Wednesday, 31 March 2010

It’s not what you say; it’s the way that you say it!

There is a vowel sound in English that the Spanish (and the French for that matter) have some difficulty with. The sound is the letter U, as in cup, bus, butter and however many more examples you choose to come up with it (also in words like done, front, wonder and so on). They wouldn’t have such difficulty if they decided to speak ordinary, acceptable North of England English but they will insist on something like what used to be called RP – received pronunciation.

I was reminded of this because I kept hearing its mispronunciation yesterday morning as we did our relaxation at the end of the yoga class in Fonte do Galo community centre. Next door to our class is an English lesson on a Tuesday morning. They are usually enthusiastic, often noisy and generally speak more Spanish than they do English during the lesson. I can usually blot them out: concentrate on breathing: observad como el aire entra y come el aire sale.

Yesterday morning it was hard work as I kept hearing a repeated wrong sound. The teacher was explaining the difference between “come in” and “go in”, “come out” and “go out”. The students didn’t know whether they were coming or going. I have every sympathy. I have had the same battle explaining it the other way around to English students of Spanish who demand to know why “entrar” can mean both “come in” and “go in”. Well, it depends on where you are standing. You get the same confusion in other situations. In English, in order to express the idea that you are on your way, we say “I’m coming”. In Spanish you say “Voy” which strictly means “I’m going”.

Be that as it may, as the linguistic explanation, quite clearly done, progressed I kept hearing about “cam and go”. If you are inside the room and open the door, the correct thing to say appears to be “cam in”. If you want to take a young lady for a walk in the moonlight, by that logic you should say, “cam outside”. (You might even tell her that there’s a “lavly” moon out there.) I heard it so many times that I wanted to “cam” out of my yoga class and perhaps go into the room and give them some pronunciation practice, the teacher as well as the students.

It’s not the first time I’ve come across this. I think the occasion I remember most fondly was when I was in Malaga more years ago than I care to remember with a group of students on an exchange visit. As a group of us sat talking, the conversation moved on to something they referred to as the “pav” or the “paf” or the “pab”. Light dawned and I said, “Oh, you mean the PUB”. All this is Spanish of course. We had a little discussion of how to say the word correctly (so that it could be understood by your average Englishman) and finally the teacher of English, a Spaniard, declared, “Esta no lo dice correctamente porque es del norte de Inglaterra” which means, roughly translated, “This one (that would be me) does not say it correctly because she is from the North of England”. Well, who told that Spaniard, that Andalusian Spaniard, from the area where they are famous for dropping sounds out of words, that he could say whether I, an Englishwoman, was pronouncing my own language correctly?

Of course, none of this is very serious and we all know that there are sounds people have difficulty with in foreign languages. The Spanish J sound is notorious. (Practise saying Jaen, Gijón and Gerona. But then, try getting a Spaniard to say, “I hope you have a happy holiday” with a good English H sound.) Equally difficult for the English, but not for the Scots, is the Spanish rolled R, for that matter. I have a friend who cannot for the life of him do a French R at the back of his throat. My Italian teacher says I pronounce T like an English person! Not surprising really. It’s very hard to lose your accent completely but you can at least do your best to speak the language in a comprehensible way.

Those children who have been attending bilingual schools should not have any of those problems. A recent evaluation of a project carried out by the Ministerio de la Educación in conjunction with the British Council shows that children who are taught in bilingual schools get better results in tests in Spanish language than those who are taught exclusively in Spanish. They have carried out a study over the last 15 years in 120 schools throughout Spain where children have lessons in both Spanish (castellano) and English.

Unlike some studies they did not just carryout the project in private schools or schools with an elitist intake but in public schools (= state schools) all over the place, including some in deprived area with children with a variety of problems. They found the same everywhere: learning languages stretches the brain and enhances powers of analysis. Children do better if they know more languages. The study seems to have looked at English-Spanish bilingual education but they also found that the children from the bilingual provinces of Spain did ever so slightly better than the children from monolingual provinces.

Now, that seems to me like a much better argument for maintaining a balance of gallego/castellano in schools than any that has been offered yet. All they need to do now is come to a final agreement on the subject-language split so that the publishers of school books know which language to print them in.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Reconquering Vigo!

Today I could have gone on a “coastal” walk around Teis, starting at the Praia de Arealonga in Chapela and finishing at Praia da Punta in Teis itself. It would undoubtedly have been interesting. My friend Carmen suggested it and I was tempted. But then I never got around to making the necessary phone call to put myself on the list. And then there was the little matter of the clocks changing, going forward this weekend and stealing an hour from my Sunday. To go on this excursion I would have had to be at the town hall by 9.45 – really 8.45 for my body clock. This would have meant getting up at 8 o’clock (on a Sunday!!!!) – really 7 o’ clock. And finally there was the question hanging over the weather. Just suppose I got up at 8o’ clock – really 7 o’ clock – and discovered it was pouring with rain and blowing a force 9 gale!! This excursion just wasn’t going to happen.

As it
happened today has been rather delightfully spring-like: lots of sunshine, a pleasant temperature and flimsy bits of cloud wisping about in a mainly blue sky. Wouldn’t you just know it? So, rather later in the day, I went out for a walk to the Castro Park, always a good place to go. The pond is still without water, sitting there painted a rather disgusting pale green and with all its little stone islands sticking up. What on earth are the frogs going to do? Last year at this time they were busy singing their mating songs to each other. I read somewhere that frogs always return to their hatching ground to mate. They’re in for a surprise with the Castro Park pond, that’s all I can say!

While I was there I finally took a look at the Castro Musealizado, the museum they have made out of the old Roman and pre-Roman remains they found there. It’s fairly small – a lot of the original castro is believed to be still underground – but it’s nicely done with an interesting little model of what they think it really looked like. Some of the buildings have been reconstructed and “furnished”, in one case even having a rather scary dummy supposedly taking hay up into a loft!

