Thursday, 29 October 2009

Rainstorms, sunshine and chess matches!!

Well, it’s been a funny old week so far. It started on Saturday, if a week can be said to start on Saturday, with another rainstorm that once again flooded the centre of Vigo with buses and cars ploughing through a couple of feet of water. On Sunday it improved somewhat but we had intermittent mist and cloud; the city came and went and the cranes on the port seemed to float independently.

Monday brought the arrival of a group of young chess players form Manchester to challenge a group from Vigo. The problem was that only half the group turned up. AirFrance indulged in a spot of “overbooking” and the group, despite having booked tickets on line, had no seats on the plane. Half the group got it sorted all the way to Vigo but the rest had to spend an unplanned night in Paris.

By Tuesday, ho
wever, we had the whole party and in the afternoon I started my new “career” as a media superstar, taking part in an interview on Radio Onda Cero, interpreting for the leaders of the Manchester party. We were most impressed with the mini museum in Onda Cero’s Vigo headquarters, displaying recording machinery such as I have not seen in fifteen years. In the interview the Manchester leaders promised to “kick ass” in the chess match. The Vigo bunch did not believe this was possible but in the event Manchester won the match 7-4.

Yesterrday the Mancunian players relaxed in Santiago in the amazing sunshine. As I write, the return match is taking place in the prestigious Círculo Mercantil here in Vigo. The chess club here has pulled out all the stops to have their best team this afternoon. We shall see what the result turns out to be.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Giving a good performance!

I once read somewhere that we should try to extend our vocabulary on a regular basis, a few new words every week. I used to try to encourage my A-level French and Spanish students to aim for five a day at least (like the UK government and fruit and veg) and I do know an idealistic young History teacher who has his “word of the week” which he encourages his students to use.

Well, in the last few days I have been extending my vocabulary, just a little, in both Spanish and French.

First of all, in the television news I came across a presenter using the verb ningunear, a new word for me but one whose meaning soon became clear.

Now, ningún is a word that means not any, as in ninguna idea – no idea. In other circumstances it is one of the ways to say no-one or nobody. I didn’t know it could be converted into a verb. Maybe Spanish is developing that very English habit of adapting the grammatical use of words – nouns to verbs to adjectives in a very free and easy manner.

What happened was that the (female) vice-president of the Spanish government, Elena Salgado, presented a budget proposal which was voted on in the cortes, the Spanish parliament. The leader of the opposition, Mr Rajoy, commenting on her report, began by saying he had nothing against la vice-presidenta personally but he wanted to address his remarks to the president, Mr Zapatero. Ouch!!!! He was disregarding her, bypassing her completely; so this is what they meant by ning

Lots of discussion ensued about whether he was being macho and, interestingly, whether Ms Salgado was “hiding behind her femininity” when she presented her report. I don’t know enough about the ins and outs of the politics and economics to comment on how good her report was but Mr Rajoy’s remarks do seem rather sexist to me. And I tend to agree with one of the pundits interviewed on the television that, regardless of any gender issues, Mr Rajoy was in fact belittling the very post of vice-president by speaking as he did.

Be that as it may, I now have a new word and need to find an opportunity to use it.

My other linguistic acquisition came with the purchase of a printer. We finally decided that it’s a real nuisance having to go to a cybercafé to print documents – boarding cards when doing on-line check-in for RyanAir for instance. So we took ourselves off to A Laxe shopping centre and bought a reasonably priced printer from MediaMarkt.

The box is labelled in French and English and informs us that the machine is économique et performante (economical and reliable) and gives impression rapide et performante (quick and detailed printing. This word performante seems like a useful one to include in my vocabulary, covering efficient, effective, reliable, detailed and no doubt almost anything that expresses performing well. Once more the French appear to have taken an (almost) English word and adapted it to their own idiosyncratic usage.

I don’t like it quite as much as relooker (meaning to revamp, to restyle) which I came across a few years ago in a car advert but, almost certainly in spite of protests from the purists in the Académie Française, this word seems like a good addition to the language: positively performante.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

(Not quite) back in the old routine!!

October seems to be fairly racing along. Here we are, two thirds of the way through the month, the weather’s definitely autumnal and many of the local small dogs have already got their winter coats on. I suppose that like the rest of us they have to show off their new winter fashions as soon as possible. As I said, time is rushing past.

