Thursday, 15 December 2011

The history of where you live

Every place has a history, since time passes relentlessly and leaves in its wake an infinity of stories many of which are only known locally and do not bother the world at large. Naturally there are places where a lot happens, and they become part of the world historical heritage. Many history books catalogue these places and people everywhere study these and research events to remember for future generations. Big cities like London, Paris or Delhi have a lot of well document history and a lot of it makes fascinating reading. Other places even if they are smaller become famous through some event that thrusts their history to become of worldwide interest. Events such as a natural disaster, a president getting killed or a world war being sparked usually makes a place unforgettable.

I have lived and traveled through  many places whose history is generally considered interesting. Delhi, for example, where I grew up, has seen centuries of occupiers, invading armies and massacres on a regular basis. Another place I have known is London which also has had a long and colourful past which includes people like Jack the Ripper, Sherlock Holmes and all the Kings and Queens and miserable stories like the plague, the fire and all the killings in the Tower.

However there are an infinite number of places which remain out of the limelight but create a history, which often remains unwritten and this gets either forgotten or passed from generation to generation by word of mouth. How many among my friends would have known anything about Kumasi or Maracaibo, places where I lived for significant periods. I have not seen too many books about the history of these but they had their periods worth documenting. Kumasi was (and is) the capital of the Ashantis who were a force to be reckoned with and rich because of the gold that was to be found in the region. And Maracaibo, well maybe the less said about this one the better.A bit like the wild west which had little to be proud of until oil was discovered in the region.

The place where I have now come to live in Spain (Laredo) has a rich history since it was established by Romans when this part of the world was part of the Roman Empire. However few people outside of this region would have heard of any of it or much less bothered to read about it anywhere. I knew that some books had been written about it but had not yet fully familiarized myself with many periods of the story of this place.

So when an organisation which brings together the 'friends of the heritage' of the town invited me to attend a launch of a new book about an aspect of the history that I did not know about, I decided to accept, and it turned out to be fascinating and I was not disappointed.The book appeared to document the work and times of a series of 'governors' appointed by the King, who were known as 'corregidores' or correctors. They existed in pre-democracy times between the 16th and the early nineteenth century, and their function was to administer justice and represent the King in the region, often with a ceremonial 'baston' with which he was allowed to beat people who misbehaved.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn that this town of a small population was the capital of the region until it was considered more suitable to move the capital to Santander at the beginning of the Nineteenth century.

Now this book may seem to be not too exciting a project, but if we see it through the eyes of the local population, it could be very interesting. And here is the thing I wanted to get down to..that the history of a place is always interesting for the people of that place. Like people, every place has a story and we only need to be in that place to make it worth discovering that story.
It is the history of our world.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Tuesday 13th December

Unlike most of the English speaking world that trembles if the 13th of a month falls on a Friday, the Spanish speaking world reserves such dread if it happens on a Tuesday. As it happens this December 13th did fall on a Tuesday, today!
I happened to be accompanying a couple of ladies (one of whom was Marisol) around Bilbao today and the thirteenth did have its effect. First the strap of Marisol's handbag ripped unexpectedly and the bag rolled to the ground. Having to carry the bag under her arm as a result was no fun either.
Later I was nearly run down by a car as I tried to cross a road. Lets not give too much importance to the fact that I did not wait for the light which would have stopped the traffic for me to cross the road.
There were other happenings today too, like the strong winds all over Northern Spain (and England) and five meter high waves on the beach, however they were not all bad. We found good bargains and had fun shopping. We made it home without any further mishaps which must be enough of a reason to celebrate.
Later I learnt that our local soccer team 'Racing' of Santander won a close game, when its more normal for them to lose.
So I am not at all sure we can justify the fear that the thirteenth can conjure up, even more so on a Tuesday.
Now its after midnight and its neither Tuesday or the 13th any more!

