Monday, 30 July 2012

A few questions.

Walking along towards the fruit shop at Puerta del Sol this morning, I spotted an immaculately dressed lady, one of those elderly ladies you see in Spanish towns, dressed up to the nines even at 11.30 in the morning. This one was dressed in all pale greens with cream accessories. I did notice, however, that she was walking with some difficulty. No wonder!! On her feet she wore cream stilettos with pointed toes and heels that must have been three inches high. All right, three inches may not be high to some people but for a lady who looked to be well into her seventies, such footwear was really not ideal. I’m not sure that the extra height did a great deal for her spindly elderly legs either. I was sorely tempted to go up to her and as, “Señora, why are you putting yourself through such agony on this hot day? Would you not be more comfortable in a pair of nice cream sandals?” I chickened out though. Wherever she was going to, she was going to get there in style! But why? 

Some of the “gentlemen” of this fair city have no such scruples about making themselves comfortable. Why is it that so many of them appear to feel that it is quite acceptable to relieve themselves in almost any quiet spot along busy streets? On Sunday morning, as I made my way up to the Castro, there was one behind the entrance to the underground car park. Now, that entrance is made of glass; hardly the most concealing of places to stop for a pee! On my way home after my run, as I approached the door to our building I realised that there was someone getting up close and personal with the rubbish containing on the other side of the road. Yes, another one who mistook a large green bin for a urinal. His mate noticed me and fell about laughing as he pointed me out to his friend. Who had the decency to go behind the rubbish container, from where he popped his head up and grinned as he called, “Hola”. 

Of course, this was Sunday morning and, although not quite the crack of dawn, it was still quite early. So I expect that all these (I was going to say “young” but they were not exactly teenagers) men were just on their way home from a Saturday night out. But why, in a country where cafes abound, did they not just pop into one and use their facilities? And what do the girls do? You don’t see them squatting in alleyways. If they do so, they must do it very discreetly. 

While I’m in what seems to be turning into the “bog blog”, here’s something else. Later on Sunday we went out for a walk which took us past the bus station where we popped in to use their facilities. One lot was closed but the other, although open was in such a disgusting state that I declined to use it. Phil told me that the Gents’ was not a great deal better. What kind of message does this give to people arriving on the bus from the pristine brightness of Oporto airport? They might be tempted to get on the next bus out of town. Vigo is not the only place either; the toilets at Pontevedra bus station also need some attention. And it’s not rocket science, after all. 

I am seriously thinking of doing a study of ladies’ loos in cafes and restaurants. It’s astonishing how many of them have their lights on timers. This works fine in those where the lights are movement sensitive but in those which work rather like the lights on staircases and go out after a certain length of time it can be really disconcerting. If you sit too long you end up sitting in the dark. Mind you, we once stayed in a hotel where the whole bathroom was on a movement-sensitive lighting system; you had to be careful to keep moving in the shower. If you just stood and enjoyed the water for too long, the lights went out and you had to wave your arms around in just the right area to get them back on. 

What really amuses me though is having to collect a key to open the ladies’ in the restaurant El Puerto. Whether they don’t trust the men not to use it or what the reason might be, I have no idea, but ladies need to get the key. It takes me back to my first visit to Spain as a student in 1968 when ladies were just not expected to go in ordinary bars or at least ordinary bars were not properly equipped to cater for them. There were places where you had to go and ask for the key and then you were escorted to a loo in some other part of the building or even at the end of the garden. Presumably proper ladies only went to posh restaurants or, being proper ladies, did not go to the loo. 

More reports on interesting loos in future posts!

Saturday, 28 July 2012

A bit of a foggy view.

Yesterday, since the sun was shining, I donned my sunhat and sunglasses and set off to meet a friend up at the top of Gran Vía. We were going to visit another friend who lives out in Alcabre, a district of Vigo near to Samil and its beach. I have often envied this friend for the views from her garden: views over the ría which she puts on Facebook. Well, when we got there we found that the “bancos de néboa” had preceded us. No need for sunglasses and hats. No chance of sitting out in the garden; it was altogether too “fresco”. 

Our friend had a fair old moan about the weather, saying that this summer has been dreadful; apart from a week some time ago, all she has seen have been clouds of fog, like those floating past her window at that moment. Clearly she needs to get out more because down in central Vigo we have had plenty of sunny days. It’s rather like being back at home in Saddleworth. The sun can be shining in central Manchester, or even in central Oldham, which is closer, but it will be dull and cloudy in Delph where we live. In our case it’s being close to the Pennines, in my friend Dominique’s, proximity to the ría. 

Still, we had a good chat and a glass of vino, even if we didn’t get to sit by the pool and bask in the sunshine. How frustrating, though, to have a pool and not be able to use it, even in July!!! 
Today, I feel sure, is bright and sunny enough even for Dominique. There were no banks of cloud blocking out views of the ría from the top of the Castro this morning. 

Driving to Dominique’s was quite an experience in itself. My friend Isabel had already confessed to being poor at finding her way around so Phil and I had looked up the route on the computer and I was pretty confident of getting to Alcabre easily. What Isabel had not told me was that she is a rather erratic driver, almost dangerous, getting hooted at for drifting from one lane to another. It was quite difficult keeping up sociable chat when I felt she really needed to concentrate on the job in hand. But we got there safely in the end. 

(Incidentally, the other day I saw the first incident of road-rage I have witnessed in Spain. Normally there is a lot of hooting and gesticulating, but that’s all. Some people even say that the hooting releases drivers’ tension and so prevents road-rage proper. However, we were at a junction waiting to cross when we saw a car screech to an abrupt halt, as did the one behind it. Both drivers got out and yelled at each other at some length. I have no idea what had upset them but they had a good shout and then got back in their cars and drove off. At least they did not come to blows.) 

