Friday, 30 April 2010

Another week comes to an end.

Here we are at the end of another week, the usual round of book clubs, yoga, painting class and so on. This week though we gave ourselves the extra treat of a classical concert at the Caixanova cultural centre. Mind you, the musicians were British: the Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields but with an international touch as the conductor was Swedish, I believe. Whatever his nationality he was a very excitable gentleman with fairly flowing silvery locks, clearly enjoying his work. They gave good value, giving us a couple of encores and sending us all home happy.

On the way home we had the good fortune to find an empty table outside the excellent bar La Porchaba on Rosalía de Castro. They have been quite late this year in putting tables outside, hardly surprising considering how long winter has gone on and on and on. Last night though, it was a delightfully mild evening so we were surprised to find a table free. So we took advantage and stopped for a glass of rioja, accompanied by a free tapa, a splendid way to round off a pleasant evening.

It has seemed this week as though we have gone straight from winter to summer, by-passing spring completely. Temperatures have been up to 25° and the sun has shone nicely on us. This evening it has had a go at bringing us the threatened rain but we are hoping it will perk up again for the weekend.

This weekend is, of course, another fiesta: la fiesta del trabajador here in Spain, la fête du travail in France, just another bank holiday in the UK. Whatever you call it and despite the demonstrations that will undoubtedly take place in many European countries it’s still another fiesta, almost certainly involving a lot of people moving about on the roads. Bank holiday queues seem to be international.

Also international, it seems, are children’s story books. Somehow in the Italian book club the topic of children’s stories cropped up. Alice in Wonderland, Pippi Longstocking and Heidi seemed to be everyone’s favourites, although some people knew them only as children’s films or TV series. I was amused at a little argument that occurred about the pronunciation of Heidi, Angelo, our Italian teacher, insisted that the Spanish are wrong to turn the initial “h” into a Spanish “jota”, that lovely sound like clearing phlegm from the back of your throat. They are also, it seems incorrect to pronounce the “ei” Spanish style, like the “a” of English “hay”. This gives you a version of the name rather like “Haydee” with that good strong “jota”. No, said Angelo, the vowel sound should be an “i” sound (English style), like the Spanish “ay” that you say when you drop a brick on your foot. The initial “h” disappears. This gives you her name as “Idee”. I kept quiet about how I thought the name should be pronounced but I do know how my friend Heidy says HER name.

We won’t even get into the argument that took place about Heidi’s nationality! Suffice it to say that everyone thought they knew best.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Playing a part.

Who would you choose to play you in the biopic of your life? Quite a hard question, even assuming you might be important enough to merit a biopic. Some years ago I was followed, practically stalked, around an art gallery by someone who eventually plucked up the courage to approach me whereupon he gave a rather disappointed sigh and said, “I thought you were that Celia Imrie!” So maybe I should use her, if ever the occasion were to arise.

It used to be that they waited until you were dead or at least very old before they started publishing biographies and making biopics of you. Nowadays, very young footballers and their wives have autobiographies ghost-written before they reach 25. I suppose it means you can produc
e updated versions at intervals, reworking old material and adding new stuff, thus selling the same thing several times over.

Now it ap
pears that Telecinco is preparing a series about Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia (plain old Letizia Ortiz as she used to be), telling the story of their romance, no doubt replaying their meeting, the formal pedida de mano, the walkabout in San Sebastián (or was it Santander?) by the photogenic fiancés and, of course, the royal wedding. The Prince and Princess of Asturias will be played by Amaia Salamanca and Fernando Gil, with King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía acted by Juanjo Puigcorbé and Marisa Paredes. The critics who felt that Felipe should be marrying a REAL princess (think peas under mattresses here) will no doubt be upset that there no actors and actress of royal blood to play them in the TV series.

Still in the world of Telecinco, a little girl from Catoira, Galicia, is the youngest child to take part in a new programme called Cántame una Canción. The TV company has sought out young performers form
all over Spain to take part in this game show and Sabela Rodríguez Atanes is their youngest find. She is only six years old or as they say here,. ( tiene solo seis añitosI just love the way years themselves are only little when you are small in Spain!) Apparently she has quite a following in Villagarcía.

Meanwhile another famous gallego, cyclist Óscar Pereiro, has been making the news inspecting sections of the route for the Tour de France with last year’s winner Alberto Contador, making sure that they and their bicycles are prepared for all eventualities.