Friday, 9 December 2011

just google it

So it happened, I gave the talk on Information Technology to a group of intellectuals in Santander and one of the points I made was that now-a-days people use search engines as an extension of their memories. I had a picture of a young man with a laptop in his hands to show how one can be talking to friends and at the same time using the computer to help with his memory. I mentioned someone I know who could easily have been the young man in the picture.
And I did something along these lines myself the other day. I was reading my e-book, a Kindle from Amazon, and in one of the pauses a random picture appeared on the screen, which was obviously a page from an old book, with some text which was difficult to read and sounded like latin. It went something like:
Izbriu grit cratuerbum guerbumerat abudomgos
It was an intriguing image and I decided it was worth spending a few minutes looking for what this might be.
So I googled it
A few entries in the list that appeared as a result showed that this same intrigue had attracted other users of the Kindle. No body had come up with a satisfactory answer. One responder had suggested that the text may well be a 'Lorem Ipsum'. This was beginning to sound like a mystery..what was this Lorem Ipsum?
Next search showed that Lorem Ipsum was randomly generated placeholder text that publishers often use to display possible fonts and use as examples.
Not satisfied with this I looked further down the list and found a blog on which someone suggested that they had found the same image on a page in an old book of Gospels and described it as follows 

'This is confirmed as a page of Lindisfarne's Gospels: It's on page 30 of the British Library's online edition of this book'

What is confusing is that the text does not appear to mean anything in Latin! Its obviously nonsense text which is what Lorem Ipsum is supposed to be.

Now this made a lot more sense and I could go back to worrying about more normal things!

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Storing money in troubled times

Whatever happened to those days when it was safe to keep money in the bank.
Admittedly in troubled times having any money at all is a luxury, but there are those who end up with the money and have to make tough decisions about where to keep it. The pensioners are also a population who should have a sum of money which represents their life savings that needs to be put somewhere.

In these times of low interest rates, troubled banks, sliding property values, debt ridden economies, a sinking  stock market and worthless bonds where does one keep his/her money? A financial commentator, one of those who always appear to have figured everything in situations such as these, came on the TV recently and said that the Euro was going to sink and that everyone in Europe were going to lose their savings!

Now, I am not as knowledgeable as this guy, but I would guess that you cannot use a word like 'everyone' in a situation like this, as there are always a set of people who seem to have 'insider' knowledge and manage to rescue their cash before its too late, including I might add, the commentator in this case. I will not ever forget one day when my boss where I worked in Venezuela, asked me if I had a lot of money in local bank. It must have been Wednesday or Thursday, because on the Friday Venezuela had to remove the link of its currency from the US dollar, a move that immediately reduced the value of the 'Bolivar' to half of its value the previous day. It then continued to slide so that after only a couple of months it had touched one fifth. Lucky for me I did not have much money in 'Bolivars'.

Now what did my boss know that I did not? However let us leave that to one side and get back to my original question, which is where should we keep our money, assuming we have some. I dont think we should rush out to buy Greek government bonds or those of Italy or Spain because of the risk associated with them. Banks are an option, however only a small amount is guaranteed to be safe in case of failure of the institution. However lately many countries have opted for rescuing ailing banks in fear of a collapse of the entire financial system teetering because of the heavy debts.

I am rightly confused and no longer laughing at the suggestion to keep all your money in cash under the bed!

Monday, 14 November 2011

Where are we headed with all this technology?

A local group of artists and intellectuals, which meets every month in a Santander restaurant, asked me to contribute a talk. Apparantly everyone who attends the meetings of this group takes turns to present a talk on a topic of their choice, apart from occasionally inviting other deserving individuals who come to present interesting talks from time to time.

What could I talk about? I cannot claim to be an expert in many things, although I do have many interests. Arts, photography, music and mathematics fascinate me, but I could not do justice to any of these fields. After careful thought I considered travel, but what could one tell anyone about travel? Dont forget to take your passport and remember to get the required vaccinations and those sort of things or perhaps share ones travel photos? No, that would not appeal enough to anyone.

Finally, it appeared there was only one possibility and that was to present a summary of my experiences with computer technologies through the years of my working life. However if I thought that once I had found a topic that the rest was going to be easy, then I was wrong. I found that it was going to be hard to pin down. Unfortunately the pace of change in the realm of Information technologies meant that I would be chasing a moving goalpost.

To reduce the chance of missing the mark I decided to build the presentation around past, present and the future of IT from one point of view - mine. This had the advantage that if I only covered some areas of this vast field then I could hide behind my personal point of view.