I got back to central Vigo last night in time to join Phil at the Nuevo Derby, our wifi cafe of choice, to watch the end of the Olympic Games opening ceremony: a big song and dance spectacle. We were not at all sure what it all had to do with sport. It rather reminded me of the period when our children were small and there was an element of competition to see who could put on the best birthday parties. In the same way, each Olympic Games host-country feels the need to outdo the previous incumbent. 

And yet, I still felt that the best part was when the actual athletes got to parade round the stadium with their countries’ flags, many of them busy filming the proceedings on their mobile phones. Now we just need to see who gets the medals.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

The trials of “días festivos”.

Yesterday was a “día festivo”: a public holiday, this time in honour of Saint James / Santiago. This made it the Día de Galicia but also, I believe, a holiday throughout most of Spain as Santiago is the national patron saint.

 The first consequence of this was that my usual bread shop was closed. Not only that but my fall-back bread shop had not received its delivery at the usual time and had only empty shelves when I went there. As I was a little hot and sweaty from running, I really did not want to go around the whole of Vigo looking for another bread shop and so I ended up at my least favourite local supplier. They must put extra yeast in their dough or leave it to rise for too long or something but their bread is always too full of air, more holes than bread. These things are sent to try us.

Later in the day we set off to walk to Samil beach, following the river Lagares. The walk in that direction is not quite so picturesque as the one going back towards the source from Castrelos Park but is still very pleasant. We were at times in severe danger of being mown down by cyclists; everyone appeared to be taking advantage of the day off to get some exercise – some very fast exercise.

After a very welcome drink in Samil, sitting in the early evening sunshine, we set off to find a bus to take us home. This was the second consequence of the “día festivo”: buses ran on Sunday service, in other words, one every hour. We even tried texting from a bus stop to the service which lets you know how soon the next bus will come. I received the reply that there was no service expected at that bus stop!! Brilliant!! So we walked a little further and eventually got onto a bus which was packed like a can of sardines. I know that bus drivers also need to benefit from public holidays but one would think that a service running from the centre of town to one of the main beaches would be a little more frequent in the summertime, even on Sunday service. Clearly you have to be a car owner to benefit from the beach.

Also yesterday, I heard that there were 4,873 lightning strikes in the Lugo and Orense area – well “raios” which covers everything from flashes of lightning to great crashing bolts that strike trees. I wonder who counts them!! I would recommend that the folk in that area should wear wellies to give them insulation as they are on yellow alert for electrical storms today. In general, storms are predicted pretty well all over for today. What it said was “chuvascos acompañados de aparato eléctrico”: showers with thunder and lightning. I find the Gallego expression quite delightful and imagine rain showers dragging their electrical equipment behind them.

 The heat is forecast to continue with 37° predicted for Orense. Vigo was forecast a more reasonable 23°. There will also continue to be “os bancos de néboa nas rías”; I can vouch for the banks of fog in the estuaries. Most of Vigo’s waterfront was under such a cloud this morning. The cruise-liner making its way in was hooting mournfully at around 9 o’clock.

A Galician participant in the Olympic Games has been posting on Twitter photos of the bike he will be riding in his event. It is such a relief to hear that he is now able to do this in Gallego as members of the Xunta have been requesting a Gallego version of Twitter. I read the other day that the ability to do tweets in Gallego (chías en galego) will improve the Gallego presence on the social networks and thus contribute to the prestige of the language.

My fear, however, is that Gallego will disappear under the weight of the English words present in the language. Here are a few more shops with English names, although I am unsure about what kind of English gives rise to “Shoespiel”; that shop sells, predictably, shoes and leather goods. “Picnic” sells packaged sandwiches of the kind you can buy in Boots on any UK high street but because this is Spain you can also sit outside and eat your “Picnic”.

 I have so far resisted the temptation to include the weirdly named “Smöoy”, a place selling frozen yoghurt (yolado – the latest food fashion-item) which I first spotted in Sanxenxo but which I have since seen here in Vigo and in Pontevedra. All of them are decorated in nursery pink and white and should probably be avoided by grown-up people.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Music and relaxation.

“The Sound of Music” has come to Vigo. Or rather, “Smiles and Tears” have come, as that is what they call that musical in Spanish. I came across what I presumed to be the props lorry parked behind the theatre, with the name emblazoned on the side of the lorry. How odd, I thought, to find a lorry load of smiles and tears on one of the streets of Vigo. 

I wonder if they translate all the songs into Spanish, or at least do Spanish versions of them, 

because in that kind of performance the songs and the words of the songs are an integral of the story-telling process. Maybe they do the same as in some opera performances and have the translation running above the stage, not subtitles, more supertitles. I remember experiencing that once in La Coruña; it was completely strange, hearing the words in one foreign language, Italian, and reading the translation into another foreign language, Spanish. Whatever they do, I think I’ll give “Sonrisas y Lágrimas” a miss. 

This weekend we have been hearing music of a different kind at the jazz festival in Pontevedra. We went to stay with our friend Colin for the weekend so that we could go to some of the concerts even though we had not actually heard of any of the performers. So it was a leap into the unknown, not an unpleasant leap but I have to say that there was nothing that really had me thinking that I had to go and hear more of any particular artist. 

Still, we had fun and we had some good food as well. On Sunday morning we went down into Pontevedra’s Plaza de Verdura where there is a regular flea market. Colin took his owl with him. 
Here is Phil posing with said owl, an odd beast made of hollow plastic. The intention was to put the owl on or near the table when sitting outside to have a drink or something to eat in the hope that the owl would frighten off the annoying pigeons. It was a partial success. 

In the flea market I found a wooden owl, remarkably similar to the plastic one but trying to look rather more distinguished, or possibly just more polished. Colin went and asked the price: €200. Rather a lot to pay for a pigeon scarer. He is waiting for the stall holder to bring his price down. 

Otherwise there was the usual collection of old books and records, glassware and ironware, even a bunch of dolls sitting on a bench. 

