Thursday, 30 April 2009

Breaking records!

Well, it's official! I heard it on the television news last night, so it must be true! Spain is officially recognised as noisy. In fact, it's the second noisiest country in the world. Only Japan is noisier. I had never thought of the Japanese as a noisy nation but apparently so. Maybe that is why so many of them enjoy flamenco.

Some of us, of course, have long been aware that Spain is a noisy place. You only need to walk past a school at break time, walk into almost any reasonably popular bar and, here inVigo, walk round the corner from Colon onto Policarpo Sanz where the noise from the obras prevents you from thinking straight. Or you could choose the moment when at least three different discussions take place at once in the book club at the library, three different people ask for only one person to speak at a time and the coordinator just gives up on trying to coordinate the conversation!

One place which has been very noisy recently is Cangas del Narcea in Asturias. This is the home town of Jose Manuel Lucia who has just won a record 396,000 euros on the game show pasapalabras. As it became clear that he had actually done it, news reports showed lots of over-excited residents of the town jumping up and down and shouting in the streets, followed by the inevitable firework display.

Many roads in Spain will be noisy this weekend, the bank holiday weekend for the Fiesta del Labor, May Day celebrations. As the weathermen have promised us sunshine everywhere, an estimated 5 million deplazamientos, car journeys of varying lengths, are expected. Jerez in the south will be blessed with the arrival of some 50,000 motorbikes.

Meanwhile, our street did its bit to contribute to noise levels this afternoon. As the dustbinmen arrived to remove some of the 700 tons of rubbish (not all in our street, I hasten to add) which has accumulated around the rubbish containers, a queue of traffic built up behind the wagon. The dustbinmen indicated to drivers that they should take another route. There are at least four rubbish containers between here and the next corner, each surrounded by a huge pile of plastic bags and soggy boxes. It was clearly going to take a while to remove all that.

The cars continued to join the queue which soon stretched all the way to Gran Via. In a matter on minutes the air was filled with the sound of car horns, a standard reaction to any kind of delay. Still, I am told that this release of tension reduces the possibility of violent road-rage.

Glancing out of the window now, however, I see that bags of rubbish are again piling up around the container which has not yet been emptied. Perhaps this was just a temporary solution. Maybe tomorrow we will have a repeat perfomance.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Rubbish, Roadworks, Royal Visits and Rescues.

In many parts of the UK we had to accept first of all making our dustbins a feature of the front garden to avoid the dustbinmen having to walk round and collect them from the back of the house. Then it became necessary to put the bin in the street itself, where it could get in everyone's way, if we wanted our bins emptying at all. Time and motion studies have proved that this is a more efficient way of doing things, so it must be good.

Here in largely flat-dwelling Spain, there are large rubbish containers on the streets. Everyone has to put their rubbish in sealed plastic bags and take it down to the container. (In the summer it is usual to ask people not to take rubbish down until after 9.00 pm, for obvious reasons!) It's quite an effective way of making use of the multitudinous collection of plastic bags from the supermarketand ensures that you get at least a little exercise. You are encouraged to recycle and, to that end, there are separate containers for glass, paper and cardboard, light packaging and plastics, "brics" (cartons for orange juice and so on) and tins. So, good citizens, we walk with our segregated bags of rubbish to segregated containers. At some time in the middle of the night the dustbinmen come and empty the containers. Apart from occasionally noisy collections, the system appears to work fine.

Then, as I walked home from my yoga class this morning, I passed numerous overflowing rubbish containers with bags of rubbish piled up alongside them. The dustbinmen are on strike! According to the local papers, some 350 tons of rubbish are waiting on the streets of Vigo! Fingers crossed that they settle the dispute soon!

At the same time, the obras situation has not improved. If anything, there are more roadworks than ever going on around the city. Traffic is in chaos with lines of cars at a standstill in various parts of Vigo. The co-ordinator of the French reading group I go to at the library told us yesterday evening that it had taken her more than an hour to drive from the Citroen works to the library, a journey that should take about fifteen minutes.

A friend of ours believes that much of the digging-up and resurfacing of roads around the place is an attempt to provide some relief from high unemployment. Jobs are being created. If this is so, it is not really making much of an impression. Newspapers report unemployment at a record high with four million people out of work in Spain. Just when it looked as though things were improving on the job front, along came la crisis and everything just fell apart.

And now we have la gripe porcina from Mexico to contend with as well. There is only one confirmed case of this malady so far in Galicia. It is in Mos, one of the districts of Vigo!

