Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Limit

Did you know that one can actually drink even less in Spain now than in the UK when in charge of a vehicle? Spanish livers are apparently in terrible shape - has the World Health Organisation been told?
The limit in the British nanny state is 0.8g per litre (whatever that means) while here in socialist Spain the limit is 0.5g/l and even less (0.3g/l) for neophytes. These limits - one small beer perhaps - are screwing the nation's bars, particularly those which are located away from the cities with their handy taxis, metros, buses and apartment blocks. In the City, you are never more than a block away from a bar anyway. The walk will do you good...
In the countryside, the only way to reach these places is by road. So, either you take a taxi there and a taxi back (for: let's say, a net outlay of ninety euros for two beers and a tapa) or you hitch-hike, or you find some pooftah who will drink lemonades all night, or you don't go. Unlike the City, you see, there is only the one road home, so it's easy enough to catch you...
Make no mistake: the ambitious politician in charge of the DGT - the traffic police - has ruled that anyone over the limit will lose several points on his driving licence (yes, we have a point system now), will be fined a massive amount of lolly and may, if he's had two beers rather than one, go to jail, for Crissakes!
No doubt this power-crazed hoodlum (the description is merely my own humble opinion) has a chauffeur to ferry him around so he can talk on his mobile phone, drink, smoke and play with himself. All at the same time.
The reason (cue some heavenly church organ music) is to stop the deaths on Spanish roads. Actually, about 99.999975% of people who drive somewhere amazingly get there in one piece. However, there are those that don't. Perhaps they kill themselves merely to spite this ambitious apparatchik who, no doubt, would like to be head of the UN one day.
Perhaps it's because the secondary road system is shite.
So, strike the nights-out down at the boozer and make an excuse not to go to the weekly quiz night, the two-for-one night, St Valentine’s Day and, of course, the Carnival. Actually – if you wore a cunning disguise...
Instead, how about a nice steak down at the Argentino's on the beach washed down with a refreshing glass of diet-cola? And if the wine-waiter bamboozles you into taking a glass or two of the House Red, why, you can order a taxi to take you home and another one the following morning to pick up your car. Tripling the cost to you of the dinner.
But wait, I have a better idea. Ring the steakhouse and tell the waiter to cook you up a steak to perfection, wrap it in tinfoil, strap it to the back of his moped and deliver the damn' thing to your door - together with half a bottle of the aforementioned House Red. So civilised.
Actually, I read that an aggressive Spanish TV company recently documented the speed of the traffic tsar himself while in charge of a chauffeur doing thirty cliks over the speed limit and overtaking, without recourse to a winky, on the right (Antena 3). He was probably too busy with his mobile phone to notice.
This past summer, drunk from her success with the smoking issue (you now have to ask the harassed barman to press a silly button before the cigarette machine works), the Ministra de Salud (Hah!) proposed to put a health warning on bottles of alcohol, including wine. Salud, of course, means ‘Cheers’. Apparently she thinks that there are some people amongst the electorate who can read yet who can't think. Aghast (for once), El Presidente Thapo put a stop to this madness. However, between the socialist 'acoso' against smoking, drinking and now sex (yes, they are closing down the principal attractions of the Barrio Chino in Barcelona and elsewhere), to say nothing of their attacks on the missionary position, there is increasingly little left with which to amuse oneself.
Except to count all of the people you know who are now out of business.
Certainly, at this time of year, between the empty hotels, the drop in house-sales and the fear of the local population to be out after dark, the little yellow lights are closing down all over Broadway…
Better stay home and trash some grey-cells on the tele-basura. The brainless TV.