And finally, the young lady who made herself famous for fifteen minutes by insisting on wearing her Islamic headscarf to school seems to have managed to resolve her problems, or have them resolved for her. A place has been found for Naj
wa Malha in another school in her neighbourhood, this time one which does not object to her headscarf. Her parents are relieved to have her back in school and away from media attention. Somehow, though, I suspect we may not have heard the end of the controversy she raised.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

What to wear to school.

One day last week I stood in a queue at the bank in my home town in the UK. Ahead of me in the queue was a family with a small girl, aged about seven at the most, all dressed up in a beautiful, peacock blue shalwa kameez: trousers tight around the ankle, long tunic embroidered at the hem and matching filmy scarf worn backwards so that the loose ends trailed over her shoulders and down her back. Her elegant kitten heeled sandals in matching sparkly blue, quite unsuitable for such a small girl, were clearly giving her problems as she kept sliding her feet out and pointing something out to her mother. Her mother was more sombrely dressed with her hair hidden under the regulation headscarf. So was her grandmother. They spoke to me in English but among themselves they spoke another language, probably Gujurati.

Now such a family group is not an uncommon sight in the Northwest of England town where I have spent the last couple of weeks. Indeed, it feels a little strange coming back from there, where it is not at all unusual to see Asian women doing their shopping covered head to t
oe in a burka, to Vigo, where I have seen the occasional headscarf but no more. It’s more usual to see an African man in brightly coloured robes than women hiding behind the veil.

And yet the question of the veil, the headscarf, the hijab, a long-standing problem in France and more recently in Belgium, has arisen again in Pozuelo de Alarcón in the Madrid area. A young girl called Najwa Malha has insisted o
n wearing her headscarf in school. The school has a strict “no headgear in the classroom” rule. Najwa has been excluded from school. A number of her classmates have also worn hajib to school put of solidarity, although they did remove them at the school gates.

The minister for education has come out and said that Nawja’s education is of prime importance but the school is within its rights to set rules about headgear. A place in another school has been offered but Nawja does not want to change schools but does want to express her Moslem identity.

Funnily enough, that argument is one I have heard before. When I had Moslem girls in my sixth form teaching groups some of them would turn up regularly with their hair covered. Some were quite strict about it. One young lady would take her headscarf off if her teaching group was all female with, of course, a female teacher, but had the scarf at the ready if a male member of staff came into the room. Others varied, some days wearing hajib, other days not. They said that no-one obliged them either way; there were just days when they felt the need to demonstrate their Moslem identity.

The other familiar argument I have heard trotted out is that if Najwa is allowed to wear her headscarf then boys who are members of urban gangs will demand the right to wear their gang caps in the classroom. Not quite the same thing, surely. And I suspect that members of urban gangs already create problems and have their identity well established without the need to wear a cap to school.

Representatives of the church and the government have been on television talking about religious freedom being a part of the Spanish constitution. There has been a lot of talk about the need for religious symbols to be part of one’s private life and so on. None of this helps the management of the school on Pozuelo de Alarcón who find themselves in something of a cleft stick: too strict if they stick to their guns, too soft if they give in.

No doubt the argument will run on and on. It seems a long way from the problems we had about the length of our school skirts and then later fighting for the right to wear trousers to school – and the latter was as a teacher, not as a pupil.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Intrepid travellers return!!!

Here we are, back in Vigo, after all the excitement of volcanoes erupting and clouds of ash cutting Britain off from the rest of Europe, which some might consider no bad thing but not this blogger, I hasten to add. Things were getting critical and the government was being accused of being negligent for not rescuing stranded Britons, over-indulgent for sending boats to rescue them and quite simply away with the fairies for saying that apparently non-existent buses would take poor stranded folk from Madrid to Paris.

And just at that point, quite fortuitously, someone decided that it was safe to fly after all. Modern jets, it seems, have no problem with a bit of volcanic ash! This, of course, led to recriminations and suggestions there really was no need to ban flying in the first place. Now, I am no expert but it does seem to me that if there is any chance that planes full of people might start hurtling down out of the sky because of engines clogged up with volcanic dust the sensible plan is to stop flying for a while.

Until yesterday lunch time it was still uncertain whether we could return to V
igo today or not. The skies were declared safe. Airports were reported to be open and functioning. And yet our flight remained in the cancelled list. Ryanair, despite a blanket refusal to comply with European directives and pay for accommodation for their stranded passengers, were playing it safe.