However, here comes the mustn't grumble moment. Let us look on the bright side.

Monsieur Sarkozy is making his first official visit to Spain and has been welcomed by the royal family and Senor Zapatero. He is being upstaged though by his First Lady (just when did France start having a First Lady?) the elegant Carla Bruni. The fashionistas are having a ball comparing the outfits of Carla and Letizia, Princesa de Asturias, both tall, both slender, both expensively groomed. Good for them, I say, but personally I am growing just a little tired of Ms Bruni's bashful, head-tipped-to-one-side look.

Another reason to be cheerful that I have gleaned from the press is a timely rescue in Venice. Spanish actors have been in the news. Javier Bardem managed to prevent Pe(nelope Cruz) from falling into a canal there as she boarded a boat to attend a friend's wedding.

The country may be in crisis (and which country isn't at present?) but we can rely on high society to cheer us up!

Monday, 27 April 2009

Identifying Infantas

About a week ago, skimming the local press, I read that the Infantas, the little Spanish Princesses Leonor, aged three and a half, and Sofia, two tomorrow I believe, had just received their ID cards, or at least their DNI numbers. It will be a lot easier for them to memorise their numbers than it is for their mother, only a member of the royal family by marriage and, therefore, subject to having a loooooong number to remember just like the majority of people. No, Leonor and Sofia have been given numbers 16 and 17, following on from their father who has number 15.

The DNI, Documento Nacional de Identidad, has existed electronically for only three years but has been around in other forms for a good deal longer. Apparently General Franco decided in 1944 that such a document was needed but it was not until 1951 that the first were issued, number 1 for the Generalisimo himself, number 2 for Mrs Franco and number 3 for their daughter.

King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, then only Prince and Princess of Spain, did not receive theirs, numbers 10 and 11, until 1965. Then in 1980, numbers 12 and 14 went to the Infantas Elena and Cristina (number 13 was not used, presumably to avoid misfortune) and their younger brother, Felipe, was given number 15.

According to Franciso Tesorero, Secretario General de la the Unidad de Documentacion de Espanoles y Archivos de la Policia Nacional (there's a title and a half!), the DNI was undoubtedly intended as a tool for controlling the people. The first to be documented were newly released prisoners and anyone whose profession caused them to move around a lot and to change residence frequently.

Initially the cost of the DNI was means-tested. Those who were judged to be pobres de solemnidad, seriously poor, and the unemployed got their DNI for free. Nowadays, the DNI-e, the electronic version, costs a standard 10 euros, considerably less than a UK passport and a little less than the NIE, foreign national's number.

Here are some other odd facts regarding the DNI:-
  • everyone over 14 must have one;
  • according to one source of information, it is illegal to go around indocumentado and you can be given an on-the-spot- fine for not carrying your ID card;
  • the same number is used on your driving license;
  • it is needed in order to open a bank account - hence some of our early difficulties! - and to collect pensions and benefits;
  • since 2001, in the Basque Country, Catalonia and Galicia, it is bilingual (that language thing again!);
  • for a while it did not specify the gender of the holder but this was reintroduced in 1981;
  • it used to indicate profession, marital status and blood group but this stopped in 1985, perhaps because fewer and fewer people stayed in the same profession for long periods of time (an international phenomenon) and because divorce became legally available in 1981 and suddenly large numbers of people availed themselves of it!
  • the DNI-e has a chip which allows the holder to access various IT facilities and, despite Spain's still low, but growing, IT provision, more than 100,000 new cards are issued each month, apparently.
The situation varies in other EU countries.

ID cards used to be obligatory in France but nowadays they will accept a passport as ID. Spot checks are carried out in poor districts!

In Germany all over-16s must have an ID card or a passport but it is not necesary to carry it on your person at all times.

Since 2005 all Greeks aged 12 or over must have an ID card and citizens must produce them at the request of law enforcers.

Italians can apply for their ID cards from age 15 but must have one by the time they are 18. It is not obligatory to carry it on your person but if outside your community of residence you must be able to produce it. So, in practice most people carry it around with them.

Meanwhile, in the UK, where there has not been an ID card since the 1950s, we continue to debate the matter and go on using driving licenses, utility bills and all sorts of odds and ends to identify ourselves!

I, of course, have been known to travel to Portugal from here using only my Vigo library card as ID!!

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Natural Gas inflates our bills!

