Wednesday, 30 June 2010

It’s a small world around the pool.

I understand from friends back in the UK that they have been having some fine weather over there, so much so in fact that there has been talk of hosepipe bans. Perhaps it’s part of a ploy to make people believe that the weather is much hotter and drier than it really is. Certainly there rarely seems to be a need for hosepipe bans here even when we have a couple of weeks of sunshine on the run. Pepe, our caretaker, gardener, general odd-job man doesn’t appear to have any qualms about putting the sprinklers on in the morning.

We don’t actually need persuading that the weather is good here, not at the moment anyway. I’ll wait until later in the year to see whether the locals are satisfied with it. I have been told many times that last year we didn’t really have a summer. They don’t believe me when I say it was about 100% better than most summers I have known in the Northwest of England.

We've reached that dead time of the year when many Vigueses disappear from the city to spend at least part of the summer in their pueblo or in their place nearer the beach. Schools have closed for the summer. Activities organised by Asociaciones de Vecinos come to an end and the library puts its various clubs and groups on hold until the end of September. So there's no reason not to spend time on the pool, provided the weather is warm enough.

Certainly it was warm enough yesterday evening for a group of youngsters, aged about 10 from the look of them, to rush down to the pool at about 10 o’ clock for a last mess-around in the water, maybe celebrating Spain’s football victory over Portugal!

Earlier yesterday I had once again waited until the children had got over their morning shenanigans in the pool before I went down for a swim. When I got into the water there was only a grandfather teaching his small granddaughter to swim and two girls aged about 15 who seemed to be practising for a synchronised swimming competition or water ballet as the old chap described it to his granddaughter. Eventually the swimming lesson came to an end, the synchronised swimmers went off for a rest and there was just me, quietly swimming to and fro as usual.

A little while later a small boy who had been busily playing football removed his football kit and leapt into the water. His mother had just arrived and set up her folding chair at the poolside which was the signal to him that it was all right to get into the water. There seem to be two schools of thought here about children in the pool. Some parents appear to be quite happy that their children, confident swimmers, can mess around in the pool unsupervised while others prefer to be there, no matter how well their offspring can swim. Now, me, I’m in agreement with the latter group but it must be hard for those children to resist the temptation to join the unsupervised mass in the water.

After I had swum up and down the pool enough times I went and sat in the sun for a while, close to a handy tree so that I could retreat into the shade at will. I watched the supervised child swimming around, jumping and diving and generally having fun until his mother made him come out and shower. He then employed the strategy of accidentally kicking his football into the water, not once but several times, so that he HAD to jump back in and retrieve it.

As I was heading back indoor for lunch I commented to his mother that he clearly didn’t want to leave the water. We got chatting and she asked where I am from and what I am doing here, the usual sort of conversation. And then she said, “Pero te conozco” (But I know you). After a moment’s reflection she went on, “Por Juani”. When she told me her name, Dulce, I remembered as well.

One evening back in October, Juani from the book club at the library had suggested I go with her to La Casa del Libro, the excellent bookshop in Vigo centre, where someone was “presenting” a book, in other words giving a talk about a book in the basement conference room of the bookshop. As the book was Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, an old favourite of mine recently out in a new translation into Spanish, I went along. There we met Juani’s friend Dulce, a primary school English teacher.

That same Dulce turns out to be a neighbour. The water loving child is her son David. It’s a small world or, as the Spaniards like to say, the world is a handkerchief!

Sunday, 27 June 2010


It was good to be up early today, well, early by our standards, anyway. My chess player was off to an early start, so we were up and about by 8. After a quick breakfast I sent him on his way and then took a leisurely stroll down to the baker’s shop to buy bread for later.

Then, like a Victorian lady, I dealt with my correspondence. Now, she would have been writing letters at an elegant desk, whereas I was checking
my email. Well, it is the 21st century, after all. My niece, who has obviously decided that there is no point in paying anyone to translate stuff for her when she has an aunt who speaks several languages, had sent me a really boring document on VAT which she needed translating double quick.

Having done my family duty I felt it was still early enough to go for a longer stroll before the day heated up too much, as it was promising to do. So it was off to the Castro for me. As I walked along an almost empty García Barbón I reflected on the benefits of NOT having Sunday shopping. I know some people enjoy the convenience of being able to do the supermarket shop then but Sunday morning is wonderfully peaceful when all the shops bar bakeries are shut. When I got up to Rua Venezuela I saw another advantage. A cycle race was taking place but because it was Sunday the disruption to traffic was minimal.

From the top of the Castro it was difficult to see the Islas Cíes, still somewhat shrouded in mist, but the view was still worth the climb. Huge numbers of little boats were out aprovechando del día as they say.

