Blogs in this series

Life in Culebrón is a very British view of life in a small village in Alicante province, my experience of Spain, of Spaniards and sometimes of the other Britons who live nearby. The tabs beneath the header photo link to other blogs written whilst I was living in other parts of Spain, to my articles written for the now defunct TIM magazine and to my most recent photo albums.

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Yecla Amusement Park?

I keep a database of the films I've seen. For complicated and boring reasons one database ran from 1986 to 2009 and a second one from 2010 to present. Thanks to my brother in law the two were, finally, combined into one long list just a few days ago. Apparently I've seen 2,706 films at the cinema between 1986 and today. The busiest year was 1995 when I saw 132 films. The quietest was 2008 when I was living in Ciudad Rodrigo. In 2017 I saw 81.

Ciudad Rodrigo is in Salamanca province in Castilla y León very close to the Portuguese border. It's a clean, safe, friendly, walled town that's lovely to look at. It's a long way from anywhere though and the nearest decent sized supermarket or car dealer or cinema is in Salamanca about 90km away. In fact I'm lying because the nearest cinema or main dealer for the Mini was actually in Guarda and that was only 75kms away. Guarda though is in Portugal where they speak Portuguese and as we don't we tended to stick to Spain. It was too far to pop over to the town to see a film but we did see a couple in the multiplex in Guarda when we were there anyway having done something else. The big advantage, for us, is that the Portuguese show their films in the original language with subtitles, unlike Spain where most films are dubbed. Because it was too far to go to Salamanca or Guarda we generally saw films in the Cine Juventud in Ciudad Rodrigo.

The Juventud was a really old fashioned cinema in some huge stone built building. The admission, the sweets and the popcorn were cheap, the seats were past their best and the sound and projection quality were a bit dodgy too. As I remember it the emergency exit lead out through the gardens of the Bishop's Palace. The huge plus of course was that it was close: we could walk into town, see the film, get a drink and walk home. There was only one show a week and, sometimes, that film wasn't for us which is, I suppose, why we only saw 21 films that year.

This evening we went to see a mentalist type magic show in Pinoso at 6pm and then we hurried off to Yecla to see the 8.15 film. A movie that we missed when it was first released; La librería - The Bookshop. We've never been to the cinema in Yecla before. We've seen posters for films but I've always presumed they were shown in the municipal theatre. In fact there's a cinema, the Cine PYA (Initials for Parque Yeclano de Atracciones - the Yecla Theme Park), which apparently opened in 1952 and "closed for good" in 2013. Google has nothing to say about how or why it reopened. The cinema doesn't have much of a frontage but it does have a big screen and, by modern standards, it is a big theatre with row after row of seats on a traditional theatre stalls type plan rather than the steeply raked seats in a modern multiplex. The ticket was torn from a roll, there were no computers in sight to deal with seat allocation and there were even some red velvet curtains over the multiple entry and exit doors. It was a good sized crowd, our regular cinema, the Cinesmax in Petrer would be glad to have such a big audience, and a surprising number of them chose to sit on the same row as us. I read somewhere, in one of those strange surveys that you see from time to time, that Spaniards are one of the nationalities with the least need for personal space in the world. Spaniards, unlike Britons, like to be up close

I didn't particularly care for the film, a bit television drama, but it was a really good outing.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Old whotsisname

In the dialogues, in Spanish language text books, the characters all have names like Francisco Garcia and Maria Hernandez. It's true there are plenty of Marias and Franciscos in Spain. They are often disguised though. Many of the Marias are, for instance, Maria Luisa or Maria Dolores or Maria Mercedes so that they become Marisa, Lola or Merche whilst Francisco is Paco or Kiko. José Marias are Chemas. Hard going for the novice but not so different from the confusion that is Rob, Bob and Bobby or Chas, Charlie and Chuck. Christopher Marlowe was Kit after all - Kit Thompson anyone?

