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Sunday, 31 July 2011

RAZONES TO BE CONTENTO

H's friend B came over from the Netherlands so I had two crazy Dutchmen to keep me entertained. With him and his lady friend we spent some hours tasting all the food Rick Stein missed, on account of him not knowing that 'Aragon Existe'. I guess the most memorable has to be Callizos in Ainsa which is highly recommended but our lunch will be forever embedded in our minds for various reasons. Firstly, the wonderful Red Kite that made a swoop for the raw red meat the restaurant staff had presumably left out on the wall under our table to keep the tourists amused. It was quite a sight as this amazing bird of prey made a grab for it. Moments earlier and it could have been a West Highland Terrier that had been sniffing around. Then the food. This restaurant is noted for its cuisine but also for the presentation and the way the food is announced and explained everytime it arrives which kept the French family on the next table amused as we, that's H and pal and me and K, grappled with the parmesan sticks wrapped in what looked like condoms. 'No, your supposed to eat them!' they roared as they looked upon as savages. That was the starter or one of them. The olives dangling from a Bonsai were lovely as were the unfertilised eggs of an angel. Then we tucked in to some bacalao tempura which unfortunately came in the exploding version for H's mate who didn't need this kind of trauma having spent time in Bosnia and other war torn places as a journo. Said contents went all over his camera just as the Red Kite made off with more scraps. After cleaning him up with all the serviettes ( no, not napkins, but the Spanish serviettes designed to be used in their hundreds) a restaurant can muster he nearly sat in what was left of the tempura which had managed to land on his chair. Shaken but scrubbed he settled down to the next course which translated rather ominously as 'Lamb caught in the cross-fire'. It was delicious but then we felt some drops of rain. Only slight drops, nothing fancy, the kind that can keep a conversation going about whether it will or not, you know, suddenly open up and wash us and everything in sight into the river below. I was in no doubt that it would but tried to keep everyone's spirits up by saying otherwise. The conversation continued with all of us saying that 'it was going to be one of those showers that lasts a few minutes and anyway, look, it's going that way, the sky is blue over there', when suddenly the heavens did what they are supposed to do and I found myself aiding and abetting the owner who was now clinging to an enormous parasol and various wine glasses. We must have looked like a bunch of drunks going down in a sinking ship. No one could stand or walk what with the force of the wind but miraculously we made it indoors clutching various bottles and glasses and spitting leaves and twigs. We left the food to its fate and as I looked back at the remains of the garden there was one bloke, probably Aragonese, determined to finish his lunch with that stubborness they are famous for. Thankfully the restaurant put us in the basement and brought us our puddings. H's mate was OK here while the storm raged above, but his PTSD was almost triggered off by the waitress announcing that what he had in front of him was a delightful mix of goats' yoghurt, candy floss and dulce de leche which sounded the perfect antidote until she then clanged a big metal spoon against the side of his dish to evoke the 'sounds' of the Pyrenees, presumably the bell around the goat's neck as it was thrown from a great height. I had visions of him, H's mate, not the goat, in a straight jacket by the end of the meal and being attended by a priest from the nearby Opus Dei monastery we passed earlier. On top of this we had a kid ( no, not the orphaned offspring of the above, just a typical Spanish child eager to please) bouncing up and down the stairs giving us all a running commentary of how the storm was getting on and my pud had space dust in it which was unexpected, pleasurable and thank God, not being eaten by B.

Monday, 25 July 2011

DON'T TO HOUSEWORK

One thing that always strikes me as un poco raro about the Brits is their passion for DIY and doing up everything from driveways to rooms they will never use. They seem to think that one day, when all this is finished they can start to live but it's never finished, there is always something to 'do up'. That's what I like about Spain. No one ever bothers to do anything up so everything either falls down or gets left for another day, year, decade as right now we are having too much of a good time. There is a limit to all this of course and there does come a time, in our case almost ten years when we thought 'mmm, perhaps we should clean those curtains or maybe paint over the cracks in the wall'. Cleaning is still for me, one of those things that once done you realise you have to do for the rest of your life to achieve results so I gave up on the whole cleaning thing years ago. I got sick of looking at the dust on the tele and going 'God, I only dusted that a few days ago'. That's when I decided that I would try and live like Quinten Crisp and leave the dust to it's own devices. Alternatively I could employ a cleaner like most Spanish households do these days and then they can fret over the dust and can be seen scrubbing frantically from street level. But, I would rather spend the money on more worthy causes.

