Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Rabbit of Madrid Redux

My father (an Ernie, not a Bert) had one. My brother has one. My husband used to have one.

Its entry in the highly respected Urban Dictionary (and I could have cited The Oxford English Dictionary because, yes it is there too) reads:

1. unibrow
A single eyebrow, linked by hair over the nose between what in most people are two separate eyebrows.
Colin Ferrel has one of the sexiest unibrows I've ever seen.

Whether you call it a unibrow, a monobrow, or a synophrys (its medical term; yes, Knarf it is a medical condition), the supra-nasal caterpillar has raised a lot of eyebrows over the years. In Victorian times, bearers of a unibrow were thought to belong to the criminal element. Of course, the Victorians were also keen into phrenology whereby one's character was determined by the lumps & bumps on the head. But superstition dies hard: a century later, a character in the 1984 film The Company of Wolves is warned to "beware of wind fallen apples and of men whose eyebrows meet" - since she is later devoured by a werewolf, one could argue that the prophecy was true.

Some consider the unibrow a sign of mental feebleness whereas my brother will tell you that it's a mark of profound intelligence. Others view it as just plain ugly whereas Frida Kahlo made it quirky and *almost* sexy. In fact, in parts of Iran, unibrows are believed to signify virginity and are highly prized as indicators of feminine beauty. Given evil pinhead President Ahmadinejad's obsession with female modesty, if I were a woman in Iran, I'd keep a stash of big black Sharpies in my medicine cabinet, my purse, and under the cushions of the chesterfield.

Truth is, I don't need one. Like actresses Angie Harmon and Salma Hayek, I was born with this outward manifestation of "profound intelligence" and feminine beauty. And like my hirsute sisters, it no longer exists ... thanks to my Mom's insistence (you'll thank me one day) that I spend 15 minutes a week for half my adolescence at the electrolysist's.

So the point of all of this fascinating erudition I just tossed your way? Yesterday, Señor Gato Gringo went to the hairdresser - my hairdresser - to get a trim. Now I know that I've already waxed poetically (The Rabbit of Seville, The Rabat of Seville and A Brief Disquisition into Gender Issues in Morocco) about the trials and tribulations of getting my hair cut, both here and in Morocco (oh dear, there she goes again!) but alas, once again, The Hair Cut has reared its ugly head.

Reader: his haircut took 75 minutes. Seventy-five minutes! To add insult to injury, despite the fact that his hair is a smidgen shorter than mine, his corte de pelo eclipsed mine by a half an hour. And what did this extra 30 minutes buy him? Allow me to recreate the process as established by The World's Second-Most* Meticulous Barber:

1) The Consultation, in which Señor Gato Gringo is persuaded to colour his greying head. Since every one of those grey hairs marks a week of our married life, he refuses.
2) Shampoo, conditioning, & towelling
3) 'Product' is added to Señor Gato Gringo's hair and left in. Señor G.G. can be excused for not knowing what it was - suffice to say that it is an overpriced and trendily packaged Redken product.
4) Brief inspection of Señor G.G.'s head
5) The Haircut, in which each hair on his head is trimmed individually.
6) Neck hair trim (lovingly referred to as 'wolf hairs' by Señor G.G.) with electric razor
7) Ear hair trim with scissors
8) The Unibrow is plucked until the only trace of it is the virgin patch of inter-eyebrow skin that glows a painful ruby-red all day. Why Señor G.G. agrees to this still boggles my mind.
9) A complimentary unibrow 'touch-up' is offered. (When it grows back, come and see me ...)
10) Shampoo & towelling
11) Blow-dry
12) Judicious application of 'Product' is added to Señor Gato Gringo's hair. Señor G.G. can be excused for not knowing what it was - suffice to say that it is an overpriced and trendily packaged Redken product.
13) Ta dahhhh! -
Thundering Round of Applause by La Gatita Gringa

It probably goes without saying that this hour and a quarter cost
Señor G.G. ten euros less than my visit two weeks earlier. But then it should, shouldn't it? This is perfectly logical in the Gender Issue-Skewed World of Hair Salons.

Of course the real question is, will Señor G.G.maintain his jaunty new pair of eyebrows or revert to the unibrow. I must confess that he looks different. Not better, just different. Maybe better. I don't know. I somehow feel that he may have betrayed his unibrow-brethren - let down the team - but then I remind myself that he didn't ask for The Procedure. It just happened. The same way that girls get pregnant. It just happened.