We had just about resigned ourselves to staying a few days longer and were e
ven making plans for the weekend when our flight was confirmed. We were then told to repeat the online check-in we had already completed, Ryanair’s website went into overload and crashed, our internet access went crazy and we spent hours sorting out the relevant documents. Having finally sorted it all, we arrived at Liverpool this morning to find that we need to go to a desk and check in AGAIN!!!

We had also had di
re warnings about overcrowding at the airport causing major delays with queues at security. So we paid for Liverpool airport’s get-through-security-faster-than-anyone-else fee, only to find when we got there that the fast track was closed and the queues were fairly miniscule and fast moving. Most strange!

So we flew
back here through blue skies sprinkled with fluffy white candy-floss clouds. No sign of an ash cloud anywhere! It has clearly moved along. When the news broke last Thursday, some people went into such a panic that I fully expected to see a grey pall advancing over the country from somewhere up north. My brother-in-law even suggested postponing a planned trip to central Manchester in case the dust interfered with car, bus and train engines as well as planes! So where has it gone? That is what I want to know.

The airlines reckon
to have lost billions because of a week of not flying over most of Europe. The Spanish tourist industry has apparently lost 42 million Euros. However, a group of intrepid Norwegians, about 100 of them, were so determined NOT to miss their cruise when they could not fly to Lisbon, the point of departure, that they organised themselves onto a bus and travelled overland to join the Vision of he Seas at Vigo. Goodness me, with such perseverance they could almost be British!

As for us, we left a chilly Saddleworth – frost on the cars – at 6.00 this morning and got off a
plane several hours later into the gently warm sunshine of Oporto. As the Bus Galiza (10 Euros from Oporto airport to Vigo bus station) stopped briefly on Avenida dos Aliados in Oporto, we witnessed a school party taking part in a strange ritual which involved lots of jumping up and down and clapping. They all wore home-made head-dresses that looked like donkey or rabbit ears. Many of them wore lifebelts or carried inflatable paddling pools and the teachers/organisers, looking rather sinister in black blanket cloaks, fired water pistols at them. If anyone can explain this phenomenon to me I shall be most appreciative!

Finally we made it back to Vigo and I popped out to buy milk so that we could do that most British of th
ings on returning from a journey: have a cup of tea. We had replenished out supply of PG Tips during our trip to the UK. Avenida García Barbón smelt delightful, almost like Seville at this time of year. Why? Orange blossom of course! It’s that time of year when the orange trees, some still sporting last year’s fruit at the same time, come into bloom and smell delightful. We are back in Spain!

Monday, 19 April 2010

Travels plans?

Our plans to return to Spain on Thursday remain, like the Icelandic Volcanic ash, up in the air. The British newspapers are full of tales of gallant Britons who have managed against all odds to return to the UK from whichever destination they found themselves trapped in. Other less efficiently organised travellers are offering total support to Gordon Brown in the forthcoming elections if he can just send ships out to the Canary Islands to take them back to dear old Blighty. Appeals have been made to the Dunkirk spirit but those who have tried crossing the Channel in small boats to rescue stranded British travellers from the Normandy beaches have had their plans foiled by the French port authorities.

We see
no signs of ash in the sky, despite the fears of our seven year old granddaughter who, like Chicken Little, is seriously waiting for the sky to fall in.

ad, apart from some dampness today, we have mostly had blue skies but with rather lower temperatures than we would ideally prefer. However, the spring flowers are in bloom, including masses of Wordsworthian daffodils. I rather miss the daffodils in Vigo but here there are plenty. Mind you, I read the other day that there is some concern that the native species are being pushed out by bigger, bolder and brasher foreign species. Immigration problems in the flower world!!

The cricket season is also gearing up. At the cricket and bowling club up the road they are having regular practices for weekend matches.

So, what have I been missing in Vigo? Well, in my absence, a group of ladies from the French Book Club at the library has
been to Paris: there and back before the volcano erupted! Maribel, the co-ordinator got in touch with the Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris and arranged to visit them. They asked her to take along books in gallego for a new section of children and young people’s gallego literature that they are creating.

So Maribel contacted the Oficina de Normalización Lingüistica in Vigo who promptly loaded the party up with masses of books t
o take to Paris. According to the Oficina de Normalicazión Lingüistica this interest "demostra que o galego é unha lingua universal". Yet more evidence, you see, that Galicia is the centre of the universe!!

