Thursday, 30 April 2009

Working girls

A few years ago, long before we lived here, Maggie and I were driving through Andalucia desperately searching for a roadside hotel. It was growing dark. We'd driven hundreds of kilometres. We were getting desperate. Then we saw a bright neon sign that read "Club - Hotel". We'd often been surprised at the location of the Clubs in Spain, we presumed they were discos kept, thoughtfully, well out of the town centres so as not to bother the non clubbers. This hotel was one of those, miles from anywhere.

I went to see if they had any rooms and I was struck by the number of young women who were sitting outside the club door, I was equally struck by the shortness of their skirts. When a young woman wearing bright red hot pants and a red curly wig took me by the hand the penny dropped. I fled.

A while ago we were driving home from some do in Elche. It was a cool evening and as we drove up the dark lane, the one that connects the avenue by the train station to the northern ring road, just by the university there, Maggie commented on the young woman standing by the side of the road wearing diaphanous white trousers that showed off her underwear "Poor girl, she must be cold."

There are women standing by the roadside all over Spain; some set up garden chairs with large umbrellas so that they are more comfortable as they wait for trade in the hot sun. Others just wear thigh length boots.

On the outskirts of the majority of Spanish towns there is a Club, we have one in Ciudad Rodrigo. Most of the signs just say Club though others have names and flashing neon signs with pictures of cocktail glasses. The Spanish call them Puti Clubs, presumably a mix of the Spanish word for a prostitute, puta, and the name for a cute little cat, but used in the North American way. One of our pals said that he'd popped into the one just outside Santa Pola - purely for research. "Gorgeous girls" he said, "and they came over straight away and asked us to buy them a drink - they wanted Champagne, it cost me 60€ for a half bottle of cheap Cava."

The Clubs aren't new to Spain, they stayed open all through the Franco years and I know that many Spaniards consider that they are still a married couple because of the services offered by these Clubs. The husband popping out for a quick drink and a bit of a lie down seems to be nearly acceptable.

Apparently, as in the UK prostitution exists in a legal vacuum. Individual women, and I presume men, can advertise their trade openly and legally in newspapers, magazines etc. The police target the pimps because pimping is clearly illegal under Spanish law and because the vast majority of the pimps are involved in human trafficking; there are regular stories in the press about the disgusting way that women in poor counties are brought here, tricked into prostitution and kept in Spain against their will. The men who use prostitutes are not breaking any law in the majority of Spain though I think the Catalans have been talking about introducing, or may have even introduced, such a law. Brothels have been illegal since the 50s but their thinly disguised cousins, the Clubs, are left to trade without hindrance.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

What I learned about Porto or Oporto if you're Spanish

  • There isn't a legal, on street, parking place left in Porto and it is cheaper to bed down a person for the night than it is a car
  • Portuguese cities have cobbled streets in the old centres (suspected after a visit to Guarda, confirmed here)
  • There are lots and lots of abandoned and crumbling buildings in the heart of the city and lots of people appear to live in run down properties
  • Graffiti is a national pastime
  • On the road out to the beach there are lots of dead big houses with security cameras
  • Young British men out on a Stag do behave badly. As two young Brits fought each other a passing Spanish couple mumbled "¡Que bestia!" I suspect you don't need the translation. We didn't see any French or Germans or Portuguese or Spaniards drunk and brawling in the streets
  • The river, the Duero in Spain or Douro here, is splendid, it has big waves and the pleasure boats are dead picturesque. It's the same river that we sailed on near Ciudad Rodrigo and it was smashing there too. Logical conclusion that it is a quality river for the whole of its length
  • Riding around in rattling, squealing 1930s trams is a real pleasure
  • The Port Caves, the place where the port wine is stored, are well worth a visit; a very professional tour
  • The set menu in the "Music House" is great value and the building's not bad either
  • The free appetizers in Portuguese restaurants are not necessarily free
  • Coffee in Portuguese cafés is half the price of that in Spain
  • Every single person in Porto can speak English

A mug of tea and a Horlicks please

It's a while since we've seen a proper Ocean. The Med's very nice, blue and stuff, but it doesn't really smell right and, most of the time, it only has piddly little waves. Today we had a bit of a drive over to Portugal and we stopped off at the nearest seaside town to Ciudad Rodrigo, like Hunstanton was when we were in Huntingdon. The town is called Vagueira and it seemed to have of lots of open, sandy, spaces, forlorn looking wooden huts and lots and lots of cafés. It had been quite sunny as we drove the breadth of Portugal but, as we approached the sea, the sky started to cloud over and it started to spit. It really was Hunstanton except there was no Horlicks to be had.