Within days of moving into our flat here in Vigo we heard a knock on the door. There stood a female gas-meter reader, in her Gas Natural uniform and proferring ID. Equal opps in action! Be that as it may, we were glad to see her because in this way we discovered the whereabouts of the gas meter: in a tiny, narrow cupboard in a corner of the kitchen, so squashed in that a mirror is needed to read the meter, oh yes, and the ability to understand back-to-front numbers. We explained that we had just moved in and were a little miffed a couple of weeks later to find that a sum of money had been taken from our bank account to pay that bill but all was well as our landlady refunded it within a couple of days.

A couple of months later, a notice appeared in the foyer of our block of flats requesting those who had Gas Natural to put their meter reading on the attached list so that, in the event of their not being in when the meter-maid came, their gas consumption could be correctly charged. We duly squeezed our mirror into the kitchen cupboard, squinted at the numbers, did the mirror-reading trick and filled in the information. The bill or, rather, the notification of money taken from our bank account arrived a couple of weeks later as on the first occasion. No problem!

Two months further down the line, the same notice appeared in the foyer .... and disappeared without trace before the date indicated and before we had had a chance to write any numbers at all. Then, either the metermaid failed to knock on our door or we were out at the time because when the
factura arrived it was an estimated reading and a good deal more expensive than we expected. This was especially true as we had had three weeks away from the flat spending Christmas and New Year with friends and family in the UK. I made a note of the actual reading, intending to voice my concerns to the Gas Natural company. Somehow, however, life got busy, I kept putting it off and suddenly too much time had gone past. I decided to wait and see; it should all be sorted out in the next reading, although I really would have preferred the money to stay in our bank account.

And so, we come to the present. Two weeks ago, the notice was there once again in the foyer. We quickly filled it in before it could disappear. The last time I saw it, ours was the only reading on it and then it was whisked away. When the bill arrived at the start of this week, I was astounded, annoyed, exasperated to find that once again we had an estimated reading. Once again the amount was ludicrously high. We use gas to heat water in the famous newly installed boiler and to operate the hobtop. How many showers do you need to have and how many pans of food do you need to boil for inordinately long periods of time to create such a bill? A phone call to Gas Natural was needed!

First of all, I read the meter once more: up-to-date information would be provided! Then I dialled the customer service number on their
factura. Before I could get anywhere I had to provide the ID number of the contract holder, not us but the old gentleman next door, grandfather of our absentee, Madrid dwelling landlady. (We only come into the equation when it comes to extracting money from our bank account!) Fortunately the necessary information was also on the factura. So I supplied the required data and was addressed in faster than light Spanish by a harsh-voiced female employee who was clearly repeating a script learnt by heart. Ouch! Having survived that ordeal, I explained the problem and was put on hold while she transferred me to the relevant department. I am pleased to say that this was a free phone call as I really object to paying to listen to piped muzak.

Eventually I was connected to the correct department, gave them the reading, listened to some more free music for a while and was finally informed that, yes, indeed, our meter reading was lower than the estimated reading for the previous bill, let alone the one we had just received. Well, what a surprise! I could have told him that. And so ....? Answer: just over 80 euros will be refunded to our bank account within the week. I shall check this and only then will I jump up and shout, Result!!!

Incidentally, when you call the customer service number for Gas Natural, before you are connected a mechanical voice asks you to press a number on your phone according to where you live: number 1 for Madrid, number 2 for Catalonia and number 3 for .... anywhere else in Spain. It says something about the uptake of
gas de la calle, as the old lady next door described it to me when we viewed the flat. Does everyone else really prefer to struggle upstairs or in and out of lifts with bombonas, the weighty gas canisters which are the alternative? Or is most of Spain waiting for obras to dig up the road and install the pipework?

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Community in Action!

Strolling around Vigo this week, I notice that this city is following the example of the regional capital and trying to have as many roadworks as possible around in as many streets as possible. At the Puerta del Sol a lone phone box stands in the middle of a pile of rubble. The way past the roadworks is so narrow that I find it hard to stride along at my usual I'm-on-my-way-somewhere pace!

Meanwhile, the street leading up to Plaza de la Constitucion which saw processions on Good Friday is almost completely blocked. So is the other road leading to the library on the corner. The club de lectura which I attend in the library basement had to change rooms this evening as there was so much noise from the digger in the street outside.

Signs inform us that all of this is
mellorando o futuro. It may well be doing great things to improve the future, but it's playing havoc with the present!

In other parts of the centre, however, more positive action is taking place. At the junction of Principe, Urzaiz and Colon on Monday there appeared a strange collection of boxes and workmen were clearly setting up some kind of display. The only hint was the name Caixa Galicia, one of the local banks, on some of the material. By today, Wednesday, it had turned into an art work of a kind, appealing for us all to get involved in voluntary action, in recycling and generally making Vigo a better place.