I made my way down through the casco vello and suddenly found myself back in time. The Plaza de la Constitución was full of people in fancy dress, well, traditional Galician dress for some and olden-times peasant gear for others. There were stalls selling food and drink and the usual collection of craft products.

Gaita bands played traditional
Galician tunes. But what was Mickey Mouse doing in the middle of it all? Why, selling balloon “swords” of course. The ground was strewn with straw to give it that authentic touch and to provide the children with lots of stuff to throw at each other and get in their hair and eyes. It was, of course, all part of the Reconquista which I had so far managed to avoid.

I had a look around and decided to wend my wa
y homewards. That was when I got stuck in Plaza de la Princesa, just next to Puerta del Sol. So I got to see some of the fun after all. On one balcony stood a “French” general, haranguing the people of Vigo and demanding immediate surrender. On the other was the mayor of Vigo, exhorting his people to remain tranquilos.

The crowds were kept in place by cheeky “French” soldiers while various bits of history were re-enacted. Eventually the Vigo peasantry
chased off the “French” soldiers who headed down to the port where they were going to be put on a boat and sent packing.

I decided, however, that there was little point in following them down to the port as I would have very little chance of seeing anything.
On the whole I was a splendid examp
le of not quite organised chaos. Lines of people in costume tried to keep the crowd from filling the whole square as they needed a path through for the “actors”, soldiers and peasants and even generals on horseback. Unfortunately they kept changing their minds about where they wanted the crowd to stand.

And there were some even better examples of the sheer thoughtlessness, single-mindedness, pig-headed determination to get their own way of quite a lot of people. A small girl near me was trodden on by a gentleman who pushed through everybody because “he had to get over there”. The same little girl’s mother, holding her up so she could see a little of what was (not yet) going on, was almost pushed over by three middle-aged ladies who were trying to improve their position.

A giant of a man was standing a few feet from me; he had no problem seeing, head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd. He had the general build to go with his height. The problem was that he insisted on standing with his arms folded. This meant that whenever there was any movement in the crowd his elbow almost knocked the traditional headdress off the lady standing next to him and indeed he eventually succeeded in doing so. When her companion, a much shorter man than the giant, remonstrated the giant was indignant and declared he had not given anyone a “codazo” – a blow with the elbow. He probably was not even aware that he was causing a problem

I have not yet mentioned the “professional” photographers. Talk about getting in everyone’s way. There’s nothing like a bit of historical re-enactment with a scruffy cameraman in the middle! As we eventually moved away we were channelled through the tunnel which leads from Plaza de la Princesa to Plaza de la Constitución. One of these media photo-hounds, female this time I hasten to add, was pushing her way through, no doubt in a hurry to gain a vantage point from which to get her next scoop. In one hand she held up a largish camera and in the other …. a lighted cigarette! So much for health and safety or even a normal concern for other people!

By the time I got home, I could hear the gunfire down at the port. Presumably by now they have pushed the franchutis out to sea and back to froggie-land once again! Almost over until next year.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Seasonal cycles!

Spring may have officially arrived last weekend but it has certainly come in with a bang. Thunderstorms, strong winds, heavy rain and occasionally hailstones have been the order of the day. So although the daytime temperatures have been up there around 16°, it hasn’t really felt very spring-like. Not only that but it’s been playing havoc with our internet connection. Because we have a mobile connection, which is fine most of the time, it tends to react to atmospheric disturbance. As a result, even though the gadget may think it’s connected, it isn’t really and keeps floating offline. It’s really rather a pain!

However, here we are with March positively rushing to an en
d. Reconquista has come again to Vigo this weekend, celebrating the throwing out of the French a couple of hundred years ago. Not that I’ve seen a great deal of it. Somehow the weather rather put me off and I found other things to do instead, mostly activities like eating out with friends, thus avoiding spending too much time in the wind and wet.

Today though I made it into the centre of town and found that the shopping street Príncipe has been decorated with huge displays of spring flowers. Someone is working hard at persuading us that spring is really here and not just a figment of
the imagination of the clothes shops. And as Sunday is Palm Sunday, Domingo de Ramos, there are several stalls selling plaited palm fronds for tomorrow’s processions. Of course, the balloon sellers and street musicians were all out in force as well. This winter into spring must have seriously reduced their earnings. Passers-by all pass by in more of a hurry when it’s wet and cold.

On my way home I discovered that the usually rather gloomy side street Travesía de Santiago de Vigo, next to the big church, had been transformed into a mini-fair. There were stalls selling different kinds of pan artesano, smelly soaps and candles, craft
items, wooden toys, jewellery and, inevitably, this being Galicia, little witches as magnets, brooches and models. These meigas sell well apparently!

As I moved into Avenida Garcí
a Barbón I found out why they were cordoning off parts of the street this morning with Caixanova tape – like “POLICE NO ENTRY” tape but less threatening. Our end of the avenue had been transformed into a mini Tour de France – a Tour de García Barbón!

Teams of cyclists were zooming up and down at top speed, spectators applauded and cheered them on, some supporters even had banners to demonstrate which team they were gunning for and there was a loudspeaker van letting us all know how many more times they needed to belt up and down the street.

When I finally got
an internet connection I googled it. It turns out that this is the fourth CRITERIUM VIGO ATLANTICO -XXXVII G.P. SAN XOSE organised by the Club Ciclista de Vigo. This is the starting event of the 2010 cycling calendar in Galicia and includes races in the elite category, under 23s, juniors in the masculine section and elite, junior and cadet in the female section. Just like in the Tour de France there are sponsored teams with names such as Chint-Autronic, Super Froiz, Caixanova-Spol, Cidade de Lugo, Cambre-Caeiro and Aluminios Cortizo, all gearing up for the Galicia cycling season.

