Thursday, 28 February 2019

Oddments of oddness!

On Tuesday evening, about 8.00, we strolled along Calle Aragón in our shirt sleeves, jumpers over our shoulders. Just a bit unusual for the end of February in Vigo. But then we also saw men in shorts. I’m not sure whether this was a response to the unseasonably warm weather or one of those fashion statements. After all, there are young men who seem to make a point of wearing shorts all year round, as if to prove that they have just come from the gym or that they are simply tough enough not to be concerned about a little thing like feeling a bit chilly.

Temperatures did reach the early 20s, however, so maybe shorts were justified.

They had 21.2c in London as well, warmer than in places like Crete according to some reports. 

Tuesday felt pleasantly warm already at 9.00am. Yesterday morning temperature gauges were showing 13 or 14 degrees but cloud was moving in. Maybe the day would be less spectacular than the previous one. There was talk of rain. The lady who complained yesterday about the problems of growing lettuces in hot dry weather would be pleased. But when we walked out to A Guía in the early afternoon the sun was out again. Today has been slightly cooler but still fine and sunny.

My phone popped up a news message for me about fires on the Saddleworth moors again!! Memories of last summer’s bad fires spring to everyone’s mind. This time it’s just a few miles north of our house, between Marsden and Diggle. Again it’s an unusual situation; the peat should not be so dry at this time of year that it can catch fire so easily. Looking back, I suppose that, although there has been quite a bit of dull weather, not to mention cold and snow, it has not been consistently wet enough for the ground to be sodden. When I talk to people here about such fires, they assume we have forest fires, which is what happens here in Galicia, but in fact it’s the peat burning to some depth below the surface.

Not good at all!

That makes two occasions when we have left the country and someone has set fire to it. As if we didn’t have enough with Theresa May and Brexit!

Here in Vigo, on Calle Aragón, they have set up a veritable maze of roadworks barriers. It would seem that the gentrification of the area has finally reached our end of the street. Last year we saw new pavements on various stretches of the street but our section was ignored completely. The central reservation was refurbished, with new plants and irrigation system, but the pavements were left as messy and uncared for as ever. But now there are piles of smart paving stones and the stuff necessary for making little planted areas between parking spaces. Trenches seem to be being dug to lay new pipes of some kind.

Goodness knows how they will deal with the bit just a little further along the road where there is access to car body repair workshops!

Traffic is reduced to one lane on both sides of the street. I have already seem minor chaos ensue when some large machinery has needed to be put in place. Rush hour traffic must be fun at the moment. Not my problem, I am happy to say.

We are here for a couple of weeks this time, hardly enough time to see real progress. By next time we come, assuming we can do so without having to purchase an expensive visa, maybe the whole street will have been transformed.

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

The trials of travelling!

Flying home from Cuba last week, on a flight during which I hoped to sleep as much as possible, I found myself pinioned between my travelling companion friend and an unknown, uncommunicative (to me at any rate - he did however talk almost non-stop and loudly to his travelling companions and flirted outrageously with one of the cabin staff who turned out to come from the same part of the world as he did) Scotsman. Now, you might have thought that it was hard to be pinioned on a Virgin transatlantic flight with its quite generous seats. However, when the people of either side of you choose to make use of the arm rests in such a way that their elbows impinge on your seat space, then it is indeed possible. Fortunately, I somehow had two cushions instead of just one and so, despite having my arms somewhat restricted, I was still able to make myself reasonably comfortable.

I was reminded of this on yesterday’s Ryanair flight, where the seats are considerably less generous in size. The lady in the window seat next to my middle of the row seat was a person of quite ample proportions. She too spread herself across the arm rest, pushing her elbow into my space. Her thighs also spread from her seat onto mine. Even her feet, well one of them, managed to trespass into the space in front of my seat. Fortunately she adjusted her position after take-off so that she could take numerous photos through the window of the plane.