As I walked home from the library this evening, I met a small demonstration on Principe. The
demonstrators were asking passers-by to sign a petition against the relocation of the Escuela de Artes y Oficios, a local art school. I am afraid I did not stop to ask for the arguments one way or the other but they seemed to be getting a fair amount of support from the strollers and shoppers.

And then, coming to the Urzaiz end of Principe, I heard the sound of the gaita, the Galician bagpipes.

Musicians in regional costume played.

Girls and young women in swirling skirts danced in pairs and in formation.

An appreciative crowd applauded.

A local drunk tried to join in but was dissuaded from doing so.

Finally, after the last dances h
ad finished, a man in an apron came forward and addressed the crowd. This had not been a tourist attraction nor a random idea to amuse the people out on a paseo. These were people from the Organizacion de Asociaciones de Vecinos, the local residents associations which serve as a kind of community education service, providing leisure activities for people of all ages and useful courses to retrain if you are unemployed.

This colourful display was to remind the vigueses and viguesas that they need to support these organisations and he asked everyone to consider giving a little of their time to make community action continue. The crowd applauded politely once again. It remains to be seen how many take any notice!

Monday, 20 April 2009

Visiting Time comes around!

Well, we boasted so much about the 27 days of sunshine in March, 20 of them with temperatures high enough to constitute a good summer in the North West of England, that a friend of ours took us at our word and came to stay. So, of course, the weather changed as soon as he was due to arrive and almost the first thing he saw of Vigo was the bazar chino where we took him to buy an umbrella.

However, you don't come to Galicia for guaranteed sunshine and the shellfish in a seafood restaurant hidden away near A Guia - one of those places that you don't realise is there unless you know it, the sort you go past and thinks it's just someone's back yard - tastes just as good whatever the weather.

We dodged the showers for a visit to Castrelos Park, to admire the rose gardens - coming on nicely - and to check out the eucalyptus trees - oldest in Galicia but no koalas!

By the weekend the sunshine was back, a bit patchy at times but definitely there, so we took the train (4.45 euros each for the round trip) to see the sights and have lunch in the Plaza de la Lena /Praza da Lena where they serve excellent filloas con cogomelos e gambas - prawn and mushroom pancakes.

Walking back to the railway station, we discovered that tourist development has not been at a standstill since we spent part of summer 2007 in Pontevedra. Alongside the river is now a pleasant and well-organised pathway which was not there in 2007, running from the centre of town to the railway and bus stations and beyond, perfectly accessible for baby buggies or wheelchairs.

On Sunday the city was full of English tourists. The cruise ships are back with a vengeance, around four of them last week, and Sunday saw the arrival of the Ventura. More of a small floating town than a huge floating hotel, it dominated the harbour, completely dwarfing the gangplanks for the local ferries.

As it was Sunday, of course, there were no shops available and the tourists had to make do with the numerous top manta outlets, selling goods off the top of a blanket spread on the ground - handy corners to pick up and run if someone wants to check on the legality of the sales! The cruiseship folk may not know much Spanish but I heard some pretty effective bargaining going on, reducing the price of counterfeit designer goods.

We, however, had planned a boat trip of our own. Both the Vigo O
ficina de Turismo and the tourist information desk at the airport had assured us that boats were now running, weather permitting, to the nearby Islas Cies, the nature reserve islands which protect Vigo from much of the bad winter weather and, incidentally, have one of the best beaches in the world according to the Guardian newspaper! However, both our sources of information were too optimistic, a little ahead of themselves; boats had run for the Easter Weekend but regular service is not envisaged until May. Bother! We did, though, have a contingency plan: a trip across the bay to Cangas. So off we went.

As we pulled into Cangas harbour we saw the local traineras rowing team, out for a Sunday morning practice.

Our last trip to Cangas left Phil ill for a week after eating some possibly suspect cockles, so we were looking for somewhere new to eat. Who better to ask than one of the locals, especially one who seemed to have reached a ripe old age on local fare? In fairly typical, helpful Gallego fashion he indicated some nearby places and then offered to show us some more if we cared to walk down to the seafront with him. And so we ended up at O Pelao, eating pulpo and pimientos de Padron, washed down with some good white wine for under 25 euros in total. Excellent food! Excellent value!

