Monday, 31 July 2017

Always Nice to Leave: Always Great to Return

Two weeks holiday in Portugal has made a pleasurable break from Paradise. Spain is a wonderful place to live, but a short time away can help put things in better perspective.
Certainly, our first day back in España (I went on vacation with my Spanish companion Loli), we watched the Noticias de la Primera on the TV. A woman wearing an alarming-looking heavy gas mask and a protective suit spent the first ten minutes of the news reporting the referendum in Venezuela – a story that oddly hadn’t appeared of much interest to the Portuguese news channels. But here, we are subliminally reminded of the threat of Unidos Podemos each time the fiendish activities of the mad chauffeur from Caracas is featured on the telly. Don’t agree? Whither Turkey TV time with the equally mad Erdogan?
Lisbon was full of tourists of course, and the Portuguese speak English, French, German... but never Spanish (much to Loli’s indignation). We ate well, took a trip around the city in a tuc tuc (Spain is missing a trick with these little three-wheeler cabs), listened to some Fado and bought endless fridge magnets and tee shirts.
And the obligatory bottle of port, of course.
Unemployment at 9.8% is relatively low in Portugal, and jobs are often posted in the windows of shops and restaurants. In general, the government seems rather more on the ball than the one in Spain, with an offer of ten years tax-free to any foreigner who wants to buy a house and take out residency.
We met Colin Davies, who is a fellow blogger, in the dramatic city of Oporto after taking a cheap local train ride up the coast from Aveiro where we had been staying. Colin writes about Spain from his home-base in Pontevedra, Galicia. He introduces his daily posts with a quote that I like: ‘Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable’. So true.
Coming back into Spain (no passport control, no customs... just a sign saying ‘you are now in Spain’ - suck on that Brexiters!), we stopped for lunch in Antequera, Oh, the noise! It’s good to be back, I shouted to Loli, who was sat next to me stirring a decent cup of coffee.
Yes Darling, she bellowed in return, patting my hand absently.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

People are People Too

We are often guilty of putting ourselves in the imaginary position of the dogs and the cats here, or even the bulls. So many pious remarks about how they are mistreated, or tied up, or end up facing a matador in his suit of lights. It’s a rare community that doesn’t have an animal protection society staffed by volunteers and we even have a political party, the PACMA, which currently enjoys the support of around 300,000 voters.  Animals are without a voice and perhaps they need more protection, and a champion to defend them. Especially those poor superannuated hunting greyhounds.
Yes, maybe these are important points to raise, and perhaps it is true that the Spanish tend to have a different viewpoint from our own. We can even feel superior to our neighbours about our elevated care and love for our ‘four-footed friends’. We shall post something on Facebook about this, right away!
This generosity of spirit, however, is rarely extended to the African immigrants that walk among us, unseen.  Most of them will have arrived here, in search of a (slightly) better life, having overcome the most terrible ordeals and threats. Many of them will never make it to the shores of this country, but will be drowned or murdered or incarcerated in the attempt, crossing first the countries of North Africa, and second, the Mediterranean sea.
Those who do manage to arrive in Spain may end up with a horrible job in the plastic farms of Almería and Murcia. Some others will be given trinkets to sell on the beach (the ‘looky-looky men’) or in the cities (the ‘manteros’) – with their produce lying on a sheet with string holding the four corners – ready for a quick getaway. They’ll sleep in squats, or in highly priced apartments, ten to a room. Maybe they can send a little money home to their families.
The police don’t like them much, and the shopkeepers don’t like them at all. However, a squab of hope, or at least dignity, comes from an association of these manteros in Barcelona, which has launched their own brand of clothes, called Top Manta, with ‘...the logo made up of two waves: one represents the materials used, the other the perilous maritime journeys many of the sellers undertook to reach Spain...’ (The Local here). We say: ‘Good for them’!

Saturday, 8 July 2017

The Things They Eat

Someone on Facebook was missing some item of British food. I was reminded of a story of my Dad's.
They had bought a Mercedes and were heading out to Spain to live, once and for all. The Mercedes didn't like Spanish petrol and limped across the country at around 50kph, with ratty old Citroens and Renaults overtaking them with a gleeful squawk from the klaxon every now and again.
The boot was full of tined turkey in sweetcorn sauce.
Our friend from Middle Wallop had been in the turkey business for many years and in 1966 he decided with his brother to take the empire a step forward by introducing tinned turkey.
He was flat broke within three months.
When my parents announced they were leaving the UK for good (coincidentally, the morning after they had left me in my boarding school), our friend pressed several boxes of tinned turkey with the sweetcorn sauce, unlabelled, into my father's doubtful charge.
'There'll be fuck all to eat in Mojácar', said the friend with a certain logic.
So, after a ferry crossing to Calais, the customs officer beckoned to my father.
'Ouvrez', he said, waving imperiously at the boot of the car.
'C'ést quoi ça?', he said, pointing at the boxes of unlabelled merchandise.
My father wasn't much good at languages, but he was game: 'un gran wuzzoh para mange', he answered.
The customs officer, stumped by this answer, called for a can opener.
On opening the first tin and viewing the contents, he burst out in English - 'Sacré bleu, you Anglais will eat anything'.