Saturday, 30 January 2010

Tally ho!!!

Well, one of the last things I expected to find here in Spain was a protest against foxhunting. Somehow you think of foxhunting as a singularly English activity, and one which led to a great deal of controversy when the decision was taken to ban it finally in 2004.

It always struck me as rather a feudal activity: lots of red-coated men (and women) on horseback, chasing an animal across fields, up hill and down dale. I remember being quite impressed (and not a little disturbed) by seeing just a small hunt go past our house about 20 years ago when w
e lived in the bottom of a valley just outside Oldham. I was also rather relieved that they didn’t need to ride through my vegetable patch.

In Spain in recent years, of course, there has been a fair amount of publicity about banning bullfighting. Barcelona City Council voted in favour of banning it in 2004 – quite a busy and successful year
for animal rights movements! And then in December 2009 the Catalan Parliament voted to accept a popular petition for reforms that could put an end to the so-called sport in the region. The Canary Island apparently banned it 20 years ago.

So you can imagine my surprise when I saw a headline about protests at the VII Copa de España de caza de zorro today in
Portomarín in the Lugo region of Galicia. A fox hunting competition? With a cup and everything?

It isn’t, as you will not be surprised to hear, foxhunting with lots of people on horseback charging across the Galician countryside, blowing horns and shouting, Tally ho! I know they love all things English here but that would be taking it too far. No, this is the version where you go out with dogs and guns and aim to shoot Mr. Tod before the dogs get a chance to tear him to pieces.

All the same, some 1,100 hunters took part in the competition and 94 foxes were killed. I have not been
able to find out how they award the prize and I really don’t want to know that rather grim detail. That’s a lot of hunters and a lot of dead foxes, it seems to me.

The hunters justify their activity by saying that the activity is perfectly legal and besides there are 2.7 foxes per square kilometre of land in Galicia whereas the recommended number should be 0.7 according to organizaciones europeas defensor
as de la fauna salvaje. Quite how do you decide something like that, I wonder? There must be quite a lot of foxes around, however, if we are to believe the hunters when they tell us that three times as many foxes got away as were shot, or rather, that in general on a day like today that's what happens.

The protestors, on the other hand, around 200 of them from around 25 different organisations, denounced the actitud salvaje of the huntsman and declared them to be
cowards and murderers of innocent animals. This is not the first time the ecologists and animal rights protestors have tried to impede the progress of the hunt with whistles, banging on pans and generally making a noise to confuse the dogs and alert to foxes to the danger. This year though they were described as being quieter than usual but they do question the statement by the Federación Gallega de la Caza (Galician Hunting Federation) that there are too many foxes in Galicia. I suppose it’s a case of “well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?”

Now, I have to admit to a sneaky fondness for the fox and I have quite often admired the urban fox, crossing the Manchester ring road in the small hours of the morning. However, if there are too many foxes then I suppose you can understand harassed farmers wanting to keep the numbers down but does it have to be mass slaughter and a prize for the chap who bags the most foxes’ brushes?

Thursday, 28 January 2010

The digital divide in Galicia.

I love newspaper headlines. I came across one just the other day which talked about the brecha digital which separates the coastal areas from the interior of Galicia.

It seems that some statistics collected in 2008 show a big difference in the use of information technology between different parts of Galicia. Back then (and we must remember that 2 years is a long time in the world of technology) only 33% of gallego homes had internet with a huge difference between the La Coruña – Betanzos area where 45.9% of homes were online and the Ourense-Sur zone which only reached 14.1%.

When asked why they did not have internet the answers varied. By far the biggest group were the not interested – no les parece interesante o útil – 40.7%. They were followed by the penny-pinchers – costes altos – 27%. I have some sympathy with this group as technology hardware does seem to cost more here than in the UK, although there are far more places offering free WIFI. Then there were the uninformed – falta de conocimientos – 20.1%. This group MUST be reducing by now as there are so many places offering free IT courses.

Then there is the age thing. Among 5 to 14 year olds, over 50% used internet. There really needs to be a big campaign to get the equipment into the schools. Most schools we have visited here are very poorly provided compared with even the smallest primary schools in the UK. The biggest group of users were the 15 to 19 year olds with 89.9%. I expect that is even greater now as almost all the youngsters I come across spend as much time as young Brits on Facebook or its Spanish equivalent, tuenti. The 30 to 39 year olds managed a 69.7% usership but then there was a big drop with fewer than 50% of 40 to 54 year olds. The article didn’t even mention the over 55s and yet I know of several ladies well into their 60s who are learning to use IT.

When it comes to mobile phones, 70% of gallegos over the age of 5 were using them in 2008. This was declared to be a big increase since 2002 when it was only 42.5%.

