Friday, 28 May 2010


Summer seems to have arrived. The signs are all there. The pool in our complex opens on Saturday; Pepe the portero has been busy cleaning it out and getting everything in order. Looking out of our window I can see a dedicated sunworshipper stretched out in her bikini on the grass, getting started on her tan. The school across the way has been having outdoor activities with a bouncing castle and this morning an obstacle course for the small pupils, comprising stepping stones, skipping ropes, a section of hopping and a series of hoops they had to climb through. You hear a lot of talk about modern education making schoolchildren jump through hoops; today I saw it in action!

Over their public address we heard them announcing the results of the tortilla competition and the cake-making competition. I imagined
a row of tortillas, each with a small slice removed for tasting. The tortillas and cakes were then being sold by the slice in the school refectory. Children were invited to go and buy.

Usually the announcements we hear are calling for children to go and board the bus taking them home. Very occasionally, however, since this is a church school we hear some kind of religious service being broadcast. But today it was el
concurso de tortillas and el concurso de tartas.

Even here where schools break up for the summer in mid to late June it seems a little early to be devoting entire days to end of term activities. After all they still have
two or three weeks to go. Why are they not slogging away at great works of Spanish literature or huge mathematical problems? They could be improving their gallego or learning English. What is going on? Maybe they know something about the weather that I don't and have discovered that the sunshine is about to disappear and be replaced by yet more rain!

I hope that is not the case as this is also the season of visits. We have English friends here at the moment. They are on their second visit so they must have been impressed first time around. We took them along to the
restaurant El Puerto for lunch the other day. We ordered a variety of plates of shellfish between the four of us and then lenguado para todos – sole for everyone. The waiter came back with a fish on a dish to show us the size of the lenguado and check how many we wanted. Answer: just one will do nicely between us! When it came it was interestingly arranged on a plate with potatoes, of course: this is Galicia, after all!

We also took the boat across the ría to Cangas. There are now three boat companies competing for passengers. Quite how long they will all keep going remains to be seen! Be that as it may, we had a speedy but rather choppy ride across the water. The threatened rain kept off and we had a stroll along the
seafront followed by an excellent lunch at O Pelao, a tapas bar well worth visiting. We paid around 10€ a head and worked out that a glass of good Alabariňo cost about 1.15€. Beat that in an English bar!!!

Maybe this is why our friends keep coming back. It's not to see us. It's not the great architecture or the culture of Spain, although we did visit the Marco art gallery and enjoyed it. It can't be the sunshine because it's not reliable here in Galicia. No, it must be good food and wine at reasonable prices!

Thursday, 27 May 2010

There’s no such thing as a free ….. gift from Orange!

When first we came to Galicia we spent a good deal of time in internet cafés checking our email and so on. Initially we stayed in a hotel with a free wifi connection, which was convenient, but we obviously needed another more permanent solution when we found a place of our own. After making several phone calls and visits to internet providers we finally settled for Orange’s mobile dongle, taking out an 18 month contract.

From time to time I have moaned and groaned about problems with this system but on the whole it has served us well and has the advantage of our being able to visit other parts of Spain and use it there. We will not talk any more about the occasion when we accidentally used it across the border in Portugal: an expensive mistake!

When we returned from our recent visit to London we found a letter from Orange awaiting us. It contained what looked like an excellent idea. Apparently during the time that we have been using our delightful Orange dongle (actually a small black device which goes into a USB port) we have been accumulating points. The more frequently you log on, the more points you accumulate. And, as we all know, points mean prizes!

With our points we could purchase a mini-portátil (i.e. a netbook) for a ridiculously low price, receive free a Mifi (some kind of multi-connection modem which gives you wifi all over your house), a mobile phone, a new more modern version of our existing modem or opt for a 20% discount on our next 12 months' Orange internet connection payments.

We thought about it, decided that 20% off next year’s bills would be good if we planned to keep up our modem but as we don’t plan to do that it was not a lot of use. So finally we opted to buy a netbook. We have a granddaughter who would happily make use of it even if we decided we didn’t really need it.

So, decision taken, I phoned the free number, explained that I was speaking on behalf of the account holder who does not much like speaking Spanish on the phone (my husband) and told the brisk, efficient, fast-speaking lady at Orange what we wanted. She went through all the details, checked our address, organised delivery dates, took an email address for us, and gave us details of the after sales service and a million other things. Then she told me that she needed to speak to the account holder so that she could finalise things.

That was when the fun started. What she had not mentioned to me was that in order to receive our very good value netbook or indeed any of the free items in their offer we needed to sign ourselves up for another 18 month contract. Now, that was a bit of a surprise. There certainly didn’t seem to be any mention of that in the promotional material. I’ve been through it again and cannot find any small print that says such a thing. Well, in fact, right down at the bottom of the accompanying letter there is a little note about it. So no freebie from Orange!

When I collect sufficient points from Waterstone's Bookshop in the UK, I get a free book, without being obliged to buy another one to go with it. The same applies to my Boots Advantage points. The points on my Nectar Card for Sainsbury’s get me money off my bill. All these things have no strings attached.

