Thursday, May 29, 2008

Two for the Bulls

 id=What better way to honour the memory of a saint - in this instance, San Isidro, than to ritually torture and kill a couple of hundred bulls? After all, San Isidro is the saint of agriculture and animals, and what farmer wouldn't want a couple of hundred bulls to be ritually tortured and killed in his name? I used to have an aquarium and it always amazed me that no one ever harpooned a sperm whale for the glory of Me. Not once.

A madrileño and not surprisingly Madrid's patron saint, San Isidro was often chastised by his coworkers for eschewing his plowing duties in favour of attending daily mass. One day, his master - intent on catching him off the job - found angels plowing the fields in his place. Or possibly found an angel plowing with him - it's all very confusing. People were so slipshod when it came to accurately recording the lives of peasants in the 11th century.

The performer of graveside miracles and cures, his body remains - miraculously, beca
use he is a saint after all - incorruptible. And just because he was such a swell guy, the most internationally recognized "celebration" - 30 fun-blood-filled days of bullfighting bull-killing - is celebrated in Madrid in his name. Like now.

week, two bulls weighed in with their opinion on the why-should-we-have-to-die-to-extol-the-virtues-of-a-dead-farmer question - an opinion they best expressed by goring two bullfighters bull-killers. On Sunday, 59-year old bullfighting bull-killer veteran Carlos Escolar Frascuelo - who perhaps should be passing his golden years gardening - was gored by his first bull, Toro "the Fair" (yes, I made that up). And by severe goring I mean a 20-centimetre tear in each thigh and several crushed vertebrae.

On Monday, the banderillero El Ruso - the one who preps the bull for the matador  id=bull-killers by ramming "decorative" metal spikes (banderillas) into its neck and shoulders - received 15- and 20-centimetre rips to the anus and a broken coccyx from his bull, Toro "the Righteous" (yes, I made that up). That's him in all his glory on the left. Guess he'll be reducing his intake of roughage over the next few weeks.

Too bad, instead of torturing and killing bulls, Madrid doesn't hold medieval swap meets and mechanical displays like they do in the Canary Islands during the fiestas of San Isidro. Perhaps that's for the next generation to fix. In the meantime ... Toro "the Fair" and Toro "the Righteous", I salute you. Job well done. Too bad you're not around to enjoy your accolades. .

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Human Rights Abuses? Really?

 id=The Hola-Land has been suspended by Amnesty International in its annual report, saying that human rights are not respected here. Really? Not respected? How so? you ask.

Reports of human rights violations by law enforcement officers and subsequent impunity continued to be widespread.

Well, AI makes note of the plight of illegal immigrants in Spain.

The report highlights the use of restraining belts in the transfer of immigrants here, and mentions the case of the Nigerian, Osamuyia Akpitake who died from asphyxiation last June on a flight taking him back to Lagos, and when accompanied by two Spanish immigration agents.

... and also cites the resurrection of really nasty activities perpetrated by the ETA.

AI highlights the ill-treatment in some cases of immigrant women, and also notes in its annual report the resumption of terrorist activity on the part of Basque Terrorists ETA.

... and throws in the torture of those ETA suspects detained in custody. Oh - and it mentions the high level of spousal abuse here and violence against women in general and immigrant women in particular.

The report also attacks the high levels of domestic violence in Spain, noting that 71 women died at the hands of their partners here last year, and that 48 of the victims were foreigners.

... and that the law passed last winter which addressed reparation to the victims of Francoism and the 1936-39 civil war and for the victims of gross human rights violations were laudatory but fell short of the mark.

The good news is that life expectancy in Spain has been set at 80 1/2 years. Presumably not for immigrants, asylum-seekers and women.

Monday, May 26, 2008

La Gatita Gringa With a Whip

This past weekend - as Señor Gato Gringo and I and most other movie geeks enthusiasts can tell you - the newly released and humongously anticipated Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull opened, raking in some $269 million worldwide.

Of that $269 million, I would estimate that $316.87 - and it's possible that I'm being generous - came from Gibraltar alone. How do I know? you ask. I was there.

Yes, movie geeks enthusiasts that we are, Señor Gato Gringo and I went to have our Indy fix in Gibraltar on Friday. And by Friday, I mean The Very First Showing on Opening Day. This would be our first experience of cinema-going in Gib and we were not a little excited. Or since Señor G.G. hates double negatives, we were really excited.