And yet I’ve still not managed to get my life organised into what had become its routine last year, Circumstances keep combining to make my life more complicated than it needs to be. Some of it is my own fault but not all of it by any means.

Once our flurry of summer visitors was out of the way I started to harass the library for information about the book clubs I attended last year, one for books in Castilian and Galician and one for books in French. Eventually they phoned me to see if I was still interested, to which I replied, “Sí, claro, sign me up!” It is worth noting that they, the library people, phoned me up twice about this, got all the necessary details from me and said nothing about restrictions of any kind!! (More about this later.)

At the same time, or maybe a week or two earlier, I received a leaflet from the Asociación de Vecinos Fonte do Gallo, telling me about this year’s activities. So I went along to renew my membership and enrolled once again for yoga and this year for a painting class. All sorted out in plenty of time.

We had already planned to shoot off to the UK for a flying visit in early October but this was not going to be a problem. I had time, just, to attend the first meeting of all my activities, make myself known again and explain that I would miss a week or so and then be back.

It was then that things went slightly pear-shaped. First there was the torrential downpour that prevented me from getting to the library for the first week of the French book club. The following day I missed the first painting class because of a lunch with friends that went on rather longer than expected. Then we set off on our travels a day earlier than originally planned and the Castilian/Galician book club fell by the wayside as well.

To cap it all, when I was in the UK, Vigo library phoned me, yet again, not, as I had hoped, to tell me that the book I had reserved was now available, but to let me know I had been rumbled. It had taken several weeks for the results of their earlier phone calls to be processed and they had just found out that .... wait for it ... my name was on the list for TWO book clubs! Shock, horror!!

This year there is a rule that members can only attend ONE book club. That sounds sensible! A good way to encourage people to use the facilities to the full! No explanation was given. Is the library a victim of its own success? Are the book clubs SO over-subscribed that they have to limit membership? I am making enquiries and intend to find out why their rules are interfering with my social life.

So there it is; so far this year I have managed to attend a couple of sessions of yoga (yesterday morning’s was hi-jacked by negotiations for a Manchester-Vigo junior chess exchange) and one painting class yesterday evening. As the chess exchange is likely to monopolise a good deal on my time next week, I can see it being Christmas before I have my social life organised to my satisfaction once more!

Monday, 19 October 2009

Communication Problems

Back in the North West of England autumn is already making progress: piles of leaves all around and trees turning interesting colours. We appeared to have taken the fine weather with us on our short visit, maybe not the warmth but at least the sunshine.

It would seem that the obras also followed us there. Last Monday morning I set out to catch the bus int
o town from the crossroads near our house, only to find road works in progress there. Then the driver of the bus I intended to catch decided to miss out the usual detour through the village centre because he could not get round the road works. Those of us at the bus stop watched him turn left and disappear!!

Between buses cancelled in Vigo because of flooded roads and drivers taking one-man decisions to change the route, I am clearly fated to have a bad time with public transport at the moment.

Having finally made it into town on a later bus which did manage to get around the road works a
nd collect its passengers, I discovered to my surprise that Christmas has arrived already. The shops do still have witch and ghost outfits for Hallowe’en (fair enough that’s only a couple of weeks away now) but they are also full of Christmas cards, Christmas wrapping paper and boxes mince pies on two for the price of one offers. I wasn’t really surprised at that but I WAS astounded to find that the streets were already festooned with Christmas decorations. Somehow I expect to get bonfire night out of the way first.

My other (not so) little moan about the UK is the relative lack of WIFI facilities around the town. In our haste to pack our bags and set off on our travels we managed to leave behind the one mobile phone which gives us an internet connection on the laptop. So there we were without internet, unable to check our email at intervals throughout the day, a very strange experience in this age of instant communication 24-7, as they say. We had to make use of visits to friends and family to use their internet connection.

When we arrived back in Vigo yesterday we expected to get onto the internet in our usual way, using our mobile dongle –Orange’s Internet Everywhere. No way, José. We just kept getting the message: No ha sido posible establecer conexión. So we phoned the Orange helpline, were passed from pillar to post in the usual fashion. You know the sort of thing: If you want to do this press 1, if you want to do that press 2, hold the line, don’t hang up, listen to this boring and repetitive music, ad infinitum.

