Friday, September 24, 2010

Life in Spain - Part Two

I love the fact that the lady in the dry cleaners calls me 'Guapa'. This means pretty, or beautiful on a good day. I am 41 years old and greying badly and she calls me 'guapa', it's great!

I love the fact that when you meet a person for the first time they say 'Encantada', which is pleased to meet you but sounds far more beautiful. Why don't we say this as standard anymore when we meet someone new. We may do sometimes but it's not a standard thing...I was so excited today when I rang a Spanish lady to confirm Owain's attendance at a birthday party and when I introduced myself she said the magic 'Encantada'. Lovely! she barely knows me but she's pleased to meet me!

I love the fact that my son has invites to two birthday parties this weekend. One is tonight, starts at 6p.m. and ends at 9p.m, yes 9p.m.!! Having confirmed our attendance, I am aware of the fact that the parents will all be Spanish. My limited language skills are going to be tested!! At least I can say 'Encantada' when I meet people for the first time!!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Life in Spain - Part One

So, moving to a different country can be quite an exciting adventure...but the reality is a bit more complex than that, with anger, joy, impatience, frustration, incompetence and hilarity all part of the equation. I have lived in Spain as a single woman (holiday representative - those who know me well will understand that I had the patience of an angel and therefore, I was really good at that job! Despite my shortcomings I managed to do two summer seasons in Mallorca and a winter in Benidorm!) I went to Qatar as a teacher and a married woman and stayed so long I became a mother (twice). We returned to the Uk for a while and now I am in Spain. Are we nomads? restless travellers or just a family making the most of the adventures available to us and avoiding the traditions of a settled life surrounded by family and ald friends?

The moving experience changes dramatically when you're part of a family as opposed to being on your own. For a start there's considerably more luggage to unpack and find storage space for. There's two little mouths that need feeding as well as two big ones, inevitable there are arguments and injuries (and that's just mum and dad). There are four people to cater for, keep clean and happy and clothed. There are four opinions to co-ordinate (including one very strong minded four year old daughter and an equally stubborn mother!)

There are also the joys of a new culture, a different climate, a new language, new neighbours and colleagues. A new home with all its benefits and disadvantages and a new job!

I am still unpacking boxes and probably will be for some months to come. We don't have enough shelf space for all of our books, so we are waiting and hoping to get some shelves built. I am seriously considering purchasing a kindle so that I can download books as opposed to keeping them on the shelf. Yes, books do look lovely and you can go back to them, but one of the disadvantages of living abroad is the expense of purchasing books so I'm convinced the kindle is the way to go.

Life so far in Spain has been a combination of joys and a few minor niggles. Our neighbours are a lovely Spanish couple who have been very friendly to us and the children. They keep up a running dialogue (in Spanish) with the children and quite often I'm sure Owain and Aoife have absolutely no idea what's going on, but they can see the body language is positive and haer the tone of voice is kind and so they're happy. Also, they have been given chocolate and some toys to play with so their impressions are positive!! I sometimes go out to translate and thanksully, after the initial complete confusion, either the neighbour is speaking to me a bit more slowly, or my limited Spanish is all coming back to me through immersion!

I was lucky enough to be invited out to a hen party on Saturday night in Alicante city centre. This served as a great reminder of the things I find fascinating about Spanish culture. We arrived at the city centre to find the restaurant at 9 p.m. (which is not that long before my usual bed time). Alicante was heaving, absolutely full of people out having fun on a Saturday night. Nothing surprising about that, you may think, it's a city centre on a Saturday night for goodness sake. The surprising thing was that the city centre was full of people of all ages, not just bright young things on a night out on the town (or on a hen night), but middle aged couples strolling in their finery, families with children eating at outdoor restaurants. I saw two old ladies looking gloriously elegant as they promenaded arm in arm. Of course it was warm, which always lends itself to s feeling of calm. People were relaxed in very few layers of clothing, drinking at tables outside.

The range of ages made an immense difference to the feeling of the city, lending it a far more friendly, safe and family based ambience.

The hen night was fun, there were the usual penis themes objects (including a rather frightening anatomically accurate chocolate penis). Lots of raucous women laughing and having fun, plenty of good food and wine, some lovely soft sentiments about love and marriage. Altogether a great night out. At one atge I thought we were going tohave the benefit of not only one but a troupe of fit young men as strippers, thankfully it was a stag do just coming in to say hello. a raucous spanish song was sung by the stag and his party, I have no idea of the lyrics but I'm sure they were suitably smutty!