I must say I have seen very few 5 year olds walking down the street with a mobile glued to their ears and in fact only 28.5% of 5 to 14 year olds had mobile phones in 2008. I find it hard to imagine why any 5 year old NEEDS a mobile phone,

However, HUGE numbers of people from mid-teens upwards seem unable to move from one place to another without talking, talking, talking – and I mean into their mobile phones not to each other. This is borne out by the statistics: among 5 to 39 year olds 90% of the population had mobile phones in 2008.

The funniest example of phone use I saw was a couple hand in hand, deep in conversation ....... each with someone on other end of the phone. I suppose they could have been talking to each other and had grown so used to doing so by phone that they were unable to speak otherwise but no.... not really.

I am also particularly amused by those who have the hands-free versions; you hear somebody talking and have to decide whether they are completely and possibly dangerously mad or just having a loud conversation by mobile phone.

As I said, two years is a long time in the world of technology and all of these statistics are already out of date, of course, unless everyone is waiting until tomorrow to buy their IT equipment. This may not be as farfetched as it sounds according to a little something I found in the free paper, De Luns a Venres.

Under the title Algo moi galego it talked about the switching off of analogue television and the move to digital, a process that is working its way through the country and which has been talked about for ages. Well, apparently the other weekend as the switch-off began there were queues of gallegos in many electrical good shops as people finally decided to buy el famoso decodificador. The writer of the little article wondered if it was a case of lack of information but concluded that it was the seemingly VERY gallego habit of leaving everything to the last minute!

Monday, 25 January 2010

One year down the line

This blog is a year old today. Happy Birthday Blog!!

And here we are, one year on, still in Vigo, although looking out on a different view as we moved house in mid-September. Otherwise, we are still doing our usual round of activities: yoga, chess, long walks, book clubs, lunch with friends and so on.

Although the sun is shining nicely out of a blue sky today, I do believe we have had more rain than is strictly necessary in the last few weeks. There is evidence of this up in the
Castro Park where at least on set of steps from a higher to a lower level has had to be cordoned off because of a minor landslide. Even so, my geeks incorporated weather chart still shows enough sunny days to keep the blues away.

And Galicia still has surprises up its sleeve. Carnaval doesn’t start here until the beginning of Lent: mardi gras and all that sort of thing. Already there are notices all over the place about concursos de disfraces – competitions for the best costumes - and, more surprisingly, concursos de postres de carnaval – competitions to see who can make the best Carnival desserts!

This morning, however, I read about a place called Xinzo, in Ourense, w
here they make carnaval, or Entroido, to give it the gallego name, last five weeks, starting yesterday with Domingo Faraleiro. The name almost certainly has something to do with flour – harina in castellano, fariña in gallego – because it involved the throwing around of 2000 kilos of flour and bran, provided by the concello. Some people just don’t leave the house between 5.00 pm and 10.00 pm on that Sunday as they say you can’t cross the road without turning white.

Thank heavens it was a nice day yesterday. Imagine all that flour mixed with a good bit of gallego drizzle!! And i

It gets better as next Sunday is, I am informed, Domingo Oleiro, when 700 ceramic pots made in a place called Niñodaguía will be thrown around. Apparently they form circles in the plaza mayor and throw these pots around the circle. Whoever lets one fall to the ground has to buy a jug of wine. Undoubtedly, as each jug of wine is drunk everyone’s ability to catch the containers must deteriorate somewhat, leading to more jugs of wine being bought and so on and on. A communal drinking game, it would seem! Other activities continue over the next few weeks.

Other aspects of life here remain the same. Car parking is still an especially creative activity. There really should be prizes for the most original choice of parking spot. Recently, though, on one of those digital traffic warning signs at a road junction near our block of flats a notice has appeared reminding people to improve the flow of traffic by NOT parking in illegal places. How much effect it will have remains to be seen but it is a start.

However, some people have problems even when they park in perfectly legal places. I read a sad little tale in El Faro de Vigo about a lady who left her car parked on Travesía de Vigo for five months. OK, you might say she was asking for trouble but she declared it was legally parked, in good condition and everything was in order. The only problem was that it was a bit dusty. Because of financial problems she wasn’t using it, just checked on it regularly and then one day it disappeared.

She made enquiries, thinking it might have been towed away to the car pound for some reason. But, no, it wasn’t there. When she finally located it, her poor car, a Seat Ibiza, only 4 years old, 35000 kilometres on the clock, had been scrapped; all that remained were bits and pieces.

It transpired that the police had noticed the car and thought it had been abandoned and began an investigation. The Dirección General Tráfico apparently notified her that she should move the car but she never received the notification as she had moved house without telling anyone. Ooooops! Bad move that!

So they towed it away and scrapped it. Normal procedure should have been to leave it in the car pound for a couple of months after towing it away but in this case it was scrapped within four days!!!

Fortunately, in this case one not so careful lady owner is going to receive compensation from the Concello but it just goes to show: you can’t take anything for granted!

