Wednesday, 13 June 2018

To print!

I am committing my blog to print! I don't know what the future holds. We have a new President in both Madrid and Barcelona. I was in London last week with Orlinda and in 3 weeks, Marta comes to visit me from Ukraine for 2 weeks.
I am sure I will post more here on the blog but I wrote this post as a way of closing off the book before I start off on new adventures. And, for sure, I will be writing about them here! And maybe there will be another book!
Steve

Sunday, 3 June 2018

A new President


As expected, Mariano Rajoy was defeated on Friday in a vote of confidence (Censura in Spanish) in the Senate  and we have a new President, Pedro Sánchez. He is good-looking - known sometimes as el Guapo - previously a basket-ball player and once rejected by his party two years ago only to return as leader again. Rajoy to me seems a decent man but lacking in the charisma that I think a leader requires. I agreed with his rigid stance to protect the law against the independistas in Catalunya who appeared to have no respect for the law by holding the contentious referendum on 1st October last year. Sánchez on the other hand, tends to play up to his reputation and to me seems rather vain. We will see what happens.
We have too many parties here. I don't mean fiestas, dancing! Not possible to have too many of those. We have too many political parties, each with their own agenda. From the far-left CUP to the political right of Partido Popular. But I would describe the PP as similar to the Conservative party in the UK, not extreme right. We don't have anything further right than the PP. But many people paint them with the spectre of Franco and that is disingenuous. Franco lives on only in political propaganda, the kind of things that happened in that era will never return. But it is a potent political weapon to link the two... PP and Franco. 
The vote of confidence was really all about the case of Gürtel but Catalunya was lurking in the background. The name of Gürtel came about because the businessman at the centre of the scandal was called, Correa, which is Spanish for belt. And for some reason the equivalent German word was adopted. I am shocked at what went on and the perpetrators have rightly been jailed.
I don't feel quite the same way about putting Catalan politicians in jail on remand. That is an understatement, I am very much in sympathy with the cause of politicians who naturally are now named, "political prisoners".It has been a long time without trial and many Catalans are justifiably angry about it.

Not wishing to appear too partisan, I suspect that a motive for the debate of censura was simply the ambition of Pedro Sánchez to be President. After the vote, supporters crowded around him in congratulations. This only served to reinforce my view. It was not something to celebrate, to bring down the President. During the voting, I saw young dipudados smirking and laughing as they called out "sí" in support. One having a photo taken on a phone as though it was some kind of a joke. This is a great and noble country, they should not treat it like that.
The future is bleak. Pedro Sanchéz does not have some kind of free reign with Spain. He is tied to other parties in his coalition, some of which want independence for Catalunya. He is subject to the judicirary and the Tribunal Constitucional which have not changed. 
One post in The Times comments section expressed a hope that the politicians will soon be released from jail. But this is not withing the remit of the government, it is controlled by the judiciary.
If he intends to do any kind of deal about independence with the independistas of Catalunya (He doesn't have to go far, they are part of his own coalition), he will be hearing fairly rapidly from the Tribunal Constitucional. He has often expressed a wish to change the Constitution to enable freedom to negotiate independence for Catalunya but he cannot do so with the PP, now in opposition strongly against any change.
A friends said to me that he thought the change of Government would be good news for Catalunya but I can't see any change in the status-quo because it is dictated by the Constitution of Spain. He can make generous offers of "dialogue" but that is all it will be and it will probably break down rapidly when Carles Puigdemont insists on independence. The same would have happened with Rajoy who offered talks but only within the law.
Why did Mariano Rajoy not resign on Thursday when he left Congress knowing that the vote was lost on account of the PNV (Patido Nacionalista Vasco) abandoning him? One commentator in La Vanguardia suggested that, because the vote of censure was against Rajoy personally and not against the PP, a change of leadership (maybe to Soraya
Sáenz de Santamaría, his deputy) would have swung the vote back in favour of a "No". Did the PP consult Albert Rivero the leader of the centre-right Ciutadanos to ask if they would support the "no" vote if Rajoy resigned? No, they did not. Maybe the PP felt that their cause was lost and they would have had to call elections anyway. Or maybe Rajoy simply refused to resign, insisting on remaining as leader albeit in opposition. However, El Punt Avui, the fiercely pro-independence Catalan newspaper, was clearly under the impression that the vote was against the PP which it sees as corrupt. But then it would!
So Rajoy stayed as leader and the vote on Friday morning as expected placed Pedro Sánchez immediately as President. The Constitution states that, if a party lodges a vote of censure (no confidence) then they must be prepared to take control in the event of it succeeding. One member of the PP was scathing about it, describing it as "entering the Moncloa by the back door" (in other words by not by winning an election). Sánchez is not even a diputado (MP, member of the Senate) and this is the first time we have had a President who is not a diputado. El Punt wrote, "This is the kind of comment we have come to expect from the PP..." Well, sure, I think that is allowed. It is called "politics" and El Punt is expert in that!

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

It's only ice-cream!

