Archive for October, 2008

Mascletá en Benimaclet

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Hola a tod@s.  For fear of beginning to sound like a broken record, I will yet again mention the fireworks and firecrackers that the Valencians seem to love so much.  To my surprise, the other evening there was a procession through the streets of Benimaclet, replete with priests, a figure being carried, candle bearers and a brass band.

Procession in Benimaclet

Procession in Benimaclet

A close-up of the shrine or whatever it is, I couldn't really make it out!

If that wasn’t surprising enough, after the procession had done it’s rounds of the streets, it turned up in the park by which I live.  And then the noises, flashes and bangs kicked off once again.  There was about ten minutes of normal fireworks, as seen here:

No smoke without fire

No smoke without fire

Excitingly, I have gone interactive, and you can even watch a video of the mascletá, taken from my balcony. Try to imagine that the noise was so great the ears hurt.  Not just discomfort, I’m talking pain.  The advice is to keep your mouth open.  Not just in awe of the spectacle, but to stop the eardrums rupturing.


Link to the mascletá video

Now something without fireworks, but still with noise.  Last weekend, Valencia hosted the MotoGP so there was a bit of excitement in the city.  Thanks to my flatmate, I got hold of some of the free tickets to a concert hosted by TVE, Spains’s national public broadcaster.  It was pretty good fun, if a bit cold on the hard stone seats of the Plaza de Toros (bullring), and the music was a little dubious too.

TVE MotoGP concert in Valencia Plaza de Toros

TVE MotoGP concert in Valencia Plaza de Toros

I insist you check out this recording of Ragdog, one of the bands playing at the concert, to hear how bad they were.  Another was Amaral, who were an improvement, and here is a video of them at the concert too.

TVE MotoGP concert in Valencia Plaza de Toros

Lots of people

The presenting (it was being recorded for tv) was a bit shambolic too, but overall it was worth seeing…after all, the tickets were free :)

Link to the procession video

Written by Benjamin

October 31st, 2008 at 10:38 pm

A little about my neighbourhood

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Now I have settled into my new flat here and am getting to know the local area, I thought I’d give a little account of my barrio.

I live in the Benimaclet area of Valencia, which used to be a small town in its own right until it was swallowed up into the city by an act passed in the 1970s.  The name is Arabic in origin, so it must be pretty old…in fact there’s even a Wikipedia article about the place.  I had intended to post more pictures of Benimaclet, but it’s a bit dull and rainy at the moment.  As soon as it’s jolly, I’ll try and get some up here.

I’ll start with the block of flats where I live.  Valencia is a city of the high-rise, and there are very few houses here; most living in flats.  Spanish building standards, not being particularly fussy about many things, mean that you soon get to know your neighbours, if not by name then by habits.  My neighbours above are Ecuadorian, and relatively quiet.  To one side are an old couple, with a squawking bird and deaf ears.  They shout at each other constantly (most of the time not in argument, but at times they are frightening), their television is loud, their radio louder, and the man hammers on the lift to make it arrive faster.  On the other side is a family with a large dog that at times likes to howl, and I don’t know much more about them.

A view down the street from my terrace.  A pretty typical suburban Valencian view.

A view down the street from my terrace. A pretty typical suburban Valencian view.

The flats are arranged about a central core so that interior rooms still have natural light.  However, the other effect is that not only do you hear your immediate neighbours, but those in the rest of the block.  So now let me introduce Sr. Emphysema, the man that cycles hanging out of his window with his nicotine habit and with his lung problems.  I’m disturbed during the day by his hacking, and woken and night by the sound of the window flying open and the coughing commencing.  Other characters include the Arguers, a family with a poor put-upon father and his ungracious teenage children.  I won’t bore with details of the familiar arguments they like to have.  The Yappers have a small but ferociously loud dog, which is yet another alarm clock in the morning.  Their solution to making it quiet (after the other neighbours yell “’¡callale!”, “shut it up!”) is to give it a squeaky toy that is just as loud as its yap.