It was a good job they gave us a free phone number to call otherwise I might by now be a very angry blogger!!

Saturday, 22 May 2010


I first discovered Zara more years ago than I care to remember. I had gone to Valencia on a residential course for teachers of Spanish and that’s where I first went into a Zara store and was most impressed. In those days Inditex did not have stores all over the UK as it does now. One of my companions on the course said she had been to their shop in London but at that time Manchester area had no such thing.

Nowadays, of course, Zara is ubiquitous. No high street of any merit is without its Zara store. Together with Mango and Sfera it has become one of my favourite shops. I also like to pop into Juan Blanco but their sizing policy is definitely biased towards the skinny. They have small, medium and large but since large is more or less the equivalent of a UK size 12, you really have to be at your most slender before you even stick your head through the door. However, they do give you your purchases in extremely nice cloth bags rather than paper carriers or horrid plastic bags.

I rarely even set foot inside Stradivarius or Desigual, even though their window displays have some nice things; their dimly lit interiors and loud music always make me feel I have strayed into a young people’s domain where I really should not be trespassing!

Today I learnt that a Russian company, the Melon Fashion Group, has been opening shops all over Russia called Zarina. These have the same kind of policy as Zara: rapid turnover of clothes which are reasonably priced copies of high fashion items. According to a gallego, Luis Gutiérrez, a frequent visitor to Moscow apparently, the clothes are the same, the price is the same, even the lighting and the way the shop assistants dress is the same. However, Mr
Gutiérrez says the quality is nowhere near as good; Zarina es todo made in China. One of their tricks though is to open their stores next to Inditex shops. The main Moscow shop is next to a Stradivarius store, one of the Inditex group, and in some 15 cases they are right next to Zara itself. What is more they don’t use Cyrillic lettering on their shop signs but do their best to make it look as if Zarina is in fact Zara’s baby sister. Crafty stuff, eh?

Back here in Galicia, it would appear that Darth Vader has joined the many who go on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. A group of Star Wars fans decided to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the release of the original film by organising for around 300 people to dress up as Star Wars characters, in particular as troops from the Galactic Empire's forces. As fans watched the procession through the Obadoiro some of them went so far as to say that this is another religion. In that case they went to the right place!

Another foreign arrival into Galicia is going to be the American series The Wire, one of my all time favourites. V Television, an offshoot of La Voz de Galicia, is going to be broadcasting the first two series this year. Now, when we started watching it we found ourselves turning on the subtitles so that we could fully understand the Baltimore street slang of the corner boys selling their drugs and, for that matter, the fast-talking Baltimore police. The language is so much a part of the series that I find myself wondering just HOW you can dub it into another language.

I would seem not to be the first to be concerned about the language question. One comment at the end of the newspaper article said the following: Espero que la den en V.O.S. porque el doblaje que oí es una m*****. (I hope they transmit it in the original version with subtitles, because the dubbing I have heard is a load of s***.)

But another clearly would prefer it to be in gallego, as he said this: Quería saber en que lingua se vai emitir, se en VOS, castelán ou galego... ou vaise poder elixir entre as 3 ou dúas delas. Supoño que o galego estará excluído (coma sempre) pero aínda teño esperanza. (I would like to know what language it will be transmitted in, whether in the original with subtitles, castellano or gallego … or whether it will be possible to choose between the three, I suppose that gallego will be excluded (as usual) but I remain hopeful).

What it is to be a pessimistic patriot!

Thursday, 20 May 2010

On ash, elephants and warm weather.

Well, we managed to avoid problems with ash clouds once again and made it back from London to Vigo (well, all right, Oporto and then Vigo) without undue difficulty. My niece has been heard to declare that I must have some occult powers as I keep just missing being delayed by the volcano. The nearest we got to it, however, was meeting up with a friend who is the science editor for a national news channel. He had been working on a report on the ash cloud which prevented him from spending the day with us as planned but he did take us behind the scenes in the run up to the 6.30 news broadcast the other day.

Now, that was most interesting. I have a new admiration for newsreaders, having seen how the wording on their autocue can change minutes or even seconds before they go on the air or indeed while they are on air. As they were waiting to broadcast, fresh news was coming on about the BA strike and whether it could go ahead or not. And then there is the astounding contrast between the female newsreader’s almost bimbo-like attention to her appearance (the amount of hairspray that went on her hair in the few minutes before they went on air is frightening – I dread to contemplate how she got it all out at the end of the day!) and her apposite comments on the wording of the news.

So we had a behind the scenes look at the news and then went with our TV celebrity for an excellent curry, or rather a selection of excellent curries, all most artistically presented, in a little place of G
ray’s Inn Road. Then, while our friend headed back to the studio to do some more news, we tried to follow his directions to his pub of choice. Now, you would think a person who is well-versed in scientific knowledge could remember how to get you to a pub. No way, José! We followed the directions to the letter and then retraced our steps and asked a young man passing by. We provided him with the perfect opportunity to whizz out his i-phone and say, “I’ll just Google it for you!” Show-off! And it didn’t work. But serendipity did; we got back to Gray’s Inn Road and there was the pub!