Temp de Flors, the annual flower festival in Girona has just closed and the city can return to normal after the many people who visit the city have gone home. Most of the flowers are not real anyway as they have to survive for 10 days, many of them outdoors.


One popular place to visit is Rocambolesc, the ice-cream shop run by the Roca brothers who own the famouse Celler Can Roca restaurant in Girona. But would you queue for well over half an hour just for an ice-cream? But this shop is famous, so I guess it is a rite of passage for some.


Finally they arrive at the shop! I often buy an ice-cream there, but only if there is no queue. They are delicioso with a selection of toppings.

Here is a photo to show the kind of chaos that occurs in Girona during the tourist season. Crazy! This is Carrer Santa Clara which runs in parallel with the Rambla which is on the other side of the river.

 I am not sure to what extent the uncertainty (I am being generous... chaos) with the Brexit negotiations and the political situation here are affecting my mood. In general I feel rather stressed and I have no obvious reason to feel that way. I am retired with a regular income and I am in good health.
I just received my new UK passport and, as expected, it still has "European Union" on the cover. But from 29th March next year, this will not be true, I will no longer be European. Obviously I am not going to be thrown out of Spain and I am fairly confident that my free health care will continue. But in theory, the health care is held up by a reciprocal agreement between the two countries as member states of the EU. And this will end next year, two years after Article 50 was declared when the UK started the process to leave the EU. What rights I continue to enjoy will rather depends on the rights that will be given to EU immigrants who are resident in the UK.

And then there is the ongoing political strife between the independistas in Catalunya and the central government in Madrid. But what makes me very stressed is talk of the "republic" of Catalunya when clearly it is still a dream. And road signs such as these below. I have to admit it really winds me up because "Republica Catalana" does not exist. Many visitors pass this way during the summer and they will believe it is true. It is on my regular bike ride.




Here, yellow is everywhere. People wear yellow ribbons in support of the politicians who are being help in prison on remand or who are in exile. Yellow was the theme of the festival of St Jordi last month and it was also prominent in Temp de Flors. Personally, I feel the same way: that it is wrong to hold politicians, or anyone, in jail for such a long time without trial. However, for local councils to display political symbols in public spaces is not permitted under the law. It states that public spaces are for everyone and not just for the party with the majority in the council. Celrà whose mayor is with the far-left and very independista CUP, flouts this law all over the place, as do Bordills and Sant Martí Vell, its neighbours. See the photos. Girona has yellow crosses planted in the banks of the river. But these councils do not recognise this law. As I suggest later, the distinction between the case of politicians in prison (yellow ribbons) and the push for independence is rather blurred and from my view these have become symbols for independence also.
As is well known, Carles Puigdemont fled to Brussels and is now stuck in Germany, unable to leave because Spain has lodged a request for extradition. The charges against all these politicians are very severe and I wonder if they realised quite the risk they were taking when they boldly declared independence after the 1st October referendum, which was illegal under the Spanish constitution. 
But to enact a declaration of independence is complicated. If they want to do it, why don't they just go ahead and declare the Republic of Catalunya? Now. The answer is, of course, they cannot do it without the cooperation of Spain and they are hardly likely to receive that. If the event actually went ahead, there would be a very extended period of negotiations about money, infrastructure etc. Just one small example, RENFE the railway company is Spanish as is ADIF which owns the tracks. The republic would automatically be outside the European Union and forced to create trade deals with various countries. And we only have to look at the situation in the UK to realise how complicated that can be. And meantime, the republic will rapidly run out of money. It already has a huge debt with Spain and that would have to be cleared.
Back to the yellow ribbons...... After 1st October last year and the declaration of independence, Madrid quickly annulled the declaration and imposed Article 155 which took direct control of Catalunya. Then Mariano Rajoy, the Prime Minister, took a gamble and set elections for just before Christmas in the hope that a more moderate government would prevail, led presumably by Inés Arrimadas, the leader of Cuitadanes which is centre-right. But a judge in Madrid probably swung the result in favour of the indpendistas by putting in jail, firstly the "two Jordis", followed by other prominent politicians. One or two, including of course, Carles Puigdemont the previous President, fled the country in order to avoid arrest. I am sure that the judge's decision changed the result of the election - the result was very close - because this rapidly became a  cause celèbre and everyone started wearing yellow ribbons in support of the politicians who are now labelled "political prisoners". This is not technically correct but try telling that to the people. 
And the other result of putting these people in jail without trial is that it is driving the desire for independence more strongly despite it being a separate issue. I will explain what I mean... the only justification for the Republic of Catalunya that I can see is if it is economically viable and I cannot see that in a million years. And putting politicians in jail doesn't change that. But the desire for independence is driven more and more by emotion, mainly anger. Heart over mind. And in general, the mind is better at making important decisions.

Now there is deadlock again because, although finally we have a new President chosen by Carles Puigdemont, he has embarked on a course of confrontation with the Government in Madrid by choosing 4 ministers who are either in jail or in exile. And of course, Madrid has said, "No way!" and continued applying Article 155. Quim Torra must have known that would happen so his move is described in some newspapers as "provocative". And some women are up in arms because they are poorly represented in the cabinet.

