Saturday, 28 March 2009


The signature dish of Ciudad Rodrigo

I lifted this, wholesale, from one of the local websites. Strangely enough we had a set lunch in the place that features in the video yesterday.

When you visit Ciudad Rodrigo it's obligatory that you try the local favourite: fried eggs and farinato. Farinato is a sausage made with breadcrumbs, pork dripping and onion seasoned with salt, pepper, cumin, garlic, anise seeds and an anis brandy. It's eaten with fried eggs making sure you break the yolks and mix up the egg and sausage really well.

This dish is available in nearly all of the bars and restaurants of Ciudad Rodrigo either as a part of the main menu or as a little snack.

And now in the original:

El plato típico de Ciudad Rodrigo

En la visita a Ciudad Rodrigo, es obligado probar el plato típico: los huevos fritos con farinato. El farinato es un embutido elaborado con miga de pan, manteca de cerdo y cebolla, sazonados con sal, pimentón, comino, ajo, anís en grano y aguardiente. Se come con huevos fritos, rompiendo la yema y mezclando los dos elementos.

En la mayor parte de los bares y restaurantes de Ciudad Rodrigo se puede degustar este plato dentro de las cartas del menú o también como tapa o pincho.

An Unholy Alliance

You may know, from previous posts that I'm not a big fan of the banks, nor am I a fan of insurance companies. It's a bit like those films where the bloke in bandages and the one with a bolt through his neck team up with that other one with the brylcreem and opera cloak. Bad news for we country folk with pitchforks and donkeys.

Anyway, I'd paid for the car insurance with the worm firm on a UK credit card. They got around to paying me the money back today. It took them fewer than 5 minutes to withdraw the cash but some 3 days to return it. In the process I lost nearly £20 in changing the money or about 7% of the total.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Once more unto the breach

I feel really sorry for my bosses, Adel and Gusa, they have been remarkably fair and generous with me and they had put together a cracking little language school here in Ciudad Rodrigo but, in the end, there just weren't enough customers and they have decided to close from the end of this month.

What is terrible news for them is bad news for me too because, once again, I am out of work and without income. Some of my students have asked about continuing with me privately and I'm keen on that idea but, being the person I am, I instantly thought of all the difficulties.

Where could I put classes of up to eight people, certainly not in the spare bedroom at the flat. Then there are the materials, the text books and other resources including things like a whiteboard, tables and chairs - quite basic things.

Adel suggested that one way to get sufficient space would be to move to a bigger flat but as Maggie and I are a bit unsure about our plans after summer that seems a bit excessive. Nonetheless it was the first thing that set me to thinking about what I could do rather than what the problems were. 

Text books are easy enough from a quick perusal of the Amazon website. Flipcharts and whiteboards and even tables and chairs seem reasonably priced. I wondered about renting a small shop or office but it would have to be very cheap for it to make economic sense and a quick tour of some properties this morning seems to rule that idea out. Another bright spark idea, to rent a room in a public building, seems to have come to naught. The people in the Casa de Cultura thought it was a totally ridiculous idea. I've not given up though and I asked one of Maggie's pals, who works for the Town Hall, to check if there may be somewhere rentable by the hour. Almost any reasonably comfortable space, where I could put up a flipchart and plug in a laptop, would do. And renting by the hour means no committment to monthly payments etc. Renting rooms for clubs, groups and classes is dead normal in the UK but it seems to be much less so here.

The legalities of running a cash in hand operation are something else of course, running without insurance may not be too smart and there's the added complication that I really do need to sign on the dole in order to maintain my State health cover. Problems, problems.

I have this horrible feeling that it was Margaret Thatcher who coined the phrase "Bring me solutions not problems" so I think I'll stick with good King Hal: "Time to stiffen up the sinews, summon the blood"

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The worm turns

In the post about insuring the car with the worm firm I said that the insurance was nearly sorted. It isn't anymore.

The cover with the new firm was due to start on Friday. They had sent me a policy and the usual gubbins through the post but the insurance was only third party. That was OK, it was what I was expecting because they had said that I could expect a call from a "perito", an insurance assessor, to check that the car was as I described. That being so the insurance could be upgraded to fully comprehensive. 

