Thursday, 30 June 2011

Off on a boat ride.

Today I abandoned the chess player (as of yesterday scoring 3 points out of a possible 5 – 2 wins, draws and one loss) and went and caught a boat to the Isla de Ons. I was going to do it yesterday but when I went to enquire about boats they told me they had cancelled the 4.15 boat because there was “mucha mar”, the equivalent, I suppose, of a heavy sea. So today, to avoid problems, I went out for the 12.15 boat and had a fine ride out to the island.

Along with th
e Islas Cies, which I always praise to the skies, this island and a couple of others make up the Parque Nacional de las Islas Atlánticas de Galicia. This means it has the same restrictions about what you can and can’t take to and from the island. I was interested to hear the announcement about this on the boat telling us that you are not allowed to remove sand from the island. Hmm, I wondered if they were going to check all our shoes and look between our toes just to make sure.

This island was inhabited back in the Bronze Age, has a cou
ple of castros in it and the remains of what might have been a monastery or some kind of fortifications. I am told that it is even mentioned in Pliny but I have no proof of that. No doubt somebody knows what that illustrious Roman had to say about it. It’s one of those places that have changed ownership over the centuries but it became the property of the Xunta de Galicia back in 1984.

Unlike the Islas Cies the Isla de Ons is still inhabited on a regular basis. It was home to a fishing community in the past but I suspect lives more form tourism now. You can rent rooms or even self catering apartment there as well as camping. Because of generator problems however electric light is restricted to the hours of 13.00 to 16.00 and 21.00 to 02.00. Presumably this would apply to recharging your mobile phone and laptop computer as well.

I discover
ed what may just possibly be the ugliest little church in existence, from the outside anyway. The bell tower looks as though it is made from concrete and really is not a pretty thing. The main doorway and the interior are much more appealing though, quite pretty if you like that sort of thing and certainly worth popping your head in.

I understand
that some people go to the Isla de Ons just for the food as its pulpo is said to be very good but I did not sample the restaurant as tonight we are eating a special cena of arroz con bogavante with the chess organisers here in Sanxenxo. However the restaurant did seem to be doing a good trade.

The chap selling what I think of seaside tourist tat – ear rings and
other jewellery made out of sea shells and so on – did not seem to be doing quite so well.

I had a pleasant visit, walking miles and miles around the island – a good few kilometres anyway – following one of the trails on the information leaflet. I must walk a lot faster than most people though because a circular route which was supposed to take two and a half hours had me back at my starting point in one and a half.

To my mind the Isla de Ons is not quite as spectacular as the Islas Cíes but nonetheless worth the €14 I paid for my return ticket.

On the return
journey we were treated to the sight of fire-fighter planes dropping water onto a forest fire on the other side of the ría de Pontevedra. This is unfortunately one of the prices you pay for having hot dry sunny weather. I do hope they managed to get it under control.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

In search of culture

Studying the map of Sanxenxo today, I noticed “Pazo de Emilia Pardo Bazán” just up the hill on the edge of the town and decided to go and have a look.

Emilia Pardo Bazán is a bit of a feminist heroine: journalist and novelist at a time when women weren’t really doing much. She was noted for her naturalistic descriptions and by all accounts was rather influenced by the French novelist Zola. She was born in La Coruña in 1851 and despite being married off at 18 to
a Galician country gentleman, she was still active in Galician politics and a defender of Galician rights and so on.

There is a monument to her in La Coruña and I was interested to see what the pazo here was all about. Not terrible easy to find, was my first discovery. As with most tourist maps, there were roads that appeared to connect but in fact were blocked off by new developments. Some roads quickly turned into fairly open country. (Like many seaside places Sanxenxo has a few streets running more or less parallel to the beach so that no-one is ever more than a short walk away from the sea.)

But there were signs directing motorists towards the place and eventually I got there. It was a bit of a disappointment, I must say. I thought at first it was a new modern police station. It was the rather misleading sign saying Policía that did it. But in fact the police station was just next door. I did think it was odd that a police station should have a statue of a (rather plump,middle class matronly) lady novelist outside its doors, but then all things are possible.

Be that as it may, I had found the pazo and it was a
brand spanking new modern building with no obvious connection to the novelist apart from its name and the statue outside. It is, in fact, a local cultural centre where concerts can take place and cultural activities for Sanxenxo people of all ages. I am sure Emilia would approve.

