A few musings from St Kilda

Monday, 31 August 2009

Photo Faux Pas

Here's an offering from Little Chef advertising their Great British Summer Menu. I don't think someone was being too observant when they proof read the ad. Look at the happy family in the car. What's wrong?

It's a 50s family, with dad at the wheel of his American convertible and mum dressed up in the latest US fashion, parked up in the right hand side of the road ready to drive into the sunset. A wonderful scene from 50s middle-class America - all advertising the traditional values of the Great British Summer Menu! I wonder if anybody in Little Chef has noticed yet - unless they are suggesting that their Great British Summer Menu isn't British at all.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The Search for the Sub-Euro Litre - FAILED

Here on the continent, diesel is cheaper than petrol. When we started out in France 3 weeks ago, it was possible to get diesel for 98 cents so I made it our aim to see if we could always fill with diesel that retails for less than an euro a litre. Most petrol stations sell it for more than a euro but supermarkets do sell it for less. It all went well as we got to Spain - the maximum we ever paid was 99 cents a litre and mostly paid 97 or 98. But tragedy hit as we returned to France - diesel had gone up and I filled this morning at 1.009 euros a litre and I think things will get worse as we go north.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Preserved or Living?

Peniscola Castle dominates the old town that stands wthin its walls; the sea surrounding it on three sides with the modern town spreading away along the beach. It's a typical old- fashioned Spanish town that's been "prettified" for the tourists. The castle entry fee was a paltry 3.50 Euros - so what ruined heap of stones lay inside? Astonishingly it is an architectural treasure and still the town's key public building, with a ceremonial chanber, an art gallery, exhibition space, a church and an open-air theatre. There are a few smaller rooms where there are exhibition items telling the story of the castle.

It's equivalent in England would be a preserved castle with suitable antique furnishings in place (or nothing at all); magnificently frozen in time with a fifteen quid entry fee. Not in Peniscola. They've kept this as a living building, useful to the community which owns it. Building preservationists from the UK would be upset by what they would see as compromises the Spanish have made to keep this building useful to the modern world. But what's better, to the modern world. But what's better; keeping a preserved relic as a landmark, or giving this building what what its architects planned: to have something that is a statement about the town?

Why do I say this? Because preservation of churches too often tries to freeze a building in time rather than recognising that if it is to remain what it is; the centre of a dynamic, changing community, then it needs to adapt with the times as well as having deference to its history. The older the church building, the more it reflects and should reflect centuries of adaption to changing times, as it continues to be at the centre of the community. So why do building preservationists feel thay should fossilise our buildings in time? They see the building, but don't recognise the dynamic faith of the people that built and then worshipped there. Perhaps that has been our fault in not ensuring that our fellowships are dynamic and central in the community.

On one hand it's a question of faith: our buildings should serve our mission of worship and witness. But it isn't just a faith question, it's a community one. Our community buildings should reflect the life of our community and useful imposing old buildings can and should continue to be the centre of the community as the people of Peniscola have done.

They do it different #2

Signs in Spain are a bit different from Britain. First of all, there is more than one language to think of. At Reus Airport, signs are in Spanish, Catala and English. That's helpful to anyone who doesn't know any of the languages. However they've had the PC crowd in to make sure that everyone can understand in triplicate. Er, what's Terminal in Spanish. Might it be Terminal by any chance? And what about Catala; might it be Terminal too?

Go to Valancia and you'll see another example of sign madness. The planning guys in Valencia have created a system of wide multi-lane boulevards and enormous roundabouts. It gives their city a wonderful sense of open-ness and modernity. They've spent an enormous amount of money linking together all the fantastic ultra-modern venues as well as the traditional historic sites.

They had to save money somewhere and where did they save it? On road signage. In central Valencia there isn't any. There are almost no road signs and only scant painting of stuff on the road - certainly nothing telling you where the city centre is, where to get one of the many motorways out or even where the suburbs are. How do people find their way around? How do they find their prestige Museums of Arts and Sciences? It isn't signposted - none of it. You either need a good navigator who can work out which of the multiple exits on the huge roundabouts you should choose, or get a good sat-nav. It may be that Valencia is at the heart of Spain's sat-nav industry and they want everyone to buy one!

We escaped by taking a guess on where we were and driving into the suburbs where someone had decided to install some signs for those sharp enough to spot them and who have a pair of binoculars on board to read them. We took the opinion that if they were blue and had an arrow, we would get to one or other of the exit motorways!

Friday, 14 August 2009

Psst....don't tell Cid!

Have you ever seen the film El Cid? It re-tells the epic story of Rodrigo Diaz of Bivar, the great Castillian General, who fought against the Moorish invasion of Spain, and took Valencia from them in 1094. The film portrays his death in battle at Valencia. Mmm - a bit of historic licence was used there. How come then he ended up as the ruler of Valencia and died peacefully in 1099?! The picture shows Charlton Heston on his white charger in a scene from the film.

Actually the footage of Valencia in the film was also an invention. It was actually shot at Peniscola, an unspoilt town up the coast near the Ebro delta in the late 1950s. It has a huge castle built to defend the coast from pirates which fitted the bill for Valencia, even though it was started over a century after El Cid lived. It also allowed them to film the battle scenes over the 3km of unspoilt beaches and dunes.

Now the sleepy town is a bustling resort with hotels stretching the along the whole 3km beach front to Benicarlo. The film El Cid doesn't just portray the lost world of the 11th century, but also of the lost world of the 1950s. Anyway, it's quite a nice place to have a holiday! Here's a picture of the Castillo from the same angle in 2009 - 50 years later together with a rash of houses, hotels and bars. Just a moment, where's the extra two castellated walls gone? Like almost everything else, they seem to have been added by the film-makers to cover up the houses that were already there and to make it more imposing! That's Hollywood - a mixture of truth an illusion. Don't tell Cid!

Friday, 7 August 2009

They do it different #1

Motorway Bridge for Wildlife!

French Motorway Service Area "Portes de Jura". It's a bit different from Watford Gap!

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Who is Al Fresco?

We couldn't get over the difference.

Canterbury 05/08/09 - tried hard to find somewhere outside to eat. It's difficult to eat al fresco in even a tourist town in the UK. We ended up at Pizza Hut eating at a grubby table and listening to a drunk busker over the road!

Troyes 06/08/09 - had no problem finding a place to eat outside in this lovely medieval city centre. Food was great and not too pricey. No-one can do food like the French.

But, but ... Britain is far to cold and wet to eat al fresco most of the year, in't it? Try visiting historic towns in France or Belgium in the winter and you'll find the creative ways thay can make it happen!