I headed down towards the port where the c
ollection of classic cars (and replica classic cars) which was there yesterday had disappeared. After admiring them yesterday I looked up but their website was singularly uninformative, really little more than a collection of pictures. The cars, though, were a pleasure to see.

Walking home past all the boats, I was feeling peckish after my longish walk and treated myself to an ice cream. As my chess player was due to be out until mid-afternoon at least, we would be eating late. According to my Italian teacher it is quite acceptable to replace a meal with an ice cream, perfectly nutritious. What’s good for the Italians is good for me!

A little f
arther along the waterfront a brass band was playing and people sat on folding chairs listening to them. Once again “la mar de bandas” is putting on its summer programme. Every Sunday a different band plays; today it was the turn of La Banda Joven Las Delicias. Very good they were too. There is a nice little play on words in the programme title. If you are “la mar de contento” you are very happy. So it suggests lots of bands but la mar means the sea and, of course, the bands on this programme are playing within throwing distance of the sea.

I got home in time to have a swim before the immense number of children who inhabit our flats invaded the pool. I have nothing against children having fun but I really do prefer not having my quiet swim disrupted. Today there was just me and another lady, very pleasant.

As I dried off after my swim, my phone rang. It was my chess player telling me he had won a prize and was on his way home. His prize money paid his entry fee and his travel expenses and still left some over for a couple of beers; did I fancy joining him? Yes, of course. So I sorted myself out and set off for the Maracaibo cafeteria on Plaza de Compostela.

By the time I got there, one of the party had given in and was having his siesta on a café chair, snoring gently. No post match analysis for him then! He had been complaining of feeling tired earlier on the week. Finally it had caught up with him.

Inside the cafeteria the England-Germany football match was on the television. Every so often I would hear a shout, more of a groan than a celebration. Germany was scoring and a group of English tourists was watching the debacle. They were getting very stressed out by the referee’s refusal to accept the second England goal. Whether it was the demoralising effect of that or just general bad performance I really don’t know. Whatever the reason, the final score was Germany 4 – England 1. Lots of long faces.

Time to pretend I’m Spanish maybe!!

Friday, 25 June 2010

On lunch, misty weather and football.

Yesterday I had lunch at the Marco museum restaurant on Príncipe. Marco is the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, opened in 2002 in a building that used to be a prison which was built in 1861 in what I understand is the Portuguese style. It's a nice little art gallery, cool on a hot day and changing its exhibitions fairly frequently.

The cafetería/restaur
ant is one of the few places in Vigo where you can eat completely smoke-free, which is always a bonus. The food is good, presented in a rather arty, nouvelle cuisine sort of way, but what else do you expect from an art gallery? The desserts are picturesque but rather small. The prices are quite reasonable, however, unlike the Parador Hostal dos Reis Católicos in Santiago.

I just recently saw an advertisement in the Telegraph online for bargain breaks in Santiago: flights with RyanAir from Stanstead to Santiago from £44 return, a bargain I won't disagree with, and a double room in the Parador from £238 per night and
breakfast from £17. Maybe Telegraph readers have a different idea of a bargain! I didn't pay their breakfast price for my whole lunch at the Marco.

The Marco, because of the steps leading up to the entrance tend to become a focal point for demonstrations; the other evening it was a pro-abortion women's lib protest group.

Then there are the musical acts that use it as an impromptu stage. Sometimes it
's a gaita player with some traditional gallego dancers. Yesterday it was band from one of the French-speaking parts of Africa.

Today t
he misty weather has still been around. It had just about cleared at our end of Vigo, the Teis end, this morning when I went out for a drive to Samil with my friend Brendan and his little boy, who showed off his cycling prowess for usa At Samil though the mist was still dense, almost dense enough to be called fog.

It hasn't kept me out of the pool however, still choosing my moments when there is room to plod up and down without being accidentally jumped on by enthusiastic children. This afternoon, however, there was no need of such caution. Not long after 5.30 the pool and its surrounding area emptied, as if by magic.

My friend Gill and her children were the only ones in the pool apart from me. The reason? Not the weather because the sun had come out. Maybe Spain playing Chile at football explained it. In the last half hour I have been treated to the sound of cheers from the flat next door, followed by a cry of G-O-O-O-O-O-L through their open window. Checking online I see that Spain is beating Chile 2-1.

La selección has obviously got its act back together!

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Everything comes to those who wait.

It's been an odd sort of day. At some point late in the morning I noticed that sea mist was moving in up the estuary. I watched Moaña disappear under a blanket of cloud even though the sky above was bright blue and the sun was still shining. It's come and gone all day. Now in the early evening it looks as though someone has spread filaments of some strange gauze over the hills opposite.