The start was easy and I could spark some interest with my first encounter with a 'computer', a term I had not yet come across at the time, in the jungles of Africa. Not many people in Santander would have heard of Kumasi, and even less have any first hand experience of having been there. The current state of technology most would be familiar with. We are all using or walking around with a quantity of gadgets that would have been mind boggling a few years ago. I still remember 1995, when I was invited topresent some work I was doing at the time, at an international conference in San Jose in California. I was amazed to find that every advertisement in the local newspaper carried an email address with which anyone could contact the company advertising. At the time this was still only occasional in the UK press.

Much more interesting is the question proposed by this post, ie where is all this technology going in future. The members of the discussion group in Santander deserve a proposed future of technology that gives them the opportunity to sink their teeth in a discussion. Latest research is exploring bacterial processors, Quantum mechanics and new materials for molecular level storage. All that promises ever faster and unlimited storage using a minimal of energy.

However that still leaves a hole in the imaginative and visionary view of the state we might be in after another twenty or fifty years. I am tending towards a state in which the Information technology environment will be not dissimilar from the way that nature itself handles and processes information. This environment would have holographic storage systems interconnected by 'quantum' links and processing by biological processors. Sounds like science fiction but this is more or less what nature does. Cells contain all the information in each one of them, neural links connect all the cells in our biological processor - brain.

So that is the possible future and I hope this enthuses the audience and let the discussion begin..

Monday, 31 October 2011

What is your number?

And I dont mean the phone or other more important numbers. I refer to the latest news on the earth's population. People who are responsible for such things 'reliably' inform us that we are likely to pass the 7 billion mark one of these days. Intrigued about this I looked up the Google search on this and came across a website that tells you your 'possible' number in the overall population on this earth.
So I put in my DOB and came up with this message

When you were born, you were the:
person alive on Earth 
75,536,789,785th person to have lived since history began

Very interesting I said to myself, while thinking that perhaps the current interest in the number of inhabitants appeared to be aimed at making us think that the population was too large to sustain given the current food production, and the poverty that affects many of the world's countries.

For a little diversion I began to play with these numbers in my thoughts and on the Internet. If everyone who enters my DOB into the program gets the same numbers then obviously they are meaningless. The program never even asked the simple extension of the time of day. I only have others memories to rely on for this but the difference of 65000 that the program produced for a day later suggests that my number could be wrong by upto this number.

Another interesting number related view was suggested by a radio program, where the speaker suggested that if we were to put the entire population (7 Billions) in a square where every person had a square metre of space then that square would measure about 84 Kilometres in each direction. Looking at it this way, you might be forgiven for thinking that the Earth population was not very big at all! However when you walk around some the big cities of this world (and we did just that recently in London) it appears that the Earth far more densely populated than that.

Looking at this the other way around, I calculated if the entire land mass was divided equally then each one of us might have a square about 100 meters by 100 meters.

So, we are getting more and more, where I was 2.5 billionth at birth, now I am 7 billionth of the population.

Now consider this..How much money exists in the world and what is the total GDP (Gross Product value) in the world? This is not totally unrelated as I thought it would be interesting to see how much money on average each one of us could have if we divided it equally, something that the rich people of this world would no doubt object to.

Perhaps the closest estimate to how much money exists in the world was released in January 2009 by Mike Hewitt, editor of the economics blog Hewitt tracked the reporting of 73 currencies from central banks and financial ministries in 90 countries, which cover the money used by 84.1 percent of the world's population. The countries tracked represent 96.7 percent of the world gross domestic product -- the market value of the world's economies combined. Hewitt found that in October 2008, these countries had notes and coins equaling $3.94 trillion in U.S. dollars in circulation [source: Hewitt].

If we were divide the cash in this world equally each person would have 560 Dollars

On the other hand money supply, which is the actual money people have which lies in bank accounts and investments etc is a much larger number. In the US alone this (known as M3) is ten times more than their cash number (M0). If the same is roughly true of the rest of the world then the total money held in the world bank accounts, cash and stocks etc must be something like $39 trillions.