The planned evening’s drinking did not come to pass though. Our friend had one drink and disappeared once more to fill in a “slow-news-day” with scientific items about mobile phones and goodness knows what else. Such is the price of working in the world of the media! Still we had an interesting time.

London is full of elephants at the moment. Model elephants about the size of real life baby elephants and in a variety of poses have been given to artists to decorate and then deposited in various places around the centre. At the end of June they will be auctioned and the money will go to a charity which works for the preservation of Indian elephants. So now I have seen cows in Manchester and Florence, doves in Bilbao, pigs in Vigo and finally elephants in London. No need to go to a zoo!

In London, as well as the usual tourist sights we were also advised to visit the apparently less well know Sir John Soane’s Museum and the Wallace collection both of which began life as private collection of stuff which was acquired (i.e. like the Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum, in some cases not totally legally) from various odd corners of the world. While the Wallace Collection is a lovely example of a gracious house containing huge amounts of excellent paintings and a good deal of arms of one kind or another, Sir John Soane’s Museum had a different kind of charm. Two houses had been combined with a good deal of architectural cleverness on the part of Sir John and then the place was filled with fascinating paraphernalia, accessed via narrow passageways so that they have to severely restrict the number of visitors at any one time. A very good place to visit!

And then, yesterday we set off on our travels once again, this time back to Vigo, via Oporto. When we left Galicia was coming to the end of a longish cold spell which had led to our block’s central heating being switched back on recently! We got off the plane in Oporto to be hit by an almost tangible wall of heat, such as usually happens in mid-summer. This year’s weather continues to be seriously strange. Not that I am complaining about the heat, of course I have had quite enough of the wintery chills. I am quite happy for summer to start properly NOW. Who needs spring anyway?

Monday, 17 May 2010

Reasons to be cheerful, again!

Today is the Dia das Letras Galegas, another fiesta for Galicia. Apparently the 17th of May has been a fiesta since 1963. It began as a celebration of the centenary of the publication of Cantares Galegas, the first book of poetry published by Rosalía de Castro. It was, of course, published in gallego. Ever since then the Real Academía Galega has chosen a different deceased gallego writer, meaning of course one who wrote IN gallego, to honour on this day. (I wonder how they sneaked that in during Franco's time with restrictions on use of gallego.) This year the chosen one is Uxío Novoneyra (Eugenio Novo Nera in castellano) who was a poet and writer of children’s books.

So today no-one works in Galicia, apart that is from waiters, chefs, bakers, bus drivers and other essential service people! They should probably consider themselves lucky because reports show that some 11,000 gallegos have had to emigrate in search of work in the last year, an increase of 4.5% on the previous year.

And then there are the poor funcionarios, not a group you usually have to feel sorry for. After all, they have a job for life and everyone believes they all receive a good salary. According to my friend Pachi in the Italian conversation class this is not the case. She declared indignantly that she is barely a mileurista (earning1000 euros a month) because of the class of funcionarios she fits into. Her outburst was caused by Angelo, the Italian teacher, expressing his disgust that funcionarios had the facciatosta (Italian for cheek, cara dura in Spanish) to protest about the government imposing a 5% pay cut on them. Who’d be a civil servant? Everyone’s jealous of you and then the government gets at you as well.

It seems an odd system to the British. Thousands of people turn up for oposiciones, a competitive exam to enable you to become a funcionario. Those who pass move on to a competitive interview and of them a very small number get jobs. As teachers are included in the funcionario category, the same system applies to them. They are then assigned to a school; they can request an area but not a specific school. My Spanish friends are amazed at the British system where the school itself is allowed to interview candidates and choose who they employ!!! How free! How British!

My Italian friends are equally amazed for the same competitive system works in Italy too. And now good old Silvio Berlusconi has also decided to attack the funcionarios as part of his economy measures. He plans to freeze the salaries of the 3.5 million Italian funcionarios. At the same time he is considering raising the pension age for women in the private sector and delaying the start of pension payments for newly retired people by a few months. I wonder what they are supposed to live on in the meantime.

They are all doing it of course, taking measures to deal with the economic crisis, even the French. Now, in that country it is still possible to retire at 60 provided you have been paying national insurance (or rather the French equivalent) contributions for 40 years. Well, that knocks out all those people who extended their studies and put off seeking a job until they were about 30, doesn’t it?

What with the economic situation and the cloud of ash periodically floating around over our heads, it’s rather a gloomy time at the moment. Still, mustn't grumble. Thank heavens for Barça and Chelsea giving some people a reason to be cheerful! And then there’s Rafa Nadal doing his bit to cheer up the Spanish by beating Federer in the Madrid Open and doing jolly well all round. Keep up the good work, you sportsmen!

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Coincidence and likely stories.

Well, the god of the volcano was kind to us yesterday and did not send a cloud of ash to prevent us from flying from Oporto to London as planned.