A moment ago I asked
Señor G.G that very question, should they stay or should they go. He paused. Jury's out, he said. Ahhh, that means he likes them.

So dear reader: make your voice heard. Should Señor G.G allow his unibrow to grow back or should he be condemned to a life of waxing, plucking and/or electrolysis? You decide and let me us know in the process (poll is at upper right of screen).

* The World's Most* Meticulous Barber is in Rabat.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

In the Gnus

 id=For those of you - all four of you - who religiously read the often inarticulate sputterings from my previous incarnation, you'll know that one of my bêtes noirs is the all-too rampant human rights abuses in Iran, perhaps no more evident than in the country's zeal to execute its own citizens.

Now when my tenure on this planet ended as a Rabat cat and I was about to be reborn as a Madrid cat (the reader can decide for him/herself if I went up or down the karmic ladder), I made a conscious decision to check my soapbox at the Easyjet Karmic Departures Gate in the Heavens. I freely admit that, here and there, a few snarky comments have slipped past security. This was confirmed by an e-mail I received from a visitor to my site - the tone of which leaves me suspecting that she won't become a regular reader - that I have a tendency to go on and on and (apparently) on about my experiences in Morocco. I thought that I've been rather restrained. Go figure.

But I did raise my eyebrows (yes, cats do have eyebrows) when I saw one of today's headlines on Yahoo Canada, "Iran hangs three men in public for raping 12 women." This of course is a tragedy - as were the brutal rapes of these young women, most of whom were university students. The report adds that these 12 executions bring the number of reported executions in Iran up to 207, an impressive 15% increase from 2006. Way to go! And there are still 3 months to go! I just know you can beat China, the World's Current Number One Executioner!

What the report doesn't say is that September has been a pretty busy month for Iran's hangmen. Or crane operators. Hangings - or more accurately 'hoistings' or 'cranings' -are commonly carried out with a crane, a slow and painful death as the condemned is hoisted (not dropped from a height) so that his or her neck doesn't break, or a low platform (again ensuring an agonisingly slow death). But I digress.

To date:

September 27th: 3 hanged (hoisted/craned). Happy Ramadan!!!
September 14th: 3 hanged (hoisted/craned).
September 12th: 7 hanged (hoisted/craned). On the same day four men each had a hand amputated for theft, but I suppose that that doesn't really count. I included that purely for effect. I chose, however, not to mention the visit of Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on September 17th who called for the immediate cessation of child executions. That would have been over the top and I'm glad that I didn't mention it).
September 11th: 2 hanged (hoisted/craned).
September 7th: 2 hanged (hoisted/craned).
September 5th: 21 hanged (hoisted/craned). Somehow that didn't warrant a headline on Yahoo News)
September 2nd: 1 hanged (hoisted/craned). A slow day.

... for a grand total of 36. Again, a notable & laudable increase from August's embarrassingly paltry 30 executions.

There you have it. I would add, rather à propos I think, that during this week's visit to Columbia University, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - the evil pinhead man who thinks that only drug traffickers and not political dissidents or any of the country's nonexistent homosexuals are being executed - said that most executions were not carried out in public. It seems that 29 of the above-noted hangings (hoistings/cranings) were carried out in public (today's venue was a sports complex) but they just must have slipped under the evil pinhead's his radar. Well, he is a busy man what with convincing the world that he's not a psychopathic dictator. So between today's headline and the evil pinhead's President Ahmadinejad's recent babblings in Newspeak, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been at the fore of my pea-sized brain. Anyway, not an apology, just an explanation. Possibly not even an explanation.
Addendum: to the right are teenage boys Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni shortly before their executions; they were both found guilty of 'raping' younger boys. It is widely believed that they were in fact hanged (hoisted/craned) for engaging in consensual homosexual acts. So perhaps evil pinhead President Ahmadinejad is right after all. There are no more homosexuals in Iran.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Monkeys in Madrid

 id=After two years of living overseas, I - or more accurately Señor Gato Gringo and I - finally received my - or more accurately our - first visitor. This is admittedly neither an impressive nor enviable track record; however, according to the mathematical inabilities of my very left-brain brain, it is possible that by the time I am in my 60's, I will have received the equivalent number of family and friends as a ringette team. But probably not.

