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Monday, 28 June 2010

MAY THE BEST MEN WIN

So England lost despite all the superstitions we rely on to get us through. Now the post-mortem where nobody seems to mention the above. When you have to rely on whether you are wearing a red shirt or which nationality the referee is you know you are doomed and maybe we should just admit that the players although good don't seem to be enjoying themselves and wear faces that look as though their families are being held captive. Maybe, we should just concentrate on what we are good at like making decent music. I pointed out to Henderson that despite the above sad news we can and will root for The Dutch and Spain but I think it would be wonderful if Ghana won.

We started the summer camp and like most years we often teach children of illustrious parents like The King of Bulgaria and Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain. This year we have the honour of teaching the son of a Goya winning director, Javier Fesser. No less than six I am told for his film El Camino. He is also the director of several short films starring his son Javier and his then baby sitter Lucy which can be found on Youtube by the title Javi y Lucy.

Lastly, but going back to the football, Henderson and I seem to be getting a lot of mileage from the commentary and spend most of our time laughing at the harmless remarks such as ..'having a moan about the attentions of Skrtel'.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

It's been a while since I mentioned the Oompa Loompas next door. One of their daughters is called Myra and there is a sister with the misfortune of being baptised Brucella. One of their problems is an inabilty to communicate with one another without shouting up at windows or down stairs so at any moment you can hear someone with a gob on them screeching the above names. Myra has a habit of not responding so I am often treated to the sound of her name with all its murderous connotations at least ten times before there is a response. It's one of those things that although jarring on the nerves is nothing compared to their other antics so I just cope somehow. The other morning however was a chance for Henderson to have a lie-in and on hearing that name he leaped out of bed and starting screaming her name too. After each scream the father of said kid bellowed a sound as he obviously doesn't like to be outdone and Henderson has what has been described as a 'bar' voice, the sort of voice you do have to sit up and listen to. So for the past few days the mother has been bellowing expletives and various ruinous curses from the balcony at him for failing to see the error of his ways I suppose. There is a tendency here that one can do what the *uck one likes but 'you no'.

I also haven't been saying much about The Brits lately but living here I realise their passion for football, especially The English. Spanish people tell me it is the same here when I tell them most English men, the ones who like football anyway, have in their DNA the belief that they can and will win The World Cup again but here I don't see any flags hanging off balconies and I don't even feel like the football is on until Spain score and then you never hear the end of it with all the cars and fireworks kicking off. Or maybe it is just this town.

We start the summer camp again soon, once again in 'La Granja' where George Orwell spent some time during The Civil War. It's a very peaceful place despite its history and we always seem to have a nice time teaching here.

The mayor has been getting off lightly too. Maybe because he will be leaving soon. The subject of pedestrianisation has raised its head again this year with a debate on whether they should pedestrianise the Coso, the main thoroughfare through the town. The opinion is split with those who have travelled to other towns in Spain wanting it and those who find the idea of anything from 'de fuera' or 'outside' the influence of the devil.

Monday, 21 June 2010

BROKE BACK MOUNTAIN BIKE.

In an attempt to 'get away from it all' we decided to head for the hills and seek refuge in a bar there. Henderson likes to leave the house after two and before five as he is convinced this is the safest time to drive as The Spanish, being creatures of habit, will be found having lunch and then siesting during these hours. So there we were cruising along with the open road in front when I saw a sign announcing that some roads would be closed on account of the 'Quebrantahuesos' cycle race. Quebrantahuesos is a bird of prey which is known as a Lammergeir or Bearded Vulture but here it is called 'Bone Breaker' and for some ironic reason the cycle race is named after this bird. There is no worse sight for Henderson than grown men, whose wives he believes are left behind probably to have sex with saner men, dressed in Lycra peddling after other men's arses. It stirs something in him that has him shouting after them 'haven't you heard of a combustion engine?' The road was full of these men trying to conquer themselves, which is my theory as there is nothing left to conquer. We didn't see any women or black men participating so there must be something in it. Henderson still hasn't got over the shock of seeing some of them wearing what look like wonder bras.My heart was in my mouth everytime we came round a corner only to be faced with these maniacs and of course it wasn't long before there was a pile up ahead near Biescas. As we got closer we could see the motorists who had knocked down a cyclist hailed from The Netherlands, a country rife with bicycles. As we passed I could see two tall, bewildered blond folk who had no idea of the surrealism awaiting them.

