.

However, on the plus side, it would appear that:

gallego is an older language than castellano. Hmmmm, a hard one to prove or disprove but if you’re talking age, both of them came from Latin, a much older language, and look where that ended up!

• there was literature in gallego before there was any in castellano. I have some doubts there but I’m willing to be persuaded.
• poetry is more expressive in gallego than in castellano. This, apparently, is because there are things you can say in gallego that you can’t say in castellano. Well, yes, BUT there are things you can say in English or German or Japanese or
(insert language of choice) that you can’t say in any other.

And so the conversation went round and round. One lady was praised for teaching her children to speak gallego. Another was criticised having been a gallego speaker and having lost her birth language. Anyone who was not a native of Galicia but had learnt to speak it was, of course, a hero and it was generally agreed that everyone should make an effort to learn the language.

It all got rather heated at times. Someone referred to Galicia as a region and was reprimanded. Galicia, we were in
formed, is a country!! I did ask, not so innocently, if Andalucía was also a country and Extremadura and Murcia and so on. (No, I didn’t go quite so far as to ask about Ceuta and Melilla. Heavens, I didn’t want to end up giving them back Gibraltar!) I didn’t really get a satisfactory answer. Everyone seems prepared to say that Cataluña and the País Vasco are countries but then the definition gets a bit blurred.

There was a fair amount of discu
ssion about how representative of Spain is the Spanish flag. Should they perhaps have come up with a completely new flag along with the new constitution in 1978? What they did in fact was change the coat of arms from Franco’s time to a new version.

If you
hail from Galicia can you wave the Spanish flag in support of a Galician cyclist in the Tour de France? Or does that undermine you gallegoness? Maybe I missed the waving of Galician flags when I saw the Tour on TV. I did see plenty of Basque flags and Spanish ones.

Fortunately somebody mention
ed the relative merits of Santiago de Compostela and La Coruña and suddenly everyone was united in the belief that Vigo is not only the biggest but the best city of Galicia.

Someone trotted out a saying:
Santiago reza, Coruña pasea pero Vigo trabaja.

Santiago de Compostela prays (big impressive cathedral, pilgrimage), La Coruña goes for a walk (much more picturesque for a long stroll along the sea front) but Vigo works (this is the place with the industry and the working spirit).

And with that everyone went home happy. Phew!!!!

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Lost in dubbing!

I have to confess to never having seen a single episode of the series Lost. Maybe it’s bacause failed to catch the beginning of the very first series which meant that it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to me. Maybe it was one description of it as a mixture of a thriller and a reality TV game show that put me off; I saw odd bits – never a whole episode - of the series Survivors and wasn’t impressed. Maybe it’s a generation thing; I know hoards of people the age of my own children who watch it avidly. Whatever the reason, I’ve never seen any of it and don’t intend to go out and buy it on DVD or download it from the internet.

However, the latest and final series began on Spanish TV last night, dubbed of course into Spanish and just the other day I came across an article about the doblaje súper acelerado which is going on. Apparently the American film and television companies used to take their time dubbing films and series for release in non English speaking countries but nowadays the pressure is on. People are downloading stuff from the internet as soon as it is released in the USA and this means that the companies lose money, as usual the driving factor in getting something done faster!

As a result the dubbing team for Lost – around 70 people - will be working about 14 hours a day from now until the last episode goes out here some time in May. Presumably they get weekends off but the whole thing is on a high stress cycle. Four days before each episode goes out in the United States it is sent to the dubbing company in Spain where they translate the script, work at matching the length of each bit of Spanish speech to the lip movements of the original actors, record it, add the music, mix the whole thing and then transmit the finished item, one week after its transmission in the states. This process is repeated week on week on week.

Now you might think it would be sensible to send the whole lot in plenty of time and reduce everyone’s stress levels. After all, they have to do that with films so that they can get as close as possible to simultaneous release in the USA and Europe. However, the secrecy element comes into play as well. There is a great fear, not to say paranoia, that someone will leak events in the series prior to release on TV. The more episodes dubbed in advance, the greater the possibility that someone will give in to the temptation to sell the secret of the ending to the press. Now, that would never do and so everyone is sworn to secrecy and drip-fed the story of the series.