Okay, so maybe Tour de France winner Alberto Contador (sorry, that should be Albe-e-e-e-e-e-erto Contado-o-o-o-or, as the cycle race commentators always say) wasn’t there but it all looked pretty good. I do hope the weather improves for them for the rest of the season!

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Galicia at the top of the list again!

I found this interesting little cartoon in the paper this morning, accompanied by some statistics. If you are worried about going bald, according to the statistics I found, you should come and live in Galicia where you have less chance of losing your hair. At least, that’s what the headlines say: MENOS CALVOS EN GALICIA.

And then you look at the details and it turns out that 80% of Galician men h
ave a “predisposition” for hair loss together with 13% of Galician women. The national average is 80% for men (that looks the same to me!) and 16% for women. So Galicia wins on the baldness stakes thanks to the women. Not really enough to have you tearing your hair out if you don't live here!!!

In another area, though, Galicia should be proud to be at the top of the statistics. According to the newspaper La Voz de Galicia, this comunidad autónoma is one of the areas of Spain with the smallest number of bullfights. With only eight bullfighting fiestas each year, three of them in La Coruña and four in Pontevedra, Galicia manages to have one bullfight for every 341.000 people, a statistic only beaten by Cataluña where they have only one per 456.000. According to a Gallup poll 86% of the population of Galicia are opposed to bullfighting, compared with a national 72%. Compare that with Castilla La Mancha where there is one bullfightper 4220 people. Way to go Galicia! And congratulations Cangas across the bay from Vigo for officially banning bullfights!!

Mind you there is still some support here. Eduardo Lozana, owner of the Pontevedra bullring says that bullfighting is still strong in Galicia despite the statistics. Esto es como el catolicismo; cuanto más nos atacan, más fuertes somos, he declares. In other words, the more people attack bullfighting, the stronger it becomes, just like the Catholic Church (under a bit of attack for other reasons at the moment and not looking too well, but that’s another story). He dismisses the Cataluña situation declaring that bullfighting there was already a bit weak whereas in Ga
licia he feels it is perfectly good health.

Meanwhile King Juan Carlos is in the news today for giving his support
to the fiesta nacional. He has been presenting Trofeos Taurinos awarded by the Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla. After the ceremony when reporters asked if this meant he was a supporter of bullfighting he is said to have replied Por supuesto (of course). He even added that his daughter the Infanta Elena will be attending some of the bullfights as part of the Feria de Abril in Sevilla.

Hmm, a modern monarch with some traditional ideas! The debate continues!!

Monday, 22 March 2010

Being in the wrong place at the wrong time

Two things that continue to surprise me on a fairly regular basis here are “zebra” crossings and parking habits.

First the crossings: I know they are not really "zebra" crossings in the UK sense of the word but they are similar so there we go. What surprises me is the way many people wait passively, very patiently, for quite a long time for the little green man to appear and then they cross. This happens even when the road is patently clear in both directions.

Secondly the parking: basically Spanish drivers park just about anywhere. You see parked vehicles next to or even on pedestrian crossings, on the corners of streets, in pedestrian areas, everywhere. As a rule, if you leave your hazard lights on it's OK.

I have gone on at length about both these topics before but I have returned to them now because of a little item I spotted in the newspaper El País. One day at the end of last week somewhere in Cataluña a woman crossed the road on a red light. It turned out to be a crossing where there have been a number of accidents so a policeman stopped her and asked to see her DNI. Annoyed she demanded to see his police ID. Annoyed in his turn he slapped a fine on her and asked her to accompany him to the police station. She then phoned her husband who drove to the spot to see if he could sort things out. It just got worse, however, as he parked in a pedestrian zone and the policeman gave him a fine as well!

Apparently the policeman had only intended to give the woman a verbal warning, pointing out the risks of crossing on red lights, especially as she was very pregnant and not really in a state to run.
It just goes to show that you can’t be too careful. You might choose the wrong time and place to cross the road illegally!!!

A more serious case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time occurred in France, also at the end of last week. Five firemen from Cataluña went on a climbing holiday in France. Little did they know that they would be there at the same time as a bunch of ETA terrorists who ended up shooting a French policeman.

Now, shortly before the shooting these firemen went shopping in a supermarket close to the place where the etarras carried out their attack. The bomberos were caught on video camera in the supermarket and somehow were identified as members of the ETA gang. Well, I suppose they spoke in a language that wasn’t French, somebody worked out that they were Spanish and then jumped to wrong conclusions.

The first the firemen knew was when friends and family told them that they had seen them on TV. They ended up being questioned by French police. What really annoyed them was that they were arrested as etarras, not as presuntos etarras; in other words they were considered guilty from the start.

In the end they proved that they were in fact Catalan and not Basque at all, let alone Basque terrorists but it must have been a bad moment. Arrangements were made for them to be flown home. After all, one of them was supposed to be on duty yesterday. What was not made clear was what was going to happen to their red van – still in the wrong place!

Saturday, 20 March 2010

So, what else did we miss?

Yesterday began with us missing our usual breakfast bread. I went down to the panadería where I usually buy a nice rye-bread bolla de la abuela only to find the shop closed and I had to go elsewhere. So we had an acceptable but distinctly inferior barra artesana from another bakery.

This morning my usual panadera asked if I had gone to her shop for bread yesterday. It seems she saw me. On
public holidays, of which yesterday was one, she opens a little later than usual but was even later yesterday because the stormy weather overnight had somehow led to difficulties in her getting here from the other end of town. She had been parking her car as I was heading for the other, inferior, bakery.

