Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Salamanca to Pamplona

October 31: Monday

Since my last post, I’ve left Salamanca for temporary sanctuary in Pamplona while accommodation and new school is sorted out for San Sebastian. The current plan is to move into an apartment in San Sebastian next Sunday, with first day of school following immediately. I’m just hoping that the proposed apartment doesn’t have another pair of too-small beds.
On Thursday I had a language exam at the Salamanca school. It wasn’t horrible, but the incredible rush to fit in the last parts of the examinable syllabus took its toll, particularly in trying to determine usage of preterito perfecto vs preterito indefinido tenses, and remembering different irregular spellings for the most common verbs. After the exam, most of the school went out for a cena typica, which I understand to mean “typical dinner”. Held at a local restaurant, Cuatro Gatos*, we “feasted” on typically Spanish fare like quiche, chicken salad, and cheesy dips washed down with sangria. Afterwards the DJ played typically Spanish music like Elvis Presley, AC/DC, and ABBA.

*ie Four Cats. This is an idiomatic expression for a nearly empty restaurant/bar: the guests arrive and exclaim “¡Aieee! Four cats¨ as if the only guests were four (rapidly disappearing) felines. If going somewhere remote (ie out to the sticks, or boonies) then it said that one went to the fifth pine.
During my final lunches with my hosts there were some arguments between guests and hosts about the relative merits of dubbing and Hispanicizing foreign TV and movies. Apparently, someone made the decision to change the names of most Warner Bros cartoon characters from the alliterative Porky Pig, Daffy Duck etc to local non-alliterative versions (Bugs Bunny and the Disney characters escaped). The local names have no special meaning or humorous connotation, so it seems an unusual decision.



I’ve held forth about the problems of dubbing before, but I noticed yesterday the additional problem where all characters in a TV program, irrespective of race or national origin, have identical Spanish regional accents. Watching a dubbed version of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, I really disliked the distinctly un-Jimmy Stewartish dubbed voice that seemed to change his character greatly. I also noted that the dubbed print had a really awful music track, with Bernard Herrmann’s score seeming to emanate from an old AM radio with failing batteries.

Someone also pointed out that the dubbing of all foreign language material means that the locals very rarely hear the way another language is or should be spoken, which makes it more difficult for them to pick up the rhythm or pronunciation of such.

Friday: On my 4 hour drive from Salamanca to Pamplona, I stopped for gas, and again had to wait while the single attendant insisted on dealing out petrol for all 8 cars in the station. The several times I’ve had this happen you get the feeling that the attendant believes drivers incapable of the simple task. This carries through to other retail outlets where (in general) men over 40 are “serving”: customers must not touch any merchandise as it will obviously do you no good to see what it looks like or whether it will fit etc. I’m told this is a characteristic of Western Spain, and for good customer service you need to look to other parts of the country. The first time I tried to buy petrol, the attendant was extremely demonstrative in trying to show me that I had to pay for the petrol (no, really?) and exactly where in the station (the big cash registers not being a sufficient clue) and that I shouldn’t be trying to buy food and drinks etc in the station when I had the urgent task of paying for the petrol. Then he made sure that I was pointed out to every other employee in the station as the gringo idiot who fills his own tank. He could obviously tell that I had driven into the middle of Spain in a car with GB number plates without ever having filled a tank before.



On Saturday, with nothing better to do, Bondi and I accompanied two busloads of attendees of an international congress of landscape architect/engineers (partly organised by my host, Jokin) as they toured through areas around San Sebastian (Irun) and the Basque areas of northern Navarre. We looked at an industrial canal that had been naturalistically regenerated as a suburban stream, and the underpinnings of a highway embankment, before retiring for a massive lunch at a restaurant in the pueblo of Santestaban. I think that most of the attendees were appreciative of Bondi’s gifts for creating temporary water-features at the visited sites. It was certainly a great day out, as there is not much greenery around Salamanca.


During lunch I had the ear of a conferee, a Belgian living in Spain, and also keen to discuss local idiosyncrasies. I’d noticed that McDonalds here is definitely not a fast food joint (having stopped in a few times to buy salads to balance my otherwise mostly meat+carbohydrates diet): as customers mass up at the counter hoping to find a register that is manned long enough for one to place an order. Instead, 3-5 servers may be clustered around a single register, like clucky aunts at a family dinner, eager to dispense opinions on a particular dish “¿You want the recipe? Sure! Let me find some paper.” “Try it! not that I’d eat it myself!!”. Some ten minutes after the order is placed, you get a tray or bag full of something approximating what you paid for. Drive-thru is possibly slower: caught in a glacial queue on Friday, I was diverted by earlier customers who had met in the line and were bringing up their children in the driveway while waiting for their order to materialize. Ach. All for the sake of a few leafy greens.

Sunday was mostly spent under the convulsive wrath of some tummy bug, while I finished reading The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases.

This morning I felt well enough to walk with Jokin and Bondi into central Pamplona, via a river walk, some market gardens and a paddock of slightly-more-than-Bondi sized ponies. It’s a gorgeous autumnal day, warm enough for a t-shirt, but still shaking off the previous night’s rain.

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