Friday, December 21, 2007

A Class Act

An American woman I know comes up to me: ‘I met this man from Yorkshire’, she says, pronouncing it yawkshiyuh, ‘who thinks you don’t like him because of his accent’.
‘Don’t be silly’, I answer automatically.
We live in a town where almost everyone comes from Somewhere Else. Most people here have different backgrounds, different experiences and, naturally enough, different accents.
We didn’t share the same teachers, mayors, clergy or football teams, things which mark out ordinary communities where you may know what someone thinks or is going to say before he opens his mouth. Here, we are a melting pot of Germans, Spanish, Rumanians, Chinese, Britons, Americans and everything else. We all get along since we are a small community and as long as we can be understood. Communication is everything.
However, unfortunately for the English, who are often monolingual anyway, that's not the case. With the English, accents are everything. To hell with what someone is saying, in a foreign language or in our own. If it sounds wrong then we won't engage.
I have either a ‘middle Atlantic accent’, or ‘no accent at all’ or a ‘fruity la-di-da’ voice depending on who you ask. I’m quite proud of it and my English is easy to understand when talking to practically anybody. BBC stuff. You know.
Particularly when explaining something to a German. Nice and easy, Helmut!
I walked into an Irish bar the other day and ordered a Guinness. IRA songs were playing on the music system. ‘I shot a British soljer’ goes one of them ‘straite between de oiyes’. Lovely. The barman asks how long I’ve been here. ‘Forty years man and boy’, I tell him. ‘Why, sure and you haven’t lost yer accent’, he says.
Another time, I meet somebody: ‘how de do?’ I ask. ‘Oh yuss, ‘ow di doody’, they answer, taking the piss.
George Bernard Shaw said: ‘No sooner does an Englishman open his mouth than another Englishman despises him’. How true. And what a shame. My own feeling is, as long as I can understand what someone is saying, we are moving forward. There are some ugly accents, which are those that sound odd to somebody’s ear. I don’t like such-and-such an accent, and perhaps they don’t like mine.
I speak with German friends, or American friends or what-have-you. The subject doesn’t arise. It’s not a subject which overly concerns the Spanish either. They might think I sound ‘inglés’ when I’m talking in ‘castellano’, but it’s of no consequence.
Curiously, the children here often have more marked regional accents than their parents. How can this be? Shouldn’t all of us, in the decades to come, start to create our own homogenised way of speaking? Shouldn’t we become, eventually, something like the two-language speaking Gibraltarians?
We bring a lot of useless baggage with us when we come to Spain. Discriminations, class, accents, regional ideas and so on. Drop them off at the gate.
We can improve our life here - by getting to know our new area, by voting, learning Spanish, watching local television and adapting ourselves to our new environment; by taking siestas and drinking wine; by knowing our way round our nearby cities and by knowing Spaniards – as well as everyone else who crosses our path. In short, we have the opportunity to become émigrés. Better still - our children have the chance to become 'Europeans'. The alternative to this is to act and consider ourselves as exiles – consuming ‘English’ stuff, reading ‘English’ newspapers and watching SKY (television that deals, of course, with a place where you no longer live). That way, you will miss most of what Spain has to offer.
Next time I see that Yorkshireman, I'll buy him una cerveza...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Delfos Rhythm Haw Haw Haw

The Delfos art gallery stroke bar on the Turre/Mojácar road is a superb place to go for a drink - except that there is rarely anybody there. It seems a pity as the place is large and the walls are groaning with great paintings and knick knacks. Occasionally the joint wakes up when there's a reason - an exhibition or a concert. Last night, between all the electricity cuts which have bedeviled the area since the Christmas lights went up, we were entertained by some fine musicians.
From left to right - and please forgive the crappy photograph - the Very Reverend Richard John One Man Blues band, Derek Turner, Robin Wright and the Highland Boogie-Man Jim Mackie, keyboards. I was particularly struck by Richard John who sings like Captain Beefheart and plays great swamp slide-guitar. Jim backing him sounding like Dr John.
Only... the power kept blowing out. After about twenty cuts - lasting from a minute to about quarter of an hour - everyone mooched off home. The concert was great, but could have been so much greater!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Letter to an Aunt

