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Spanish Secrets: A Vigilante's Paralogism - (Madre Dios!)

Craig Briggs and his wife Melanie savour a tasty reward after a frustrating morning of form-filling.

For more of Craig's colourful and evocative accounts of life in Galicia click on Spanish Secrets in the menu on this page.

Life here in Galicia is generally relaxed and stress-free. Events that a few years ago would have sent my blood pressure rocketing and temper flaring now wash over me like the gently lapping tide of a calm sea.

A point in question was our recent trip to Lugo.

The region of Galicia is divided into four provinces: Ourense, Pontevedra, A’ Coruna and our administrative centre, Lugo, which was founded in 15 BC by the Romans. It rapidly became an important outpost for the empire and by the third century AD a fortified wall had been built encircling the town. Made of schist it remains complete to this day. It runs for over 2 km at a height of 10 m and is 4 to 5 m wide. With six access points and ten gates it’s a very impressive construction, even by today’s standards.

The purpose of our trip was to visit the transport department. We were helping some non-resident English friends sort out some overdue paperwork. It’s not the easiest town to get to from our home but the journey is worth the effort. The route is littered with tiny hamlets, picturesque villages and rolling lush-green countryside.

Halfway to Lugo we pass through the town of Sarria. It’s situated on one of the Caminos de Santiago (The pilgrims walk). It would be unusual to drive through the town without seeing weary and heavily laden hikers hobbling along. This particular route, known as the Via de la Plata, originates in Sevilla over 1000 km south. By the look of some pilgrims they appear to have walked the whole distance without stopping.

Once in Lugo we parked the car and walked to the transport department. It is housed on the ground floor of a modern office block outside the old walled city.

Guarding the entrance was a menacing looking vigilante (security guard). Dark brown trousers with a heavily starched crease, a crisply-ironed beige shirt embroidered with an oversized gold and yellow shield on his left breast pocket and a jet-black belt holstering all manner of weaponry formed an impressive sentry. We slipped passed him, avoiding eye contact.

As usual the office was very busy. An L-shaped counter is topped with security glass rising to the ceiling. We joined a disorderly queue waiting at the information desk. Once at the head of the queue we explained our mission to an attentive if somewhat bemused assistant. In turn he asked us a number of questions before handing us a form and asking us to complete it.

We took the form to a writing desk on the far wall and began studying it. Our understanding of the assistant’s instructions was, as we were acting for the vehicle's owners, we had to complete the form to declare our authority to act on their behalf; an intriguing paradox.

Suddenly and without warning an arrowed finger pointed to a small tick-box on the form with instructions to mark it. I immediately recognised the beige shirt cuff. A glance to the side confirmed my suspicion. The ominous figure of the vigilante loomed over me. “You need to mark that box”. He repeated sternly. I quickly obeyed.

I continued filling in the form under his authoritative supervision. Everything seemed to be going fine until, “Madre Dios!'' he exclaimed.

In his enthusiasm to help he’d wrongly assumed that we were the vehicle's owners. As a consequence he’d given us the wrong instructions. This unintentional mistake seemed to lift his mood and general demeanour.

Over the next hour we made another two visits to the information desk, completed hand-written declarations and official forms. We then queued at the cash desk and paid an unexplained fee, then finally queued at the authorisation desk, only to have our request rejected.

The outcome of this frustrating morning's work was a meeting with a senior official. The paradox was finally unravelled. In order to act as representatives of the vehicle's owners, we needed their signature on a form of declaration, a printed copy of which he conveniently had to hand. Helpless to achieve anymore we thanked the vigilante for his earlier assistance and left.

By now time had moved on so we headed for the Roman-walled old town. Our destination was the Plaza Mayor. This central square in the middle of the old town is bordered on one side by the 18th century town hall and on another by open-air restaurants.

We found solace from our earlier trials by ordering a three-course lunch for two accompanied with a refreshingly cool bottle of white wine, in the knowledge that we would soon be doing exactly the same again.

As the saying goes, “every cloud has a silver lining”.

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