Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Mondariz in the rain. And some thoughts about intolerance.

So here I am in Mondariz, where Phil is playing the last day of what is probably his last chess tournament of this summer. One of his young chess playing friends said it would rain today. According to him, it always rains on the last day of the Mondariz tournament. Well, it was rather cloudy when I went out for bread for breakfast but it didn't really look like rain. So when we set out later we didn't even think to put umbrellas in the bag. Silly! This is Galicia after all, where the weather can change dramatically overnight and temperatures can drop by ten degrees! 

I went for a walk around the grounds of the hotel before the rain started, very nice they are too. A very bossy Dalmatian dog saw me off at one point. And now it is raining nicely. In fact, there is even a bit of a thunderstorm going on. So I took advantage of the fact that the hotel hosting the congress has wifi to catch up with my mail and the news and so on. And so far none of it seems very good. 


In Italy they have had an earthquake. At least ten people have died and one small town has been half destroyed. And here I am complaining about a bit of rain! 

In France the burkini rows continue and seem to be taking a nasty turn. Here is a link to a story of how police made a woman on a beach in Nice remove some of her clothing because of the "burkini ban". I find myself wondering if they would demand that a woman wearing a raincoat or a big jumper would be obliged to remove some layers. If you wear a long skirt and a long-sleeved loose top, does this also offend the delicate sensibilities of those who believe you have to strip off on the beach? 

I am finding the whole thing more and more distasteful. In the weeks following the Brexit vote in the UK it seemed that certain elements of society had been given carte blanche to make racist comments in public and to be generally rude to folk who do not conform to white Anglo Saxon protestant appearances. I hesitate to say values as those so called values appear to be disappearing rapidly. And the burkini rulings in France will be giving similar license to those who want to bully others into conforming. 

The strange thing is that France, which many people would call a Christian, indeed a Catholic, country, does not actually have a state religion as such. So why is non-denominational state so upset about religious garb? 

In fact, the burkini was invented in Australia, to give Muslim girls a chance to take part in sports without feeling immodest. It was intended to provide the opportunity for greater integration. Nothing at all to do with religious fundamentalists. Here's a link to an article about it. 

When I go to Italy and visit churches, I make sure I have a scarf or shawl of some kind to cover my arms and shoulders. This is not from any deep religious conviction on my part but from a deep moral conviction that we should respect the feelings of others. 

Surely we should be trying to spread tolerance and acceptance not introduce rulings that further restrict people's, and particularly women's, freedom. This is just playing into the hands of the intolerant extremists. 

And that's another rant over and done with!

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Time travel!

Ok, where does one day end and another begin. It should be simple enough to work out. But it's another case of perceptions differing from one country to another. 

The Spanish have a lovely word: madrugada. It basically means the early morning. There's also a related verb: madrugar. That's partly where the confusion starts because it can mean both to stay up late and to get up early. 

One day last week, as we were going out early, I was at the breadshop at 7.30 am. "¡Que madrugadora eres hoy!" said my friendly weather witch. "What an early rise you are!" 

Phil doesn't play morning chess matches unless obliged to because "no le gusta madrugar": he doesn't like to get up early. 

Now, I need to be at Vigo bus station at 4.30 on Thursday morning. I have to catch that bus because the next one arrives at Porto airport after the gate has closed for my flight. So, although I will have to spend hours waiting at the airport, the 4.30 bus it is. Somehow I don't fancy dragging my wheelie suitcase through the empty streets of Vigo in the dark. Neither do I want to be phoning for a taxi at that time of day. So I got on the phone to make an advance booking. 

If I were in England and asked to book taxi for 4.30 on Thursday morning, they would know exactly when I meant to travel. So I explained what I wanted in my best Spanish. And my Spanish is good. No empty boasting there. Years of study and practice. And everyone here, Spanish people, comments on how good it is. A taxi for Thursday "a las cuatro de la madrugada". 

Total confusion ensues. So, the taxi lady wants to know, is that the morning of the 25th or the 26th? A quick flurry while I find my diary to get the date right. The 25th. THURSDAY! 

Well, no. According to the taxi lady that is still 4.30 in the early morning of Wednesday. Well, no, not technically Wednesday as such. The night of Wednesday through to Thursday. So in this case "la madrugada" is not so much the very early morning (of Thursday) but the very late night (of Wednesday). Oh, boy! Linguistic somersaults on a hot Tuesday afternoon. 

I went down to the pool to cool off after getting so hot and bothered. The taxi lady phoned to confirm the date and time. We had the conversation all over again. 

And she called again at about 9.15 tonight, ostensibly to check if I was paying cash or by card. Another repeat performance! 