Unlike the garrulous Scotsman on the Cuba to London flight, she did not order champagne to drink during her journey. She did engage me in conversation for quite a large section of the flight. I found out that she lived 17 years in Boston, USA, although you would never have guessed this from her spoken English. But that was quite a long time ago. Now she was returning to Portugal after visiting her daughter in Stoke on Trent, where her daughter worked as a nurse. She told me the names and ages of her various grandchildren - and so I reciprocated in kind. She also confided to me that she believed Theresa May was crazy to take the UK out of Europe. I rather got the impression that she thought it was a personal choice by Theresa May. Mind you, a lot of British citizens are just as confused about the whole business.

Our travel yesterday went remarkably smoothly, without too many or too lengthy waiting periods between one bit of the journey and the next. And we left what has been declared to be the hottest February day on record in England to travel to an equally balmy Portugal and Spain. I think the forecast remains good for the rest of this week but I fear that dull and gloomy weather might return for our second week here.

So it goes!

My Spanish sister has been gloating about being on the beach in the last few days. Mind you, she does live in the Cadiz region of Andalucía. If it’s fine and sunny and warm in Galicia, and the North West of England for that matter, you would expect Southern Spain to be quite hot. Some people, she tells me, were even in the sea. That may be a step too far. I doubt that the Atlantic has had much chance to warm up so far.

However, with the strange things that seem to be going on with climate all over the place, anything is possible. And people are never satisfied. A lady in the supermarket this morning was complaining about the heat, on the grounds that lettuces need rain! Okay!

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Thoughts provoked by spring.

Before 9.00 this morning the sun was positively warm. And it's still February. Last year there was snow and ice. This year I have been hanging washing out to dry,

I went out to put recyclable plastics in the correct bin and noticed hyacinths coming into flowe in one of the plant boxes on the garden wall. I thought that box was just full of dead leaves fallen from the tree above.

Signs of spring are popping up everywhere. There are snowdrops in abundance and the leaves of the bluebells show that they are getting ready too.

Yesterday there was a random hen in my garden, sttling down among the snowdrops. My brother-in-law suggested she might become today's lunch!! My travelling companion, however, thought that the hen might have followed us back from Cuba, where they roam free day and night.

So, having got back to the subject of Cuba, here are some pictures of streets and building.

Broad avenues and narrow side streets.

 Squares and arches.

 Cathedral and church

Grand buildings

And some more delapidated ones

 Occasionally justaposed

 Tobacco-drying sheds

 And farmers houses

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Dreams and daft ideas. And more photos.

Most of us at some time or other have asked ourselves which eight discs we would take with us to that desert islands and what our luxury would be. We’ve almost all played the game of compiling our ten favourite films of all time. But what about the thing you would like to receive a lifetime supply of? In today’s Guardian magazine there was a feature about people who had won competitions with a lifetime supply of ... as the prize.

One received a lifetime supply of loo roll, amassing so much that he had to put it in a trailer when he moved house. He gave everyone loo roll for Christmas one year -cheapskate! And then his supply stopped. He reckoned that the awarders had calculated how much an average man would need in a lifetime and when they had supplied it, stopped sending more. Would they have calculated differently for a woman? That’s another issue. It still makes him laugh when he buys loo roll.

One young man was awarded a lifetime supply of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Initially very pleased, he eventually grew tired of it and now rarely takes advantage of his KFC vouchers. Similarly a lady who won a lifetime supply of ice cream at the age of 76 wonders if she will continue to be so pleased if she is still around at 96.

The trouble with treats is that they should never become routine.

Apparently it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

Now here’s a bit of modern technological daftness:

Nike is trying to find a way to fix problems with its self-lacing shoes. They were designed for basketball players, so that they could adjust the settings at the touch of a button from the one required for playing to a game to that needed for resting on the sidelines. Some users have reported connection problems!!

Who even knew that there was a call for such a thing?

Life is full of strangeness!

And something else is puzzling me. I found this in a report about Derek Hatton and his flash in the pan re-entry and re-exit from the Labour party:-

 “The 71-year-old has been suspended pending an investigation into a tweet he posted in 2012 blaming Jews for Israeli government policy.

The tweet, which resurfaced after he was readmitted to the party on Monday, said: “Jewish people with any sense of humanity need to start speaking out publicly against the ruthless murdering being carried out by Israel!””