I was a bit concerned, there are only two days to go before my old insurance lapses and, unless their expert came to see the car I was going to end up with it on the street with only the most basic insurance. So I phoned the worm firm to ask what was happening. After a lot of confused Spanish (on my side) I began to get a little angry. They were no longer going to send a perito to me, I had to take the car to them and the only place they have is in Salamanca, a round trip from here of about 170kms. It's times like this when I really wish I could shout in fluent Spanish. I did my best but all I could really do in the end was to tell them to cancel the policy, which I did. Now comes the fun of wondering whether the money will come back to my credit card without a struggle.

Fortunately, my old insurers, hadn't rung to chase me up for the premium so I was able to phone them and renew the insurance as though nothing had ever happened.

Sunday, 22 March 2009


The Spanish news programmes did the usual thing of announcing the exact moment when it became Spring (Friday 20th March at 12.44pm mainland Spanish time) and we proved them right by going to see the cherry blossom in the Sierra de Francia today.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Their logo is like a worm or a caterpillar

Give or take a name change here and a branch closure there I've been with the same bank in the UK for 37 years. I'm sure that if I'd shopped around I could have found a much better bank but they've been fine. We've had our little disagreements but then again who wouldn't in all that time?

When I first insured a car in Spain it was the 30 year old MG. I had trouble finding insurance for it at all. Someone with another old car recommended an English speaking broker in Torrevieja and they insured the car quick as a flash. I've been with that broker ever since even through the change to a modern car. I've always checked their price against other insurers but they've been competitive so I've stuck with them despite some very poor customer service at one point.

They contacted me, the Mini insurance would be 477€ this year. I checked a few online quotes and one, with advertising that really annoys me (it's all lurid yellow and green and involves a sporting hero driving a Noddy car seated alongside a worm or a caterpillar), came in at 432€ for better cover. I kept telling myself it was only 40€, that it would be less disrruptive to stick with the old brokers etc. but the real reason was that I knew I could deal with my current people in English and the caterpillar folk would be Spanish.

Emboldened by my conversation with the friendly barman (see post below) I rang the Noddy advert people and I sorted the insurance. Well I nearly sorted it. They've taken some of the premium and sent me a cover note but they are going to send someone to check that the car exists and is as I describe it before they issue the full policy.

Who can tell, maybe those UK insurers that have a Bulldog that talks like Deryck Guyler would do the same?

Now I remember

There is a papershop about four metres from our door but the next nearest commercial establishment is a bar, maybe 40 metres away - it's just next to the greengrocers cum butchers.

Anyway I've been in the bar a few times recently for a mid morning coffee. It is not a sophisticated bar, they don't get a lot of foreigners, so my order of Café Americano caused some consternation the first couple of times. Yesterday was maybe the fifth or sixth time I'd been there and the barman/owner said to me "You can't keep coming in here if we don't know your name, I'm Rafa, what's your name?" Sweet eh? 

I went drinking in the Postillion in Paston for four years; they never knew my name, though they knew my drink, and it wasn't until I went in there with a girlfriend who had long blond hair that "I" was ever invited to a lock in.

Friday, 20 March 2009

On time, fatherhood and popcorn

We had the day off today; Father's Day, San José, though, as Maggie reminded me, according to the official version, Joseph's links to fatherhood are pretty tenuous!

We drove down to Guarda, about 80km away, to have a nosey around the new shopping centre. When we'd had enough traipsing around shops we decided we'd go to the pictures. 

It looked like any other multiplex in a shopping centre and the popcorn was, as usual, massively overpriced. Otherwise it was all a bit odd. We had quite some difficulty getting the tickets - language problems - and our watches showed that we were nearly fifty minutes late, though we still had to wait ten minutes for the performance to begin. Best of all, when the film began, it was in English with subtitles rather than being dubbed into Spanish which is what we usually get at the flicks nowadays.