Less timely in their travel, some 95 gallego children and 10 teachers are apparently stuck in English speaking destinations such as London, Brighton and Dublin because of the travel restrictions. I supp
ose this will give them a little more chance to improve their English but as with British school parties trapped in foreign parts there is concern about their missing other aspects of their education. Fewer Spaniards than Britons are stranded abroad though, mainly because they do not head off on mass sun-seeking expeditions to sunnier countries. Most of them will have travelled by road to other parts of Spain in search of the sun and even that will have been just over the Easter weekend, which now seems quite a long way in the past.

Besides it does appear that they expect the airports to open up again in the next 24 hours or so. Maybe we will make it back to Vigo after all. I’m sure Ryanair is rather fed up of losing all that lovely money by now!

So maybe we will be back in time for this strange little fiesta that I ha
ve read about today in the Faro de Vigo newspaper on-line: el primer campeonato nacional de cortadores de jamón. Yes, a Serrano jam cutting championship is going to take place next week in Vigo. Organised by the Club Profesional de Cortadores de Xamón de Galicia, it will involve 12 professionals who will be judged on their cutting style, the speed and cleanness of the cut, the way they are dressed and other undefined aspects. On the second day, 6 finalists will be judged once again. The winners can walk away with 1500, 750 and 500 euros for first, second and third prizes. Not bad for slicing ham!!!

Of course it is also intended to promote gastro-tourism; if Galicia cannot guarantee wall to wall sunshine, it can provide excellent food. That is, of course, assuming that no more volcanic ash gets in the way of the tourists who come by plane.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Eruptions and clouds of ash! Whatever next?

On the whole, it would seem that we chose the right Thursday to travel back to the UK. Had we been travelling today, instead of Thursday of last week, we would probably have been stuck in Oporto airport wondering when the sky was going to be declared free of volcanic ash and safe to fly in once more. Scenes from disaster movies flashed through my head as I heard about the eruption of the volcano in Iceland, which has led to skies free of aircraft all over Europe apparently today.

The television showed would be stag ni
ght revellers drunkenly chanting, “We hate Iceland”, as if the country and its government were responsible for the eruption. An ex-student of mine on the other hand has rejoiced on Facebook as he has a free extra day in Tenerife, courtesy of the volcano.

I am assuming that the cloud of volcanic ash which is causing all the problems will have settled somewhere by the time we fly back to Spain next Thursday. A friend of mine reports that there have been temperatures as high as 25° on at least one day in Vigo in our absence. It
’s fairly normal that the weather should improve once we go away for a while.

Here the weather has been m
ixed. Some days have been pleasantly warm, permitting sitting in the garden watching children through assorted projectiles around. Others have been seriously chilly. Mostly there has been that very North of England thing of not letting you decide what kind of clothing to wear: very cold in the morning but quite balmy by mid-afternoon. Mind you, this is exactly what I was hearing gallegos moaning about before we came away.

Clearly there is nothin
g new under the sun. Apart that is from the numerous new lambs which abound in the fields just up the road from our UK home. That’s why the weather is so changeable; it’s just what you expect in the lambing season.

Getting back to volcanic activity, it was perhaps rather ironic, perhaps just quite appropriate in a way that planes were unable t
o fly today as this was the day that we had chosen to take my granddaughter to visit Manchester’s Air and Space Museum, celebrating planes built by Manchester and Salford engineers but also generally displaying the way air travel developed over the years.

En route, we
admired the old, stopping to look at the John Rylands Library, and marvelled at the very new, failing to see to the top of the Hilton Tower.

And then we just wandered around looking at cars, bicycles, planes, satellites and roc
kets in the museum itself, well worth a visit.

Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg were supposedly in Manchester as well today. The first of their presidential campaign-style debates is being broadcast from Granada Studies in this fair city. I am carefully avoiding it. We did not see hide nor hair of the three politicians, nor even a great deal on enhanced security in the city centre, although I expect there has been some.

The sun was still shining on us as we made our way homewards. And we didn’t see a trace of volcanic ash anywhere!

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Flying North

It was still dark when I got up this morning. This is quite a rare thing in my life nowadays but we had a bus to catch at 9.00 from Vigo bus station so an early start was called for. Pretty soon the sky was turning clear blue and the day obviously promised to be a good one. Why is it that the weather starts to pick up just as you decide to go away? It must be a variant of Sod’s Law.