We arrived at Vigo bus station just before midday to catch a bus to Oporto, as we usually do when flying from there. The bus driver was unusually grumpy, growling that he was only going to Oporto airport, not into the city. No explanation, just a very grumpy declaration. He then proceeded to get even grumpier as another bus driver indicated to him that he was in the wrong bus bay. Lots of pipping of horns and a few moments of chaos ensued as movement throughout the bus station came to a halt. Our grumpy driver explained to the other bus driver via gestures, some none too polite, that another bus was parked in the bay he should have been in. Then he closed his luggage doors, to the understandable consternation of passengers, and moved the bus to the empty bay on the other side of where he should have been.

Eventually we set off and travelled without further incident to Oporto airport. There the TV screens on the cafeteria were full of reports of the Pope in the centre of Oporto. Avenida dos Aliados was full of people waving flags. We were treated to the surreal sight of several rows of priests all crossing themselves in unison. Someone had mentioned to me on Thursday that the Pope was going to be in Oporto but it had slipped my mind. This explained the grumpiness of our bus driver who was unable to follow his usual route!

The cafeteria in Oporto airport, by the way, is to be recommended. The staff are friendly, the coffee is excellent and they do a very good baguete americana, a ham, cheese and salad sandwich which is very good value. Eight Euros worth of coffee and salad sandwiches later we made our way through security.

Now, that WAS fun! We had bought tetilla cheese for our son and his young lady as they really like it. A friend of mine had given me a plastic tub of her homemade quince jelly, the perfect accompaniment to tetilla cheese. So, unthinkingly I popped it in the suitcase. My Phil and I went through the security check at different desks, at opposite ends of the line. I got through without problems with the cheese. Phil’s bag was stopped and he was questioned about the pot of green goo inside it. He, of course, was oblivious to the fact that the pot was in his bag and reacted with great surprise. Result: the quince jelly was confiscated and Phil narrowly escaped being taken away for further questioning. Oops, a close call!

Marching through the main hall of the airport looking for a screen to tell us which gate to go to, I heard someone calling my name. Now, you don’t expect to meet friends in the middle of Oporto airport but there was Amparo from the French book club. As she was en route for Brussels where she had a wedding to go to but coincidentally would be able to practise her French. After we got over our initial surprised, we realised that we actually knew we might see each other as the last time we met we had discussed crossing fingers, toes and any other suitable parts of our anatomies to keep the ash cloud away. And there we were, in the very same place on the very same day!

And so was someone else. I realised that the TV screens were not retrospectively showing the Pope arriving at Oporto airport but showing his plane right now, at that very moment, leaving Oporto airport. There was his plane on the TV screen and, oh, look, there it was taxiing along the runway before our very eyes. Well, that explained the lack of ash cloud. No way was Vulcan going to be able to defeat God himself!

Finally we were called to board our plane, some twenty minutes late. As we were settling into our seats and the scrabble for places to stow the oversized hand luggage came to an end, the pilot addressed his passengers. He apologised for the delay. Airspace had been closed for some time while the Pope’s plane got on its way. Impressive! Not only does Bento (Portuguese for Benito) arrange for God to hold sway over Vulcan but also over the usually powerful god of airline schedules. Now, that is power indeed!

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Here we go round the mulberry bush!

The other day, as I walked back from the supermarket, taking a shortcut along the unofficial but well-worn path over the grass, I noticed something of interest. Standing by a bench under the trees at the bottom of the little park near our flats were two small boys, busily examining something in a box. As I got closer I could not resist asking them what they had in the box and so they showed me: gusanos de seda – silk worms.

I had never seen them before and somehow they were bigger than I expected, just over an inch long, black and white and very active. Two were in a separate compartment and my small new friends informed me that these two were less active because they were about to turn into chrysalides. Very well-informed little chaps they seemed to be.

They were collecting leaves from the tree and putting them in the box for the w
orms. So, putting two and two together, I jumped to the conclusion that these were mulberry trees. Hold on! Shouldn’t that be mulberry bushes? My English childhood memories had people going round and round the mulberry bush on a cold and frosty morning, never round mulberry trees. And yet these were most definitely trees, not very big ones but trees none the less.

Having also noted on a number of occasions quite a lot of people picking something from said trees – other that leaves for silkworms – I decided it was time to do a quick Google search. Lo and behold, the fruit is regularly used for jams, pies, puddings and desserts of all kinds. Its Spanish name is mora. Now, I was alway
s led to believe that mora was the Spanish for blackberry (the fruit not the phone gadget) so a little more research was called for. If you look up blackberry in the English-Spanish dictionary you find zarazamora. Zarza, by the way, means bramble – link to blackberry. However, if you look up mora in the Spanish-English dictionary, you find … yes, I WAS right … blackberry. Well, there’s a thing. If you look closely at the mulberry, however, it does bear a passing resemblance to a blackberry.

Some other people going round the mulberry bush seem to be the British political leaders. The choice of new Prime minister remains to be made. The Lib Dems must be losing some credibility as they flip and flop from one party to another. Time for a decision, gentlemen, please.

Also going round and round is la nube de cenizas – the ash cloud poured out by the unpronounceable Icelandic volcano – provoking this nice cartoon in the Voz de Galicia newspaper.