I hope to goodness I don't get a phone call at 4.30 tomorrow morning saying there is a taxi waiting downstairs for me. Equally, I hope there is one there on Thursday morning and that the driver doesn't think I meant Friday! The taxi lady summarised the booking and it sounded right. 

Fingers crossed!

Monday, 22 August 2016

Anti-terrorist measures! ?

As I sat under a huge sunshade outside the Hotel Cemar in Mondariz late yesterday morning waiting for various people to finish playing chess or talking chess so that we could go for lunch, I watched one of the chess mums feeding her non-chess-playing offspring a range of snacks. The almost constant drip feeding of crisps and pumpkin seeds and snack biscuits perhaps explained why the child, quite a pretty twelve year old, was in danger of gaining more puppy fat than she would really want to have. 

Her mother tried to persuade her to have fruit but she wasn't being successful. When she eventually managed to get her to accept an apple, which she had to peel before the child would even consider it, her daughter took a few desultory bites, declared she had eaten it and asked if she could throw it away. She practically had to have her arm twisted up he back to eat a bit more of it. 

So much for the healthy southern European diet. I hesitate to call it Mediterranean as we are a long way from the Med. Later, over lunch, someone commented that Galician cuisine mainly consists of potatoes with something, be it fish or meat. Well, he is Galician so I suppose he has the right to criticise it in that way. And I suppose that if you count Spanish omelette and croquettes in the potato category he is probably correct. Apart from the last two potato items, I can usually manage without the spuds, even if Galician potatoes are the best world! 

Getting back to the lady with the snacks, when she was trying to persuade her daughter to eat fruit she took out of her fruit bag a large and rather lethal-looking kitchen knife. Obviously she needed a knife to peel the fruit. One of the other chess mums looked at her in horror and asked if she really carried that around with her on a regular basis. Did she not know that if the police found such a knife on her person, in her bag or in her car, she could be find upwards of €300 on the spot. Who knew? And is it true? 

The twelve year old was curious as to why this should be so. Well, explanations went like this: you might drop it on your foot and injure yourself; you might fall with it in your hand and, once again, injure yourself. just about all the explanations centred on the possibility of accidentally self harming. This was why, said the second chess mum, she always carried a penknife for peeling fruit. She took it out and showed it to us. You don't get fined for carrying one of these. Not a word was said about a big knife maybe being a threat to others. Terrorism was not mentioned once. Maybe they did not want to frighten the twelve year old. Maybe it's possible self harm really was the only reason. I kept quiet about it all. 

Besides, apples should just be washed and eaten. None of this namby-pamby peeling! My mother always maintained there are masses of vitamins in the apple skin. Mind you, she also ate tangerine peel. So she really wasn't the best person to consult. 

Talking about terrorist threats, the ban on the burkini continues to cause a furore in France. I read yesterday that the whole hoo-hah began back in 2004. In and around Paris, maybe in other inland cities in France, they have the habit of making urban beaches. Tons of sand are brought in and a beach is created next to a suitable bit of river. The most famous is next to the Seine, right in the centre of the capital. The municipality of Wissou, in Essone near Paris, organised an urban beach. Then they banned the wearing of burkinis at their urban beach. The Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) challenged the ban in court, and won. When Wissou reinstated the ban, the CCIF successfully challenged it a second time. 

Clearly there is nothing new under the sun. 

Maybe the only way to fight it is for non-Muslim feminists to start wearing burkinis on all the beaches of France.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Misnomers, mistranslations and visits to spas.

Out and about I have been collecting the ubiquitous English names for places, many of which are usually wrong in some way, often it's not a specific grammar mistake, nothing you can really pin down, just something that we would never actually say. 

There's "Bestdrive", the car repair place I have commented on before. It makes Phil splutter with indignation every time he goes past it. There's a whole chain of carwash places called "Coffee and Wash". The other day we saw a new restaurant, offering vegetarian options and lots of healthy food. Its name was "Feelfood"! Where did they get that from? 

Sometimes, however, it is a case of pure mistranslation. At Pontevedra's nicely refurbished railway station you have to go through a particular door to get to the platforms. This leads you to the X-ray machine that you have to put all your bags through before you continue to the platform. Except, that is, for when you arrive for one of the mid- to late-evening trains and they have already turned it off. On those occasions you can clearly blow trains up with importunity. Come to that, maybe that's what happened to the mysterious platforms 1 and 2, which seem not to exist. It's quite true: the platforms are numbered 3 to 8 and so far nobody has managed to explain this to me. 