Eventually this morning we went to the Orange shop and went through the whole procedure again but this time with a result.
It turned out that we had inadvertently, carelessly, thoughtlessly used our Orange dongle in Portugal. Well, it’s nearly the same country!! And it connected!! BUT it charged us a ridiculous amount of money per minute. The Orange people noticed this and decided it was possible our device had been stolen and used by someone else so they closed our connection.

Only after we had assured them it was not so AND had paid the extortionate amount of money did they reconnect us.
Fortunately it’s easier to find a cafe with WIFI in Spain and we weren’t obliged to go to Starbuck’s or MacDonald’s to check our email which is what happened in Manchester!!!

Monday, 12 October 2009

To Portugal again.

On Wednesday we left rainy Vigo for slightly less rainy Oporto – at least it didn’t rain until the early evening and then it was nothing like the tromba" which drowned Vigo on Monday evening – en route eventually for the UK for a brief stay. Rather than catch a 7.00am bus from Vigo to Oporto airport on Thursday for a 9.45 flight to Liverpool, we chose to go to Oporto on Wednesday, do a little tourism and be able to set off for the airport just a bit later. We arrived to find Oporto blustery but mainly dry with occasional sunshine although I read in their local paper about damage done by heavy rainstorms at the weekend. Clearly they had the same problems as Vigo weather-wise.

We booked into our hotel at lunchtime, late lunchtime given that we had to put our watches back an hour to Portuguese time. Our first priority was, indeed, lunch. It seemed a long time since breakfast.

Down by the waterfront, which looked remarkably like Newcastle on this day of grey skies, wind and threatening rain, we looked at tourist-trap restaurants and decided against them. For once we had not done our homework; usually we go armed with a list of possible eating places meeting our criteria.

We ended up at a little place called O Caravela da Ribeira on Rua Mouzinho da Silveira which offered a perfectly acceptable prato do dia for €5 each: vegetable soup followed by bacalao in a kind of warm potato salad or little fish (unnamed) with salad. Haute cuisine it wasn’t but good basic fare which filled a space nicely. We must have started a trend; some Italians came in after us and then a couple of groups of Spaniard. A restaurant needs customers to attract customers. There is little less appealing to potential diners than an empty restaurant. We have considered offering our services – we would happily sit and eat near the window to act as a magnet for other clients!!

After lunch we went exploring, walking the walk, one of our favourite pastimes. Last time I came to Oporto I promised myself I would cross the Luis I bridge on the top level. However it was not immediately clear how to access that top level where the trains run. Clearly you were not intended to use the ladders in the structure itself; even Iberian health and safety would not allow that!
We looked at a huge flight of steps going up the hillside and opted for the cable car. However, when we reached the top it still was not obvious how to get to the bridge but we found it and successfully made our windy way across, oohing and aahing at the view from up there.

On the other side of the river we had to ask some locals how to get down again to the lower level for the return journey and then went down some steps and through narrow old streets down to the water’s edge.

Back from Gaia to Oporto we headed back up the hill towards our hotel as it was just starting to rain, calling in at the impressive railway station on our way. It’s worth arriving at Oporto by train just to see this amazing station.
En route we bought fruit: 2 oranges, 3 small pears AND a small bottle of water for a grand total of 85 cents.

After a short siesta we set off on a fruitless search for the oldest bookshop in Oporto, Libreria Lello, former haunt of the intellectuals of Oporto. We never found it but we did come across FNAC, one of my favourite bookshops – in Madrid, Paris, Barcelona and now Oporto, this is one of the best organised bookshops I know.

We also found, after much searching, the Café Majestic, where writers and artists are said to have met and talked in the early 20th century although in the end we did not go in. It had taken us so long to find it that the moment had passed. We had a small rant about the poor quality map in our little Spanish guide book and about the map provided by the hotel. Between un-named streets in the one and small streets just eliminated from the other it’s a wonder we even found our way back to the hotel.

On Thursday morning we were up bright and early watching the sun come up through the early morning clouds as we travelled to the airport on Oporto’s efficient metro trains. The, after a quick breakfast at the airport we joined the queue to get on our flight to Liverpool. By late Thursday evening we knew we were back in the UK – colder than we’d been since last Christmas!

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

The rain in Spain again .... again!!

With the summer officially over, my life should be getting back to something like the routine established last year with yoga classes, reading groups and occasional social outings. I’ve signed myself up for a range of activities and I’m ready to go.