On my way back I went past the new(ish) Sanxenxo church, identified on the map as the “Templo Nuevo” and was so struck by this strange and rather oriental looking edifice that I just had to take a photo.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Processions and flowers.

Yesterday evening, growing tired of waiting for my chess player to finish – and incidentally to win – his game, I strolled out for a walk on the beach. It was noisy. Rockets were going off: three loud bangs apiece. Something appeared to be going on so I went to investigate.

As I got close to the little church I saw an intricate carpet of flower petals laid out on the pavement. In front of the doorway of the church was a circular pattern of flower petals with the head of Christ in the centre. This last was protected from straying feet by temporary barriers, not surprisingly as it must have taken hours of careful work to make it.

I moved on towards the harbour to look for the source of the rockets: two men standing at the edge of the promenade, one handing the other huge rockets which he calmly lit and launched into the air from his hand. No Health and Safety concerns here then, obviously!!

At that
moment the bells of the church started to ring so I made my way back, stopping to ask a local policeman what it was all about. I was informed that it was to let us know that the procession was due to arrive. On enquiring what the procession was all about, I received one of those “are-you-really-so-stupid” looks and was told, “El Corpus”. I couldn’t begin to explain to a Spanish policeman that when you have been brought up in an English Methodist/Low Anglican tradition you just don’t know the dates of all the religious festivities, not even Corpus Christi. The only processions we had were Whit Walks, certainly nothing to do with walking the Eucharist through the streets to celebrate the Body of Christ and Mass and so on.

Anyway, I got back to the church where two young men were up in the bell tower hammering away at the bells. Clearly this church had no bell ropes and English style bell ringers. I just hope the young men were wearing ear plugs although when I commented on this to another spectator she said she didn’t think they would damage their ears. Oh, no? Those bells were pretty loud at ground level, let alone up close at the top of the tower.

Eventually the procession arrived complete with a marching band (every Spanish community has one), banners very reminiscent of the Sunday School banners form the Whit Walks of my childhood, small girls in their First Communion frothy frocks and small boys in their sailor suits. I did wonder if small boys and girls would have been included in a procession at almost 9 o’clock at night in the UK, but the sun was still up and it was nice evening.

The ladies and g
entlemen of the procession, as well as the small boys and girls, all carefully went round the edge of the flower petal street decoration. However, when the head honcho arrived – the priest or possibly a bishop if Sanxenxo has such a thing – under a canopy held up by four dignitaries, he walked straight across the whole thing.

All that effort, just to be trampled in a few minutes flat!

And then the boys in the bell tower started throwing handfuls of petals down on the assembled multitudes. Revenge perhaps.
It was an interesting bit o
f local colour. Amazing what you find when you least expect it.

On my way back I came across a bit more local colour in the shape of a gaita player and his drummer girl companion. I find these much more acceptable than the mariachi men who go from restaurant to cafe to bar and then from table to table expecting to be paid for the one tune they can play. And it usually is one tune. I have even seen ere the violin player I used to see all year round on Príncipe, Vigo’s pedestrianised shopping street. He wore the same shiny brown suit, had the same smile and played the same bit of Carmen over and over and over. Still, I expect he too deserves a day out, even if it’s a working day out.

But the gaita player and his drummer girl just stood on the promenade and played, looking quite happy about it. Passers-by could give them money or not, as they chose: no pressure!!!

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Out and about in Sanxenxo

At nine o’clock this morning I was running (slowly, it has to be said) down Sanxenxo’s paseo marítimo to the lighthouse at the harbour and back. It’s a good time to be out and about, bright and fairly cool with just a few early birds and the road sweepers around. Then it was back to the hotel with time for a shower before breakfast.

By eleven fifteen we were both out and about, this time in the direc
tion of Porto Novo to take in the view from the headland. The beach was still fairly empty as we set off but by the time we returned it was already filling up. There was that very Spanish beach scene of lots of coloured umbrellas, a spread of beach towels and a whole host of people walking along the waterline. Mind you, I suppose it’s rarely warm enough on most British beaches to make it worth your while to stroll up and down at the water’s edge in your swimsuit but not actually in the water.