The cloud is affecting gallegos as well. Apparently a group of them has been trapped in Paris Charles de Gaulle airport. They set off happily from La Coruña on a cruise on board the Empress, ending up in Le Havre. They were supposed to fly back from Paris to Santiago de Compostela but the cloud put paid to that idea. Presumably they are safely back on good gallego soil by now, but well, you never now.

We are just hoping that the cloud is not hanging around on Friday when we have a flight booked from Oporto to London. Fingers crossed, everyone.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Seizing the opportunity!

I decided that Friday was the day to brave the hairdressers’ once again as the roots were beginning to be a bit too evident. But the volcanic ash cloud brought rain with it on Friday morning and there really is little point in getting yourself all dolled up (hacerse guapa as they say here) only to go and get the new hairdo rained on. But it had stopped raining after lunch, the sun was trying to come out and so I sallied forth.

Hairdressing salons are strange places at the best of times: odd cocooned little worlds where split ends and broken nails are the biggest disasters imaginable. From the hair colour and often extravagant coiffures of some of the stylists you visualise them filling quiet times by experimenting on each other. Anyway, off I went to what has become my regular hairdressers’ here, where they have my chosen hair colour on record and always find it strange that I am happy to keep to that colour and have not yet chosen to do something more adventurous. My stylist this time was Elena, a large girl whose hair is somewhere between aubergine and cerise in colour.

We had our usual discussion about whether or not I was having my eyebrows dyed to match my hair. No, I am quite happy with my eyebrow colour; it never has matched my hair. Worrying about my eyebrow roots showing is a problem I really don’t need, thank you very much. This was followed by offers of un tratamiento (standard stuff really, a sort of super-conditioner, a facemask for your hair), a manicure, ceramic nails, eyebrow plucking.

(Linguistic note: the Spanish have a verb aprovechar whose basic meaning is to profit from, to take advantage. However, like many Spanish verbs it is very flexible in its use. It can mean to exploit but it is also used in the expression ¡Que aproveches! = Enjoy your meal! (Literally, may you benefit from it!) Now, my hairdresser used it over and over to offer the various services available. ¿Aprovechas para …. hacerte un tratamiento/ cortarte el pelo/ hacerte una manicure? She was using it as you might say, “Will you take the opportunity to ….etc?” )

About an hour and a half later I emerged with my hair colour sorted, my eyebrows tidied up (but definitely NOT dyed) and my hair, as usual, rather shorter than I had intended. Nothing drastic but decidedly shorter than I had planned. Now, what is it with hairdressers that changes “Just trim the split ends off” into “Take about an inch off”? Actually I think it’s a kind of revenge for my refusal to read more than one gossip magazine – when really can’t read more than one account of the romance of Prince William and Kate Middleton, the antics of the Monaco royal family, the elegance (?) of the Duquesa de Alba and the scandal about numerous celebrities without your brain atrophying – or to have ceramic nails, even as a freebie!

And that was Friday afternoon over and done with and into the early evening. Before we knew it, it was time to watch La Noche en 24 Horas on TVE which had taken fresh-faced Vicente Vallés to London to cover the British elections and the non-result. Not surprisingly, when it came to seeking the opinion of the man in the street, they were unable to find a single Londoner who spoke Spanish. You would have thought that in London it would be possible! Apparently not! They did find some Spanish tourists who were willing to give their view of things. The first couple they spoke to came from … wait for it … Vigo and the second from Ferrol. I believe I may have said already that Galicia is the centre of the universe!

Later on La Noche en 24 Horas they consulted pundits from Spanish political parties, notable PSOE and PP on their reaction to the British election result situation. The PSOE man was lean-faced, bearded, and very earnest. The PP man could have been a bog-standard British Conservative: round, well-fed looking face, blondish locks combed over to one side, smug expression. Forget about the Celtic genetic connection; there must be a strong Conservative gene around.

Yesterday was a bit of a washout: torrential rain, ordinary rain, a dry spot which I exploited (aprovechar) to nip to the shops, more rain and still more rain. So once again I watched a little bit of TV and saw a short report on the Lehenderaki, the President of the Basque Parliament and his attempts to eradicate the terrorist violence that has dogged his region for so long. Victims of said violence are invited to speak to school children about their experiences, reinforcing the view that terrorists are not necessarily heroic freedom fighters. The report included a Basque poet, Kirmen Uribe, who writes his poetry and reads it in public in both Basque and Castellano. His linguistic stance is that the two languages are not in confrontation but complement each other. Now, I can think of some determined gallego enthusiasts who could benefit (aprovechar) from thinking that way.

Today, Sunday, is dry (so far) despite the forecast rain. The usual sailing school has been out on the bay, with a little motor launch playing sheepdog to the two or three little boats who strayed away from the main flock. Down at the breadshop, my panadera’s husband was trying to persuade an old lady that the volcanic dust cloud really is responsible for the grey clouds in the sky. It was only when he went on to say that of course the cars go faster when it’s windy, provided the wind is behind them, that she began to doubt his word.

