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Showing posts from September, 2010

Underwhelmed

There wasn't much on at the pictures so I suggested we have a look at the mining museum in La Unión. It was a mistake.

Look at the photo. This museum was opened in 2001. It looks like something from the 1950s. Over detailed information on how to use a chisel and hammer to make a blast hole then cases and cases of unlabelled exhibits.

Definitely up there as one of the most tedious museums I have ever visited. Mind you we picked up a leaflet about the new "mine route" and that looks like it should be good so we're not done with La Unión yet.

Me and the strike

I teach English to the admin staff of a shopping Centre in San Javier and today, the day of the General Strike, was one of my days there. I wondered if I may be faced with a picket line as the Unions had mentioned shopping centres as one of their targets. I'd decided not to cross it if there was one partly out of respect for my old Union boss, Jeff Brass (Stand thi ground lad, stand thi ground!) and partly because I've heard that Spanish pickets have a tendency towards violence. Jeff had a nice turn of phrase but Shakespeare's or Falstaff's "The better part of valour is discretion" seemed like sound advice too.

I didn't have to decide. No pickets. In fact the only way the strike affected me personally was that my regular newspaper wasn't on the news stand. I also saw a few placards passing down a street parallel to the one I was driving on.

It wasn't a washout though. Most of the heavy industry in Cartagena like the shipyards and the construction …

Trying hard for that sale

Canal+ is the big provider of pay TV here in Spain. Like Sky used to be when I lived in the UK.

Recently they have started to provide their services via a terrestrial broadcast system. Plug their card into the back of the telly, pay them 15€ a month and hey presto loads more channels. I was interested but I don't like to sign up for anything without reading the small print.

I searched the website looking for their conditions but, so far as I can see, the actual contractual details are not there. Lots of information on prices, services etc. but all the headline stuff rather than the fine print. Nothing, for instance, about the length of the minimum contract period or any pledge to maintain prices for so long after first contracting.

So I used their customer service contact form. Ten days after my initial question they have responded referring me back to the pages where I started.

Hmm. If that's the sort of service they can manage in the selling phase I think I'll stick with…

Algameca Chica

S'funny. We've lived in Cartagena over a year now but still there are parts of the city completely hidden to us.

Over the summer, in Murcia, we saw a photo exhibition that featured some snaps from a barrio called Algameca Chica in Cartagena, a district that isn't on the maps. We asked in the tourist info office where it was. "Run along the back of the naval dockyards and just before the military checkpoint take the dirt road - and there it is." New territory to us.

Maggie seemed to think we may be robbed at any moment. I was re-assured that the tourist people hadn't warned us off. In fact the only things that anyone said to us as we wandered around, me with an expensive looking camera in hand, were "Hello" or "Nice day" or some such.

Strange place, houses built out of old planks and second hand looking building materials next to a little inlet on the coast. There seemed, from a hand written notice, to be some sort of internal organisation …

Romería

Romerías are religious, Christian, processions that involve taking a graven image from one spot to another.

I'd seen a romería advertised in La Palma just outside Cartagena for the two "sainted doctors" San Cosme and San Damián who were going on a little trip from La Palma to the chapel at Los Vidales.

These two Christian brothers trained in Syria and  practised medicine in Sicily and became famous for their kindness to people who were too poor to pay for medical treatment. Come the persecution of Christians their high profile made them easy targets and they were eventually decapitated for their faith.

The fighting chickpeas

Tapas, as I'm sure you know, are little snacks. They used to come as freebies when you ordered a drink in a Spanish bar and sometimes they still do but it's more normal nowadays to simply order a tapa along with your drink and stump up for it at bill time.
Tapas routes have become relatively common. A number of bars agree to provide a snack and a drink at a fixed price and the organisers find some little gimmick to hold it all together.
On Thursday there was a chap in front of me in the supermarket queue wearing a short skirt, a long cloak, a plumed brass helmet and carrying a sword. Normally I'd find this a little odd except that this week there have been people all over Cartagena in togas, funny headgear, furry boots and breastplates.
Cartagena was once the principal city on the Spanish peninsula for the North African state of Carthage. The struggle between Carthage and Rome is the theme for one of the biggest festivals here - Carthaginenses y Romanos. Parades, battles, per…

To the barricades!

I don't suppose the students will be driving the trams - at least not in Cartagena mainly because there aren't any trams. Nonetheless we do have a General Strike planned here for next Wednesday - 29th September.

It's in the news of course but I've only heard one conversation about it between ordinary people. Then again we are rather cut off from the mainstream of everyday conversation with the Spanish person on the equivalent of the Clapham Omnibus. So whether it will be as damp a squib as the strike of Civil servants and local Government workers called just before the summer I don't know. To be honest I suppose that nobody will know till the day. So far none of my workmates have proposed militant action at the language school where I work.

Considering the deathly hush I was rather surprised when lots of posters and placards turned up close to the flat. This large one was hand done. Nice to know thre are still a few local activists.

Rain etc.

It was raining as we left Cartagena for the weekend. The temperature had dropped too, minimum was only 20ºC. Autumn is definitely on the way.

Weather is definitely a Spanish topic. Yesterday on the news there was a story about a town in Extremedura that had been whipped by wind, rain and tennis ball sized hail.

