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Showing posts from February, 2009

And after the Lord Mayor's Parade came the dustcart

Everywhere, on every street, outside every bar, in every public space people are tidying up, sweeping, mopping, hammering and carrying things away. 
Lots of the bars that have been open for days on end from early morning till early the other sort of early morning are now firmly shuttered and I imagine that the staff are fast asleep exhausted after days with hardly any sleep. The shops are open again and the streets are much quieter with the tourists pointing their cameras at the Cathedral, Castle, Walls and other monumental buildings just like any other day. Everyday fare. It's all, very definitely, over.

Well, old friend, till next year

Things seemed to be going smoothly, half a dozen fighting bulls and the same number of oxen had run into town without too much incident. Then the bulls had been let loose in the plaza, one by one, for the lads to have a go at the "capea" where they show their skill in either capework or simply in baiting and avoiding the bulls. The bulls were due to go out of the town but, in the cattle crush that leads the bulls from the holding pens to the main square, a frightened bull bolting from the square and heading for the safety of the pens collided with another charging out into the square. So far as we could tell one beast died instantly in the collision
We'd seen enough bulls by mid-day so we headed off to the mountains. By the time we got back to Ciudad Rodrigo the town was emptying. There were some car parking spaces available, the mass movement of people that has been the hallmark of the last few days had stopped and people were saying goodbye to old friends. The town is r…

Kidding myself

Bulls running through the streets and young men taunting them are so normal here at the moment that it's easy pretend it's all OK.
We went out to watch the running this morning. A couple of bulls gave the lads in the Registro, the little plaza just outside the walls, a bit of a run for their money. It was all quite amusing in a sort of humiliating way. At one point a black bull put its horn underneath one of the guard rails and lifted it and the four or five people sitting on it about 10cm off the ground. Only later did I realise that the effort had pulled the horn clean out of its head and the horn was dangling, held on by bits of bloodied shreds of skin or tendons or something. Horrible.

Bad news

I was going to pick my mum up from the airport and I heard about the Ciudad Rodrigo Carnaval on the national radio news. Apparently dozens of people had been injured when the bulls had done what we've seen them do several times over the last couple of days, turn around and head off in the opposite direction. 
The news said that a 51 year old man had been transferred to Salamanca Hospital in critical condition and that with the mobile operating theatre and all the Intensive Care Units in the town completely overwhelmed the bullfight for this afternoon had been cancelled.
When I got back Maggie said she had heard that the Headteacher of the school she works in had been injured. A bit og Googling and it turns out that he's the man they have taken to Salamanca.

Running for their lives

You think you have a good spot. The bulls come and an electric thrill passes through the crowd. Everywhere people are running, shouting, scrambling up fences. You see very little but you were definitely there; a part of what was going on.
Today the horses, or more strictly, the horsemen ride the bulls into town. They wield lances and gallop down the street penning the bulls in. They've been brought across open country and once the bulls are inside the fences, the agujas, the horsemen seem to relax. Certainly a number trotted gently back down the road, heading out of town just seconds before a cantankerous red fighting bull turned back for the countryside sending the crowd scurrying hither and thither.

Carnaval Saturday

We went in to see the Carretones, I thought it was going to be calves running into town but instead it was pretend bulls on wheels. It made me laugh a lot. For the first real bull running of the day all we saw was a lot of people fleeing and glimpses of the bulls through the fences. One bull was being really awkward and kept coming and going, causing all sorts of commotion. He had us penned in for at least half an hour.
By devious routes we got to the place I work which has views over the main square. The same bull was now in the square being as awkward as ever. Several time the mansos, the meek bulls, were sent in to try and guide the big fellow out - that's what you have in the photo. Stubborn rather than brave I heard a Spaniard say.
Later, after eating our way through some traditional empanadas and hornazo, we went on a round of the bars. The town is just heaving with people and life. With my head beginning to pound just a bit we stood around waiting for the fancy dress parade. …

Let the games begin!