In the newspapers online I read that a woman in Italy has been fined for wearing the burqa in public. Her husband has declared that he does not want other men looking at her so, if she can’t wear her burqa, she will just have to stay in! It sounds rather extreme but then I see pictures of the British political party leaders trotting out their wives as electioneering aids and wonder who is the more exploited!

And finally, I wish King Juan Carlos a speedy recovery but feel quite sorry for him. Poor man, he has had to put up with President Zapatero visiting him in hospital today. Heaven forbid that I should ever have a politician call on me in my sickbed!

Friday, 7 May 2010


It would seem that the cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland has made its appearance over Galicia. Maybe that is why the sky is so grey today! The cloud is reported to have been hanging around over the Atlantic for about three days but has now made its way towards Galicia and Portugal. The three gallego airports are keeping an eye on things in case they have to cancel flights. Poor things! There they are struggling to keep three airports going and along comes a cloud of volcanic dust to make life more difficult. They hope, however, that the wind and rain will help it move elsewhere, leaving no permanent problem for Galicia. The reports all get a little technical with discussion of how high up the cloud is and to what extent this affects flights, all rather geeky anorak plane-spotter kind of stuff. I just need it to have moved on by next Friday when we have a flight booked from Oporto (sorry, Galicia’s three airports, you just don’t do the flights I want!) to London.

Meanwhile we are left hanging, rather like a certain parliament – OK, I know the term is “a hung parliament” but I couldn’t resist. I am studiously resisting, however, the temptation to follow the last results of the election as they come in. The great media circus of the televised debates may have helped bring more people out to vote than in elections over the last ten years or more but doesn’t seem to have led to the predicted surge in support for the Liberal Democrats or a landslide victory for Conservatives eithe

Whatever the final result, I wonder if the new government will be able to do anything about a fashion phenomenon that I saw reported in the Guardian newspaper the other day. A young man called Ellis Drummond narrowly escaped being banned from "wearing trousers so low beneath the waistline that members of the public are able to see your underwear". If the asbo had been granted he would have been banned from displaying his underpants anywhere in public in the borough of Bedford.

No, British justice has not gone completely mad; he had been convicted of drugs offences, violence, antisocial activities and being a general nuisance. Despite not being banned from McDonalds, where his low-slung trousers probably fit in quite well, he was gi
ven an asbo banning him from approaching anyone and seeking money or personal items of property belonging to them using threatening words or behaviour, from entering the building or grounds of Bedford College (a public school), and from using threatening, abusive or intimidatory behaviour or encouraging others to do the same. Not just a fashion-offender then!

We have almost all worn clothes which a previous generation found scandalous so it’s reassuring to know that you can’t actually be punished for crimes against fashion. I might have been locked up for the miniskirt
s I wore in my youth. Certainly some of the ladies I see around Vigo at the moment, not all of them so very young either, should be seriously reprimanded at the very least for giving in to the whim to buy and then, more shockingly, actually WEAR tights with outrageous patterns on them, a very “fashionable” item it seems. Now, I am all for coloured stockings but discretion has to be exercised. I was mildly offended by a pair of orange tights this week but the lady I saw yesterday sporting cerise tights, an orange jumper and a bright scarlet bag should probably be condemned to stand in front of a mirror for several years until she learns better!!

By comparison, the low slung trousers are mildly amusing. They seem to be a uni-sex item of clothing but they are probably funnier on young men than on young women. Sometimes it appears to be an excuse to let the world know they wear Calvin Klein undies! However, although I may laugh as I lay bets on how soon one of the wearers will fall flat on his face as his trousers drop to his ankles, I draw the line at the sight of “builders’ cleavages” as young men sit on a wall! A little decorum and restraint, please!

Other kinds of appearances have been commented on in the press here. New official photographs have been made of the Prince and Princess of Asturias, something to do with Prince Felipe having been promoted in the armed services! There is a small controversy surrounding them as some people think they have been photo-shopped, if not digitally enhanced then at least transposing Prince Felipe’s head from one picture to another. I would have thought that were photogenic enough not to need such assistance!

On the subject of promotion in the armed services, I always wonder when I hear about members of
royal families, not just here but everywhere, receiving such honours. Is it the equivalent of an honorary degree? Is it a little like the honorary doctorate that Malaga University has just presented to Antonio Banderas, one of that city’s most famous sons? He did look rather fine, and very pleased, in his silvery grey academic gown and his quite preposterous matching hat!

Another place busy honouring its famous sons is Porriño where they are about to have their own Paseo das Estrelas” to rival the more well known
walk of stars in Hollywood. In honour of the Festival de Cans, a film festival specialising in short films, they are laying paving stones with the names of the stars who have passed their way, complete with handprints just like in Hollywood. First to be honoured are two local gallego boys, Luis Tosar and Ernesto Chao. It’s all a matter of keeping up appearances!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

The things we do for love … of food!

Every two or three weeks we like to get together with our friend Colin from Pontevedra and any other friends who want to come along and have lunch together, usually at some place which is new to one or preferably all of us.