If we divide this equally then each one of us would have about 5600 Dollars

And the world GDP can be approximated, based on China's GDP (about 6Trillion) being about 10% of the world. Which means that the world's total is around 60 Trillions.

Which means that we produce on average about 8600 dollars worth of goods per person every year. Nice to know.

And where does all this lead us?

Nowhere. And now we all have a lot more useless numbers in our heads.
As Pat mcGoohan says in The Prisoner 'I am not a number, I am a human being'. Or was it 'I am free man'? I am forgetting...and it was a long time ago.

Signed (#2,492,563,696 or possibly 2,492,628,700 as I was born around midnight)

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Where is one from?

Where are you from? - I often get asked this question, and its not an unreasonable one if you are confronted by someone who looks like me. I suppose people expect me to say that I am from either a muslim country or possibly India. In Spain there are few people who wear a turban so usually people here have no clue of my origins. However they are more than surprised or possibly annoyed when I reply 'That is an interesting question'.

Occasionally I am pleasantly surprised when a particularly knowledgable person asks me if I am a Sikh and hence imply that I am from India. As many of my friends would confirm, this is nearer to the truth. However the problem is that I am not sure if I can honestly say that I am from India. I may have Indian origins, but that 'from' thing is more complicated. I have not lived in India for 45 years, and although parents and brother live in India, I have few other friends whose whereabouts make me feel particularly Indian.

I have lived in England for the last 20 plus years, but do I feel English? I would have to confess that this is not the case either. I lived in Africa and South America for significant periods, but I dont feel particularly from those places either. It begins to emerge that its not too clear where I am from, and so its difficult to offer a simple reply to the original inquiry.

Just the other day we (Marisol and I) walked into a Tourist Information office in Santander to ask for a map or some brochure. After attending to our request the agent behind the counter asked where we were from. She expected a 'tourist' answer and when we said we were from Laredo which is a few miles down the A8 highway, she looked disappointed. Marisol sensed this and immediately said that we had come from England and this brightened the look on the agent's face.

Similarly I was often asked the same 'from' question when I used to travel to places like China, US, Italy or a host of countries during my working life and I always assumed that they wanted to know where I worked, which would be England. HoweverI usually felt that if I said 'India' then I would get a better response.

So where is one from..where they have lived all their life..where they were born, or where they currently live. Variously I could say that I am from England, India or Spain. None of these answers are satisfactory so I end up saying that 'I am from everywhere and nowhere'. This does have an exotic ring to it, as it sounds a bit like a Zen master giving clues to one of his monks about a Koan. 'How interesting' is often the response from the interested party, and this has the advantage of engaging in further conversation which may or may not be desirable depending on their 'personality'.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

A tourist's life is very hard

As Pablo once told me 'A tourist's life is very hard' and we were finding out that he was right. We happened to be in London for a few days to visit the mammoth art fair 'Frieze' and to catch up with the art scene and at the same time to tuck into a few Indian meals. If I was to say that after a few days of 10 or 12 hours of walking around London, it felt like we were doing the Camino de Santiago, I wont be far from the truth of how I was feeling.

The other day after a six hour review of Frieze with our friends John and Loli, we decided to go to a performance being organised by a group known as 'Spain-now', at a nearby Spanish restaurant even though we were exhausted. The performance consisted of a Spanish graffiti artist 'decorating' the restaurant windows, and the place was packed with fresh faced guests while the four of us were flopped out on some chairs wishing we had badges which said 'I have just come from Frieze - show some respect'.

The other exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery, had the title 'The shape of things to come' and contained work which was a bit like The Sex Pistols hitting the music industry some years ago. Everything looked a bit bizarre, but there were truckloads of tourists and school kids milling about.Perhaps we will see a new wave of art hitting the galleries and museums which will be associated with a new movement. We can start a trend by calling it 'punk art' or 'junk art'.

The number of people in London was frightening and coming from Spain, it was similar to how you might feel when you arrive in India for the first time and see a quantity of people you are not used to. One afternoon we had agreed to meet some friends at the Festival Hall on the Southbank. This concert hall has a huge forecourt and when we arrived we could hardly walk through this space, for the number of people who were just sitting with not an inch of space between them, as if they were in a giant sardine tin.