The shops along the bull run are boarded up, the safety fences are in place, the sand is down in the main square and the stands are complete. This afternoon the bands marched into town, people showed off their "club" colours or fancy dress costumes for the first time, the bell that warns us when the bulls are loose was uncovered and we have even had the (non fighting) bulls run through the town. The mansos, as they are called look like oxen and they have damned big horns. Their job is to learn the route so they can guide the fighting bulls along the course over the next few days.
Actually, we had a bit of a do with the mansos. Normally they run into town, trot around the square a bit and then run back to their pens. Today they changed their minds half way home and turned back into town. We had just set off into the street when, all of a sudden, people were scurrying hither and thither and the town bell began ringing faster. I was slower than Maggie to get behind the fence and…

Banks II

The plastic card from my new bank turned up yesterday. It had to be activated. I could do it in a bank machine, go into my branch or phone up. I had a slot of about 15 minutes between lessons at work so I thought I may as well ring. How tricky could the Spanish be in the process of activating a debit card?
It wasn't tricky but once we'd done what I wanted to do the telephone person started trying to sell me card insurance, I said I already have some, which I do. The sales pitch was delivered with too many first name references - especially for you Don Creestofer we're offering an introductory price of just.. - in that bored to death, reading the script at break neck speed manner that you get at the end of adverts for financial products. 
Having said no to card insurance she warned me how dangerous it was not to be legally protected and went on to try and sell me a sort of legal insurance. I stopped listening, I was getting cross, the bank wasn't paying for this phone cal…

The trouble with Spaniards and fiestas

is that they've been there and done that.

There have been things going on all week related to the Carnaval de Toros, the event that officially runs from this Friday evening until next Tuesday. For instance, as an example, a group of blokes, dressed in cloaks and playing lutes passed beneath our window yesterday evening on their way home from some little ceremony. Not something we got a lot of in Huddersfield.

Maggie and I haven't been involved in anything Carnaval related so far this year so, when Maggie said that we were going to abandon the telly and go to see the official opening of the casetas (the temporary headquarters of the peñas- see blog of 12 Feb, A buzz in the air), I was about as enthusiastic as we old folk get.

It started well; Maggie bumped into someone whose brother was a member of a peña so we were invited into one of the casetas - we got free beer and snacklets. By the time we made our excuses and left all the peñas were giving away free food and drink. But we c…

Biscuit buying

Just over the road from us is the Claritas convent. The nuns live a contemplative life without luxuries but one of their hobbies seems to be baking. They sell the cakes and biscuits, presumably to make a bit of pocket money. Heaven knows whether the health inspectors get in to check that they are complying with the food handling regs. 
I went to get my Carnaval biscuits - cut into the shapes of bulls and bells. I was rather expecting a rope pull bell but, in fact, the front gate was unlocked and once inside the grounds it was the brown door on the right, the one with the notice. Through the door was a stone flagged vestibule and a serving hatch. I wasn't the only customer, in fact the youngish and very pale nun was doing quite a brisk trade.

Two a penny

They are such a common sight around the province. Big storks; they nest on top of churches, on walls, in trees - we even saw one nesting on top of a bus shelter. They make a very strange sound too, sort of like someone clearing pleghm from their throat at the same time as crunching their way through some very crunchy crisps.
They may be common but they are rather splendid and just a tad more impressive than sparrows as they wheel overhead.


I just couldn't miss this. 
On the way to Fuentes de San Esteban from Ciudad Rodrigo is the the village of Barceo, surrounded by oak trees and parkland. This is their bus stop; carefully designed and skilfully implemented by the Regional Government to fit with the environment.

Sailing in International Waters

My father maintained we Brits have a natural affinity with the water. We were in a pram dinghy at Lytham when he mentioned it. Today, Maggie and I went on a little boat ride along the River Duero near Corporario where it is ponded up behind the Aldeadávila dam. The Duero, for a good deal of its length, forms the border between Portugal and Spain so, as our guide pointed out, we were sailing in International waters. 
The woman told us lots of other interesting things and as there were just four paying guests on the boat she was able to ensure that we were paying attention. We heard about the 5ºC  increase in temperature from the hillside above to the river below, she told us several times that the cliffs on each side were over 300 metres high and the river some 130 metres deep, we had several tales of the goatherder and his numerous family whose flock graze the steep hillsides, about the border patrols to watch for coffee smuggling from Portugal to Spain in the old days, the Egyptian an…


There are two main types of banks in Spain, savings banks and ordinary banks. To be honest I don't know what the technical difference is but the most obvious difference to customers is that the savings banks tend to be regional.