It's also quite possible that if our guest weren't living in an Islamic country deep in the throes of Ramadan, the visit may never
have transpired at all, and my dreams of paying homage to a rubber ring-shooting all-girl sports team dashed to the ground.

Now when news came that our friend and fellow
gin & tonic poker-aficionado Mr. N. would be visiting, Señor G.G. and I - always the consummate hosts - began to formulate our plans. This included buying a weighty block of sheep's milk cheese, many bags of Mediterranean Diet-inspired fried-in-olive oil potato chips, and several floor-length gold lamé hostess dresses for us to wear. With matching shoes and handbags. Now keeping in mind Mr. N.'s two great loves in life, it was decided that we would spend our three and a half days together drinking, possibly doing a little shopping, and then drinking again. After that, if - and only if we really felt like it - we would drink some more. As it turned out, we really felt like it. If we were really fortunate, we'd be able to slip in a few hangovers.

As it turned out, we were fortunate.

Now I like to think that Madrid, if not Spain, offers something quite unique to the
Olympian recreational tippler: the Free Pour. And just by typing those words (Free Pour) the heavens just parted revealing four choirs of Angelic Hosts singing Hosannas to the highest. Free Pour! Free Pour! Now the Free Pour has tragically gone the way of all flesh in much of the Western world, and alcohol - at least in North America - is parsimoniously measured out in 1.5 ounce shots by means of a liquor dispenser or a jigger. It is why I for one seldom partake of mixed drinks in bars. I am just that cheap and that easily disappointed.

But not in
Madrid. In Madrid, the unofficial unit of measurement - and by unofficial I mean that it was just invented by the 3 of us this weekend - is the 'monkey'. Cunning in its simplicity, the barkeep need only hold the bottle over a glass and slowly count monkeys as s/he pours. One monkey, two monkey, three monkey, four monkey ... you get the picture. Even my very left-brain brain gets it.

By mid Friday evening - when the monkey revelation had been revealed to us by the angel Gabriel, we began to keep unassailable scientific 'monkey' records which to the untrained ear probably sounded like three soddened voices counting invisible simian primates and looked like three soddened individuals - elbows on the bar, head in hands - staring at the bartender in disbelief. The results? The average pour was seven monkeys. Count to seven while imagining a glass being filled with the tipple of your choice. That's a mighty stiff drink isn't it? Our
unassailable scientific 'monkey' records indicate that the highest monkey-strength drink poured was nine. Nine. That's a lot of monkeys. Just ask Jane Goodall.

Did I mention that the highest monkey-strength drink was nine? Nine? And the average was seven? Seven? Bet you all want to come now, eh? I can already hear the phone ringing. Ringing off the hook. And I didn't even talk about the tapas.

I only have one thing to say: where were you when Señor G.G. and I were in Morocco drinking overpriced crap beer?

Monday, September 17, 2007

I Broke the Oldest Tree in Madrid

 id=Among the things which separate us from those quadrupeds, be-gilled creatures and winged things with whom we share the Earth is the capacity to reason, the need - for weal or woe - to develop a sense of morality, and the inability to lick our genitals at will. And perhaps to leave our mark or footprint on this planet in some meaningful way. Like finding a cure for cancer, or finding a way to convert couscous into a clean-burning gasoline, or passing legislation against annoying cellphone ring tones. Yesterday, I broke the oldest tree in Madrid.

Go big or go home, that's what I alway say.

Yesterday marked Señor Gato Gringo's and my 6th wedding anniversary. Yes it seems like only yesterday that Evil Pinheads had chosen the week we got married to blow up vast chunks of the eastern U.S., wrecking havoc in the world of aviation, and more importantly nearly canceling our honeymoon. Terrorism hurts everyone.

Señor G.G. had a fabulous idea. Let's go to the Van Gogh "Final Landscapes" exhibit at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, he suggested. Today is the last day and we've been putting it off for a month. Huzzah! We moved to Madrid just so we could wake up on a Sunday morning and say, Let's go to the Van Gogh "Final Landscapes" exhibit at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum! So off we went to the Tiffani Amber-Thiessen Thyssen and marveled not so much at 29 of the artist's last paintings before he shot himself but at the other 3,000 people who had the same brilliant idea as Señor G.G. Plan B?

The hours have been extended to midnight, offered
Señor G.G.