I have written a lot about politics but I hope I have been balanced. I have friends who strongly desire independence and I respect their view. The only danger to me is that it is very much driven by pride and hatred for Madrid without a cool hard look at the future.

My social scene has changed because I no longer organise the two groups, Girona Grapevine and Girona Social Meetup, and I don't go to the meetings either. There are one or two people who have been very unpleasant to me and they go to both groups. So I am out of it. Why put myself through it? In compensation, I spend time with my dear friend Orlinda! We have lots of fun together.

You have to look closely, Orlinda is mimicking the poster!


I am trying to get going on a project or two, I really need a project! I have two ideas. One is painting from music. In other words taking a specific piece of music and then representing it in a painting. People have done research on how to do this automatically in software so this is one line of thought that I am following. I even thought about writing an article, maybe in New Scientist. One slight problem is that music is "linear"; it moves forward in time but a painting does not. Maybe I will use video and art.
My other idea is not really practical for reasons of cost. I know that colouring books for adults are popular these days and I thought about doing the same, based on my pictures of Girona and selling it to tourists. I bought a book in Girona a week ago and it was exactly what I had in mind, 20 x 20 cm, 16 leaves (32 pages). But it was €4! I couldn't possibly get close, I would have difficulty making it less than €10 retail because I have to make money and I have to give commission to whoever is selling it. The shops here double the price of my greetings cards here, selling them for €4.40.
But I will create a sample and see if the Ajuntament is interested in the idea. But, who cares! The swimming pool in Celrà opens on 2nd June and that is where I will spend much of the summer!

I often travel to Girona on the train and, as usual yesterday, there was the usual throng of people attempting to get on before we had got off. It is so daft, are they worried that the train will leave without them, or that there won't be a seat left? But so many people get off at Girona, the carriage is usually virtually empty. And then, as the alarm bleeped to announce the doors were closing, a big guy ran frantically up the stairs and grabbed the doors as they were almost closed. He wrenched at the doors, another guy joined in. Someone waved frantically at the driver. You would imagine someone had fallen under the train rather than someone simply being late. I feared for the doors because the two young men were using a great deal of force. Finally the door opened enough for the guy to get in but I imagined that the mechanism could have been damaged. It was all so ridiculous.

SNCF, the French railway company has a rule for the TGV where carriage doors close 2 minutes before departure, or in London, gates to a platform close a fixed time before departure. But instead of people realising it makes sense to avoid situations like the above, they complain. Or they say that it is not fair on disabled people. I say, arrive earlier.

Two days ago I saw a young girl cross a busy road in front of the bus that I was boarding at Correos in Girona to return to Celrà. There was no way she could see what was coming because the bus obstructed her view. A car came along as she stepped onto the opposite kerb and beeped at her. She jumped in surprise. It was like Russian Roulette. A few seconds earlier and she would have been seriously injured. I thought she was about to board the bus after me. Her face was pale, a little sweaty, but she just gave me a blank look and walked out into the road. I couldn't do anything because I was inside the bus. If I had changed her speed, I could have caused an accident. She wandered off, seemingly with no great idea of where she was going. Drugs maybe?

Fortunately I have never seen a serious accident but sometimes I see..... "But for the grace of God". A few seconds either way and, boom. There is a dangerous crossing close to the station in Girona in Caraterra de Barcelona. People see that the traffic has stopped in one direction and assume that it is OK to cross. Not OK! Traffic still comes in the opposite direction at high speed - the traffic is held at red in the other direction because there is a left filter. Wait for the green man!

I was waiting at a crossing with a friend a week or two ago. It was on a corner of a street and, as the light for the crossing turned to show a green man, a young woman pushed her baby in a pram into the road onto the crossing and was about to follow it when a car came around the corner at speed, jumped the red light and narrowly missed the pram. I have seen something similar before! A woman with a pram on a crossing. And they push the baby onto the crossing while remaining safely on the curb.

In Colombia, where I was staying, there was a very steep hill, too steep for me to ascend on my bike. Once, when I was at the bottom of the hill, I saw two young boys hitching a lift on a truck going up the hill. They were hanging on by their fingernails. Had they slipped, they would have ended up under the car following.

Finally, things that annoy me. Well.. apart from having to yell at people with phones, "Mirar donde vas!" I hate seeing bikes on pavements in Girona, sometimes at high speed, especially big hunky guys wearing full paraphernalia. The danger is, someone coming out of a shop onto a pavement and a bike comes at speed down the pavement. I have seen several close shaves, one including with me. Now I look both ways when coming out of a shop, also my local bar because kids fly down the path on skateboards as well as bikes. Isn't it sad? When I was very young, I was taught the highway code about looking both ways when crossing the road. I never imagined that later in my life, it would also apply to coming out of a shop!

Now that summer is coming, I guess, in the streets of Girona, I will be treated to the view of bum cheeks falling out of short shorts. Do girls think it is sexy?? 