Opposite the flat is a small park, and in the vicinity are all manner of shops.  Most close by is a greengrocer’s (next door to the entrance to the flats) and then there are newsagents; a sweet and dried fruit shop; a bakery (with 24-hour automatic bread machine); a fishmonger’s; a few butchers and delicatessen; some takeaways; more bars than you can count; and half a dozen Chinese random crap shops.

Absolutely anything here, absolutely anything.

Absolutely anything here, absolutely anything.

These random-crap shops are actually rather handy; I’m in my nearest one at least a couple of times a week.  Anything from light bulbs to sheets to buckets to tasteless decorations.  You know the kind of place. Oddly, though, I didn’t expect to come across such classy labels in the footwear section:

Lovely.

Lovely.

Further afield in the bigger streets are all sorts of other shops, including, if I should ever need it, a large dog beauty salon (not for large dogs, I mean the place is big).

It also seems to be difficult to get away from Croydon.  There’s a Chavi Bar in one street, and a bit further away, the Black Sheep.

The Sheep! How I long for thee and a pint of snakebite black...

The Sheep! How I long for thee and a pint of snakebite black...

A bit blurry, but you get the point.

A bit blurry, but you get the point.

Coming soon: a reportage on my University, the local Poly.

[published at ben.corale.co.uk]

Written by Benjamin

October 18th, 2008 at 6:37 pm

Thunderbolts and lightning, very very frightening

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Yesterday, Thursday, was Valencia’s Community Day when it celebrates being liberated from somebody or other and becoming independent.  In Spain celebrations are big, spectacular and very, very loud.

The Spanish like their fireworks, or at least the sound of fireworks can be heard every couple of days or so in a celebration of something or other.  I’m not sure a concrete reason is needed.  The festivities kicked off at midnight with a full hour of fireworks,  stopping only for five minutes to allow a break between the two shows.  I can tell you, my eardrums were feeling the pain of this.

The next morning the party continued at 2pm when the next round of fireworks took place.  These were designed mostly for the noise they produce, and being set up in the city square surrounded by tall buildings on all sides, this really was a show of noise.

A few loud bangs in slow succession started it all off, probably signifying some crucial shots in the decisive battle for independence.  No-one I’ve asked seems to know much about the background story, just that it involves King James I of Valencia some 800 years ago.

The firecrackers and bangers started properly, strung up on what looked like washing lines that filled the main square.  The people gathered in the street and the surrounding side-streets, all vying for the best location.  The noise was incredible.  With each bang the body shook, at first a jolt and tremble of surprise, after, for the next five minutes, from the force of each explosion.  There was a sensation of clothing flapping as each blast boomed in the air with a cacophony of popping and cracking below.  The square, filled with such noise and the acrid smoke of gunpowder, seemed to me like something from a war scene.  But of course, instead of horror, people felt delight.

Later in the day there was meant to be a procession, but bad weather meant I ended up not going to see what the procession was about.

Instead I went out with a friend for a drink in some local bars.  At about 6pm, the weather was worsening, with strong winds and drizzle, but it wasn’t anything terrible.  About at about 9pm we noticed the rain coming down by the bucketful; and the thunder and lightning began, real crashes and flashes that dimmed and flickered the lights.  At 10 we got peckish and decided to go to a nearby restaurant to get some food while there was a slight dip in the severity of the storm.

While we were eating, we heard some commotion with the waiting staff, who then began running carrying sacks of rice to store on the higher surfaces, namely on top of the lavatories in the toilets.  A few moments later we realised what was happening when I felt my feet sloshing around in water, and looking down the water was already over a centimetre deep.  It was flowing inwards really quickly too, bringing all sorts of detritus from the street with it, like cockroaches, dead, on their backs with their legs stuck up in the air.  Within minutes it had at least doubled in depth, and we were putting our feet on the edges of other chairs to keep our feet out of the water.  The staff tried in vain to stem the flow, but nature had the upper hand.