Later on we headed for the railway station, giving ourselves, so we thought, plenty of time to buy our tickets and claim our over-60s discount. We were off to Pontevedra for lunch with a friend. We arrived at the station with a good 10 minutes to s
pare but spent 15 minutes in the queue. There were in fact two queues, both for salida inmediata and judging by the conversations I overheard more than half of those in the queue were after the same train as we were. And so we missed our train but then so did most of the people in the queue. Amazingly resigned (for a people who hate to queue) voices were heard to comment that they would just have to get the next train. Which is of course what we did as well.

Why the lo
ng queue? Well, yesterday was a fiesta and everyone and their grandmother was off on a journey somewhere. We hadn’t even realised it until a couple of days earlier when I discovered it was the feast of Saint Joseph. One of the rare men in our yoga class commented that it was his saint’s day. This caused confusion as we all know him as Manuel. He turns out to be José Manuel and so we had to wish him a Happy Saint’s Day!

I did wonder what happens if you have one of those double names such as Juan José. Do you have two saint’s days, on
e for San Juan in June and one for San José in March? I suppose one answer is that you have as many as people will offer you presents for.

Anyway, getting back to things that were missed yesterday, we tried to contact our friend in Pontevedra to let him know that we were going to be rather late and were repeatedly unable to get through to him Now, the beauty of the mobile phone is that you can take it places with you; it is mobile. That way you can be contacted easily. It doesn’t work if you leave the phone in your car! Consequently our friend found out he had missed a number of calls from me … when he returned to his car.


Eventually we all got together and headed to our chosen re
staurant only to miss out on a table because you needed a reservation yesterday …. because it was a public holiday.

Nothing daunted, we went elsewhere and had a variety of nice tapas at the Restaurante Cinco Ruas, which rather made up for the other things we had missed over the course of the day.


A final note: we also missed the sunshine which had been around for most of
the week.

But I did collect some weather statistics. According to AEMET, the Spanish weather bureau, this winter has been the wettest in Spain since 1947. In Galicia it has been the most unstable and changeable for 10 years! Last year however, was the warmest year in Spain since 1947; the average temperature for the year for the whole of the country was 15 point something degrees (although I’m not sure how they work that out). And here in Vigo they STILL tell me we didn’t have a summer last year!


Never mind, Spring is officially about to start so we all have something to look forward to! And although I have also missed the snowdrops in my garden in the UK I do have a photo.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

The Interconnectedness of Things

It would seem that Vigo has been photographed from space and caused a whole lot of Internet activity. A Japanese astronaut, Soichi Noguchi, floating about up there in space courtesy of the Japanese equivalent of NASA, whiles away his spare time taking pictures and putting them on the internet via Twitter. The Mont Saint Michel in Normandy, the Pyramids, the Seychelles, all sorts of places are indeed visible from space.

And then the other day he photographed a place he didn’t recognise and Twittered a query: «Name this city in Europe!» Thousands of surfers got involved; some people thought it was Istanbul while others suggested Montenegro. Finally someone recognised the Rande Bridge and the Citroen works – Vigo!!!

It was lucky he took the photo when he did. Today he would just
get a load of clouds. And now today there is huge activity on Facebook as lots of people suggest that Soichi Noguchi should be made an adoptive son of the city. After all in the space of 24 hours he has got 25000 people to look at a picture of Vigo and its ría.

Meanwhile, back here down on the ground, I am in the middle of reading a historical novel called La Reina Sin Nombre, The Unnamed Q
ueen, by Maria Gudin. Set in sixth century Northwest Spain it describes a society where people live in settlements called castros. Now that sounds a bit familiar doesn’t it? They’ve only recently finished restoring the settlement up at the Castro Park here in Vigo and opened it to the public.

La Reina Sin Nombre is an interesting tale of druids, a mysterious
magical cup (cf. King Arthur, Holy Grail and so on), invasions, power struggles and a young girl who doesn’t belong and doesn’t know her origins but who will undoubtedly turn out to be last in line for a throne somewhere.

What made me sit up and take notice was the fact that biggest “city” in the story is called Albión. Well, I always understood that Albion was an old name for Britain so I went and Googled it and found I was right. Wikipedia tells us: Albion (Greek: Ἀλβιών) is the oldest known name of the island of Great Britain. It is thought to derive from the white cliffs of Dover. Think of the football teams who have Albion as part of their name.

I also found a source that told me about a village near Ribadavia called Bretoña which was the seat of a large British settlement in the post-Roman period. Not only that, but the people living to the east of Bretoña in ancient times were called the Albiones. Apparently when various waves of invasions pushed the Celtic people of Britain into Scotland and Wales, some of them took to their boats and fled. Guess where they are supposed to have ended up. Yes, you’ve got it: Galicia. So the “Celtic” connection according to this theory is not just via Wales and Ireland but the original “English” before they became Anglo-Saxons. Small world isn’t it?

Monday, 15 March 2010

Even Columbus knew it.

What was it then that Columbus knew? Well, of course that Galicia is the centre of the universe.

It appears that when he sailed across the ocean blue in 1492 he took with him Ribeiro wine. Well, he personally didn’t do so but the wine went on one of the boats.


Apparently a document was found quite by chance in 2006 in the Archivo de Simancas, a 16th century purpose-built archive building in V
alladolid, which houses official Spanish documents from 1435 to 1834. According to this document an unnamed gallego priest took to La Española (Hispaniola), the first colony founded by Cristóbal Colón (our old friend Christopher Columbus), a couple of barrels of Ribeiro wine from Ribadavia.

There was some kind of dispute and the Almirante de la Mar Océana (yes, Chris Columbus himself) confiscated the wine. The priest’s complaint even reached the ears of Los Reyes Católicos themselves and Isabel and Fernando decreed that the Almirante de la Mar Océana had to give back the value of the wine to the priest’s heirs. What a palaver!!!