Because my Phil takes at least three days to grow accustomed to heat and sunshine, we were back at the hotel just after twelve. So, while he did chessy things on the computer I went and threw myself in the pool, one of my favourite summer holiday occupations. The pool was heaving – well, actually, the pool itself was fairly empty but every single sun lounger was occupied. It was quite hard to find even a plastic chair to sit on.

It’s a good job the pool itself was not too crowded as one member of the Merseyside Triathlon Team (obviously here for the Pontevedra event mentioned by my friend Colin in his blog) was giving another member a lesson on something complicated to do with breathing and using certain muscles and so on. It makes my pathetically slow breast stroke look even more even more feeble!

I like watching pool society. An open air pool is a great way for Spanish papás to show what good fathers they are, teaching the children to swim, throwing them around in the water and giving them rides on their backs. Some of the mamás join in but many just sit and chat at the poolside. Often you have the whole family there together: kids, parents, grandparents and assorted friends and relations. And then there’s the fuss as the kids get out of the water into the sunshine and have to be wrapped up in a towel, not to get dry, oh no, no such thing, but in case they get cold! They should try bathing on Ainsdale beach in the 1950s and 60s; that’s all I have to say!!

Lunchtime came around (after another shower!) and we made our way as usual to the hotel dining room. As a rule we prefer to have bed and breakfast only so that we can explore local eating places. However, part of the deal for the chess event that is going on is that we have half board. Now, while the food here is very good, we are finding the amounts served to be huge. Three courses is at least one too many for us, especially if the second course is paella and the third course is roast pork with chips. I remember long go reading something about us all having a “potato-shaped space” that needs filling daily but surely rice AND chips is a bit of an exaggeration. We seem to have got our waitress trained now though, as she tells us in advance what the three courses are going to be so that we can choose which ones to have. Despite our reassurances, she’s still quite concerned about us and keeps offering us alternatives, just in case we really need to be force fed. I don’t think either of us looks anorexic.

After lunch we wandered out for coffee elsewhere, just for variety’s sake, and took a look at the local press. The absolutely definite arrival of summer is discussed quite a lot with temperatures yesterday of 34° here in Sanxenxo, 36.5° in Vigo and an unbearable 40° in Ourense. But then, they always do things to excess in Ourense – freezing in winter and frying in summer!

The language thing popped up again in one article we came across. Spanish has a long habit of borrowing “” words from English, as does French for that matter. Today we found two new ones in an article about the internet: “el grooming” and something strange called “el phising” which can only “fishing” (in the IT sense), I suppose, but why spell it in that strange way. I can understand the “s” for “sh” as that’s a sound that doesn’t really occur in everyday Spanish. Years ago we asked a waiter what a particular menu item was, only to be told “eez fis”. Well, we knew it was fish but we really wanted in idea of what sort of fish. I suppose you can’t win them all.

On the subject of winning, the chess player drew his game yesterday. We hope for better today.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Back in Galicia.

So here we are, back in Galicia – briefly anyway.

We flew into Porto on Thursday evening, our RyanAir flight once again trumpeting its arrival on time. They may cut corners on all sorts of things but they do like to arrive on time and crow about it.

As we made our way into Porto on the Metro line, having arrive
d too late for a bus to Vigo, we noticed alongside one of the stations a group of people with a sort of mini barbecue. One of them even ran up to the train and toasted us with his glass of wine. When we emerged from Trindade Station near the top of Avenida dos Aliados and I smelt grilled sardines, I realised what was going on. It was la festa de São João, of course, 24th of June.

As in Spain, the
y celebrate the feast of Saint John in Portugal with street parties and eat lots of sardines, or perhaps I should say sardinhas. However, in Porto they celebrate it in a BIG way. Every 50 yards or so there was a stall selling plastic hammers which squeak when you hit someone over the head with the. And that is exactly what happened. It was impossible to walk through the streets without being bopped on the head every few steps. Some people just bopped everyone indiscriminately as they went along. Others only bopped friends and relations. Small people stretched up to manage to hammer adults on the head.

(I wonder if they have to
have permission to organise street parties and have to do health and safety checks as was suggested for organising street parties to celebrate the great William and Kate event. Somehow I doubt it. How exactly do you assess the H & S factor for hitting people on the head with a joke hammer?)

The crowd was moving with an apparent objective in mind, despite frequent stops to hammer and squeak. So we went with the flow and ended up on the edge of the port area w
here a stage had been erected and a group was busy performing. They were very well received so I assume they were quite well known locally.

