Friday, 31 October 2008

From Bury to Salamanca

Going into a bar is hardly a blogworthy event even in my less than vibrant life. But I did think this place was a bit different. The House of the Blackpudding. Amusing tilework don't you agree? I don't believe there is such a thing as cholesterol free blackpudding.

I'll see you under the clock tower in the Plaza Mayor

The main square in Salamanca is pretty impressive. Salamanca is full of students from all over the planet. I was waiting for Maggie, under the clock stamping my feet to keep my circulation going on this wet and miserable day when I realised that I was taking part in a ritual common to Salmantinos and visitors alike that must have gone on for hundreds of years - well since the square was built in 1729 at least.

Ahh, the continuity of it all.

How time flies

All Saints Day, the time when Spanish families make a special effort to visit any family graves, is tomorrow. I was here in Ciudad Rodrigo last year and we went to the local cemetery to take a look. The proof is on the Life in Culebrón website.

As we went shopping in Salamanca today we noticed these hardy souls braving the miserable weather in order to turn a seasonal profit.

Masis throws in the towel

There is an entry in the Life in Culebrón blog last November about our Armenian pal Masis opening his restaurant in Santa Pola. Masis started off as an illegal immigrant here and had one hell of a time trying to make ends meet.

Today a text message from a friend who still lives in Santa Pola said that Masis was leaving Spain forever and going back to Armenia. Despite all his hard work the restaurant failed and he is so disillusioned that he's upped sticks and heading home. Masis has been trying to make a go of it in Spain for nearly five years now.

We rang to say goodbye and wish him luck. A sad phone call.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Hug the earth

Much of Spain is rural. It's rural in a different way to most of the UK though there are some similarities and parallels. For instance, like the Lake District, lots of rural areas here make their living principally from tourism rather than from, say, agriculture or manufacturing. Also, around Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia or Seville well off families may move to the countryside to take advantage of a more relaxed lifestyle, less pollution and the like. They travel into town in the same way as all those commuters in all those dormitory areas stretching out for 100 miles from London along every train line or the Mancunians nestling in their Pennine villages.

Here rural often really does mean rural. If you own a four wheel drive motor it will get covered in mud and dirt clambering up unmade roads. You probably have to use a generator for electricity, water may still be well water, the pile of wood outside will not only heat your house but may well be the fuel you use to cook over too. If you can get a "landline" telephone it will actually be a radio phone.

I mention this only because today a website I subscribe to called Abraza la Tierra (more like Embrace the Land than Google's translation of Hug the Earth) sent me an email about a meeting of the communities about 50km from Ciudad Rodrigo in the area called Sierra de Francia. They were calling for infrastructure investment in things like broadband access and start up support for new start small and innovative industries. The reason they gave was that their villages were dying but dying in a spectacularly real way. As the old folk die there's simply nobody coming on behind. There are lots of villages with lots of houses used at weekends and for holidays but with only a handful of full time inhabitants.

There are stories about whole areas being taken over by immigrant groups, like the Polish in Teruel or Ecuadorians being offered financial incentives to move to rural Galicia to repopulate areas and villages.

Alicante, around Culebrón was rural but in an English sort of way with lots of people, many of them incomers, choosing to live up a track in a big stone pile of a house. It's definitely different here. A different way of life.

Actually it reminds me of a piece I read in the newspaper a couple of months ago about a village with 12 inhabitants in Teruel province that was trying to stimulate tourism through a website. Even if you have no Spanish you should have a go on their website; it's a hoot. The village in which nothing ever happens

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Tuesday market

In Madrid each year someone walks a flock of sheep through one of the main streets to maintain the ancient right of way. In England the local priests and churchwardens walk the boundaries of the Parish each year. The ceremony once had an important practical purpose. Checking the boundaries was a way stopping neighbouring parishes pinching bits of territory.

In Ciudad Rodrigo local people have the right to sell their produce in the Plaza del Buen Alcalde at Tuesday market. It was a filthy cold, wet, miserable day today but there were still maybe 15 stalls there.

Obviously people do it because they want to make a bit of cash from the apples, olives, chestnuts, peppers or whatever else they've grown in their allotments or kitchen gardens. But I understand that, as much as anything, people are there to maintain the right to sell produce without any need to get special permission from anyone.

Wat Tyler, Jack Straw and the Levellers would all applaud the sentiment.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Harold, still missing

This is a repeat of the entry on Life in Culebrón - well more or less. There's a posting on October 15 about Harold the cat on this blog. He's declared missing in action rather than lost and I'm still prowling the streets around midnight and at 6.30am in the hope that he'll show up. But it's now five days since the last sighting.

