Saturday, February 4, 2012

Ay, que frío!

One thing you learn very quickly in Spain is that the weather commands a healthy share of people's attention and emotional energy, no matter what season it is currently, or whether or not the person you're talking to has any plans involving outdoor activity of any description. The weather report on Spanish news is incredibly long and detailed: by my timing, at least 10 minutes of the 1-hour evening news bulletin is taken up by weather on an average day, when there is nothing really to report. And so technical! I am generally impressed by the "synoptic chart" in an average Australian news broadcast, but that thing is child's play compared to a Spanish weather report, which must include all of the following elements: a map and detailed descriptions of the forecast in every major municipal centre; a narrative describing the past three day's weather, or so, and predicting the next week, which requires detailed explanations of how each region's weather is affecting that of the others; a chart showing current and incoming pressure systems, another one showing wind directions; and striking viewer-supplied photographic images of the weather in every province (these are presumably the reward for sitting through the 10-minute science lesson, like a lollipop given to a child after his vaccinations).

That's on a normal day. When something out of the ordinary happens, weather-wise, say goodbye to the rest of your news bulletin (yes, even the economic crisis can take a back seat for this). That's what's happening now, with a cold front - or, as the Spanish are calling it, ola de frío siberiano - blowing over most of the country, and causing 30 provinces to be put on alert for cold temperatures. There has been snow in Barcelona, and in the Balearic Islands, and all across the north coast, and even famously mild Seville has had temperatures below freezing. Naturally, then, the news channels have brought out the big guns. Meteorologists from several universities must be interviewed; the technical explanation is supplemented by new charts, including a rather excellent one of the effect of wind chill on every temperature between 0 and 20 degrees (omitting not a single increment; people need to be told!); correspondents stand by wearing beanies in Asturias, in the Sierra Nevada, in Bilbao, in Menorca, to give us live footage of  what cold weather looks like. Some news bulletins have optional extras - yesterday there was an  interview with a guy from the Spanish road authority telling people how to drive in cold, icy conditions (slowly and carefully), plus an interview with a dietitian explaining how people's metabolism is faster in the cold (and thus, I suppose, more churros are needed). 

But my favourite segment of all is the vox pops. These are mandatory; they must be taken in Madrid, Barcelona, and, from what I can tell, at least two regional centres. They must involve an elderly caballero with a hat and a walking stick, explaining that he intends to go on his afternoon paseo, no matter what, just as he has been doing for seventy years; a silly young girl in manifestly unsuitable outerwear, complaining that she doesn't like to do anything when it's cold; and a well-to-do lady in furs, with a helmet set to her hair, explaining rather sternly that the cold is nothing, as long as you wear a decent coat and heat your house properly.

All very sound advice - the Spanish are, on the whole, a sensible people. In fact, I am feeling the frío now - and the weather report has just started. Time to turn the heating up, settle in in front of the TV, have a glass of local vino tinto. And if the frío is still here in the morning, it might just be time to order in some of those churros.


  1. Only a few days ago I passed "a silly young girl in manifestly unsuitable outerwear" wheeling a suitcase through the (minus 8 degrees)snow in Niseko, Japan. Her only concession to cold was her disconcertingly short skirt trimmed with fur. The rest -high heeled boots, short shirt and coat leaving a bare midriff, funny little hat that didn't go anywhere her ears and thin wrist gloves with no fingers.

    It made me shiver in my thermal underwear and polar fleece.

    1. Ha! And Japanese girls DO like their skirts short... but you'd think they'd make at least a cursory concession to the weather. Have tweeted you a picture apropos this phenomenon. I can't decide whether these people deserve to be laughed at or admired as hardier physical specimens...