Monday, June 30, 2008


Podemos! = we can!

Who thought football can be as fabby as hockey? Or maybe it had to with the fact that yesterday, I personally drank every drop of sangria in the country ...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Brief Digression Inspired by the Light Bulb

 id=It is simple in design - although I've never been able to figure out how it works - and has been around forever. Or at least for about two hundred years which, since my projected life span is less than half of that, is forever. At least 22 different individuals - who were probably able to figure out how it works - have laid claim to its invention prior to Joseph Swan and Thomas Edison, but unfortunately, nobody really gives a rat's ass about them. I am, of course, talking about the light bulb.

But in Spain, the incandescent bulb - which consumes 3% of the energy produced here - will soon be having its filament broken forever: in 3 years time it will be no more. By replacing the incandescent bulb with a low consumption colleague, it's estimated that 6.5 tons of CO2 will be saved each year. So huzzah!

Naturally, when I read that it was lights out for the incandescent bulb, it got me thinking about toilets. How so? you ask.

First let me say that I am rather partial to the motion detector bulbs that for the past several years many Spaniards have screwed into their sockets. They are cost and energy efficient, and have kindly provided me with a remember when story that never fails to make Señor Gato Gringo cringe. And making your husband cringe is what marriage is all about. I'm pretty sure that my mother told me this on my wedding night.

Our first visit to Spain, many years ago, saw a greatly vexed Señor G.G. experiencing his first motion detector light bulb in a roach infested bathroom in Algeciras. A roach infested bathroom, I might add, which was equipped with a Turkish style toilet (which sounds fairly exotic) or a simple squat (which does not). This is a visual you probably don't want to dwell on, but imagine squatting over a hole in a presumably soiled and sticky floor, clutching with one hand at your trousers, when the light - sensing no movement - goes out. Much hilarity ensures as you desperately try to flail your arms about to re-trigger the motion sensor, all the while trying to keep your pants from falling on a presumably soiled  id=and sticky floor and maintaining your balance. I keep telling Señor G.G. he should practise yoga.

Needless to say, his evacuation was not a happy experience although, with practice, Señor G.G. almost/sort-of came to like the squattie. After all, if - and depending where you're travelling this can be an awfully big 'if' - the floor area is clean enough, you can spread the newspaper out and take a shufti at the sports section while answering the call of nature. Oddly enough, this is seldom never given as an argument in favour of adopting the squattie as your loo of choice. But if you're one of the millions of people who have problems relaxing your puborectalis muscle - and modesty prevents me from broaching this subject with Señor G.G - I invite you to click here. If you require a wheelchair to beetle about, never mind.

To recap for those who require a flow chart:

Incandescent bulbs
low consumption bulbs motion detector bulbs → Algeciras squat toilets → fun for the whole family.

Logical, no?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Los Pájaros

 id=It all began in a pet shop in San Francisco with a mynah bird, a couple of lovebirds, a lawyer, and a socialite. Forty-five years later - unlikely though this may seem - it has come to its diabolical climax here in La Línea de la Concepción sans the mynah bird, a couple of lovebirds, a lawyer, and a socialite. But birds there are.

It is "Los Pájaros (2008)".

For the past week or so, La Línea has borne witness to unsettling patterns in natural phenomena, marked by changes in the behaviour of its seagulls. But let me digress for a moment and say that the gulls who call La Línea home are no ordinary birds. They are masters of mimicry - if indeed mimicry is what it is - and can parrot all sorts of creatures: cats, crying infants, screaming children and donkeys. Donkeys.

And although I have lived on my fair share of coastlines, I confess that I've never before encountered seagulls like these, let alone knew that they could do impersonations. I don't know if I should be booking them into gigs at local hotels or be spooked. (The latter! The latter!) In fact, there's something about these particular birds that's a bit disquieting. I'm pretty sure that the ones who roost on our rooftop - which I might add is 97% of the birds in question - have learned to "do" Señor Gato Gringo, albeit with a lisp-y Andalucían accent. I was tipped off when I heard "him" calling out for a thpoon for his cereal the other morning. I foresee weeks of either hilarity or marital strife.

Now it's all coming to a seething head. As if flaunting their complex methods of communication, for the past few days the birds have responded to some sort of universal gull call and have convened in La Línea in huge avian mobs. They are spending hours - most of which are pretty ungodly as our visiting friend and fellow gin & tonic poker-aficionado Mr. N. can attest - screaming and screeching and squawking and barking from their catalogue of voices, careening about rooftops, and generally being humungous pains in the ass. Well not so much humungous but creepy pains in the ass.

I fear they are enlisting the swallows.

Señor G.G. saw one perched level with our bedroom window at 4:00 this morning, trying to decide if it wanted to come in. I suspect that it did want in.

