The secret society of Valenciano-speakers

First page of exercises in the most basic textbook I can find

First page of exercises in the most basic textbook I can find


I have made quite a bit of progress over the last couple of years in Xàtiva learning Spanish. Although I still have a huge amount to learn, I no longer worry about having to answer the phone or go to the shops and ask for something. (Thanks to my teachers, Aarón and Saffron; and my intercambio partners, Eva and her sister Neus!)

So I have been contemplating starting to learn the local language, Valenciano (which is almost identical to Catalan, which is spoken in Catalunya, the area around Barcelona). Continue reading

Alternatives to Skype

Since Microsoft took over Skype, the quality of the Mac version has suffered terribly. The quality of Skype video calls deteriorates during the call, making the picture and sound quality unusable after 30 – 60 minutes.

Ruth and I are using Apple’s FaceTime and ooVoo. The quality of FaceTime connections is better than Skype. For ooVoo.com, it’s too early to say, but so far it looks promising. Skype, for now, is not worth using.

Procesión general del Santo Entierro – Xàtiva 2013

We went to the Good Friday “General Procession of the Holy Burial of Christ” in Xàtiva yesterday. The procession lasted about two hours.

Spain still maintains a lot of its traditions and there are processions and festivals in Xàtiva several times every year. I love them, as they usually involve the participants dressing up in traditional costumes. I went to the Fallas celebrations in Valencia a couple of weeks ago, which also involve processions in the traditional costumes, but those are modelled on medieval finery, these ones are based on religious dress, especially the “Capirotes” which were worn by the Spanish Inquisition.

Crisis – what crisis?

Zebra crossing for traffic from 2 houses

Zebra crossing for traffic from 2 houses

Everyone is talking about “The (Economic) Crisis” in Spain. Almost every day there are programs on the radio about how people are affected, and people are being evicted from their homes by banks because they can’t pay their mortgages.

But someone forgot to tell our local government. Last week they resurfaced the road junction and installed a new zebra crossing 500m from our house. The road it helps pedestrians cross has two houses on it – one is only used at the weekend and not at all in the winter. So it is obviously high priority to provide a crossing with so much traffic visiting those houses…

A short update

I’ve had a couple of “complaints” that I haven’t posted anything recently. That’s mainly because I am feeling uninspired blogging-wise. However, it doesn’t mean we’ve been idle over Christmas and the New Year. On the contrary – we had a little party for some of our new friends in Spain on the Sunday before the Christmas weekend where we served English and German Christmas cookies and Glühwein (mulled wine), which was a big hit with the locals. Unfortunately my eyes are too big for my stomach – and everyone else’s too, so I bought far too much food and still have quite a lot of Christmas food to eat up here!

On Christmas day we had two invitations – one in the afternoon to have British Christmas dinner (I have to say “British” because we were invited by a Scottish guy and he gets a bit touchy when we refer to things as “English”!), which was with all the trimmings, and then in the evening we went round to my Spanish teacher’s house to meet her family and neighbours and have some Spanish nibbles. Most of the conversation not explicitly directed at us was in Valenciano, so we will definitely have to make an effort soon to learn at least the basics of Valenciano, otherwise we will not able to participate in many conversations in this part of Spain. Christmas was quite a difference from last year, when we were in the throws of unpacking and assembling furniture after our move to Spain! Much more pleasant. I have to admit that even 12 months after unpacking here, we still have quite a lot of sorting contents of cupboards to do…

In the time between Christmas and the New Year Ruth started work on a sister-quilt for the one we already had in the guest room – with a similar red, white and black color scheme. The quilt is not quite finished, the hanging sleeve needs making still. You can see the quilt on Ruth’s blog. We also bought some curtain material to make roman blinds for the windows and terrace doors in the lounge. We’re not big fans of curtains generally, but there is quite an expanse of glass in the lounge, and at night in winter that is a lot of black glass to look at!