As the great chess tournament is still under way we followed our usual routine and I left my chess player at his pick-up point. Today he is playing the youngest chess grandmaster in the world, only 15 years old. How do you get to be a grandmaster at 15? The child must undoubtedly be some kind of genius but just to qualify he must have done almost nothing but play chess all his life!!! One of our resident chess bigwigs says that this young man, Jorge Cori, is one of the up and coming BIG names in chess and that if my Phil puts up even a halfway decent performance today he will be able to say, at some time in the future when young Jorge is about to become world champion, “Of course, I played him when he was only 15 and …...”

Be that as it
may, I wished the chess players luck and buen viaje and set off by a roundabout route to visit Castrelos Park, one of Vigo's “green lungs”. I am sure that whoever invented that term meant well but it really brings strange and not always attractive images to mind, which is a pity when the green lung in question is as impressive as Castrelos Park. Mind you it was very green today!

Having walked a fair distance to the park and then back onto Gran Vía, I felt justified in catching bus back most of the way home, especially as I had decided that the pool was calling
me. So I hopped on a number 3 bus which would take me eventually along Travesía de Vigo and from there I could cross the bridge over the motorway and be home in no time. However, I somehow managed to get off the bus about three stops too soon and had a stretch of Travesía de Vigo to walk before getting to the bridge. I was feeling rather annoyed with myself until I spotted outside a florist's shop something I have been looking for since we arrived in this Galician town in September 2009: a pot of basil which now sits on my kitchen window ledge.

In our early weeks here, finding it was not on sale in the supermarkets in the way it is in the UK, I spent quite a bit of time hunting for basil. It was not until around 6 months ago that I found that some of the supermarkets
had started selling overpriced packets with a few sprigs of fresh basil which quickly dried up. So I was extremely pleased to find pots of basil on sale for the HUGE price of €1.85 and went straight in to buy one. The florist went into raptures about the smell of basil (you either love it or hate – I am of the former persuasion, as you might guess) and we spent a happy few minutes swapping recipe ideas and being generally enthusiastic about basil. She even assured me that a basil plant will keep mosquitoes away, or so her mother told her. I have my doubts, personally. It certainly does not work with Italian mosquitoes as we discovered once when we stayed at a place with a huge basil bush on the balcony; we still got seriously bitten.

Having bought my basil plant, I made my happy way homewards in plenty of time for a swim in the pool, miraculously empty this afternoon. Yesterday afternoon one of the children in the block, Elena, was having a birthday party, most of which took place in the pool. I leave to your imagination the squeals and shouts, the running and jumping in, the dive-bombing (jumping in holding your knees so that you go in bottom first creating HUGE splashes) and ducking that went on. I did yesterday's swim in two shifts, one before the fun started and one after they all went off for pizza and fizzy drinks. It's a good job I had a good book to read in the interim. No such problems today though, just myself and two other ladies sedately swimming to and fro.

And then I discovered that England had managed to defeat Slovenia at football. Well, thank goodness for that. Otherwise the selección inglesa would have been packing its bags and heading for home like the French team. If you wait long enough, things work out!

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Health and Safety, anyone?

The summer solstice having come and gone, the days will start to get progressively shorter but we still have a lot to look forward to. On Thursday it is the fiesta de San Juan when bonfires are lit all over the place and jumped over at some late point in the evening. Now, that always seems to me to be rather a pagan ritual, possibly something to do with the summer solstice. Has Saint John had his name added to it to give it an air of Christian respectability? Hmmmm, I wonder! It's also the evening when the streets smell of grilled sardines as the Spanish love of the barbecue and the Galician love of eating just about any creature that comes out of the sea combine together to organise grilling sardines out of doors. Brilliant!

This year though it seems that health and safety, so over-prevalent in the UK and so largely ignored here, has hit the fiesta scene. Certainly in the Vigo area it is now necessary to get permission in advance to have a bonfire. Not only that but you have to apply for that permission 15 days before the Noche de San Juan. That's two whole weeks!!! What happened to procrastination and Spanish last-minutism? Imagine if you tried to put those restrictions on bonfires for Guy Fawkes Night!

The bonfire itself must be built two days before the Noche de San Juan. Well, that would not cause a problem for the 5th of November bonfires. I remember having ours built weeks in advance and the main worry being that some poor unsuspecting hedgehog might have chosen to hibernate in it. Roast hedgehog anyone? No, better a baked potato or two!

The bonfire must be no more than 8 metres in diameter and three metres high. Wow, that is quite big! No, I don't fancy jumping over that, no matter how much good fortune it might bring me.

It must be 12 metres away from any building or any other stuff that might catch fire. A sensible precaution but who goes round to inspect all this stuff.