The Border

The first time we popped over the border to Portugal from Ciudad Rodrigo there were no controls but there were still the old checkpoint booths. They've been gone for quite a while. Today I took a snap to prove it.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009


Normally my students of English are schoolchildren or professional people. Today I started a conversation class with a Naval Lieutenant and he told me that, as part of his training, he sailed all around South and North America in this sailing ship. Pretty eh? His regular ride nowadays doesn't have quite the same "yo ho ho" to it!

Best Restaurant List

This was quite a big thing in the news today. Not much to do with Ciudad Rodrigo really but interesting in a country famed for the plainess of its cooking. And the French? Mind you in the long list of 100 it's 10 for the UK, 9 for the French and just 6 for the Spanish.

1 El Bulli, Spain
2 The Fat Duck, UK
3 Noma, Denmark
4 Mugaritz, Spain
5 El Celler de Can Roca, Spain
6 Per Se, USA
7 Bras, France
8 Arzak, Spain
9 Pierre Gagnaire, France
10 Alinea, USA

Monday, 20 April 2009

Welcoming back the prostitutes

Shocking I know but today we celebrated the return of the prostitutes to the city of Salamanca. A tradition that seems to have spread to our own little town - we did it by going down to the river and having a picnic the main element of which was a local pie stuffed full of bits of pig. Actually we ate our hornazo in the kitchen but we were by the River Águeda in spirit and we did go to stare at the picnicers a little later in the afternoon to show solidarity.

Apparently, back in the 16th Century Philip II (the one who got his beard singed by Drake) decreed that the prostitutes from the town brothel in Salamanca should be shifted across the river Tormes for the whole of Lent to ensure that the menfolk remained chaste. The women were put under the care of a priest, un Padre, who became known as Padre Putas (Father Whores) - it's quite amusing in Spanish but it loses something in the translation I feel. The women were allowed back into the city on the second Monday after Easter Sunday and the students went to meet them as they were rowed back across the river with plenty of food and drink. 

Randy students no longer have to wait for the Lunes de Aguas for sex and as most of the prostitution in Spain is now run by Eastern European and Latin American gangs I suspect the work routine of the prostitutes is pretty much unaffected by Lent. Nonetheless, the feasting still remains, at least symbolically.

The day is called Lunes de Aguas which only seems to translate as Monday of Waters and I can't find out why - maybe it's to do with crossing the water of the River Tormes. 

Friday, 17 April 2009

Spanish names

Spaniards have two surnames - the first surname comes from the father and the second surname is the first surname of the mother. So if Juan Martínez Escudero and Marta Villanueva Cortés have a child then she or he will be called Something Martínez Villanueva. On a day to day basis the first surname is the one used - the double barrelled version is used for Sunday best.

Now there are lots of variations on this basic theme. For instance it is possible to reverse the order of the surnames - in the above case to give Something Villanueva Martínez. Or it is possible to carry forward a compound surname - Something Martínez-Escudero Villanueva. There are many more possibilities.

At times this causes Maggie and me some difficulties. Lots of times telephone sales people want to talk to Señor John (from Christopher John Thompson) and it can be quite difficult using a Spanish Internet site as many of them ask for your first and second surname and absolutely refuse to let you leave the spaces blank or put in some non obtrusive character, such as a dash or underscore. I'm sure that plenty of organisations here must think I'm related to Malcolm X in some way - Christopher Thompson X

Someone had told me that there were restrctions on first names too - that they had to be "Biblical" but I was put right on this the other day. The law apparently says a child can only have one compound first name or two simple first names and that those names can't be diminuitives nor can they be family nicknames. They can't they be names that "aren't real" or make it difficult to identify a person or cause confusion in relation to the sex of the person. 

So in Spain there are can't be anyone named after the whole of the 1976 cup winning Manchester City squad, it has to be William and Benjamin not Bill and Ben, no Lords, no Blankets nor Apples and no boys named Sue. Furthermore you can't decide to call all your sons George (unless all the earlier Georges have died) and it has to be a Spanish name not a translated variant - so Maria not Mary and José not Joseph. 

