I suppose it was inevitable that our choice of city for the great IDEA would involve chess somewhere along the line. For years now, whenever we have spent more that two or three days anywhere in Spain we have had to play what I now think of as "Hunt the Chess Club". Many tourist office employees have given us strange looks as we have explained that we would like to know if there are any chess tournaments in their town this summer. Many a happy afternoon has been spent walking the more obscure streets of some Spanish town looking for an address found on the internet, usually only to find that the address is the private dwelling of whoever is secretary of the local chess club and that he is away on holiday, like any sensible chess player. In fact he is probably playing the same game in in Bournemouth or Eastbourne or Grange over Sands!
Be that as it may, the summer before last we struck gold. In Santiago de Compostela the tourist office was obviously up to speed and told us about a one-day tournament going on just outside the city centre. We found the venue, my Phil signed up to do battle with the chess pieces and I went to see what kind of victories I could score in Zara and Mango in the local shopping streets.
Shortly after that we moved on to nearby Pontevedra. This time we drew the usual blank at the tourist office and had just about decided that we had been lucky to find anything at all chessy in Galicia in the summer when I noticed some people playing chess outside a cafe. Well, of course, we had to wait until their game was over and then introduced ourselves and asked the usual questions. Lo and behold, they were able to tell us about a tournament taking place over several evenings at the Revira Centre, "un local social" - a kind of social club - near the Basilica Santa Maria. They were not exactly sure about all the details but we should go and ask, which we duly did.
The venue was not easy to find: a small, quite unprepossessing place which you could walk past without noticing. We had to get through the language barrier as they made a point of speaking Gallego but we were determined and persuaded them to speak to us in Castellano. And so, finally, Phil ended up not only playing in the tournament (while I went walkabout or sat in a cafe drinking iced coffee and reading the paper) but winning it.
On the last day he was presented with a rather large trophy, somewhere around twelve inches tall! We tried to persuade the organisers to keep the trophy in the Centro Revira. After all, we suggested, it was a little unfair for an unknown Englishman to walk in, win the tournament and walk off with their trophy! We should leave it there, possibly with a small, tasteful inscription, and return the following year to see if Phil could repeat his triumph! But, no, they were insistent. He had won it fair and square and DESERVED to take the trophy home! So, somewhat fearful that we might exceed the luggage weight allowance on our budget flight, we put the trophy in the suitcase and away we went. Phil's picture later appeared on Revira's website: a little moment of fame!
In the meantime, we had discovered Vigo but on that occasion only spent two separate and very hot days, walking up to the Castro in the heat of the day and taking a boat across to the Islas Cies. That was not the right moment to investigate chess clubs.
So it was not until we came on our reconnaissance visit last April that we googled, discovered and investigated Xadrez Galego.
This time our investigations took us to what looked more like shop than any chess club we had ever come across in the UK. Indeed, in Spain the only place we had encountered that ressembled it at all was La Casa del Ajedrez, a specialist chess shop in Madrid. But this was different and that was obvious from the word go.
The brainchild of the very dynamic Roberto Paramos, Xadrez Galego, Roberto insists, is more than a just a chess club; it is a business, employing people and providing equipment, chess training, teachers for schools' extra-curricular activities and a venue where members can drop in and play chess any day or evening of the week. Roberto has written and continues to write chess teaching books which, like their author, greet the young chess player with a smile.
We walked in late one April afternoon and introduced ourselves. At first I seemed to detect a rather polite suspicion of this perhaps rather eccentric English couple and their ideas. However, as Phil prompted me about what to say chess-wise and his playing strength and chess-training experience became clear, this soon changed and we could see plans being formed: Roberto would like Phil to do some coaching but for the moment Phil is happy just to improve his game and do the occasional translation. So we left our email contact details and went back to England for me to work out my notice and for us to organise ourselves.
Once we had establish ourselves here in September and got through the settling in trauma, we contacted Xadrez Galego again and have become part of the system, even featuring as colaboradores on the website. Phil goes along to play chess; I go along as his minder, manager, language coach, personal assistant, secretary and general dogsbody. While he plays, I read, write, catch up with my correpondence and marvel at the enthusiasm with which Roberto greets shy little chess players with a cry of "Hola, campeon"; every one is indeed a potential champion!
Phil has regular exchanges in Spanglish with Pepe (he tries out his English and Phil tries out his Spanish), the ever-present secretary of the club, provider of information, orderer of chess books, arranger of entry into tournaments, organiser of matches and, last but certainly not least, football fanatic. His team is Real Madrid and there are evenings when he MUST pop out to the cafe on the corner to see how the match is going. However, he also has a fondness for Manchester United and would like his English team to make it to one of the finals so that he can show off his United scarf.
We have visited some of the schools where Xadrez Galego provides chess trainers. There is lots of enthusiasm and lots of noise! Spanish children DO make a lot of noise! But they ARE playing chess and a good number of them make their way to Xadrez Galego to play more and improve.
Phil plays for the team, although despite teasing from other team players he does not YET wear the tracksuit! Sometimes the games are at Xadrez Galego itself; on other occasions they play away and if there is room in the transport Phil's minder, manager, language coach, personal assistant, secretary gets to go along as well. In this way I have visited Villagarcia in the rain, saw little but enjoyed the tapas after the match, ogled Ourense and mooched around Mondariz Balneario.
Incidentally, working as language coach for a chess player, I have increased my knowledge of chess terminology in Spanish and know a good deal more about the game than I ever did before!
I have also discovered that, despite lack of information at the Oficinas de Turismo, there is a prodigious amount of chess going on in Galicia!