Finally, there is to be no burning of tyres or oil or any other horrible toxic rubbish. A few years ago I was in La Coruña for this fiesta. Walking along the paseo marítimo next to Riazor beach I watched bonfires being built, definitely 12 metres away from any building but much less than that distance away from each other. (I had visions on the more unstable ones toppling into one another and causing general mayhem.) Groups of (mainly) boys and (occasional) girls had commandeered supermarket trolleys to bring the makings of their bonfires to the beach. As the only way down to the beach is via sets of steps it was a fairly easy matter to police what was allowed down and as the afternoon wore on their were collections of abandoned sofas and armchairs which optimistic souls had wheeled down the hill but did not have the heart to push back up again.

Of course, another aspect of the Noche de San Juan is that is one huge semi-legalised botellón, with large numbers of people gathered in public places to eat (most likely sardines but also pizza and all the other typical botellón snacks) and drink (lots of alcohol). They had better take advantage of ithis year because there are rumblings of actions to prohibit this fenómeno social which has turned into un problema social.

There are moves afoot by Mr Feijoo and the Xunta to prohibit under-18s from participating in the botellón, as a way of putting a stop to under-age drinking, or at least putting a brake on it, in the face of increasing numbers of young alcoholics. They also want to put a stop to la hora feliz, the so called Happy Hour imported from the UK, and special offers on drinks – two for the price of one and so on. It sounds like a familiar story.

I don't suppose it will manage to put a damper on the Noche de San Juan. Neither, by all accounts will the weather. According to one report this, year we are due to have one of the hottest and driest summers for a good while. Well, it was the coldest and wettest winter so it's only fair that the situation should be reversed.

Enjoy your sardines and be careful jumping over those bonfires!

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Austerity measures.

This week my husband is playing in a chess congress in Sanxenxo, a small place on the coast near Pontevedra. A number of players from the UK are playing and staying there. They will be able to take advantage of the excellent weather by going to the beach in the morning as they don’t start playing until about five in the afternoon. Very civilised!

There is a small group of Vigo chess players who travel there every day by car. One of these is my husband. We have our little routine when he plays in a congress: early lunch, pack the necessaries – bottle of water, flask of coffee, banana and chocolate for instant energy, earplugs in case the venue is noisy – and walk together to his pick-up point, after which I go off for a walk or to meet up with friends.

Yesterday, as we waited for the driver to get his car out of the garage, one of the players remarked on the fact that there are fewer chess congresses in Galicia this year than last. It’s one of the consequences of la crisis. As small businesses pull in their horns they offer less sponsorship to activities such as chess congresses. Less sponsorship means less prize money means fewer congresses. This led to a general lamenting about chess not being recognised as a sport and the difficulty professional chess players have in earning a living.

Then one of the players said he even feels guilty if he wins a prize at a congress because he may be inadvertently taking that money from someone who relies on winning to earn a living. “Le estoy robando el pan de todos los días – I’m stealing his daily bread.” Well now, that’s a very noble sentiment but does anyone force the professional chess players to make their living that way? Couldn’t they also have another job? On that basis you should never accept a job of any kind because you would be preventing someone else from holding that position. Of course, there is a solution for this noble-minded chess player. He could give away the money and just take the glory of winning!

Someone else who seems to be taking economy measures in la crisis is Princess Letizia, future queen of Spain. I see from an article in El Faro de Vigo that it has also been noted that she has “repeated” her outfits. Some dresses have been worn as many as EIGHT times in public!! What are things coming to? She’s not the only one either. Princesses from the Danish, Swedish, Belgian and Dutch royal families have been known to wear their outfits more than once. Here in Spain Queen Sofía and her daughters have even, by all accounts, shared their wardrobes. That’s very commendable. Many daughters would refuse to wear their mother’s clothes. None of them has gone as far as Queen Margarita of Denmark, however, who is even said to sew some of her own clothes.

Mind you, even though there are reports of the princess setting such a good example, some magazines still comment on the amount of money she spends on clothes: €20,000 a month according to one (unconfirmed) report. She’s clearly not buying HER clothes from H & M then!

Once more on the positive side, Letizia has also been praised for looking extremely elegant at a recent royal wedding somewhere in Scandinavia I believe. Now, that gives everyone something to be proud of while la selección is not doing very well on the football field!

Thursday, 17 June 2010

High drama at the pool.

There I was quietly swimming to and fro, doing lengths of the pool at the end of the morning, almost the afternoon. I had been to yoga as usual, this being Thursday morning, but we had not done anything very energetic. Loli had made us learn a series of relaxation routines and we had done a range of breathing exercises, with lots of encouragement to “abrir el pecho”. There really is a limit,however, to how far down and back my shoulders can go before I fall over backwards. Anyway, we had not expended a great deal of energy and I felt the need for a bit more exercise.

