Archive for April, 2010

Someone shoot the White Elephant!

April 29, 2010

The architect Orihol Bohigas, designer of the Barcelona Olympics and winner of the  National Prize for Architecture in 2006, visited Valencia yesterday, and made a number of comments that wouldn’t have sat well with Mayoress Rita Barberá and her town hall cronies who are trying to drive an almost totally unwanted extention of Avenida Blasco Ibañez through the historic fishermen’s barrio of Cabanyal. He also had something to say about the Port America’s Cup, the multi-million euro white elephant that stands like a ghost town since the most ‘exclusive race in the world’ left in 2007.

“La persona que imaginó este espacio y esta operación es una inepta total”, said Sr. Bohigas. It barely needs translation, but he was saying  that the person who thought of the space and the way it would work – or not, as has actually happened – is totally inept. Now that’s something that many of us have been thinking for almost three years! Whereas the Olympic Village in Barcelona became a wonderful waterfront place to while away a few hours, the Port America’s Cup lies like the memory of a bad curry on the stomach the day after you ate it.

Which leaves us with the question, “What are we going to do with the beautiful but glaringly white elephant that is the Puerto Americas Cup?”

This multi-million euro drain on the public purse had a brief couple of months of glory in 2007 and has since stood all but deserted.  The only action seen there these days is for the few days of the Formula 1, another enormous drain on the public purse, which brings in precious little in return, whose track runs through the port.

At five minutes before two on a Friday lunchtime, when restaurants would normally be filling up, the staff at elegant Arribar set out on the terrace over forty tables, each with four chairs, with half as many again inside – with not one customer. Throughout the chi-chi area not one member of the general public moves, sits down to lunch or even takes a beer. Everywhere, broken plant holders and streaked paint give off an air of neglect.

Weeds grow through the slats of the wooden seats built for people to watch the America’s Cup on enormous TV screens. It’s a perfect place to have an open air cinema, under the stars, with a cooling breeze blowing off the Med, but the Town Hall doesn’t seem to have thought of that, or thought of anything else to do with enormous area of big venue spaces, open air walkways, fancy bars and restaurants – it even has its own Victorian bandstand. And there’s no sign of the floating golf course we’ve been promised – at least we can be grateful for something!

So, wanted, an astute, inventive, far-sighted entrepreneur, with ideas, plenty of money and an ability to deal with a lot of bureaucratic plonkers. Valencianos need not apply. It was you lot who got us into the situation in the first place!

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site and Spain Uncovered

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Getting a good seeing through

April 28, 2010

At the end of January I’d noticed that one of the bones in my left shoulder was higher than in the right and, given that I’m prone to a bit of arthritis and had been feeling the odd twinge, I visited my local medical centre to see what the doc had to say about it. After being passed through various hands I was eventually given an appointment to have the shoulder X-rayed – in April!

Come the day, the swelling had long since subsided but, given how long I’d had to wait in the first place, I decided to go anyway. I still had a bit of pain in my shoulder, so I naturally supposed that was the one that was to be X-rayed. “Right, me old love, it says here you need the right shoulder done,” said the radiologist. Well, there you go; after three months wait, I’m not going to argue with the man who presses the buttons.

Half-an-hour later I’m sat in front of the specialist and hand over the X-rays, “Right,” he said, looking at my medical notes, “it’s the left shoulder you’re having trouble with, isn’t it?” And he isn’t looking at the X-rays the wrong way around because they are still in their envelope.

“At the moment, yes, but the radiologist seemed to think it was the right shoulder that had to be done.”

“Never mind,” he comes back, “it’s only a bit of swelling, I’ll give you a prescription to take for the next couple of months to ease the pain and bring the swelling down.” He didn’t even examine me, and obviously had X-ray eyes himself and didn’t need a machine because my shirt and sweater stayed firmly in place for the three minutes I was with him. So much for the complex art of radiography. The next time I have a problem with my knee, elbow or thumb, I’ll take the shoulder X-rays because obviously it doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference. And for this I’d waited three months!

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, www.derekworkman-journalist.com , and Spain Uncovered

Five places I’d rather be in Valencia than sitting at my desk writing.