We left fairly early (by Spanish standards) at about 1 a.m.) The streets were still busy, still calm. the demographic was evidently younger but there were still a range of ages out and about, enjoying the heat. We didn't see any vomiting or fighting in the streets. maybe it was just the part of the city we were in. Perhaps it was the more salubrious area...who knows? I'm attributing the calm and wonder of  a lovely evening out to the things that the Spanish do right in their culture.....and the great climate which makes it all possible. It's a complex set of ingredients that works. I'm just hoping that I can get out there and enjoy it again soon, perhaps with the children!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

My good friend Annie sent me a link to an article in the Guardian by Jonathan Safran Foer all about his relationship with meat. I enjoyed it so I bought the book. I have read Safran Foer's other books and had decided to suspend my judgement. What I mean by that is that I had not particularly enjoyed his novels but could see that he was being adventurous with his writing and trying different things out (writing this now I am tempted to go back and re-read him to see if my impressions are different this time around). Anyway, this book is non-fiction, so delving into different realms of writing.

I have been more or less vegetarian for 25 years. I stopped eating sausages and burgers first because I can be a control freak and didn't like the idea of eating meat when I didn't know the exact contents (including such delights as eyelids and other bits of meat the butcher want to get rid of in a more acceptable package). Then I stopped eating chickens because of the antibiotics and other drugs pumped into birds at factory farms. Eventually I evolved into a vegetarian. I became a pescatarian after a few years, mainly prompted by a move to the Middle East and a marriage to a tolerant carnivore who likes to cook.

So, if you are already a vegetarian, this book will probably confirm that you are doing the right thing...if you are a commited carnivore, you will probably hate it. Apparently Gordon Ramsey recently claimed that he would be horrified if his children opted to become vegetarian. However, this book underpins the dreadful reality of providing cheap meat for a nation of people and the consequences.

It is a book about animal cruelty but it is also a far wider reaching book about pollution and sustainable farming. It's about antibiotics and health and the consequences that we are yet to face up to. It is interesting to note the figures if the populations of China and Indian begin to eat as much meat as America and Britain do now. We just cannot sustain it, unless we are prepared to ignore the pollution and the health risks and the genetic inheritance that is fast disappearing. You may not enjoy the book, but it is certainly thought provoking. Gordon Ramsey should read it!

The book should also make us proud of British food writers and chefs who are drawing our attention to the benefits of animals who are reared as nature intended. These chefs, journalists and writers are carefully and compassionately showing that in Britain, there are some farmers who still raise their chickens and cows with care. there is a growing trend towards finding out where your meat has been raised before eating it. Safran Foer's book should certainly contribute towards a movement where people either think more carefully about where their meat comes from, or become vegetarian. Alternatively, we can just carry on oblivious and see what happens to the world...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The technophobe is on her way...welcome to the 21st Century.

Ha, I'm here and so pleased with myself it's untrue. Isn't it sad to be so pleased with new technology! Anyway, reasons for blogging? To share with anyone who wants to read and listen to my thoughts on books and reading as I can never find a satisfactory, honest and brilliant review spot for new and old books I may want to read, so I'm starting my own for other readers who may be interested. Also, I'm fed up of the limited space I have on facebook to share my thoughts with family and friends, so I think I'm going to send them here instead.

On the books front. very much looking forward to the new Magnus Mills book which is due soon. having just moved to a new house in Spain without adequate shelving for all our books, we have many boxes waiting to be unpacked. In typical Siany style, I read the books that I brought with me super fast, so have been randomly unpacking boxes to find old favourites to keep me going. one such old favourite was Magnus Mills' "Three to see the King" and I love that book. I've read it three, possibly four times now and each time I think that the man is a genius. Some argue that he lost his form with his more recent releases. but I would hold my own with anyone who challenged the greatness of his first three books. I am now desperately rooting through boxes to find "All Quiet on the Orient Express", another favourite.

So what do I like about Magnus Mills? I love the seeming simplicity of style which creates a great sophistication in character and allows the reader their own journey of implication and allegorical relationship with the text. Who is the king? Who are the three? Where is the religious link? The book is a great commentary on relationships, the power of individuals and the strength of the mob! I'm usually a plot based person and some could argue that not much happens, but sometimes that's the point of a Magnus Mills book, it's about the simple things in life and how they happen and about the emptiness that can be all around us and the rituals and habits that we have in our everyday life.