So when I got home, I put on my swimsuit, gathered my towel and other necessary paraphernalia and headed down to the pool. As it was still rather early I had the pool to myself more or less: something of a luxury. Later in the afternoon it's usually full of smallish boys having races, even smaller ones learning to swim and bigger ones showing off their prowess at doing handstands underwater, to impress the girls, of course. But at that time of day, with shadow still on the pool, I had it to myself, apart from one sunbather who put her foot in the water and thought better of it and one other lady swimmer who did two lengths and then retired.

So, as I said, there I was swimming to and fro, feeling rather like the dormouse in Alice in Wonderland. I am not a very strong swimmer. I do a rather pedestrian (if you can use that word to describe swimming) breast stroke and occasionally float on my back. I am happiest when I know I can put my foot down without my head being underwater if I get in a panic. Our fairly small, kidney shaped pool, deep enough to swim but not to get out of your depth, is perfect for me. I swim round and round, not unlike the dormouse swimming round and round in Alice's tears.

So,there I was, in the pool, swimming along, when I heard a scream, shortly followed by a rather distinct splat. Time to out my foot down and find out what was going on. A lady was looking out of a sixth floor window and shouting, “¡Se tiró Kitty!” And, indeed, there was a small tortoiseshell cat, looking confused but jumping around, still able to move then. Phew!

We told the screaming lady we could see where the cat was and that it appeared to be OK. A young man who had done a few lengths of the pool and given up before I went down (I saw him from our window) bravely climbed over the fence and tied to catch Kitty. She was having none of it and allowed no-one near until her rather tearful owner managed to pick her up. Despite the tears and the obvious panic of the owner who let her cat jump out of the window, Kitty appeared to have used up one of her nine lives and come away unscathed.

As for me, I went back to doing dormouse impressions for a while longer and then went in for lunch.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Getting your own back.

We set off for a walk this afternoon and went past numerous bars where football fans were anxiously watching Spain play Switzerland. Not even very anxiously really. After all, who has heard much about Switzerland and great football? The selección española has, after all, already won the European Championship. There were Spanish flags all over the place, women fans wearing headscarves in the Spanish colours and tiny boys with their dads in matching Spain tee-shirts. One bar even had its huge TV perched on the wall of the terraza in the shade so that everyone could watch the match outdoors.

Our walk took us on a roundabout route to the chess club and we called in at the Café Monaco on the corner five minutes before the end of the match. Spain was losing 0-1. Despite various corners and valiant attempts to even up the score, they never managed to catch up. Two fans in the café almost burst into tears on the spot. Nobody wanted to stay for the analisis pos-partido.

On our way home later we saw many a long face and very few smiles. Groups of disconsolate fans sat on benches, their red and yellow flags trailing on the ground. How are the mighty fallen! Well, I suppose it makes up for those people who laughed at England only managing to draw against the USA!

On a brighter note for Spain, it seems that there might be justice after all. At the very least sentimentality rules, OK! Iria Creo Abeijón, the lady driver whose catapult was confiscated has been heard to say, «Estoy supercontenta, contentísima. Estoy encantada de la vida».

She went to the police station and pleaded for the return of her « dangerous weapon », but to no avail. Even her grandmother declaring, «Se teu avó soubese isto...» (If your granddad knew about this …) made no difference. But then her boyfriend, who was driving the car at the time of the confiscation, had a phone call saying they could go and collect it.

Power of the press? Maybe! It rather looks as though the article in La Voz de Galicia made a difference to people in uniform getting too big for their boots. The policeman who returned the offending tirachinas apologised, waived the fine, said that he could not understand how it had happened and suggested that maybe it had all been a joke.

All’s well that ends well, at least as far as the lady driver is concerned. I wonder if the same will happen to la selección!

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

From a different angle!

Last night in the French book club we talked about this and that, as usual, anything and everything except the book that everyone is supposed to have read. This was just as well since, as an unofficial, i.e. illegal member of the club I am not entitled to a copy of the book and so have not read it.

Somehow the conversation worked its way around to Belgium. One of the ladies had just returned from there and was rather indignant. It turns out that in that small country there are people who do not speak French, which the visiting lady wanted to practise. No, those awkward Belgians insisted on speaking something else, their other official language: Flemish!

How terrible! People who felt proud enough of their language to want to speak it rather than French! They felt that n their part of the country French was an imposition. Flemish was their birth language and they insisted on speaking it. To the visiting lady’s horror she found that they even wanted to have road signs in it. I wouldn’t be surprised if they insisted on their children to being educated in it.!

Now that sounds a little bit familiar, doesn’t it? Ironically the lady who was so shocked by this occurrence is the same one who was insisting only a few months ago that EVERYONE living in Galicia should be obliged to learn gallego. She is the one who told us that gallego is an older, more lyrical language than castellano, in every way superior and allowing one to express ideas that cannot be expressed so well in any other language.

We pointed out to her that these Flemish speakers were just a little like some gallego/catalan/ basque even Welsh speakers. She clearly was not impressed.