We were in Portugal of course. Unlike the Spanish the Portuguese have never gone in for dubbing their films; no Lisbon accent for Colin Farrell, and they have faithfully sided with their old allies, the English, and stuck to GMT and Summer Time.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

News of an old friend

Until about this time last year I was the proud owner of a 1977 MGB GT. A combination of tin worm and poverty meant that I had to sell the car. The new owner is called Manuel and, over the year, I have heard bits of news to say that the car has been restored to its former glory.

Manuel phoned yesterday to say the car had failed its ITV, the annual roadworthiness test. Not because of a problem with the brakes, or the steering, or the lights or chassis. It failed because the chassis number plate is riveted to the bodywork and could, potentially, be removed and replaced. He wanted to know if the chassis number were anywhere else on the car.

It struck me as very Spanish that a roadworthy car failed the test for something so bureaucratic, especially considering it has passed the test with the same plate in the same place for four years on the trot here in Spain.

The photo is from a long time ago, in Huntingdon

Sunday, 15 March 2009


I call these blogs "Life in ....." because I hope that they are more about the things that happen in the area I live and which involve me rather than being some log of my life. The line is a fine one I know and today I've decided to breach it just because we went to Ávila yesterday which is one of the Provincial Capitals of this region we live in called Castilla y Leon.

Ávila is famous for having a completely intact Mediaeval Wall built just after some Christian King kicked the Moors out of the town back in 1100 and something. They are pretty impressive.

Avoiding the slaughter

Normally, if there is any sort of event going on we're there. Yesterday though it was the Feria de Botijeros. To be honest I'm not quite sure what a Botijero is but from a bit of dictionary surfing it seems to be the people who made and sold the earthenware jugs that were once used to store and cool water.

With a bit of reading between the lines I suspect that Botijeros represent a folk tradition, a cipher for the history of the area; basically the focus of the day was on local crafts and traditions. Fair enough. Unfortunately though the main event wasn't going to be somebody wearing a funny hat, a traditional dress or playing tiddly pom folk music (though they were all there), no the main event was going to be the slaughter of a pig. The traditional "matanza." 

They were going to slaughter the pig and make all those traditional sausages and what not that they make from a pig. Now I am happy to eat bits of pig and I'm not even particularly squeamish about killing them. I can reconcile the idea that bacon doesn't start life in those vacuum packs and my imagination can see a link between a local delicacy that translates as "double chin" and a little cuddly piggy. I didn't really like the idea of being spattered with blood though. So we didn't go. But from checking out the local website it looks as though the pig slaughtering went to plan and that the actual death of the beast took place away from the public gaze. The cutting up of the carcass though was a public spectacle.

Bits from the website story include:

"Maximum attendance was at around 1.30pm when tit bits of pork products, fat seasoned potatos and blood were handed out - a typical lunch for the area."

The local councillor in charge of celebrations said, "We wanted to show how the slaughter of a pig is carried out, particularly for the very young. The key focus of the day is the slaughter but every year we get more and more stalls with traditional crafts, this year there are 21 stalls selling blankets, cheese, cakes, local liquor, some of the women are making lace, and there are examples of wood, leather and clay work" 

My mum, and her little chums, used to sit on a wall in Yorkshire in the 1930s and watch pigs get slaughtered.

Friday, 13 March 2009

On official information and local practice

A news item a few days ago - as an anti terrorist measure - all pre pay mobile phones have to be registered to an owner, those still unregistered in November will be cut off. When we bought our phones it was possible just to buy a phone without any paperwork.

I don't agree with this sort of Big Brother measure and it's a complete waste of time in any serious anti terrorist way but as my criminal and terrorist activities are strictly limited I didn't have much option but to do as I'm told.

The Official, Government PowerPoint display, lodged on all the mobile phone operator websites (Imagine that, what fathead decided that it was sensible to provide this sort of information in such a roundabout way?) said that it was possible to register a phone using a National Identity Card, a Passport or a Foreigners Identity Card.

I went to register my phone, I handed over the phone and my passport. The boss woman in the shop leaned over to the underling woman dealing with me and told her the phone couldn't be registered using a passport. I must have been in a bit of a mood because I rounded on her "and how do holidaymakers, or students here for a few months or any resident EU Citizen in Spain, who can get neither the National or Foreigner's Identity Card buy a phone then?"

