Sunday, 22 March 2009

On Pueblos, Prams and Long Weekends.

This weekend is the official start of Spring! Much has been made of it on the television and we are promised little rain and gently warm weather. It also coincides with el puente de San Jose, Saint Joseph's long weekend. Thursday was el dia de San Jose. In the best Spanish fashion, if a saint's day falls on a Thursday you can add Friday to it and make a bridge (puente) to the weekend. The television news has just informed me that there are atascos (traffic jams) in Madrid as people return to the city after the weekend.

When there is a bank holiday in the UK, most people head for the beach: Blackpool, Brighton and so on. The same happens here but many also rush off to spend the weekend in their
pueblo. Thursday's yoga class was concelled because of the puente, everyone wanted to know where I was going to spend it and then went on to tell me that Vigo would be very quiet because lots of people would have gone to their pueblo.

Certainly, in the little group of ladies who go for a chat in English with me after the Club de Lectura on Wednesday, one was heading off to nearby Arbo where she still has a house, well, one floor of a house; they have had
reformas done and now she and her sister have a floor each. She goes there whenever she can at the weekend for peace and quiet. Mind you, she needs Vigo for her clubs de lectura (French, English and Castillian/Gallego) and her art classes and her visits to exhibitions. Another has a finca, which sounds very grand, as though she had an estate in the country. In fact, it's more of a house in the country with a terreno, a piece of land about 200 square metres in size where she has fruit trees, her husband grows vegetables and they have a few hens, whose eggs she has presented me with before now: No tiene hormonos! She and her husband were planning to spend the weekend there.

The return to the
pueblo is not just a Gallego phenomenon. Going back to your roots exists throughout Spain. I recently re-watched Pedro Almodovar's film, "La Flor de mi Secreto". The central character, having escaped from the pueblo in her youth, to get away from the place where everyone knows you and comments on what you do and gives you advice that you really don't want, goes back there as a grown-up person to recover when her "successful" city life gets too stressful. Jose Arroyo, writer and expert on Almodovar, gives an introduction to the film where he talks about the importance of this aspect. His point is that the great majority of Spaniards are still only one, two or at the most three generations away from a rural life, the pueblo.

Now, it may be officially Spring but to me, with my Northwest of England sensibilities, it feels more like Summer. Today could have been a fine June day and we would have been very happy with it. The temperatures are 20+, the lizards are out in the Castro Park, the sun is shining and I'm already reaching for the sunblock! Many Spanish women, though, are still wearing their boots and, in some cases, scarves, which seems a little over the top to me. But then, I suppose that if you have bought a nice new pair of boots for the winter, you want to show them off as much as possible. At the other extreme, babies in their prams have their vulnerable little heads exposed to the sun. I find myself tempted to shout, "Put a bonnet on that baby! Put a parasol on that pram!"

That leads me quite nicely to prams and babies. It seems that statistics at last show an increase in the birthrate which for a long period was causing concern as Spain had one of the lowest in Europe. That has now changed, apparently, and Vigo is certainly doing its bit to help for there are plenty of babies and toddlers around on Principe and in the various squares and on cafe terraces.

One of the things that you notice here is the number of good old-fashioned prams that there are around. These may not not quite be 'Mary Poppins' nanny style baby-carriages but they are still prams, as opposed to the contraptions for putting the baby carseat onto a set of wheels. You do see plenty of these as well but there is still a good, healthy number of true perambulators where
mama, and sometimes papa, can have a little chat face to face with baby as they stroll along.

Now, in most British cities prams of this kind are rarely if ever seen. The only explanation I can come up with is city living. In Spanish cities, people live in the centre: people of all ages, families with children and not just the trendies who want to be close to the action such as those who live in the Hacienda development in central Manchester. As a result a true pram becomes a viable option, unlike the situation in the UK where almost every outing seems to entail putting the hi-tech buggy into the boot of the car and driving to the place where the baby is to be pushed around. Even a fairly small old-style pram just does not have that versatility. Now, it may well be, in fact it almost certainly is the case, that most Spanish
mamas also have a lightweight buggy for trips in the car, hopping on the bus and actually going into the shops on Principe and Urzaiz but the fact remains that the pram is alive and well here in Vigo.

Another factor, without doubt, is the continued, healthy survival of the
paseo. Young families stroll around, often accompanied by proud grandparents, taking advantage of this opportunity to share in another favourite Spanish pastime, admiring babies!

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