The bus ride from Vigo to Oporto is not bad. It’s fairly cheap (€10) and reasonably fast although it is disconcerting to look at the timetable and see that it says:

Estación de autobuses Vigo 9.00

Valença 8.30

It’s strange to arrive at a place before you’ve set off. You almost expect to meet yourself coming back. All this because the Portuguese keep to the same time system as the UK: most

Today we had a passport check at Valença, something which has only happened to me once before. This time I had my passport and my NIE with me. The last time it happened th
e only ID I had was my Vigo library card. I was not unduly worried but my daughter who was with me at the time was mortified. Only SHE could have a mother who did things like that!

As we arrived at the
airport with plenty of time to spare (the later bus from Vigo would arrive 30 minutes after our plane was due to depart) we had a second and rather more leisurely breakfast while we waited in Oporto’s rather modernistically elegant airport.

Budget travel seems inevita
bly to be made up of starts and stops. You wait around for ages and then suddenly discover that you have to join a long queue to go through an unexpected passport control which I am sure is part of the cost cutting exercises that budget airlines do. As Ryanair now only does online check-in, they don’t check your passport at all. So arranging for there to be a passport control before you get to the Ryanair departure gate ensures that someone else does that check for them. I don’t know about other airports but this seems to be the case at Oporto where two gates appear to make up a special little Ryanair enclave. Cunning!

Then, of course, there is a hold-up on the plane itself. Everyone, well, almost everyone, opts for hand-luggage-only travel which is fine except that no-one ever seems to check that the so-called hand luggage is in fact of the required dimensions. You see some very large and bulky “hand luggage” going in board! Consequently there is a mêlée on the plane itself as passengers try in vain to stuff these bags into the overhead lockers.

the cabin staff have to tell the last few passengers to board that they must remove from their bags their passports and anything they will need for the journey. Their “hand luggage” will be stowed in the hold after all. Presumably they don’t have to pay the extra fee for this but they will lose the speedy get-away on arrival at their destination, forced to wait for the carousel to bring their bags around. Thank heavens for our regulation-size IKEA cases, tailor made for budget travel and small enough to go under the seat in front if absolutely necessary.

Still, it’s a lovely day to travel and we get a beautiful view of the Portuguese coast, the Miño, the Islas Cíes and, oh yes, look, there’s our block of flats! And the fine weather keeps us company all the way, even giving us a nice view of bits of Wales as we get close to Liverpool.

As I sit on the plane doing my Sudoku and making notes on this and that, I wonder if conscientious cabin crew might confiscate my pencil as a potential weapon but they have obviously decided that since it got though security it must be OK. I did have to take my boots off at security … and my bracelet … and my watch. I offered them my belt but they must have felt that enough was enough.

Mind you, it’s better than some of the US airports where in some places, according to a report I saw on Spanish TV recently, they have an alternative to the expensive new whole body scanners. Passengers are sprayed with a chemical which reacts in some way to explosives and so reveals possible terrorists. I watched footage of passengers being subjected to this test and decided that I would be seriously disgruntled if that happened to me. Nothing nicer than starting your holiday with your hair blown all over the place and splattered with undoubtedly odd smelling stuff! No, sirreee, not for me!

In some ways the DIY element of budget air travel is mildly amusing but also exasperating. On-line check-in is not a problem; the queues at the check-in desks were always a pain anyway. However, announcements about the short turn-around time the plane has when it reaches its destination can be a little trying as passengers are asked to do cleaning up jobs like checking on the floor around their seats for possible rubbish. This is another bit of corner-cutting on the part of the airlines. Mind you, I suppose they also cut corners by underpaying the cabin crew so we should be sympathetic and help them out.

The passengers, at any rate an awful lot of Spanish and Portuguese ones, get their own back by ignoring requests to stay seated until the fasten-seat-belt signs are switched off. Barely have the wheels touched down that a good number of people are on their feet, opening the overhead lockers, dropping bags on other passengers’ heads (no, that didn’t actually happen; put it down to blogger’s exaggeration) and switching on their mobile phones in order to be able to say, “I’m here. We’ve just landed. I’m on the plane. I’ll see you in a couple of minutes.”
Now, there’s an exaggeration, if ever there was one.