It would get more absurd as we left this area and cruised the winding mountain road up to The Valley of Broto. We had just passed the village of Yesero when we came around a bend and found a crashed car and a Quebrantahueso cyclist stumbling around the road. My Spanish version of 'are you alright mate' would keep Henderson amused for the rest of the weekend but alright he clearly wasn't as blood gushed from every orifice. I rang the emergency services and spent ages answering questions till another motorist came and then he spent aeons trying to explain that an ambulance was needed. The problem was the surreal scene in front of us. The woman on the other end of the line was asking me if the victim was in the cycle race as they had their own emergency servive but although the man was dressed in lycra no bike was to be seen. The car had both airbags inflated but someone's head had hit the passsenger window as it was smashed. It looked as if the driver and passenger had done a runner or rather, had cycled off on the poor man's bike. In the end when the proper authorities took over it was established that the 'cyclist' was the driver of the car and he had nodded off. Unfortunately he hadn't been wearing a seat belt and had ended up flying into the window on the passenger side. Well, that's what he reckons.

Friday, 18 June 2010

AND BUT OR BECAUSE

We know quiet a few people who indulge in some of the many risk sports on offer here. One of them involves hanging off a cliff or boulder and is very popular in the Sierra de Guara in villages like Rodellar. I have to confess that as well as dentists, and planes I am not flying, risk or adventure sports could be added to my list of bete noirs. I was telling one of our bosses this last night over dinner at the Tomate Jamon knowing he is a fan of such stupidity. He told us he was at a place called Vadiello in said Sierras and was just reaching the bottom of a lump of rock he had climbed up when a bunch of nuns led by a priest came along. As he jumped down one of the nuns asked him what he had been doing. 'Climbing up there' he said. 'And what's up there?' the nun enquired. 'Nothing' he said. 'So what do you do when you get up there?' she wondered. 'Nothing' came the reply. 'And what can you see when you are up there?' Nothing', he retorted. 'And what do you do then?' she asked. 'I come back down again' said our boss. There was a bit of a pause and the nun looked at him and said, 'that's the stupidest thing I have ever heard' and marched off. I am with the nun.

Monday, 14 June 2010

BON VIVANT

We had the opportunity to visit a valley we have never been to before, the Valley of Benasque which is quite a schlep from here, tucked away in the corner of the province not far from Catalunya. We normally visit the Valley of Broto which we know quite well now so Benasque was a new view of the Pyrenees. It's one of the larger more popular resorts especially in winter with the ski resort of Cerler nearby. It has a different vibe to the one we are used to and quite a few surprises.

It has grown in the last thirty years with a lot of urbanisation but still has managed to look after the old part in a far better way than the one we have here in Huesca. In fact the people in the mountain villages seem a lot more open and sophisticated than the ones down here and there are a few theories as to why this is. One that they are closer to France and have more dealings with the French but also people up there are more used to foreigners in general and rely on tourism to make a living. There seems to be more of an entrepreneurial spirit too and you can find products and service that you wouldn't get here ever.
It is a village that has everything you need including a bar called Rabason,, resplendent with ancient cobwebs, Miles Davis and vino dulce. We had coffee outside the Hotel Aneto and later were invited to view the rooms which would probably be described as 'state of the art' but were designed and furnished with lots of wood and stone themes that fit in with the surroundings. The sculptor goes by the name Vicente Garcia Plana and uses a lot of natural materials. There was one space I wasn't sure about where you could sit and read which had heavy stones hanging from wire above your head. I think it's the kind of hotel that is busier in winter during the ski season as there were hardly any folk about. I love hotels and although we always seem to have friends to stay with I wouldn't mind sampling this joint.

We had dinner in a wonderful little restaurant called Ansils in the village of Anciles. Apparently, this was the only village not to get burnt down during the Civil War but I need to find out if that means in this valley or the whole of the province. These restaurants offer fine dining at a fraction of the cost you'd pay back in Britain and in beautiful countryside. I had the 'recao' de Anciles, which is like a potage and for the main course, partridge. The wine was from Riglos de los Mallos, another beautiful part of Aragon. The next day we visited the ancestral home of our friend Cristina's children. I have never seen a house like this in Aragon and it was more akin to a French chateux. The key was enormous and reminded me of the keys The Jews took with them when they were expelled from Spain hoping one day they would be able to return to their houses. Inside I came across many old books from the 17th century which were just rotting away and looked as if they had been rescued from a fire which is possible with all the stories of burning and ransacking during the Civil War. There was also a framed piece of a flag allegedly dating back to the battle of Lepanto which took place way back in 1571 in the Ottoman- Habsburg wars. The house was full of 'ghosts' and it was difficult to find its heart. Like the bar we visited the night before, the corners and walls were full of cobwebs the like which make a tearing noise as they scrape against your arm. The flag intrigued me and has inspired me to find out more on the battle.