So yesterday evening I decided I should try to brave the weather and get myself to the first meeting of the Club de Lectura Francé
s, French book club at the library. The rain was still falling but there are plenty of buses from our end of town to the centre so it should not have been a problem. Or so it seemed!

By the time I reached the bus stop I was pretty wet but I’m a hardy north of England type and can
cope with such stuff. It soon became apparent, however, that no buses were coming our way. The bus shelter was full of local secondary school kids trying to get home and calling mamá or papá on their mobiles. I earwigged one of their conversations and it became clear that to get a bus to the centre I needed to walk through to a parallel street which meant getting even wetter. I gave up and went home, changed my clothes and put my sopping shoes to dry.

I later heard Mayor Abel Caballero on television saying that the city
was coping well with the copious amounts of water falling on it. Then it turned out that it was earlier in the day that he said that, commenting on the weekend’s downpour before Monday’s little contribution came along.

Today’s papers were full of reports of the rainstorms. Roads were turned into rivers, making crossing the street a whole new experience. Cars were at a standstill and pedestrians just accepted that buses were not running.

The timing of the rainstorm could not have been much better. School children were trying to get ho
me from the Apostol Santiago school near our flats. The traffic was backed up and school buses could not get in. The “humanización” work going on to improve pedestrianisation of streets in the area did not help as traffic was restricted to one lane. Parents tried to respond to mobile calls from their offspring and just added to the traffic jams. And there was water everywhere! More has fallen in these first few days of October than in July, August and September together. It’s official; I read it in the newspaper!

It was much the same in other more central parts of Vigo where cars were stranded in flooded streets and for part of the evening they had a power cut as well!! Just as well I didn’t get to the library!

I remember a time when there were train derailmen
ts in England because of “leaves on the line”. Well it appears that the same thing applies to rain in Vigo. One of the reasons given for the problems was that many of the drains were blocked with fallen leaves!!! The water just could not get away. Another contributing factor was that the really heavy rainfall (82 litres per square metre) coincided with the high tide. Consequently the river Lagares backed up and overflowed and the firemen trying to pump water out of flooded basement had nowhere to put the water they were pumping out. And they had at least 300 emergency calls because of flooding. Chaos all round!!

Compared with yesterday, today has been positively balmy. I managed to walk to my yoga class this morning without getting more than a little damp. By the time I strolled out to lunch with friends I was able to put my raincoat and umbrella in my bag. The sun even came out for a while and the temperatures went up again.

The clouds are back again though. Maybe it IS time we started building an ark!

Monday, 5 October 2009

The rain in Spain again!!

This morning the estuary, so often a deep aquamarine blue, was an unremitting grey. Clouds piled up over the Islas Cies, threatening to move inland to join their thinner cousins already present. Patches of blue sky came and went like clouds on a good day. And low clouds engulfed poor Cangas and Moaña on the far side of the ría.

As the rain falls steadily again I wonder if I have once again worked reverse magic on the weather, as has happened before when I have made gazpacho, for example, causing an immediate cool spell. On Thursday I invited friends to come over with their children at the weekend to play in the pool. (Our new flat is in a complex with a swimming pool,
pista de padel, children’s play area and a garden – quite a change from central Vigo where we lived until recently.) In view of the good weather we had been having the pool was staying open a week longer. So of course the weather broke on Saturday. The day started cloudy with occasional sunshine and went downhill from there.

So instead of sitting by the pool we agreed to meet in town for a drink and a chat. We ended up huddled under a “sun” umbrella, then under the arches and finally inside a cafe on the Plaza de la Reconquista.

Since then, while it has not rained constantly, it has certainly rained enough to make up for the weeks of dry weather. And those weeks of dry weather are official: Aemet (Agencia Estatal de Meteorología) says that summer 2009 has been the third driest this century – OK so it is only 2009 but even so – coming behind 2001 and 2005. They do also say that the summer has been extremely warm all over Spain with the exception of southwest Galicia where it has been cooler than usual. I must say, once again, that it has been plenty warm enough for me here in Vigo. And I really must protest at MeteoGalicia describing the summer as
“frío y lluvioso” just because some parts of the region had a bit of rain in July.