You can spend 15 to 20 minutes getting to friends and family anxiously waiting to greet you. You get off the plane and, despite having had your passport scrutinised at Oporto airport, you are not getting onto UK territory without standing in yet another queue to have it checked once again!

Still, the sun is shining in Liverpool and even in Saddleworth, Oldham when we finally get there. 14° is not bad for April in the Northwest of England. Not quite the 19° we had in Vigo at midday yesterday but, hey, you can’t have everything. Mustn’t grumble!

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Reading dilemma.

Anyone who knows me at all well is aware that I am rarely without a book on the go but this week I’ve been in a kind of literary limbo. When you’ve rattled your way through Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, it’s quite hard to find something to follow it. I was lent the Larsson books by a neighbour and they proved to be major page-turners. Once you’re hooked into the almost paranoid intrigues that are going on in the stories, you just have to continue.

I have no idea what the books were called in the original Swedish but I do think it’s interesting to note the difference in titles in the English and the Spanish translations. “The girl with the Dragon Tattoo” becomes “Los Hombres que NO amaban a las Mujeres” (The Men who did NOT like Women). “The Girl who played with Fire” is called “La Chica que soñaba con una Cerilla y un Bidón de Gasolina” (The Girl who dreamed about a Match and a Can of Petrol) which is fairly similar. And finally “The Girl who kicked the Hornets’ Nest” has changed to “La Reina en el Palacio de las Corrientes de Aire” (The Queen in the Palace of Draughts).

I read them in the English version. I DO have this snobby linguist thing about preferring to read book in the original version but there ARE limits and my total lack of knowledge of Swedish is something of a restriction. In conversation with a friend at the painting class, I discovered that there are films of the books. I even found the first one in the local Mediamarkt store but it was in Swedish with subtitles in Spanish or Catalan. Even for me that was a step too far!!

On the whole, I prefer the English titles to the Spanish ones. I like the motif of “The Girl …” working through all of them. Translating titles can be difficult. You need something which reflects the original but which sounds good in the translated version. “Gone with the Wind” is “Lo que el Viento se llevó” in Spanish, literally “What the wind carried away”, keeping to the spirit of the original but losing something on the way. Similarly “El Curioso Incidente del Perro a Medionoche” makes the time a bit too specific for “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time”. But then, the faun in “El Laberinto del Fauno" gets elevated to god status in the English version, “Pan’s Labyrinth”. You could do a whole linguistic study on translated titles.

Be that as it may, getting back to my reading problem, I found myself at a loose end. Why not, you may ask, go to the library? A good question. Regular readers will know that the library figures largely in my social life. The answer is that tomorrow we are heading off to the UK for a couple of weeks. I would end up with overdue books, upsetting the librarians-who-rule-the-world and probably incurring a ban on borrowing any more books for a few weeks.

So I have been reduced to doing something I usually try to avoid: reading a book (also loaned to me by the same neighbour) about someone’s adventures in a small village in deepest rural Spain. Yes, I am aware that there is a contradiction. Here I am, blogging about my adventures in Galicia but I still don’t quite enjoy reading the kind of book which describes how someone goes to a small place in the middle of nowhere, meets a lot of odd, eccentric but basically ever so nice “locals”, settles in really well and becomes the leading light of the small village’s rather drunken social life. There’s a part of me that rebels at the almost stereotyping that takes place. I blame that Peter Mayle who started it all with “A Year in Provence”!!

Anyway, with a certain amount of harrumphing, some reservations but also some interest, I am reading Michael Jacobs’ book, “The Factory of Light”, set in a small place in Jaen, Andalucía. As he describes the people who love their little village so much that they weep when they have to leave it to seek work elsewhere, I want to tell him that this is not just an Andalusian trait but probably typical of all parts of Spain and especially Galicia. Vigo empties most weekends as everyone heads back to their much loved pueblo. Many are surprised that we don’t have the same feeling in the UK.

I’ve also come across a linguistic anomaly. Mr Jacobs was writing about lighting a fire using orujo, apparently the waste product left over from crushing olives to extract the olive oil, including skins, stones and so on. Odd, I thought. I had always been led to believe that orujo was a very strong firewater, at one time made illegally in almost every Galician household. So I went and googled it, as one does.