As it was pointless to try and get a drink on the ground floor bar, our friends decided to seek refuge in the haven that is the third floor bar called something like 'Skylark' or 'Skylon', where I decided foolishly to try a Margarita. This turned out to be rather poor version of this great drink, perhaps because the barman decided to do his own mix instead of relying on the trusted Margarita Mix from Jose Cuervo. To put some salt in the wounds we discovered that this mish-mash 'Margarita' had cost us 12 (yes twelve) Pounds, which is roughly twenty Dollars. Still this is a lot less than the forty Euros that Anmar (who was incidentally one of the friends at the Skylon) had to fork out for a beer and a Tapa in Plaza Mayor in Madrid not so long ago.

The usual shopping activities were also affected by the hordes of people in London, and on one occasion when Marisol tried to raid Primark which is one of the bigger shops on Oxford Street ((with a business model which relies on keeping the prices so low that the sales are enormous), she found that such was the crush of people that it was virtually impossible to even get in.

Leaving Marisol to fight her way through shoppers I decided to head west to Shepherd's Bush to go and pay my respects at the Sikh temple. As I made my way on the Central Line of the London Underground, a young lady who was sitting in front of me, took out a scarf from her handbag and covered her head, then pulled out what turned out to be Sikh prayer book and began to read. It appears  that religion is making a comeback in the youth of many cultures. Later I did my own meditation at the temple and hopefully added to my spiritual well-being.

Later in the week we were roaming the backstreets of Liverpool Street and the Spitalfield Market area when we had two unusal things happen to us. First we stumbled upon a sale of antiques and retro furniture, which was labelled 'for one day only', and thats unusual. It was only when we recognised one of the workers seated in the corner of the space as one of the supervisors on the famous TV programme called 'The Apprentice', where Alan Sugar mainly does a lot of 'you are fired'  before hiring one 'apprentice', that the event made any sense.

Second, a little later the same day, when we were still roaming in the same area, someone approached us and very pointedly said 'Holaaa?' . We recognised the face immediately and realised that we had witnessed a fantastic coincidence. It was a lady who lives in an apartment in the very same building where we live in Spain and we normally see her everyday at home. How small this world is or as they say in Spanish 'the world is like a small scarf.'

While we were in London we also had the occasion to celebrate Marisol's birthday and our wedding anniversary, and we revisited the Stanhope Bar on Gloucester Road where we had first met thirty eight years ago. There were also numerous visits to the Massala Zone restaurant to tuck into as much Indian food as possible. Several helpings of Bhel Papri Chat, Gol Gappes and Aaloo Tickis were required to get to a satisfactory state of bliss and to be able to cope with the next few months without these essential soul-foods.

Finally we are now home and trying to rest our weary legs, and to resolve to take it much easier next time we travel. It is understandable that the tourist has to make the best of the time on a short trip away from home but it should be possible to do this without turning the whole thing into a marathon.

Perhaps Pablo will come up with a better saying, something along the lines of 'conserve energy to be happy' or 'the smart tourist does as little as possible' and hopefully he will again be right.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Interconnected events or thoughts

I had an email from a long-time absent old friend yesterday that started a chain of thought which had me absorbed for a long time. It occurred to me that the brain has a startling capability to jump from one thing to another and one can probably link all of ones experiences in life starting with any thought at random. I wont try and list all my experiences, but I will have a go at a few jumps just to illustrate the point.

The email that started this particular flow of thoughts from Bill who moved to Brazil a few years ago, and said:
"I just happen to be at the OTC Brasil 2011 Conference. Are you here in Rio? It would be fun to meet up if you are."

Now, I have no idea why Bill would assume that I might just happen to be in Rio, five thousand miles away. Perhaps my reputation for travel and showing up just about anywhere has got ahead of me! Be that as it may it reminded me of a portrait of Bill we have in the entrance of our home, which had been a present from an artist friend of ours in London, known only as Marko.

Marko was often to be seen at the London Biennale events, which happened regularly in London during the past decade in which Marisol and I often took part. Marko was (and is) a very generous man and volutarily gave much of his time to anyone who happened to need it. Our friend David Medalla, who had initiated the idea of the London Biennale needed much of Marko's time and resources, so I next jumped on memories of David.