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Xacobeo 2010, here we come

I heard somebody say the other day that she was heartily sick of hearing about Xacobeo 2010. It has to be admitted that it is getting rather a lot of publicity but we are going to hear quite lot more about it. It is only January after all, rather early in the year to be getting sick of it.

Of course it’s all about Saint James and the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and so on. The names all get a bit confusing: James, Jaime, Jacques, Iago, Jacob, even I think Isaac – in the end they’re all just so many versions of the same name.

Anyway, St James has his day (doesn’t every saint as well as every dog?) on July 25th. This year July 25th falls on a Sunday which makes it an Año Santo, a Holy Year when the archbishop of Santiago de Compostela gets to open up the Puerta Santa, the special Holy Door to the cathedral which is bricked up the rest of the time.

I understand it’s also a very good year to make the pilgrimage, which is why so much is being made of Xacobeo 2010, a name which does have quite a nice ring to it.

It’s getting a lot of publicity in Fitur, the Fiesta Internacional del Turismo in Madrid, w
here you can visit the Galicia stand and see, among other things, the special hammer, made of silver and decorated with lapis lazuli, used by the archbishop to knock down the stones blocking the Puerta Santa. For some reason a new one is made for each Año Santo and the Xunta de Galicia had just presented King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia with a replica of the one used in 1930, the first one to be preserved apparently. These kings and queens do get some very odd gifts in my opinion!!

Security in Santiago de Compostela has been increased as well, it seems. Everyone expects there to be a bigger police presence in an Año Santo, just because there are lots
more visitors than in an ordinary (unholy?) year. This year, however, on the day the Puerta Santa was opened there was an attack on a police car and security measures have been stepped up even more as a result.

Extra police cars are on duty at the headquarters of the Xunta and on the approach to Mr Feijóo’s residence. Cars are being stopped on the roads into Santiago de Compostela and spot checks on documentation are taking place. Pilgrims are not being allowed into the cathedral with bags or rucksacks, which is not causing a problem yet but will do as the year progresses because not all the planned baggage deposits will be open until around Easter time.

I wonder if medieval pilgrims had as many problems!

Meanwhile our old friend Mr Feijóo, as well as greeting Galician craftsmen at Fitur
, has been advising Mr Zapatero (and all his ministers) to do a bit of the Camino de Santiago as a way of helping him reflect on how he is running the country. In this modern more secular age that we live in the pilgrimage is being promoted as a way of contemplating all aspects of life, not just religious aims and aspirations. It’s also a great excuse for sporting, gastronomic, artistic and musical events.

More that 500 different kinds of events are on the programme including 12 great pop concerts (although only one has been confirmed to date with guitarist Mark Knopfler) and some 40 classical music concerts.

Now, last night we went to CaixaNova Centro Cultural here in Vigo to the first of the classical concerts on the programme here. It was packed and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was magnificent. If that’s the kind of thing that Xacobeo 2010 is providing for us then I, for one, am all for it.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Galicia, gallego and the wider world.

I was talking with some friends the other day when one of them told me that he had seen some footage on the TV news of the recent snow in the United Kingdom. ¡Impresionante! He was equally impressed by the VERY low temperatures. And then he went on to tell me that, of course, it is much harder to aguantar (put up with, withstand) the cold here in Galicia as it is much more humid. Hay mucha humedad.

This is also, by the way, what my sister says when she tries to convince me that winters in the Cádiz reg
ion of Andalucía are very hard!Mind you, this year their region has had more than just humedad; they’ve had a prodigious amount of rain.

Getting back to the humedad here in Vigo, a Peruvian in our little group had a minor explosion at that point. “¡Humedad!” he spluttered, “¡Tú no sabes lo que es la humedad!” He proceeded to tell us about the humidity in Peru. However, another gallego in our party was not convinced. Galicia’s humedad bears no comparison. In fact, the rivers of Galicia are also superior to anything Peru can offer: the Amazon, a mere stream!

It was all very good-natured, of course, so I gave in to the temptation to ask him about Galicia being the centre of the universe. Of course it is, he told me and went on to inform me that Vigo is, naturally, the centre of Galicia and his house is the centre of Vigo. So there we are; I have finally got one of them to admit it: Galicia es el centro del universo.

Further proof, of course, is in the newspapers. One of the local papers has an occasional column called Gallegos en la Cima. La cima means the top, the peak. So you get the idea: “Galicians at the top”, or “Galicians on top of the world”. The latest I saw featured Eva Dí
az Rodríguez, a young lady from O(u)rense who has been working for a couple of years as a lectora in the Sapienza University in Rome, teaching gallego, one of about 30 involved in such activities in universities around the world.

Eva and her fellow
ex-patriate gallego teachers admit to fearing that they are teaching to foreigners a language that is losing speakers in its own country. (I am reminded of people I know in Manchester who have learnt Welsh purely out of interest, not because they really need it in order to visit Wales or for employment purposes.)