And I get annoyed with people yawning and thinking it is OK to show the entire contents of their mouth.

I don't normally write about things that annoy me because it is negative and life is wonderful, fantastic. It is just that I am a little bit stressed these days. I am sure the Celrà pool will change that. From time to time, neighbours and friends in my village say things like, "two weeks..." with a knowing smile. We are all counting down to 2nd July!

I read in the news from time to time about possible use of AI robots in customer services. I can promise, they have already arrived and they are not very bright. To avoid litigation, I won't mention the magazine but about 2 weeks ago, I made a payment of €46 for a subscription. I received an automatic email to say that I now had unlimited access to the magazine. Not true. When I exchanged emails with customer services, they said that it could take up to 14 working days. "So your email is not correct?" I wrote. There followed lots of emails where, each time, a different person wrote to me. They said that they couldn't trace my payment when it had obviously arrived. Their use of English was very confused ("....I will escalate it urgently to accounts department". Did anything happen? Nooo.) In exasperation, I took up my right to cancel within the "cooling off" period. I fought valiantly and finally got my refund only for, the very next day, they took another €46, completely unauthorised. I am still fighting valiantly to get my second refund back but they are getting confused between the two payments.
A typical message: "I can confirm that your screenshot shows the €46 that was taken on the 11th May 2018". I know it shows the €46 - I sent the screenshot!! Another glass of wine and I will be fine.


Sorry.. another pet hate. The local council (Ajuntament) in Celrà has a brilliant scheme for collecting rubbish. Every night, there is a collection of a different type of refuse. Organic, plastic, paper, etc. We also have a rubbish dump very near by. And they leave this mobile unit once a week in different areas of the village. And what happens if a compartment in that module is full? People simply leave the bag on the top of the unit or next to it. And the guy who took it away left the bags on the grass, of course. And I hope they stay there to shame the neighbours! If a compartment is full, then you can't leave your rubbish. I think that is fairly obvious. Sometimes people leave a discarded sofa, or enormous cartons next to the glass recycling bin. In the UK, all of this would be called fly-tipping.
But here there is no excuse, the Ajuntament has devised a wonderful scheme. And still people abuse it.
Half an hour later, that pile of rubbish had gone, presumably removed by our local council. And I guess the neighbours were wise to that. I am a tyrant! If I had been Mayor, I would have left it to rot!! But they are realistic. In the UK, I think a typical collection is once a week. Even organic waste. Here, it is every two days!

Recently a company installed fibre optic cables in the ducts under the streets here. They discarded bundles of ropes which they used to pull the fibre optic cables through the ducts. These ropes were dumped in the small rubbish bins in the locality. Amazing! They didn't think to take it away. In any case, it was surely re-useable.


Finally, about being transgender. A friend of mine asked me if I wanted to be "she" and change my name to Stephanie. She was a little confused. I said that some guys feel "trapped" inside a male body, they want to "transition" into being a woman, undergo surgery. To go out as a woman. To insist on using womens' toilets. For me that would be ridiculous, I am obviously a guy. I don't have such strong feelings. My friend Nomel in the Philippines is very female in appearance and can easily pass off as a girl and no one would know. But.... A big but. A large part of me is female - I am not macho-man. And I am having enormous fun exploring that part of me now, because I can. Earlier in my life, I had a job. I couldn't turn up at a client's office with blue fingernails. And of course, times have changed too. In my opinion too far. There is a lot of talk about transphobia... or homophobia! Someone I know very well thinks being transgender is weird. That's OK. Of course it is OK to feel that way. I like Bach organ music, do I expect everyone else to be the same? Many people are uncomfortable with gay men kissing in public (I am too) and, for certain, the physical act (haha, definitely not in public!) I can understand that. Often, newspapers maybe through laziness, describe a time in the UK when "...homosexuality was illegal". It was never illegal, the act was illegal.
 
Although it is within the law in Spain, I still feel uncomfortable with overt expressions of affection in public (do you like my euphemism?) whether it be between gays or heterosexuals. I wouldn't do it.

Last time I came back from Ukraine, I read an article in the flight magazine about the history of makeup, for men. I have makeup. I go to makeup shops and get advice which is lots of fun. There is a long and noble tradition of makeup for men going right back to the Egyptians. But maybe my motive is a little different, to appear a little more feminine. I have lots of womens' clothes but most of them are not specifically female. Long tops, skinny jeans. We all have legs. But summer is coming with many opportunities to be girly! (at 74!) The colours of womens' clothes are brighter. I love Stradivarius which is almost all for women. The colours. Fantastic!


I couldn't resist adding another photo of Orlinda!

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Alone in Kyiv!