April 22, 2010

 1  Cabañal. One of the old fishing villages that form the Pueblos Maritimos down by the port. It’s full of old wedding cake-like modernista houses covered in decorative tiles. After an hour on the beach at Malvarrosa I’d wander in to El Polp for lunch; a real neighbourhood cafeteria with a strange décor that somehow or other brings together American diner and Edwardian elegance. In the evening I’d nip in to Bodegas Montaña, one of Valencia’s oldest, and have a couple of their excellent tapas.

2  The River Turia, in front of the Palau de Musica. At least I would if it was Sunday morning. Despite still being called the riu (river) it hasn’t seen a drop of water since the 60’s and is now 9 kms of parks, fountains, football pitches etc. (It’s where the City of Arts and Sciences is set.) On Sunday morning the world and his brother while away a couple of hours listening to music and the splashing fountains in front of the Palau; strolling, chatting, playing with the kids on the grass and trying to avoid the cool dudes on their in-line skates. During August it has an original version open-air cinema which is the bees-knees because the films start at 11pm, when the heat of the day has mainly dissipated.

Mercado Central. Said to be the biggest covered market in Europe, I love wandering around it even if I’m not buying anything. The ladies will shout at you saying that their fish is the best in the market and you should get in quick while the going’s good. It’s so popular now with tourists that some of the stalls even have ‘No Foto!’ signs stuck up. If you fancy your hand at making a paella there are stalls that sell only the beans that go into it and others where you can buy nothing but the snails you need to make a proper paella Valenciana. I haven’t gone as far as buying a pig’s head – yet!

4  Cinquante Cinq, a local French restaurant owned by an Englishman and with an English head chef. Curios combination but excellent food and gets packed out with Spanish. I once had sopa de zanahoria, pastel de buey and pastel de pan y pasas – in other words, carrot soup, shepherd’s pie and bread and butter pudding. The Spanish diners didn’t realising that they were eating a typical British meal and loved it. (Sadly the restaurant closed recently, but the memory lingers on.)

5   Sat at a table on the street outside the bar below my apartment, swapping lies with Toni from next door about how brilliant we are. It could be any bar, it’s just being able to relax and chat with friends in a Spanish way instead of shouting at each other across a packed British pub.

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, www.derekworkman-journalist.com , and Spain Uncovered

A Taste That Grows On You – But Preferably Not!

April 20, 2010

There can be few gastronomical products known to man that can be used in either sweet or savoury dishes, added to white coffee and stews, toasted, used to make sweet sausages, to create a fake ice cream, spooned into glasses of milk for childrens’ breakfast or used as a bread substitute. Gofio is one of them and whatever you do with it the net result is usually disgusting.

Once the basic food of the Guanche, the original inhabitants of the Canary islands, gofio is milled grain that resembles wholegrain flour. Every Canarian is brought up on the stuff and most cannot understand why foreigners would rather eat deep-fried chocolate-coated cockroaches than this exemplar of island cuisine.

To illustrate the wide use of gofio, the following recipe should have the saliva glands going hyper.

 

Paella de Gofio (Lump of Gofio, according the Spanish translation)

Ingredients: ½ Kg of gofio, ½ glass of oil, sugar, salt

Method:

  1. Knead the gofio with the water, salt, sugar and oil until you get a thick paste.
  2. Form a cylinder with it and cut into slices.

 

In other words, oily dough with a sweet and salty flavour. For the very adventurous is it served with red onion in vinegar and water or fried garlic – a terrifying thought!

Perhaps the best description of gofio is by Paul Richardson, one of Britain’s top food writers, in his excellent book on Spain, Our Lady of the Sewers.

         ‘Canarian friends of mine had warned me it was vile, and it is. Mixed with milk, it forms a thick sludge that sticks to your palate and has to be removed by increasingly desperate movements of the tongue…On the whole, though, gofio is one local speciality I would cross the street to avoid, along with Tibetan yak-butter tea and jellied eels.’

Best avoided by everyone other than those who take a gastronomic delight in day-old coagulated salted porridge with lashings of condensed milk on it.

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, www.derekworkman-journalist.com , and Spain Uncovered

Irish rules is no rules atall, atall!

April 20, 2010

I’m not sure if Gaelic Football came first, and being a mixture of football and rugby played with a round ball confused the Brits so they had to make two games of it, or the Irish decided to combine both the games to draw bigger audiences and permit semi-legal kicking the hell out of each other. Anyone from the southern hemisphere will recognise the game as Australian Rules Football, which, contrary to its name, seems to have very few rules at all – other than kicking the hell out of the opposing team.