I mentioned the Golf yesterday and on our travels today the man who owns the paint shop said 'una curiosidad, have you by any chance had that Golf for what? Thirty years?' We told him we were the proud owners of a twenty six year old Golf. Yesterday, she, the Golf, who goes by the name Poo on account of her previous number plate, trundled back from Zaragoza with the sofa bed rammed in her boot when I asked H a similar question. 'Is she really twenty six years old?' We should write to Top Gear when we have the money to get a new car and offer her to the team there and see what they come up with. I am convinced this car can go on forever but H says no. This car has only had one previous owner. A British general who was based in Germany and therefore needed a left hand drive and then there is us. Me and this mad Dutchman. This wonderful car brought us safely over the Pyrennes here ten years ago and if I haven't said before I will miss her when she has gone.

Lastly, the title of this blog has been inspired by a thank you card sent to my boss from a child who didn't like said boss smoking. So she sent her a card saying 'don't to smoking'. JUST DON'T.

Friday, 22 July 2011

NO IKEA

We found ourselves in the wasteland that is IKEA but thanks to H's ability to get up at an unearthly hour despite the shindig the night before, his military manoeuvres, and staunch northen European time keeping we got the sofa bed needed, stuffed it into the back of the Golf and still had time to watch the Spanish chomping at the bit to get at the meatballs and unlimited drinks in the upstairs restaurant. He had it home, assembled and me lying on it in less time than it took for most people to get round that dreadful store. The alternative was to hunt one down in Huesca and then spend the next six months ringing up enquiring as to its whereabouts.

There are moments when it seems the whole town is asleep and any visitor would wonder if we had all been murdered but especially now the big fiesta is round the corner. I find this time of year always a bit disconcerting and want to get away as San Lorenzo is responsible for the biggest binge fest this side of the Pyrenees.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

LA HOSTIA

Just watched Rick Stein's take on Spain and its grub and sure enough he went across Northen Spain taking in Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, the Basque Country, Navarra, down to Tudela and then headed straight on to Catalunya without a by-your-leave and therefore not stopping for a glimpse of Aragon. In a way I am glad as there are lots of delights here culinary and otherwise and we don't want him encouraging more Brits to come with all their gushing enthusiasm and badly pronounced Spanish, wandering around looking for somewhere to eat. Last week he said it was still OK for people to have a fag in a restaurant in Spain which is not true and shows how badly researched a lot of these programmes are. The fact is he would be spoilt for choice here with some fine restaurants in and around the mountains. This weekend we are going to Casa Frauca in a tiny village tucked in the Pyrenees. A restaurant that needs no explaining.

I tell pupils not to worry too much about their pronunciation. As long as the other person understands it doesn't really matter. They get so pained with the criticisms of other Spanish people who invariably don't speak another language and of course the teachers who keep telling them to aim for that bloody English accent. It takes a lot to crush a Spaniard but criticise their English and they often become painfully insecure which is the worst thing when you are trying to learn. So I was surprised to see on the above programme a guy who made his own wine chatting away in English and Rick Stein saying it was 'so great to be standing here drinking and eating with an intelligent Spaniard who is fluent in English' and then the Spanish guy referred to the sheep they were going to eat as being the ones in the 'hurdles', the ones they could see grazing in a field close by and Stein corrected him. 'Flocks'. 'You mean 'flocks', 'hurdles' are what they are kept in'. The Spanish guy took this on the chin and went on and emphasised the word 'flock' in a calm, assured manner that was quite becoming not the usual 'this bloody language! Why can't everyone just speak Spanish!' 

