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Showing posts from January, 2009

Spare a thought for the Nuns' sheep

It's hardly the motorway closing, chaos causing snow that has been so common in Northern Spain this winter but it is, definitely, snow on this Monday morning in Ciudad Rodrigo.
The picture is taken from our living room. The building is the Santa Clara Convent where, so far as I know, the nuns live a life without modern conveniences like electricity. One of their hobbies is ringing the convent bell. They sell biscuits and keep sheep too. The sheep go baaah-baaah which isn't a noise usually associated with an urban environment so that it rather took me aback the first time I heard it drifting through the flat.

The San Sebastian day concert

I don't know if you have heard the singer Tom Waits (if you haven't you should) but his voice is so gravelly he sounds like he smokes 50 Woodbine a day. One time, when I saw him in concert, a young woman walked up to the stage and hurled a bunch of flowers at his feet: "Thank ya babe", he growled. And he didn't sound stupid.
Tonight a man yelled "Bravo!" and he didn't sound stupid either. The word exploded from his lips; if I'd been the performer on the receiving end of the acclaim I would have been overjoyed.
We were watching an amateur choir from the teacher training college at the University of Salamanca who had battled through the snow to get to Ciudad Rodrigo. They performed songs from a dozen or so zarzuelas. A Zarzuela is a type of music, a bit like light opera, where the spoken acting, songs and dances (often rooted in folk traditions) are used to move the story along.
We'd gone because we were off work for the town's patron saint&#…

Build 'em cheap

Franco liked to build dams. He had one build in the next province up from us, in Zamora, in a place called Ribadelago which he opened in 1956.
In 1959 it burst and killed 144 of the 549 inhabitants of the village in its shadow in a little under 15 minutes. They recovered just 28 of the bodies. The disaster wasn't exactly hushed up but it was certainly played down by the Government of the day. An Enquiry blamed the failiure on poor materials, poor construction and irresponsibility of the engineering team.

I noticed a small piece in the local paper that said some 500,000€ had been earmarked to improve the dam on the Agueda, the river that flows through Ciudad Rodrigo. If that one were to go it may cause us some problems. We drove up to have a look. It was built in 1931 and it looks sturdy enough.

A voyage around Saint Anthony

They were letting off rockets today at one of our local churches because it is Saint Anthony's day - San Antón to us. When we went to take a peek there were hams and things hanging around the church door and lots of old chaps, wearing flat hats, having a natter.

I knew that there was going to be some sort of festival from a calendar of events that I'd seen in a tourist office publication but it's only as I was piecing this post together that it has clicked what's actually going on. Of course I can't find a timetable anywhere to go and see the denouement of the celebrations.

Saint Anthony is the Patron Saint for animals* and there are church services to bless pets and animals all over Spain. There are also special cakes in the bakers, called Panecillos del Santo, that are offered to San Antón so that he will keep the beasts healthy and safe from disease. Apparently the form of these pastries varies from town to town. The Ciudad Rodrigo ones are supposed to have cross…

The walled city

One of the distinctive things about Ciudad Rodrigo is that the city walls are still completely intact. Short of scaling the stonework the only way into the old town is through one of the many, just over car width, gateways. There are about 2kms of wall and I suppose that it's at least 8m high all of its length with many stretches being a good deal higher. Then there are twiddly bits like the castle and the various ramparts built to defend the main wall from cannon balls. Quite a lot of stonework.

These blokes have been working on the stretch of wall just near one of the gates, just repointing it I think, since some time before Christmas. They may have done as much as 200m in, say, the last six weeks. Spain calls its current financial problems The Crisis and The Crisis has hit the building industry particularly hard but even my rudimentary arithmetic suggests that these chaps are going to have jobs long enough to weather even the longest economic crisis.

San Sebastian

Saint Sebastian is the Patron Saint of Ciudad Rodrigo. He's the one from the Derek Jarman film with all those naked Roman soldiers having a bit of a laugh as they shoot him full of arrows. He is usually shown in paintings tied to a tree and looking like a pincushion. That's what the statue of him that normally lives in the Parish Church of Ciudad Rodrigo has him looking like too. Apparently though he didn't die from all the arrows, he was left for dead but he miraculously recovered. Unfortunately for him, full of Christian vim, he decided to harangue the Roman Emperor Diocletian as he passed by and the Emperor had him beaten to death and thrown into a cess pit.

