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Showing posts from November, 2008

For paella read farinato

In Alicante it wasn't unusual to go to some sort of Fiesta and to be offered free paella. In Ciudad Rodrigo the "signature" dish is a spicy sausage called farinato which is normally served with cut up fried egg. The "Friends of the Farinato" were serving it up in one of the town's squares today. We got our share.

No red paint to dodge

I was hanging around in town today waiting for a display of birds of prey. A couple of fur coats caught my attention and I was reminded that it is still considered chic to be seen in fur in Spain. I'm with the majority of Brits who, as I remember, think it's a bloody shame to be seen in fur. Maybe it's all fake fur but I don't think so somehow.

Hard sell

Last year Maggie chanced upon a craft fair sale here in Ciudad Rodrigo. She went in to see if they had any Christmas cards. The group of mature women who had organised the sale soon recognised her for a Brit and insisted that she talk to one of their members - Señora Bromfield - a Spanish woman who had married a Briton and spent 27 years living in the Midlands.

A year later Maggie is still friends with Mrs Bromfield. Indeed we were invited to lunch with her today. Our meeting place was to be the craft sale organised by Manos Unidas a Catholic based charity that sells "Third World" handicrafts to raise money for humanitarian projects. We brought a brilliant nativity scene made up of a Peruvian Mary, Joseph, baby Jesús, Kings and donkeys.

I was impressed by the hard sell, no holds barred advertising for the craft sale. You will see, in the photo, the huge hoardings and eye catching displays the group mounted to entice passers by into parting with their cash. Well, if you enlarge…

Christmas already?

They were putting up the Christmas lights in the town today. Before you know it they'll have Christmas stuff in the shops in September, just like in the UK!

Salamanca, tariffs, rapid action and electricians

Back in the summer there was a bit of an ooh aah about electricity prices here. The poor old generators and distributors said they were on their uppers - giving the stuff away, it was so bad they were wondering about retiring to their yachts in the Caribbean. One of the biggest complaints from the consumers who need to heat and power their homes was that the generators wanted to scrap the cheap "off peak" rate. And, to be honest, with my imperfect Spanish I thought that is what had happened.

In winter it gets a bit parky in Spain. Back in Alicante with marble and tiles everywhere, with draughts blowing under doors and windows, even in the sort of temperatures that would seem mild in a UK winter, our house felt like the inside of a fridge. That's because everyone reckons Alicante is warm so the houses are designed to deal with the heat; not with the cold.

In Salamanca it's different. People expect ice and freezing winds in winter so the houses are built for it. Our ren…

Peña de Francia

It's a hill, 1723m high (Ben Nevis, for comparison, is 1344m) about 50kms from Ciudad Rodrigo.

Apparently a French chap found an image of a Black Virgin Mary in a cave there in the 15th Century. Within a couple of years of the "discovery" the Dominicans had the place sewn up tight and they set about building a monastery, church and what not on the summit. I presume that the TV repeater station came later. I understand the good folk of Ciudad Rodrigo carry one of those big Holy statues all the way there, and up the hill, on their backs each September

It was a cracking place. Crisp air, blue sky, views over to the snow on top of the Sierra del Bejar and the religious buildings looked really stocky and solid as though they really should be there. When we were in the church I noticed we were blowing smoke, all those monks doing all that kneeling and praying for all those years crossed my mind. But, in my overcoat and with the heater in the Mini proving to be first rate I didn&…

Out for a stroll

Years ago I visited a museum in Newcastle upon Tyne. In the natural history section there was a stuffed sparrow and an explanatory note about how the museum had been missing an example of the common spuggie for many years. They were such an everyday sight that nobody had ever thought to add one to the museum's collection - at least till then. That's why I don't have a picture of anyone walking and had to use this snap!

Whenever we go on one of our little trips we encounter tens of people walking along the road. They can be anyone of any age but older people out walking alone or as a couple make up the vast majority of sightings. And often there appears to be no habitation for miles - goodness knows how far they've roamed.

Maggie's pal, Maria Luisa, invited us to stroll. Each evening she walks the 3 or 4km to meet her husband at his smallholding in the countryside near the village of Ivanrey. Maggie has done it several times before but, for me, it was a first.