After that our friend needed to sit down at a seafront cafe to finish off
settling his lunch with an icecream before going on the take a further look at Cangas, including the art work on the wall of the Museo del Mar.

Today, with sunshine forecast for Vigo and temperatures of 19 or 20 degrees, he's flying back to the UK. So it goes!

Thursday, 16 April 2009

How to be annoying .....

Having pushed my way once again with great difficulty through the crowd of unconcerned parents and children around the door of the Salesianos at end of school time today, I remembered that I had one day made a list of the little things which had annoyed me. So here goes:-

How to be annoying ...
  • ... on an escalator.
  1. Ignore any notices suggesting that you should stand on one side so that people can go past you if they wish. Instead, stand squarely in the middle of the step, taking up as much room as possible.
  • ... in the street.
  1. Walk in a group of four or, failing that, three and a dog. Spread yourselves across the width of the pavement and progress just slowly enough so to annoy those behind you who, naturally, cannot manage to overtake you.
  2. Stop your group to greet an old friend you have just seen approaching from the opposite direction or to say goodbye, at length, to one of your number who is about to turn off or even enter his house. Spend several minutes talking, being sure to take up as much space as possible, preferably the whole width of the pavement.
  3. When walking alone, stop suddenly in the very middle of the pavement to make or answer a phone call, involving as much noisy talking and lively arm-waving as possible.
  4. Exit shops at top speed without regard for anyone who might already be walking along that bit of the street.
  5. Stand and talk to a friend or make a phone while your annoying little dog stretches its retractable lead across the width of the pavement.
  6. Stop to coo over a friend's recently acquired offspring, trying hard to position the baby carriage centrally across the pavement restricting the progress of other pedestrians.
  • ... at pedestrian crossings.
  1. Light a cigarette, making sure that you are in a position where the wind can blow your smoke into the faces of as many as possible of the other people waiting to cross.
  • ... at the supermaket checkout.
  1. Ask insistently if anyone minds if you go first as you have only 2/3/4/5 items and besides you have a bus to catch and clearly have a much busier life than anyone else in the queue.
On the plus side...
  • ... I have on a number of occasions been offered the chance to go ahead of someone in the supermarket check-out queue when the other person has a trolley full of goods and I have just a few items.
  • ... on cafe terraces and in open squares everyone keeps an eye on the children who are running around.
  • ... more often than not dog-owners carry around pooper-scooper bags for their doggy do-dos.
  • ... Spanish people themselves do not seem to be worried by these minor annoyances that pop up on a fairly regular basis. As a result there are very few angry interchanges.
This is just another aspect of life in Spain!

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Getting to the Root(s) of the Matter.

Well, the day had to come and Tuesday of last week was it. I had to tackle the problem of the hair. For several years the same hairdresser in the UK has been cutting, colouring and un-curling my hair. We came here in September and I held out until I returned to the UK forChristmas for her to deal with it again. However, I knew that I was going to have to take the bull by the horns, cross the threshold and go to a Spanish hairdressing salon.

I reflected to myself that you can learn all sorts of fancy stuff, read Don Quijote in the original, write university essays on the problems of pollution and politics and so on but it just does not prepare you for the nitty-gritty of talking about split ends, layers, lotions and potions and all the rest of the hair-related fashion-business paraphanalia.

My Phil had already been through it, twice, going along to one of those men only barbershop places down by the harbour. I felt decidedly out of place, going along to help with the language. This was clearly a male preserve. The gentlemen sat on seats by the window and waited their turn. Ladies were definitely not expected to be there. After the first occasion, Phil did say that the experience took him back to the barbershops of his childhood. Although he did not need to be lifted onto a high seat this time, much of the process was like a trip down memory lane.

In reality, our only worry was when the cut-throat razor came out. The barber honed it ominously on a leather strop. Did he plan to shave him as well? Had we stumbled into a den of iniquity from some old film where they intended to cut our throats and steal all our money? No, a quick spray with warm water, a comb went through Phil's hair and the blade followed, slicing off the overlong ends. Phew, what a relief! The second time he went, Phil had perfected his patter: all about the
buen tiempo we had been having, the difference between Vigo and Manchester and the odd comment on football teams.

In my case, I was going armed with information from my UK hairdresser: type of dye, dye numbers for L'Oreal colours, length of time under heated lamps and more. So, with my roots getting more visible by the day and no prospect of seeing my English hairdresser until June, in I went. And, of course, the Spanish understand fully that one can have one's hairdresser
de confianza, the hairdresser de toda la vida, well more or less life-long. Of course they could accommodate me and the colours were not a problem.