I have also been making a new web site for Saffron’s (my Spanish teacher) husband. He runs a car valeting company and the first phase of the site is up and running – we have to add another 2-3 pages, but we thought it would be good to launch the site already and let Google find and index it. Once the Spanish / English version is complete, I am going to translate it into German too.

Garden 2.0

In September we had experienced a pretty bad “gota fria“, a storm which produces an incredible amount of rain in a short space of time. We had had heavy rain last autumn, but this was much heavier. In fact in Gandia, near here, several people were injured when a ferris wheel came down, and off Valencia ships were stranded on the coast. Over 200 litres of water per square meter came down. As a result, we had a lot of damage in the garden (those photos were originally uploaded so that our builder and the architect could see the damage).

We’d been waiting until two or three weeks ago to have the damage repaired – we needed a period of dry weather. The repairs finally started at the end of November and have now been finished – you can see them above. We have had drains inserted around the drive surface, and a 33cm diameter pipe laid to take the water to storm drains at the back of the house. We also had problems with some decorative wooden sleepers at the side of the house which had floated away when we had heavy rain. They were good at slowing down the torrent of water, and preventing the sand being washed away, but of course wood floats. So we had them replaced with rows of stone set in concrete – they should also slow the water down, but definitely won’t float!

Now we just need to have some more heavy rain to test the changes!

Our first pomegranate

We’ve two pomegranate trees in the garden, and the larger one (in the foreground below) produced one fruit this year (which is not bad considering it was only planted last November). Unfortunately, I didn’t think to photograph the fruit until I had started opening it to try the seeds.

The pomegranate tree. The second one is smaller, behind the grass with yellower leaves.


I found an article on the web which seemed to offer a simple way to get the seeds out (other methods include immersing it in water – that seemed a lot of hassle).

After scoring the skin and starting to split the segments open


There are lots of ways you can use the seeds, so we hope we get many more fruits next year!
It didn’t take long to open, and then I ate the seeds straight from the chopping board with a spoon. Here’s my harvest from one pomegranate:

One pomegranate’s worth of seeds!

We are living in anomalous times

Growth of GDP per capita in the USA 1300 – 2100

The graph above comes from Is US economic growth over? Faltering innovation confronts the six headwinds by Robert J Gordon. He points out that growth of GDP in the UK between 1300 and 1750 was extremely low, and the growth since then (measured using the USA’s figures) (the start of the industrial revolution) is probably a blip in the curve, which is already dropping back to the “norm” again.

Gordon sees three waves of innovation which fuelled the growth:

  1. Steam and railroads (from 1750 to 1830)
  2. Electricity, internal combustion engine, running water, indoor toilets, communications, entertainment, chemicals and petroleum (from 1870 to 1900)
  3. Computers, the web, and mobile phones (from 1960 to the present)

He thinks growth in GDP will return to pre 1800 levels unless we discover a new technology or resource to enable us to continue the rapid growth of the last 250 years.

It costs $5 to download the paper, or you can see a summary of it here.

Could be a cold winter again

Schmitten – Nov. 2010.
Lots more white stuff to come in the next years?

Last winter was pretty cold in Xàtiva – temperatures down to -6°C at night. And we had some cold winters in the last 2-3 years in Schmitten as well. It looks like that could be the trend. The Guardian ran an article last Friday saying that the loss of summer ice in the Arctic was expected to lead to more extreme weather conditions in northern Europe:
The record loss of Arctic sea ice this summer may mean a cold winter for the UK and northern Europe. The region has been prone to bad winters after summers with very low sea ice, such as 2011 and 2007, said Jennifer Francis, a researcher at Rutgers University…

Energy is not going to get cheaper in the coming years, so heating bills are likely to rise. This week in Germany oil for central heating has fallen slightly in price, but at over 95 cents / liter it’s not cheap (2 years ago, in December 2010 – when oil is usually more expensive – we paid 69 cents a liter).