It may be true that Garcia, Gonzalez, Cueva, Rodríguez and Lopez are the most common Spanish surnames nationwide but it seems to me that nobody, whose name you want to remember, is that easy. To give a random example the authors of the present Spanish Constitution were Gabriel Cisneros, Miguel Herrero y Rodríguez de Miñón, José Pedro Pérez Llorca, Manuel Fraga, Gregorio Peces-Barba, Miguel Roca Junyent and Jordi Solé Tura. The woman who does the gossip show that Maggie watches is called Anne Igartiburu (Basque name) and the Spanish national football coach also has a Basque name, Julen Lopetegui. Other regions have local names too, so a Carlos becomes a Carles in Catalan like the honorary Belgian Carles Puigdemont. Sometimes the names themselves are straightforward enough but they are a bit on the long side. Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría is the vice president of the current conservative government and, in the last socialist government, we had a María Teresa Fernández de la Vega Sanz. Neither of them of them are exactly Antonio Garcia or Maria Carmen González. Antonio and Maria Carmen are the most common first names, at present, amongst the Spanish population and Garcia and González the most popular surnames. By the way the most chosen names for newborns at the moment are Hugo and Lucia.

In Yorkshire, when I was a lad, there were lots of Sykes, Crossleys and Thorntons and around Pinoso we have Deltells, Alberts, Domenechs, Espinosas, Ricos, Miras, Escandells, Brotons and Carbonells as well as many more. When couples marry the children get a surname that is a combination of both surnames. If John Smith married Mary Bown they could choose either Peter Smith Brown or Peter Brown Smith for their son Peter with the Smith Brown order being the more traditional. A walk around the local cemetery reveals a veritable treasure trove of Carbonell Carbonell, Brotons Brotons and Rico Miras.

Monday, January 08, 2018

The January Sales and shop hours in general

We went out to save some money today, more me than Maggie actually. You know how it works, the shops reduce the prices and you go out and buy lots of things you didn't intend to buy. The January Sales or as we say round these here parts Las Rebajas de Enero. I always like to go to Corte Inglés, one of the originators of the first Sales in Spain, to see if they have any designer label clothes for market stall prices. Fat chance. I spent money i didn't have though.

When we first arrived in Spain shopping times, were, pretty much, regulated. Shops, except maybe bakers and paper shops, didn't open on Sundays and The Sales only took place in July and after Kings in January. There were lots of rules about how long they had to last, how the discounts had to relate to the prices on goods which had been available in the shops for weeks beforehand and all sorts of other stuff. Nowadays shops can have Sales whenever they want. But custom and habit are culturally powerful and people still think of, and wait for, the Summer and January Sales

The rules were relaxed in 2013. As well as the changes to The Sales there were lots of changes to the opening hours of shops. For example, weekly opening hours were increased from 72 to 90 hours for shops over 300 square metres, which explains why none of the big supermarkets are open 24 hours, but why there is a boom in the smaller town centre supermarkets. Shops under 150 square metres can open when and as they please - on Sundays, on holidays, 24 hours a day. It's not easy to generalise about the legislation, and I may have some of this wrong because it is all ifs and buts because the Central Government rules can be varied by local rules from the Autonomous Communities. For instance before the changes shops could open 12 times a year on Sundays and holidays but the Regions could reduce that to eight times per year. Now the National limit is sixteen times (for the bigger shops) but the Regions can reduce that to as few as ten times per year if they wish. The National legislation also allowed big shops in important tourist destinations, determined by the figure for overnight stays or the number of cruise ship passengers, to open all year round. That's why, for instance, Cartagena has a lot of Sunday shopping but Murcia city doesn't.

In the area we live, in Valencia, local legislation sets the number of Sunday and holiday openings for big stores to eleven times per year but it also gives "special status" to some areas, the ones with most tourists, like Alborache, L'Alfàs del Pi, Finestrat, Torrevieja y la costa de Benissa, Orihuela y Pilar de la Horadada where the shops can (I think) also open the additional Sundays, and any holidays, between mid June and mid September. The big shops and shopping centres outside those areas - in Alicante and Valencia cities in particular - don't get that extra summer dispensation and the eleven possible days they can open do not include the traditional Sundays on which the Summer and January Sales start, two of the busiest days of the year. So those big shops and centres feel hard done by and have taken the Valencian Government to court to make it comply with Central Government legislation. Of course it takes years for some legal actions to get to court so, in the meantime, the local legislation holds good.