Accustomed to having difficulty making appointments at a central Manchester salon, I was just a little surprised to be ushered immediately to a seat. Mr Important, the only male stylist, surrounded by a bevy of female helpers who carried out minor tasks, showed me the usual colour swatches in the book of L'Oreal products. The usual gooey mixture appeared in a bowl to be administered by one of the female helpers, who identified herself as Elenita. Coffee and magazines were offered. One major difference appeared, however: I was asked not once, not twice but at least three times if I wanted to have my eyebrows dyed as well. Now that never happeened in Manchester!

When it came to the point where I was asked if I wanted a "treatment" I thought I was back in Fountaion Street. As the dye-sludge was rinsed off and my head was gently but thoroughly massaged, I assumed I was getting the familiar "treatment". Then my hair was dried by a girl with purply-pink hair: Elena, not to be confused with Elenita. All was going as usual.

And then Elena reappeared with a device which consisted of a hairbrush attached to a plastic tube into which she inserted a capsule of some kind ofliquid. The whole shebang was plugged into the wall and she proceded to brush the strange smelling, evaporating liquid through my hair and then seal it in with heated straighteners. This was the
tratamiento which would make my hair shinier, healthier, glossier. I was invited to touch it and see. Yes, indeed, softer and smoother! We were clearly at the cutting edge of hairdressing technology!

Talking of cutting, I had agreed that my hair should be trimmed; the split ends
(las puntas estropeadas) needed removing. I assumed that Elenita (not to be confused with purply pink- haired Elena) would take care of this but, no, this was a job for Mr Important himself! In fact, I reflected, he was the only one I had seen curtting hair at all during my visit to the salon!

S0, finally, my hair was trimmed. The colours worked perfectly. I left the salon renewed, having been warned not to wash my hair for forty-eight hours after the
tratamiento. Elenita invited me to return any time, no appointment needed, and to ask for her. I certainly will!

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Last Word on Semana Santa 2009

Easter Sunday has arrived quietly here in Vigo and no processions are scheduled for today. In some parts of Spain, however, there are processions every day during Holy Week.

Two years ago we spent Easter in Salamanca where we had a room with a balcony looking out onto the splendid Plaza Mayor. This had the advantage of giving us an excellent view of the processions coming into and out of the square but there were also disadvantages. Several groups of revellers returning home in the small hours of the morning sang their way across the square - at intervals, of course, so that were we were disturbed a number of times - and then on Good Friday morning we were woken at about five thirty by the mournful strains of the funeral march as the procession made its way under our window.

On Easter Sunday morning, though, there was a celebratory procession, ending with the risen Christ saluting Mary in the centre of the square, surrounded by
penitentes from a range of cofradias, each group wearing hoods of a different colour. On the Monday morning, eating a hurried breakfast en route for the railway station, we leafed through the local paper. There was a photo of the re-encuentro with Jesus bowing down to Mary. There was our balcony. Oh, look, there I was on the balcony. Fame at last! Of sorts!

Meanwhile, back in 2009, I read in La Voz de Galicia that the toy manufacturers Playmobil are taking a certain German pastor to court over his use of what the Spanish often refer to as
los clics. Playmobil accuses him of encouraging children to engage in potentially harmful or dangerous activities with toys which they pride thermselves in making very safe. They have also taken action to prevent him using the words Playmobil or clic in his web address.

Apparently, Markus Bomhard has been using Playmobil figures on his website to illustrate Bible stories for children. Because the little figures always come clothed he has repainted them in flesh tones for the story of Adam and Eve. He would have no problem with the Flood or the Nativity as Playmobil markets a Noah's Ark and a Christmas crib, complete with Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.

The culmination, however, seems to have been Easter. Pastor Bomhard has taken the little figurines apart so that the arms can be extended sideways, a movement not natural to these little people, and so that the feet can be placed one on top of the other. Then he has nailed the little figure to a cross: a sad fate for an innocent little Playmobil man!

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Easter Eggs and Easter Processions and such.

Well, Good Friday came and there were no hot cross buns. Mind you they are not exclusively for Good Friday in the UK any longer. They appear in the shops not long after Christmas, as do the Easter eggs.

Now Easter eggs never used to be part of the Spanish tradition, except in Catalonia which has always had to be a but different, but they are here now although only in certain cakeshops and sweetshops. There are no huge displays in supermarkets with offers of three for the price of two, in fact none at all in the supermarkets where I shop!