When I went to watch a game of Gaelic Football at Levante FC’s training ground in Valencia, the players were there more for a bit of a lark and a pint or two later, so the violence of professional games wasn’t on show. That may also have been because both teams included colleens (women, for the non-Irish speakers), who nonetheless did a fair amount of shouting and bawling.

The referee was also a woman who, in plaited ponytail and flip-flops, skipped up and down the sidelines trying to keep order, although she spent a fair amount of time asking other girlies on the sidelines if anyone was keeping score. The Spanish groundsman was totally confused – a game that allowed both men and women to play together (the first equal-opportunities sport?), players to kick and handle the ball, and the score didn’t depend just on goals but also on points, but how the points were given seemed totally obscure. There again – it is Irish after all!

It seems to be that you can only run a few steps before kicking the ball – usually a little flick upwards into your hands, a neat trick when travelling at speed. The goalie – obviously a first-timer – got a bollocking because he threw the ball out of the goal instead of kicking it. “You’ve got to kick it out, mate. Every time!”

Timing seems a bit fluid. “Let me know when it’s fifteen minutes for half time,” the ref called to her sideline aficionados. Half-an-hour a game! That wasn’t going to raise a sweat. “No, were going to give it tirty minutes a side,” someone called from the pitch. “Right’ch’arethen,” the ref called back. A short while later a voice called, “Eight minutes left.” “We’ll give them one more minute fer yer man wasting time,” the ref called back.

I’m pretty sure that a trainer for Levante Football Club wouldn’t run onto the pitch partway with a bottle of water to refresh the poor wee players, but just before half-time one of the male sideliners ran onto the pitch shouting, “De yers wanta take a break fer water?” “Ders only tree minutes left – WILL YE FECK OFF!” one of the petit ladies hollered back.

Probably the best thing to do if you go to watch Irish Football is not to try and understand it. Probably half the players don’t – and I wasn’t one hundred percent sure about the ref – but what the hell, everyone was having a great time and were there for the craic more than anything else.

But as ever, the poor ref got all the stick!

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, www.derekworkman-journalist.com , and Spain Uncovered

Will there be anything else, sir?

April 19, 2010

 

Since when did checkout ladies become sales assistants? That’s what seems to be happening lately at my local Mercadona, and at probably everyone else’s, I suppose.

I’ve been offered shrink-wrapped half-melons, two loaves of bread for the price of one, (although the five fishes to make up the full ‘Feeding of the Five Thousand’ Kit wasn’t available), a fold-up makeup bag for the beach – that was before the young girl looked up and saw I was a chap with a skin that was well past moisturiser and lip seal, although one little darling insisted on outlining the benefits of a new skin softening and anti-aging soap that was on offer. I’m sixty years old with a face like a washboard. I admired her persistence, but I didn’t think I’d be a perfect test case. I saw her a couple of weeks later and said I’d bought a bar and did she think it had made any difference? 

I’ve just got back from the milk and bread run, and the checkout offers seem to have been continuing in personal care and hygiene mode. Dora, or so her name tag told me, asked if I’d like some shower gel for only one euro, and opened the cap for me to appreciate the delectable aroma. I lost my sense of smell about five years ago, and besides, I prefer a bar of soap, so that did no good. Then she asked if I’d like some shampoo for the same bargain price, but even she had to laugh, along with everyone else in the queue, when I just simply pointed at my head. I’m bald as a coot, with only a fine stubble protecting my shiny skull from the suns rays.

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, www.derekworkman-journalist.com , and Spain Uncovered