But more than that, we were concerned about line-ups. This, after all was Friday. And by Friday, I mean The Very First Showing on Opening Day. The movie started at 5:30 and the box office opened at 4:45 - how early should we be in line? One o'clock? One thirty? Both of us - Initiated Adepts in the arcane arts of lining up for Indiana Jones movies for The Very First Showing on Opening Day - have spent many an hour in queues that coiled and slithered around long city blocks. We decided to take up positions on our hotel balcony - a room having been reserved for that very purpose - open a beer and watch.

The afternoon wore by sluggishly and from our vantage point at the Rock hotel we drank and from time to time, checked the line-up forming below. But there was no no line-up forming below. We checked our watches. Two thirty, three o'clock .... We leaned over the railing and saw ... no one. Was this not The Very First Showing on Opening Day? (It was.) Was this not Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? (It was.) Has it not been 19 freaking years since the last Indy film? (It has.) Was not the Queen's Cinema the only venue in town? (It was.) Was not the Queen's Cinema the only venue this side of Málaga? (It was.)

Where was everyone? To paraphrase (and really, I just changed the verb tense) Indiana Jones and Han Solo, I had a bad feeling about this.

Finally, shortly before 4:45, Señor G.G. and I left the alcohol-imbued comfort of our balcony and walked down the hill to the theatre before which stood one other movie-goer. The doors were locked - laying to rest any rumours that the box office opened at 4:45 - and there was no sign of life from within. To kill time we walked around the block where by rights a queue of movie-goers should have been coiling and slithering. Three minutes later we were sitting on the curb, waiting. Around 5:00, a car pulled over, expelling what appeared to be the cinema's manager. She opened the door and the sole other movie-goer slipped in behind her. He was the usher. We were now alone.

But not for long. Huzzah! Within moments - for clearly, our bona fide movie-going companions had been hiding in the bushes awaiting the arrival of the cinema's manager - the theatre opened to a queue of 12 movie-goers coiling and slithering in front of the the cinema. We purchased our tickets from a tiny exterior window about 1 meter from the ground causing Señor G.G. to herniate a disc in the process and entered the lobby where I began my pursuit for popcorn.

There was no popcorn. Well, there was but it wasn't real popcorn. It was a bag of pre-packaged caramel corn. And not very caramelly. It's not like I was expecting a glass of Amstel beer like you can get in the movie theatres in Madrid (although that would have been nice) but I did rather have my heart set on a gi-normous box of salted popcorn. And a separate box for Señor G.G..

By show time, there were at least two dozen movie-goers sitting with us on the main floor and a gaggle of Barbary apes kids in the balcony. By show time, the gaggle of Barbary apes kids who should have been sitting in the balcony were still rollerblading up and down the aisle of the main floor. By show-time my bag of pre-packaged caramel corn had been history for the better part of a quarter of an hour. By show time, I didn't care because the film was about to start because, in spite of everything, it w id=as still The Very First Showing on Opening Day and this was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

That's how I know that $316.87 - and it's possible that I'm being generous - of the worldwide $269 million take this weekend came from Gibraltar. How do I know? you ask. I was there. As were another 31 people and a few Barbary apes.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Hell Freezes Over

 id=... or with a more positive spin, perhaps there is a god after all.

Yes, Baila El Chiki Chiki is in the Eurovision Song Contest finals. Señor Gato Gringo and I can hardly contain our excitement. Needless to say, when Saturday evening rolls around, you know where we'll be: glued to our seats watching Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in Gib in front of our television set.

We are smugly confident that Rodolfo's chances of winning are excellent. How can you not love any song with lyrics:

"my mulatta dances it (El Chiki Chiki) with her panties in her hand..."

After all, if Abba can win why not him?

¡Perrea! ¡Perrea!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Time and Flamenco Wait for No Man

 id=It is a scientific fact that Spaniards have internal clocks that run on some whacked out Iberian quartz crystals that cannot be found in North America. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it is a force to be reckoned with if you are one of those time-constricted/restricted anal butt-clenching clock-watchers who like meetings and people to be punctual and for things to happen in a timely manner. Like me.

The reality is that quite simply,
things tend to happen late here. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. And we try. We try hard. We try not to get too freaked out that dinner hour here in most restaurants is closer to 9:30 p.m. than 6. And even then you may be the only people in the restaurant. Yup - breakfast, lunch, dinner, and flamenco.