LA ESCUELA DE IDIOTAS

Many people here don't pass their exam at the language school, La Escuela Oficial de Idiomas because according to their teachers they speak English like a Spaniard and should aim to speak with an 'English' accent. Which accent I would be intrigued to find out. Many students are unaware thanks to the misguided efforts of the folk at the language school that in Britain there are many ways to pronounce words like 'bus' and someone from the south of England will pronounce 'aunt' different to someone from the north which then puzzles students if the words 'ant' or 'aren't' come into the conversation. My favourite mix up is still 'Alaska' which the student thought I had said when I said 'I'll ask her', never mind that the furthest north I have been was to Norwich for the day. Or the time I worked for a FIFA agent here who repeated the word 'striker' as if I had said it like Arthur Mullard.

A student told me the other day that in the school where she works she had her purse stolen by one of the students there. She said she knew the boy in question and yet felt there was nothing she could do. I couldn't believe this and she then told me that the boy was Ecuadorian and she fears these folk and that many of them are threatening her and her fellow teachers and saying stuff like 'your problem is you don't have kids' or 'you don't get laid'. I told her about my Ecuadorian neighbours and how they don't frighten me with their childish dress sense, lack of taste in music, insults and penchance for knives. Perhaps there should be a paper at exam level 'Ecuadorians, why are they here in Spain?' This is the sort of thing that would have Brits taking the moral high ground and calling you a racist or xenophobe but there's nothing like tapping into that side of the Spanish as immigration is a new thing on them still. During the summer camp this year I could smell burning and asked the receptionist if I should be worried as living in Spain no one cares until the place is burning down before our eyes and she said it was probably 'Los Chinos' who were there at the same time praising the Lord and embracing everything with an Evangelical zeal. One of the little pupils at the camp, a Chinese girl adopted by Spanish parents confessed to me that there 'were too many of them and none of them speak Spanish you know'.

On the subject of exams maybe there should be one with the heading 'Matt Monroe or Principe Gitano?' Discuss. I have only just discovered that Matt Monro belted out a number of songs in Spanish. They are not so bad but I can imagine they are quite painful on the ear for Spanish people but not half as bad as ol' Principe or Rafael singing Aquarius.

THE LIGHTS OF BOHEMIA

On my way to the council yesterday I made a note of what was in front of me and how after time you get used to things, things that become part of your everyday life like the stuff you left back 'there' wherever you came from. I become part of the street as I stop and watch it go by.Whether it is the little kids shouting and whistling up at the parrot on the balcony whistling down to them, or the beggars and gyspies who line what can't be called a pavement as it's too narrow. The elderly couple who half carry their mentally disabled son up this 'pavement' as his wheelchair doesn't go on it. The knife sharpener man and his flute and bicycle. The 'artists' and 'poets' and other rogues already in the bars. The glimpse of the ex-mayor in a stylish new cafe, the passing hearse, the storks throwing their heads back and clashing their beaks while standing on one leg on the roof of the cathedral, the incessant ringing of church bells, H shouting out the window, 'no one's coming!'. The blind selling the ONCE tickets. It all takes on an air of 'Luces de Bohemia' but becomes 'normal' as 'normal' as the suet puddings and drizzle you left behind.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

SEASON OF WINE AND PAPERS

Spain is a wonderful place so long as you avoid anything involving paperwork. After helping friends with their paperwork at the INAEM or dole office now it was H's turn. For the past three or four years we have been here and as the years have passed so has the amount of folk in the queue. Five years ago it was us and four Africans. Last year the queue went up by about fifteen folk and this year there must have been at least fifty. H's papeles had been checked and checked again by a third party but of course there was something missing, a number that can't be written in ink or pencil but must be returned to whoever wrote it out on their computer and be written that way. This did not please his boss who he woke up at half eleven in the morning, but she did it and turned up all bleary eyed with said paper. The funcionario who had been dealing with H's claim had told him he could simply come back once the paper was rectified and didn't have to take a ticket or queue, just to hand the paper in to him. Of course this didn't go down well with the rest of the folk at the dole office in particular one bloke who was outraged that H was 'pushing in' something the Spanish are excellent at until someone who should know better does it. I was expecting the bloke to exchange blows and was kind of hoping they would just out of boredom or because I had been done in by the Murdochs and their crew these last few weeks and had somehow been warped beyond my usual character. Sadly, the bloke in question just kept muttering 'que moro!', what a nerve, or a bloody cheek!' but didn't do anything else. The civil servant also did that thing that all folk do when they are presented with a passport, he started to look through it. What for I don't know, just being nosey I guess. H now has to wait for the usual permiso from some director or another from Aragon, which will allow him to leave the country and go on holiday.