I have to say that I'm beginning to lose hope. I may well have given up and stuck to my bed in the morning but for the fact that Eduardo, the remaining cat, has now taken to coming out on the search with me. We stroll the streets together looking for our lost charge/pal.

I just hope that Eduardo continues to trot around and keep close. I'd hate to lose him too. Mind you he's spending most of the night charging around the flat, scratching at doors and generally making as much noise as possible. Cats and flats may rhyme but I don't think they go well together.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Sympathetic building

Today, inspired by a book Maggie and I went to explore an area of the province neither of us had visited before. Most of it was sleepy villages with impressive churches, occasional castles and stone built cottages.

See example a.

But in Frades de la Sierra the go ahead village has taken to sausage production and the fur trade in a big way.

See example b.

Saturday, 25 October 2008


All through Spain noble households are marked with escudos or coat of arms. Normally the escudo is a stone carving on the main facade of the building.

Someone told me that in Ciudad Rodrigo there are lots of escudos mounted skew wiff on big houses to show that the owner of the building had not, necessarily, been born on the right side of the blanket. I have to be honest and say that this doesn't sound that likely to me. Why build a big, showy palace and then put up a banner to say "I'm a bastard"?

But I've noticed quite a few wobbly shields and it's a good story either way.

From Murcia to Portugal

When we lived in Alicante we were very close to the border with the Murcia. Maggie and I would often comment on how the road quality deteriorated as we entered Murcia.

This is the border between Spain and Portugal on the SA200. Note the road surfaces.

And, I may be mistaken, but it doesn't look as though the Schengen agreement made much difference on this border.

My thoughts turned to killing

Spaniards are pretty plain speaking. For instance the offices that foreigners, like me, need to go to for various bits of paperwork are called "Foreigner's Offices".

The Spanish verb to kill is matar.

It`s the root of the word for a bullfighter - Matador, literally killer.

Matar is the the root of the word for a slaughter - Matanza.

I've said before how the people in Ciudad Rodrigo really like eating pigs. I had the local version of mashed potato in a bar today for instance; the mashed potato was flavoured with seasoned pig fat. The Matanza is one of the big family events that goes on around here in November and December. It is traditionally when the family pig was butchered and prepared to keep the family in meat through the winter. I don't think there is quite so much rubber apron and blood nowadays as in the past but the feast still remains a big event for family and friends.

Matar is also the root of the word for an abbatoir - Matadero.

When we happened to pass the old, and soon to be demolished, Municipal Slaughterhouse only moments after we'd seen these nice little piggies snuffling away under the oak trees it set me to thinking about the links.

Friday, 24 October 2008


The Spanish National Anthem is vaguely famous for having no words. So when the Spanish National Football Team looks heavenwards as their anthem strikes up it isn't for the same reasons that the English or French squads look sheepish.

There is, apparently, an anthem to Ciudad Rodrigo. It was performed last week as a bit of a treat and the full lyrics were reproduced in the local paper . They were in Spanish but this isn't.

Ciudad Rodrigo, heroic town,
Bountiful mother to faith and courage
Today your faithful children rise
To offer you this song
For the blood that burns in their veins

I'm sure you get the drift. It goes on for another 32 lines in the same style: This sacred ground. Warriors for loyalty and truth. Sweat enriches your sober workers brows. Death or Triumph.

Catchy or what? I went searching for a picture of the composer, a famous son of Ciudad Rodrigo, Dámaso Ledesma, but I couldn't find anything. The best I have is this statue of him in the town.

Saturday, 18 October 2008


Odd place. On one of the country roads out of Ciudad Rodrigo. The streets and houses are laid out on a grid pattern. Apparently they just built it there in 1957. Why they built it there I haven't found out yet.

There was this cultural centre where you can go and have a go at lace making, traditional dancing or other local cultural activities. The poster on the wall is for an "on demand" rural bus service. The buses have a timetable but presumably they don't run unless someone phones up to book them. And, a couple of hundred metres outside the village is an old monastery that was the sight of some fierce figthing in the Penninsular War.

Even less Spanish

When I was living in Alicante I had the perfect excuse as to why my Spanish wasn't improving.

"Well, you see, Alicante is full of Brits - so we talk to each other, buy our services from each other, we've got a little colony of English speakers, we never need to speak Spanish"

That said of course I worked in a shop that served Spanish customers, I ordered shop goods from Spanish suppliers and I did bump into the occasional Spaniard just in the way of things.

Here in Ciudad Rodrigo there aren't many Britons but I do live with one. We speak to each other in English. My employers are a Libyan/Croatian/Spanish couple and we speak to each other in English. I have orders not to speak to my students in other than English and, unlike the locals, I never speak to anyone in supermarkets and the like. I'm reduced to holiday Spanish (Could I have a beer please?) except that I'm saving cash by staying out of bars. I'm speaking less Spanish now than I was in the midst of an English speaking enclave.