Anyway, on the door from the platforms onto the main station area - the door you would normally go through if it were not for the X-ray machine - is clearly labelled "No Pasar". This is nicely mistranslated into "No Trespassing". Which is a different thing altogether! 

But at least they make a token translation. and the announcements on the trains are in Castellano, Gallego and English. The only time I heard of the Manchester trams making announcements in Spanish as well as English was when one of the big Spanish football teams was plying Manchester City. 

On top of he foreigners making mistakes, you get English speakers, and writers, who get the language wrong through over correction. I have come to accept "me and Susie are doing this or that" but I still get rather fretted when someone asks me to do something "for Susie and I". Here's another overcorrection to add to the list: "Whomever invented elastic should be added to Mount Rushmore, as they have done more for Americans than any politician in history." From the Guardian the other day. 

Meanwhile, we have spent the day in Mondariz, where Phil has been playing chess and, indeed, will continue to do for the next few days. We travelled slowly in a bus from Vigo bus station. To call it a bus is actually an exaggeration. So few people appear to come here by public transport that they just put on a little minibus. And the driver seemed to know half of the passengers and where they wanted to go before they said anything. 

We had a nice lunch: ensalada mixta, calamares, croquetas, tortilla - the list goes on - for just over €50 for five of us! Then we walked down from Mondariz to Mondariz Balneario, the spa, with its splendid bath buildings. Phil tried the disgustingly smelly spa water: probably very good for him. Here are a few photos. If you look carefully, in one of them you might just make out Phil pulling faces at the bad taste of the water! 




Saturday, 20 August 2016

Cafe culture: Pigeons, Wifi, Childcare.

Sitting on the terraza of the cafe at the Castro Park this afternoon, I had a running battle with pigeons who know no fear and simply land on your table. A small boy at a nearby table was highly amused and got up from time to time to chase them away. In the end I just moved tables - the sun was moving round to mine anyway - and left the bowl of crisps to the flying vermin. 

When the waitress came out and saw that I had moved and heard why, she laughed but went on to say how she hates the cheeky things. She reckons that they are protected and that it is against the law to kill them. I fail to see how they can be a protected species. There are too many of the dratted creatures for that. Far more likely is that it is just impossible to keep your cafe terrace free of them no matter what you do. 

Apart from the pigeons, the cafe up at the Castro Park is a nice spot to sit and watch the world go by. Their wifi is a bit erratic but on the whole it's reliable enough to let you catch up with your mail and read the papers. 

We rely a lot on cafes with wifi. We used to use a mobile dongle but recently had a bit of an argument with the Vodafone people when they ascribed our €20 worth of internet to the wrong number and failed to put it right. So now it's wifi cafes for us. We have a network of them in a variety of places: Vigo, Pontevedra, Sanxenxo pretty much wherever we go! 

While Phil is playing in the chess tournament at Mondariz, he calls me when he is on his way home and I meet him at one of our usual haunts, taking the laptop with me. We both catch up with our internet stuff and Phil finds put from the tournament website who he is playing the next day. 

Last night little Hugo was in the cafe. We have been watching Hugo since he was a tiny thing. He's always been a holy terror. When he had just learnt to walk, and, perhaps more importantly, run, but had not yet learn ANY sense whatsoever, he used to push the door of the cafe open and do a runner down the street. It must have kept his parents fit. He is about three now and has not improved greatly. He no longer does a runner but demands a lot of attention and shouts a lot. His grandmother's way of dealing with his little fits of bad behaviour is to tell him she no longer loves him - ¡Ya no te quiero! - and to tell him to phone his father and have him come and collect him. Next moment she smothers him in kisses. 

No wonder the child is a mess!

Friday, 19 August 2016

Sun and rain and clouds.

Yesterday I decided it was time to go and dip my feet in the ocean once again. After all, August is half way through and summer will be over before we know it. I planned to dip only my feet in the ocean. If I want a solitary swim, there is the swimming pool. Messing about in the sea with grandchildren is one thing but I have never fancied risking leaving my stuff on a crowded beach while I go for a swim. It can be quite hard to get back to your starting point unless there are quite significant landmarks to aim for. 

So, a paddle was the order of the day: that very Spanish thing of walking the waterline. 

While Phil went off to play chess and to try not to lose any more chess rating points, I hopped off a bus just outside Urzáiz railway station and straight into another, this time heading for Samil, Vigo's rather fine beach at the far end of town. A very crowded bus it was too and there was no messing about with chivalry and excessive courtesy. 