Dear Auntie Bo,
Christmas is on top of us and in Spain, there are a few amusing differences to what you’re used to. All of the British trappings are now popular with the Spanish, except for Christmas Cake (thank Goodness). Santas waddle around, choirs sing carols and ‘villancicos’ – Spanish Christmas songs – and everyone has a jolly time. The oddest thing here are the nativity scenes which every household has: lots of little Baby Jesuses and donkeys and Wise Men all on a table with caves and straw etc. The other figures include anything vaguely matching, soldiers, cows, men carrying straw and so on, plus a peculiar little fellow sat on a jerry! This figure is apparently a contribution from Catalonia and is called ‘El Caganer’: The Pooper. In fact, excepting the chap relieving himself, they have a ‘belén’, as it’s called, with real live people in Garrucha. Bit over the top, but there you go!
The Spaniards celebrate their version of April Fools Day on December 28th. It’s called the ‘Saints of Innocence Day’ for some reason. Not that you can believe much of what you read in the papers anyway, but on this day everyone makes an extra effort to tell a whopper.
The Spanish are also partial to The Three Kings who show up on Twelfth Night bringing presents. They rumble up our hill in a decorated dumper truck and hand out goodies to the school children. Better register the nippers!
The traffic police are also very active at this time of year, handing out fines and prison sentences with seasonal abandon. You read that right – if you are caught way ‘over the limit’, or driving waaay to fast, they can give you up to three months in the slammer. This is because too many people are involved in horrible accidents on our roads and the politician in charge of the traffic authority is convinced that the motorists are killing themselves merely to vex him! I really think that there is nobody who goes out driving with the intention of ‘offing’ themselves – apart from the so-called ‘kamikaze’ drivers who go up the motorway the wrong way. Anyway, no one uses the roads anymore as we have all taken to driving down narrow lanes at night to escape being breathalised.
The days are warm but the nights are decidedly chilly. So we light the fire to keep at least one room habitable. It’s the tiles, the thick walls, the small windows and the ill-fitting doors and windows which lower the temperature, so the house ends up colder inside than any house in England. Unfortunately, when I carry in the wood, I’m also bringing in whatever has chosen to pass the winter in my woodpile, so, as the fire heats up the log, a few flies wake up under the impression that an extremely fast approaching summer is underway. The other day, a scorpion struggled out of the fireplace but I got him before he got me.
I suppose another small niggle is the water-heater. You either use gas (which often goes out halfway through a shower) or electric as I do. Of course, a shallow bath or a shower means no more hot water for a couple of hours… When people stay, we have to pin up a rota system in the kitchen!
The neighbours are very nice and we’ve just about got them talking English by now (joke!). They have brought us a type of Christmas cake which is made with flour and pork fat, little bits of pig rind and lumps of angelica and other dried fruit. Sort of horrible! Like the sixpence of old, there’s a little tin saint hidden inside the cake so one has to go slowly. Another typical pre-Christmas present around here is a ticket for the famous Christmas lottery which is held around the 22nd of December and gives huge prizes. I’m so convinced of winning that I’ve already ordered a new Rolls Royce! The lottery is usually sold in ‘tenths’ of a ticket, a ‘decimo’, but it still cranks out some major prizes – which are usually all located in the same pueblo. You see them all squirting champagne at each other the following day on the Spanish news.
The telly here is unbelievable. The other day I saw Al Gore’s film about global warming, followed by the eight o’ clock horror film (blood n’ guts everywhere) followed, at ten, by ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’. Perhaps the television programmers figure that the grown ups go to bed early while the kiddies stay up to all hours! They may be right! The TVs are on everywhere – usually showing football. It can be quite a bother sat in a restaurant munching on a plate of paella only to have everyone roaring with glee as somebody scores against Barcelona.
It’s wonderful living out here and you can do what you want because, Dear Auntie, there is no dear auntie to keep you on the straight and narrow. Some of the Brits here can invent their own past or even use a different name. I mean, there can’t be that many retired colonels from the Guards, can there? Some of the Brits get into trouble – as there is too much booze around here. Nobody lives further from a bar than walking distance so it’s very easy to ‘go for death’ – especially since the measures are huge. Which brings me back to the drinking and driving problem! But there are other temptations too. Couples often split up here and people can find ‘unconventional’ relationships which they probably wouldn’t have managed back in Blighty. The Spanish seem to be rather relaxed about all of this and the country is littered with jolly ‘Gentlemen’s Clubs’ of all description. There is a large number of Eastern Europeans coming here these days and some of them find fresh lives as ‘girlfriends’ with an apartment thrown in and a daily visit from ‘Daddy’. All very odd!
The country goes to the polls next March, so all of the political parties are being ‘extra nice’ (apart from the Ministry of the Interior and its policemen). Election promises are alive and well - both coming out of Madrid and out of our regional capital, Seville, whose ‘Junta de Andalucía’ government is also up for grabs in March. By the look of things, the socialists will get back in again both nationally and regionally, but since I can’t vote in either of these, I’ll be surprised to even get a free lighter.
So Auntie, you must come out and stay next year. You don’t need to bring tea bags or sausages wrapped up in your socks. We can get everything here we want. In fact, with Sky TV, mincemeat tarts, Wychwood Scarecrow Ale, Christmas crackers, Marmite and Ribena all available locally, it’s more English here than in England!
Kind regards, Johnny

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Broad

I've been translating an article from Barcelona's greatest detective, Larry Kovaks P.I., into Spanish for our local newspaper El Indálico. Hard work. Kovaks is a great detective with his vocabulary stuck in the golden age of Phillip Marlowe and Micky Spillane. How do you translate something like 'the dame eased over to me. She had great palookas and a smile that didn't stop.'? (Bad example, probably - he writes much better than that). But, how do you translate the spirit of 'a dame'? Or a 'broad', a 'sister', a 'skirt', a 'bimbo' or a 'long drink on a stick'?
I asked my son. He's fluent and knows all the slang. Well maybe there isn't any. Una chica, he says, or una nena, tía, muchacha...
No, I mean slang.
He settles on una zagala. No use. Too modern and anyway, I want a dame not a flapper.
My wife has a go: una zorra. No, that's more of a 'bitch'.
Later, I try my old friend sitting at a table drinking a coffee with his wife. ¿Oiga, como se dice en plan detective una mujer atractiva?
That would be, like in old-fashioned Spanish... he thinks for a second or two - ¡un monumento!
¿Un monumento? I gasp.
Hmm. I stare at his approving wife. I decide that it's the not the ideal moment to talk about palookas.
So me, I'll keep asking...