So much for those people who told me that after three months in Salamanca my Spanish would come on leaps and bounds.

La Voz de Miróbriga

The Voice of Miróbriga is the local paper. Very local. At 1.20€ for just four sheets of paper or 16 fun packed pages I had to hope I was buying quality rather than quantity.

The headline was about 24 unemployed people, most of them women, successfully completing a training course as brickies, painters and gardeners. There was also a big story about four people being taken on by a business run for and by people with physical and learning disabilities. Otherwise the front page is just tag lines for stories inside the paper. Possibly the most intriguing article informed me that Ciudad Rodrigo "appears" on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and that the town's name is on one of the pillars in St Paul's in London.

It's not exactly incisive journalism or even an exciting read. Mind you, I suspect I'll be there in the queue next Friday to buy another copy.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Too noisy

Harold the cat didn't take to life in a flat. He was fine during the day, either fast asleep or eating, but just as Maggie and I were thinking about going to bed Harold would liven up. He made a lot of noise; he squawked all night long.

We had some mad idea that we might be able to let him out at night and recover him in the morning but all he's done is to run away and stay away.

I've been wandering around when the streets quieten down around midnight and I've been seen skulking from around 6.30am,just before the town wakens up again. I've seen Harold lots of times. He's hanging around the fringes of a gang of alley cats who loiter in a nearby public garden. I've given him bits of food. He has watched me from a distance but I don't think he has the slightest idea who I am and I don't think he has any wish to come back to the flat.

I've not given up yet though. He's still on the personal profile for the Blog. We shall see. And, fortunately for Eduardo he's keeping relatively quiet.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

More on the advantages of living in a flat

We lived in a flat when we first got to Spain, in Santa Pola. It was a nice flat in a nice place but, as soon as we had neighbours we were able to enjoy the aroma of their cooking, listen along with them to their favourite TV programmes and enjoys those clicks and pings that come from heels, light switches and almost any type of movement.

The neighbours are pretty good here. Next door's kids have a happy hour around 11pm each evening and the sound of flushing toilets and other waste pipes often has me hurrying to see if I've left a tap on but, in general, it's OK.

In the plot next door they are building a new block of flats. It has suddenly sprouted and it struck me today that very soon the exterior kitchen window will have a view of a blank wall.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Cleaning the stairs

In Spain many people live in flats or in joint property of some kind. This means that lots of decisions have to be taken collectively rather than individually. If you fancy a new door on your flat, new radiators on the central heating system or even a new shower cubicle then you have to get the OK from your "community".

One of the tiny details that arises from this is that communal spaces are cleaned jointly. Today it was our turn to clean the entranceway and stairs to the block of five flats we live in. Maggie was at work and I'm not working till this afternoon so, obviously enough, I did the sweeping and mopping.

I was mopping the last little bit with the front door open to the street when a man passed by. He gave me a very strange look. You have time to think when you're mopping and I mused. It struck me that I have never, ever, seen a man doing general housework type cleaning in Spain.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Very Zen

Do you fancy an aromatherapy shower, some mud therapy or maybe a nasal lavage? If you do then I know just the place. It's about 30km from Ciudad Rodrigo in a place called Baños de Retortillo - it's one of these "Spa resort" places where they spray you with water, cover you in mud and generally poke you about. We went to get a beer but I must say that the place oozed calm on this pleasant Bank Holiday Monday afternoon.

Autumnal colours, that slightly damp feel to the air, no traffic noise and lots of older people wandering around taking a stroll. Very calming. I picked up one of their leaflets. The room prices look good. Maybe when we have a bit more cash we'll spend a weekend there playing dominos with the other old folk.


Look up Quercus Ilex in the UK version of Wikipedia and you get "Turner's Oak, a semi-evergreen tree of small to medium size with a rounded crown; it was originally raised at Mr. Turner's nursery, Essex, UK, in 1783."

Look it up in the Spanish version and you get an article that waxes lyrical about the wonderful Encina tree that is grown in meadowland for its crop of acorns and for its excellence in charcoaling. There are lots of them around here and the pigs that eat the acorns do produce a rather tasty cured ham.

Apologies to all you vegetarians!

Sunday, 12 October 2008


I've probably said before that Spain is divided into big administrative units called Communities. The Communities are then divided into smaller units called Provinces. Ciudad Rodrigo is in the Province of Salamanca and in the Community of Castilla y Leon. Our Provincial capital is Salamanca but the capital of Castilla y Leon is Valladolid. So yesterday, we went to have a look at Valladolid.

Valladolid's population is around 400,000 - a bit bigger than Bradford and a bit less than Bristol. It's the 2oth largest city in Spain. The Rough Guide isn't very kind about Valladolid - its old quarter is an oppressive labyrinth of dingy streets - but we thought it seemed like a lively town with quite a lot of interesting looking spots.