By the time we left, the rain had slowed a little bit, but still in the road it was up to half a car tyre’s height in depth in places, and water was cascading down the vents and the steps into the metro station.  All the while the thunder and lightning continued.

The storm got worse again and seemed to arrive right above the district.  In my apartment the hammering rain was coming in around the window frames and the lightning was cutting out the electricity, but the strikes and flashes were frequent enough not to need a light on anyway.  The rain finally subsided about 1am, but the winds have carried on to this morning.

The news today reported a British woman and her daughter being killed in the storms, I’m not sure if it has made the attention of the British press.

Some pictures/video in this El País article.

Written by Benjamin

October 10th, 2008 at 1:25 pm

Posted in Festivities, Valencia

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The first few weeks

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[If viewing this at ben.corale.co.uk there may be some odd formatting issues.  Please excuse them.]

It’s been a long time coming, but here it is at long last.  As a fairly huge amount of things have happened since the move over to Spain, I’ll try to be concise and keep things in an intelligible order.

First off, initially I attended a language school organised by my university, the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV), for two weeks at its campus in Gandía, which is about 60 km from Valencia.  It’s quite a touristy resort on the coast, but was pleasant enough.  I can’t really argue with a daily routine of being up at 8am, taking a swim in the apartments’ pool, going to class until 2pm, eating a MASSIVE lunch (more on the food later), taking a siesta, going to the beach to swim in the sea, going out for a few beers, sleeping and then doing it all over again for two weeks.

Erasmus students in Gandia
Erasmus students in Gandia

Often the evening beer, spent in a bar with temperamental wifi, would be spent alongside a group of elderly women gossiping while playing a board game with many dice.  I couldn’t work out what it was but it looked quite complicated.  Spanish people seem to like playing games at any opportunity.  Old men in bars will play dominoes, young people like to play naipes (a Spanish card game, with a deck comprising four suits of 12 cards) or other card games.  Everyone plays games given the opportunity.

One of the highlights was the sandcastle competition.  My team (“Los Pulpos”, or “The Octopuses”) devised a twist to the traditional sandcastle, combining it with a monster-of-the-deep giant octopus that wrapped its tentacles about a castle that sat atop a mountain.  (See the pictures!)  We came second in the competition (out of twenty or so teams of six) so it wasn’t a bad effort.  What was really pleasing was having people on the beach, ordinary holiday makers and locals, come over to take photos and express their appreciation of our work.  Above all it was a huge amount of fun.

Leaving party at UPV Gandia campus
Leaving party at UPV Gandia campus

Unfortunately, as comfortable as that routine sounds, in all that I had to get to Valencia city to look for a room to live in.  In itself it’s a fairly easy procedure: walk the streets in the area in which you wish to live and look at lamp-posts for notices advertising available rooms.  Make a note of the phone number, call and arrange to view.  Easy enough, but when you have to travel an hour to the city, it turns into a bit of a pain.

Of the flats I viewed, the first two couldn’t be more distinct from each other.  One sounded perfect from the description: “Attic flat in old building, high ceilings, large rooms, well decorated.  Friendly people that like to live together almost as a family.”  It was an honest description at least; the flat was actually somewhere I would’ve liked to have lived.  The downside was that it was basically a hippy commune.  Probably fun for about two weeks, but when reality kicks in probably highly impractical.

The second was its complete opposite.  A dark, gloomy, pokey flat in a completely anonymous-looking block, in dark, blank, characterless streets.  It seemed a bit creepy too.  The guy showing me round (who was 26 but looked 56) kept pointing out that it was a “home, not just a place to sleep”, yet the atmosphere must be kept quiet and studious.  I asked if it would be ok to have friends over for dinner, or a quiet drink (I thought at this point this is not a place for a burn-down-the-house flat party).  Apparently once every couple of weeks maximum would be acceptable, any more would be intrusive.  This launched him into an impenetrable soliloquy as he voiced off (I don’t think it was meant for any audience in particular, he seemed to have stopped noticing that I was there) about his idea of a relaxing home environment.