Plan B brought us to the Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid where we spent a pleasant hour or two looking feeling like old farts admiring the rhododendrons. Botanical Gardens are no longer the benign if not rather dull things of my childhood - we were eventually scared off by the security cameras poised menacingly over a tiny rare species of plant-cum-tree green thingy. If I touch it, will security descend from nowhere, pin me to the ground, cart me off, and charge me with crimes against rare botanicals? I asked. I wouldn't try, responded
Señor G.G. He is very wise.

Eventually our meanderings brought us to the 17th century gardens or park of El Buen Retiro - the once leisure estate of the camel-faced "Planet King", Felipe IV. Now it is possibly the most populous place in the entire city for baby strollers on any given Sunday. Truly, if Evil Pinheads really want to destroy Madrid, they should blow themselves up at Retiro. Near the estanque or pond where all the nobs go paddle-boating and lob pork rinds at the carp.

We had been at Retiro the previous Sunday in a valiant bid to mitigate the ruinous hangovers we had incurred the Night Before. True to its name, the park had proved to be a "pleasant retreat" but we wanted to see it through clearer eyes
and clearer heads. The plan this time was to get drunk at the park rather than beforehand. The plan - cunning in its simplicity - worked. In 32 °C temperatures, Señor G.G. and I spent a pleasant 4 hours or so looking feeling like old farts admiring the swans and turtles and rosebushes, punctuated by brief but regular stops at the "refreshment stands" conveniently scattered throughout the park. At our final rest stop, Señor G.G.'s grande proved to be a full litre while my mediana - at 650 ml. - was nothing to sneeze at either.

Well on the road to squiffdom, I suggested we take a shufti at the park's Bald Cypress tree (seen in its entirety above). Planted in 1633, it is believed to be The Oldest Tree in Retiro and quite possibly The Oldest Tree in Madrid. It was not difficult to find - it was big and it had a fence around it and we had a map. It was indeed a big tree and its ponderously heavy branches - laden with the Bald Cyprus version of pine cones - dipped to
Señor G.G height. Oooh, I want one! I slurred squealed in delight.

Señor G.G bent a branch down closer to my level, I greedily plucked a Bald Cyprus version of a pine cone - and, at the same time, a substantial piece of the actual tree. I looked at him. I broke the Oldest Tree in Madrid, I slurred said, aghast. You did, he said. We should leave, I slurred suggested. We should, he said.

Pocketing my pretty green
Bald Cyprus version of a pine cone, we nervously kept an eye out for security descending from nowhere, lest they try to pin me to the ground, cart me off and charge me for crimes against rare botanicals. And continued on as inconspicuously as possible to the nearby James Joyce Pub, where pint glasses of stout were calling our names.

Perhaps it might be a good idea if
security cameras were poised menacingly at the Oldest Tree in Madrid. On second thought, if they did, I probably would have been deported by now or at least charged with crimes against rare botanicals.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Take Five

 id=With Ramadan right around the corner and, more importantly, not around my corner, I confess that there's been a bit of a bounce in my step these last few days. And not just because I can enjoy a café con leche in an outdoor café at 2 in the afternoon for the next 30 days. Although I can. For it is my belief that, if there is an Omniscient Demiurge Floating About the Heavens on a Cloud, he or she is probably more than satisfied that during my last 2 Ramadans in Rabat, I never once plunged a pickle fork into my eye sockets, into the eye sockets of those fasting about me, or completely succumbed to a profound debilitating depression that a few gin & tonics with Mr. N didn't cure. Yes, I acquitted myself rather well. No god could ask for more.

Now I've heard all the Ramadan Rhetoric - of how it helps to develop a deeper relationship with Allah by communing with the poor and by keeping in check so-called vices (anger, envy, lust, and greed) while refraining from gossip & making sarcastic comments - but I'm just not a huge fan of it. What god would want his or her followers to abstain from snarkiness for a whole month? A month! Where's the fun in that?

Indeed, there even exist Infidels who believe that, at least in Morocco, Ramadan pretty much equals Party Time. These people are either delusional, misinformed, or have an incredibly skewed definition of 'party time'.