David was (and is) the kind of man who could turn the most mundane thing into extraordinary. For example if you happened to be walking past a building he might say "oh, I danced at a party in this building once and shared the floor with Mick Jagger" as if that was the most normal thing that could occur. Or he might say "when I first came to London, I shared an apartment in that building with so and so (eg David Hockney, Lord Guinness, Yoko Ono etc etc)". This would often hit you side ways and he would embark on his own chains of thought which the London Art historian Guy Brett has turned into a book called "Exploding Galaxies". During one of these revealing moments David had told me that when he was in New York in his youth (many years ago) he had known Marcel Duchamp, no less, and something about a rose that they had called 'Selavi'.

I now turned to the thought of that famous urinal that Duchamp had presented as a work of art and remembered reading recently a news report about a Japanese person, who had left a large sum of money in a urinal in some city of Japan, with instructions that it should be used to help people who had been displaced or otherwise suffered as a result of the nuclear explosion that occurred earlier this year.

By now you are beginning to get the general idea of how thoughts can trigger memories and further thoughts that seem to go around for ever.

The Japanese urinal donation reminded me of a similar act of kindness that prompted a Madrid organisation to set up a dinner at a five star hotel, to collect money to help people who had lost their homes in an earthquake at Lorca, a small town in Spain. Forty five of the best chefs had been invited to participate, and each had prepared a special dish for the event, and for a fixed price the public were invited to come and sample these delights.

Marisol happened to be on the mailing list of this organisation, and we decided to attend the dinner and it turned out to be extraordinary. Our son Anil also happened to be in Madrid and we invited him to join us as a birthday treat. That in itself turned the evening into something unforgettable. I was also interviewed by the Canal 6 TV channel and appeared in their news bulettin that week, and many people called up to say that they had seen me on TV.

This in turn reminded me of a call I had from the state TV network Channel 1, who wanted to know if I wanted to participate in their regular program 'Destination Spain' where they spend time with foreigners who have come to stay in Spain and record the proceedings to be shown on their program. While I have managed to avoid the appearance so far it is likely to happen sometime in the future.

This in itself is a pandora's box of thoughts about our recent move to Spain and all that entails, the emptying of our home in England, the preparations in Spain, my retirement and all the changes in our lives. The thought process goes on and on. On a lighter note we will be in London next week, where we will no doubt try to catchup with Marko, and perhaps David, and I will try to satisfy my craving for that best food in the world, that can only be prepared using spices and chillies!

And perhaps I will send an email to Bill and ask him if he is going to be in London.
Probably not a possibility but worth a try!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

4 Friends and a Funeral

There is something peculiar about Spain and bar owners. Perhaps it is because the Spanish economy depends so heavily on tourism and bars in particular, that there are so many of these drinking establishments and consequently their owners. Whenever you meet people there is a major possibility that among them will be a bar owner or an ex. Recently there have been numerous encounters with such professionals among friends and family, and as Laredo is going through a prolonged heat wave, the nights are balmy and the conditions perfect for such events.

As hinted in a previous post, Octavio was expected in town, and he appeared with three other interesting Madrid friends in tow (that makes four). These turned out to be folks that had crossed our paths in the past, and we met as long lost friends. The friends featured prominently and often among Octavio's stories from Madrid, and regularly populated his blog posts, had a large collection of stories of their own to keep the outings lively and time appeared to pass without notice.

First there was Patricia, who is a singer about to release a new CD and had a nice little side business in silver imported with her travels. She described her narrow escapes with security searches on airports with considerable volumes of cash and the precious metals. She was accompanied by her partner Antonio, who is a movie maker and producer and in turn described his larger than life associates in Madrid and their escapades as a result of swings between extreme shortage and a glut of money. The couple also confessed to their skinny dipping in the sea these days as they did not expect to find such hot conditions here in Northern Spain!