At this point I tried to make an escape with excuses of meeting friends.  This didn’t seem to work as he roused from his little tirade to wave me back to being sat down.  Leaving was impossible.  I began at this point to scan the room for any weapons…what if he was some kind of psychopath and was about to slit my throat and put me in a chest freezer?  I had to get out.  In the end it was only by forcibly saying that I had to go and heading for the door that I could leave, only to find myself on a dark corridor with no sign of the lift or the stairs.

After some scrambling and this man asking why I had to leave so suddenly I found the lift call, willing it to arrive.  The doors parted open, I dived in and hit the buttons; at this point I didn’t care which floor, just any but this one.

Eventually, and with the help of my student mentor who had a friend that had a free room, I came across a good enough place.  It’s super-cheap but comfortable, in an excellent location and with a set of very agreeable flatmates.  The three guys are all from the Valencia region, and so speak Valencian as their first language.  When I’m around they switch to Castillian.  Still, it’s an excellent way to learn the language through total immersion, particularly when attempting the change the orientation of the door of a new fridge-freezer.  It’s times like those that you pick up a heap of new and useful words (like drill, screwdriver, and when the instructions aren’t exactly clear, “useless piece of crap”).

Incidentally, alongside “bufanda” (“scarf”) I now have a new favourite Spanish word.  I say favourite, the word is actually pretty horrible, but it’s the fact that it exists that I like it.  “Desnucarse” means to kill oneself instantly by breaking the bit where the neck joins the head.  How specific.

Hopefully noone "se ha desnucado" here...
Hopefully noone “se ha desnucado” here…

A bit of a change of subject, but I said I would discuss food.  Food is important here, very important.  Life is fitted around meals, which should comprise a coffee and maybe a little snack for breakfast; a pre-lunch snack; lunch itself (a main meal); a late afternoon snack (if needed), and finally an evening meal.  Lunch in one of the multitude of university cafeterias consists of salad, a first course (rice/pasta/paella), a second course (something meaty with fries), a dessert, bread, and beer/wine/water to drink.  And how much?  Just 4€.  It’s not bad food either, and in a quantity that leaves you full for several hours.

Other excitements that have happened here include the state of pre-emergency (yellow level) when some seriously torrential rain had been sweeping the country.  In one town in the region some 40-odd centimetres of rain fell in an hour.  (It seems impossible, but that was what was quoted.)  Valencia was to be on standby; in the end it was only a few light showers.

Another curious observation has been the parking habits.  The system in the city, with it’s overcrowded streets and sparse parking, gives a new flavour to the process.  Double-parking is perfectly acceptable here, but with the proviso that you leave the handbrake off.  You park up alongside the kerbside-parked cars, get out, lock up and go.  Then if someone parked next to the kerb needs to get out, they push your car forwards or backwards out of the way and drive off.  If they need to move more than one double-parked car, so be it.  So curious to witness the first few times.
I also found out that as a result of the sheer volume of new foreign students arriving in Valencia they ran out of mobile phone numbers, and a delay occurred while new ones were allocated by the authorities.  This prompted me to do a bit of digging to find out just how many students there are here.  On the language course in Gandía there were 300, and it turns out in UPV there are 3000.  Add to that the other universities in Valencia and that’s a lot of Erasmus students.  A heck of a lot.

Apparently I have written some 1000 words, so I think this is a good place to leave off.  Hopefully what I’ve noted down so far gives some flavour to the life here, and now I’ve caught up more or less to the present the entries from now on will be a bit more directed.  Obviously I haven’t regaled everything that has happened, but if I remember anything of note, it’ll be added later.  Actually, already I need to write about the Spanish phenomenon of botellón, but that will arrive soon enough.

Valencia.  City of the future.  Or something.
Valencia. City of the future. Or something.

¡Hasta luego!

Written by Benjamin

October 4th, 2008 at 8:18 pm

Posted in Erasmus, Valencia

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