And if there is an Omniscient Demiurge Floating About the Heavens on a Cloud, he or she deigned to acknowledge his/her satisfaction with This Writer and her past Ramadan Performances by placing an accordion player in the tunnel of the Príncipe de Vergara metro this morning. But not just any accordion player but an Inspired Accordion Player whose god-sent mission was to fill Madrid's underground with the upbeat and quintessentially catchy quintupled rhythm of Dave Brubeck's Take Five. On the accordion. It was surreal and wonderful and it made me smile and I gave him change and so I just want to say "thank you, Omniscient Demiurge Floating About the Heavens on a Cloud, if you exist. Hearing Inspired Accordion Player this morning made being miserable and cranky for those miserable and cranky two holy months in Rabat almost worth it.

"And if there isn't an Omniscient Demiurge Floating About the Heavens on a Cloud, thank you Madrid. Or at the very least, thank you Inspired Accordion Player's Mother for forcing your son to take suckhole accordion lessons every Saturday afternoon for twelve years and being completely ostracized by his friends and never having a date for the school dance. From the bottom of my heart, thank you."

"And Ramadan karim," added the Omniscient Demiurge Floating About the Heavens on a Cloud. "Enjoy the Brubeck."


Monday, September 10, 2007

The Rabbit of Madrid

(a variation - or continuation - of the Rabat of Seville)

 id=Today marks our one month anniversary in Madrid and because I am by nature a shallow and vapid individual, and because my hair grows incredibly fast, I have been obsessed for the past 27 days with finding a hairdresser. In a world of missing children, genocide and crashing passenger planes, I believe that it's the little things that give you perspective, that keep you grounded. Like having a good stylist.

I haven't actually had one since March 2002 which not very coincidentally coincides with the time that Sarah, my stylist, went on vacation to a Foreign Country and fell in love with a still-unidentified Axe Murderer. After a whirlwind 2-week courtship, she packed her electric clippers and moved to Butthole, Pennsylvania - forever commemorated on my calendar as Black Friday. We never heard from her again but I've always suspected that's because the police have yet to find the Glad garbage bags that contain her dismembered body. It was Sarah who gave me my first "Morocco Cut" - a eponymous style that would get me through a month backpacking and staying in half-star hotels not equipped with blow dryers. Or goopy products that negate the need to wash your hair for a week.

Five years later - and after a series of mediocre haircuts - I'm back in Morocco. And although it took me close to a year to find a decent stylist in Rabat, I could never get her to cut my hair short enough; ironic that I couldn't get a Morocco Cut in Morocco. Possibly being unable to communicate with her had something to do with it but I always brought a
picture. As in it being worth a thousand words. Invariably my head would look good for a week and then bam! I'd begin to look like Macaulay Culkin and then, as each hideous week passed, I'd take on an appalling likeness to David Spade.

Not really knowing anyone here except Señor Gato Gringo - that's if one can ever really know one's spouse - who proved to be quite useless in recommending hair salons, I began to grow panicky. And in an unnecessary act of solidarity, my hair began to grow as well. How does one get their hair cut with absolutely no language skills? Nada! (I was just showing off there.) But Señor Gato Gringo proved to be quite useful in searching the internet for salons with English-speaking stylists.

Except that it appears that there are none. I would have to learn how to ask for a shampoo and cut and hope that my rather gnarled picture (worth a thousand words) translates better into Spanish than Arabic or French.

To make matters worse, Madrid blogs for anglophones are rife with horror stories of walking into a salon for a trim and coming out with a mullet. A mullet. Both men and women! Having said that, the only mullets I've seen in Madrid are worn by Dutch backpackers- both men and women - but I assumed that was more of a politico-geographical identifier thing. To separate them from the Germans.

Señor G.G. found a 4-year old listing for a salon that was both inexpensive and sympathetic toward Those Linguistically Challenged By The Hispanic Tongue And All Its Dialects. Which made my comment about him being quite useless in recommending hair salons both snotty and inaccurate.

o today, armed with my gnarled photo and 25 euros (their rate had id= only increased threefold in the last four years just like my salary), I walked into a minuscule salon on calle La Palma looking like Macaulay Culkin and walked out looking like Sinéad O'Connor. Quite literally. Even Alex, my polyglot Mariah Carey-loving Romanian hair stylist thought so. Too bad that wasn't the photo I brought in. I guess it didn't translate well into Spanish. Perhaps it's time to find a new photo.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

A Cat - But No Dogs - in Castilla

As a gatita in Castilla-La Mancha this past weekend - Holy Toledo to be exact - I couldn't help but notice the decided absence of dogs in the city. With the exception of the pooch you see to the left - and admittedly she (for I think she's a she) may not count - there is a veritable dearth of dogs in Toledo. And I think I know why.