There is an expression in Spanish meaning to be a party pooper, aguar la fiesta, literally to water down the party. Now this is what happened to Maundy Thursday's procesion de la pasion here in Vigo. People gathered outside the Church of the Sacred Heart, a most unlikely looking church situated on the ground floor of a multi-storey building.

The imagenes were waiting in the patio of the school across the road, ready to be brought out for the procession. The sellers of soggy doughnuts and other sweet stuff had set up their stalls at various points on the route of the procession along Rosalia de Castro.

And then it started to rain ... and rain ... and rain!! As the water started to flow in rivers down the street, I gave up and went home. The local papers report the disappointment of the organisers and the congregation who had worked to prepare the procession.

Good Friday, however, dawned reasonably fine. Christ and Mary set out from the concatedral and made their way separately by different routes up the hill to the Plaza de la Constitucion for the encuentro, the meeting where Jesus would bow down to salute Mary.

Stern-faced ladies (well some of them were stern-faced) in long lace mantillas accompanied the procession.

One little girl in the procession looked very bored.

The priest gave a serm
on which, suprisingly to one brought up in Methodist/low-church Anglican tradtions, seemed to concentrate less on the crucifixion than on the sufferings of Mary.

In the evening, a different set of imagenes emerged for the entierro, the burial. Mary Magdalene supported the figure of Christ. Mary, his mother, was all dignified sadness in solemn black.

The band played mournfully. (
I have to say that the band could not hold a candle to the brass bands of the North of England. This band would have no chance in the Saddleworth Band Contest. Mind you, in the Saddleworth Band Contest they can choose more cheerful tunes!)

Although there were penitentes in plenty, none of them were flagellating themselves as happens in the more dramatic processions of Sevilla. There was also less wax in evidence than in the processions in more southern cities where so much is spilt onto the streets that car tyres squeal as they go round corners in the fortnight or so after Easter.

Semana Santa in Vigo is perhaps less spectacular than in Sevilla or Salamanca but I got the impression that it might be a little more intimate.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Special Easter Speed Cameras

Apparently the DGT, Direccion General del Trafico, is increasing the number of speed cameras around in the Vigo area for Holy Week. People move around during this holiday period but the DGT expects fewer long journeys but more movement over short distances, people off to their nearby pueblo, and so they want to be vigilant locally. The aim is to reducir la accidentalidad, a wonderfully Spanish expression, impossible to translate quite so succinctly into English.

Now, according to statistics, the DGT collected more more money in fines for traffic offences in 2008 than in previous years. During 2008 some 4.4 million fines were handed out. This is 26% more than in 2007 and it is expected that income from such fines will go up by 15% this year.

The reason? More speed cameras: following the 2005-2007 plan they installed 521 fixed speed cameras, the dreaded radar which the Spanish moan about just as much as the British. There is a small problem, however; about 30% of the fines just don't get paid. In some places this figure is up to 70%. With a fairly typically Spanish contempt for this kind of authority, some drivers apparently have as many as 100 unpaid fines for traffic offences.

Around 30 to 40% of the fines are for speeding. Here in the centre of Vigo, with a lot of speed-restricted, semi-pedestrianised zones, apart from the occasional motocyclist who decides to use Gran Via as a racetrack and to show how noisy he can be, there is not much obvious speeding.

Up towards the top of Gran Via they do tend to zoom out of the tunnel bringing traffic in from out of town. In the opposite direction at that point there is always a good deal of honking of horns (favourite occupation of the Spanish drivers, and Italian and French and, for that matter, practically every nation except the British) as drivers realise that they are in the wrong lane and need to change lanes at the last moment.

What there is a lot of is driving without a seatbelt (one day recently as I walked past a line of traffic waiting for the lights to change I saw three drivers without seatbelts, two front seat passengers without seatbelts, countless unbelted rear seat passengers and, amazingly, a rear-facing small-baby carrier on the front seat without a seatbelt to restrain it!!!!), pulling up suddenly for some reason without prior signal, causing those behind to stop equally suddenly to swerve around the now stationery vehicle and, naturally, talking on the mobile phone while driving.

Now, if they can manage to fine all of those and, of course, collect the money, they really will increase their revenue!!

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

The Joys of Spring! Or The Trials of Internet!

Spring has most definitely come here.
The new green is most prolific.
The chestnuts trees are having their moment of glory.
And the mesembryanthemums are wonderful in the sun.

And with the spring have come the people whose job it is to knock on doors and tout for business. Among others there has been a man with an almost incomprehensible accent trying to interest me in a special offer on gas provision. Unfortunately, when I worked out what he was on about I realised it was no good. You had to sign up for his offer for two years and our lease only lasts until September.