Needless to say we didn’t buy anything. Besides we had to hurry back to watch Bradley Wiggins win the Tour de France, acclaimed, of course, as a great achievement for a Briton: the first time we have managed it. It seems that we can’t play football or tennis but we can succeed at cycling. All we need now is for Wiggo, as the French called him, to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games and he will be truly everyone’s hero. It has already been suggested that he should become Sir Bradley!! 

Apart from that, given the high temperatures, the other great attraction of staying at Colin’s house was his community pool. Naturally, I had to time my dips to avoid those occasions when six small girls leap in the pool together and cause major turbulence but at 10 o’ clock this morning with the sun already heating everything up, I had the pool entirely to myself, which is pretty much one of the possible definitions of paradise.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Doing your bit

I understand that King Juan Carlos and Prince Felipe have agreed to a 7% cut in salary. Even though they will still receive rather more money than most other people, it’s a gesture, I suppose, maybe setting an example to others. And some of those others make a lot more money that the royal family here in Spain do. This does not mean that I am in favour of them, but I can sympathise about the bad time they’ve been having lately. In most families, to have one son-in-law turn out badly is enough and the Borbón family has had two of them. They’re not even inviting Mr Udangarín to go on holiday with them to Mallorca. And that is despite the fact that he and his wife are the Duke and Duchess of Palma de Mallorca. It’s a hard life, isn’t it? 

The Gobierno Regional de Galicia is following suit with the 7% cut, according to something I read yesterday. And even Mayor Abel Cabellero is suggesting that the Concello de Vigo should follow suit. It all depends on how much you earn, of course. 7% of a huge salary might not be very noticeable and may not make an awful lot of difference to your lifestyle. I understand that Mr Feijoó, Presidente de Galicia currently earns €76,765 but some of the leaders of small town councils, earning around €35,000, have been saying that they would find it hard to give themselves a cut of 7%. Everything is relative, naturally, but I suspect that many “mileuristas” would love to be earning €35,000. 

On his way to Russia, yesterday or possibly the day before, the king was reported joking about the fact that at 74 he is still working. “Otra persona estaría aún de baja pero yo tengo que currar” – “Other people would already be retired but I have to slog on”. Mind you, his job is not quite the same as doing hard physical labour. 

Many Spaniards are relaxing, however, heading for the beach to toast themselves in the sunshine, getting stuck in major traffic jams to and from Vigo’s Samil beach because even the sunshine does not stop the roadworks on the way there. But then, the roadworks don’t seem to stop people going to the beach either. 

Samil beach is, they report, “a tope”, full as full can be, except for one short stretch. This almost towel-free bit of beach is opposite a cafe from which the songs of Julio Iglesias are blasting out at top volume. (And I thought it was just me who had an aversion to that particular aging crooner!) The owner has already been reported more than once for excessive volume but she doesn’t care. What she says is, “¡Me importa un huevo!” In other words, “I couldn’t give a ****”. And she declares herself prepared to go and face up to Abel Cabellero if he tries to slap a fine on her. One feisty Julio fan! 

 Yesterday, out to lunch with our friend Colin, I picked up another coffee related saying on a sugar packet: - 
“Los poderes de la mente de un hombre son directamente proporcionales a la cantidad de café que toma.” Sir James Mackintosh, Scottish politician and historian 1765 – 1832. 

In other words: “A man’s mental powers are directly proportional to the amount of coffee he drinks.” 

And finally, here is yet another example of the ever-present use of English in Spanish life. This is a small shop just down the road from the bijou residence.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Plagues of this and that.

Apparently many parts of Galicia are having problems with wild boar. Described as “una plaga de jabalíes”, this problem is the result of wild boar breeding so successfully that there are just too many of them. Being members of the pig family, they like rooting and cause havoc in vegetable gardens. They also cause accidents when they cross roads; crashing into a full-grown jabalí does quite a lot of damage to your car. This is a plague of almost biblical proportions. I wonder what the Gallegos have done to deserve it. There is talk of permitting the hunting of wild boar out of season in an attempt to keep the numbers down. Maybe they need Asterix and Obelix to turn up; they are said to be good at hunting wild boar. This would, of course, be an excellent Celtic connection. 

I have also come across reports of an early work by Gustav Klimt being found in a garage in Austria. Although there is some doubt as to whether this is actually a work by Gustav or by his less famous brother Ernst, this is still quite a find. Perhaps finding valuable objets d’art in garages is becoming the fashionable thing. 

Here in sunny Vigo, the Escuela Oficial de Idiomas has been having difficulty recruiting people to some of its summer courses and have had to close several for lack of applicants. English, especially intermediate level, remains popular as does, quite surprisingly according to the ESO, beginners German. However, they have had to close down Gallego because there was not one single applicant: “Nadie se matricula en gallego”. 

I have been reading elsewhere some criticism of school in Galicia for not teaching Portuguese. Very few offer this option, despite the fact that it is a very easy language for Galicians to learn and its usefulness, especially now that Brazil is becoming a more internationally important economy. Those who do attempt to learn Portuguese express surprise at how similar it is to Gallego. Now, I never expected that! 

 One of the books I picked up at the library on my recent visit is a book by Manuel Rivas, originally written in Gallego and translated into Castellano, not by Mr Rivas himself but by another translator with the author then sort of verifying it. I read somewhere that he does not like translating his own books, even though perfectly capable of doing so. Apparently he feels that if he were to try to translate he would end up writing a new version altogether. Fair enough, I suppose and it does give work to translators. Manuel Rivas was interviewed earlier this week in De Luns a Venres. He was asked at one point, “¿Por qué optou por traballar como freelance?” His reply didn’t really address the question at all but went on about how good it was to work on small Galician language newspapers. 

I was more interested in that use of English once again. You might have thought that someone who insists on writing in Gallego would have found a good Gallego word to use instead. But then I went on to read that he is currently working on a book of memoirs about his childhood and youth. He is going to call it “Storyboard”, yes the English word, although it will have a subheading, “Murmurios de infancia e mocidade”. 