One of the Spanish actors, Lorenzo Beteta, who is the voice of Jack, main man of the series, I believe, is a little concerned about what would happen if he were to lose his voice. The dubbing company have understudies ready but, as he points out, it would be rather like changing the actor half way through a series. Spanish viewers, of course, have grown used to hearing Lorenzo Beteta’s voice coming out of the mouth of Matthew Fox who plays Jack in the series. It must be very confusing as Beteta is also the voice of David Duchovny (X Files and Californication) and Robert Sean Leonard (House). I know a number of people who really admire actors such as Merryl Streep and Hugh Grant (!tan guapo! they always say, so maybe in his case it’s just his looks) but have no notion of what they sound like. Personally, I find it strangely disconcerting if I accidentally see a film dubbed into English and hear an actor whose work I am familiar speaking with someone else’s voice!

I wonder what they do when they dub an episode of The Simpsons where they have a guest appearance of a famous actor. Well, of course, they must use whichever Spanish actor regularly dubs that person’s roles. But what about singers? That strange breed know just as “celebrities”? Even the occasional politician?

At least with series like Lost they change the name to Spanish – Perdidos. Why, I ask myself and anyone else who can offer an answer, did the children’s film Up! not change its name to ¡Arriba! – a perfectly good Spanish word?

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Now, what’s the word for .....?

Recently in the supermarket I ran into one of my companions from the yoga class. She had not attended for a while and asked me, “¿Tienes ido a yoga últimamente?” which translates more or less as “Have you been to yoga lately?” Nothing surprising in being asked such a question, you might say. No, indeed. What surprised me was the way she asked the question.

Over years and years of teaching Spanish to youngsters in the UK I worked hard to make them understand that when you say that someone has done something you can’t do it with the usual verb “to have” (tener) which is used for possession. Instead you have to use a special verb “to have” (haber) which is used almost exclusively to say what people have or had done. (OK, there are a few other ways to use it but not many.) And there was this Spanish lady, making the mistake my students used to try to make all the time. I would have expected her to say ¿Has ido a yoga últimamente?” My goodness, she could have failed GCSE Spanish!

Now, I stopped and had a little think about this. The lady in the yoga class is a gallego speaker and I have been told that in gallego they don’t have a way of saying “have/has done”; they just use the simple past tense “did”. (It’s the reverse of what happens in French where they don’t say “did” but always “have done”. It does cause havoc when they try to speak English and it can be very entertaining.)

On other occasions I’ve heard castellano speakers say things like “tengo entendido”, not really saying “I have understood” but just “I understand”, with a bit of emphasis, almost like saying, “I have got it in my head”. Similarly, I’ve heard “tengo pensado ir a ...”, not really saying “I have thought about going to ...” but more, “I’ve got an idea about going”, rather like that unusual English expression, maybe only northern English, “I’m minded to ....”. What’s more, the teacher who ran the gallego conversation workshop I went to last year explained that it is possible to use that kind of construction in gallego as well. In fact it’s probably the only time that you would put the verb “to have” (ter in gallego) together with a past participle (done, been, etc)

As I said, the lady from the yoga class is a gallego speaker. She is old enough to have spoken gallego before she spoke castellano although she probably did all her lessons in castellano at school. I suspect that she has unconsciously transferred the construction from one language to the other. It’s one of those little linguistic oddities that makes living here even more interesting.

Of course, as a rule it’s the use of English that brings in these oddities. Last summer El Corte Inglés had a huge poster their store on Gran Vía. It stated in large letters “Where the Fashion is Art”, with the Spanish version in smaller letter below, “Donde la Moda es Arte”. Word for word the translation is perfect; we just don’t use “the” in that situation in English. That’s another trip down memory lane; how many times did I try to get that rule into my students’ heads?

More recently it was a T-shirt in Zara that caught my eye. “Between Brackets”, it said, a perfect literal translation of “entre paréntesis”, not completely wrong in this case, quite comprehensible in fact. It’s just that most people would say “in brackets”. No prizes for finding me some more examples!

Still on the subject of words, I have been interested and amused by the names of streets as I walk around Vigo. What particularly strikes me is the use of travesía. In the dictionary you will find this translated as cross-street and you will find numerous examples around this city. Looking up a restaurant on the Internet the other day, I found its address as Primera Travesía de Santiago de Vigo: the first cross-street by Santiago de Vigo church. And it is a cross-street too: it takes you up from García Barbón to Rúa Uruguay. The next street along is Segunda Travesía de Santiago de Vigo. They are all over the place. Off Calle Colombia there are two little side streets called simply Primera Travesía and Segunda Travesía. Today I came across a little side-street not far from here called Travesía da Horta – Vegetable Garden Cross Street.