Monday, 7 June 2010

THE MENTAL CONTINENTAL

People often complain here that there is nothing to do but at the moment we are spoilt for choice between an exhibition of the largest Playmobil collection or something like that and the Short Film Festival also known as The International One. I wanted to go and see a Bunuel film called That Obscure Object of Desire which I have seen loads of times but felt I ought to honour as it was this film which made me realise how mental the Spanish are. In those days, the days when I was much younger than today, I think films like this went out on Friday late at night and came under the title The Continental Movie or as Henderson would have it, shite and/or probably depressing. He does have a point that was pointed out by me when I told him that The Full Monty was the humorous version of Los Lunes al Sol, the continental depressing version of unemployment as opposed to the 'how can we make something funny out of something depressing but still get the message across version'. However, I love Bunuel as his films always conjure up the idea that it is so difficult to get what you want, especially here. Some things are just unatainable like the women who appear in the above film. This was a stroke of genius to use two actresses to play the same role and I must have been about twelve when I saw it and I was blown away when I realised he was directing two actresses as it is a subtle change and some people don't notice. Alas, I didn't make it to the screening or the homage to the Spanish actress Angela Molina. It's quite a relief to not feel I have to go to these events but tonight I am making an effort. I am always gutted that I can't see films here at the cinema in their original version, except Spanish ones of course, and tonight I am going to the renovated Teatro Olimpia to see a Ken Loach film called Looking for Eric. I invited Henderson but he claims Loach is every bit as depressing as Continental movies so has declined. I'm mainly going to see the inside of the theatre and to just soak up the cinematic experience that most take for granted.

I've just remembered that I went to a lecture on an Aragonese artist, Juan Jose Vera. It was part of a course at The Institute for Aragonese Studies that included Goya, Bunuel and Saura. I managed to sit for two hours watching and listening and at one point felt I might suffer from Stendhal Syndrome looking at shot after shot of abstract and surrealist art. Artists from Catalunya tend to be surreal and the ones from Aragon next door, abstract. If you go anywhere along the coast in Catalunya you will feel this sense of surrealism and it has something to do with the light I believe. In Aragon they are more abstract due to their surroundings except Bunuel who was from Bajo/Lower Aragon which is a completely different story.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

MAKE 'EM LAUGH

It's starting to get hot here and that feeling of inertia is kicking in so I didn't feel too keen on doing the story telling for the kids at the book fair yesterday. On a deeper level I think it was more due to the idea that far from the confines and safety of a library, this particular reading was outside, in a park and would involve more people. I'm not one for audiences and suffer from something that Howard Hughes was supposed to have suffered from, a dread of people watching me. It would not bother me to be more like him and never cut my nails again. Anyway, it became apparnet ( ha! love this new word, almost as good as the parnets, the parents..) on arriving at the fair that I would be required to wear one of those awful headsets and stand up in front of what looked like loads of people and read the stories. Totally unrehearsed and last in a line of others doing stories I felt a bit like I did years ago when for some unfathomable reason I was entered into an athletic competition and found myself surrounded by fit, blond, Germanic types in a stadium somewhere in Middlesex. That's another story, this one got worse as I watched the others perform what looked like theatre or circus storytelling in Spanish and French. My turn came and I had to stop myself from reading it in another accent just to confound the adults who had truned up ( To Trune up= To arrive expecting more than you bargained for..) for the chance to hear a 'native'. The kids are always fine and enjoy the stories but the bemused looks from the parents pisses me off. It's like they are trying to catch you out for saying 'gonna or 'somting like dat'. Perhaps next time I'll do it with a Jamaican accent, or even better, move my lips and have it dubbed. It did feel weird having my voice echoing around the park for all to hear. It wasn't held in the bandstand in the end. That had some kind of tarpauling going on in its roof.


Later that evening the lack of sleep left me lying on the sofa in the idler position watching what looked like singing grannies, pogoing pensioners and dancing dogs. ' What is this?' I asked Henderson, who told me it was a talent contest to look for someone to perform in front of the queen. No wonder the country is on its knees. The BBC didn't come up with much better as it offered what basically is an ongoing conversation I have found myself listening to in the wee small hours of. The one were men battle out to the death whether Jimmy Hendrix or Jimmy Paige was the best ever guitarrist. My money would be on Jimmy, Hendrix of course, who was surely some kind of spiritual envoy.