English everywhere you look!!! Maybe that’s why a certain Bradley Wiggins is doing so well in the Tour de France. We didn’t manage the football or the tennis. Maybe, just maybe we can succeed on two wheels!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Down in the town in the sunshine.

23° by the chemist’s sign at the top of the road as came down from my run round the Castro at about 9.45 this morning. 29° on Príncipe when I went down to the library some three hours later. It’s been one of those days when you go into shops just to enjoy the air-conditioning. I bet this “living statue” was a bit hot under all her layers. 

According to something I read yesterday, the south of Galicia is on “alerta amarilla” for hot weather, not as bad as orange alert or red alert but still pretty fierce. The current heat wave, they say, is the result of a mass of hot air coming from Africa. I shall refrain from making comments about hot air just at the moment. 
On the way down to the library I saw this odd bunch in the square near Puerta del Sol, on those strange scooter things that are supposed to charge themselves as you go downhill and so have the energy to get you uphill. They had stopped for some kind of talk. Maybe they were tourists on an unusual guided tour. Maybe they were trainees, learning how to go round advertising local businesses. Whatever, they set off in line like rather docile ducks and I went on my way. 
 My visit to the library was, as usual, interesting, informative and mildly frustrating. According to the date stamp in the Isabel Allende novel I have been reading the book was due back today. The trouble is that Phil has started reading it and is only about one third of the way through. I have already renewed it once; I took it to Sanxenxo with me but spent so much time in the pool and going off on walks that I didn’t finish it and had to renew it on my return. So I was expecting trouble. 

My conversation with the librarian went something like this:- 

 “Can I renew this book?”

 “Oh, no. You’ve already renewed it once and that’s all you’re allowed to do.” 

"Well then, can I take it out on my husband’s library card? You see, he’s part way through it and would like to finish it.” 

“OK, but he has to come down himself and take it out.” 

All was not lost, however, as the librarian looked at the computer and went on: 

“But this book is not due back until the 19th and today is the 17th. You’ve still got two days.” 

“That’s funny, it’s date-stamped the 17th.” 

“So it does, it’s been wrongly stamped (mal marcado). And besides, you’ve a couple of days after that before we impose sanctions.” 

 Well, that was news to me: leniency on the sanctions front at the library. So I popped Isabel Allende back in my bag and went off to look for more reading matter on the computer. I noted down the number of a book I wanted and set off to hunt for it. Just as I tracked it down, someone else had his hand hovering over that very book. Would he? Wouldn’t he? He did! Damn! I had to choose something else to make up my permitted four choices. Still, now I’ve got something lined up to look for next time. 

As I said, interesting, informative and ultimately frustrating!

Monday, 16 July 2012

Hotting up!!

In Saturday’s Voz de Galicia, one of the local newspapers, I read that the “English summer” is not giving in. Well, yesterday “el verano inglés” decided to let the sun shine properly once again. What a nice day it was! That being so, we set off on a walk to Castrelos Park to check up on the rose gardens and the sculptures and such. 
 The roses were still looking fine. Some of the new artistic additions are a little odd. There really is not much need for sculptures of tree stumps; nature can do it better. 
Then there were some strange little red houses, making it look as though someone had been having a giant game of Monopoly and had not picked up all the pieces afterwards. 

Coming back we followed the River Lagares upstream, rather like intrepid explorers looking for the source of the Nile. We had asked at the tourist office about “rutas de senderismo”, hiking routes in the area and following the river towards Samil beach was one of their suggestions. We had already done that, going from Castrelos to Samil, so we followed it part of the way back towards the start of the river. It was quite interesting and almost completely empty, as was Castrelos Park for that matter. It may be that everyone was having lunch but it does seem as though the people of Vigo don’t make the best use of the resources they have around. 
When we asked at the tourist office about “rutas de senderismo”, they were friendly and helpful but didn’t have a great deal to offer. I asked about possible routes from Cangas and Moaña, just a boat-ride away across the estuary after all. But such information was not available from the Vigo tourist office. It would be too sensible to have leaflets there when, after all, Cangas and Moaña have their own tourist offices. You just have to go there to find them. The fact that people might actually be inspired to go on the ferry if they have the information in advance, thus spending money and encouraging local enterprise, did not seem to occur to anyone. In today’s free paper I read about the mayor of Santiago saying how they must try to combat “localismos”; the cities of Galicia need to work together. OK, he was really talking about the need for the three airports of the region to get their act together and instead of competing with each other put up a united front to combat Oporto. However, the message is the same in other aspects of tourism here. 

Anyway, back to yesterday, we followed the river for a fair distance and then made our way through various housing developments back towards Gran Vía. Then we headed up Gran Vía to the crazy horses, and made our way homewards, stopping for a very welcome “clara”, when we eventually found a cafe open, to refresh the intrepid explorers. 

Today, the weather men have still managed to keep “el verano inglés” at bay. It has been very hot indeed. On our way to the wifi cafe this evening (8.30 pm) we noticed 29° on one chemist’s sign. It won’t be long before we have people saying it’s just too hot!!

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Getting to the root of the matter.

The other day I went back to my Vigo hairdresser’s. When the roots start to show, it’s time to bite the bullet and get the colours done again, even if it means explaining things once more. So I went along to the place I have been several times before when we lived full time in Vigo. I had the ritual argument with the hairdresser about exactly what I wanted done, despite going equipped with the dye numbers in various hair colour brands used by my “peluquera de toda la vida”, my usual hairdresser. Having got through that, it was fairly plain sailing and for once nobody asked if I wanted my eyebrows dyed to match. 

One aspect of the treatment was odd: some kind of conditioner was massaged into my hair and then I was placed under what for all the world appeared to be an old-fashioned hair drier, one of those with a hood that comes down over you head. The difference was that this one proceeded to dispense steam. I’ve still not worked out what it was supposed to do. 