With this in mind and as Colin was coming to Vigo today, last week we asked another friend, Roberto, if he could give us the name and location of a seafood place that we had been to with him last year. It was a bit of a long shot as on that occasion he had had to drive around for a while looking for the muy aut
éntico place that he knew close to La Guía. When he found it we certainly appreciated it but giving us directions to it a year on proved impossible.

So he recommended another place, just as good, he assured us. Once again the name of the restaurant escaped him but he was able to tell us it was in Teis, just up the road from where we live, just opposite the boatyard Factorías Vulcano. Armed with that information we set off to see if we could locate it.

The boatyard was easy enough to find. More or less opposite was a rather scruffy looking café/bar. It didn’t look much but then, Roberto had said it was a bit cutre. However, not wanting to make fools of ourselves by taking our friends to a place that only served the odd sandwich and packet of crisps we took a photo and asked Roberto was that the place he meant.

Well, no, but we were close, he told us. The restaurant was just around the corner. It was quite popular a
nd got rather full at lunchtime. We could really do with booking in advance. It was a pity he couldn’t remember the name.

Now, the road round the corner from the place we had found was a mess. We had looked there and found nothing but we were prepared to give it another try, especially as we had found nowhere else new and interesting to take friends to. This was yesterday evening. We were at the chess club, up at Calvario, more or less the other end of Vigo.

So, knowing that the number 3 bus went into Teis we went to Travesía de Vigo and got on a bus, a number 3.
This bus follows a circular rou
te so we knew that at some point it would get onto Sanjurjo Badía, the main street through Teis. What we didn’t know was that the bus would go almost all the way to Redondela before doubling back to go through Teis. At one point, as we went beyond La Guía, we thought we might end up in Pontevedra.

Eventually however the bus did turn around and head back towards Vigo, back to the right side of La Guía for us and eventually back into familiar territory. In the growing dusk we made our way back to the Factorí
as Vulcano boatyard and explored the rather unprepossessing sidestreet with cars parked on either side, a cul-de-sac without proper pavements.

And there it was, Bar Nisio, a place you could walk past without noticing if, that is, this were the kind of street you might just stroll along.
We went in, checked that they were open at lunchtime today and booked a table for four for today. Just as well we did as the place got rather full while we were there.

It’s one of those Tardis-
like places that look tiny from outside and then when you go in they take you through a corridor and down some stairs into quite a large dining area. As requested last night I had phoned them this morning to let them know which of the “specials” we wanted: a choice between arroz con bogavante, fideos con almejas or cocochas de merluza pilpil. We started though with a selection of shellfish for starters, all freshly caught, they assured us, and certainly very tasty.

Really we could have had just the starters and forgotten about the main course. However, main courses had been orders so we made the great sacrifice of eating our way through them. It was well worth it.

Another successful gastronomic adventure!

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Sailing in and out

This morning a friend of mine posted on Facebook a photo of a trasatlántico sailing into Vigo. This was 8.30 am. By the time I went out to my yoga class the huge boat was already moored in the harbour. It’s a good job the sun was shining nicely.

Yesterday there were two of
them, taking advantage of the extended mooring area for trasatlánticos. According to the newspaper, el Faro de Vigo, some 6,600 people disembarked yesterday, a record for the number of visitors coming into the city from cruise ships in one day. So the mayor must be quite pleased with the work extending the harbour which has made this possible.

Not all of the passengers stay in Vigo, of course. Some head off for a day out in Santiago de Compostela or take advantage of the services offered by a friend of ours to have a private guided tour of the region. But enough must hang around in Vigo to spend money in shops, bars and restaurants.

The ladies of the painting class were discussing the cost of such cruises last week. Some felt that they did not fancy the idea at all and felt that the cost might be prohibitive. Others though, assured them that there are plenty of special offers. Besides, commented one, if you started paying by instalments plenty of time in advance it was quite feasible, Paying €50 a month, when you finally setoff on your cruise it would feel as though you were going for free. Even in these times of crisis it should be possible, it seems, to offer yourself a treat.

Now one group who don’t seem to be suffering from the crisis must be the un-named bank which has hired the only cruise liner based in Vigo for a few days in May. The boat Grand Voyager should have been setting off from Vigo on May 26th on a cruise with stops at Lisbon, Portimao, Casablanca, Tangiers and Cadiz. However, one of the banks has decided that they would like to have their annual meetings on board the ship as a way of rewarding their best workers and getting some business done at the same time.

As they are planning to have lots of meetings going on they don’t need to schedule tourist stops anywhere and will be out at sea for the whole time. They will, however, make full use of all the facilities on board.

Now, I wonder what level of employee gets to go on the cruise.

Monday, 3 May 2010

The importance of headgear!

After all the discussion recently about the wearing or not of the Moslem hijab, with imams preaching about it in mosques almost all over Spain, I came across some interesting comments about headgear in the local press. It even included a series of photos showing one of the traditional ways of fastening the pano, the Galician headscarf which is part of the “national” costume. I was somewhat surprised at how very similar it is to the hijab. Mind you, there are only so many ways you can tie a headscarf so it's not really so surprising.