According to tradition he died on 20 January so in preparation for the big do on that date a brass band, lots of people dressed in capes or wearing a medal (which I'm guessing marks their membership of the "brotherhood" of San Sebastian), some young people dressed in a sort of page boy get up and a bunc…

The Sunday papers

Just as much of a ritual here as in the UK and very similar in that they have lots of sections, travel, finance etc and there's usually a magazine. It's also the big days for giveaways "Free with this Sunday's El Mundo - Secrets of the Universe in pictures." Maybe the only difference is that as the man of the house pops out to buy the paper his wife reminds him to call at the baker's and get the bread.


When I was taking the picture of the temperature display outside one of the chemist's here in Ciudad Rodrigo for the post below I saw the usual notice to say which was the duty chemist today and it caused me to ponder on the differences between Spanish chemists and their Brit equivalent.

There are no multiple chemists in Spain, the phramacist must own and run their own business. If a place is large enough to have a pharmacy (and there's some legal stipulation about how big a town has to be to warrant a chemist and how many chemists there can be for such and such a population) then there is guaranteed 24hr a day cover. I suppose if there's just one farmacia in a small town then the pharmacist can expect a lot of interrupted nights! This licensing of chemists shops, as distinct from the licensing of the pharmacists themselves, has been getting more controversial recently as newly trained pharmacists are angry about the difficulty of opening their own business when so many op…

Liar, liar, pants on fire

It's bitter, it's perishing, it's icy, it's freezing, it's horrid - over the past week I've been able to use these as topical English expressions for the students I teach because it has indeed been bitter, perishing and icy here in Ciudad Rodrigo. The thermometer on the chemist's may read a toasty -1ºC but it has been minus a few degrees overnight and it really has felt excruciatingly cold.

But we've been getting off lightly. Temperatures in Soria yesterday were -9ºC and it was -6ºC in Salamanca capital. Not warm. Madrid Airport was closed for five hours because of the snow and the telly was full of stories of people trapped in cars for hours on end on the motorways in and out of Madrid. In fact most of Spain has had snow including normally mild places like Murcia and coastal Andalucia. There was even a light dusting in Culebrón according to some friends and the water pipes of our house there froze.

Now who was it who was explaining to me that the reason…

The villages

Since we've been back in Ciudad Rodrigo Maggie and I have been comparing and contrasting the two places where we live. We've decided that neither area is better or worse than the other - they're just different. 
On of the plus side, for Salamanca, must be some of the country villages. I really like the way that the older houses seem to be completely at one with their environment. Sometimes the built stone walls incorporate some crop out of rock - often groups of houses and buildings just grow up a hillside - it's as though the buildings are an extension of the natural rock. Mind you when I went looking for a photo to put here to prove my point I found that all the houses that looked like that were generally derelict.
And then, I must mention the efforts of someone to keep all the villages as twee as any tourist could want. There's a photo somewhere in one of the posts of a chap riding a donkey, today a bloke obligingly walked his sheep through the village almost as i…

40 Riders Club

I'd read somewhere about an impressive length of disused railway line at a place called La Fregeneda so, today being a bank holiday, we drove up there to have a look. 
We found the village OK and, on an information board at the entrance to the village, there was mention of the last 17km stretch of the line from La Fregeneda to the International Bridge on the Duero having 20 tunnels and 13 viaducts and a change in height of some 300 metres. We wandered about trying to find the line and a few kilometres up an unmade road we saw a couple of the viaducts in amongst the hills but we couln't find the track itself despite there, supposedly, being a disused station in the village.
Class 40 was a type of diesel locomotive used by British Rail and presumably by the companies that came after in the UK. I once met a group of lads, members of the 40 Riders Club, whose ambition was to ride a train, at least once, pulled by each of these locos.

¡Viva los Reyes Magos! ¡Viva!

The Spanish military are incredibly good at the call and response "viva". The instantaneous swell of voices that snaps out the one word is impressive but the children in the main square of Ciudad Rodrigo this evening would give all but the crackest of crack regiments a good run for their money.
Tonight is the night that, traditionally, The Three Kings deliver Christmas presents to the youth of Spain. We went to see our local Cabalgata, the parade of the Kings that takes part in all but the tiniest of Spanish towns. As I type I can hear the live broadcast of the rather larger Madrid version on the telly. Our parade was small, the three Kings had a float each but, other than that, it seemed to consist of men dressed as ducks riding decorated  lawn mowers and a sullen looking little girl with a tiara in a motorised pram. Both the Guardia and the Firefighters turned on the sirens to try to stoke up the atmosphere a bit.
But you could feel the excitement of the children in the air.…