What I want to know now is why one of the biggest streets here is called Travesía de Vigo. Presumably because it crosses Vigo itself.

Of course this kind of thing happens in other languages as well. We stayed with an Italian lady once whose address began 4, Vicolo 2 and then the name of the street. She lived at number 4, Alley 2. What’s more, the postman regularly delivered letters to that address. He had no difficulty finding it. In the same town we knew someone who stayed in a place on Vicolo Stretto, literally Narrow Alley. It was extremely narrow too; our friend was thin enough to get up it but she had great difficulty carrying her suitcase up it.

We don’t need to resort to such linguistic devices to name roads in England, of course, with our totally confusing array of roads, streets, avenues, groves, drives, lanes, walks and goodness only knows what else. I challenge anyone to try to explain the difference between all of those to a Spaniard!

Friday, 5 February 2010

What, no grelos, no cocido gallego!!!!

¡Domingo, hay cocido! ¡Martes y jueves, hay cocido! ¡Hoy, hay cocido!

You see the notices outside restaurants all over Vigo, indeed, all over Galicia. If you really worked at it you could find somewhere serving cocido (and eat it) every single day of the week.
You might have a prodigious indigestion as a result but that’s a different matter.

Cocido, basically stew, is one of the favourite
dishes around here. The main ingredients are lots of meat, some chorizo, white kidney beans (or some people prefer chickpeas), potatoes and grelos. These are turnip tops. I suppose you might call them “greens”. Nunci who went to yoga with me last year used to get seriously over-excited when she knew there were grelos on sale.

Cocido i
s a dish you can’t really be indifferent about. You either love it or you can’t digest it. Not being a great meat eater at the best of times I tend to fa
ll into the latter camp.

Now, there would seem
to be something of a problem with the supply of grelos in some parts of Galicia at the moment. This has definitely been the worst winter for a really long time here in Galicia, well, in the whole of Spain, indeed in the whole of Europe. One consequence of the excessive rain in November, followed by very low temperatures is that the grelos harvest in the Xestoso district near La Coruña, instead of being a nice green, is a sort of dirty frost-bitten brown.

Grelos producers say that it is only the milder weather of recent weeks that has saved the harvest and even so it is down to about 50%. Even so, they tell us, “Non son de boa calidade.”

It’s not just cocido that will suffer either. There is a dish called grelos salteados, where the greens are spiced up a little with the addition of chilli peppers. Then there is sopa de grelos and, of course, caldo gallego, a rather tasty broth. And we must not forget lacón con grelos, a sort of joint of pork served up with ... wait for it... grelos!!!

As you can see grelos figure in Galician cookery almost as r
egularly as patatas.

The situation gets worse because next Sunday is the feira do grelo de Val
Xestoso when prizes are given for the best bunches of greens. (Around here, they DO like to have ferias at the drop of a hat, especially on food-related themes!) How will they ever manage to produce enough lacón con grelos for the degustación (tasting) which is a big part of the feira?

There is one pie
ce of good news however: because of the recent milder weather there will be plenty of grelos in March. But by then carnavales will be over and really it will be too late!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

A bit of local pride

Last night at the painting class the air was fairly buzzing. First of all there were the ladies declaring that they were going on the demonstration called by the mayor, Abel Caballero, against the merger of Caixanova and Caixa Galicia, two Galician banks. They were not doing it, they said, for Abel Caballero but for Vigo.

One of the problems, as I understand it (and I have to admit to a very limited understanding), is that the main offices of Caixanova are here in Vigo whereas after the proposed merger the head offices would probably be in La Coruña. I have been told before about a longstanding rivalry between Vigo and La Coruña. There is some feeling that Vigo missed out on money that was spent on improving La Coruña. And then, of course, there is the vexed question of the airports, although it may be that Santiago de Compostela is winning that one. Mind you, all three Galician airports could well have missed the boat (or the budget aeroplane) as Oporto seems to be doing much better.

Whatever the case, the ladies were determined that they were going to stand up for Vigo. Mr Feijoó, President of Galicia, on the other hand, has been heard to say that if Caixanova and Caixa Galicia don’t go ahead with the merger, one or other of them might end up merging with some other bank that has its head offices in Madrid! And we don’t want that do we?!? He is determined to continue defendiendo los intereses de Galicia which seems to be what everyone here really wants to do, isn’t it? They just have some difficulty making their minds up how to do it.