That concern about the reduction in the number of gallego speakers is at the moment echoed by many teachers here who are threatening to strike because of the decision to promote plurilingüismo instead of bilinguismo in schools. Many fear that lots of children will fall between two stools, learning neither English nor Gallego to a halfway decent level.
Maybe they will all have to be sent out of the country to learn to speak it!

However, Eva does boost the tourist industry by sending her students off to visit Galicia where she says they all end up comprando literatura en gallego. Hmmm, I hope they are directed to the good stuff because I have a sneaky suspicion that some things are published because they are written in gallego rather than because they are good literature.

And finally, I have read in today’s Faro de Vigo that there is a move to make doormen for discos and clubs pass a test before they can be given the job. They will have to undergo a psychological assessment and be able to demonstrate their knowledge and proficiency in the local languages, castellano and gallego. No plurilingüismo in that area then, at least not yet!

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Young enterprise????

A person should be able to sleep in undisturbed on a Sunday morning. This is especially so after staying up just a little late on Saturday night.

On Saturday we caught a late(ish) train back from Villagarcía, arriving back in Vigo around 11 o’ clock. This in itself is not exceptionally late by Spanish standards or, for that matter, by Saturday night standards. However, by the time we’d had a couple of drinks to celebrate the chess team’s success in Villagarcía, chewed the fat for a while, solving all the problems of the universe and discussing the wonders of the world wide web as well, time did get on. And then there was the question of eating ... in the bar, which was a bit unimaginative in everything but prices or back home? Life is full of hard decisions but back home won and so we had a long(ish) stroll, continuing the discussion of everything under the sun.

So when I finally hit the sack it was a case of no alarm calls, just let nature take its course and wake up when it starts to get light. And as most of the estuary was under a bank of cloud first thing this morning it didn’t really get light until quite late.

Consequently, when there was a peremptory ring at the doorbell midmorning I was understandably confused. Completely forgetting that today is, after all, Sunday, I leapt out of bed, convinced that the postman was ringing the doorbell waiting to deliver some important parcel. So I flung on my dressing gown, pushed the hair out of my eyes and fought with the keys that refused to open the door, all the while calling, “Voy, voy. Un momento”.

When I finally got the door open, there was no-one there, just an empty doorway. I peered out onto the landing. There, at the next door I spied him, a young lad, aged about 12 or 13, armed with a shopping trolley full of packets of croissants. He was going from door to door, asking residents if they wanted to buy any croissants. Clearly he was a very enterprising young man, if rather inarticulate; it was very hard to understand what he mumbled at me.

What is this, I wondered, bob-a-job week? Is he a lost Boy Scout trying to earn his Young Capitalist badge? Is he on a Young Enterprise scheme? Has Felipe, Príncipe de Asturias, set up a Prince’s Trust to rival, or emulate, our own Prince Charles?

Whatever the truth of the matter, this bleary-eyed blogger said, “No, nada gracias”, shut the door and went back to bed.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

On losing and gaining millions.

Today I am in Villagarcía de Arousa, up the coast from Pontevedra, a place lots of people come to in the summer time for its sunny beach but today rather grey and damp. Once again, I am serving as unofficial mascot to the chess team and manager, personal assistant, general secretary to my chessplaying husband. But I have discovered a thing or two to tell about Villagarcía de Arousa.

I did mention th
e other day that Galicia almost got blown away in the night. Well it seems that Villagarcía suffered quite a lot in that storm. One of its major roads was destroyed “by the fury of the sea”, as La Voz de Galicia put it, and a major section of the port was damaged to the tune of 600,000 euros worth of repair work.

Many people, o
f course, have practically lost their livelihood. Out in the bay are bateas, floating platforms where mussels are farmed. Most of these were just so tossed around in the storm that the harvest is gone and the platforms themselves need repairing. Not only have they lost the mussels that were ready for collecting, however, but the young, growing mussels have also been washed out to sea.

That’s another of my favourite dishes that’s going to go up in price next time I go out for tapas. It’s bad enough that gambas al ajillo cost an arm and a leg. Now mejillones of any kind are going to follow suit.

It wasn’t just out in the bay that people’s liveli
hood suffered though. Inland from the coast the huge plastic greenhouses were quite unable to withstand the force of the storm and in some cases were completely ruined. Some producers are going to have to spend millions to get back into business.

There is some controversy about this storm because it appears that the weathermen knew it was coming bu
t failed to let the government of Galicia know about it. At 11.30 pm on Wednesday the MeteoGalicia website had a notice of Yellow Alert for all Galicia but no official warnings went out and so protective measures were not put into place. No-one understands how it happened but an investigation is taking place!!! Who will get blown away by this storm, I wonder!

There are
some odd results of the storm as well, however. La Plaza Elíptica, well known for its strange metallic sculptures had some additional artwork courtesy of the wind. Some of it even ended up on one resident’s balcony. Fortunately, indeed quite amazingly, no-one was hurt by that bit of the storm.