We dragged ourselves away and went to a quiet place we know – well, quiet by festa de São João standards – and treated ourselves to sardinhas, was
hed down with cold beer. After another beer in another relatively quiet place where we watched the fireworks on the TV, we headed back to the hotel to bed, hoping that the noise from Aliados was not going to go on too late into the night. Such fun!

By Friday m
orning everywhere was cleaned up and sparkling. Apart from the odd reveller sleeping it off in a doorway and some people sitting on a bench still clutching plastic hammers and cans of beer, you would hardly have known there had been a festa.

Still, it was good to see that the Portuguese can still have a good t
ime despite the crisis and national debt and all its other current problems.

From outside the classy MacDonald’s on Aliados we caught the Autna bus to Vigo where old friends met us at the bus station. Then it was food for some more fish – not sardines this time –
at El Puerto, one of our favourite Vigo eateries. Unfortunately one of our party got his dates and times mixed up and failed to arrive. We caught up with him briefly, however, at Pontevedra station between taking a train to Pontevedra and then a bus to Sanxenxo, just along the coast.

And now we are comfortably installed in a fine hotel in Sanxenxo where Phil is playing chess and I am playing swimming round the pool, wandering up and down the seafront (jogging up and down it early in the morning in training for my charity race in 2 weeks time) and generally being a good tourist.

Sanxenxo appears to be full of quite recently developed hotels and blocks of to
urist apartments with just occasional throw-back to a former time like this old house outside which I saw an ancient lady in one of those wrap-around pinafores sweeping her pavement this morning.

She seems to have hung onto her old place but almost everywhere else is bright and modern. But it’s clean and bright and friendly without being brash and the beach is very fine.

Watch this space for further news of the chess tournament and my jogging/swimming prowess.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Busy Weekend.

Well, the Whit Friday weekend madness has come and gone. The small people (my grandchildren) and I walked into the village in the late morning and saw our local brass band play in the village centre. I suppose playing hymn tunes is a good final practice for the contest in the evening. The small people and I went on to the playground and then had sausage and chips for lunch from the local chippie which was already doing a roaring trade.

By the time we went back into the village to meet some old friends, the place was crowded, not quite so much as in warmer years but still a pretty good turn out. We watched the bands march into the village and then turn into the side street to play in front of the Delph Club where judges assessed their performance. One of last year’s trophy winners was showing off the cup they had won – not bad at all.

At one time most of the bands would have been community brass bands like our village’s band or workplace bands. A lot of schools and colleges in the area also have their own band which takes part as well. One of the colleges I used to work for has a band which won prize in international competitions.

As I walked into the village to buy the Sunday paper yesterday, I met an old chap who told me he remembers when the band contests almost died out and were usually over by 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Nowadays, having had a major revival in recent years, it goes on into late in the evening and you get bands from all over Europe. You also get some odd ones like the one who band coach I snapped.

As Friday evening wore on it turned a little damper and we were treated to the sight of bandsmen in plastic ponchos.

On Saturday morning I escaped into Manchester to get my hair done. When the train arrived at the local station, before we were able to get on we had to wait while it disgorged troops of smurfs, hippies, St Trinian’s schoolgirls and a whole range of animals. And then when I arrived at Manchester Elvis impersonators and a gang of Vikings, complete with boat, were waiting to get on. It wasn’t that everyone had gone mad. No, Saturday was the Saddleworth Beer Walk. Teams sign up with the organisers and then do a kind of extended pub crawl in fancy dress. Each team stops at almost every pub on a long walk around the Saddleworth villages collecting money for their chosen charity as they go.

I returned in the late afternoon to find the landlord of the pub next door to our house sweeping the pavement. I could hear the sounds of revelry making its way onwards into the village centre. “Have I missed all the fun?” I asked. “Yes. Aren’t you lucky?” replied the landlord, recognising the irony in my tone of voice. So I have no photos of this year’s beer walk.

Finally, yesterday was Father’s Day, an invention of the card companies, I’m sure, so that they can persuade people to spend even more money with them. In our house it turned into Grandfather’s Day as the small people arrived with presents and hand made cards and for him. Little Matthew had put some thought into the present he had bought from the Father’s Day stall they set up at his primary school last week. Intrigued, Granddad opened his present and then wondered exactly WHAT he was going to do with a ... bubblegum dispenser!!! The answer was easy, of course: hand out bubble gum to the small people.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

On ducks, donkeys and gipsy caravans.