Today, in El País newspaper there was an article about the extremes of the Spanish weather. Apparently a street in Murcia, half way from Cartagena to Culebrón, holds the record at 47.2ºC. That record was set in 1994 yet some of the Britons around here were quoting temperatures higher than that in their back gardens this summer! The record for  the lowest official temperature, -32ºC, is held by Lleida (near Barcelona). In 1987 the most rain recorded in one day, 817 litres per square metre, fell on Oliva  just 100 miles away whilst three of the driest spots in Spain are the local airport at El Altet, Alcantarilla in Murcia and that same street in Murcia that boasts the highest re…

Back in the groove

Britons work 9 to 5. I don't think I actually ever met anyone who worked 9-5 but the idea is straightforward enough. Spaniards on the other hand work split shifts.

Spanish shops, as an example, often open from 10 till 2 and re-open for the 5 to 8 slot whilst offices probably run 9.30 to 1.30 and 4.30 till 7.30. Official offices and banks open a longer morning shift and then close to the public.

Britons don't adapt well to this routine. The long, and by our standards late, lunchtime slot makes lunch the main meal of the day whereas we Brits tend to eat our main meal in the evening. Finding a Spanish restaurant that starts to serve before 8.30 is almost impossible. Why open when everyone is still at work? Meals at 10 or even later are commonplace.

To make the most of a day we need to get out early, otherwise we find things closing down on us. Start out a bit later and the museums, shops and what not have closed down for lunch just as we get there leaving us stranded till the aft…

Grammar school

Maggie  thinks that we should do some more formal Spanish lessons. So yesterday we went down to the Palacio Molina where there's the only language school that we know of in Cartagena that teaches Spanish to foreigners. Actually we'd tried on Monday too only to find a note on the office door that said "Estamos en el Casino" - we're in the Casino. We thought the office must have moved but a chap we asked about a language school in the Casino answered us as though we were daft. "There are Tango classes here but no English classes" - maybe the young woman from the language school was dancing away her idle moments.

On Thursday though the office was open. We asked trick questions like "When is the course?" which, obviously enough brought forth an evasive reply - "Probably in the mornings but maybe not." She made us do a test though. What a hoot, 80 odd questions with multiple choice answers. They all looked like good answers to me.

"W…

Now where have I heard that before?

In one of my English classes today I was talking to the operations manager of a large shopping centre. For the past three days the auditors have been in, not for a financial audit but for an environmental and health and safety audit.

The man was complaining about the lunacy of the things he was being asked to do. He was happy with the need for someone working at height to wear harnesses, safety gear etc. but he didn't understand why there should be a second person on the ground to watch the worker. "Is he supposed to watch the man fall or, maybe he's supposed to catch him?" He had other examples.

Strange; we Brits think that Spaniards are very cavalier about H&S yet here's a professional setup making exactly the same complaints about the over complexity and inadequacy of the safety demands being made.

I used to have similar conversations with H&S people myself - imagine the look of bewilderment, of disbelief "You want a risk assessments for adults to…

Just a tad out of kilter

We've been back in Cartagena for a week now and we still haven't really settled.

Temperatures have dropped to the high twenties so it's not been hot but it has been very sticky. Opening the windows for a cooling breeze brings traffic noise.

Maggie is back at school but the children don't return till next week and she's still trying to organise this year's teaching timetable. The usual routine of school life has been replaced by planning meetings and preparations.

I've started work too without yet getting into a rhythm. I'm used to jeans and T shirts but for work it's more formal. The sweat dribbles inside the polycotton shirts. I've done a few classes, some at the centre and some on the premises of client companies, but I've still not settled to the teaching materials or house style. My hours keep changing too as my boss tries to juggle being nice to me with effective use of my time.

The household routines have fallen victim to my changing t…

Headed off at the pass or a result?

It only took three more longish calls to get to speak to someone about cancelling a service on my mobile phone. Then they banjaxed me, "What if we give you a 50% discount for a year?" - it sounded like a good offer to me, Internet on the phone for the whole year for 60€ so I said yes.

Amongst other things I was quite pleased with myself for just keeping going and not giving up the unequal struggle with the behemoth Movistar and the whole of the Spanish language. Interesting though how the several phone calls were like a vocabulary lesson, by the end I knew the phraseology for what I wanted to do which made the whole process just slightly less intimidating.

Ever decreasing circles

I don't make many calls on my mobile phone. Very few friends. Very few business calls.

A little while ago the daily wash and spin cycle did for my cheap phone and I went mad when I got another - tactile screen, Internet, mp3, GPS - the works. I took out the very cheapest contract though at just 9€ per month.

I just got my third bill. The first bill was for zero because in transferring from a pay as you go I had credit in hand, the second was 11€, around the figure I'd expect. I tried to check the (paperless) bill online but the Movistar website was having none of it. The third bill was for 25€. Now for someone without any pals this seemed a bit high. Persevering I beat the Movistar website and got to see the breakdown. The problem is that they are charging me a monthly fee for Internet access rather than the "pay as you go" option I asked for.

I went back to the shop where I bought the phone. Movistar logos and stickers everywhere but the young woman behind the desk …

La vuelta al curro

Certain Spanish soft news stories do the rounds each year. Spanish summer ends on 1 September and as people return to work the news always includes little filler pieces about how difficult it is to go back. In a couple of weeks time the story will be the cost of text books as the youngsters return to school. Back to school is la vuelta al cole, la vuelta al curro is what I've just done, back to work.

In fact we both started work today. We intended to leave Culebrón yesterday evening so we could unpack but the cat sensed something and scarpered so we had to put it off till this morning. Horrid, up at 5.30 - long before dawn. It was bad enough for Maggie after two months off but pity me - eighteen months since I last had a proper job. The strain! - polished shoes, shirt with collar, new people to meet, new routines to learn.

I'm working at the Wall Street Institute in Cartagena and everyone was welcoming and friendly. The centre has a good positive feel to it and the teaching me…