Meanwhile, in other parts of Spain, rather than losing millions, some people are gaining them. I read this morning that a certain Juan Ignacio Balada, a wealthy mallorquín, died in November and left half his fortune to the Príncipes de Asturias and the eight grandchildren of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia.

Now I know that the Spanish royal family is not as phenomenally rich as the British one but, even so, I don’t believe the offspring really need a great deal of financial assistance.

Before I get too worked up about it though, I must remember that he has requested that the other half of his fortune (total amount as yet undisclosed) should be used by Prince Felipe to set up a foundation for topics of general interest. So we can assume that the Spanish public will also benefit.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Words in and on the wind.

Galicia nearly got blown away in the night. I understand the average wind speed in Vigo was 130 kilometres an hour, with highs of 140. And some parts of Galicia had even stronger winds by all accounts. They closed the port of Vigo and then had to send tug boats to rescue a ferryboat under construction which was blown off its moorings and almost carried out to sea.

I can’t even say I slept through this bit of weather, unlike the snow. In the small hours of the morning it almost felt as though our tower block was swaying in the wind. It certainly sounded as though it should be. This morning the streets were strewn with oranges blown off the trees, billboards have been blown down and I swear the tree in the gardens of our complex leans at a more interesting angle than it did yesterday.

So with the wind having blown the cobwebs away, it’s the perfect time to air a few opinions. Here goes.

Back in the day, when I was a bright young thing applying for higher education, (some would say when educational standards were higher) you needed a qualification in a modern foreign language if you wanted to study anything at all at a British university. Scientist friends of mine struggled to get themselves an O Level in French, only to find that German would have been more useful. Those of us wanting to study modern foreign languages had to have a qualification in Latin. In fact if you went back far enough in time everyone who applied for anything would have needed Latin.

All of that has gone now but I read yesterday that the Spanish government wants new applicants to the teaching profession here to have a qualification in a foreign language. Reading between the lines, what they really mean is English but nobody has said this in so many words. Neither has it been made absolutely clear what level of qualification is required. Some have already acknowledged that having bachillerato level English and being able to deliver a school subject in that language are quite different things.

And that is what is really behind it. If parents can choose the language they want their children to be educated in then the teachers need to know how to speak, read and write that language to a high enough level to be able to assess their pupils’ work properly.

Oh, the big dilemma! It’s the same one that the UK is facing with the admittedly excellent idea of teaching some primary school subjects in a foreign language, by far the best way for the youngsters to learn it. And it works fine if you have the staff; otherwise it can be a nightmare. And the farther up the school you go, the more difficult it is. I know some quite fluent gallego speakers working in schools here who don’t feel confident about marking high level essays written in gallego.

It’s another example of a good idea not quite thought through. Of course, what it needs as well is a big input of money and enough time to train teachers to do this properly. But then we can't expect mere politicians to understand either of these factors. There's that strange dichotomy: great admiration for those who CAN speak foreign languages well and complete incomprehension of the time and effort that's needed in order to learn to do so.

Still on the subject of languages and good ideas, here’s another one. I caught the tail end of a debate on TV news the other day about the need for translators in the Spanish parliament. If diputados from Galicia, Cataluña and El País Vasco are to be able to exercise their right to make speeches and participate in debates in their own regional languages, then translators are needed so that everyone else can understand what they say. Fair enough, except that these galego, catalán and euskera speakers can all speak perfectly good castellano!!!!

Jobs for the boys?! Money that could be better spent on other stuff?!

Meanwhile, I am still amazed at some Spaniards’ apparent inability to even try to understand gallego. I went to the Club de Lectura Español/Gallego at the library last night. (Yes, this is the one I am officially a member of.) We were given a new book, a collection of poetry in gallego, written by a local Vigo school teacher. Protests ensued from some quarters as people declared it was really difficult to read gallego. My neighbour in the class asked me how I got on and was surprised when I pointed out that it was not too hard because I know Spanish, French and Italian and as they are all Latin languages I can usually work it out. She told me that she didn’t see how that helped at all as the grammatical structure of gallego is COMPLETELY different from those other languages.

Well, that’s news to me. Those years of studying the history of the language as part of my Spanish and French course were clearly wasted. The very enthusiastic young teacher who ran the obradoiro galego, the gallego conversation workshop I went to last year, was also obviously misled as well.

I must say, I was quite blown away!

Monday, 11 January 2010

There it was, gone!!!

They tell me that it snowed yesterday in Vigo but I must have blinked and missed it. I do remember looking out around midday and seeing rather sleety rain but that’s all.

However, our panadera commented on yesterday’s snow when I went to buy bread this morning. ¡Qué bonita la nieve! My friend Dominique mentioned it on Facebook and the newspapers have photographic proof.