Flamenco? Sí. A few weeks ago Señor Gato Gringo and I, in an effort to experience something of Andalucían culture which did not come in a bottle, went to a flamenco festival in honour of virtuoso flamenco guitarist Quino (Cinchona) Román here in La Línea. We bought our tickets well over a week in advance and were told that these were the last tickets. That didn't auger well. I made a mental note to bring my glasses.

The show was slated to begin at 10:00 - so the poster had assured us - but remarkably when 10:00 came and we were still on our way to the concert hall, we were neither concerned or frantic. Had we finally kicked the Spanish time gremlin?
A little after 10:00, we arrived at the Palacio de Congresos and joined the several hundred people still milling about the bar - a bar, I might add that served beer for a euro. That I was able to extricate Señor G.G. from the bar was, in itself, a minor miracle.

Eventually, an Official Looking Woman advised us all to finish our drinks and take our seats. Señor G.G. and I, oxygen tanks in tow, began the long labourious ascent to our seats on top of Mount Everest in the final row of the theatre. Shortly after 10:30, Román took his seat on stage and played. Olés were tossed at his feet like roses from the audience.

Román quietly slipped away and a Long Winded Man took the stage and haltingly read something from a 25-page document which, although completely incomprehensible to us, even made the locals fidget in their seats. He rolled up his prodigious scroll and people applauded politely.

During the course of the evening and early morning, we would be plagued with more recitations from the Long Winded Man - and what may have been an awards ceremony, we're not really sure - but there would be other artists: singers who oft id=en erupted into bursts of spontaneous dance and musicians - my favourite of which are the box (cajón) players. I believe they are called "boxists" (I made that up - they are actually called cajónistas which means "boxists") and represent the only musical instrument I could probably master - although the constant threat of splinters turns me off of it somewhat.

For the record, a serious "boxist" (not me) can actually buy a Flamenco Percussion Box
for several hundred euros. From our snow-capped seats on top of Mount Everest in the final row of the theatre, they looked like orange crates. I suspect that the first musicians to start thumping a box didn't have the luxury of choosing between beech and walnut wood for their instruments.

During the entire show, three enlarged photos of Ramon flickered across the screen on the stage. Three. One of which was a blow-up of his hand. I made a mental note to have a word with the producers after the show.

Time passed and we were enthralled/electrified/enraptured by the evening's frenetic soleás, alegrías, bulerías, and fandangos.
Señor G.G. and I even tossed out a few olés and remarkably, we didn't feel like complete knobs in the process. Boxes were thumped, hands clapped, feet stomped, guitars strummed, and pudgy men in sombre suits sprang from their chairs and danced a contortionist's St. Vitus day dance with flowing handkerchiefs in hand.

Then the lights came on.

Was it over? - everyone was getting up. Where were the dancers? There were supposed to be dancers
- so the poster had assured us. We joined the several hundred people milling about the bar - a bar, I might add that served beer for a euro - where we came across a few colleagues. Was it over? we asked. No, no, they assured us. This is only the intermission. We looked at our watches. It was 1:30. Señor G.G and I were nursing nasty colds and we were exhausted. But we wanted to see the dancers. Really we did. But we were sick. And we were oh so tired.

Reader, we caved. Any credibility we gained with our unrestrained
olés vanished the moment we left the Palacio and beetled on home. Spanish time had once again bested us.

The concert ended at 4:30 a.m. We suspect that we missed a very great deal.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

ETA = Death

In the wee hours of yesterday morning, a Citroen was parked outside the Civil Guard barracks at Legutiano, Álava. Inside the barracks were 40 people. Inside the van was a bomb which would kill one Civil Guard and injure four others. The terrorists behind this killing - 2 members of the ETA - escaped into the pre-dawn darkness.

No warning was given for the impending attack. This morning, the funeral was held for husband and father of one, 41-year old José Manuel Piñuel. He had just been stationed in the Basque region two months ago. I hate pinheads. I especially hate pinheads with bombs. And blowing up young parents doesn't make pinhead ideology any more worthy. Or persuasive.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Little Town That Isn't Much of Anything

Historically, the not very picturesque town of La Línea de la Concepción (LLC), which is connected to Gib by the slimmest of umbilical cords (the eastern isthmus of the Bay of Gibraltar) has had its fair share of shit to deal with.