 Other than that, not much has changed since I was last there just over two years ago. There is still only one male stylist; in fact he is probably the only one allowed to be called a stylist. All he does is talk to customers, decide what is to be done, talk on his hands-free mobile phone and snip: he is the ONLY one who cuts hair. The girls/ladies hang on his every word and do his bidding. Do they ever progress to cutting? I wonder! 

He was a little sniffy about the fact that all I wanted was to have any split ends, “puntitas rotas”, trimmed and more than a little condescendingly showed me the amount he was snipping off. Even so, later in the evening a friend exclaimed, “¡Has cambiado tu look!”. 

There it is again, that language mix-up thing. They slide into a bit of English at every opportunity. I even heard some youngsters discussing dance on the street talking about “free estyle” (sic). They might borrow words but they still find words beginning with “st” hard to say! 

On my way back from the hairdresser’s, I noticed that the shop “Vintage and Coffee” were advertising their reductions in a strange hybrid of Spanish and English: ¡¡TODO A 20% OFF!! Is it intended for the people who come off the cruise ships? Or is it just a style (estyle) thing? Who knows? I certainly don’t. 

Sometimes the use of English is even rather clever. Round the corner from the bijou residence is a shop called “Home Made – La Craftytienda”, selling knitting yarn, embroidery silks, kits for making cards or soft toys and so on. I like the use of language and at least they can spell “Home Made” which is more than some English people can do. The last notice I saw this on in the UK advertised “homeade soup”. 

Craft shops like that one are popping up all over the place. I wonder why? Is it that in the time of crisis and financial austerity, people feel good f they are working with their hands in some way? I even read about a cafe in Santiago de Compostela where there is a regular knitting circle. A bunch of ladies, often including the lady owner, sit and knit while they drink coffee and chat. Apparently they find it therapeutic. 

Now I just need to hear of a cafe where men go and do therapeutic woodwork and DIY!!

Thursday, 12 July 2012

On Tweets and Chickens.

Here I am, bringing together three topics which I have been harping on about lately: words, that robbery recently solved in Santiago de Compostela and the existence or otherwise of the summer. In the free paper yesterday I came across a section called “os tuiteiros”, a lovely linguistic innovation following the good Spanish, or in this case Galician, tradition of making sounds match the local spelling rules. So “tweeters” become “tuiteiros” in Galician, probably “tuiteros” in Castilian. The tweet that attracted my attention said: “Última hora: acaban de atopar o verán nun garaxe do Milladoiro” – “Breaking news: they have just found summer in a Santiago garage.” 

 “O verán” in Vigo is still looking quite healthy to me, but what do I know? I am just a humble North-of-Englander. In fact, here in Galicia being from England is often enough to make people think we are probably grateful for any warm weather at all. I am sometimes asked if we have any good beaches in the UK. Great is the surprise expressed when I say that yes, in fact we have a lot of excellent beaches. Even greater is the surprise when I reveal that people actually bathe in the sea off the coast of the UK. This is what happens when your nation becomes famous for heading off the foreign beaches seeking the sun so often. 

It’s rather hard to convince some Galicians that the UK is not actually under a permanent bank of Victorian-London-style fog. Mind you at the moment it does seem to be under a permanent bank of cloud judging by the amount of rain which has fallen and continues to fall there. 

Getting back to the weather here, however, I do find myself wondering exactly what IS a typical Galician summer. I have heard this summer described as “atípico”. And yet, two years ago when July and August temperatures soared and I spent half the day in the swimming pool, people also told me that such weather was not typical. I suspect that the truth of the matter is that, just like the British, the Galicians enjoy talking about the weather, probably because there really is no such thing as a “typical summer”. 

Anyway, having got that little matter out of the way, yesterday I walked out into the sunshine and went to meet my friend at the restaurant El Gallinero, as arranged. The decor of the place is interesting ... if you like pictures of poultry. 

The speciality of the restaurant, as the name implies, is egg dishes and chicken dishes, with a bit of salad thrown in for good measure. The service was friendly, efficient and would-be flattering, the waiter insisting on referring to us as “chicas”. 

We shared a generous “ensalada gallinero” to start with, really just an “ensalada mixta” with the usual large dollop of tuna fish; no egg or chicken in there then. 

After that, my friend had “pollo al ajillo”, a mountain of small pieces of garlicky chicken accompanied by another mountain, this time of friend potatoes. I decided to try “huevos a la cubana”, which turned out to be rather less exciting than its name suggested. What arrived was a plate of boiled rice with a dash of tomato sauce, accompanied by two fried eggs and a fried banana. Presumably it was that last ingredient that made it “Cuban”. 

Now, while a fried banana is interesting enough in its way, boiled rice can get a little boring. Not the best choice then. 

Ah well, maybe I should give the place another chance but probably not for a while.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Taking care of things.

The Galicians are lamenting the lack of a summer; in the newspaper they are saying it’s a good job there’s the wonderful Galician countryside to roam around in even when it’s cloudy and my New Zealand friend here has posted “missing” notices on Facebook. Personally, I’m finding it quite pleasant, so long as the sun comes out for at least part of the day and provided it doesn’t rain on me. I can stand the night-time rain, which isn’t every night anyway, despite my occasional moans about it waking me up. I look at temperatures in other parts of Spain - 27° in Barcelona and Valencia, 32° in Sevilla, and an unbearable 33° in Madrid – and on the whole I would rather not have those extremes, not unless I’ve got a pool to fall into at least two or three times a day. The low to mid 20s will suit me nicely thank you. 

The fuss about the Códice Calixtino rumbles on. It was handed over with much ceremony by Rajoy, Presidente del Gobierno de España, to the archbishop of Santiago de Compostela, with Feijóo, Presidente de Galicia, looking on, both smiling. There have been media comments that there really was no need for Mr Rajoy to be involved, while others reply that of course he should be there as the recovery of the book was a matter of international importance!!! 