Octavio too contributed a hilarious tale about a French Count who lives in Madrid and who had occasional duties required by the French embassy, one of which had something to do with a royal funeral, and involved a taxi driver, an overdressed count, an urn containing the ashes of the defunct royal and a seedy bar. Not surprisingly the story which involved Octavio's rendition of the count's French accent, had us laughing for a long time, and one can probably come up with their own version with these diverse constituents.

And so we come to the ex bar-owner, the fourth friend, Juan who is retired from owning the often talked about El Manuela in the barrio (area) of MalasaƱa in Madrid. Over the years Octavio had described the legendary status of this bar and its owners, who we had occasion to meet once or twice in the past. Their organisation of cultural events, including intellectual forums and art exhibitions were much admired in Madrid and beyond. Juan shared many of the friends that Octavio and Antonio talked about, though Marisol and I were just interested onlookers enjoying the stories and the bonhomie of the group remembering old times.

Oh and I almost forgot, the funeral of the grandmother Maria, of our cousins Pablo, Nacho and Valentin...which took place today..RIP

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Laredo Diary

It was one of those days that can bring on a smile and help you to regain your faith in human nature. A study had just reported that the town where we live was second only to Pamplona in its quality of life when compared to more than 630 towns that make up Spain. This would normally be a reason to celebrate, however those who live here would point to several problems facing the town which may be difficult to resolve. The current financial crisis that has taken hold in most of the Mediterranean countries is taking its toll in the north of Spain too. The new 'designed for the future' port, for example, lies empty and unused while the construction companies await payments which are unlikely to be met in much the same way as Greece may default, except that we do not have a big benefactor such as Germany to hand us a bailout.  Many organisations are feeling the pain of local governments not being able to pay their bills, and papers are full of stories of unpaid workers and stalled projects.

Nevertheless I decided to inform my usual circle of friends and family of this good news and lo and behold recieved an immediate response from Octavio in Madrid that he would like to test out this 'quality of life' for himself as he would be coming to town tomorrow, perhaps trying to get some fresh air after the summer heat of Madrid. Normally Laredo is a cooler and fresher climate compared to Madrid however this week we are having the best of summer weather and I doubt that it will be much cooler than Madrid tomorrow.
To get back to my initial thought and the topic of 'today' and that smile, the day started when I woke up this morning to the usual noise of magpies screaming in the garden of our building. When I looked out of the window, and found the cloudless sky and a welcoming sight of a sunrise I decided that in the spirit of   cooperation in household duties, I would agree to take a walk into town and do the last minute shopping that we required to prepare for entertaining some friends later in the day, before any prospect for a walk on the beach and a swim in the sea.

Straight after breakfast, I headed into town which is a mere five minutes walk from our home armed with instructions and lists and ready to beam at any and everyone. The first person I came across was the mother of a friend who I had not seen for ages, and who had been recovering from an illness that merited a brief conversation which included a sincere expression of joy at how well she looked. Then as I turned a corner of the 'Central Park' of Laredo, I came across a lady sitting on park bench with a two or three year old child. This is not unusual and neither is the fact that this child was pointing to me and saying something to the lady. This happens quite often given my relatively strange appearance for this part of the world and I tend to ignore what I consider 'bad manners'. However the before mentioned smile returned to my face when the child spontaneously said 'hello', and earned a greeting in return.

I was not done with encounters yet, and as I waited in the queue to pay for my purchases at the supermarket, a man approached and greeted me saying that he had met me in Escalante, a smaller neighboring town, that was not even in the list of 630 that Laredo had been compared with. I can tell you that this living in small places keeps you on your toes, as I had to quickly rack my brains to remember the encounter and then make some polite remark such as 'Of course, and how are you' etc. Octavio, the friend who arrives tomorrow, would have been proud of me, considering that he writes a blog on 'Encounters in Madrid'.

Safely back home, with the sun still out in force, a quick change of clothes and we were on the beach before you could do too much damage by not recognizing someone or worse still owed any money by the local government, to spoil your day. The beach was definitely a reason for a smile. My ex boss used to always tell the story of when I showed up for my interview for that job in his department, and he asked me the usual question about what my future goals were. Apparantly I had replied that the future goals had something to do with spending a lot of time on a beach in Spain.

Now I was at that beach in Spain and enjoying every minute of it. Smile.