One thing I forgot to mention in the previous post is that I was in Ukraine during Orthodox Easter, so it was a holiday weekend. Many trains were fully booked and Marta hadn't booked a return rail ticket because her preferred train at 6pm was full. After we returned from the Residence (this was Friday 6th), she rang a friend in her town and he agreed to come and pick her up. So we both took the Metro to the end of the line, Lisova in an easterly direction, where they had arranged their rendezvous. By chance, he was passing but unable to park as we came out of the Metro station. So we bade a hasty farewell at 6.30pm and I took a train back to the centre. 
I had been in two minds whether to go directly back to the hotel or go to a concert in The National House of Organ and Chamber Music. It is a large Gothic style church with an organ at the east end. As I passed Maiden station, I realised that the timing was perfect to go the the concert, so I jumped off the train and took another metro to Olympiyska. I took a 20 minute walk to the station. I told Marta previously that I might go to the concert but, when I arrived at the church and bought my ticket, the battery in my Ukrainian phone was flat and I was unable to tell her of my plans. That was a great shame because she was expecting me to go directly back to the hotel and was anxious that something had happened to me. But I knew that the duration of the concert would be 90 minutes and calculated that I would be back at the hotel by 9.30pm. I was then able to contact her, by which time she had arrived back home.
The concert comprised a number of Bach organ pieces and the main item, the Pergolesi Stabat Mater which uses two female singers, one soprano and one contralto. The orchestra of two violins, viola, bass and harpsichord was, I think, their resident backing group. The keyboard player was a young girl but the others were older men, I assume retired. The two violins were not always in tune with each other when playing unison, which rather spoilt the effect. The two singers were excellent. A young man in evening dress came on to announce each piece. The organist was a rather large woman. Forgive my mentioning it but it was very difficult to avoid! She played the Bach Tocata and Fugue in D minor faultlessly.

Saturday was a day at leisure, as the travel brochures describe it. Marina was due to arrive at 6pm so I was free all day. The weather every single day was superb so I paid for a late checkout at the Ibis Hotel and took the Metro into the centre, this time getting off at Arsenalena which is one stop beyond Maiden. Then I took a walk down to Mariinskiy Park which overlooks the river. I visited briefly the places that I planned to visit with Marina. I had lunch in my favourite restaurant which Marta introduced me to - Kamoucha, it has a 50s theme and a colour scheme which I remember is called Gingham. Their theme is a red and white check fabric.
I went back to the Ibis Hotel, checked out at 5pm and walked down to the central station to meet Marina. For reasons of economy, we were staying in Hotel Florida which is a little out of town, near to Nyvki Metro. Although it was cheaper than the Ibis, the standard was excellent. We took a taxi to the hotel and had a meal in the evening.
On Easter Sunday, we went to a blessing outside a church at Kontrakto Plosohova which is a large square slightly to the north of Maiden. We then retraced the route I had taken the previous day. All these photos were taken in The National Culture and History Centre overlooking the river.

The Easter custom is for people to bring bread and painted eggs to be blessed. Expect to get wet if you go to one of these ceremonies!

This is a refectory and beyond, you can see a church attached.






We went shopping in Ocean Plaza. Not exactly accurate as we didn't buy anything! I have bought lots of clothes recently, so there was nothing I needed. We returned to the hotel by Metro and then a bus. But once or twice, I walked between the Metro and the hotel, it was only about 20 minutes.
 
The original plan for Monday was for us to stay in Kyiv all the time untill I came back to Spain on Wednesday 11th but Marta suggested I visit her in Nizhyn on Monday which was a holiday. For a while I thought about leaving Marina in Kyiv but instead the plan was for us both to go to Nyzhin. I suggested an early train but, at that point I left home for Kyiv and decided to book trains later. Unfortunately, by the time we decided when to travel, the trains were fully booked. It didn't help that I read "09.00pm" as "09.00" online - I thought we had plenty of time to buy tickets. So neither of us went to Nizhyn and instead I took Marina to Mezhyhirya Residence because she wanted to visit it too. The weather was still magnificent. We took the Metro to Herovi Dnipra and a small mini-bus was waiting. This time, we paid less but the driver waited till the seats were filled. This was no great hardship as I went to get a coffee.



 We traced the same route on bikes as I had taken with Marta but in the reverse direction!



We stayed till about 5pm and then took a car back to the Metro, this time I paid a little extra (the same as I had paid with Marta) in order to save us waiting for more passengers. There were very many visitors, it being a bank holiday Monday but because the site is so huge, they were soon scattered around the park. We waited an age to get some food when we were down by the river. The small kiosk was not really up to the task.
Next day, Tuesday, was a slight anti-climax. Marina had a cold and we didn't go to the centre till around lunch time, so that gave us very little time to walk around before having to return to the hotel to check out. Marina's train was at 6pm and we left the hotel in plenty of time at 4.30pm. I saw her onto her train and then took the Skybus to the airport. As the bus was leaving the centre the road passes by the railway and, at 6.10pm Marina's train passed by!
The rest of my journey was routine! The Skybus drops off passengers at International Departures on the top level (of 3) and that is where Ligena Hotel picks up its guests, so there was no need to enter the airport. I rang the hotel, their min-bus arrived after 15 minutes and very soon, I was having a beer in the restaurant. For some reason, I slept badly but I managed to catch up on the plane. The hotel took me to the airport at 7.30am and I took the regular Barcelona flight at 9.55. 
And now, I will not be travelling much for the next few months. I like to travel to France but the strikes on SNCF will make that difficult. I can travel to France with my passport copy but I can't fly anywhere for 4 weeks until I get my new passport.