Naturally enough, we are both right. Orujo, the drink, called ourujo in Galician, is strictly speaking aguardiente de orujo, orujo firewater/ orujo spirit. And orujo is the waste product left behind when grapes are crushed to make wine, made up of skins, seeds, stalks and such like. Different fruit, same product, same word just used slightly differently. Once again, I am moved to say, it’s a small world, isn’t it?

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Well, that’s another fiesta out of the way!

I must say, it’s been a funny sort of week. I, who normally catch almost every procession going, have not seen a single one this Easter, apart, that is, from what has been shown on TV. That has been interesting at times: little items about how many different names there are for the nazarenos, the people who wear the pointy hoods in the processions. They are called nazarenos because of the connection with Nazareth, of course. I already knew they were also referred to as penitentes, because of repenting one’s sins. But it turns out that lots of places have their own names for them, largely based on the local word for hood.

Reports from some parts of the world were rather gruesome with believers not only flogging themselves until blood flowed and
carrying heavy crosses through the streets but also having themselves nailed onto crosses and hanging there for ten minutes, literally crucifying themselves in the belief that it would protect their family for the coming year. Enough is enough!

And then there were the news reports from Rome where a priest with the amazingly appropriate name of Cantalamessa (Sing the
Mass) made some unfortunate remarks during his sermon. The Pope has been under some strain lately and is reported to have been praying for strength to deal with the trials and tribulations he is going through. Father Cantalamessa really did not help. He condemned some of the attacks on the Pope, saying that the stereotyping involved could be compared to anti-Semitism.

Oh dear! Jewish associations have asked for apologies. They were understandably upset. So the Vatican spokesperson, a certain Monsignor Lombardi, stood up and said that Cantalamessa was speaking in a personal capacity. His views were NOT upheld by the Vatican, who regarded the comparison as invalid. There you go, it never rains but it pours!

Which is one reason why I have not been out waiting for processions to watch. It’s really not the same in the rain.

Today though has been very n
ice indeed. The Easter Bunny must have been able to leave his brolly at home. And so did I. My better half has been off playing chess all week up in Mondariz. Most rounds started at the civilised time of 5.00pm but today, final round, they began at 10.00 am. Consequently we had to be up bright and early for him to get to his pick-up point for 9.15.

So I left him there and set off to walk to Castrelos Park to check on the progress of spring. Rather slow is the verdict. Blooms are appearing but all rather behindhand. I found some nice bluebells but the chestnut trees are not yet i
n flower. Mind you this is probably a national problem. I understand that the cherry trees of Almeria, declared a site of interés turístico because of their spectacular beauty, are not yet in flower either. People who have booked into hotels down there for the Easter weekend have been sorely disappointed.

From Castrelos I followed the river down to the beach at Samil, quite a nice riverside walk apart from having to skirt round the Balaídos football stadium and some industrial complexes.
The beach, when I got there, was predictably beautiful in the April sunshine. I had my first barefoot-in-the-sand walk of this year. A few people were pad
dling but really the water was far too cold for that. Sun worshippers were out getting a head-start on their tan, not stretched out on the sand but leaning against rocks to catch the rays at just the right angle. A few macho runners were sprinting bare-chested up and down the sand: altogether too excessive for my liking.

And finally I caught the bus home, well two buses in fact. The handy number 10 bus usually runs from Samil all the way to Teis, going nicely close to our flat. On Sundays and Feast Days it does Samil to Plaza de America. Well, that’s really not good enough. I had to walk down GranVía until a number 3 came along.

Still, I had a good walk in the sunshine. AND my chess player managed to win a prize. All in all, a successful day!

Friday, 2 April 2010

Let them eat cake!

Krystina, the lady in the bread shop, appears to be trying to educate me in the noble art of bread and cakes. This morning she asked me if I had tried the Roscón de este año. Well, no, I had to admit, I had not. So along with the excellent rye loaf I had just bought she gave me a free slice of roscón. It looked very similar to the Roscón de Reyes traditionally made for the Three Kings’ celebration in January, a wheel-shaped sweetish bread/cake decorated with jellied fruit, rather like a brioche with a slight hint of anis.

What she gave me was, she said, the traditional roscón. Some people prefer a version with more egg yolk in it. And then there is the
roscón de Niza, which has ground almonds in the mixture. Cunning these French folk from Nice, adding extra ingredients. I must try to get a free slice of that one.