Further comments from one journalist lament the lack of care in handling the Códice. He points out that it is usual, when handling medieval documents, to wear gloves. Neither Rajoy nor the Archbishop did so during the hand-over. Shocking! The churchman then went on to leaf through the pages of the precious tome, exposing the delicate illustrations to the sunshine. Even more shocking! It’s a good job this summer isn’t a blazing 30+° then. As the journalist says, the book is obviously “en boas mans”. 

Other politicians have been out and about but keeping a low profile. Zapatero has been seen by the newspaper El Mundo in Edinburgh. Running as José García he took part in the half marathon at the end of May. It’s one way of escaping from the crisis, I suppose. No way of escaping the press. 

Language issues have been attracting my attention this week. In the free paper they do a daily feature called “galeg@s” (sic) where they interview people of some regional note. Yesterday they spoke to one Manu López Díaz, who is a “Community Manager”. The job title was in English and eventually they got round to asking him what his job consists of. He described himself as “un mediador entre a marca ou empresa con os clientes ou proveedores”. In other words a middleman of some kind. His job apparently is to “facilitate access to our products via the social networks”. Now, I would have called that a “communications manager” perhaps; yet another example of an English term being used in a new and interesting way. 

And then today I have read about regional officials considering “o carpooling”, presumably as an economy measure. As this term means little to Galicians or Spaniards, they had to put a little explanation in brackets: compartir coche. I love it!! 

And just this evening, in a beautician’s window, in the list of treatments available I spotted “resurfacing”, the ENGLISH word! I thought you only did that to roads. Please keep the new tarmac away from my skin!! 

No comments on El Gallinero as yet. My friend phoned to say she got her dates mixed up. Half an hour before we were due to meet she was still in Pontevedra. 

Lunch is postponed until tomorrow.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Being a good sport.

On Sunday I got up and ran around the Castro Park as usual, stopping on the way back to take this photo of a piece of sculpture, street furniture some call it, which has appeared near the Castro at some point during the time since we used to live in Vigo. 

It is labelled simple “Vigo 2010” and each metal plate appears to be bear the name of a district of the city. I have been unable to confirm this as the thing is in the middle of the roundabout and getting close to it is a little dangerous. 

After that I played hunt the bread shop. My usual port of call, which sells excellent bread, is closed on a Sunday. I had found a reasonable substitute but I must have taken a wrong turning somewhere and could not find it again. So I ended up at the much inferior, in my opinion, shop at the end of Calle María Berdiales. Now, this shop is popular in the afternoons; there is always a queue, possibly for cakes, at that time of day. However, the bread seems to me to be too full of air. Mind you, perhaps holey / holy bread is appropriate for Sunday. 

On Saturday evening we had asked at the cafe Nuevo Derby if they might have the tennis on their television on the following day. We have no television set in the bijou residence and really fancied watching the Wimbledon final. It’s not every year that you get a “británico” in the final after all. OK, he’s Scottish, not English, but then, nobody is perfect. 

Anyway, we went down after lunch and they put the tennis on especially for us. Secretly I think the waiter preferred it to the canned music which was on before. Murray put up a brave fight to begin with but by the time rain stopped play for a while he was already struggling. At this point we watched the Tour de France for a while and were reassured to find that our boy Bradley Wiggins was in the yellow jersey once again. That’s two days on the run. Will this be his year? 

While Wimbledon was deciding what to do about putting the covers over the centre court, we went for a stroll in the sunshine. To give ourselves an objective, rather than just wandering around aimlessly, we went looking for a restaurant where I am supposed to be meeting a friend for lunch tomorrow. We found El Gallinero without too much trouble on Calle Concepción Arenal, just past the end of the alameda. Reports on the food after I’ve been there tomorrow. 

Then we went back to the cafe to watch Federer earn himself a cool £1.4 million by defeating Murray. There was quite a collection of famous names and faces in the crowd. David Cameron was there, looking determined, serious and prime ministerial. In the royal box the Middleton sisters looked on cheerfully. David Beckham was showing interest but Mrs Beckham was looking well groomed but immaculately bored. Ian Hislop was there, just being his usual twinkling self. Apparently Cliff Richard was there but I didn’t notice him and he didn’t stand up and sing when the rain started. There were lots of other faces the camera paused on significantly but I have no idea who they all were. 

Anyway, the match came to an end. Federer finally showed some emotion; he always looks super-cool and unflappable when he plays but he did seem pleased to win .... again. It’s his SEVENTH Wimbledon trophy!! Murray was tearful, thanked his supporters and talked about the emotional pressure. His mum was tearful too and his girlfriend. Federer’s little girls just waved at Daddy and at the camera. 

 I was impressed by the stamina of those who sat outside watching on the big screen, though the sunshine and the rain. They did sterling work standing up and waving whenever they realised they were on screen themselves. 

After the match we took advantage of the sunny evening and walked up to the top of the Castro. We didn’t stay there long, however, as some young men were “sod-casting”, playing their mobile phone or MP3 player music at top volume for all to share. So generous! This is not just a Spanish youth trait, though. I am just more used to it on a Greater Manchester bus than up at the top of the Castro.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Out on the streets.

Once again I was woken by rain in the small hours of the morning. It’s happened quite often in the last week. The patio that opens off the living room in the bijou residence is covered over with a sort of semi-transparent plastic roof. The sound of rain on there is what woke me in the night. At other times of the day we hear pigeons landing on it and then clattering about. 

By the time I went out to run around the Castro Park the rain had almost stopped but the grey clouds were still around. From then on the day kept on improving: a little bit of sun when I went out to buy milk from the supermarket and full sunshine by the time we sallied forth in the late afternoon the take a look at the book fair down in the alameda. 
Today it seems as though everyone is out on the streets. Once again, the same as a few weeks ago, the local shops had set up stalls on the streets selling their usual ware as well as a little bit extra. Who does buy knitted and crocheted rabbits and dogs? I wonder! It was rather like having the primary school summer fête come out onto the streets of Vigo. 