Meanwhile the ladies at the painting class had moved on to the equally vexed question of schools and which language subjects should be taught in. The general consensus was that they approved of gallego being taught as a subject but didn’t really see the point of insisting that Maths, for example, should be taught in that language. They didn’t want gallego to disappear and even switched over to speaking that language to show their allegiance. Some of them had learnt gallego at school and were quite satisfied with the experience.

So I told them about something I had read in La Voz de Galicia about Wales, that country on the edge of the UK with some similarity to Galicia. The population of both countries is roughly the same, they are both rather hilly and both have an extensive coastline. The article didn’t mention rainfall but most of my visits to Wales have involved wearing a raincoat.

One big difference, though, seems to be that whereas Galicia is concerned about the possibility of losing gallego speakers, the number of Welsh speakers is going up: 18.7% of the population in 1991 and 20+% in 2004. Not a big increase but still an increase! The language is spoken more in the North and East of the country. In some places, such as Newport on the English border, you will hardly hear it. (One reason given for this that in the past the miners in the area were forbidden to speak Welsh, a measure of control by the mainly English owners of the mines that sounds rather familiar!) But on the whole Welsh is felt to be doing quite nicely, thank you!

One of my companions in the painting class was unaware of Welsh as a language. At best she thought it was dialect of English. How shocking? Cymraeg is apparently one of the oldest languages in Europe. It survived invasions by Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Normans, probably because many of the speakers lived in hamlets in the hills, rather like the Basques. Its usefulness as an international language is limited as it is only spoken in Wales and in an area of Patagonia in South America, taken there by emigrants. Oh, that’s another similarity to Galicia!

In 1990 it became obligatory for all 5 to 14 year olds in Welsh schools to learn Welsh, even if they had moved into the country from other parts of the UK. In 1999 this was extended to include up to 16 year olds. (This, of course, stands rather oddly alongside the decision taken in 2004 to make the study of modern foreign languages in English (and presumably Welsh) schools after the age of 14 optional rather than compulsory with a resulting drop in numbers of youngsters studying French, Spanish and German. That, however, is a different story.) The Welsh Language Assembly says that 41% of all 4 to 15 year olds can now speak Welsh.

So what is the secret of their success? Contrary to the views of the painting class ladies, part of the answer is immersion in the language. 1000 nursery schools in Wales use Welsh so the small people are learning it as they play. In some 400 of these nursery schools parents have the option of staying and learning Welsh alongside their children as they play. This does mean that the parents need to have the leisure to opt to do that. It is a different matter if both parents have to dash off to earn a living but getting the parents involved is a BIG plus factor. What is more, this model was successful enough for the Basques to copy it in their network of ikastolak – primary and secondary schools where most or all of the teaching takes place in the Basque language.

Another factor seems to be a measure of autonomy, even within the strictures of the National Curriculum. By no means ALL schools in Wales follow the immersion pattern. Some 55 secondary schools use Welsh for the delivery of more than half of the curriculum. The remaining 170 use English for most subjects but in some cases teach a few subjects in Welsh. 464 primary schools go for the 50+% in Welsh pattern while 938 use mainly English.

So teaching predominantly in Welsh is by no means the norm but still1 in 5 children in Wales are learning in Welsh - well doing 50% of their learning in Welsh. Research shows no detrimental effects on children’s progress in English, something that concerns parents quite a lot. And it appears that those schools using the immersion method do get better results, not just in Welsh but in all subjects. Better results mean access to better universities which in turn means better job prospects. And, of course, the ability to speak Welsh improves job prospects in Wales itself. Parents do like their offspring to do well.

It’s interesting that no-one is saying that subjects MUST be taught in Welsh in ALL schools. Neither is anyone saying that parents must be able to choose which language their children are taught in although effectively this is happening as those parents who CAN choose are opting to send them to the most successful schools. Enough said!

Monday, 1 February 2010

Friends re-united! ?

My friend Maria and I had a plan for today. It was hatched one day last week as we took shelter from a shower of rain in a Vigo cafe. It wasn’t really fit to sit outside and besides it was the wrong time of day for the sun to be warming our cafe. Now, if the rain stopped and we were across the water in Cangas we could sit outside in the sunshine. And so we decide that on Monday, provided it wasn’t pouring down, we would go to Cangas for coffee. Forget about ladies-who-lunch; we would be ladies-who-have-coffee.

