My friend Maria and I had a plan for today. It was hatched one day last week as we took shelter from a shower of rain in a Vigo cafe. It wasn’t really fit to sit outside and besides it was the wrong time of day for the sun to be warming our cafe. Now, if the rain stopped and we were across the water in Cangas we could sit outside in the sunshine. And so we decide that on Monday, provided it wasn’t pouring down, we would go to Cangas for coffee. Forget about ladies-who-lunch; we would be ladies-who-have-coffee.
Today turned out to be a day of glorious sunshine and clear blue sky, a bit nippy in the shade but fine for sitting on the top deck of the Cangas ferry. By the way, there are now two companies operating the cross-ría routes, after talking about stopping all of them not too long ago. There must be some political wrangling behind it as there really were hardly enough passengers today to merit so many boats. The attitude of the employees of the two companies was interesting. One, super-loyal, was only prepared to give information about the company she worked for while the other was quite happy to provide general information about boat times, much more helpful.
And so we arrived at Cangas mid-morning and went to have a look at the old market hall. María had the idea that there might be people selling fruit and veg but in fact the few stalls operating were only selling fish. Now, from reading Domingo Villar I know that Galician fishing boats don’t go out on Sundays and so we avoid having fish in restaurants on Mondays as we understand it will either be frozen on rather less than fresh. However, the fishmonger lady assured María that the fish had been caught this morning and she was happy with that.
What happened next was very Spanish. María did not want to carry fish around with us all morning so she arranged to leave the fish for the fishmonger to clean and she would pick it later on our way back to the boat at around one o’ clock. She was not to worry, the fishmonger reassured her. If she had packed up and gone home she would leave the fish wrapped up on the counter for María. No-one would take it. Wonderful!
(The old market hall itself is of interest, a fine example of a disappearing phenomenon. Rather like in the UK, the old market halls are falling into disuse and being replaced with other things. María told me that where we now find the Hotel Bahia, the blue multi-storey building that overshadows the waterfront of Vigo and even manages to dwarf the A Laxe shopping centre, there used to be a bigger and better market hall in the same style as the one in Cangas. Unfortunately it fell foul of property speculators long ago and in its place the city got a rather ugly building of no interest whatsoever.)
As we strolled around Cangas, heading for the old part of town in the streets behind the main thoroughfare, a kind of subtext to our excursion began to make itself plain to me. María began to tell me how she feels a kind of nostalgic regret every time she goes to Cangas. Here used to live a friend from her school days with whom she had lost touch and she wondered if she would even recognise her if she passed her on the street today, some forty years down the line.
The next thing I knew she was stopping a postman and asking how long he had worked that route. Just as it became clear he was far too young to remember anything interesting, a lady looked down from a balcony. “I don’t suppose you know the mother of Inés?” asked María. “Un momento,” came the reply and we heard the lady clattering down the stairs and opening the front door to us. There then followed one of those conversations: “You mean the Inés who lived in this house here?” “She had a sister called ....” “The mother did so and so.” “And there was a boy as well.” “Well, they moved house in such and such a year.” And so it went on. We almost found out what they all ate for breakfast most days.
The upshot of it was that Inés now worked in a baker’s shop - down this road, along the main street a way, past that awning you can see there, just beyond the modern dress shop, up the next street, multiply it by the number you first thought of and Bob’s your uncle, there it is on the right - and our informative, talkative lady left her door wide open and accompanied us to the point where we could indeed see the awning on the main street.
And so we did indeed find the baker’s shop, a rather interesting one selling all sorts of different kinds of bread. And when we went in and asked for Inés, there indeed she was. María recognised her at once and went and hugged her. The poor woman was bemused, confused and befuddled – who wouldn’t be? – but María put her right and they had a little chat about the classmate who became a nun, the one who got married, the one who didn’t, the one who moved away to another country and so on. Inés refused to have her photo taken, not even for an old re-discovered friend like María and we said goodbye and went on our way.
María declared herself a bit miffed, a bit let down. Had the situation been reversed she would have exchanged phone numbers, suggested going for coffee another day when she would not be busy in the bread shop, kept up some semblance of the intention to maintain contact. But here, nothing! Well, at least she seemed happy, was her final consoling thought.
I did wonder what would happen if I were to go back to the street where some old school friend of mine used to live. I suspect that I might just find someone who vaguely remembered a family of that name, at least if I was in the right sort of place such as the village on the outskirts of Manchester where we lived for twenty odd years. I don’t know if anyone could direct me so unerringly to the place where my hypothetical old friend might work, however! Most of us went off to work in different parts of the country, even different parts of the world.
Is it just Spain? Is it just Galicia? Or maybe it’s just Cangas!