There was more on the hills out of town but apparently snow did fall in the centre. Plaza de España, Bouzas and Samil had some. It’s the first time in 23 years according to El Faro de Vigo. Back in 1987 they took pictures of Príncipe covered in snow and the area around the port.

Mind you the weather’s been odd all over the country. You expect snow in the Sierra Nevada but in some places in the South of Spain they’ve had the first snow for about 90 years.
And I didn’t see any of it personally. It just goes to show that you have to keep your eyes open and not just as regards the weather.

All you need to do is absent yourself from town for a few weeks and things change.
A restaurant which we used to frequent quite a lot when first we came to Vigo, a place called La Cepa just near the municipal library, has given itself a new look and changed its name to Picadillo. Maybe it’s an attempt to keep up with the general refurbishment of the area. The street was in obras for ages and is now semi pedestrianised and very smart. The restaurant is clearly getting in early on the gentrification of the casco vello.

And then there is El Fenicio, a (former) Lebanese restaurant in another part of town, just near the big green general hospital. This place advertised genuine belly dancing and, of more interest to me, was reputed to serve fresh houmous, a delicacy some people are aware that I miss in Galicia. I never managed to find it open at a time to suit me and now I’ve missed the chance. I went past it on Saturday, saw it was more brightly lit than I’d ever seen it before and realised that, like banks that turn into trendy wine bars in London, it has reincarnated as a tapas bar, now called Tentación.

Some things stay reassuringly, and rather annoyingly, the same, however. I have just returned from the library where the Club de Lectura Italiano had its first meeting. I went along, spoke to the coordinator, Angelo, who was happy to add me to his list and at the end of the session went to sign up. No, can’t be done, I was told. As I am already a member of the Club de Lectura Castellano/Gallego I can’t enrol for this one. If it’s all right by Angelo, though, I can still go along and talk but I can’t have a book to read. Neither can I just borrow a copy from the library. After all, they are needed for the Club de Lectura!!!!

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Look out, look out, Jack Frost is about!

There was frost on the windscreens and the tops of the cars parked in our street this morning, proof positive that the ola de frío is affecting Vigo as well as the rest of Galicia.

Now, there we find an interesting linguistic fact. In Spanish y
ou can have both an ola de calor and an ola de frío. In English you can have the first of these, a heat wave, but you never hear anyone talk about a cold wave. Cold fronts can move across the country in one direction and another. We also have cold snaps on occasion, suggesting a very sudden onset of cold. When it comes to waves, however, we only like them to be hot.

Whatever name you like to give it, Galicia is in a state of yellow alert for cold weather. Indeed most of Spain, apart from the deep south has been under some kind of alerta b
ecause of snow. And, just like in the UK thousands of children have had their schools closed because of it, flights have been diverted from La Coruña’s Alvedro airport because of ice on the runway and there has been traffic chaos all over the place.

Yesterday morning Santiago de Compostela and Lugo were c
olapsados (brought to a standstill) by the snowfalls and more particularly by the icy streets. (As usual in such cases there is never enough salt!!!) Lugo is more used to winter hazards but everyone was surprised to have snow in the centre of Santiago de Compostela itself. It did give rise to some interesting photos though.

Newspapers report that this is the worst winter in Galicia since 1984. Here in Vigo, however, apart from the early morning frost, we seem to have escaped the worst of it. Blue sky and sunshine still is the order of the day. The people walking their dogs in the park near us were wearing light jackets or just jerseys in some cases. The dogs were often more wrapped up than their owners. Old gentlemen sat on the benches reading their papers in the sunshine and old ladies were happily chatting.

As I walked back from the supermarket, though, I did go past some people working out how to put chains on the wheels if their car. Either they were heading to somewhere like Lugo or there is something going on with Vigo’s weather that I’ve not heard about yet.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Checking up on things!

While Manchester shivers under a blanket of snow about eight inches deep (probably more by now) and with temperatures of -14°, here in Vigo this morning we had a positively balmy +8°. The weathermen promise us a 20% chance of snow tomorrow but I will believe it when it happens. Today I woke up to blue sky and sunshine, a near perfect January day with a bit of a nip in the air but pleasant to be out and about in. Mind you, it’s still crisp and clear this evening so it’s probably going to be a cold night.

In our absence the Vigo road works have progressed. Puerta del Sol is now a nice, wide open space with new benches on which to sit and admire the sireno, the merman statue, as he surveys the scene, happily I assume, from the top of his pillars. Urzáiz is also fully back in action and the section of the road above the railway station is
now positively pleasant. Policarpo Sanz, by contrast, is still a MESS!!!! I swear that what remains of the pavements alongside the holes in the road are subsiding gradually. There is definitely more of a slope than I remember and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the rain over the last few months has softened the ground. There have, after all, been far worse landslides in other places.