So today continues the new trend. When I went out for bread for breakfast, armed with raincoat and umbrella, the sun was shining briefly on Moaña but it was still grey on this side of the water. I scuttled back with only slightly damp bread.

By late morning we had thunder and lightning but not for long. After all, I’m sure the weathermen promised storms for Wednesday, not today. The clouds came down so low that Moaña not only was no longer bathed in sunshine but completely disappeared. And the rain did that very Galician thing of coming down in straight lines as though someone had just turned all the taps on.

For several weeks now I have been scoffing at Spaniards who told me that summer was over if indeed, they would add gloomily, we could be said to have had a summer! But now even I have to agree that it is indeed autumn although not autumnal enough to merit the boots which have been appearing, accompanied in some cases by big scarves – no gloves yet, however! Still, it looks as though it’s time to get proper shoes and socks out and out the sandals away.

Of course, I could just look on this as a period of acclimatisation. Later this week we are flying back to Manchester for a short visit. Maybe the weather gods don’t want me to go into some kind of shock induced by extreme changes in weather! And then it can pick up again for
magosto and todos los santos!

Sunday, 4 October 2009

On tears and celebrations and plastic raincoats!

Well, it seems that much of Spain went into mourning on Friday as the news was released that Madrid will not after all host the 2016 Olympic Games. One of my friends has even expressed her sorrow on Facebook.

For a brief moment it looked as though Madrid might make it when Chicago was eliminated, despite the intervention of the oh-so-charismatic President Obama, flying in on Airforce One at the last moment. Then Tokyo went out of the race – not enthusiastic or passionate enough was the general consensus of opinion! It was becoming a very close thing. The Madrid team were getting ready to celebrate.

But in the end the votes which had previously gone to Chicago and Tokyo were transferred to Rio de Janeiro and the Brazilians won it hands down. There was some discussion on the television news about the fact that Brazil has the football world cup in 2014 and now the Olympic Games in 2016. Will they cope? President Lula seemed to have no doubts as he wept for joy at the success of his country’s Olympic bid.

Meanwhile a small boy wept for the cameras in Madrid; he really wanted to see the Olympic Games in Madrid! At least he’s young enough for that to be a possibility and the general feeling is that Madrid should try again ... and again ... and again, if necessary.

And the queen of Spain congratulated the team on the presentation they made. It was good to see King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia there in Copenhagen with the Madrid presentation team. I am always impressed at how close to the people they are on occasions like this.

And here in Galicia there are other things to prepare for as well. Since my weekend at the Galicia Chess Festival I am the proud owner (well, at any rate, the owner) of a Xacobeo 2010 tee-shirt. Xacobeo 2010 is an organisation created by the Xunta de Galicia to promote the Camino de Santiago for next year. 2010 is a special year, un año santo, a holy year, when the feast of Saint James falls on a Sunday, bringing extra blessings on those pilgrims who complete the Camino de Santiago. A door into the cathedral which is closed and blocked with stone in ordinary years is ceremonially opened by the bishop in the año santo.

So it is expected that there will be extra pilgrims and extra sightseers in Santiago de Compostela next year. We were there for the celebrations and the fireworks in 2007 when Saint James’ day fell on a humble Wednesday. The city was packed then and we were hard pressed to find a place to stand and view the firework display that year. So goodness knows what a Holy Year will bring.

Of course, as Santiago de Compostela is also famous for its rainfall, there is a strong possibility that the whole thing could be a bit of a damp squib. Probably not, however, as everyone can equip themselves with chubasqueros. A chubasquero is basically a raincoat but the term is also used for the plastic ponchos that you can buy at almost seaside town or open air event when it suddenly starts to rain and you want to walk around looking as though you are wearing an oversized plastic bag. Now, the Orense-based company Inplanor is going to produce these chubasqueros for another Spanish company, Equilicuá, making them out of biodegradable plastic. The biodegradable plastic will be made from ... wait for it! ... yes, you’ve got it! ... POTATOES!!!

This is a special kind of biodegradable plastic, however. Incorporated into the “fabric” of the plastic are seeds. When the chubasquero is finished with, it can be buried. The plastic will biodegrade in weeks and the seed will start to grow.

Special chubasqueros are being produced for the Xacobeo 2010 and the seeds incorporated into the fabric will be those of native Galician trees. Save the environment, plant a tree, improve the air quality! All this in a Holy Year!