Even if you found that confusing it may explain why some of the "Chinese" shops seem to be open all the time, why big supermarkets aren't and why lots of shops are open on the run up to Christmas.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

La Centenera Hill

I was thoroughly disgusted when the explanation for Flag Fen, the Bronze age site just outside Peterborough, changed from being a series of person made islands, with an economic and defensive function, to being a site of religious significance. Archaeologists say that a site has religious significance when they have no idea. "Look at the way it's constructed with everything facing the one open space - it must be a religious site." "And what does this writing say" -White Hart Lane - obviously a place of worship" (Yes Jim, I know they've pulled it down). Religion, the last refuge of a scoundrel to misquote Samuel Johnson.

I met a bloke who abandoned his work on Navajo burial sites to hitch across the United States, to work his passage on a boat across the Atlantic to dig at Flag Fen when it was first discovered. I bet he's scandalised by the change in emphasis too.

I heard, ages ago, on a TV documentary that the important thing about Stonehenge is not whether it's a calendar or a temple or a spaceship landing pad but that it's there. The point being that a couple of blokes and their half wolf dog couldn't build Stonehenge. It required someone with sufficient clout to get a load of people to work together, it required social order and structure. I could see that.

A while ago I went to see the Antonio Banderas film, Altamira, about the cave paintings in Cantabria. Afterwards, I did a bit of Googling. I was really surprised to find that the oldest paintings are now thought to be maybe 36,000 years old and the newest about 13,000 years old. Yet the paintings are the same in style. I wondered why. After all from the time that Flag Fen was built, about 3,500 years ago, or when the Great Pyramid of Giza was finished, about 4,500 years ago, we've gone from tossing bronze swords into a lake, as a gift to the Gods, or popping vital organs into canopic jars, ready for the journey in the afterlife, to the advanced state represented by Facebook and Instagram. Why didn't the Altamira boys and girls progress from finger painting to hyper realism in 20,000+ years? The answer, or at least the best guess, I understand, goes back to the same reason that there is a Stonehenge. In Altamira there weren't enough people, there wasn't enough organisation to pass on the knowledge about painting. So generation after generation had to reinvent it.

In Pinoso, maybe in Culebrón, we've got some petroglyphs, ancient rock carvings done by human hand. The only dating that I've seen on them is Bronze Age, which seems to be defined by technology rather than years, so that it covers a period from maybe 5,000 years ago to a bit over 2,500 years ago. I've gone looking for the petroglyphs on la Centenera Hill several times and I now know where one obvious one is to the extent that it's one of the places that we take visitors. To be honest petroglyphs aren't that exciting. I remember, as a seventeen year old with a new four wheeler driving licence, setting out to Ilkley Moor to find the cup and ring marks. Hmm. Not that overwhelming. Give me Avebury or Castlerigg stone circle any time. Nonetheless the real power of Avebury isn't its size or obviousness, it's the feeling that invades your soul as you stand in West Kennet Avenue - that unbroken line from them to us. The idea of some Bronze Age shepherd or flint worker sitting on a rock a few millennia ago and looking across from la Centenera Hill to where our house in Culebrón as he or she carved lumps out of the limestone rocks is pretty cool too.

By sheer chance I bumped into a blog that showed some of the Centenera petroglyphs, better ones than I've seen. The blog said they were within a couple of hundred metres of the trig point  (vértice geodésico). I was pretty sure that I knew where that was and sure enough I did. I didn't find the "good" petroglyphs though. I did find something in the rocks that I'm pretty sure was made by human hand. It's the photo at the top of the blog. What do you think?

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

They think it's all over

I spoke to my mum on the phone today. She said that she'd had a good Christmas and New Year but that she was glad to be back to normal. Later I popped in to town. I went to a cake shop that I've only ever been in once before, that time it was to order a birthday cake for Maggie, one with icing and a message and candles. This time it was to order a roscón. I can't remember whether I ordered the custard filling (crema) or the cream filling (nata) but either way I'm expecting better quality than the ones we usually buy from the supermarket. The last time we bought a baker's shop roscón was when we lived it Cartagena. I have a vague and nagging memory that I was shocked at the price then but, hey-ho, Christmas tradition and all that. The sensible eating can start when Christmas is over after the 6th.

I've written about Roscones before, the traditional Roscón de Reyes cake, a bit like a big doughnut that gets eaten on Kings, at Epiphany, on 6th January when the Three Wise Men have delivered the presents to the baby Jesus and to all the good boys and girls. The bad ones get coal so the Kings are obviously more generous than Santa who leaves nothing for bad children!