Comments about the boot being on the other foot and sauce for geese and ganders spring to mind!!

Monday, 14 June 2010

On cars and cows and such.

Walking up the road to the railway station recently, I could not help noticing how many of the cars parked at the roadside had bumps, bangs, dents and scratches. Since then I have kept a lookout whenever I go past a line of parked cars. As a rule somewhere between ⅔ and ¾ of cars have been in a collision of some kind: sometimes just a little scratch on the bumper but fairly often rather more than that. Now, I would be really upset if my otherwise smart-looking vehicle had a scratch along one side, a dented wing or a scraped bumper. It’s a good job I don’t have a car here then.

Mind you, you only have to watch people parking around here to realise that such a state of affairs is not really surprising. A driver finds a space (and they are very elusive, it has to be admitted) and eases himself in. If there is a rubbish container in the way he just nudges it along, probably pushing it into someone else’s car as he goes. Often cars are parked in extremely narrow streets where it is necessary to squeeze up close to the wall in order to let other cars get past. No wonder there are scrapes and scratches!

It is quite possible park quite close to a corner and then return to find that someone else has parked directly behind you, about two centimetres behind you in fact, in order to prevent his car from sticking out too much into the road. How do you get out of that parking space then? Not the other driver’s problem! I watched one lady driver in that situation take a photo of the parking situation, leave a note on the other driver’s windscreen and then proceed to wriggle her way out of the parking space. Presumably she had to “nudge” the other car just a little to manage to get out.

Perhaps this goes some way to explaining why Pontevedra province has the most expensive car insurance in Spain, according to the free paper 20 Minutos. Of course, it’s not just to do with parking. The newspaper article tells us that in Galicia as a whole the accident rate is 22% higher than in the rest of Spain and that Pontevedra province occupies the highest position in el ranking de accidentes. Lots of these accidents, as you might expect, involve young drivers but it seems that whereas in the rest of Spain the risk of having an accident tends to go down among drivers aged 35 and over, in Galicia it doesn’t make a lot of difference. In driving gallegos are forever young!

Some people, like a lady driver from La Coruña, hang good luck charms from their rear-view mirror, a practice I have never quite understood. Dangling distracters are surely more likely to cause accidents than prevent them! Anyway, this lady driver from La Coruña had a catapult hanging from her mirror. Her grandfather had made this wooden catapult (un tirachinas – a lovely word, a pebble-thrower or possibly a Chinawoman-thrower!) some 23 years ago and, having got beyond the stage of firing pebbles at tin cans, the lady driver hung it in her car alongside a rosary and a keyring from the Guggenheim in Bilbao. This was obviously a seriously dangly mess hanging from her mirror.

Well, one day her boyfriend dropped her off at work and as he drove back was stopped by the police, who checked his papers and gave the vehicle the once-over. Finding nothing wrong with the car, they spotted the catapult and confiscated it. Carrying a dangerous weapon is an offence and a tirachinas counts as a dangerous weapon! He gave them the sob story about grandad carving the catapult and his girlfriend’s sentimental attachment to said dangerous weapon but all to no avail. They have to pay a 30€ fine and still don’t know whether the confiscated tirachinas will be returned to them.

Finally, here is a novel way of acquiring a new car. In a place called A Penafita early last week, for the third year running, they had a lottery with the delightful name of Caca de Vaca (Cow Pooh). A field was divided into small numbered plots and lottery tickets were sold with the corresponding numbers. Eight cows, labelled with the names of World Cup football teams and various Spanish radio stations were let loose on the field to do what cows do so often. If a cow left its calling card on the plot whose number you had purchased, you won a prize. The “English” cow tried to get disqualified by marking two plots. The “Spanish”/Radio Voz cow kept everyone waiting for almost two hours – typically Spanish some might say – but rewarded the owner of ticket number 1347 with the big prize: a brand new car! How long before it gets scratched?

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Ups and downs … of the barometer!

After something of a struggle this morning, the sun has finally got his hat on and is coming out to play. There are still some clouds around but there’s a good deal more blue in the sky than we have seen for several days, most of the week in fact. Some people even had their winter coats and boots back on yesterday, which seemed to me to be rather excessive. Residents of very long standing here obviously have a different perception of cold. It’s not been what I would call cold, just dull and occasionally rainy.

The main problem for most people seems to be the extreme contrast as we went from full blown summer weather to late winter/early spring overnight. I would blame it on my having made gazpacho, something which usually works like a real temperature reducing spell, but we did manage to have several days more sunshine after I made the gazpacho and before the weather changed. And anyway I put it away in the freezer as the grandchildren who were about to arrive would all turn their noses up at it.