Hand inside your jacket time

Ciudad Rodrigo, Salamanca, the whole of the Spain and Portugal was in a bit of a tizz about 200 years ago. What with French armies roaming about, the Spaniards playing unfair and inventing guerilla tactics and the English deciding that if the Spaniards were going to fight the French they may as well join in and have a go at Boneparte. After all the man was causing we Brits a fair bit of bother with his trade embargo. And the Brits could rely on their faithful allies the Portuguese who were somewhat narked that the French had invaded their country.

Ciudad Rodrigo was an important town in this little argie bargie. A gallant defence of the city by Spaniards against the French gave the Brits time to regroup. Wellington took the city back in record time from the French a couple of years after as one of his very early steps in breaking out of Portugal and going on the attack.

This is not the sort of thing that a town that depends heavily on tourism is likely to miss. We went to one of the fir…

33 years and some 20 minutes

My regular appointment with Cuentame on the telly tonight. Apparently it was on 20 November 1975 that they finally turned off all the life support machines on Franco.

The group of young people who went down our street this morning shouting something (I think it was some problem with their school) are probably blissfully unaware that not too many years ago walking down a street and shouting something may have had dire consequences. Or it could be that 20 November is an appropriate day to make a statement about your grievances as a reminder of the fact that you can now protest.

Distances and what not

I was just tinkering with the Guia Campsa mapsite to see how far it was to various airports from here.

Oporto or Porto in Portugal is 275kms away though it does have the advantage that we could stop off for a dip in the Atlantic about 40kms before we got there in our nearest seaside town. Barajas, the Madrid airport is 363kms away which makes our local airport Valladolid as it's only 213kms or two and a quarter hours away. Actually we do have an airport in Salamanca but as it only has one flight per day to Barcelona it doesn't look that useful for potential guests whilst Ryanair fly between Valladolid and Stansted on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

Essential traffic control

Not a car in sight but rules are rules.

You may need to enlarge the snap.

Life in the fast lane

I'm beginning to really like my new Province. It's probably a romantic view but there seems to be a symbiosis between the land and the people who live on it. I'm sure that, in reality, everyone writes computer games software and sells insurance but it doesn't seem like that as we drive around more or less deserted roads passing by grazing sheep, cattle and pigs and stopping off in sleepy villages where old women sit on their doorsteps crocheting.

Today we went to a Natural Park, El Parque Natural Arribes del Duero, that runs on both the Spanish and Portuguese sides of the River Duero. We started in an interpretation centre in the village of Sobradilla. We were the only customers in the hour or so that we were there so the guide had plenty of time to tell us about the unique microclimate in the steep valleys that surround the river. She told us how they grow oranges, a crop that's not tough enough to take the winters in our Alicante home just 50 miles from the Medit…

Fun with Mr Pugh

You're going to have to be old and, probably, British to get that reference. Charlie Drake was an unemployed worker and Henry McGee was the official at the local Labour Exchange who, week after week, tried to find him work.

As I only work part time Maggie thought I should go and register as a jobseeker. It seemed like a sensible move - after all there may be more part time work going locally or there may be a better full time job. Chances are slim but there was nothing to lose.

The conversation in the office was a bit surreal. I started with my pat phrase about having difficulty with the language - the woman screwed her face up in an effort to understand me. This was not a good start. I went on to explain my part time teaching job. Her computer showed me as being out of work from my dole registration in Alicante. Not good. She found a way around that, ably assisted by three colleagues who leaned gently, with their hands supporting their body weight, on the back of her chair. She, t…

Fond beliefs shattered

As a Brit wandering around Spain I subscribe to two of the stereotypical views of the Spanish. "They don't seem interested in getting drunk, you hardly ever see Spaniards drunk in the street" and "They stick together as families, look at all those huge weekend meals with all the Grans and Aunties out with all the kids".

Antena 3 TV news last night: "Spain has the dubious honour of being the 6th highest nation in the World in the consumption of alcohol - we drink an average of 10 litres per person per year."

Last week I was skimming an English language magazine published in Alicante to see if they'd published an article I'd written. I was surprised to read "Spain has the highest divorce level in the European Union." Apparently over 70,000 people got divorced in the first six months of this year.