Up at the Castro Park, work has also progressed on the restoration/development of the old Roman/pre-Roman settlement. The park is festooned with metal silhouettes of Celtic- or Roman-looking figures, intended presumably to entice us to visit the new centre when it opens.

At the top of the park, on the
mirador looking out towards Cangas, there is a new explanatory notice board in Gallego, Castellano and English. Surprisingly for tourist information, the English version is really not bad, apart from talking about the north western of Spain and another little matter which cannot go without comment.

The information board points out the location of a number of castros in the area and tells us that the settlement in Vigo, uncovered mostly in the 1980s, has been musealizado, which I take to mean “turned into a museum”. This is interestingly translated into English as musealised. Now I’ve no major objections to neologisms in their own language but who gave them the right to play around with English that way?

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Kings and Cakes and Such.

Well, today is El Día de Reyes and, as expected, the kings did not leave me any presents this morning. Maybe it’s because I have already had my presents from the fat man in the red coat. Or then again, maybe I was being punished because as the crowds of people were heading to Calle Venezuela where the cabalgata de reyes (the Three Kings’ Processions) was due to start yesterday evening, we were going in the opposite direction. As a consequence, of course, we missed the procession completely but as we have no small children here at present it was really no hardship.

We saw a report of it on Televigo later in the evening and it did look most impressive. It has to be said that they do know how to support local events around here. Just about every child in Vigo must have been out on the procession route accompanied by parents and grandparents.

And, rather disturbingly, it appeared that almost all of those children were equipped with plastic carrier bags to collect sweets thrown from the floats. Many had collected enough to last them for the next six months at least. The first time I saw a cabalgata de reyes almost twenty years ago in Malaga, sweets were thrown to the children (or in some cases it seemed to be AT the children) but not in such quantities. One of the television reporters talked about 4000 kilos of sweets being distributed yesterday evening. It might have been better, although less picturesque, just to arrange to pull one tooth out of each child’s head. You can call me an old killjoy but I did think the procession was all about the magic of Christmas and the reyes magos, not about how many sweets you could collect!!!!

The traditional magic must still be working, however, as the fiesta de reyes remains an important event. It was strange (to UK eyes at least) to see people rushing around yesterday with rolls of wrapping paper and this morning the paper and cardboard recycling bins full of that same wrapping paper and lots of cardboard packaging from exactly the same dolls and Ben Ten toys that filled bins on Christmas Day and Boxing Day in the UK.

Then this morning almost every group of people I saw was carrying a roscón de reyes shaped parcel. The Spanish tradition of taking cakes when you go to visit the family extends to this special cake for reyes. Traditionally, rather like putting a sixpence in the Christmas pudding in the UK, this sweet bread/cake, looking for all the world like a huge bagel decorated with crystallised fruit, should contain a charm which confers on its finder the honour of being king or queen of the party.

The television last night talked about one baker’s shop who were putting 20€ and even 50€ vouchers in certain roscones, to be spent, naturally, in their shop: a kind of lottery where you won free bread and cakes for the next few weeks!!! Yesterday, though, the lady in our local bread shop was stuffing sweets into the roscones she had on sale and told me “quien gana paga el roscón” – whoever finds it pays for the cake. What sad materialistic times we do live in!!

Monday, 4 January 2010

Getting back to Vigo.

Because of the difficulty, not say impossibility, of finding direct flights from the North West of England to the North West of Spain at this time of year, we flew by to Vigo via Faro and then Porto. I doubt that we would have chosen such a strange route had it not been for the fact that some old friends had chosen to spend Christmas on the Algarve and this gave us an excuse to get together again.

So quite early on Saturday morning, before it started to snow again in the Manchester area, we made our escape. Just in time as it turned out f
or more snow has fallen since then and had we been travelling a day later we might not have made it. As it was we landed in a rather grey Faro.

Apparently this had been one of the worst Christmases, weatherwise, that the area had seen for a good few years. Maybe it was something to do with our friends having finally chosen to take advantage of a timeshare they set up years ago but never used, giving the chance to v
arious offspring instead. And so we visited one of those artificially created “villages” which don’t appear on old maps, all holiday homes and “aparthotels”, a strange hybrid of apartment and hotel.

The place is surrounded by salt marshes and sand dunes, providing interesting walks and plenty of birds for any "twitchers" who holiday there. I had never visited the Algarve before and, I suspect, may never do so again, not in a British holiday enclave anyway.

Be that as it may, on the Saturday evening we set out to find a restaurant which had been recommended to our friends. Unfortunately the restaurant in question was closed so we took a tour of Almancil in the dark, playing “find a good place to eat”. We finished up at a place with the unprepossessing name of Senhor Frango, Mr Chicken. It may have had a rather offputting name but the food was good and the price reasonable. If ever I do go back that way, I would not say no to a return visit to O Senhor Frango.