At Puerta del Sol a stage had been set up. As we approached we could already hear the wail of the gaita so we had an idea of what was going on. A group of rather severe looking folk dancers were performing on stage, severe at first glance anyway because they were all dressed in black and white. Once they started to dance though they seemed to enjoy themselves. The Morris dancers who perform at home in Saddleworth are much more colourful. However, they are also more sexist as they are strictly Morris MEN while the Gallego dancers are clearly a mixed bunch. 
We were also treated to the sight of the local madman putting on a performance of his own in front of the stage. He seemed to be having a good time.

There was also a craft fair going on there, probably the same one I saw in Sanxenxo. Certainly the huge boots had made their way to Vigo. 

Down in the Alameda we found that the book fair didn’t open until six but we managed to occupy ourselves, getting a little exercise into the bargain. Eventually the stalls opened and we took a look. As we have found before, the Vigo book fair is really just all the book shops of the city setting up a stall to try to sell some more books. I had somehow imagined that there might be visiting publishers selling stuff but this was not the case. I wonder how much they pay to have a stall there and if they sell enough extra books to make it worth their while. Lots of people were wandering up and down and looking but I am not sure that many were buying. 
There were lots of books in Gallego, possibly more than in other years but I have no statistics to back that up. It was odd the see children’s books like Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” in a Gallego version. 

Another stall displayed ancient religious tomes (but not the “Códice”) all beautifully illustrated, and probably equally ancient books about plants and herbal remedies. 

So we have visited the festival of local colour once again. Rather more sedate than the bull running which is going on in Pamplona where the Sanfermines are in full swing. I never did find out who San Fermín was and why bulls are run in his honour. 

Tomorrow we need to find a cafe with a TV set showing the Wimbledon final as we would like to see whether Murray can actually pull off a victory. It would be nice to keep the Wimbledon trophy at home for once.

Friday, 6 July 2012

A clean sweep.

Earlier this year, in my Italian class in Manchester, we read an article about the mayor of Naples; at least I think it was Naples. Whichever place he was the mayor of, this fellow was introducing a whole lot of urban rules and regulations. One of these made it an offence to shake your tablecloth from your balcony onto the street below or, as is more likely, onto the balcony of the flat below yours. 

I mention this because of having to sweep one of the patios of the bijou residence more often than I would like. When we moved in, the place had apparently been cleaned but the patio off the bedroom was rather messy, including in one corner a tangle of fairly long human hair. It looked as though someone had brushed her hair, pulled the hair from the brush and then thrown it out of the window. We swept it up and threw it away. 

On our return from Sanxenxo, another clump of hair was there. Not good, but we swept it up again. Yesterday, after the night’s rainfall, yet another clump had appeared. I am beginning to fear we may have a bald upstairs neighbour. It’s definitely not Rapunzel as the hair is not golden blonde. This time there is also one of those thin plastic gloves, the kind hairdressers use. So maybe our bald neighbour runs a home hairdressing business. 

Whatever the truth of the matter, it’s not terribly nice. At least we have not acquired any odd socks or miscellaneous items of underwear dropped off the washing lines from higher flats. I remember having to go and reclaim items we dropped from our washing into the “patio de luces” in one of the flats we lived in. It can be quite embarrassing. Such are the trials of flat-dwelling! 

Talking about trials and misdemeanours, cartoons about the “Códice” continue to appear in the free paper. This one has a TV announcement that the Higgs Boson particle has been found by Geneva scientists which then goes on to say that policemen found it hours earlier in a garage belonging to a Santiago electrician. Like the Great Hadron Collider, this story seems to run and sun. 

A certain Comisario Serafin Castro in Madrid caused something of a stir by describing the accused as being a man of closed, dark, Galician nature, with some rather odd habits who kept his money hidden under the floor boards, LIKE ALL GALICIANS!!! Well, by all accounts the social media were all a-twittter with that remark. And, with a name like Castro, the good comisario must be Galician himself. I suppose it’s all right to insult your own kind. 

Anyway the electrician has come clean, admitted his crime and not doubt will be duly sentenced. 

Visitors to Santiago won’t be able to see the “códice” because they are reviewing security measures. And supposedly everyone will want to see it, even if they didn’t even know it existed before. 

Another little known Santiago de Compostela-related thing is the “Camino Inglés” of the pilgrims’ way. It appears they are trying to promote this route from Ferrol to Santiago as a means of boosting tourism in the area. Most pilgrims follow the French route. Maybe this is because the English just aren’t great pilgrims these days!

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Daylight robbery!

Yesterday I made some comments about the bonus received by the Spanish football team. Let them keep their money. There are bigger fish in the sea. A certain Mr Diamond, until recently a highly respected Barclays Bank employee, is apparently arguing that there is nothing at all wrong with his receiving a pay-off of £22 million. Compared to that, €300,000 is peanuts. 

In the free paper here, the big story is of theft of a different, more ecclesiastical nature. Everyone is very happy because they have recovered the “Códice Calixtino”, a 12th century religious tome stolen from Santiago de Compostela cathedral a year ago. (Maybe it’s rather like solving the Da Vinci Code.) What’s more they have also arrested someone and charged him with the crime. 

An electrician who had worked for, or at least in, the cathedral for years and years lost his job and then stole the ancient book, possibly as an act of revenge. He had been suspected for some time but the police operation had to be very delicate as they were afraid he might damage or even destroy the book if they moved in too quickly. Eventually they found it in a garage owned by the felon, along with a range of other items also stolen from the cathedral and a large amount of money, probably from the sale of other such items. So, if it was revenge, it was a very organised and profit-worthy revenge. 

There is, of course, the possibility that he is also a bit of a religious maniac. Apparently this gentleman has a longstanding habit of going to mass in the cathedral at 7.30 every morning. Now, this not in itself a sign of madness but maybe in this day and age just a bit obsessive. And then, in recent months he has continued to attend the service on a daily basis but has not taken communion. Hmmm! Guilty conscience? Something he has not confessed to? 