Every silver lining has a cloud

April 18, 2010

They have my sympathy, those poor folks stranded all over Europe because of nature’s big cough in the form of the volcanic eruption in Iceland, they really do. I was having lunch today with a friend, a charming Irish chap called Mike, who’s paella went cold as he took phone calls from his cousin stuck in Malaga with his missus and three small children, trying between them to work out how to get kit and caboodle back to Ireland. Instead of the ten hour or so door-to-door they’d expected when they booked their first week’s holiday in three years, the best they can come up with is a fifteen-hour drive from Malaga to Santander, twenty-hour ferry crossing to Portsmouth, another ten or so hours to Fishguard, another ferry crossing and a four-hour drive home from Dublin. That’s assuming, of course, that there are places on the ferries to be booked and cars to be hired. They are looking at a three-day trip, on the bright side, but as one of the kiddiwinks is in nappies and another is prone to travel sickness you can add another day for sleep stops, nappy changes and wiping up the vomit. And you can just imagine the smell! The alternative is waiting until Thursday at the earliest for a flight, depending on whether the missed flights are taken on rotation, which then means only God alone knows when they’ll get away. The tiniest of saving graces is that the family who had booked the villa for this week are stuck somewhere in a cloud-covered UK, so at least cousin and co. have a roof over their heads. And to top it all, the rain has been pisticulating down for the last few days, so there’s no paddling in the pool or stretching out on a sun bed to while away a few hours.

Mike’s Spanish lady, Pilar, a teacher, doesn’t really want to go into work tomorrow, She has to tell her students, most of whom have been getting over-excited about their first ever trip to London and first ever flight in an airplane that it just ain’t going to happen – at least not just yet. I don’t envy her having to face twenty plus fourteen year-olds who are desperate to get away from parental control for a giddy week away, and telling them, “There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that the trip is postponed. The good news is that by the time we actually get to London, sometime in June, probably, given the utter chaos at the moment, the weather might well be sunny.”

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, www.derekworkman-journalist.com , and Spain Uncovered

A Stroll Around the Brown

April 16, 2010

The idea of the Sahara Desert, with it’s evocative image of Bedhouins trailing their portable villages across vast open spaces on the back of an animal that is more renowned for its ability to spit at someone just for the hell of it than it’s quiet, completive disposition, may seem far removed from one of the Europe’s fastest golfing resort countries.

Now, golf courses sort of depend on grass. I’ve yet to see one that has a 100 metre hit, put, smack – whatever they call the thing they do with metal rod with a bend in it – that travels across acres of fine golden sand to land in a nice green patch…and then rolls off again, “Bugger,” says the bloke in the checked, Los Angles drug dealers trousers and two-tone shoes with that poncey frilly bit that hangs over the front, “Bugger”, he says, “I’m going to need my splashy dipstick,” or nobby lipstick, sloppy slapstick – they’ve all got some stupid bloody name, “to get myself out of this bloody beach.” He’d be wishing like mad for the water hazards that seemed so horrible at the time.

I’m told these sand-with-grass-patches do exist in those foreign countries with lots of oil and chaps who walk around in big frocks, and that’s what many of the ball smacking fraternity might get if they come to Spain for a stroll around a green hitting a defenceless little white ball while pretending they are indulging in is ‘sport’.

Before the almost total collapse of the construction industry in Spain over the last couple of years, virtually every municipality in the Valencian Community had been passing plans for golf courses, seeing it as the new way to pull the punters to their localities. Just by chance, the plans for these bits of grass that appeal to those with plenty of folding stuff in their pockets also include plans for plenty of golf-lovers residences with picturesque views of the green – or brown as may be the case in the near future. Before the disastrous effect on the property market of the current crisis, there were plans for some developments of up to 4,300 ‘little boxes’ with a fair handful of hotels, posh restaurants, shopping malls and caffs – for each course!

Spain may not be suffering the drought of the last few years, but it is still a very dry country. The central government, God bless ‘em, cancelled the previous government’s plans to supply overspill water from the River Ebro in the north to the bone dry regions in the east, and instead decided to build Lord knows how many desalination plants in Valencia and Murcia, all of which will produce more un-ecological waste than current systems can handle and have been proved to brake down at the turn of a tap. Fortunately, these plans appear to have been quietly hidden away, or at least aren’t as discussed openly as much as they were last year.

Until recently, the regional government was pushing golf courses as a way of bringing tourism to the rapidly drying region, to combat the drop in sun, sand and sunburned-gut-over-Union-Jack-shorts tourism. One local council resigned en mas in pique when the locals protested against their golf club plans. Not surprising really, when there are only 300 residents and the development company wanted to bung 4,000 more houses into the village without doing a great deal about piping in water to supply all the new families, which they couldn’t anyway because the local reservoir was at ten percent capacity, the lowest in its recorded history.