Well, just last week the monastery of San Clodio, in Leiro, Orense, birthplace of Ribeir
o wine, was given a copy of the document with the Catholic Kings’ judgement as part of the Jornadas del Ribeiro celebrations. Ribeiro wine was already well known in the old world. Miguel de Cervantes (Don Quijote writer) apparently praised Ribadavia wine found in a Genoese tavern.

The marketing
people, always on the look-out for a new tactic, hope to use this document as a way of promoting Ribeiro wine in the new world today, in other words hoping to conquer the American market.

Of course, Galicia had already figured in the stories of the voyages of Columbus. The Pinta, one of the three boats, exceedingly small to the modern eye, that made that historic journey was apparently nippier than the other two, the Niña and the Santa María. Consequently she made it back faster to Spain.


And where, you may ask, did she dock? Why, Baiona, of course, down the coast from here. On the 1st of March 1493,
by all accounts, Baiona was the first place to receive the news about the new place on the other side of the ocean. In 1992, to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the discovery, replicas of the boats were built and repeated the journey. The replica of the Pinta, turned into a Columbus museum in 1999 can be visited in Baiona today.

Back in
modern day Spain, Galicia is still making conquests. The Raíña Lupa art gallery in Barcelona has recently been voted the best art gallery in Cataluña. The very name of the gallery gives away its connections with Galicia.

One source of information tells me that la Raíña Lupa was the gallega queen of the wolves, a legendary character who tried to use her powers to oppose the introduction of Christianity in Galicia. She was also the embodiment of
the struggle between good and evil, between order and chaos. Poucos son os galegos que non teñen oido falar da Raíña Lupa ou que non coñecen algunha tradición ou lenda relacionada con ela – very few gallegos have not heard of Raíña Lupa or don’t now some legend connected with her.

Another s
ource gives us one of those legends, linking her to the Santiago de Compostela story. Four young men arrived in Galicia by boat bringing with them the body of a holy man. They tied their boat to a large stone, a pedrón, went looking for a place to bury the body and arrived at a large building on the top of a hill. When they banged on the door they were told that they would have to wait until morning to speak to the mistress, La Raíña Lupa.

Next morning, having been granted an audience with the queen, they requested a cart so they could carry their holy man to a place of burial. The queen tricked them and sent them off to see her high priest who locked them up. They were miraculously helped to escape from their cell by a firefly (yes, I know, but it is a legend) and went back to the pedrón where they had left the body. Raíña Lupa's high priest and his men pursued them but were buried under tons of rock and stone
when a bridge collapsed as they crossed it, again miraculously.

Despite further tricks by Raíña Lupa, the travelers eventually managed to bury their holy man in a place to which they were guided ... yes, you’ve guessed it ...by a star. Raíña Lupa was supposedly so impressed that she converted to Christianity and destroyed her pagan temples.

The pedrón to which they tied their boat, it is said to be under the altar of the church of Santiago el May
or in Padrón, where the peppers come from. Guess how that place got its name!!

As for the holy man, he was, of course, Sant Yago or Santiago, Saint James the Apostle.


And the award winning art gallery named after the legendary queen was opened in Barcelona two years ago by Rocío San Claudio Santa Cruz who hails originally from La Coruña, once, so the stories say, part of the kingdom of Raíña Lupa.



Sunday, 14 March 2010

A day of ups and downs!

Yesterday I went to O(u)rense again. It seems as though every time I go there it’s something to do with chess and yesterday was no exception. My husband's chess team was playing there and I went along for the ride.

Last time I was there was in September and it was HOT. Yesterday we left Vi
go in the sunshine, rather chilly sunshine but sunshine nonetheless. The further inland we went the cloudier it got and by the time we reached our destination it was raining! The sun came out again later but sunshine and showers was the pattern of the day. We even had a late afternoon rainbow!

Earlier in the afternoon we had arrived at Vigo bus station to find one of our party spluttering with indignation. He had been given money to cover bus fares and taxi fares and had already used more than half of it on the outward journey! What about the return journey?! What about taxis?! What about refreshments?!

Then the bus decided to have a little bit of a break-down, leading t
o a 10 minute delay before continuing its journey through one of the tunnels on the way to O(u)rense. No explanations, just a long wait! We were already running on a tight schedule and this meant we had no time to spare. So when we arrived I urged the team to go ahead by taxi while I investigated tickets for the return journey. We wanted to buy tickets in advance as it was highly likely we would be on the last minute going home as well. For some reason at Vigo bus station they would only sell single tickets. At O(u)rense they would not sell me anything at all. You have to pay on the bus. Well, I did my best and in the end it turned out to be just as well in view of later events.

So I decided to walk into town, the rain having stopped. I had done my homework and had things I wanted to see: bridges. The Miño goes through O(u)rense and is crossed by several bridges. First there is the mis-named Puente Romano, not really Roman at all but medieval, built on the foundations of the Roman bridge. Then there is the Puente Nuevo but I have no information about exactly when it was new.

There is a fairly modern viaduct and finally t
he Puente Milenio. This last is metallic and ultra-modern, full of sweeping curves and frighteningly steep sets of steps in the pedestrian sections, well worth visiting in my opinion.

I revisited the old part of town. Despite the intermittent rain an enthusiastic group was being given a guided tour, the tourist train was running and the top manta sales-people were puttin
g out (and hurriedly taking in) their wares, spreading their pirate copies of CDs and DVDs and faux-Armani handbags on blankets in the Calle del Paseo.

I popped into the shops for a look around but in the end Zara, Mango, Sfera and the rest
are pretty much the same from one town to another. Shopping gives you a real feeling of déjà vu these days.

Last year at this time I sat on the terrace of a cafe on the Plaza Mayor drinking coke. This year it was indoors with a warm drink. Then, as it was getting dark, I went along to the playing venue and read my book, wrote most of this blog post and waited for them to finish.