Today turned out to be a day of glorious sunshine and clear blue sky, a bit nippy in the shade but fine for sitting on the top deck of the Cangas ferry. By the way, there are now two companies operating the cross-ría routes, after talking about stopping all of them not too long ago. There must be some political wrangling behind it as there really were hardly enough passengers today to merit so many boats. The attitude of the employees of the two companies was interesting. One, super-loyal, was only prepared to give information about the company she worked for while the other was quite happy to provide general information about boat times, much more helpful.

And so we arrived at Cangas mid-morning and went to have a look at the old market hall. María had the idea that there might be people selling fruit and veg but in fact the few stalls operating were only selling fish. Now, from reading Domingo Villar I know that Galician fishing boats don’t go out on Sundays and so we avoid having fish in restaurants on Mondays as we understand it will either be frozen on rather less than fresh. However, the fishmonger lady assured María that the fish had been caught this morning and she was happy with that.

What happened next was very Spanish. María did not want to carry fish around with us all morning so she arranged to leave the fish for the fishmonger to clean and she would pick it later on our way back to the boat at around one o’ clock. She was not to worry, the fishmonger reassured her. If she had packed up and gone home she would leave the fish wrapped up on the counter for María. No-one would take it. Wonderful!

(The old market hall itself is of interest, a fine example of a disappearing phenomenon. Rather like in the UK, the old market halls are falling into disuse and being replaced with other things. María told me that where we now find the Hotel Bahia, the blue multi-storey building that overshadows the waterfront of Vigo and even manages to dwarf the A Laxe shopping centre, there used to be a bigger and better market hall in the same style as the one in Cangas. Unfortunately it fell foul of property speculators long ago and in its place the city got a rather ugly building of no interest whatsoever.)

As we strolled around Cangas, heading for the old part of town in the streets behind the main thoroughfare, a kind of subtext to our excursion began to make itself plain to me. María began to tell me how she feels a kind of nostalgic regret every time she goes to Cangas. Here used to live a friend from her school days with whom she had lost touch and she wondered if she would even recognise her if she passed her on the street today, some forty years down the line.

The next thing I knew she was stopping a postman and asking how long he had worked that route. Just as it became clear he was far too young to remember anything interesting, a lady looked down from a balcony. “I don’t suppose you know the mother of Inés?” asked María. “Un momento,” came the reply and we heard the lady clattering down the stairs and opening the front door to us. There then followed one of those conversations: “You mean the Inés who lived in this house here?” “She had a sister called ....” “The mother did so and so.” “And there was a boy as well.” “Well, they moved house in such and such a year.” And so it went on. We almost found out what they all ate for breakfast most days.

The upshot of it was that Inés now worked in a baker’s shop - down this road, along the main street a way, past that awning you can see there, just beyond the modern dress shop, up the next street, multiply it by the number you first thought of and Bob’s your uncle, there it is on the right - and our informative, talkative lady left her door wide open and accompanied us to the point where we could indeed see the awning on the main street.

And so we did indeed find the baker’s shop, a rather interesting one selling all sorts of different kinds of bread. And when we went in and asked for Inés, there indeed she was. María recognised her at once and went and hugged her. The poor woman was bemused, confused and befuddled – who wouldn’t be? – but María put her right and they had a little chat about the classmate who became a nun, the one who got married, the one who didn’t, the one who moved away to another country and so on. Inés refused to have her photo taken, not even for an old re-discovered friend like María and we said goodbye and went on our way.

María declared herself a bit miffed, a bit let down. Had the situation been reversed she would have exchanged phone numbers, suggested going for coffee another day when she would not be busy in the bread shop, kept up some semblance of the intention to maintain contact. But here, nothing! Well, at least she seemed happy, was her final consoling thought.

I did wonder what would happen if I were to go back to the street where some old school friend of mine used to live. I suspect that I might just find someone who vaguely remembered a family of that name, at least if I was in the right sort of place such as the village on the outskirts of Manchester where we lived for twenty odd years. I don’t know if anyone could direct me so unerringly to the place where my hypothetical old friend might work, however! Most of us went off to work in different parts of the country, even different parts of the world.

Is it just Spain? Is it just Galicia? Or maybe it’s just Cangas!