One of the niftiest bits of publicity was when one new development said that they would water the green by recycling water from their proposed hotel. Forgive me for asking, but how much piss can one hotel provide to keep the green well and truly – well, green! Another proudly announced that they would be buying recycled water from the local water authority so as not to use the limited supply that was available for local residents. Not bad, except no one considered the local farmers who, for decades, have been using this recycled water to irrigate the orange groves that give the locality its name, Costa Azahar, and which the new golf course uses as one of the incentives for buying a house on the golf course development (no houses, no course) – “enjoy life surrounded by the gorgeous smells of oranges” etc. Perhaps the best of all was one claim that water from the local prison would be used to irrigate the golf course. Can you imagine the weird things that would be growing in the posh green as a result of the waccy baccy that is almost freely available in these places. It would really be a case of the jailbirds taking the piss out of the rich!

Mark Twain was pretty well on the mark when he said, “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” Unfortunately, in the Valencian Community and other regions in Spain, the rich man’s trolley-trundleing pastime isn’t just going to spoil a walk, it is going to destroy the ancient infrastructure and agriculture, create desertification, dry out vast areas of a once fertile land and change the whole environment of a region which, in Moorish times, was known as the most productive in the then known world. Is smacking a little bit of white compressed rubber around really worth it?

It’s strange to think that the virtual collapse of the property industry in Spain might actually have done some good if it means that all these badly thought-out, money-grubbing schemes to use the country’s most precious natural resource are quietly shelved.

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, www.derekworkman-journalist.com , and Spain Uncovered

Nanny Spain

April 16, 2010

I’m a non-smoker who doesn’t drink, (add to that the fact that it’s waaay too long since I parted a pair of silken thighs, and you get the pretty fair impression that I’m a real sad bastard). Of course I don’t like smoke-filled bars or well-pissed slobs hanging on my shoulder drooling, “but you’re a great friend, and I really, really love you,” but what I like less is the current sanitising of life in Spain.

A law has just been passed that limits the consumption of alcohol if you are going to drive to the equivalent of one small beer. Next year we’ll have zero tolerance. A couple of years ago the thought police brought in an edict that said you could only smoke in designated walled-off areas in bars of over 100square metres, but those under that size could decide if you could smoke or not. Most did. Soon even that choice won’t be left, when all bars become smoke free.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually fully in favour of these laws, but they are just another nail in the coffin of the semi-anarchic country I came to a decade ago, and loved precisely for that reason. Now we have the noise police hustling buskers off the streets in case their music should sully the ears of the neighbours, restaurants and bars aren’t allowed to have a terrace or extension if they are within 100 metres of the coastline – ie, the beach – which effectively does away with all those wonderful chiringuitos, beach bars, where the world and his brother would hang out during the languid summer months. And what are they trying to protect? The coastline, ie, sand, without which, plus the beach, people won’t come on holiday to Spain. But without traditional beach bars to relax in half the people won’t go to the beach anyway. Go figure! – as the American’s would say. On top of all that, there’s even a group trying to ban the siesta, for Christ’s sake!

In one of its more mindlessly invasive moves, the Valencian Government has introduced the ‘Sistema de Monitorización en Tiempo Real de las Playas de la Malva-Rosa/Cabanyal’ – in other words, CCTV cameras that monitor what’s happening on the city’s beaches, which means that we can’t even relax on our day off without Big Brother keeping an eagle eye on us. As ever, they say it’s for ‘public protection’, but as a member of that public, I see it as another personal right to privacy sneakily taken away.

They left it a bit late though, because a couple of weeks ago I was taking a coffee at one of the chiringuitos that will soon disappear and on the sand about a hundred metres away I saw a young girl sat over – I assume – her boyfriend, with a scarf carefully draped over her lower regions. She was either demonstrating to him how to do a particularly sensuous rumba or engaged in a bit of al fresco sex. No-one else seemed to notice. “Well done, girl!” I thought. Now there’d be one in the eye for the nannies and their holier-than-thou ideas of how we should all live!

It’s now more expensive to eat out and drink in Spain than in the UK, the country has the highest unemployment on record and you can’t sell your house for love nor money – so why the hell do I stay here!!!! Because about the only other option is to go back to England…and with that terrifying thought in mind, life here doesn’t seem so bad after all!

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, www.derekworkman-journalist.com , and Spain Uncovered.