As I passed the lottery shop I did something else I don't usually do. I went in and bought a lottery ticket for el Niño draw, the Child, the second Christmas lottery. The prizes for el Niño are less than for el Gordo Christmas draw on 22nd December but, I think, there's a better chance of winning the big prize and excellent chances of, at least, getting your money back (1:3). I read that the chances of winning the 200,000€ top prize are something like 1:100,000 which is about the same as the chance of being stung to death by a bee or poisoned to death by a snake. They had a number that had obviously been spurned by Pinoseros in general, there was a caricature promoting the number, it was parodied as el Feo, the Ugly. Obviously enough that's the number I bought.

So, if the roscón does turn out to be really expensive when I pick it up on the 5th I can always hope that just getting the 20€ ticket money back from the draw on the 6th will at least pay for it. Or I can hope that the fine taste of the "home baked" version will be enough to make me forget this last gasp Christmas spending.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Starsky and Hutch and the like

Everybody knows that Italian men are cool. Everybody knows that Italian men don't wear socks. Before I came here I presumed that Spain was, probably, more or less like Italy - both have wine, olives, sun and the Mediterranean. So, just before I left the UK in 2004 I bought some Timberland loafers. All leather, no problems with sweaty feet. At least that was the hope.

I still have the Timberland shoes, I don't wear them often but they are still in excellent condition and they smell fine. I never have taken to going sockless. Spaniards wear flip flops in summer anyway. The cords that I bought from GAP, when it first opened in Cambridge, which is definitely a long, long time ago, are no longer a baggy fit but I still put them on from time to time. In fact there are lots of things I still wear that I brought from the UK in 2004 which makes them at least 13 years old. Some, like a big Marks ans Sparks Starsky and Hutch inspired cardigan, that I only now dare wear around the house, are much, much older. Some things, the inherited things, that we brought with us, tools for instance, are ancient.

When we were first setting up house in Culebrón we had to spend bucket loads of money. Obscene amounts of money.  Some things we'd brought with us but most of that was personal stuff, books and clothes, rather than household and we certainly didn't have settees, cookers, televisions or even drinks coasters. We had to buy beds too and although the sizes, in centimetres, were slightly different from their UK equivalents they were basically the same. Spanish pillows were usually long bolster type things but we managed to buy more normal, for us, individual pillows, locally. Over the years some of those things have been replaced but others soldier on. Pinned to the sofa by my laptop yesterday evening for a couple of hours I suddenly realised just how pain in the bottom uncomfortable our 12 year old couch has become. Even I am finally beginning to notice that lots of those original things are getting to be very long in the tooth.

The duvet we sleep under came from John Lewis in Peterborough. I bought it for the flat that I lived in there in the 1980s. It's a standard sized double bed duvet. Maybe six or seven years ago we were in IKEA in Murcia, when it first opened. I was quite taken with a duvet cover they had so I bought it, along with pillow cases. It didn't fit - far too big. They didn't fit - far too small. Obviously the Swedes have funny sized duvets and pillows. Primark sells ordinary size duvet covers - I've always thought the Irish were a sensible, level headed bunch -  and when they opened a shop, also in Murcia, we bought another cover. Once out of the packet it did not exude quality. It appeared to be made out of near transparent cloth and looked as though it cost exactly what we paid for it.

By now our original UK duvet covers were definitely showing their age - split seams, missing press studs, old fashioned designs and faded colours. Maggie thought so too and she went Internet shopping. When her purchase turned up neither of us cared for it much - photos are one thing but the actual product is another. There was nothing for it we were going to have to pay Inditex prices. I went to Zara Home and searched through the covers and cases in their funny drawer like shelves.  Quilts are not uncommon in Spain but they're not as common as they are in the UK. I looked at the prices - there were some covers for 40 or 50€ but there were lots more at 60, 70 and 80€. Pillow cases were sometimes 30€+. None of the bed-wear seemed to be close to the 190x190 cm size of our duvet and although I wasn't keen to engage with anyone working in the shop, for fear of being bounced into buying one of the expensive ones, I had no option. The person I spoke to was convinced that I was a stupid foreigner who couldn't speak Spanish properly or at least couldn't measure in centimetres  - 220x220 cm was, she assured me, the size for a double bed cover. It seems that whilst Spanish beds may be more or less the same size as British ones the Spaniards prefer their covers to be bigger - more wiggle room, fewer feet sticking out, which is probably better but we won't think about that just now!