Friday, 13 April 2018

Lots to tell you!

In Kyiv
This morning I carefully placed my passport in an envelope and posted it to the Passport Office in the UK! So I will not be travelling for a month, at least outside Europe. That is the time that I have to wait for my new passport to arrive. The current version expires on 10th September so this is a good time to renew it because I don't normally go outside Europe during the summer. Why should I? It it is perfect.
I just got back from Ukraine but I didn't write about it until now because it is much easier writing on my computer at home and not on a laptop in a hotel room!

In my last post I wrote about difficulties with my two social groups in Girona. I tried to find solutions but that was not possible. So Girona Social Meetup has a new Organiser, I am not a member, and Girona Grapevine... well they just turn up! I was rather upset by one guy who suggested that I maintained the Girona Grapevine website for my own pleasure, to feel important! Within about 2 minutes, it was no more. I have other things with which to occupy myself. My annoyance lasted for a very short time!


I have two friends in Ukraine: Marina in Kharkiv to the east, very close to the Russian border. I have visited her there many times. And I have another friend, Marta who lives in Nizhyn which is about 90 minutes by train from Kyiv. Both are around 30 years of age. I am sure I have said before, it is a huge pleasure having young female friends but of course, there is no physical relationship. Hey, I am 74. But my mental age has no age. I know that "Kyiv" is spelt "Kiev" sometimes but it is simply a transliteration of the Cyrillic, київ. The use of Ukrainian is more common in Kyiv, Marina in the east speaks Russian. Marta uses Ukrainian. But both of them speak both languages.

I decided to base myself in Kyiv and not go to Kharkiv this time. That way, I could see both my friends. I arrived last Wednesday in the evening, booked into the Ibis Hotel near to the railway station and relaxed with a beer. There is an airport bus, Skybus, which takes 40 minutes from the airport to the station and then there is a 20 minute walk to the hotel.

Marta arrived by train next day at mid-day and we spent the afternoon in a small tour bus. It was great to see her again! Last year we went to Lviv together and we are very relaxed with each other. She checked into the Ibis Hotel and we had a meal together in the restaurant. She felt rather uncomfortable because the restaurant was almost empty and two of the waitresses were simply standing near by watching us. Too attentive! Naturally, people sometimes assume that the relationship is about something more than friendship! But I think she simply didn't like being watched. I was facing in the opposite direction so I was not subject to their gaze.

Next day Marta looked up excursions to Mezhyhirya Residence which is where the previous president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych lived in stupendous luxury. After the protests and violence in Feburary 2014 centred in Maiden Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), he fled to Moscow, Petro Porochenko became President and Ukraine turned more towards Europe and away from Russia. How is it possible to write in one paragraph what happened four years ago? The police fired on the protesters and almost 100 people died. It is impossible to visit the square without thinking about those events. Photos of those who died are posted on the hill above Maiden. The paths around the square still have many paving blocks missing as a reminder that these were used as missiles. The building which was burnt down is still covered with a huge fabric screen with a message of freedom, an image of chains broken. I am sure I have a photo from a previous visit - I will look for it later.

After breakfast on Friday, Marta was searching the internet on her phone. She reckoned that we needed to take the Metro to the end of the line to the north of Kyiv, Heroiv Dnipra, and then there would be transport waiting to take us to the residence. And she was right! Dnipro is the river of Kyiv, more about that later. We took a very comfortable car with only the two of us in the back seat, the journey was about 20 minutes.

The estate is enormous and we hired bikes. I've added lots of photos here which I hope you enjoy looking at.

The whole time I was in Ukraine, the weather was superb! Blue sky every day, a big high-pressure area sitting above me! I was expecting it to be cold but, in fact, the weather was better than in Barcelona. 
 




These first two photos are when we visited Maiden Nezalezhnosti after the bus trip.




I know it looks like the sea, but this is looking north up the Dnipro River. In parts it is very wide.


I bet they had some great parties here! I can just imagine the large black limousines with tinted windows parked up by the river.












 

Saturday, 10 March 2018

A Sunday morning in Girona!