More paperwork landed in front of me, this time questioning my whereabouts or whether I was still a resident of Spain or did I spend more time in another country and could I please come down the council to let them know. I had fifteen days to do this so I legged it up there this morning rather disgruntled at the wasting of my time and hadn't they got better things to do. All the way there I was gearing up for a showdown but by the time I arrived I adopted an attitude of 'let's play with their tiny minds' as none of them know anything or what they are doing. Luckily there were few people there and I was seen in a jiffy. I told the women I still lived at the same address and nothing as far as I was aware had changed. She took my passport and started flicking through it looking for that elusive detail and then noticed that the passport number was different to the one I gave them ten years ago. This isn't the reason they asked me to come down to the office but it gave them a chance to do that troubled look you only see on the faces of civil servants and men looking at anything broken and irreplacable. She said she would have to ask her colleague what she should do and stood up and went to a woman right next to her and asked. Again I was hoping they might start something and was looking forward to the diplomatic row that would ensue but her colleague just told her it would be fine and to write the 'new' number in pen as the computer wouldn't allow them to do this.

That sorted I went home elated and did the biggest spring clean in ten years, chucking out a monton of papeles and other shite accumulated over time. A decent lunch was in order and once more the Tomate Jamon didn't let us down with their octopus salad, quails, torrijas and the aptly named wine Parraleta.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

THOSE WE DON'T SPEAK OF

Well the cloven hooved one, his son and their boon companion didn't get quite the grilling I thought they would and frankly I am getting sick of their socially unacceptable behaviour. They are a reminder why I left in the first place not that Spain is bereft of corruption and shady characters. If I see their fizzogs on the goggle box once more I shall drink my weight in vermouth. It amazes me that so many folk in the upper echelons of British society feared being left out from not being 'in' with what appear to be the uncoolest people on the planet. I feel chuffed I have never been invited to one of their parties. I'd rather watch over 500 mattresses fall, domino style, down the street as they did recently, landing our beloved town in the Guinness book of records.

Other novelties enjoyed have been the pupils' performance in the Piramide Theatre with their piss take of the X-Factor and Night at the Museum puppet show. Bruce Haak, Jimmy Hendrix and Frank Zappa were used in the drama classes and were a refreshing antidote to the usual crap they are forced to listen to.
I haven't found out who is responsible for the 'cancion del verano' this year, but it is everywhere, especially my head. Last year it was Shakira and the Waka Waka which tortured me throughout the World Cup.

For some reason it is necessary to pay to read the local rag on the internet nowadays. Nobody reads newspapers here. Too middle class. However, I do need this paper to glean any info needed like which roads will be closed or when and where the water or electric will be switched off but I also like to follow the antics of our mayoress and all the provincial stuff going on to get my kicks. Nothing like Spanish petit bourgeoisie society to keep an even keel. Now it thinks it is the Times and we have to pay I am left reading headlines like HALF THE SPANISH POPULATION DOESN'T KNOW WHAT AN ICTUS IS, and then a short piece on how a bus will be touring the country educating us all. It's organised by the Ictus Observatory as part of their campaign named '1de6'. I confess to not knowing what it means and intend to find out before the bus arrives.

Lastly, a typical conversation here.
Barman: 'Sorry we close at four'
Me: 'What time is it now?
Barman: Five past four, what do you want to drink?