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Showing posts from September, 2012

Dressing the part

Thirty five years ago I was fed up of wearing glasses and I wanted contact lenses. The optician told me how my dreadful astigmatism and generally poor eyesight made lenses a nonsense. He sold me a nice pair of specs. But, later that afternoon, rich enough at the time to bear an expensive mistake, I went back, cancelled the specs and ordered lenses instead. I still wear them.

I did try to get some new ones here a few years ago. Long story but I'm still wearing a pair I bought in the UK before I left. Time to get some new ones.

The optician's shop looked like any other. Rows of spectacle frames on display, businesslike, clean. It turned out that the contact lens section was in some huge cavernous basement. The person who took me there was wearing all white kit - white top, white skirt, white shoes. She also had straw coloured wavy hair. She handed me over to a woman who was wearing all white kit - white top, white trousers, white shirt. In fact all the female staff were dressed…

Tales of Empire

As a young schoolboy I was lied to first by Miss Bushell and later by Mrs. Beard. They told me Francis Drake had commanded the first ship to sail around the World. Sometime later, when the tentacles of the glory days of British Empire had loosened, I learned that it was actually a Portuguese chappie called Magellan.

Here in Spain the Navy has a tall ship called the Juan Sebastián de Elcano. I think, though I'm not certain, that all Spanish naval officers spend time aboard her as part of their training. I heard that the ship was named for Juan Sebastián de Elcano, the first Spaniard to circumnavigate the globe.
When we were in Barcelona a few weeks ago there was a boat moored there, the Victoria, which is apparently a faithful replica (apart from the diesel engines) of the first ship to sail around the World between 1519 and 1522. We didn't go aboard then but today the same boat was in Cartagena and we did. What's more at last I learned the truth.
Magellan planned a voyage …

Old dogs; new tricks

I was wandering around the Mercadona supermarket hunting for salad dressing. I tried the fruit and vegetable coolers - that's where the dressings lurk in Consum and el Corte Inglés - I looked amongst the mayonnaises, barbecue sauces and ketchups before trying the olives and jars of pickled carrots section and, finally, when it wasn't with the olive oils and vinegars I gave up.

It's possible they don't have salad dressing in the French Dressing, Thousand Islands mould. After all Spaniards generally dress their salads with oil, vinegar and salt and don't feel the need to add strawberry or mustard flavours. Mercadona is now the biggest retail outlet in Spain but one of the secrets of its success is to sell its own brand and to keep the choice fairly limited. If Mr Mercadona, Juan Roig, doesn't think they'll shift enough salad dressing off the shelves they won't sell it. 
I've lived here a while now. I've been to supermarkets hundreds of times and …

So simple

In your flat the entryphone goes buzz. If you can hear a similar muffled buzz from flats above, below and to the side you know that someone wants to gain access to the building. They're not, probably, after you.
Now, if you are feeling charitable and not in the middle of some personal hygiene ritual or atop a stepladder (and 99% of the time you are) you might pick up the phone. The format is not polite, the format is short and does not start with a greeting. "Yes?" or "Who?" are common. The answer is usually short too. It may be the neighbour's daughter with some long explanation about why she has no key or it may be  the electric people who need access to some dark and distant part of the building but usually it isn't. Most often it's the postie. They announce themselves with whatever is their political take on the Spanish for postal carrier. No more conversation you just buzz them in. Now, even if it isn't the postman/postwoman but it is, in …

Damning with faint praise

We walked past the Tourist Information Office today. It was open. One thirty on a Sunday afternoon and open. Excellent, well done Murciaturistica.

But then we realised that there was no obvious sign outside. I can see that, to a point. We don't want a nasty gaudy sign on the outside of the splendid modernist building that is the old town hall. But why not one of those simple little "A" boards? - sandwich boards on the street, "The end of the World is nigh!" Actually, if you look closely there is a board. On the blue/grey board to the right of the door there is an explanation about the town hall and the bottom third has the opening times of the tourist office

We went to el Batel to see Elaine Ling's photos of baobab trees. If I hadn't know it was on we wouldn't have gone in. No information at all about the exhibition outside the building and only stencilled lettering on a glass panel inside. That's the sign in the photo. You need to look hard.


The customer is...

I don't want forelock tugging. Brisk is OK, brusque even. What I actually like is a greeting, an appropriate interchange, payment and the farewell. So the woman who sold me the sandals and joked about Brits wearing socks, the man in el Corte Inglés who explained why one set of earphones outperformed another, the person in Mercadona who asks me if I want a bag and the woman in the bar who says hello as she makes me the same sort of coffee as always all get my approval.

But the cashier in Consum who talked to a co-worker whilst she scanned the items and then tapped the till display for the total, the cashier in Más y Más and the woman in the Chinese cheapo shop who both spent their time on their mobiles chatting to pals before deigning to spit out the price and the woman this morning in the newsagent who felt that it was acceptable to chat to her pal about some lad's measles for three or four minutes whilst I stood there waiting to buy a paper do not.

No, what happens there is …

Going right and left

A friend, over from the UK, was telling me how he had nearly slaughtered a whole zebra crossing load of pedestrians as he turned right at some traffic lights. He had waited, dutifully, for the green but there is a standard difference to the light sequence here in Spain as against the setup in the UK. Traditionally the UK system gives the cars which have been released a clear run as they go either straight on or make a turn. In Spain cars are often stopped again by the same set of lights on turning right or left. If you're not expecting it finding a bunch of pedestrians crossing in front of you, as you accelerate away, can be a bit of a shock.

Roundabouts are different too. In reality most Spanish drivers behave as their British counterparts do. They attempt to cut the corners in the roundabout and they use all the available traffic lanes. But the rule is different. Technically you have to be in the outermost (the longest) lane in order to leave the roundabout. The only people who…

All ashore that's going ashore

I'm aware that I'm not posting very often. I know this is not a good way to maintain faithful readers. With nothing much to report I have been tempted to start commenting on the things that are happening in Spain rather than the things that are happening to me, to us. Not quite yet though.

So, we've been back in Cartagena for a week now. Some observations. True to tradition summer, that's summer proper, ended promptly on 1 September. Temperatures plummeted all over Spain but we added to our personal autumnal descent by moving from Culebrón to here. Cartagena has a microclimate, the locals, the Cartageneros, say that it never gets too hot in summer nor too cold in winter. They quietly forget to mention that the town is incredibly sticky. A wet heat that has one dripping in sweat after a five minute walk. So we lost 10ºC on the daytime highs but gained self moistening clothes. Nothing to complain about really though with sunny days and daytime temperatures of around 27º…

You may use your hands

As a boy my parents had lots of rules for me about when I could and couldn't eat with my hands. I forget most of them. I do remember that they weren't good for porridge or soup but that, even if you were dining with the Queen, chicken could be eaten with ones hands.

I was musing on this, covered in saffron coloured paella stock up to my elbows, as I fought with some strange, spikey, overgrown prawn like crustacean in my lunchtime rice. It's Maggie's birthday, a milestone birthday, today and we were dining posh at a restaurant called Venezuela in Lo Pagan. It was a big dissapointment to be honest but I'm no restaurant critic so what do I know.

In a restaurant when Spaniards order an orange, apple or banana as their pudding after a meal the fruit comes accompanied by fresh cutlery. I have watched, amazed, as a fellow diner neatly operates on an orange with a knife and fork. And yet etiquette seems to allow that same diner to dip his or her hands into the paella or f…