Wow, I cannot remember for a long time having so many things stacked up against me. I have lost my two social groups - admittedly, the Meetup group through my own choice... however, it was more or less inevitable from October, there was tension with one member, the same as below, and anyway apart from that I felt that the good times had passed - 3 years, over 200 meetups! But Girona Grapevine, which I have taken care of for about four years and also at a time previously, and which has been in existence in Girona for about 17 years, is no more. A member of the group, and also a member of the Meetup group where I was Organiser (and where she gained many friends) created a competing meetup with her own group at the same time in an alternative location. But I was for ever trying to persuade Girona Grapevine to find a better place. So why did they not say to me that they have found somewhere better? (I was online all the time I was away). And I would have been delighted. But when the members went, they effectively joined the other group. Es lo que hay.
My Meetup group.... I gave them 3 years but they would not give me one week to sort out a problem with our regular venue - I was on the point of coming back from Colombia. It is odd really, I fell out with both groups for a very similar reason. In both cases, I was the Organiser which involves a great deal of time in the background, but that seemed to have counted for very little. I feel hurt by this experience but it will soon pass. Adelante.
Change of subject! I have floaters in my left eye which blur my sight as they float across my view. Floaters happen as one gets older, solid jelly which floats around the aqueous solution inside the eyeball. Normally after a time, the brain gets used to it but, after 6 months, this still affects the focus of my eye which is very annoying. But if that is the greatest of my health problems, I am lucky.
I have fallen out with one European friend. So I am very sad. But I have re-made contact with a good friend here in Girona.
So I am rather depressed. But I go to Kiev, Ukraine in April. My head is foggy, I cannot paint and I am drinking too much in an attempt to dull the pain. Except that it does not do that. I have a pain inside which I don't understand, it has been with me for many years. Don't worry, when I say that I am drinking too much, I am talking about wine, not a bottle of whiskey in a day!
I am sure things will get better. They usually do!

Update, Sunday morning...... The sadness over my social groups is wearing off and I think I will go and see my friends at church in Barcelona today. It is 6.45am so I have time for some breakfast before catching a bus to Girona at 8am. Then I take the fast AVE train to Barcelona. Haha, I am still at home and it is 9.30am. I went back to bed and this morning I will praise God on my bike! Ahh, that option didn't work out either! As soon as I walked out of the front entrance of the flats, I nearly got knocked over by the wind. Now I am full of negative thoughts, the floaters in my left eye affect my desire to do any painting and the possible loss of my cathedral paintings also creates a negative feeling.

The following images are from a logo that Alexander, Nini's husband, drew for his cake making which he does from home. The first is a photo which they use on their Facebook page but I promised that I would design an artwork in Adobe Illustrator when I got back here. That is the second image as you can probably guess. Now I know the customer is always right but I was a bit taken aback when Nini wrote that they are the same. And they prefer the photo. It is not even complete, they have clipped the image. Or maybe it is a pride thing - Nini has lots of the not-so-good type of pride! I did offer to make any changes they want because each element of the graphic is on a separate layer which can be switched on or off... or modifed. The lines were hand-drawn on the screen and are made up of anchor points and handles so that they can be pushed around easily. Or Illustrator can import scanned artwork for when I draw it on paper, which I prefer. Doing it on-screen was quicker so it is just as well I used that method!
I am not upset, nothing like that. I had fun doing it, it only took me a couple of hours. But it is interesting to see the difference in their view compared to here. I am sure that if I had done it for a friend here they would say that the graphic is much better.... but maybe ask for changes. That is allowed! But I can see what Nini is thinking, maybe the graphic design is too strong, she wanted something "homely" and slightly amateurish. She said the colours were too strong but 2 minutes in Photoshop and they could have had pastel colours to match the title (pastel in Spanish is "cake").... But, all the same, that is another thing that is making me sad. I would have loved to have done something for them which didn't involve money.
 


On my Wacom Tablet, it is easy! I draw with a stylus directly on the screen.
Most of the time, I don't use a keyboard, the controller is behind the mouse pad on charge.
 

I now have my ears pieced with two rings as "keepers" which have to stay in for four months. At the moment, I look a little like Jack Sparrow. I have had my hair coloured back to what I had originally last year - it got bleached in the Colombian sun! And I now have red finger-nails!

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Back home! (updated with a photo)