It was just as well that the good weather did continue for a while as we had promised the grandchildren that they could play in the pool while they stayed with us. And, yes, they did manage to do so and it was a great success. Everyone stayed in the pool until their finger-ends turned wrinkly. What probably did for the sunshine was inviting some friends to bring their children round to join in the fun.

They duly arrived with swimsuits, towels, armbands and all the rest of the paraphernalia needed for fun in the pool with small children. The day which had been changeable from the start took a serious downturn in the late afternoon. I watched little Rafa take a running jump into the water. His gleeful smile turned to a grimace of horror as he hit the water and felt the temperature. As a matter of fact it wasn’t too bad provided you kept moving but it was clearly a shock to his small system. And so, after the bigger kids had braved it for a while longer, we retreated first to the playground and then indoors for pizza and crisps.

It would seem, though, that Vigo has come off quite lightly once again. I read in the paper this morning that they are thinking of declaring A Mariña on the Lugo coast a zona catastrófica because of the damage caused by the storms and torrential rain. Much of the north coast has been similarly battered. Places like Ribadavia have been flooded and I am told that they have had temperatures of 6-7° in Orense, where they were up to 30+° just over a week ago. And here we were complaining because a bit of rain stopped us doing a trip to the Islas Cíes!!

Looking at my geeks’ weather chart on my computer, however, I notice that we had far more days of sunshine and fine weather in May and June last year than this.

I feel rather sorry for all the fin de curso parties and excursions being planned by schools as the end of the school year approaches. The small daughter of some friends of ours is off on a camping trip with her class this weekend. Most of the northern half of Spain is still on alert for rainy weather but apparently southwest Galicia should see fewer showers than most places. So maybe they’ll get away with it. Otherwise, poor kids! And poor teachers if they have to deal with 20+ wet 7 year olds under canvas!

Thursday, 3 June 2010

At the airport.

This morning I was back in Portugal meeting my daughter and her children. A brisk walk to the bus station got me onto an early bus and then I had a longish wait at Oporto airport.

Waiting for people to arrive at an airport is a strange experience. I felt like a kind of voyeur watching the other temporary residents
of this unreal space. In the café there was a couple having an emotional reunion. A young girl positively bounced for joy at being met by a man who I suppose was her father. Some people ate croissants and pastries with evident delight. Others just looked bored. One small girl got rather fractious but Sa Caneiro is a small airport and there are rarely crowds of squabbling families.

Outside the airport this morning someone had organ
ised a children’s activity area on the grass. There was a bouncy castle, climbing frames, an obstacle course, a climbing wall and a sort of suspension bridge for older youngsters.

Monitors dressed in superhero suits
or perhaps elf outfits supervised proceedings. They must have felt rather hot, as well as silly, in their fancy padded outfits.

In one section easels were set up for those who felt creative and a tent was set up at the end of the grass was devoted to Lettura Divertida, presumably intending for someone to read stories to children. A monster size book decorated the entrance but at 11.00 am there were no takers.

The sign at th
e front indicated that they intended to look after the world but gave no information on who was organising it.

Eventually the arrivals board told me that my family’s plane was due to arrive ahead of schedule: another opportunity for a Ryanair fanfare!! There was time for one more coffee before moving to the barrier to meet and greet my visitors and then hop on the bus back to Vigo.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Pilgrimages, peppers and other heated matters.

My friend Colin is walking part of the Camino de Santiago with a group of friends. I suspect he’s had a HOT time of it these last few days, after being rained on quite a lot in his training walks. See his comments on his blog. At 7.30 this evening a local chemist here was registering 28° so it must have been hot out on the road. And we are supposed to be in the cooler part of Spain! Quite how my sister is surviving the 35° they’ve been having in her part of Andalucía I can’t imagine. It’s a good job she installed air conditioning last summer.

There are ev
en Japanese on the Camino according to reports in the newspaper. A family from that faraway place is walking the Camino with their children, at 15 and 10 the youngest on the pilgrimage at the moment.

In other parts of Galicia, in fact very close to Vigo, they are having some problems organising different activities. In Redondela, on the Thursday follo
wing the eighth day of Whitsuntide, which must be around now, they have the Festa da Coca. No, it’s nothing to do with Coca-Cola. It seems that the origins of this festival are, as they often say, lost in the mists of time but the legend goes that centuries ago a dragon lived near Redondela. That's why the origins are lost in the mists of time; you don't see many dragons these days!

Anyway, this dragon, who went by the name of Coca, occasionally popped into Redondela and carried off a young maiden to his cave: the usual sort of dragon story. Eventually the young fishermen of Redondela had had enough and went off with their swords, defeated the dragon and liberated the maidens. Then they took Coca off to Redondela, finished him off and did a sword dance. It begins to sound like Morris-dancing with a good story thrown in.