Almost 40 years ago, during his "siege" of the British colony, a particular Spanish dictator - whom I will call The Particularly Rotten Spanish dictator - closed the border between LLC and Gib which had the unarguably immediate effect of ruining the town. In the blink of an eye. Jobs, most of which were on the other end of the 1.6 kilometre-long isthmus, were unaccessible and consequently, one third of the population vanished overnight.

In 1975, the Particularly Rotten Spanish dictator finally died and was buried in a tomb built by a convict labour force of 20,000 Republican prisoners. Half a dozen years later (mas o menos), the border was reopened and the daily comings and goings across the land spit resumed. Linenses (those from LLC) still cross over to buy cheap cigarettes and to fill up their tanks - but now the flow has reversed and Gibraltarians are making the trek to the mainland to find significantly cheaper housing, a lower cost of living and churro stands. Why are there no churro stands in Gib? Oh! - and to play an awful lot of golf. Perhaps that should have been number one.

The transplanting of Gibraltarians has had a rather ugly trickle down effect in LLC. Real estate prices have gone through the roof and many locals cannot afford to buy or rent apartments in their own town. The building boom which has violated the Costa del Sol has spread its noxious tentacles along the coast of La Costa de la Luz, leaving construction cranes and unaffordable and/or unfinished villas and housing estates in its wake. Prices are going up up up.

LLC is a fishing village whose population is now swelling but for whom there are few jobs. Some work along the rather ugly industrialized strip on the Bay of Algeciras; others have returned to the smuggling trade of many of their forebears: smuggling. Now the drug of choice is nicotine and LLC provides warehousing for cheap cigarettes coming out of Gib. The town is suffering from an economic schizophrenia: on the same street you can find luxury homes being slapped up and low-cost subsidized housing whose residents walk the streets and take the bus wearing slippers and housecoats. And hopefully presumably, pajamas underneath. Can't wait for the new villa owners to buy up and move in. That shouldn't be too tense.

Linenses are already feeling resentful. Little wonder.

The Powers That Be in the City Council are in a quandary. LLC needs money, investment, and visitors who spend money in-town. The problem is that no one wants to come to LLC - they want to go to Gib. And there is a logical reason for this: there is nothing to do or see in LLC; in fact, LLC is pretty much a parking lot for Gib. This is not so much LLC's fault - clearly the blame lies at the mouldering feet of The Particularly Rotten Spanish dictator who devastated the town with a misguided whim and the flourish of a pen.

So this past winter, the Powers That Be in the city council orde
red that a garden/park be built - a Leafy Little Thing complete with statuary and a fountain and a peacock. Work began before I arrived in January and was id= finished just last month. Señor Gato Gringo and I have investigated this Leafy Little Thing and have put great thought into whether this Leafy Little Thing will help put LLC on the touristic map. Our thoughts ran in the direction of definitely probably not. Why?

The Statuary: generic almost to the point of unrecognizable Greek gods and goddesses? Please.
I have a Classics degree and I can't even recognize who these statues are supposed to be. The Goddess of Ambiguity? The statues of the three flamenco dancers, the Gibraltar day-worker, and that of flamenco legend Camarón de la Isla we've seen around town tell us you can do much much better. Work on that. Better yet, just move those ones into the Leafy Little Thing. The God of Who-The-Hell-Am-I won't care.

The fountain: the fountain's prancing fluids - which spurt out of the mouths
of two ceramic dolphins - only seem to prance on weekends. A non-prancing-fluid fountain is depressing. Turn the damn tap on.

The Indian Blue peacock: an excellent idea that, but perhaps two peacocks should have been acquired
for the Leafy Little Thing rather than one. Better yet, a peahen. If the peacock and peahen get busy, and the resultant gazillion peafowl begin to overrun LLC, a petting pea-zoo would be a huge tourist draw. Who in their right mind would prefer (illegally) feeding thieving self-gratifying Macaque apes when they can pet a peafowl? Did I mention that the Resident Peacock seems a trifle lonely?

Now, Señor G.G. and I would like to offer a few words of advice to The Powers  id=That Be in the City Council. If you want to make LLC a destination point rather than a parking lot for Gib, try
developing the waterfront. Especially developed ones.
People like waterfronts. And putting up real estate kiosks along the esplanade doesn't count as developed. And open more churro stands. You can never have too many churro stands.

Monday, May 5, 2008


 id=Spring is different things to different people. For e. e. cummings, it was a time when "the world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful." It's when, according to Tennyson that "a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love." For many of Spain's bulls, it is a time to die in very unpleasant circumstances.