A B787 Dreamliner ready for its long journey to Barcelona
with a passenger waiting in the departure lounge!
This is the beautiful plane that brought me back across the Atlantic to Spain. The wings of the Boeing 787 are very elegant, swept back with a slight upturn at the end. The flight was very fast on account of an exceptional tail wind, the jet-stream, of 300km/h. That makes quite a difference as you can imagine. The regular airspeed of the aircraft is about 900 km/h so we were actually travelling at close to 1200 km/h ground speed. The outbound flight east to west in December was about 11 hours but this return flight was only 8h45! Barely time to get some sleep! This aircraft will have had a tough time when it returned to Colombia a few hours later.
Now that I am back home, I can reflect on my amazing two months in Colombia! As always, I had a volcanic relationship with Nini but somehow I continue having great affection for her, I am not so fickle as to end a relationship because the other person gets angry or upset sometimes. She has her reasons.. and maybe even she doesn't even understand what they are. And I have a new friend in Mayerlin.
There were one or two disasters but I am back here, in good health. That is the main thing. I spent a lot of money but I had lots of fun. My main disaster was the loss of my Spanish phone in a taxi which I wrote about earlier. It was 1st January, after a party, suffering from jet-lag, being dragged around two supermarkets. It is amazing I was still standing. I had an argument with the driver because he couldn't understand Google Maps on my phone. And as he drove away... agggh. No phone. Later I realised I could have dropped it in the street. That was definitely a low point.
I had to spend €430 to bring my little family back from Buenaventura by air because they couldn't face the bus journey but I wasn't looking forward to it very much either.
I think I lost €145 in an ATM (Cajero). I packed my Barclays Bank electronic pass (Pin Sentry) rather badly and when I arrived in Colombia, the display was damaged and I couldn't log into the account, which is what I was using most of the time. On one occasion, I went to withdraw money from a cajero of Bancolombia in the Éxito supermarket. Everything went fine until the moment when the money exits, except that it didn't. And there was no printed receipt. The terminal software crashed and I got an error message on the screen. I was very concerned and rang the phone number on the terminal, no reply, then I was cut off. I rang another number, no reply. I took photos. I had no way to check if the money had been taken from the account due to the loss of my Pin-sentry but now I can see that it has. People worried about my being robbed at gun-point but it was more prosaic than that - I was robbed by an ATM. I can't reclaim the money because I can't find the photos.
 So the bill for unexpected costs is about €800. But, if one goes to a far-flung foreign country, it is reasonable to expect that the risks are greater than visiting a great-aunt in Gloucester who will make you tea and ask if you want to use the toilet when you arrive. It is ironic really, I took out insurance but they are no fools. The least risk but the greatest cost is an accident or illness. What happens more frequently and which is not covered is leaving a phone in a taxi!
These were the (soon forgotten) low points. I argued with Nini at times. At this moment her fridge is empty on account of lack of money and she got annoyed with me because the spaghetti took too long to cook when I made them supper. I continue to love her for some strange reason! Or maybe because of that!

The high points? Well, as it happens, they were the times when I was solo but not for that reason. I enjoy company but the high point for me was going to Bogotá twice and visiting the Museo del Banco de la Republica de Colombia. And also Sta Marta. The beach was great but I learnt a lot about the indigenous people who live in the Sierra Nevada.
Regrets? Now, this I hesitate to write because it is rather personal but I really wanted to help the daughter of Nini's sister. Both sisters live in the same house together with their three children. They and their friends never read this blog and you don't know them. So I feel that I can safely write about them. The young girl is about four years old and suffers from HPV (HPV = human papillomavirus). And as far as I know it is not curable.... by conventional medicine. The young girl not only shares my name but also my nickname when I was very young. She is Stephanie but she is often called Titi. I believe with God's help I can make her better. But I provide only the conduit. So, when I describe God, what am I saying?
I believe in God "all around", not "up there". I spoke to Nini's sister a lot on the day I left and she accepted gladly much of what I was saying despite my talking too much! And I so much wanted to put my hand on Titi's shoulder for healing but either she didn't understand or she was afraid. My fingers were tingling and my hands felt a strange kind of power, focused. This is what Jesus taught to his disciples; to heal. We all have this ability to a lesser or greater extent but it comes from God. I cannot accept the human, personal image of God, sending his only son to earth. It is too literal. I believe that Jesus taught that we are all divine, God in us. Much of the creed of the Christian church comes from St Paul's interpretation of the teaching of Jesus anyway because there is no direct written record of what Jesus said. Not even in the well-documented history of Rome. I was brought up in a Christian family and I accepted the conventional teaching for many years, but with many doubts. I well remember coming back from an evangelical summer camp in my teens and telling my father about my conversion. "I am a Christian," I announced on the way back from the station. He replied that he always assumed I was! As though it was something inherited.
People often ask the question, "How can God allow suffering, illness in the world.. ". The answer in my view is that God does not control what happens here on earth as though it is some giant video game. Nini believes that God has plans for her in the future. My view is that her future is in her hands (taking into account that she has no money, neither has her husband!)
I often ask myself the question, am I seeking to cure Titi for my own glory or simply because I am so sad and I want to help her? (She has to go back regularly for surgery on her throat and she has no voice on account of her vocal chords being damaged). Maybe you think I am crazy to imagine that it is possible... but I believe it is possible. Jesus taught that it is possible.

I do not imagine God as some kind of telephone exchange where people make supplications to him to make someone better ("...if it is your will"). And then God gives a thumbs-up or thumbs-down like an emperor at the Games. I believe prayer is peer-to-peer. Person to person. You send your healing thoughts, your prayers, directly to that person. Now, I regret that I cannot put my hand on Stephanie but for sure I imagine doing it from 8000km away (with prayer, it is no distance) in the hope that it will help make her better. That is praying for her. But I do it directly to her. In the secular world it is called, "Absent Healing" and of course, in the religious world, it is called "Prayer". I believe they are one and the same thing. 
I have a mantra which is partly borrowed from a book I read a little while ago.
Before you die, make sure you do something amazing. That is my intention. But it is as though I am hearing someone shouting at me from the other side of a brick wall, I can't hear the words clearly. What are you saying to me? Go and play golf, sit on a sofa, relax, watch TV. No, I don't think so.