Am I missing something. Where exactly does that tweet say that Jews are responsible for Israeli government policy? Surely it simply says that Jewish people should speak out against it and disown it.

 Oh boy! This will keep rumbling on!

In the meantime, here are some more pics of cars in Havana, Cuba.

And one motorbike and sidecar!

And some of the colourful people.

And views of the countryside in Viñales valley.

 Palm thatching ready for roofs.

This last is the tree underneath which people leave offerings to ask for a wish to be granted - for example, a suitcase if they want to travel.

Friday, 22 February 2019

Pictures of Cuba.

Looking out of the Cueva Santo Tomas

 Not so much stalactites as frozen stone waterfalls.

 Halfway up this cliff face is the entrance to the Santo Tomas cavern.
We scrambled up rocks to get there ... and then we had to get down again later.

 The Plaza Vieja - lovingly restired with some help from Belgium!

 If you must live in a tumbledown building, make the entrance beautifully your own.

 Art work in the handicrafts fair.

 Street art - the hair is all made from old 45 records.

 On the streets of Havana.

 That's all for now!

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Oddments of my Cuban learning. Reflections on things political. And some stuff about vitamins.

Some things we learnt in Cuba:

  •  There is a tree with spikey thorns all over its trunk and branches. It has a fancy latin name but is known locally as “el arbol de la suegra”, which translates as “the mother-in-law tree”! 
  •  The Cubans do not seem to know what grapefruit is. When I asked if they had grapefruit juice I received blank looks. When I described the fruit, only one of the girls serving breakfast had any idea what it might be and she did not call it “pomelo” but something completely different. 
  • Chickens roamed free all over the place in Viñales, partly because there are no foxes. 
  •  A piña colada without alcohol is a very refreshing drink. 
  • The farmer who served us this drink referred to adding rum as adding vitamin R. Nice one! 
  • Che is not a name. In Argentina “che” is used as a way of greeting an old friend, rather like “mate”. However it became a permanent part of the name of Ernesto Guevara, known everywhere as Che. 
  •  Small, white, heron-like birds are seen sitting on the backs of oxen. They have a symbiotic relationship with the oxen, eating tics of the backs of the big beasts. 
  •  Small vultures soar on the thermals of the Viñales valley - probably in other parts Cuba as well, but we saw them in the Viñales valley - looking remarkably like the red kites that soar over my son’s house in Buckinghamshire. Unlike the red kites, these vultures have bright red heads, but they are less ugly than larger vultures which I have seen in zoos. They help keep the valley clean as they scavenge for dead animals for food. Natural ecology at work! 
Photos of the Viñales valley will hopefully appear in my post tomorrow, when I might just get my hands on the computer again!

While my friend and I have been away the main political parties in this country seem to have gone further into melt down. Phil and I are off to Spain next week. Goodness knows what state the UK will be in when we return.

There is talk once again of the possible need for a visa if UK citizens want to visit Europe in the event of a no-deal Brexit. This is all because of disagreements over the sovereignty of Gibraltar. As far as I am concerned, the Spanish can keep the place. I feel much the same about the Falkland Islands and Argentina. But then I am not a resident of Gibraltar or the Falklands and I suppose their feelings should be taken into account. And maybe Spain could think about returning Ceuta and Melilla to Morocco!

A friend of mine is travelling to Germany just before Brexit day, returning on the 30th of March. He wonders if he needs to pay for a return ticket or if he can count on Germany repatriating him for having no visa!

I read something in today’s newspaper online about newborn babies and vitamin K. The article was written by an American paediatrician and so was very much from an American point of view. There it seems to be routine that newborn babies receive an injection of vitamin K. Vitamin helps the blood clot. Babies are apparently born with vitamin K deficiency, especially babies delivered by Caesarian section or ventouse, and so are vulnerable to the baby equivalent of a stroke.

Some new mothers refuse the injection, as they refuse vaccination a against measles and mumps and rubella and so on, sometimes on religious grounds, sometimes on mistaken idealogical grounds, sometimes advised by their midwife.

I tried unsuccessfully to discover if this practice is also routine in the UK. I must ask my daughter if her hospital offered this vaccination when her daughter was delivered by section. I do not remember it being talked about 40 years ago when I was having babies.