Time plodded on with no new duvet cover. I was on Amazon Spain looking for camera batteries or similar but some strange algorithm showed me duvet covers, at the bottom of the page, as - relacionado con productos que has mirado - related to the products you've looked at. All I can surmise is that Amazon has me completely pegged - either that or they are spying on me in some more traditional way. The duvet covers were a reasonable price, they seemed to be the right sort of size, pillow cases were the right size and price too and everything was in plain colours so that the chance of the photo and the real thing being miles apart were slim. I was so overwhelmed that I even bought the matching colour fitted sheet. And guess what? It was all fine.

But it just goes to show. Things are similar here -no socks-  but different -flip flops not stylish loafers.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Without news

I've just been scanning through a number of other English language blogs looking for inspiration. It's time to write a blog entry and I can't think of anything to write about.

I could do New Year of course but I must have done cava (which is not, by the way, pronounced carver - but more like kavva), red underwear and the twelve grapes about as many years as I've lived here. I've already done a bit of a Christmas piece so I can't do that again even though it's still in full swing with the shopping centres clogged with cars and the telly full of perfume adverts. It's still a week to Kings and I've done Kings so many times that regular readers must be able to imagine what a Roscón tastes like. We haven't done many non British Christmas events but, even if we had, there's not a lot of mileage in living nativity scenes, carol concerts or Christmas story telling. I didn't get caught by any jokes yesterday on "Day of the Innocents" (think of it as Spanish April 1st) nor did I make the well trodden journey to see the egg, flour, fire extinguisher and firework fight in Ibi. 

I wondered if I could do something on the Valenciano language or yet another entry on speaking, or not speaking, Spanish. The thought came to me when I remembered the bit of a language triumph I had in the KFC in Elche the other day dealing with the bastardised Spanish pronunciation of isolated English words. I didn't hesitate once in the twenty question interrogation that is now the routine for ordering the simplest thing from the Good Colonel. Then I remembered that, only a few moments before, it had been exactly the opposite in asking for tickets for Wonder Wheel (the latest and shockingly boring Woody Allen) when I had to resort to mispronouncing the old man's name - Gwuddy Al-in - because my versions of gwanda weal, wander weyl and anything else, all the way back to a well modulated English pronunciation of Wonder Wheel, just left the ticket seller looking blank. I'm still a long way from writing that handy little booklet - "How to pronounce English words like a Spaniard."

The weather is always a good mainstay - Spain has had its second borrasca, or big storm, over the last few days since the new naming regime came into being. Storms of a certain intensity, it seems, now get named alphabetically - like hurricanes. This one was Bruno, we had Ana a while ago. It killed a couple of people across Spain and the snow and coastal storms looked really impressive on the telly. Here in sunny Culebrón though the worst that happened was that I had to get out of bed at 6.25am to secure a few things because the wind was blowing pots and chairs around. Hardly the stuff of a riveting blog.

Something with the students then or something from the news, the television, the radio; a second hand tale? My bosses have a Christmas play-scheme so they've laid me off for a couple of weeks leaving me with no students to talk to. No students, no stories. At home, with it being Christmas, the British TV companies have spent lots of money and Maggie has been watching their special offerings. Nothing there then either. Without the structure of work the routine has gone out of the window so I've not been keeping up with the news as well as usual. Anyway half the journalists are taking a few days off. And in Cataluña, which has more or less monopolised the news for months, it's all very quiet because all the politicians are horse trading, some of them via Skype, after the inconclusive elections. No blog fodder.

No. Another lifetime ago, I was in Saudi Arabia one Christmas. Lots of people I worked with went back to the UK to eat turkey and snooze on the sofa and, when they got back to Wadi Al-Batin, we asked for their Christmas reports. They were like José Moscardó, the bloke in charge of the fascist defence of the Alcázar in Toledo during the Spanish Civil War. The fortress was under siege, Franco sent troops to relieve it and, when they got there the siege was lifted. Moscardó was asked for his report. He said "Nothing new in the Alcázar." I know the feeling.  Nothing new in Culebrón.