It was a splendid day for a walk along the beach: fine and sunny but not excessively hot and with enough breeze to keep you cool. The beach was very full and there were enough waves coming in to keep all the children happy jumping them. I resisted the temptation to wake some of the people sleeping their siesta on the sand, merely shaking my head at the foolishness of such behaviour. Imagine waking later, lobster coloured! 

I returned to Vigo via the path that runs alongside the river Lagares. At the start of the path, just beyond the Lagares reed beds, access to the path proper gets a little confused. Drainage work of some kind which was begun last year, when I did a similar trip, seemed not to have progressed at all in the last twelve months. I assume they must have done something but there is really little evidence to show for it. 

Once I had found my way past the work in progress and got onto the path, it was a really pleasant walk as most of it is under trees. It is a favourite with local cyclists, judging by the numbers I saw. They are actually more careful and respectful of other pedestrians than the ones you come across cycling on pavements around town! 

I left the path at Balaidos, the Celta de Vigo stadium, where further work in progress forced me to make a wide detour. Eventually I came out where I intended, just opposite the entrance to Castrelos park. I strolled up the road towards Plaza de España, stopping for a little clara (shandy) at a cafe on the way. 

The drink came with a small bowl of olives. Then the cafe owner brought a small plate of fried potatoes in a mustardy, spicy sauce: a variation on patatas bravas, I suppose. A couple of minutes later she came back with a small plate of fried potatoes with mayonnaise. All that for just one person! She must have known just how long I had been walking! 

It's just as well I planned my beach walk for yesterday as today began with rain: proper rain, not just low mist. I could tell it was raining before I opened the blinds. There is a particular swishing sound to traffic on wet roads. My weather witch at the bread shop assured me that the rain was for this morning only. By midday, though, the sun was still having difficulty making its way through the murk. 

However, some improvement was evident. You could see across the bay once more and the cloud had moved up from water level to just a little higher in the air. I always associated cloud you felt you could reach out and touch with mountainous areas. Of course, I knew about sea mist. I grew up in a seaside place, after all. But I never saw cloud so low down as you get here. Maybe it's the presence of hills just behind the estuary that makes a difference. But it never fails to fascinate me, the way you see a bank of cloud hanging just feet above the water! 

Later: the weather witch was right, of course. The day did improve.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Politeness and chivalry gone mad!

On the bus two ladies, about my age, perhaps a bit older, in other words old enough for people to give up their seats for them, were sitting on two of those seats reserved for the halt and the lame. You can't miss them; they have a symbol of an old stick man with a stick.

A couple of stops along, an older man got on, an old chap with a stick, accompanied by someone was most probably his daughter. Getting on, he had problems with his green card, the one for paying his fare. Maybe carrying it around in an envelope which then needed opening was not a good idea. He dropped it, twice, almost dropping his stick in the process, but eventually got it to work. He moved, somewhat precariously, down the bus. 

One of the ladies in the seats for the halt and the lame stood up and offered him the seat. Clearly his dignity as a fine old gent was affronted. He blusteringly refused the offer. Both ladies were now on their feet, declaring that they were getting off soon. There then followed almost five minutes of the two ladies, the old gent and the daughter, also probably in her fifties or more, telling each other to sit down and warning each other about the dangers of standing up on a moving bus. The driver could brake, "dar un frenazo", at any moment. Falling was a distinct possibility. 

The two original ladies did indeed get off a couple of stops further along. The old gent and his daughter sat down. All was well. Then, two more stops along the route, another old chap with a stick got on. The first old chap with a stick offered to stand so the second could sit down. So did the daughter. Further extreme politeness ensued. The second old chap said he was fine. He had been sitting all day. And anyway, he suddenly realised he was on the wrong bus and had to get off at the next stop. 

You could not make it up! 

It must be a week for over courteous behaviour. The bus incident was yesterday. This afternoon in the Mercadona supermarket next door, I saw another example. In that supermarket, in fact in most of the supermarkets I frequent here, you almost never see checkout girls sitting at the tills twiddling their thumbs as you do in the UK. They wait until the queue build up and then call assistants by name to go to the till. 

Ths afternoon, there were queues at two tills, the rest being unoccupied. An elderly couple, one of whom was blind, were dithering about which queue to join. The call went out: Señorita blablabla, acude a caja. Ever so polite, using the formal imperative and everything. They always ask the customers to move over to the newly opened checkout in queue order. (This is another thing that does not happen in the UK. A new checkout opens and there is a free for all to get into the queue first. So much for British queuing!) Anyway, this afternoon, one after another, customers indicated that the elderly couple should go ahead of them. Each time they politely declined. Finally, I persuaded them that they should go ahead of me as they had been waiting (dithering) for a while already when I joined the queue. 

Wonderful stuff!