Roads around here are being decked with notices saying: PARKING RESTRICTION. NO PARKING. NO UNLOADING. NO WAITING.

This is all in preparation for next weekend. Friday is Whit Friday and almost everything around here comes to a halt on that day. Well, not quite, in the morning the local churches organise processions through the villages: the Whit Walks. Having got that out of the way the local children traditionally go mad running around with pea shooters, firing lethal dried peas at each other and at anybody who happens to get in their way.

Needless to say, the local schools close so that the children can get involved in this little bit of mayhem. As my grandchildren have the day off but their mother doesn’t, her school being outside of the Saddleworth area, they will end up with me and we will go and observe this madness but also see morris dancers in the square and possibly get involved in a duck race. A friend of mine has been the custodian for the last 15 to 20 years of a set of numbered yellow plastic ducks which are floated down the river. You “buy” a duck and if yours arrives at the finishing line first, you win a prize. Such fun!!!

In the evening there is the Band Contest. Brass bands some from all over England, all over Europe in fact, to play in each village in turn. That’s what the parking restrictions are all about; the bands go from village to village by coach and then march into each village in turn and play their piece. They don’t want parked cars getting in the way. Back when I was a working girl I would arrive home to find that I had to park about a mile away from my house and walk back.

The bands are judged by a committee in each venue and eventually an overall winner is chosen. We usually meet up with old friends in the village to watch the bands progress through Delph and then we retire to one of the local pubs. On rare Whit Fridays, the weather is delightful and people stand around in the evening sunshine, enjoying the spectacle. Mostly, however, it is rather cold and damp but we all put on a brave face, a good English stiff upper lip and declare that we are enjoying ourselves anyway. Don’t knock it; this is the closest we get around here to a fiesta.

The whole thing has started already with a Donkey Scarecrow trail around Delph. If you can’t manage to just walk around here without the need for added stimulus, you can buy a map and tick off Donkey Scarecrows as you spot them. All proceeds go to the local library; so it is all in a good cause. There are even a couple of donkeys in the car park of the pub next door to our house.

I’m not at all sure whether the gipsy caravan which I spotted in a farm gateway just on the edge of the village has anything to do with all this. It was there yesterday when I jogged around the village (in training for the Race for Life which I am running with granddaughter number one and a couple of her friends in July to raise money for cancer research) but today has disappeared.

And then today is the Saddleworth Show , a sort of village fête on a large scale. That, of course is, why the day that began with sunshine has moved on to wind and rain. It’s traditional to get soaked at Saddleworth Show.

It’s just another example of the English summer, with bells on!

Thursday, 9 June 2011


The English summer continues in its multi-seasonal way here. Monday: sunshine and fine weather, good enough to take the kids to play in the park. Tuesday: April showers in June. Wednesday: thunder and lightning, hailstorms, torrential rain.

On Tuesday I listened in to the conversation of a couple of Spaniards walking towards Piccadilly Station. One said to the other that she had brought her sunglasses to Manchester but she never wore them as she never needed them. I do think she exaggerated a little. At that particular moment the sun was shining nicely. The fact that it absolutely threw it down only minutes later is ne
ither here nor there.

The showery weathe
r had the umbrella sellers out on Market Street in Manchester, an unusual sight, making me think for a moment that I was back in Galicia.

I was in Manchester in my lady of leisure role: Italian conversation class, a bit of shopping, a cup of coffee with friends – you get the picture. Having done my lady of leisure bit I realised that I had about eight minutes to get from St Anne’s Square to Victoria Station to catch a train to my daughter’s house. There’s only one train an hour and the bus, although marginally more frequent, is less convenient. I caught the train and almost wished I hadn’t as it was so crowded; it was one of those journeys which make you understand how sardines feel. Apparently the rail company is aware of the problem but won’t put longer trains on as some of the stations on that route have very short platforms!!

My daughter had asked me to babysit so I had invited myself to tea rather than go home and then have to go out again immediately. The evening was uneventful enough until I was on my way home, waiting at the bus stop just down the road from my daughter’s house. She was doing the concerned daughter bit and watching out of the window to check that the bus arrived as I had left my mobile phone at home by mistake and so could not text her to let her know I was safely on board. (What did we do before mobiles?)