The current account I've had since I got here is with a savings bank, one based in Murcia. Being in Ciudad Rodrigo, 700kms from Murcia, there aren't any branches close by and I have been paying 1.20€ to withdraw cash on my bank card from the associated network of cashpoints. There are three main networks of cashpoints and the last time I had to draw money from a machine that wasn't in the same network I was charged 6€.

They also charge you to put money into an account unless you are able to go into a branch of your own bank. As an example the other day I was charged 7€ to pay money into my savings bank account.

On top of these transaction charges there is also a maintenance charge on most accounts. The fee depends on how much your average balance …

A buzz in the air

Carnaval, the festival leading up to the beginning of Lent, is a really big do in Ciudad Rodrigo. The main focus is the bull running, where bulls are released in the street so that lads, of all ages and sexes, can show how brave and skilful they are. But it's also a big do for lots of other reasons. It's a fiesta, a time for friends to visit, the opportunity for the youngsters to hang around the fun fair, the chance to stroll the stalls run by Gypsies and Peruvians, an opportunity to eat food in the street, to drink too much and generally to have a good time.

The Carnaval de Toros, begins on the 20th February and lasts through till Shrove Tuesday so preparations have been under way for a while. The rails that guide the bulls and steers into the town's main square were the first things to appear, then a few of the fairground attractions and food stalls began to park up. Yesterday workmen started to put up the wooden fences that will form the bull ring in the  square and the …

Rip roaring excitement

I feel this is may be for completeness rather than because of its nail biting excitement, traditional roots or insight into Spanish life.

Today I bought a sandwich, a tortilla sandwich, plus a can of Casera Cola for 2.50€. That's the essence of the post.

But the odd thing is that at least three people had mentioned Operación Bocata - Operation Sarnie - to me during the week saying what a good thing it was. Something not to be missed. In reality it was just the WI selling cakes and tea except that there were no cakes, no tea and no WI. The rolls in this case were made by volunteers with ingredients donated by well wishers and the money raised will got to Manos Unidas - United Hands, an anti hunger charity.

I was there quite early so the crowds hadn't exactly built up hence the rather empty looking photo at the top.I noticed though, on one of the town websites, that it looked as though it got a bit busier later

Losing track

I like to think that I usually have some idea of what's going on and why but today it took a fair bit of Googling to find out what was happening within metres of where I work.

I was teaching; the building I work in is on the main town square, and suddenly we could hear the sound of pipes and drums. I joined the youngsters at the window to see what was going on. Lots of women wearing traditional frocks accompanied by a drum and pipe band were crossing the square and heading for the Town Hall. I asked what they were up to and they told me it was just a "Charra" out for the fun of it. Trying to get a definition of a charra proved beyond their capability in both Spanish and English but we settled on a traditional music group. As a result of the Googling I'm not sure whether the word comes from Charro - the name given to the local landscape and hence all things traditional around here or whether it's from the name of one of the traditional instruments. In either case …

A Mirobrigense viewpoint

Well, here I am teaching English, or more accurately between classes. In my last class, the one with a group of 12 year olds, I asked them a couple of settling in questions as always.

Keen to be topical I asked them about San Blas (see last post) and they were surprisingly disparaging. "All it is is an excuse to get drunk, it used to be something nice for all the family to do but now it's just a bunch of young people getting legless, most of them can't even walk home when it's finished and the Red Cross has to take a mobile unit there to look after them!"

Mirobrigense by the way means someone from Ciudad Rodrigo. It's based on the old Roman name for the town.

About to miss a treat

On the 3rd February the good Christian folk of Ciudad Rodrigo go on a romeria, or procession, to the half derelict monastery in Sanjuanejo to get little coloured ribbons to tie around their necks. 
The ribbons are blessed in the name of San Blas who, according to tradition, will protect the wearers from sore throats provided that they keep them on till Ash Wednesday when they should pop back to the monastery and recite The Lord's Prayer as they burn their temporary necklaces.
Not to be sceptical about the religious significance of this or anything but I think that the ending of the press release gives the game away; "The pilgrims usually give good account of themselves before the hearty open air picnic of local sausages." 
And what will I be doing as ribbons and sausages are handed out? Teaching English to people who would much prefer to be eating sausage that's what!