And I waited and I waited and I waited! The evening was taking a serious downturn. We had a bus to catch to 8.30.

At 8.15 three out of four games were still underway. I sent the fourth player off to the bus station to catch the bus and I waited some more.


Two more players finished but there was no way we were catching that bus. I phoned the bus station: no more buses after 8,30.
I phoned the train station: last train 9.00 pm. I waited.

The last player finished – grumbling and cross with himself for losing – at 8.40. We sprinted – rather half-heartedly in the case of the cross with himself grumbler – for the taxi rank and went to the taxi at what seemed to be the head of the queue. No, not this one, the other end of the line! I beg your pardon! Since when do you get the last taxi in the line?


We ran back along a line of about eight taxis. This was turning into some kind of cinematic farce: “To the railway station, as fast as possible please, train at 9!”

Despite the red lights which set out to impede our progress, we got to the station with 2 minutes to spare ... only to find that we had been misinformed, misled! The train left at 8.55! The next one was at 5.40 in the morning!

Aaaaaagh! What to do? The youngest member of our party took matters into his own hands and phoned for assistance, explaining our situation to the big wheel at the chess club. Exasperated noises came from the phone but he agreed to come and pick us up. In the meantime we should go and get something to eat. So off we went in search of sustenance.


In the only place nearby EVERYTHING was pricey. So we went for the cheapest option: paella for all. It would take about 25 minutes to prepare, they told us. We ummed and aahed and finally agreed. We had about an hour before our lift was due to arrive. We could manage it. Mistake: we were once again misled and misinformed.

Some fifty minutes later our lift was about to arrive and our paella had not materialised! Not only that, but our driver was in a hurry. He had un compromiso and needed to set off at once, if not sooner!


One of our party insisted on staying to eat the paella – he was VERY hungry! The rest of us fled the scene. Goodness knows how the hungry man got home!


Just when it seemed that the day was going to finish calmly after all, our driver took a wrong turning in search of a service station for a quick coffee. At the cafe we were misled and misinformed for the third time that day. (My mother, a famous pessimist, always said that things went in threes!)

The waitress at the cafe directed us back onto the motorway ... via the scenic route. That road with its twists and turns is probably delightful on a find sunny day. In the middle of the night, well, late evening, it was just a pain! And a slow pain, at that!


Eventually, however, we got back to the motorway, sped back to Vigo and the day was over. The chess team drew, by the way.


Maybe it’s time I thought about having a car here!!

Friday, 12 March 2010

Appearance matters – postscript!

A small select group of us sat talking Italian the other evening in the Café Rosa Negra on Calle Ecuador here in Vigo.

The owners of this caf
é appear to have had a good idea for boosting their clientele. On several evenings a week they have what I will call tertulias, the old term for groups of people meeting to chat and discuss things cultural, political, topical or just gossipy. Poets and painters and such used to do it but now it’s just us. You pay €4 which includes a drink and makes payment to the Escuela de Idiomas who then pay the native speaker for coordinating the tertulia. Everyone wins: the customers get to practise their foreign language (French, Italian, Portuguese, English, even Esperanto) the native speaker and the Escuela de Idiomas earn some money and the cafe has extra customers.

Anyway, there we were, a small select group talking Italian. The conversation wandered around various topics: football, fashion, visits to Italy, footballers’ wives and girlfriends, hairstyles, weather in Vigo, living in Vigo, football, fashion..... In the middle of this we discovered that our Italian friend considers French and Italian women to be the most elegant of all. English women – well, better not go there – and as for Spanish women, well, many of them overdress to go to the shops. Italian and French women, however, know how to do things properly.

Now, this business of how you dress to go to the shops keeps coming up all over the place. My Italian teacher in Manchester once declared that English women going shopping are a disaster: they go shopping dressed any old how, often with their hair in curlers! Quite true, I’ve seen them. Not that I would go shopping in curlers, but then I don’t use them. Italian women, on the other hand, he insisted, would never even leave the house without being properly dressed up and made up. It’s a matter of pride, rather like my grandmother in the 1950s and 60s who never left the house without putting her hat on!

I wonder what he would make of the British so-called yummy mummies, well-off young women who were criticised some time ago for being too lazy to get dressed properly to drive their children to their expensive schools in their expensive 4x4s. They just threw a tracksuit
or in some cases just a dressing gown over their pyjamas. The problems arose if they ran out of petrol on the way back. It’s rather embarrassing to go to the petrol station in your jimjams!

Mind you, here in Vigo you can see something similar but it’s usually the older generation. Just yesterday I saw an old gent in a fine plaid dressing gown walking along the street to put his rubbish in the container. There’s an old dear I’ve seen several times on Travesía de Vigo, doing her recycling in her nice pink bathrobe. And one day I saw a younger woman in one of those we-sell-everything shops at the bottom of a block of flats, the equivalent of the old corner shop on an English housing estate. This lady had clearly just popped down to the shop from the block of flats for some item she had forgotten earlier – flannelette pyjamas, warm dressing gown, slippers. Overdressed for the shops? I wonder!

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Appearances matter!

On Monday, so I understand, there was a bit of a ceremony in Santiago de Compostela to celebrate gender equality, part of the International Women’s Day stuff. The Presidente de la Xunta was there with several of his conselleiros. There was also, as part of the ceremony, a performance by a famous Madrid clown and balloon sculptor, a certain Willie Monroe. As part of his act he selected two “members of the public”, a man and a woman and used balloons to dress them up as their opposite gender.