As I stood at the bus stop I saw a car pull up opposite, followed shortly by another, just ordinary cars. Two young men got out of each car and had a little confab on the corner of the street. They then got back in the cars and moved them around a little, got out and talked some more and then got back in. My curiosity was aroused but I was trying not to let it show as I was all alone at the stop ... without my mobile phone!!

Then they moved the cars so that they were facing the same way down the street. I heard one say, “Right! We’ll do the countdown now! Three... two ... one ...” And they were off, racing down the street. And there I was, waiting for a crash at any moment and ... still without my mobile!

They came back, one driver accused the other of having modified his engine in some way and then they raced again! They returned for another go but I didn’t see that as my bus arrived and they had to pull out of the way to allow the buss to get through. My daughter did see the third race, however, and phoned the police at that point. Fun and games in the late evening in Mossley, Greater Manchester!

Stranger things happen in other places though. I heard on the radio news yesterday that a man in a suitcase was arrested in North East Spain. Yes, a man in a suitcase!

It turns out that this man and his partner were regularly stealing from cases in the luggage compartment of the bus taking plane passengers from Gerona airport into the city. Thefts were only discovered when travellers opened their cases in their hotels and found that laptops, cameras, kindles and suchlike had disappeared. Police were puzzled and then one day someone noticed something wrong with a bag in the luggage hold and called the police, solving the mystery on the spot.

One smallish man hid inside a large suitcase. His partner deposited the bag in the luggage hold of the bus. Once the bus set off, the smallish man got out of his case and rifled the other bags, putting all the swag and himself back in the suitcase in time for his friend to unload him. Quite ingenious! My Phil, who already likes to sit where he can check that no-one walks off with our bags, will be even more paranoid next time we do the airport bus stage of our travels!

Still, at least they caught that thief. The newsman said that according to Gerona police it was an open and shut case!!

Friday, 3 June 2011

Zen and the art of Xenophobia

Yesterday I listened to a programme on BBC Radio 4, always a radio station worth listening to. This was “Off the Page” where a group of writers discussed “foreignness”. One speaker, Amanda Mitchinson, described buying chicken when she lived for two years in Cairo. On the first occasion she located a smiley lady in the market who shooed her away to finish her shopping while she killed, plucked and cleaned up the selected chicken. She returned later to find her chicken parcelled up in newspaper. On opening the parcel she found eight wings, a neck, one leg but no breast meat. The next time, she hung around while the deed was done, took her parcel of chicken home and discovered, six wings, some neck meat, one leg, assorted bits of offal but still no breast meat. On the third occasion she did managed a small amount of breast meat. During her two year stay in Cairo she regularly bought chicken from the same smiley lady, received progressively fewer wings and more different bits of chicken but never enough to reconstitute a whole bird.

Never mind discussion with Bedouin about the cost of brides in different countries, for Amanda Mitchinson being foreign means never getting the whole chicken.

Another speaker talked about living in France and believing he had mastered not only the language but the local accent quite well. That is until the day he went to book a table in a restaurant in Paris. As he walked away he realised he given them all the necessary details except for one important one: his name. So back he went to the restaurant, only to find that there was no problem; he was booked in as “The Englishman”. So much for going native!

Now, towards the end of my two years in Vigo I did find that when I met new people they did think I might be Spanish. Similarly, when we went to Figueira da Foz in Portugal last October I heard someone talking about my husband as “the English chess player” and commenting that he wife was not English but Spanish. I find that quite hard to credit as I feel I look very English and not at all Spanish. Maybe after a while you pick up mannerisms as well as accents.

However, I do agree with one of the speakers who said that no matter how long you live in a country you remain foreign. You wear the wrong clothes, speak the wrong way and have the wrong expectations. Above all, you don’t have the shared history; your school and youth experiences are all different. (I remember going to Italian conversation classes and thinking during a discussion about education that the Spaniards and Italians in the group had more in common educationally than I did with either group.) One speaker on the radio programme even went so far as to say that this also applies to cities. He is from Philadelphia but has lived for over thirty years in New York. However, he never feels he can call himself a New Yorker!