They're all dead.

All dead because they've been killed by motorists. This is not remarkable in and of itself; dogs get hit by cars. But what is remarkable is that any pedestrian - resident, tourist or one of the 12,000 priests sweeping up and down Toledo's streets - lives to see another day in this City of Death City of Three Cultures. Having come from a 2-year stint in Morocco, a country whose drivers and Death Machines would have felt at home in Rome's Colosseum where they could have been pitted against tigers and Christians, I was unprepared for Toledo's formidable drivers - made more terrifying by their complete obliviousness to anything half-witted enough to use their feet for locomotion. Outside their houses. On the street.

In Toledo's old city - and it is doubtful that anyone visits the new city, in fact, I don't even know if there is one - the majority of its labyrinthine cobblestoned streets are less than 2 meters wide. These centuries-old streets were constructed for the passage of very tiny people with their equally tiny horses. Indeed, if one were to look at Medieval artwork, I am certain that one would see that ancient Toledans used Shetland ponies rather than horses. Even they would have been hard-pressed to pass each other in the street. In most cases, there is just enough room for a speeding vehicle to careen up and down streets and around corners. Assuming that nothing is encumbering its trajectory. And even then. So narrow are these streets - indeed, "street" is a misnomer - so narrow are these alleyways that standing on a sidewalk, which on average is about 30 centimeters wide (or less), offers no protection. That's if there's a sidewalk.

You see, Toledan sidewalks are false friends. That's if there's a sidewalk.

"Car!" called Señor Gato Gringo (hearkening back to his street hockey days) who was walking ahead of me but has better hearing than I do. I automatically stepped onto the sidewalk to allow the approaching car to pass. But this car was driving at an especially break-neck speed for such a diminutive street alleyway and it suddenly occurred to me that there might not be enough room for the two of us. And equally horrifying: there could only be one victor. I flattened myself against the building as best I could. As the car passed, its side view mirror narrowly avoided disembowelling me and spreading the contents of my digestive system across the wall. My t-shirt fluttered in the breeze. I nearly shit myself.

This transpired during our first 15 minutes in Toledo. It would prove to be a long if not stressful two days.

Señor G.G. and I visited every freaking church in Christendom quite a few churches, monasteries, convents, a mosque, two synagogues, and the rather over-the-top Cathedral where the graves of bishops are indicated by long red pointy hats suspended from the ceiling. We ate - oddly, almost only potato products - and drank - oddly, almost only alcoholic products. But all of this visiting required walking up and down Toledo's streets and pretty much every ingress and egress involved Señor G.G. calling, "Car!" I would then flatten myself against the building as best I could. As the car would pass, its side view mirror would narrowly avoid disembowelling me and spreading the contents of my digestive system across the wall. My t-shirt would flutter in the breeze. I would nearly shit myself.

To be fair, the locals seemed to have no problem with this but they're undoubtedly used to it. I suspect that there's a high infant mortality rate though. Just look at the dogs!- there aren't any, are there? The feeble of mind and limb must be at high risk here. I confess that it was rather disconcerting to see old men and women and mothers with strollers
flattening themselves against Toledo's buildings as best they can. As cars pass, their side view mirrors narrowly avoid disembowelling them and spreading the contents of their digestive systems across the wall. Their t-shirts flutter in the breeze.

Perhaps this is where the expression Holy Toledo comes from. Leaving your house and not getting into a car
is tantamount to putting your life in your hands. Or in God's hands, if you believe in that sort of thing. And with more monuments to God than in almost any other city in the world, Toledans certainly do believe in that sort of thing. So I bought Señor G.G. his saint's medal - an individual (the saint, not Señor G.G.) now officially poo-pooed by the church but as the patron saint of travellers and transportation, I figured we could use his help. Toledo does a brisk trade in saint's medals. No wonder.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

I See Possibly Influential Dead People

I have a penchant for cemetery art. I'm pretty certain not certain if that makes me odd in any way but the fact is, I love spending time among the dead. With my camera. For the most part, they make if not willing, than at least compliant subjects and given my questionable people-skills, that's nothing to sneeze at.

In the two years that I was in Morocco, I didn't take one cemetery shot. I tried. Not very hard admittedly, but I tried. The few times I did try I was shooed away - shooed away being a culturally sensitive variant of screamed at & run off - like some infidel leper who eats pork rinds and keeps dogs as pets. So I gave up. Muslim cemeteries aren't terribly stimulating from the camera's point of view anyway but that is could just be sour grapes.