Bullfighting Bull-killing season is in full bloom. Posters for upcoming corridas are everywhere: shellacked to buildings, taped in store windows, stapled to notice boards. They are pasted onto placards which are dug deeply into the ground, and sprout from the ground like noxious weeds around traffic circles and near highway exit ramps.

The matadors bull-killers are here.

But on Saturday, there was an unwelcomed addition to the bullfighting bull-killing team at Madrid's Las Ventas bullring: animal rights protesters.


Six most brave banner-waving anti-bullfighting bull-killing protestors leapt into the ring protesting the ritualised torture and execution of Spain's bulls and then staged a brief sit-in in the centre of the killing field. By infiltrating the inner sanctum of the arena, animal activists have succeeded in upping the ante. Until last Saturday, protests have been confined to outside the rings. No more!


Unfortunately that particular corrida's matador bull-killer could not be swayed by the tremendously persuasive arguments of those most brave of protesters, and gave voice to his position by grabbing the placards from their hands and ripping them up. Men in pink hose certainly can be intimidating. Naturally, they were booed by the crowd and then gently escorted out of the arena by security.

Those most brave of protesters, the men in tights and the gentle security guards can be viewed


Presumably those most brave of protesters had no serious expectation of turning the tide of Spanish opinion vis-à-vis bullfighting bull-killing in one fell swoop. And by writing this post, neither do I. I would, however, add that bullfighting bull-killing officials have been known to not only stop the ears of the horses with cotton wool so they can't hear the shrieks of a bull in pain but also cut their vocal cords to prevent them from screaming with fear. That might upset the crowd who are there, after all, to see the courage of the matador tested.

Friday, May 2, 2008

cinco de mayo, schminco de mayo

Or, Yes, I Can Read a Calendar

My, my - how time flies. It was just 200 years ago - 200 years today to be exact - that Spaniards decided that Napoleon Bonaparte's occupying forces had overstayed their welcome. After all, they had been there since the 3rd week of March, and you know what they say about houseguests and fish - how they both start to smell after 3 days ...

So, 200 years ago - 200 years today to be exact - poorly-armed Madrileños took to the streets in order to ask the occupying army to leave por favor. Several hundred dead Madrileños later, the French regained control. On the following day - not today - when cooler heads prevailed, the French retaliated established a commision to deal with the uprising and summarily executed anyone who had been unfortunate enough to be captured bearing any kind of weapon. One can only imagine that the definition of 'weapon' was fairly loose if not completely arbitrary. Potato peelers were probably included.

Hundreds of Madrileños who were fortunate enough not to be killed in the May 2nd rebellion were executed on May 3rd.

Much of what we know - at least visually - about the Dos de Mayo Uprising is due to the efforts of Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes. Or Goya as he is known to history. And although by rights I should be illustrating this post with El dos de mayo de 1808 en Madrid, I have instead chosen El tres de mayo de 1808 en Madrid, only because I like it better when I finally saw this painting in the flesh (or oil & canvas, depending on your perspective), I stared at it for 26 minutes, ingesting its palpable fear and trying not to throw up on the parquet floor of the Prado. And since I have the attention span of a mayfly and a questionable digestive system, that's no mean feat.

So, 200 years - 200 years today to be exact - after the uprising (whose commemorative painting I have elected not to show you), Madrid is on holiday. And how best to honour the memories of the May 2nd rebels and the man who chronicled their fates? If the re-enactments, exhibitions, dance, street theatre and the giant puzzle depicting the events of May 3 aren't enough - and apparently they're not - there's what I like to call 'Goya On Parade'. At 6:00 this evening, six of Goya's cuadros or paintings were 'received' by Madrid's mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón from the Prado and then distributed them by caravan throughout the city. Among the 6 were both El Dos and El tres de mayo de 1808 en Madrid.

For some reason, Goya's Burial of the Sardine wasn't included. Pity. I'm rather fond of that one.

And as much as I love living in Andalucía, I would give my eye teeth to be in Madrid right now. Somehow watching Goya sailing along the streets of Madrid on the evening news just didn't cut it. But being here in the south does have its perks. I did buy a new pair of flip-flops today. They have little fabric roses and sequins. I have great faith that if Goya had seen them, he would have asked me - or at least my feet - to sit for a portrait. But without the firing squad.