As an aside, I would like to know why the Portuguese for chicken is frango when in other Latin based languages it is pollo, poulet or something very similar, giving us, of cou
rse, pullet in English. No prizes but I would appreciate some answers!

Sunday got lost somewhere waiting around, first at Faro airport (our
friends dropped us off a good while before our departure time but with insufficient time to explore) and then in Porto. The usually convenient galizabus from Porto airport to Vigo runs a reduced service on a Sunday. Our plane arrived about 20 minutes too late for the 2.30 bus and the next one was not scheduled to depart until 7.45 in the evening. So we opted to catch it further along its route, in Porto town itself from the Avenida dos Aliados, just in front on the rather classy McDonalds. With our suitcases in tow, we caught the metro into town and managed to get a late lunch at a cheap and cheerful place we had been to on our last visit to Porto.

With our VERY limited Portuguese assisted by Spanish vocabulary and an understanding waiter, we ordered file
te de pulpo. I have not eaten octopus that way before: filleted, coated in batter, fried and served up with rice and salad. Interesting and quite tasty but very different form pulpo a la gallega! It was a family-run place and the owner of the place and his waiters/sons/brothers held a noisy discussion about football (I think) as a backdrop to our meal. We were about to leave without dessert but were persuaded by the owner’s elderly and absolutely charming lady wife to try her fresh fruit salad. It was a delight. My father, in his day an expert at making fruit salads, would have totally approved. We left completely satisfied.

Strolling round Porto, as much as one can stroll with wheelie suitcases, we disco
vered that Christmas there, as in so many places nowadays, is not complete without an artificial ice rink. A long queue of young and sometimes not so young people waited their turn.

We did not have a go but went instead for a looooooong coffee in the rather elegant Cafe Guarany. This cafe-restaurant on Avenida dos Aliados, staffed with very formally dressed waiters and decorated
quite incongruously with paintings of American Indians, used to be called the Cafe dos Musicos and still hosts musical evenings. There was a poster for next Saturday’s fado evening.

Eventually w
e caught our bus and travelled through the night back to Vigo.It turned out to be rather a colourful journey as the darkness was lit up from time to time by Christmas decorations. Just about every church between Porto and the Spanish border was festooned with lights, outlining the shape of the building. Most impressive, but we did wonder which enterprising person had the concession for putting up the lights. And so, here we are, back in Vigo in time for Reyes. The Christmas lights are still there for us and this year Principe is also decorated with constructions of what appear to be multiple poinsettias, giving a rather classy air to the place.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Finishing off 2009

As 2010 arrives crisp and cold, there is snow still lying on the hills not too far from here but the snowman in my garden is reduced to a small mound with a straw hat on top.

I seem to have narrowly avoided being snowed in on several occasions this festive season. We travelled back to the UK several weeks sooner than we first planned. Had we followed our original plan we would have almost certainly been trapped in London, unable to continue northwards when the snow started as the trains were cancelled for a few days. Not that being trapped in London would have been a bad thing in itself. We could have spent more time with our number one offspring but as the rest of the family was in the North West of England it would not have been totally satisfactory.

As it was, we were already here when the snow fell and fortunately had completed most of the festive preparations. I did have some difficulty returning home from Manchester city centre one day. As soon as snow falls the minor roads are closed and buses to more out of the way places are cancelled. Fortunately some hardy taxi drivers were still prepared to drive along main roads and I managed to get home.

In the end we managed to get all the family together, even on one occasion gathering relatives from southern Spain, the North West of England and London together to take over an Italian restaurant in central Manchester. The smallest members of our party made their own pizzas. The rest of us preferred someone else to cook for us.

I avoided the madness of Boxing Day which should be renamed “Rush back to the shops as soon as possible after Christmas” Day. However, I discovered that Boxing Day has become a moveable feast. As it fell on a Saturday this time, the following Monday became a public holiday. The habit of making a bridge (un puente) seems to have transferred from Spain to the UK. I confidently set out to catch a bus on the said Monday and found myself waiting twice as long as usual: public holiday = Sunday service!!!

One amusing bit of shopping I did do was buying a new pumice stone as ours had disappeared from the bathroom here. When I finally located one in the local chemist's shop I discovered it was now called a “depilatory mouse”, obviously because of its rodent-like shape. I had a sudden vision of a mouse working in a beauty parlour with the task of waxing clients’ legs!!!!

Our stay here rushes to a close now. We are about to head back to the Iberian peninsula, just in time for the fiesta de Reyes, when the Three Kings bring presents for Spanish children and traditionally leave them on the balcony. Just as Father Christmas can manage to enter chimneyless houses, the reyes have magical ways of getting into homes without balconies.

I wonder if they will leave me anything. After all my “Spanglish” nephew and niece (Andalusian father and English mother) have for many years received gifts from the man in the red suit during family visits to the UK and then gone back to Spain in time for Gaspar, Balthazar and Melchior to give them presents as well. And I have tried to be good!!!