Wednesday, 24 December 2008

I thought I'd share this

We stopped for a coffee and a bocadillo en route from Ciudad Rodrigo to Culebrón. Good coffee, nice sandwich. The toilets though weren't so good.

There are still plenty of drop bogs in Spain, usually only in the Gents nowadays, but as the World's eigth richest country (or wherever it is this week) it always comes as a bit of a shock.


We left Ciudad Rodrigo on Monday with thick frost on all the trees. The thermometer on the Mini said -4.5ºC. As we crossed the Guadarama and headed into Madrid the temperature was a pleasant and sunny 18ºC.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Times and seasons

In the UK at 12.01pm it's afternoon. People are precise about it. In Spain afternoon arrives in a much less predictable manner - it becomes afternoon sometime around 2pm but I've been told that it's often driven by whether you have eaten or not. I have eaten so I say "Good afternoon" you haven't so you reply "Good morning".

In regard to the seasons though the Spanish are very precise. For days there have been little mentions on the news channels, as they hand over to the weather forecasters, that we're approaching the beginning of Winter - "Soon be winter yet temperatures set to rise!"

The credits for the weather bulletins on the State channel include a little caption that says what season we're in. I noticed, when I saw a weather forecast attached to the midday news, that it was still Autumn. I was surprised because I thought the 21st was Solstice and that we passed into Winter. My answer came on the 3pm news, the caption said Winter - "We passed into winter at just after 1pm today." said the weather chappie and he had some satellite pictures of the World and some nice snaps of the South Pole to show us how the solstice worked. 

Off to Culebrón today so new posts will be there for a few days.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

A jolly good chap

Maggie's pal, Señora Bromfield, loaned us a book, written in 1955 and presented to her by the Reverend Mother of the covent school in Kidderminster where she worked.

The book is by a chap called Henry Vollam Morton and it details his wanderings in Spain presumably in the early 1950s. It's all about oxen and donkeys working the fields, señoritas with flashing dark eyes, the value of honest toil, gazing in rapture on works of art, the links between the English royals and Spanish nobility and finding traces of Don Quijote everywhere. As modern travel books go it's a complete anachronism with no political analysis whatsoever in a country that was basically starving to death as he motored through it. 

Mind you it was also spellbinding stuff. I notice it's still in print so other people must have found it interesting too.

The good old days

Wherever we went in town today we were greeted by Maggie's pals and acquaintances. Outside the Town Hall there was a recreation of country life in the area. One of the acquaintances engaged me in conversation. I understood about one word in twenty but I think she said that this was a typical Shepherds dwelling where a whole family lived in this hut made of branches. "There would be an awning outside the shelter where they would light a fire and cook the food." 

I must have misunderstood because I thought she said that they still  existed until about thirty years ago. That would have been towards the end of the Bay City Rollers career, about the time of Grease. Maybe she said in the 30s. Either way living in a hut made from twigs must have been a bit hard.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Blazing in the night sky

On November 28 I was concerned that they were about to light the town's Christmas lights. I needn't have worried. Without fuss or ceremony they were turned on for the first time this evening. Dazzling


I finish teaching today for the Christmas break. All week long I have been using Christmas as an excuse to break away from the text books and do something a bit different.

Now I think it's perfectly understandable that Spaniards do not know that Brits eat turkey at Christmas or kiss under miseltoe but I find myself amazed that the songs Santa Claus is coming to Town and White Christmas have also passed them by. Bruce Springsteen was only known by one of the eight adults and, much more understandably, by none of the youngsters I asked. I talked about the sales figures for White Christmas and the way it has been outsold by Elton John's Candle in the Wind (The Diana version) and Mull of Kintyre by Paul McCartney. Quizzical looks all around. I was pleased when the English version, on DVD, of Who Wants to be a Millionaire stopped asking, to Spanish youngsters unanswerable, questions about Eastenders and asked who the director of Jaws was. It's an old film but surely the name Steven Spielberg would ring a bell - not a bit of it, the options of George Lucas, Robert Altman and Francis Ford Coppola were also non starters.

My Christmas quiz, proceeded by the politically correct question as to whether they minded me asking questions about the biblical Christmas story, took ages to explain. Of course they weren't Muslims or Jewish! Now I don't think I've read the story myself since I left South End Junior school in 1965 but I was flabbergasted. Really, Joseph and Mary had to stay in a stable, Joseph was a carpenter and shepherds came to see the baby? This in a country that is still nominally associated with Catholicism in a big way.

The crowning glory though has to be one elderly lady who is a bit confused by the whole English thing. "What colour is Santa Claus's suit?"  Coca Cola would be appalled after all the effort they have put into giving the old chap a bit of a makeover from the 1930s onwards. "No, it's not green, it's red."

Like father like son

On 31 October 2007 the Ley de Memoria Histórica was passed. It is about putting right some of the wrongs perpertrated by the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War and from the Francoist dictatorship that resulted.

Yesterday, in Santander, one of the last statues of Franco was carted away on the back of a lorry as all Francoist symbols have to be removed from public places as a result of the law. That just leaves one statue down in Melilla and that's due to go next year. 

Here in Ciudad Rodrigo the name José Antonio Prima de la Rivera is painted on the wall of one of the churches. He was the bloke who founded the Falange party, the Spanish equivalent of the Nazi party in 1933. His dad, Miguel Primo de la Rivera had been the head of a small "council" that governed Spain between 1923 and 1930 and he is usually referred to as a dictator.

As you can see from the photo someone chucked a paint bomb at the sign a while ago and I presume that the name will have to go soon. But the Church always had strong links with the Falange and the Nationalists and I suppose feet are being dragged.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Isn't that sweet?