My sister and I discussed this a little in her recent visit, swapping frustration about things you can’t buy in Spain that you just take for granted in England – and, of course, the other way round. What struck us both is how hard it is to escape from the stereotype of your own nationality. When it rains in Andalucía, or in Galicia for that matter, someone is sure to say, “Oh, this must make you feel at home! The rain must remind you of England!” Well, no, actually; the rain is different!

Now, my sister has lived for almost 35 years in Andalucía, far longer than she ever lived in the UK, but she still regards Southport as “home”. My son, in contrast, refers to London as “his city”; he’s lived there for less than one third of his life and seems to have cast off his North of England personality. He apparently has no need to have been born in the place to feel that he belongs there.

Different people obviously experience things differently. Apart from odd bits of vocabulary, my sister speaks English just the way she ever did. A friend of ours who moved to France about fifteen years ago reckons he finds it hard to think in English; he has no problem speaking it however. Another friend who has lived in France for going on 40 years visited England for the first time in a long time recently and amused us all by having a very slight French accent when she speaks her “native” tongue. Similarly my young friend and ex-student, Craig, who has lived mostly in Spain and France since he graduated from university a few years ago is developing a nicely clipped, general European accent in his English. Interesting!

And, of course, we must not forget that being foreign is in itself interesting. One of the BBC guests expressed the view that everyone should live in a foreign country for a while. It makes you take stock of yourself and your country, makes you see life differently.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Zen and the art of ....

This week Spanish cucumbers have had very bad press, accused, wrongly as it turns out, of causing an outbreak of e-coli in Germany. The declaration that the pepinos were innocent came too late for the poor Spanish market gardeners who have had to destroy crops and now find a kind of international reluctance to buy any of their products. The Russians, it seems, don’t want to have anything to do with vegetables coming from the EU. Advice is going out generally to wash fruit and veg before eating. Isn’t that a thing that you normally do?

My week, though, has been more concerned with Canadian exports. On Tuesday evening we went to listen to the wonderful K D Lang in concert in Manchester. Her support act was also Canadian. The oddly named Little Miss Higgins sang us songs and regaled us with stories of the part of Canada she comes from, apparently made up of “towns” of 400 people; her own place is now reduced to 398 inhabitants now that she and her accompanying guitarist have gone on tour with. In their area a big town is one with 800 inhabitants, about the size of fairly large primary school here. I bet they understand the idea of the “pueblo”.

K D Lang was mostly publicising her new album with her new band The Siss Boom Gang – very good they are too – but she did sing a good number of old favourites too. For me, you can’t beat her song “Miss Chatelaine”. She puts on a delightful, almost self parodying performance as she pouts and poses and dances around the stage in her own special way. However, the song she got the standing ovation for was Leonard Cohen’s “Halleluyah”, which she belts out to maximum effect.

It’s Leonard
Cohen who is the other Canadian export who has come to my notice this week. He has just been awarded the Premio Príncipe de Asturias de la Literatura, not just for his songs which are usually pomes in their own right, but also for his books. He has a big following in Spain. When we saw him there in the summer of 2009 masses of people turned out and all of them seemed to know his lyrics well. According to the article I saw in El País online, Leonard Cohen started touring in 2008 because his latest divorce had left him more or less penniless. Now I was led to understand that it was his accountant who had ripped him off while he (Leonard Cohen) was in retreat in a Buddhist monastery. Whatever the reason for him impecunious state, the €50,000 which accompany a Miró statuette to make up the prize will go some way to make up for it.

I’m not sure what it is with Canadian singer-song writers and Buddhism. At one point in her concert on Tuesday, K D La
ng mentioned the fact that she too is a Buddhist. All I need to discover now is that Joni Mitchell and Neil Young are also Buddhists. It must be a Zen thing.

Here in soggy Saddleworth I have just discovered an outbreak of toadstools in my garden. I’ve never seen them in the garden before. Maybe it’s a result of the warm and damp conditions that prevail at the moment.

They have promised us one of the hottes
t summers in a long time but it would not surprise me if that was just the rest of the UK and Saddleworth remained as wet as ever. Still we are escaping to Galicia for a visit in a few weeks time. Hopefully we will get a good dose of sunshine while we are there. And yes, before anyone informs me of this, I do know that Galicia is not reliable where sunshine is concerned. We will see!

My other discovery in the garden is the small cairns that the grandchildren have been building. Maybe there is a connection with the toadstools. Have they perhaps found fairies living at the
bottom of the garden?