It is true that it lacked the huge and impressive buildings that abound in Salamanca or Barcelona or Toledo but then again it looked as though the local authorities had been working hard on tidying up some of the old houses in the centre. For instance we went to a museum based on a remodelled 14th Century Monastery and I thought it was rather splendid (though I wasn't so keen on the art they had chosen to display). The bars and cafes seemed to offer a wide range of styles and décor and there were plenty of small scale architectural delights as well as a pretty full cultural programme on offer.

One of the things that struck me most about Valladolid was the 220kms journey there from home. Ciudad Rodrigo is 621m above sea level and Valladolid is 691m. The journey is across a pretty featureless and flat landscape. We passed Salamanca within sight of the motorway, Zamora, another provincial capital was off to west otherwise we passed through a couple of small towns and that was it. Castilla y Leon is definitely not overcrowded.

Valladolid is pronounced a bit like "Buy a dole lid"

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Staking a claim

When I first moved into Pinoso I joined the library. I've just done the same here in Ciudad Rodrigo. Not exactly Neil Armstrong's one small step but a litttle sign that I actually live here.

It was rather nice how naive the system seemed. I didn't have to prove my address nor that I paid taxes in the area or anything - it was as though there was obviously no need to doubt anyone who simply wanted to join the library. The woman on the counter wrote my name down in a big, old fshioned book, which looked as though it may have been in use for the last twenty years or so and the card she handed over really is made from cardboard,the photo is stuck on with a pritt stick. Excellent.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Pull the other one - it's got bells

San Felices de los Gallegos is one of those villages that is recommended to tourists by the locals. Just as we were about to drive away this chap rode past. I presume he is employed by the Castilla y Leon tourist office to add authenticity but who can say?


Or, as Maggie pointed out to me, cattle.

There are lots of beef cattle and quite a lot of fighting bulls reared in Castilla y Leon. Notice the green stuff. Rare in Alicante.

You don't have to knock Babe Ruth over to put him off his game

There was a show on at the Teatro Nuevo, here in Ciudad Rodrigo, last night called Tango Zero - "Que me quiten lo bailao". Maggie and I wondered about going.

There were posters everywhere advertising the show, the start time, 10.30pm, was prominent. Box office times were a bit less clear "at the usual times" but, with a bit of Googling it was easy enough to find that meant an hour before the show started. But the price, nowhere. Try as I might I couldn't find out how much the tickets were. We could have phoned and asked, we could have gone to the box office and asked but, given our present precarious financial state, it was enough to make us stay at home and watch the telly.

It does look as though there is plenty going on here though on a regular basis. Our local neighbourhood association has a trip to Cádiz planned, there are at least two guided walks today, there's a poetry reading on Wednesday, an art exhibition at the Casa de Cultura all next week etc.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Rafa Benitez eat your heart out

Doesn't this frontage make you want to go and see the football?

Ciudad Rodrigo Football Club appear to be taking on the Virgin of somewhere or other this Sunday at 5pm. I'm tempted. It would be the first time I've been to the footie since I saw Northampton Town in about 1989.

International Hub

It doesn't really look like it but Ciudad Rodrigo railway station can claim to be truly international.

The one train a day that stops at Ciudad Rodrigo going North starts in the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, trundles up through Spain and crosses the Spanish border at Irun to enter France at Hendaye. There's another train that goes in the other diection. The Portugal to France train passes through town just before 11 at night and the southbound France to Portugal train gets in at around 6 in the morning.

A single to Irun would cost you just 33€ or 40€ to Lisbon. Cracking eh?

Friday, 3 October 2008

End of "week" report

I have no idea what's happening in Culebrón. No word from our builders though the neighbour tells me that the chaps have been there a couple of days at least.

Here in Ciudad Rodrigo the cats are still very unsettled and I haven't managed to work out any sort of routine though both the cats and I have disturbed Maggie's.

The people I now work for, Gusa and Adel, have been very welcoming and they have tried hard to make sure that things have been arranged properly for me down to having a contract in place from the get go which is far from usual in Spain. The working environment is really pleasant - clean and light, nice office chairs, working computers, hot water - standard stuff really but slightly different to the work and working conditions of the last three years or so. Now I shower before going to work rather than when I get home.

As to the teaching - well the jury is still out on my abilities as a teacher. I have 19 hours of teaching arranged in different time slots between 4 and 9 in the afternoon (or evening as you Brits would say). There is everything from 7 year old children, through young teenagers and sixth formers and on to a geologist looking for technical language. Nice spread and nice people but also quite a mix of books, styles and abilities to get organised in my mind.