In return I told her about hot cross buns in England, this being Good Friday. The smell of hot cross buns is one of my Proustian memory triggers. A whiff of hot cross bun and I’m back in my childhood, going to church with my father early on Good Friday morning and returning home to a house full of the smell of hot cross buns, warmed up in the oven by my mother who had stayed home with the smaller children. Of course, back in the day you could ONLY get hot cross buns for Good Friday, not practically all year round as you can now.

Today’s free slice of roscón is by no means the first freebie from the panadera although certainly one of the best. From time to time she presses onto me magdalenas, what Proust would have called madeleines, I suppose, and the Americans cupcakes. (They’re called little buns when my grandchildren make them.) As she knows I appreciate her rye bread, she sometimes gives me a slice of a similar, much denser bread with raisins in, a traditional Galician bread that you will find on sale wherever there is a rural fair selling productos artesanos. It’s very tasty and extremely chewy and keeps very well: nice toasted!

One of the strangest free products wa
s a collection of broken bits of orejas, the very thin, very brittle pancake/pastries made for carnaval in the shape of huge ears. This is probably one of the most over-rated confections imaginable but people order them especially for children’s carnival parties, presumably for their amusing shape. Huesos de santos (yes, saints’ bones!), the marzipan “bones” on sale for All Saints’ Day (not as some people think, for Hallowe’en) I can just about tolerate. If you like marzipan, they’re all right. But orejas? Well, really I fail to see the point!

Mind you I have similar feelings about churros, the long, thin squidges of batter fried and sprinkled with sugar for consumption with chocolate caliente. Hot chocolate, yes! Boring doughnut mix fritters, er … no! Doughnuts have to be round and filled with raspberry jam and MUST be served very fresh. The packets of iced dough nuts sold on the stalls that spring up here on almost every street corner at the merest whisper of the word fiesta are most definitely not for me.

So, getting back to the panadera, her free gifts are obviously a marketing ploy and one that works. I have been back and bought some of the things she has given me as free samples. She does an excellent chocolate and walnut cake, nice and moist but not as sickly sweet as the famous “Death by Chocolate”. Excellent with a cup of coffee!

One of these days, though, I am going to be tempted to say that I don’t actually want to buy anything but would gladly just walk away with whatever is going free!

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Did I mention that Galicia is the centre of the universe?

The fame of Galicia’s greens is about to spread.

The BBC celebrity chef Rick Stein has been visiting La Coruña. They wanted to do some filming at the fishing port there but the recent storms have been getting in the way. This has not stopped him eating pulpo every day though and declaring that even the worst octopus served in Galicia is better than what he could find in the UK.

He visited the fish market and agreed with Jam
ie Oliver who has described it as «uno de los mejores mercados de marisco del mundo». He lamented the lack of such good fish markets in England; I think we can all echo that sentiment!

Rick Stein went on to say that he is a cook who likes plain, simple food and he doesn’t believe in adding lots of sauces to fish dishes. Well, he could be gallego: good ingredients and no need
for fancy sauces!

The main purpose of his visit, it seems, was to experience the mariscos of Galicia but inevitably he had to try other stuff. They were not going to let him get away without trying cocido. After all, it is a speciality; restaurants go out of their way to let you know they are serving it on certain days of the week. So he tried it and he commented on the quality of the potatoes, the ham, the chorizo and
so on but what most impressed him was the flavour of the grelos!!!!

He enjoyed Galician greens so much and made such a fuss about it that someone gave him some seeds to take home with him. He is going to try to grow grelos in England!!! I expect we are going to hear more about them!

He plans to go on and try empanada and tortilla in Santiago but it looks as though he has found what Rick Stein likes best in Galicia already.

Meanwhile in another pa
rt of Spain, a Basque with gallego roots is about to make his childhood dream a reality. His name is Josu Feijoo. With a name like that I suppose he had to be gallego. He wrote a letter to the Three Kings when he was a small boy, asking for an Athletic de Bilbao football shirt and to be an astronaut when he grew up. And at 39 he’s about to become an astronaut. The football shirt was a lot easier and the Kings got that for him that Christmas.

He’s already known as a climber despite the fact that when he was diagno
sed with diabetes at age 23 the doctors said he shouldn’t do that kind of intensive exercise. Clearly he is a man who likes to push the boundaries a little. He’s climbed Mount Everest, Mount McKinley and Kilimanjaro, among others. Now he’s going to be the first diabetic astronaut and the third Spaniard in space.

I wonder if they serve cocido in space ships!