I don't suppose this law avoids the Spanish equivalents of names like Nebuchednezzar and Ezekiel but at least it would stop children being saddled with those trendy names that become an embarassment to them as soon as they get to school. Then again all of those Beckies, Vickies, Toms and Bobs would be in trouble.

Forgetting myself

I got the car serviced today. I went to the BMW dealer up in Salamanca. There was a little board in the service reception area, like the ones they have in hotels and conference centres, that had my name on it to welcome me to my 10am appointment. I suppose it's the little touches like that which make 3.7 litres of oil worth 115€.

Anyway I'd taken the camera. Who knows, car for service, maybe something for the blog? There wasn't, well there is now because this is it, but let's forget that for a moment. I thought as I strolled around the industrial area waiting for the car to be ready how it looked just like the industrial estates in the UK. Must be the same all over Europe I thought.

Over the Easter break we bumped into a Briton who was doing some work for our friends John and Claire. Somewhere in the converstion this chap said that he went to the UK very infrequently nowadays as he found he had very little in common with people living there. I supposed that he meant that UK news stories were not his and that his general everyday experiences didn't offer much common ground for conversations with Britons in the UK. I didn't actually believe him but I did discern a kernel of truth in what he said because I often feel the same thing myself. My culture is an English one but my recent experiences are wholly Spanish.

So, back to the industrial estate; as I drove away I realised that the one in Salamanca didn't look at all like the one in Huntingdon, or Cambridge or even the one at the bottom of the Ainleys in Elland. It does look like one in Crevillente and the ones in Elche and Alicante though.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Daylight robbery

I asked my new bank to set up standing orders or direct debits to pay the various council taxes, rubbish collection fees and water rates for Culebrón. It didn't work of course and the money was taken out of the old bank account. The charges were scandalous.

The metered water rates for six months were 23.30€
The rubbish collection for the whole year was 36.10€

And my road tax licence on the Mini went out too - a shocking 39.19€

Odd actually, mentioning the car, it has just completed 20,000kms and needs a service. So I rang the local dealer (local in this case is 93kms away) to book the car in. The mania for identification in Spain reared its head - "What's the chassis number, the VIN, the registration, your Identification Number and your full address?" "I'll have to ring you back, I wasn't expecting the Spanish Inquisition." And ring back I did. But the workshop was engaged. The dealer said they would ring back in a few moments but I've typed the whole of this blog entry whilst I've been waiting.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Lunch hour

Over on Life in Culebrón I mentioned about our aerial fitter having to go off for lunch.

I keep hearing that Spanish people now eat sandwiches at their desk and that those who manage to get away from their workplace grab half an hour just like we Brits. Nonetheless, my experience is that the World stops in Spain at The Hour of Eating - la hora de comer - an hour that lasts two to three hours. Shops close, the streets, roads and beaches empty, bars and restaurants fill. 

We were on the road today at 2pm, the time it all happens, but we didn't pull over till around 2.30. By the time we got there the car park, bar and restaurant of the service station were full of people eating. The smart ones had picnics and families gathered in the car park to chomp through their rolls wrapped in silver foil. Some people chose to eat close to other travellers whilst others spread themselves in secluded corners of the huge car park. People without pack-ups, like us, paid 4.40€ for a tortilla roll. 

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

In Alicante

It being Easter and all Maggie and I have travelled over to Alicante to have a look at the house in Culebrón and to say hello to some old chums. We will be without Internet for a few days but if I do get near a computer then entries will be on Life in Culebron.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

What I learned about León, Astorga and Toro

This weekend we went to León, another in the series "Provincial Capitals in Castilla y León."

 The city is one of the marker points on the east/west portion of the pilgrim's route from France to Santiago de Compostela - the Camino de Santiago. We thought, as we were on the Camino, we may as well pop in to Astorga which is the northermost point of the route up from the south, the one kept open by the Knights Templar all those years ago. On the way home we stopped off at Toro so Maggie could sample the local wine. It was, according to a leaflet from the tourist office, the first Spanish wine to go to the New World as Columbus packed a few crates of the stuff onboard the Santa Maria (or maybe la Niña or la Pinta.)