Maybe nobody knew about it back in the day!

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Crazy ladies in Cuba - the final days!

In Havana on Sunday, having travelled back from Viñales for a final night in the city, we found the hotel full the bursting and ourselves placed in a suite, instead of just a room. Maybe this was the only room available. We went in via a sumptuous hallway which gave onto a sitting room area with two sofas and a television set. Round the corner was a dining table and chairs. Only then did you go through a door into a huge bedroom. A family could have lived there comfortably. It was bigger than the farmer’s house we visited in Viñales! How the other half live!

We didn’t discover our luxurious accommodation until late in the afternoon as we could not check in until 4.00pm. So we left our luggage with the conserje (concierge) and visited the art gallery, full of works left behind after the Batista regime. It was supposed to include a Canaletto but although we found some Rembrandt and Turner, there was no sign of a Canaletto. There were lots of paintings by artists, supposedly well-known in the first half of the 20th century, we had never heard of. This is not surprising as we may be two quite knowledgable ladies, neither my friend or I can really claim to be art experts. One of the new-to-us artists was a certain Bastida, whise full name turns out to be Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida. Here is a link to wikipedia info about him. We were quite charmed by his paintings of people at the seaside in the early years of the 20th century. A nice bit of serendipity!

On Monday morning our luggage was again consigned to the conserje. Our transport to Havana airport was booked for 4.00pm and so we still had a day ahead of us. 10.00am saw us out and about, ignoring the cries of “Taxi, Lady! Very economic!”.

We were determinedly hunting for a handicrafts market which we had failed to find on the previous Wednesday. On that occasion we had plotted a zigzag route through the streets of Havana and at some point, possibly after sheltering from a downpour under a bridge, we must have taken a wrong turning, for we ended up in the middle of nowhere.

Not lost as such, for we could see how to get back to various major landmarks, just not where we had intended to be. Our zigzag route had taken us past some splendid graffiti embelished with this saying: “Sean realistas pidan lo imposible” - be realistic, demand the impossible.

As we took pictures of it and I translated the saying for my friend we fell into conversation with a lady from Argentina and a local Cubano. The latter finally asked us, “¿Quién lo dijo?” - Who said it? Well, it had to be Che Guevara, of course! I had to explain on my friend’s behalf that she has relative, well, sort of relatives through her ex-husband, called Che and Fidel! This is what happens when two old friends go adventuring in Cuba!

Anyway, on the Sunday we plotted our route more simply: straight down O’Reilly and hang a right when you get to San Ignacio and then go straight on to the very end! It worked a treat!

It also took us through the Plaza Vieja, a splendidly restored old square where local primary school children were having PE lessons in shady spots. Two groups of perhaps 20 to 25 apiece stood in neat rows doing bending and stretching, yoga poses and star-jumps, any kind of exercise you can standing in one spot!

Right at the end of San Ignacio, behind a fine church we found a warehouse housing the handicrafts market, divided into masses of little alleyways and stalls. One side was filled with paintings of Havana and Cuban people of all ages. Unfortunately we had no room in our luggage for such stuff. My friend, however, last of the big spenders, managed to purchase a teeshirt - embellished with a face of Che Guevara which changes colour in the sunshine - and a necklace!

Walking back towards our hotel we tried to stop for refreshment at a bar on the Plaza Vieja, where the chidren were now forming into crocodiles to head back to school or hime for lunch. However it turned out to be a pub with no beer - they specialised in coffee and rum! So we doubled back to one on San Ignacio called Papa Ernesto. There they used old 78 records as place mats, the label on one side replaced by their logo but still bearing the remains of the original label on the reverse side! And there was the inevitable drum band with a formidable girl singer performing their hearts out in the cafe.

Refreshed, we went on our way, just time for a snack lunch at the well camouflaged restaurant on O’Reilly Street, simply called 304, its street number. You can’t get in there without a reservation in the evening but you stand a chance at lunchtime. We were lucky! A plate of empanadillas, a salad and a drink and we were off.

The Cuban adventure was over! But there will be more photos over the next few posts!