Last week, after a fortnight of being linguistically tongue-tied, misunderstanding and being misunderstood by pretty much everyone we encountered, Señor Gato Gringo & I decided that we needed a language break. We needed to find a way to effectively communicate with the Madrileños around us - so who better than the dead? Not only do dead men tell no tales, but it's unlikely that they'd have any problems deciphering what passes, for us, as Spanish. Cameras in hand, we took the subway out to the city's southeastern edge to explore two of Madrid's cemeteries.

For reasons that I don't pretend to understand, Spain's
Influential Dead People have not done well by - well, Spain. In fact, it is safe to say that, for the most part, the remains of Madrid's Influential Dead People are unknown. In the 19th century, the crypt doors of the city's Influential Dead People were pried open and their corpses brought to the Basílica de San Francisco where they were interred with great pomp and ceremony. Finally Madrid had a national cemetery, a veritable Pantheon of Influential Dead People! Unfortunately, it wasn't long before scores of priests came scurrying out of nowhere with horses and carts and hauled their respective Influential Dead People back to their (the priests') parishes and their (Influential Dead People's) previous resting places.

Not wishing to further impugn my adopted city - a city which callously named the street where Cervantes is buried a
fter his arch-rival, Lope de Vega - I'll just mention that in a rare display of one-upmanship, Toledo misplaced whatever is left of the artist El Greco. They know he's in one of the city's churches, they're just not sure which one. So as not to be remiss, visitors should make it a point to visit all of Toledo's churches which, although a little exhausting, is not too onerous as tavernas are strategically spaced at 10 meter increments throughout the city.

But I digress.

So although we didn't commune with many - if any - of Madrid's
Influential Dead People, we also didn't successfully avoid speaking with The Living. After about an hour of climbing graves and hanging upside-down from crucifixes photographing Madrid's Possibly Influential Dead People at the Sacramental de Santa María, a Digger of Graves approached us and asked if we were visiting family members. This much we understood. Sorely tempted to lie, we instead opted for the easy answer which required no explanation said no. He then told us - we think - that we couldn't take any more photos.

In as cooperative a manner as we could feign mus
ter, we said we understood and followed him slowly, at a great distance, snapping pictures behind his back. At least I was. Señor GG stood look-out. A few minutes later, the Digger of Graves approached us again and possibly asked us - we really have no clue - why we were taking photos in the cemetery. Or he may have been asking us if we saw the bull fight on cable last night. In a moment of rare linguistic acumen, I recognized the word for magazine and told him that we were professional photographers working for a magazine. We were doing a story on cemeteries with an accompanying photo spread. Although what I actually said was, and I quote: we work for the magazine Canadian.

That I could lie so baldly to a stranger is, for me, a point of shame Or possibly pride. Undoubtedly, it hearkens back to b
eing taught by nuns.

He told us - we think - that it was a shame that - we think - we hadn't asked for permission beforehand. Well yes, w
e agreed, it was. Or perhaps we agreed that last night's bullfight was disappointing and that the matador was bush league. All I know is that if I ever write an English language textbook, a chapter will definitely be devoted to and entitled At the Cemetery and offer the student useful graveside expressions highlighted by an instructive conversation with a sexton.

As we nodded in agreement,
the Digger of Graves said - we think - that we could still request permission and that - we think- we should follow him. We did and we were ushered into the office of - we think - the Sexton who asked us our business. I told him that we were professional photographers working for a magazine. We were doing a story on cemeteries with an accompanying photo spread. Although what I actually said was, and I quote: we work for the magazine Canadian. No problem, he said (that we got) - just don't take any photos of the names of individuals. Or their dates. We feigned expressed shock and disbelief that anyone would invade a family's privacy thus and assured him that yes, yes, we understood and I made a mental note to stop photographing names and dates.

Amazingly he hadn't asked for our credentials. Which was a good thing as we have none. Or perhaps he had and we just hadn't understood him and chose, instead, to nod our heads like morons. And brazenly walk out of his office to continue shooting the graves of Madrid's Possibly Influential Dead People. But not their names. Somehow, that didn't
seem to be an issue since they've already lost all their Really Influential Dead People.

(a regrettable oversight regarding the inclusion of names and dates)