Lastly, I need to work on my pronunciation of the name Virginia as a friend pointed out that I pronounce it Vaginia.

Friday, 4 June 2010

SOUND THE TRUMPET

If you haven't fallen asleep by five o'clock in the morning in Spain then you might as well get up as no way are you going to nod off again. I was asleep at this hour till a mosquito doing the rounds decided to give me a nip while I was having a nap. From then on it was a battle with the sofa and the ensuing sounds of life which seem to have a habit of ringing every half hour just as you are about to nod off again. I think I have said before that this is a country where people can manage to take the sound of fish frying to levels beyond those allowed by the European Union. If you are in any doubt that the Spanish are lazy I can assure you there are plenty who want to wake you up as they head off to work. If you suffer from insomnia the best thing is to get up regardless and try not to go back to sleep as you will be woken up by leaflet distributors ringing all the door bells, explosions of one kind or another and various diggers and jackhammers as men try to fix all the broken things.

We did go to one of my favourite restaurants, Tomate Jamon and had delicious tuna steaks and Enate wine. We had to leave a bit early and run to the terrace to have our coffee as the noise levels began to sound like experimental jazz. Henderson remarked that of the thirty or so people there he could count only five men and the noise sounded like a Miles Davis track. It might sound uncharitable but it may have to go on my avoidance list like the Granja Anita cafe which is unbearable at certain times of the day with all the grannies high on chocolate and churros.

Despite all the trials I am delighted that I now have Broadband and can write from my laptop. Telefonica seem to have improved as both Javier and Virginia, the young staff who helped me in the end are a lot nicer than the complete bitch who treated me with such contempt eight years ago.

On a lighter note, while throwing out old receipts and statements I couldn't help laughing when I found one from England. Most of my food shopping receipts in Spain are a long list of tasty morsels such as Rioja, quails and their eggs, fresh basil, fresh fish, olive oil etc and the one from England said What Car? magazine, crumpets, Heinz soup and a Ginster's pasty.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

SIERRA HOTEL INDIA TANGO ECHO

We launched into setting up the broadband again and four hours and several tantrums later, that I thought might end up in fisticuffs or someone storming off, I rang Telefonica. I spoke with a nice man but he seemed to be losing his patience with me as I had to get him to repeat all the letters he was calling out for me to type into my computer. It reminded me of the IKEA experience, the one where you wonder why the hell you are fixing or doing stuff that you pay other people to do. He didn't know the aviation code that I know so I had to make do with T for Teruel and A for Albacete which don't have the same ring to them. My keyboard and all the words on the computer are in English so it was a real test for me plus the mobile kept cutting out, and things were going well I thought until he couldn't take it anymore and went off only to come back to tell me that a technician would call and help me. Rather miffed at this I pressed at random a button and Broadband was born.

So the bandstand is undergoing essential repairs and will be ready for Saturday's book fair. There will also be a lunch for all those who have participated throughout the last year with the 'cuentaluengas', or storytelling but it will cot 12 euros which I aint got mate so won't be going.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

Well finally we got the router last week but have only managed to get the WI-FI up and running which means I am writing this on my laptop. Broadband seems to evade us and I still don't know what we are doing wrong. We'll try again tomorrow. Life is just a series of sorting out 'stuff' on a greater or lesser scale which leads onto the latest saga with Trafico. Trafico or The Departamento Of. wrote to Henderson with a bill of about 18 euros thanks to the incompetencia of the ITV or MOT as it is known in Britain. For the last seven years his chassis number included the letters SSS when it should have read ZZZ and due to this he has been asked to cough up the above amount. We went to trafico with a friend who happened to know someone else who works there and to cut a very big argument short Henderson decided to just pay up and forget it when said mate told him he should first complain to the MOT lot and try to avoid paying. This is quite unusual in a culture where people don't often like to fill out complaint forms etc so it should be interesting to see who will ultimately get the blame and if he will get reimbursed, Ha!

On the way to trafico we walked through the park and saw that the roof of the bandstand where I am supposed to read childrens' stories on Saturday had collapsed or maybe it's 'en obras', being repaired, as I noticed the stage which surrounds the sculptures which are the symbol of Huesca, Las Pajaritas, has been dug up. The last minute option is often put in place and, with a bit of creativity and elbow grease is executed in time for the celebrations. Said stories will form part of the Feria del libro/Book Fair. Let's hope so.