Actually, thinking about it, maybe the alcohol thing doesn't surprise me. Spaniards may drink a lot. The overweight, middle aged, man having…

Enough to bring a tear to your eye

There's a programme on the telly here called "Cuéntame Como Pasó."

It's the story of the last few years of the Franco dictatorship and the transformation to democracy told from the point of view of an ordinary Spanish family. The scenery wobbles a bit but I like the programme; part of my cultural and linguistic education.

They've got to 1976 now. Franco is dead, there's pornography on the streets. The World is turned upside down. The reactionaries are scandalised, the liberals are still on their guard. The period that Spaniards call "The Transition"

As always, last night, a couple of bits of music were featured throughout the programme - Dawn's "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" and a song by Jarcha called "Libertad sin Ira", something like Liberty without Rage or maybe Liberty without Vengeance.

I've heard this song a few times, it's one the news programmes trot out whenever they talk about the Transition. All I've ever noticed b…

Death notices

As I was walking back from the Health Centre, on this wet and miserable day, I noticed someone reading these posters. They're the messages that Brits would put in the in the Births and Deaths section of the local newspaper. These two are pasted on a telephone pole in the street.

I've seen notices like them hundreds of times but I'd never looked at the detail. The name of the person who has died, the time and place of death, their age at death, rest in peace, details of the grieving family who ask for you to pray for the soul of the deceased, details of the chapel of rest and of the interment and an advert for the undertaker. I was also taken by the additional note that the dead persons had received the last rites.

Just in case you look closely at the notices one of them is about a memorial service for a person who died a year ago.

I can be ill now

Ciudad Rodrigo is quite a long way from most places. So far as I know the nearest hospital is in Salamanca, which is 85kms away.

Suppose those nice paramedics arrive within 20 minutes of the emergency call and the ambulance averages a steady 120kph (and it couldn't) then we're well over the hour before the trolley crashes through those double doors and all those doctors and nurses start shouting. It was only 25kms to the nearest hospital from Culebrón and that seemed far enough.

I'd found lots of excuses to put off registering with the Health Service here as I'm becoming terrified of speaking Spanish but I finally got around to going to the local health centre today. Its a big building that looks, from the outside, as though it doubles up as a sort of "cottage hospital". I hope so as I reckon my old and abused body just wouldn't take that ambulance ride.

We are convened

There's a notice in the entranceway to our block of flats. It reads:

Se convoca una reunión de la Comunidad para el viernes día 7 de noviembre de 2008 a las 21:00 horas. El presidente.

Fair enough; quite flowery language for such a short note but then people do that when they're writing stuff. There's a meeting for the community, the owners and tenants of the flats in this block, on Friday 7 November at 9pm. At least I think tenants have the right to attend but I'm not sure.

Hmm, I wonder where the meeting is or how to get in touch with the mysterious El Presidente.

Maybe Maggie will know.

More on hot beverages

I don't long for marmite or pork pies. There's plenty of food and drink to be had here. There is, though, one "English" thing that I could not do without - tea.

Fortunately for us one of the big supermarket chains, Mercadona, carries Tetley tea in each and every one of its stores. Lots of the other supermarkets sell tea where there is a Brit population but we are a bit thin on the ground here so no tea in Eroski or Carrefour.

Amazingly we managed to run out of tea bags yesterday and, of course, it was a Bank Holiday with most shops closed. We were lucky though, Ciudad Rodrigo has a tourist trade and one of the things that modern tourism spawns in places like this is speciality food shops. You know the sort of thing: cheeses in muslin bags, honey jars with gingham cloth lids, local cakes in separate cellophane packs and strange herbal teas. On one of the shelves in one of the shops there was one old and dusty box of 25 Hornimans tea bags.

Now Spanish tea, even when it…

Four years and 25 days

I arrived in Spain, to live here, on October 7th 2004. Today I went into a bar and ordered a couple of coffees. I drink Americano, basically a longer black coffee. Maggie's con leche appeared as usual but mine took a long time to arrive. When it did it consisted of a tea bag in a teapot full of hot milk flavoured with cinnamon.

"Oh, I thought you said Tea Americano" said the woman behind the bar.

Lesson 1, page 1 in the Speaking Spanish textbook and I failed.