This supposedly symbolic act, intended
to demonstrate that men and women are equal, opened up a whole can of worms. Why was this? Well, the two “members of the public” turned out to be the conselleiro de Trabajo e Bienestar and the conselleiro de Economía e Industria. Of course, the Partido Socialista de Galicia seized the opportunity to criticise the PP and accused Beatriz Mato and Javier Guerra of preferring to play with balloons rather than deal properly with the vexed question of gender equality. It was reported that they would rather "jugar con globos en lugar de poner los pies en la tierra y afrontar una política decisiva para conseguir la igualdad de hombres y mujeres a todos los niveles".

The clown who was responsible
for the cross-dressing up said that did not realise that they were important people. He recognised the President but did not know who they were. He wanted two representatives of working men and women. Most of his audience were either too young or too old and so he chose those two. Oops! It’s quite likely though that if they had refused to take part they would have been accused by somebody or other of being too serious. It just goes to show how difficult it is to have the right “look” and make the right impression.

Now
, in yesterday’s Guardian newspaper I came upon a little item on beards, the style of which can indicate your status, your emotional state or all sorts of other things. Those with enough importance in their employment or in their social situation can sport with impunity the rather scruffy goatee favoured by Jeff Bridges when he appeared at the Oscars. Similar to this is what they call the charity beard, the must-have look of male celebrities such as Brad Pitt when they get involved in charitable activities.

There’s a thing called the crisis beard, aka the scandal beard, more of an “I forgot to shave” look than a true beard. This is what actors or sportsmen who have had an affair are reputed to grow as a kind of protection. Ashley Cole’s mum is said to have been worried about
her son’s emotional state because he grew one of these!!

Some people are said to grow what they call an off-season beard, grown by act
ors who have to be clean-shaven for their role in a TV series but who want another look in between one series and the next. It’s the kind of beard some men grow on holiday, remarkably similar to the one seen gracing the chin of Prince Felipe at the end of last summer. My own son grew one while here on holiday, much to the disgust of his nearly teenage niece who declared it a thing of great ugliness.

The very expression clean-shaven has interesting connotations. One of the few men in our yoga group was bemoaning the fact that he has to shave for work. The bosses of the company where he works regard the unshaven look as rather dirty. English politicians seem to have the same idea. Clean-shaven is synonymous with trustworthy and likeable. That seems to be less of a concern here in Spain where bearded politicians abound. Bearded and be-whiskered men abound on the streets as well for that matter.

However, it should be noted that Mr. Zapatero does NOT sport facial hair!!

Monday, 8 March 2010

Just when you think it’s all over ….

I went on the other day about having had a week of protests of one kind or another. Well they are not over yet. Tonight I left the library with a group of friends only to find that we had to walk half way home before we could catch our bus because there was a huge demonstration making its way along the street, carrying a large effigy of a woman dressed in white.

Of course, today is International Women’s Day. First seen at the end of the nineteenth century, during the industrial revolution when a lot of women started working in factories, El Día Internacional de la Mujer Trabajadora is celebrated on the 8th Of March and is recognised by the United Nations. In some countries it’s even a national holiday.

So there they were, a lot of women and a good f
ew men, even some children in buggies walking down the road with the usual whistles and shouts but also some music giving a bit of a carnival atmosphere on this rather cold March evening.

Here in Galicia where women make up 46% of the work force and 55% of the university population they only fill 6% of managerial posts. They also earn on average 25% less than men. Factors like having children, taking jobs that work around the children, losing out in the promotion race (again because of taking time out to have children), being more frequently employed on temporary contracts and often doing more poorly paid jobs all affect the statistics.

Galician women are in fact better off than the average Spanish woman who earns 27.7% less than the average man. However they all fall behind the European average of ONLY 17.6%. Is that somehow meant to make the rest of European women feel better?


Last night on a TV programme called Comando Actualidad reporters were running around Spain looking for mileuristas, that is people whose take home pay is 1000 Euros. Through Andalucía, Extremadura, Madrid, Navarra they found an awful lot of them. Some people said they managed reasonably well, others said that it was hard to get to the end of the month.

The contrast between the parents paying large amounts of money to send their children to a pricey private school in Madrid and the young history teacher there earning her 1000 Euros was quite striking. They were getting very good value from the teacher, who declared that she was doing the job for the love it, for the satisfaction, not for a high salary, as she conducted her history lesson is what appeared to be very fluent English.


The workers at a town in Extremadura (I think) who were employed at the nuclear power plant did better, averaging 2000+. A young man working for Google in Madrid was very pleased with his situation. Not only was his monthly salary very satisfactory, thank you, but the company also provides free lunch for its employees! The city of Pamplona was declared to be one of the best places to live as the average salary there is well above the mileurista level apparently.


I was surprised at how willing people were to reveal their salary details, often showing wage slips as evidence and taking the reporters into their home to talk to other members of the family. Very few seemed unwilling to spill the beans, one notable case being a banker finishing off an expensive lunch in a very exclusive Madrid restaurant. He said
it was muy feo to talk about money, especially over lunch!

One way many young p
eople survive as mileuristas is by living at home with their parents. Most agreed that they could not afford a mortgage or even in many cases the rent for an independent dwelling. This is a factor which has, it seems, sent many young gallegos back home to the small towns and villages they left in search of a more independent, more affluent existence in a big city.

It is a fairly new phenomenon so there are no statistics as yet but it is one that seems to be growing. As businesses have contracted and hours have perhaps been reduced, these young people find that it is after all easier to head for home where they often don’t have to pay rent and, besides, the cost of living in general is cheaper. It’s hard being a young person today!

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the winner of them all?

Well, here we all are pendientes as the Spanish say, in this case pendientes the results of the Oscars. I’m sure everyone is on tenterhooks, desperate to find out who walks away with a statuette this year, what the actresses are wearing (the actors are of no interest really as there’s not much you can do with male formal attire), who is going to cry, who will be drunk when s/he makes her/his acceptance speech and so on.