We have a little park just behind our flat and someone has put up a Christmas tree complete with decorations.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Yea! Even Unto the Middle Ages

This may just look like a bunch of old blokes in car coats and flat hats standing around gossiping but, so far as I understand, it's the time honoured ritual of a Market Town. People, in from the country making deals and doing business. It ties in to the 28 October post about the Tuesday Market when people bring their produce into town. 

Monday, 15 December 2008

Day and Night

We met some people in Salamanca today who were going to spend Christmas in Cumbria in the UK. We got on to talking about the differences between day length in Spain and the UK.

So, in our old haunt of Huntingdon today we would get 7 hours and 41 minutes of daylight with dawn just after five past eight and dusk about ten to four.

In Pinoso, where our house is, in Alicante, in Spain it would be 9 hours and 31 minutes of daylight with dawn at about a quarter past eight and dusk at a quarter to six.

And here, in Ciudad Rodrigo, we have 9 hours and 17 minutes of daylight with dawn not coming till quarter to nine but dusk equally late at six on the dot.

Maths aside what actually counts is that it gets dark here a couple of hours later than in the UK at this time of year and that just feels so much nicer.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

I'd like a Scalextric and a bike and a Wii and...

In Spain the children traditionally write to Their Majesties the Three Kings with their Christmas wish lists and the resulting gifts are delivered on the 5th/6th of January. This postbox, for the letters, is outside the Town Hall in Ciudad Rodrigo.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Al Fresco

When we had lunch in Caceres in Extremadura today the waiter asked us if we preferred the terrace or the dining room. In a Brit, wearing shorts in the pub garden in February, sort of way we chose outside. It was cool but perfectly comfortable as you can see from what some of our fellow diners are wearing. December 6th, eating outside. Good eh?

Friday, 5 December 2008

Constitution Day

We've got a bank holiday weekend. It's Constitution Day, the celebration of the signing of the modern Spanish Constitution in 1978. So the 30th anniversary. That's on Saturday. On Monday it's Immaculate Conception. There may be legal battles going on in the schools about whether there should be crucifixes in classrooms or not but most of the holidays still have very Catholic roots.

As I walked to work today the local firecrew were putting up a replacement flag ready for tomorrow.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

I Spy

"Ooh, they're a long way from home"
"You're pathetic"

Too many I-Spy books in my youth I suppose. I notice car registration plates. Maggie is not impressed.

In the past Spanish car number plates have changed their format several times. Until the turn of this Century that registration system always included a simple code for the province where the vehicle had been registered: M for Madrid, B for Barcelona, SA for Salamanca, A for Alicante, TF for Tenerife etc.

Then ETA started to blow up out of town cars. Other local prejudices, and new computer systems, persuaded the authorities to adopt a system that simply chooses the next number letter sequence (1234 ABC) for the next car registered whether it is registered in Sevilla or Zaragoza.

So I can no longer tell where a car is from. The only thing I can look out for nowadays is how new the car is. The MG and Maggie's car were both registered in 2005 and they had DJ sequences. The Mini, registered in early 2008 is FYZ and, at the tail end of 2008 we're onto the late Gs.

Big Chief I-Spy would be pleased with me. I'm on the lookout for my first H reg.

On written customs and habits

Spaniards don't have much of a history of written communication. I heard it on the radio and I have heard at least three Spaniards agree with the analysis. This would explain why Spaniards do not share the Brit enthusiasm for sending cards - for births, deaths, marriages, birthdays, anniversaries and exam success. Buying cards in Spain is nowhere near as easy as it is in the UK - choice is limited, sometimes nil and the designs are generally pretty suspect.

I'm Brit so I want to send Christmas cards. In Alicante I know where buy them. It isn't so easy here. The supermarkets were not selling Charity cards (they do in Alicante), the Moroccan bazaars were full of tinsel and tacky Santas but no cards. I went to source; to the offices of the Red Cross. "What are Christmas cards?" said the man "Anyway the Red Cross doesn't sell them." Eventually I bought UNICEF cards from the Post Office but I was a bit shocked at the price. None of those 100 card bumper packs for £1.99 from Tesco.

I won't say how much just in case you get a card from me.

Freixenet advert

Odd how things become "traditional".

In Spain Christmas and New Year is a sales high spot for the sparkling wine Cava, the Spanish champagne. Freixenet is one of the brand leaders selling 500 million euros worth of its fizzy drink each year. Spaniards wait to see what the Christmas ad will look like. It gets on the news bulletins, people talk about it in the bars and now I've even mentioned it here!

Last year the ad was made by Martin Scorcese with a Hitchcock theme but,this year, they have gone back to their bubbly roots with an advert that features the Spanish Synchronised Swimming Team. The swimmers were runners up at this years Olympic Games. Apparently the ad was made at Pinewood and took 27 hours of filming.

If you want to see it have a look at this link

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Three little piggies went to Nicaragua

In May 2008 I said I was going to try and send some pigs off to Nicaragua by completing a bunch of remarkably tedious surveys about whether such and such a celebrity would be good at selling clothes, make-up or surgical appliances. Today I achieved the required number of points. Provided I've been answering questions for an honest market research group those pigs should be snuffling around Central America very soon.

I drank their coffee, hummed along to Clash and Bill Bragg songs and bought their red, white and black souvenirs. The Nicaraguan Sandanistas versus Reagan and Thatcher. It seems appropriate to renew that acquaintanceship by ordering up the porkers from the pig paradise of Salamanca.