Why are they here? Where is this all going? When will it end? How will it end? Are they here principally to elect the new Gull King? Was La Línea chosen to host the 2008 Convention of Laridae Charadriiformes? Long noted to b id=e avid football fans, are they here to cheer on Spain in Euro 2008? - they were eerily euphoric last night when Spain ended their 88-year "Italian" curse by finally eliminating Italy and moving on to the semifinals. Or are they receiving instructions? Orders? Should I be searching the skies for a mothership? Is something nefarious - something truly dark and deadly - afoot?? (The latter! The latter!) Will we all be found dead one morning, with our eyes pecked out and a clutch of rotting sardines at the foot of our beds?

O the horror!

Addendum: there' s talk of remaking the Hitchcock classic with Naomi Watts in the role of Melanie Daniels made famous by Tippi Hedren. I can only hope it's as good as the remake of Psycho.

O the horror!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Floating Tangerines

 id=I'm not certain how Bib the Michelin Man would feel about the story I am about to relate but I suspect that he wouldn't be too pleased because it involves the flagrant misuse - or abuse - of tires. I believe that car tires are rather sacrosanct in his mind and shouldn't be used for crossing bodies of water larger than a stream.

It seems that weekend before last, much to the presumed consternation of Bib, two Moroccans - Tangerines (natives of Tangier not the citrus fruit) to be exact - crossed the Strait of Gibraltar on an inflated inner tube. (I so wanted to make a Bib & Gib joke here but the moment just never felt right.)

To resume: taking every necessary precaution, the two would-be illegal immigrants hapless wayfarers prudently equipped themselves with one bottle of water and a bag of peanuts for a trip which would take them 3 days to make. I might add that I need more than a bottle of water and a bag of peanuts just to take the bus to Malaga - but this story isn't about me. Nonetheless, with flippers on their feet, they kicked and bobbed their way across the Strait and landed in Marbella (with presumably chilled backsides) into the welcoming arms of the Guardia Civil.

Incidentally, three men were originally supposed to make the illegal voyage across international waters but one wisely opted out, fortuitously leaving more peanuts and water for his compatriots.

Although I'm tempted to bestow upon these two would-be illegal immigrants hapless wayfarers the Pinhead of the Year Award, I am drawn to the case last autumn in which three Moroccans were rescued by a ferry which was just 10 minutes outside of Tangier. The three equally would-be illegal immigrants hapless wayfarers had left Rabat 11 hours earlier, and had reached Tangier by paddling on a surfboard. Of these equally would-be illegal immigrants hapless wayfarers, one especially would-be illegal immigrant hapless wayfarer had fallen into the water and was hanging onto the board as fish nibbled at his feet and human refuse floated by. It's safe to say that the cold (it was November) and 3-metre high waves squashed the travel bug in them. And they hadn't even entered the Strait proper yet.

After much consideration and deliberation, it behooves me to give the Pinhead of th id=e Year Award to the surfing Rabatians. In the end, although all would-be illegal immigrants hapless wayfarers would be repatriated to Morocco, the peanut-munchers on the inner tube did make it to Spain. But then again, they did have an advantage: everyone knows that both tangerines (the citrus fruit) and Tangerines (natives of Tangier) can float.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Tudor King, A Spanish Queen, and a Fresh Cucumber

 id=Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard,

To f
etch her poor dog a bone.
But when she got there,
The cupboard was bare,

And so the poor dog had none.

Even as a child, I found this nursery rhyme problematic. Why would Ms. Hubbard keep a bone in her cupboard? Even in days of pre-refrigeration, were there not better places to store animal parts than in an enclosed cupboard? No wonder the poor dog had none - perhaps she should have checked the stew pot.

Of course, the Ms. Hubbard of the rhyme was a thinly disguised Cardinal Wolsey who had the occasion to greatly annoy Henry VIII by refusing to endorse the latter's divorce from Katherine of Aragón. To complete our Nursery Rhyme 101 class, the "bone" was the much sought after annulment/divorce requested by the Tudor king or "doggie". And the cupboard? - no less than the Catholic Church.

Wolsey would eventually be accused of treason but would die on his way to London where he was to stand trial. Henry's marriage to Katherine of Aragón was declared null and void, and the Spanish Queen spent her remaining years banished from court, denied the right to see her own daughter, the future Queen Mary.

So where am I going with this? It seems that Aragón is seeing its fair share of empty cupboards today. As are Castilla y León , Murcia, and Galicia. As is the entire country.

Señor Gato Gringo and I popped into a grocery store on the way to work this morning to pick up some fresh vegetables. As it turned out, our shopping experience was but a brief one because the cupboards were bare. And by cupboards I mean shelves and not the Catholic Church. The same was true in the bread aisle - ditto in the cheese and meat department. There was no fresh fish. The grocery store looked like it had been looted after some post-apocalyptic event. Except for the liquor, potato chips and cereal aisles - thank  id=the gods they were still stocked! And because we are rather thick people by nature, it took us about 3 minutes before we figured it out: the truck strike.

Today is Day 3 of the "indefinite" truck strike that's gripped Spain and parts of Europe. Protesting the soaring cost of fuel, truckers are shutting down the country: gumming up traffic by travelling the highways at a snail's pace, causing gas stations to run dry and grocery stores from restocking their shelves with produce. Petrol tankers are now under police escort. Some factories - notably Mercedes - have closed their doors because parts cannot be delivered. Ferry companies have cancelled routes; work at 60% of the construction sites in the province of Málaga has come to a standstill. One picketer was killed in Granada and another in Portugal, which somehow puts my inability to buy a fresh cucumber into perspective.

