Thursday, 17 December 2009

Reasons to be cheerful - part 2!!

Here’s another little list mostly but not exclusively of things I enjoy but can’t have in Vigo:

  • Oasis, Gap and Accessorize: three of my favourite shops. It’s probably just as well they don’t have branches in Vigo as I would spend far too much money.

  • Eccles cakes – a concoction of raisins and flaky pastry which shouldn’t work but does.

  • Infant school nativity plays with fidgety little people busily waving to mummy, picking their nose and taking their costume off.

  • Mince pies – my granddaughter wants to know why they are not available all year round like hot cross buns, once only sold for Good Friday.
  • Reading Spanish newspapers online and discovering that one of my favourite Spanish singers, Juan Manuel Serrat, has just been awarded the Premio Nacional de las Músicas Actuales 2009. According to the newspapers “el jurado ha querido destacar su «incuestionable talento y trayectoria»; su influencia en el imaginario popular, «que ha trascendido generaciones»; su permanente presencia en los escenarios con Serrat cien por cien, y el hecho de haber puesto la música al «servicio de los grandes poetas».”

  • Singing Christmas carols in Manchester cathedral and unexpectedly meeting old friends there.
  • Winter sunsets from industrial parks.

  • Snow ... provided I don’t have to drive in it.

  • Gritters making the roads safe for me to drive on.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Saint Nicholas has his day!

On Saturday I tried to drive into our village late in the afternoon only to find both access routes blocked. Then the sky exploded into fireworks and I remembered that Christmas has arrived and the Wake Up the Village Committee was officially switching on the Christmas lights. Crowds of people gathered to watch fireworks in the rain, rather cold rain at that so maybe the fireworks cheered everyone up. The village certainly looks very bright and sparkly since then.

I also remembered that Saturday Dec
ember 5th was the day that the Concello de Vigo planned to switch the Christmas lights on. I don’t remember there being fireworks last year for the official switch-on.

Why December 5th? I wondered. I was aware that the weekend involved some kind of festivities in Spain (on
e of my former students had been agonising on Facebook about where to spend the puente, bank holiday weekend) but I was blowed if I knew what it was all about. My low church Anglican with a bit of Methodist thrown in upbringing did nothing to enlighten me.

So, of course, I Googled it. It turns out that December 6th is the feast day of Saint Nicholas who over time and with a bi
t of help from Coca Cola turned into Santa Claus and started to wear a red suit and deliver presents to everyone. So that explains it!

Here in Greater Manchester the rain continues to fall with occasional moments of respite, just enough for a quick stroll. I seem to have changed my view of the ría for views of fields of sheep and some rather fine winter skies.

I read in the Galician newspapers online that there have bee
n floods in some parts of our borrowed homeland. So maybe I should count my blessings and be glad to be in the land of over-decorated houses ready for Christmas as seen in this amazing picture from yesterday’s Guardian newspaper.

Global warming obviously doesn't worry some people.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Reasons to be cheerful!!

Here is a list of things I have rediscovered in the UK and which I don’t find in my otherwise extremely pleasant life in Vigo:

• Bramley cooking apples – the essential ingredient for the perfect apple pie. I have looked for them in Galicia without success. When I have asked specifically, I have been greeted with looks of blank incomprehension and then been offered an inferior rather fluffy dessert apple instead. I’m afraid you really need the tartness of a good Bramley (green, misshapen and no
t at all pretty to look at) to make good English apple pies or baked apples!

• Houmous available every day of the week in any superma
rket, even the little co-op in our village. This is a delight compared with waiting until the chef in El Nuehz restaurant DECIDES to make some. No amount of ¡Ay, qué rico cuando lo hace! makes up for it. He clearly doesn’t make it often enough, no matter how rico it is. Mind you, it’s probably a matter of supply and demand. Most gallegos have no idea what houmous is and when I describe it to them they seem to regard it as a very odd thing to do with chickpeas!

• Cadbury’s chocolate. Now, I know some people declare it to be inferior to some
continental brands. Others go so far as to say it should not even be called “chocolate” but “chocolate flavoured sweet” because of some anomaly in the production process. I, however, prefer it to other brands. And I’m not alone. I recently overheard a Spaniard complaining that he could not find it on the shelves of El Corte Inglés where it does make very occasional appearance.

• Car drivers who signal their intentions, even maintaining reasonable lane discipline on roundabouts. Ok, so not all of them do so but far more here than in Spain as far as I can see.

• No excessive honking of horns if you fail to zoom away the very second the lights change at a road junction.

• The lack of parked cars on zebra crossings, on the approach to zebra crossings, on street corners (and I mean on the corner itself) or alongside another v
ehicle which is already parked, thus blocking it in. (I have to admit that the last of these, a major pain in Spain, does occur in the car park at my grandchildren’s school but as everyone is dropping off or collecting at the same time it doesn’t really constitute double parking. At least that’s what my daughter says each time I moan about it!)

• Drivers who stop for you when they see you waiting at a zebra crossing rather than you having to take your life in your hands by stepping out into the traffic. Yes, I know UK zebra crossings operate
differently but even so .....

• Clog dancers in the middle of the shopping area, reminding me that Lancashire can be as folksy as Galicia when it chooses.

• Bright, crisp, cold mornings (when it chooses not to rain and it does happen sometimes) when it’s good to get up and walk round the reservoir.

• And, of course, last but by no means least, my old
familiar hairdresser!!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Going Native!!!

I recently heard someone on the radio here declare that England has too many “wet led” pubs. This interesting term turns out to mean pubs where people go solely to drink; drinking (alcohol as a rule) is the major activity of the establishment and you are lucky if you can find as much as a packet of crisps let alone anything more substantial to soak up the alcohol. I wanted to shout out my agreement. I am missing the gallego habit of giving you a little something – tortilla, crisps, olives, some unidentified food item on a chunk of bread – when you go for an early evening drink.

It’s not that Spain doesn’t have its share of semi-professional drunks. There’s a little group of them who gather around midday at the top of our local park with cartons of wine. They perch on the back of the bench - for all the world like the corner boys from the American police series The Wire except that they are older and fatter and not black – and chew the fat until the police come along and move them on. So yes, there are those who drink just to get drunk but as a rule people still nibble as they drink and even the botellonistas take a pizza or something similar along.

Maybe I’m just going native, adjusting so well to my Vigo life that Greater Manchester seems strange. Further evidence of this was my reaction to the faces of the children at my grandchildren’s primary school. I went along to meet them one afternoon and found myself thinking as I looked at all the little ones coming out, “Ooh, don’t they look pale and pasty!” Then I remembered my friend Rosetta meeting my grandchildren on their first visit to Vigo and commenting, “¡Qué blanquitos son!” (How pale they are!) I have clearly grown accustomed to the more sunkissed faces of Spanish children, even in relatively rainy Galicia.

On that same afternoon outside the school, my daughter sent me over to “talk Spanish to Ana” on the grounds that this madrileña married to a Mancunian doesn’t get much chance to speak her own language. So I went and introduced myself. “¿Dónde aprendiste el español?” she asked me, “Tienes acento gallego.”

Well, how about that!?!