OK, I exaggerate. You have to create
a bit of atmosphere but it does seem that once again there is a fairly large Spanish-speaking contingent up there in the nominations.

The Peruvian Claudia Llosa’s film “La teta asustada” is nominated for best foreign language film. The title of her film, which has already won the Golden Bear award in Berlin 2009, translates as “The frightened tit”. In an interview she described how she was amazed to discover that she was not allowed to say the word teta (or presumably its English translation) on American television. This caused some difficulty, as you can imagine. In about 15 interviews she was unable to mention the title of her film. She said that at the end of her day of interviews she was tempted to shout, “¡Teta, teta, teta!” She did not give in to that temptation but admits to having given in to a bit of feminine vanity, changing her outfit for each recorded interview so that it looked as though she had been interviewed over a number of days. Ah, the pressure to look good! I shall return to that later.

Then there is the Argentinean Juan José Campanello, also nominated for his film “El Secreto de sus Ojos”, and Malaga’s own Antonio Banderas. He has been acting as a kind of godfather for a young man from Granada, Javier Recio, and their short animated film “La Dama y la Muerte” is up there in the nominations. These two declare that if they win they will have to go out and get drunk!

And, of course, we have the ever so successful Penelope Cruz. Winner of best supporting actress last year for her role in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”, she is nominated this
year for best actress for her role in the musical “Nine”. She declares herself convencidísima that she won’t win. Well, they have to say that, don’t they? However, a lot of people’s money seems to be on Sandra Bullock for her role in “Soccer Moms” or newcomer Gabourey Sidibe in “Precious”.

Mind you, even if Pe doesn’t win the Oscar this time, she has already been declared winner in the dress competition. I did say I was coming back to that topic, didn’t I? Entertainment Weekly has apparently put her at the top of the list of the 20 best-dressed actresses at the Oscars in the last 20 years. In a pink dress by Vesace she was voted number one, ahead of the likes of Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts. So there you go, there are some compensations in life!

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Protest (songs)

One way or another it seems to have been a week of protests of one kind or another.

I left the library at around 8.30 on Monday evening and had to walk through a give-us-a-job demonstration on Plaza de la Princesa. The CNT had filled the square with banners and were letting everyone know that unemployment is unacceptable.

Then on Tuesday evening there were demonstrations in various places in Galicia, protesting about raising the retirement age to 67. The unions say that 30,000 people took to the streets in La Coruña, Lugo, Ourense, Vigo and Villagarcía. Vigo and La Coruña were the biggest with between 10,000 and 11,000 each, although the police figures put them at between 4,000 and 5,000. (I always wonder which one can’t count!)

The ladies at my painting class
were talking about it, some of them being quite determined to go along, just as they did for the demonstration against merging CaixaNova and CaixaGalicia. They are a very aware lot my fellow painters!

It seems that the demonstrations were mostly good-humoured, with comic versions of popular songs, as you might expect. However, they were also at pains to point out that the workers aren’t responsible for the crisis and put a good deal of blame on the banks. Será que os tiburóns financieros veñen a polas nosas pensións? one of the protestors commented, suggesting that the “financial sharks” were after everyone’s pensions.

(I find it quite interesting that so many protests and demonstrations take place in the early evening. It just wouldn’t work in the UK. Everyone would be at home having their tea and the city centres would be almost empty. Here though, people are still shopping, going for a stroll, just going h
ome from work and are out and about on the streets.)

The week went o
n in the same vein. On Wednesday I came across a protest camp outside the headquarters of the Xunta here. The dock workers were trying to stop their jobs disappearing.

Now, I can remember a rosy, idealistic time when they (whoever they are) promised that by the 21st century everyone would be able to retire at 50 if they wanted to do so. We would all work reduced hours, but not reduced pay, so that
we would have time to enjoy our leisure activities with friends and family. That way there would be jobs for everyone. Life would be dignified and we would all be happy. Well, something went wrong with that idea, didn’t it?!

By Thursday I had got quite used to seeing protests all over the place so I was not at all surprised to hear the usual pitos, the whistle blowing that accompanies any kind of demonstration, as I walked home from my yoga class. Outside a building on García Barbón, a
building in the process of refurbishment, a small group of people were gathered to publicise the fact that the developers were unos explotadores. People making their opinions known, venting their exasperation!

Yesterday, however, Friday, instead of bringing protest brought the protest song. We went to the CaixaNova Centro Cultural to see Joan Baez, described by the newspaper El Faro de Vigo as La reina madre de la canción protesta, the queen mother of the protest song.

A slight figure with short cropped silver hair she came on stage at 10 in the evening and sang until nearly midnight.
There were old songs and new songs, mostly in English but some in Spanish and even one in gallego, "Adiós ríos, adiós fontes" a poem by Rosalía de Castro set to music. Apparently s
he sang in catalán in Barcelona. I do like it when these famous singers have done their homework and go out of their way to make the crowd love them even more. I was surprised, however, at how little Spanish she was able to speak to the crowd, addressing the audience mostly in English with odd word in Spanish sprinkled about. Somehow I had expected her to be fluent. It must be those early songs she sang in Spanish which I, studying the language, was really proud to understand.

She sang a fair amount of Dylan and even gave us an excellent rendering of Leonard Cohen’s "Suzanne". Despite what the reporter in El Faro de Vigo said, she did not sing "Diamonds and Rust". But we sang along to "Fairwell Angelina" and "Blowing in the Wind". I found myself singing "No nos moverán" instead of "We shall overcome".

When she had been given her bunch of flowers and finally took her excellent band off stage, the audience wouldn’t let her go. Of course not, we wanted an encore.

So back she came, having already taken her shoes off, and we got another few songs out of her.
And she didn’t once protest that at 69 she is past retirement age. No she just sang "Gracias a la vida" and wished us, “May you stay forever young!”