To celebrate this heroic victory, on the feast of Corpus Christi some people dress up as the dragon and Coca is defeated again and the brave young men do the sword dance again. There is also a procession of young maidens, small ones this time, called penlas, little girls
dressed in white and with angels’ wings fastened to their shoulders. These penlas are carried on the shoulders of older women, known as las burras de Redondela (the female donkeys). Now these ladies have to be fairly strong and well-trained as they perform a dance with the little girls standing on their shoulders. The problem is that while they can find lots of penlas (every mother thinks her little girl is a little angel, after all) it is becoming more and more difficult to find the burras. Every year there are fewer and fewer women with the strength and the stamina to do the dance. Such are the problems of modern Galicia!

And then there is the problem of the pimientos de Padrón. These tasty little green peppers, just coming into the point in the season where they are more likely to be picante and surprise you with their fiery taste, are grown in Padrón, not far from La Coruña. However, they are also grown nowadays in Almería, Marruecos and anywhere else where they grow fruit and veg under plastic. Understandably the growers from Padrón are a little peeved. So from now on the authentic pimientos de Padrón will be known as pimientos de Herbón, taking their name from the exact bit of Padrón where they are cultivated.

Well, the French insisted that no-one but the wine producers of the Champagne region can use that name for sparkling wine, so the green pepper producers have exactly the same rights to get a little fiery and protect their produce and their good name!

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Going to Portugal again.

On Saturday we went to Portugal. Some friends of ours were flying back to the UK from Oporto airport. As their flight was early on Sunday morning we decided that the four of us would go and have a day out in Oporto and a last meal together in the evening. And so off we went on the Alsa bus, which feels as though it takes you round half of Portugal, going via Braga and Oporto airport before dropping you off finally in Praça de Galiza, thus avoiding the city centre completely. We had a little drama at Oporto airport as someone discovered just as the bus was setting off again that one of their party had accidentally got off at the airport. Just in time she managed to explain the situation to the driver who very obligingly went round the airport again and collected the absent-minded fool!

Finally we arrived at Praça de Galiza without further
mishap and took a taxi to our hotel. I did what has become my usual routine with Portuguese taxi drivers: tell them in Portuguese that I don’t speak their language, sorry, then explain that I understand a fair amount of gallego (almost Portuguese) and carry on the rest of my conversation in Spanish. It works like a charm as a rule. They then speak their Portuguese more slowly and clearly and I get the gist of what they are saying. This time it resulted in our booking the taxi to go to the hotel on Sunday morning early to take our friends to the airport. Another job done! Everyone happy!

We had booked rooms at the Res
idencial Vera Cruz, a place we have used several times but this time we had a view of the Avenida dos Aliados, much better that the inner courtyard we saw last time we were there. Our friends did even better; for the same price their room on the floor below ours also had a little terrace complete with table, chairs and sun lounger. Well, we know exactly which room to ask for next time!

And so,
having deposited our belongings, we set off for a bit of sightseeing, finding shady spots as the sun had come out and the temperature was rising. This time, with a little help from our friends, we located the amazing old bookshop Livraría Lello, just over 100 years old. On our last visit we had looked for it but on a rather chilly and rainy evening and had given up after a rather fruitless search.

When we found it this time it was obvious that we had been close on the pr
evious occasion; in fact we probably walked past it but saw nothing but rain. Umbrellas do rather get in the way. The exterior of this building is impressive enough but the magnificent wooden staircases and the floor to ceiling original wooden bookshelves simply take your breath away.

Quite earl
y next morning I vaguely registered the sound of suitcase wheels on the pavement outside at some point, almost certainly our friends leaving, but we had said our goodbyes and so I turned over and went back to sleep. Some time later we had a leisurely breakfast and plotted a route, on foot this time, back to Praça de Galiza to catch a bus back to Vigo.

Our progress was impeded by hundreds of women running (well,
some of them were running, the ones at the front) through the late morning sunshine. We had seen the preparations for a sporting event of some kind on Avenida dos Aliados earlier and here it was, a women’s marathon. As the day was already hot, I could quite understand the great mass who had given up on running and were strolling along, with a good deal of shouting and whooping as they went.

We took refuge in the gardens of the Palacio de Cristal where a religious service (this was Sunday morning) was going on and being broadcast through loudspeakers to those who had opted to entertain their children with pony rides, “jo
gos tradicionals” such as stilts, hoops, skipping or less traditional stuff such as tackling a climbing wall. You do get some good views of the old town from there; it’s worth a visit.

And eventually we caught the bus back to Vigo, taking another look at Braga bus station en route. Because Portugal works on the same time line as the UK we had to put our watches forward, meaning that we did not reach Vigo until late afternoon. However, it was a fine sunny afternoon, another friend phoned us as we were on the last stage of the journey and we finished our weekend with cold beers outside a bar on Rosalía de Castro. Not a bad life on the whole!