It appears that traditionally men were supposed to remove their hats in church while women were meant to keep their heads covered. Now, I
can remember that being the case in protestant churches in England as well, except that as women started to wear hats rather than headscarves there was some talk about there being too much competition to see who could wear the finest, fanciest hat! So what may or may not have begun as a way of covering women's hair and preventing them from distracting the men from their prayers became an even greater form of distraction.

Some people even go so far as to say that the headscarf was a means of suppressing womankind, making them conform to rules and regulations imposed by men: the same argument which one hears about the hijab. In some cases women were expected to have their heads covered whenev
er they left the house. (But then, my grandmother felt that if she left the house without her hat she might as well go out naked!) What is clear is that the headscarf was associated with mourning, with clearly demarcated periods dictating which colour of headscarf could be worn at different stages of luto: darkest black to begin with and going through shades of purple and mauve.

The way of knotting the headscarf was also significant. It could vary according to whether the woman was married or single and different regions had different styles of tying their scarves. And sometimes the scarf would be worn in a particular way to make it more comfortable for women to carry bundles, boxes and buckets on their heads!

One explanation for the decline in the wearing of the headscarf is that returning emigrant women, having got used to different ways while working in other countries, never got back into the habit of wearing the headscarf when they returned to Galicia. Other people say,
however, that the main cause is the ubiquitous peaked cap, baseball style, typically bearing the logo of some company or product.

This is also blamed for the demise of the boina, the black beret which you do still see (mostly older) chaps wearing around here - and in almost any part of northern Spain. Apparently the baseball cap stays on better in wind or when you have to bend down to work in the fields. But the older gentlemen complain that the boina is becoming hard to find. Supply and demand, I suppose. If fewer people are buying them, then fewer shops will sell them.

I am quite a fan of the beret myself and have a collection in a range of colours which I wear through the winter time. However, I don't suppose the ones I buy from shops like H & M or Sfera will really be satisfactory for a good old gallego traditionalist.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

A question of time.

Yesterday evening we once again sat outside La Porchaba, having once again managed to time things exactly right to find a table free, sipping glasses of Rioja and eating garlic mushrooms, reflecting on how pleasant it is to be able to do just that. Life definitely seems to run at a different pace here. This may, of course, be because we do not have any pressure to get up and rush off to work every morning but I’m not entirely convinced that that is the whole story.

In yesterday’s paper I found an item about television with the title “El Porno, prohibido en la television”. Reading the article, it became clear that what they were talking about was gratuitous violence and pornographic content in series, films, TV programmes in general; such scenes will be banned by law from now on. It went on to say that content considered harmful to children would be banned until after 10 o’ clock in the evening. I seem to remember all of that being dealt with years ago in the UK.

It is significant though that the watershed is an hour later here than in the UK. Children here stay up later. People finish work later and eat later in the evening so it’s only to be expected that children are around that bit longer. Some Irish friends of ours were commenting that it is quite hard for their children to really get to know other children in the block as they want their 5 and 7 year olds to be tucked up in bed by 8.30 (and they think that’s rather late) whereas many of the other children in our block are just going outside to play at that time. And it’s true that as the evenings grow longer you hear them out there progressively later and later.

Another thing mentioned in the newspaper article was advertising. This wonderful aspect of modern life is being limited to 20 minutes per hour. Yes, that’s TWENTY minutes per hour!!!! They were thinking of a limit of 29 minutes per hour. Imagine almost 50% adverts. Already there are occasions when you have to sit through about 10 minutes of continual adverts before a television programme begins. What I really like are the series that begin with a recap (“ previously in …”) and then have five minutes of adverts before they even show the opening credits. Oh, thank heavens for the BBC.

Getting back to sitting outside La Porchaba yesterday, we witnessed the first example of road rage that we have seen in this country. No doubt it happens but it does seem less prevalent than in the UK. Some say that all the pipping of the horn releases the tension and obviates the need for road rage. Be that as it may, we saw someone screech to a halt as he came out of Calle Oporto because the driver on Rosalía de Castro did not immediately stop to give way to him. Giving way on what appears to be a major road to traffic coming in from the right from what looks like a minor road has always seemed a silly idea to me.

Anyway, both cars stopped, no collision occurred and both cars were pipping away. The aggrieved driver from Calle Oporto wound his window down and gave the other driver considerable earache. He then opened his door, stepped out, went over to the other car and wrenched the passenger door open so that he could shout more directly at the driver. Lots of verbal abuse ensued and everyone stopped drinking to watch with interest. However, it all came to nothing, no actual violence took place, the driver returned to his vehicle and both cars went on their way. And some people wonder why I don’t want to drive in Vigo!!

This morning’s paper had the usual reports of accidents, a large number of them fatal. Here is a link to a map which shows the location of fatal accidents in Galicia in 2010 so far. Rather a lot of them!

Interestingly enough there are still reports of deaths that could have been avoided had the people in the car been wearing their seat belts!!! And then there are the drivers who have an excessive amount of alcohol in their blood steam!

Time to use those 20 minutes per hour of advertising space to good effect if you ask me!