R-Galicia, Internet provider also came knocking. They thought we were already subscribers but that must have been the previous tenants so they went on to try to persuade us to join them with a special offer. We could have telephone connection, cable TV, Internet and free calls to selected numbers within Spain, prices varying according to the combination you chose. We queried the cost of a fixed telephone connection as that was the big stumbling block when first we hunted around for an Internet provider. Completely free, they told us, part of the package, no need to go to Telefonica.

Now for the last couple of weeks our mobile internet has been erratic to say the least, leaving us disconnected for hours, and once for days, at a time. Impossible to check e-mail, download the Guardian's sudoku or check the spelling of words like
mesembryanthemums. We have had to go back to visiting WIFI cafes. I have taken to calling it Internet Somewhere-or-Other as it has been so hard to find. What a pity R-Galicia were not making their so attractive offer before back in September when we signed our contract with Orange!


Having spent half an hour this morning listening to advice which did not work from the Orange servicio de atencion al cliente, this afternoon I took the computer and its mobile modem along to The Phone House where we originally signed our Orange contract. I wanted to show someone face to face what our problem was. The helpful Phone House people expressed some scepticism about their ability to help but were prepared to lend a sympathetic ear and if possible offer advice.

In the event the system, rather like an awkward child, decided to perform beautifully in the shop down near the harbour. It jumped through all the requisite hoops: connected immediately, gave fast access to Google, Hotmail, various newspapers online, Facebook, this blog and any number of other sites. None of this I'll just lull you into a false sense of security and then drop the connection.

The Phone House lady and I sighed and agreed that that was the way of computers and their systems. Maybe it just needed to go out for a walk, take the air!

Back home, I am trying a new location for the computer in the flat. So far, so good! Fingers and toes crossed!

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Palm Sunday in Vigo

Domingo de Ramos - Palm Sunday - began with coolish sunshine on our street but by the time we ventured out properly just after midday it had warmed up nicely. The start of Semana Santa and things were going on, so we followed people carrying palms and, as we got closer, the thump of the drums.

Earlier in th
e day, trawling the net for information about times and routes of processions, I came across articles in La Voz de Galicia and Atlantico in which a certain Angel Dorrego had some interesting things to say about Vigo and the Easter processions. The aptly named co-ordinator of the Semana Santa celebrations in Vigo expressed his concern that the traditions were falling away because only 5% of the population regularly go to mass on a Sunday.

However, plenty of people had turned out for the bendicion de las palmas at Puerta del Sol. It did cross my mind that blessing palms sold for profit on Principe and in El Corte Ingles might perhaps amount to giving a blessing to commerce. Didn't Jesus throw the moneylenders out of the temple? I thought back to the more modest events in the Church of England sundayschool of my childhood where all the children were given a small palm frond to take home. But then, those too must have been bought and sold as part of a commercial enterprise. It seems you can't win!

Back to Vigo. Today's procession was La Entrada de la Borriquilla. Christ on his little donkey was greeted by children of all ages (and plenty of adults) waving palm fronds.

Even though there were plenty of children in evidence, according to Angel Dorrego, los padres no les pasan la devocion a sus hijos - parents are not passing on the tradition of devotion to their children. And so there are not enough cofrades - the people who accompany the statues in the processions. There are also insufficient costaleros - those who carry the statues through the streets. In the 30s these were fishermen or sailors, of which there were plenty in Vigo, but now there are fewer and Angel put out an appeal for volunteers in mid-March. All willing hands would be welcomed.

Although traditions are apparently still very strong in the Teis and Bouzas districts of the city and across the bay in Cangas, Angel Dorrego says that central Vigo needs to rebuild the tradition. Now, that difference seems to me to be very understandable. Less central districts probably have a more stable population with several generations of families living there and with the networks that result from that, including membership of cofradias. The city centre, on the other hand, has a more transient population and rather less social cohesion.

Be that as it may, a healthy enough procession made its way along Principe with hooded penitentes, drums and the inevitable band.

Angel Borrego had warned people
not to confuse Semana Santa with Spring Holidays, reminding me of certain theories that one of the reasons for Easter being where it is in the calendar was that as Christianity spread its various festivals were made more acceptable to the newly converted by timing them to replace older pagan celebrations. Certainly the presence of clowns selling dinosaur balloons and the children who sported palms in one hand and Hello Kitty in the other suggested a more secular side to the day.