They found the bit in the computer software that allowed them to enter my passport number. At that point I suggested they may like to use another document, one not mentioned on the PowerPoint display, the document I habitually use in Spain to link my UK identity with my Spanish one. It worked of course.

Friday, 6 March 2009

As regular as clockwork

There have been lots of things going on since I got here and, particularly since the beginning of this year - Kings, San Sebastian, Las Águedas, San Blas, San Anton and, of course, Carnaval. Their organisation is second nature to all the locals. They don't need to be told that this and that happens on such and such a day at this or that place, it's simply their culture, a local tradition. To me, new to the the town, they have all been fascinating events to gawp at.

As I strolled home this evening I noticed this shop window display. A sign that it's First Communion time. 

Spain isn't very Catholic anymore in the sense that far and away the majority of people aren't churchgoers or even believers but it is still incredibly Catholic in its celebrations. Government Ministers continue to be sworn in with their hand on a bible in front of a crucifix, the great majority of holidays and fiestas have some Church link and there is a story of an old communist and his daughter's First Communion. When a Fellow Traveller asked him why he was submitting his daughter to the ritualistic Church mumbo jumbo he answered "Because I'm Spanish!"

From what I've heard First Communion is now also the opportunity for an ostentatious show of wealth. The outfits, little admirals and miniature brides, are chosen with an enormous attention to detail and apparently 500€ is a pretty typical price for the girl's get up. I understand that arriving at a church in a hired limo is reasonably commonplace and the meal is a hugely costly affair - the more guests you can afford to sit down and the more splendid the menu the better for your social standing. The average cost last year was reported as 3,600€ but, bear in mind, if a poor family only spends 1,000€ on it's communion the richer family could spend 6,200€ and the average price would still hold.

There was a bit of a hiccough in this palaver last year when the Church decided that there should be changes to the teaching of the catechism. I've heard two stories, one that it was not thorough enough and so the classes were extended for another year and the other was that children had to be at least ten when they went through the ceremony. It could be that both are true and the differences are due to different practices in different dioceses. Either way this halted the flow of celebrants for a year and punched a big hole in the incomes of the people who sell the communion clothes, take the photographs and make the videos as well as the banqueting rooms that host the post event meals. It was not a popular decision. Just to give you some idea one of the places that advertises its catering services back in Alicante was able to seat 3,000 people - I presume they expect to host several events at once but even then it's a lot of chairs, a lot of cooking and a lot of waiters.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

San Esteban Monastery

One of the places we took my mum to see in Salamanca yesterday was the Dominican Monastery of San Esteban - Saint Stephen's. It was a lot like most churches and cathedrals - big stone pillars, plenty of marble, cloisters, huge wooden doors - lovely ceiling, where else are we going before lunch? -  but somehow it was quite different. 

It may have been that the monastery was much less dark and forbidding than most churches, maybe it was because it was simpler, though the altar in the main church would have to be the exception that proves the rule, or it may have been because there was a group of people dressed in their sports jackets and pullovers practising a Gregorian chant sitting in the farthest corner of the choir whilst we were there. Really though I think it was simpler than that; it was because there was information to say how different the place was. 

The notices on the walls were droll, even ironic and amusing. There was a little room that had been used as a council chamber - so friars debated the course of action? and there were a few mentions of their support for Columbus and his journey to the New World but mainly, all around the cloisters, there were little sayings on the wall like: No state has the right to wage war only for territorial gain; Each person in all the World has similar and non negotiable rights - I forget the exact wording  but they could have been on any one of those posters you get free with your subscription to the New Internationalist. 

They made the case for the fact that Dominican friars, the Blackfriars, protected the indigineous peoples of South America against some of the worst excesses of the Conquistadores in the New World and generally they pushed their democratic organisation, their frugal lifestyle and their plain humanity. It would be nice to think it was all true. It was certainly a lovely place but I seem to remember that Torquemada, the first and most ferocious of the Spanish Inquisitors, the man who ordered countless tortures and was responsible for expelling the Jews from Spain, was a Dominican. Hey, ho.