So what did we find out?

  1. Well, at least one hotel in León, that is otherwise extremely nice, has cornered the market in uncomfortable mattresses. 
  2. That every bar in León gives hefty portions of some form of snack with each and every drink - the downside is that drinks are something like 50 cents a go more expensive than in the fair city of Ciudad Rodrigo. 
  3. That the tourist office has no idea about Spanish practices at all - the office is open, without break, from 10am in the morning till 8pm in the evening all over the weekend; go on like that and they may have to talk to some tourists. 
  4. On Palm Sunday in León people wave laurel as well as palm fronds and those with an eye to the easy pickings in the town park wave wisteria!
  5. Eating wafers - the sort of wafers you put around a person sized block of Walls vanilla ice cream in the UK - flavoured with honey, cinammon or honey and pine nuts is pretty popular in León on Palm Sunday.
  6. Gaudí not only built Parc Güell, the Casa Milá, The Sagrada Familia and a couple of others in Barcelona. He designed at least one building in both Astorga and León.
  7. Astorga produces chocolate; it has orange chocolate, green chocolate, white chocolate, dark chocolate, milk chocolate and chocolate with and without nuts. From our extensive research we can confirm that Astorga chocolate tastes like the economy stuff from Tesco or Carrefour but at the price of the tastefully displayed sweeties in those Belgian chocolate shops.
  8. Toro, in the province of Zamora, is a nice little town, with lots of street cafés and a big church. The town also produces wine. The decent stuff is quite expensive but Maggie says it is worth the euros.

Friday, 3 April 2009

KKK time

It's a poor snap but you can tell it's Easter again. The Klan are back on the streets or actually the Cofradía Jesús Nazareno to celebrate la procesión de la Dolorosa.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Homologised, homologated?

Things in Spain, jobs of every sort, tend to take a little longer than you expect. Queues are a bit disorderly and tend to be slow moving. It's not always true of course and we have been surprised, from time to time, by short and simple procedures but, in general, slow, ponderous, beraucratic and excessive would be appropriate adjectives.

Anyway Maggie is employed by the Regional Government to work in a State School. Unfortunately, because she has lowly English qualifications she is employed on a lower grade than befits her experience and education.

The system here is that in order to be a Funcionario, that's what people are called who work in Government type jobs, you have to pass a competitive exam called Oposiciones. Once you've passed the exams and found a post you're set for life - guaranteed employment, good pensions, short working days etc. But the fact is that to get anywhere in Spain, jobwise, qualifications are a must. For quite ordinary and even for  menial jobs it's qualifications that count. It must be very difficult to change careers as a paid employee.

So Maggie decided she'd have a crack at the Oposiciones. Before she can do the teaching exams she needs to have a degree and so she needs to get her degree, and her teaching qualifications, recognised. In order to do that the UK University has to provide a list of the "subjects" that her degree contained. That list has to be translated (by a State recognised translator) and then presented, along with a whole bunch of other paperwork to the appropriate authority in Madrid. They will then tell her whether the degree has equivalence. The whole process is called homolgation, homolgación, and Maggie has been having some difficulty getting her tongue around the word.

The Government department says it will take about 6 months to do the paperwork from the time that they receive it. The likelihood is that they will say that she is some subjects short and so she would then have to study those subjects here and get the appropriate Spanish qualifications. Then she re-submits. At that point she can start studying for the Oposiciones - oh, no, she can't - first she has to pass a competence test in Spanish even though the exams can, apparently, be done in English.

Maggie had worked most of this out from various websites and with talking to colleagues but she went to see her Union Rep. yesterday, in Salamanca, just to check and, because of what he said we also went to the University to see if they might be able to help. All a bit dead endish.

There were riots in Barcelona a few weeks back, with the Catalan Police Force going in heavy with big sticks, by students complaining about the upcoming Bolonia (Bologna) agreement. That's the one that will mean that qualifications are valid in each and every EU State. I'm not absolutely sure what the complaint is, seems like a good idea to me. Maybe they want to continue passing exams by rote learning which is still a keystone of a great deal of the education system here. 

I suggested to Maggie that she simply waits till the Bolonia stuff is in force and then does a fast UK qualification. It will, almost certainly, be faster than waiting in the Spanish queue!