His neighbours report that he is a very polite gentleman who always holds the door open for ladies and greets everyone very nicely. It’s funny what nice people criminals can be. 

Others who know him, however, say that he is a more than a little obsessive and that when he was chair of the council of their block of flats he was very bossy and wanted to control everything totally. 

Recently some have noticed that he has been “triste e consternado”. Maybe he had been reading the “Códice” and had reached the appendix that says that anyone who steals the book may be punished by excommunication. Given his commitment to going to church every day, this possible punishment might worry him. 

On the other hand, he could be seen as having done the church a favour. Somebody tweeted that the thief had given the “códice” more publicity in twelve months than the church had managed in eight centuries. It certainly should have alerted them to security issues. According to one report around 80% of the cultural heritage of Galicia is in the hands of the church and very little of it is secure or even properly insured. Time to act on it, I think. 

Another happy tweeter remarked: “So, they’ve arrested an electrician. Now they just need to arrest the electric light company who have been robbing me every month.” 

It’s not just the tweeters and twitterers who have been making wry comments about the solving of this crime. In this cartoon from the free paper, the gentleman on the left is calling the local police to tell them he thinks he has found the “Códice”. On hearing this, Mrs Thief rebukes her husband: “See? I told you that coming to the beach without an E-book would attract attention!” 

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Into each life, a little rain must fall.

The umbrella sellers were out in force on the shiny, wet streets of Vigo this morning. Carpe diem! Well, their version of it. When it rains, they appear as if by magic. They probably sell more brollies than they do wooden giraffes or leather wrist bands or pirate CDs. At least people have a reason to buy an umbrella. 

Yes, the rain returned in the night, just when we’d adapted to blue skies and sunshine every day. I was woken several times by the unmistakable sound of rain in the patio. By the time I got up and ran round the Castro park it had eased off. This did not prevent me from getting wet, however. Despite the torrential downpour in the hours of darkness, the sprinkler system was at work on the already wet grass of the Castro gardens. Such good water conservation!! I am astounded. Is there not someone in charge who can just turn the main tap to “off” when inches of water have fallen overnight? You would think so! 

Anyway, there it was; I was up and running as usual, with a stop at the bread shop on the way back. I’ve not been there for a week and a half but la panadera still remembered that I want “una barra artesana”. She’s clearly a good shopkeeper. Maybe she’s done her NVQ in customer service. So I bought a little “pan de nueces” as well, the very tasty walnut bread that she sells. We had a good breakfast and the grey clouds appeared to be moving away. 

By the time I went out to the library to return some books and renew others, the rain was back. It was not at all cold but a steady drizzle was falling. I had to be sure to visit the library today. Forget about fines for overdue books; the rottweiler librarian will ban you from borrowing books for a week if you fail to meet the deadline. It is a system that seems to work here. Or maybe not. I don’t have any statistics for numbers of late returnees but none of my friends find it strange. There’s even a special letterbox where you can post books for returning if the library happens to be closed. And in the summertime that might well happen, as the library closes at 2.30 on its summer timetable. Just when you might want to visit more often, they reduce the opening hours. Logical? 

I notice that the victorious Spanish football team members have each received a bonus of €300,000. That should be a good incentive to carry on being invincible. The opinion has been expressed that they should give it to charity. After all, they do all earn good money playing football and really are very fortunate to be able to make a living doing what they enjoy. There have been stories going around that Iniesta was donating his bonus to the fund for the victims of the Valencia forest fires. He has denied that rumour, saying that it’s not so, that he has no idea who put that into circulation and that it’s up to each footballer to make up his own mind about what he is going to do with his bonus. That should increase his popularity no end. 

Meanwhile, we wait to see how Ferrer, the remaining Spanish hope for Wimbledon, gets on against our very own Andy Murray or “Moo – rr – eye” as the Spanish commentators call him. That’s if rain doesn’t stop play. 

Let’s hope the sun comes back tomorrow!

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Back to the Bijou Residence once more.

 On the day following Spain’s footballing victory I came across this cartoon in a Pontevedra newspaper. The Roman chappy is doing that “I came, I saw, I ...” thing when a Spaniard taps him on the shoulder and interrupts his train of thought. “Now,” says the Roman chappy, “what was the third one?” A little mean, but quite good fun. 
 We have stayed a couple of nights with our friend Colin in Poio, rather envying the view from his window overlooking Pontevedra. There was quite a houseful with us, another friend of Colin’s from the North West of England and a couple of globe-trotting Australians who have been house-sitting for Colin while he was home in the UK for a while.

We all went down into town (i.e. Pontevedra, where the sun was still shining) last night to sample an excellent selection of mostly seafood tapas: squid, prawns in garlic, zamburiñas – some kind of scallops – as well as tortilla, croquetas and pimientos de Padrón. All very good, especially with a nice bottle (or two) of chilled white wine to wash it down. 

Just next to the restaurant where we ate was a place called “Dr Livingstone, Supongo”, decorated to look as though the famous explorer could walk in at any time. Despite a huge model rhinoceros and some belief that it is in the style of an English pub, it still manages to look very Spanish. 

Today we said farewell to Colin with yet another excursion to a seafood place for lunch. In fact, over the last ten days we seem to have consumed a huge amount of food. Ah well, we can start to cut down ... tomorrow, though, after we have visited the Nuevo Derby this evening, down in Vigo centre, to use their Wifi and get some free snacks . 

Back in the bijou residence, it’s a good job I managed to work out how to make the washing machine complete its spin cycle, as there is a mountain of washing to get through. 

The sun has obviously shone in Vigo as well during our absence, so I was pleased to discover that Rosemary and Basil, the herbs who live on the kitchen window ledge, have not only survived but thrived while we were away. I left them in a plastic box full of water but I was unsure how well they would get along, as we were leaving them for about ten days. But there they are, bright and perky. 

 To think that I was once told that basil cannot be grown in Vigo as it’s too far north!!!!(Honest!)