Yesterday, the Government and the National Commission for Road Transport (which represents the majority of Spain's truck drivers) reached an agreement on 54 measures to improve the current situation but this doesn't mean that the strike is over as two other trucking organizations have already rejected its terms.

Which b
rings me back to Ms. Hubbard. It seems to me that it wouldn't be a huge  id=abuse of artistic licence to reinterpret the rhyme given the current political climate. You know, the dog would be consumers, the bone would be affordable petrol, the cupboard ... you get the picture. I can only hope that the next time I venture outside, I'm not reminded of any other nursery rhymes - say, Ring Around the Rosie which many believe refers to the Black Death.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Ten Simple Rules for 'Doing the Bull'

 id=One of the advantages of not having been raised Protestant is that neither Señor Gato Gringo nor I have any sort of work ethic. So, it was with great ease and no strain on our consciences that we ditched work on Friday, borrowed a car, and sped up the coast to El Puerto de Santa María to visit the Osborne winery. Having already graced the González-Byass and Domecq wineries with our presence, it was high time we extended the courtesy to Osborne.

This being our third bodega - and I don't mind saying that our not having yet visited the manzanilla bodegas of Sanlúcar de Barrameda weighs heavily on my mind - and being self-acclaimed V
eterans of the Bodega Tour Experience, I have compiled a simple Do-list for visiting the Osborne (or any, for that matter) bodega.

Ten Simple Rules for 'Doing the Bull'

1) Do allow yourself plenty of time for your trip. This being summer, you will find your progress impeded both by road construction and the one Spaniard in the entire country who drives 15 kilometres under the speed limit on the single no-passing lane hairpin roads to the Jerez area.

2) Do try to time your visit with a group of Dutch tourists. Sherry consumption is not a part of their cultural genetics and they will either refrain from dri
nking altogether or have a sip or two out of politeness, leaving several full bottles for your enjoyment. Never visit a bodega with Brits.

3) Do pay attention to the how-sherry-is-made video as the tour guides at Osborne will quiz you during the tour. As we had ignored Rule #1 and arrived late - half-way through the video - we missed the final Jeopardy(!) question which would be later posed to us. But so did everyone else and they had seen the entire video. Being Veterans of the Bodega Tour Experience, we naturally knew the answer but were reluctant to flaunt the depth of our knowledge at the expense of the others on the tour. After a very uncomfortable and very pregnant pause of about 55 seconds, we piped up with the correct answer, earning us paeans of praise from our guide and filthy looks from the Dutch who I thought were supposed to be nice people. In any case, it would be exceptionally useful to memorize the following terms before you embark on a tour at Osborne as these are the most likely correct responses to any final Jeopardy(!) question posed by a guide.

* flor
* chalk

* humidity
* palomino
* soleras
North American oak

Don't worry that you don't even know what these terms signify or that you may blurt out the incorrect answer - you will impress your guide with your retention of this extensive and highly technical sherry vocabulary.

4) Do eat breakfast beforehand i
f your tour is in the morning. At Osborne, the English-language tour is at the ungodly hour of 10:30 so there is the very real possibility that - like Señor G.G. and I - you will be three sheets to the wind by 11:30 a.m. Especially if you have followed Rule #2.

5) Don't panic if you skipped Rule #4. If you are unable to have breakfast before attending a tour and you find yourself three sheets to the wind by 11:30 a.m., know that the chips and olives provided by the bodega are an excellent source of protein and easily fulfils your daily requirements of vitamins and minerals.

6) Do leave all politeness at the door. You are expected
to refill your glass and encouraged to crack the seal on unopened bottles left on the table. Don't be shy - just because the tour guide has slipped out to have a cigarette doesn't mean that the sampling has ended. Odds are you will be berated if she returns to full bottles. We were.

7) Do realize that Rule #8 is predicated on adherence to Rule #6. Which leads me to ...

8) Do prepare to mortgage your house before entering the gift shop. This is especially true if you have followed Rule #5. It's astounding what you suddenly realize you can't live without after a bracing breakfast of potato chips, olives, and the better part of five bottles of sherry. Who doesn't need a bottle of Solera Gran Reserva designed by Salvador Dalí or an umbrella splattered with dozens of Osborne bulls?

9) Do have your photo taken with a bull. Since clambering up th
 id=e sides of the AP-series of highways just to have your picture taken with an Osborne bull can be a bit foolhardy and besides, you are probably three sheets to the wind, you should take advantage of the smaller stationary bulls in the bodega's courtyard. Your mother will thank you.

10) Do realize that your day is now shot. If you have taken a morning tour, by the time you have finished, sampled every available bottle, and spent your children's inheritance in the gift shop, everything in town will be on the verge of closing for the siesta. Since you are already three sheets to the wind and there is nothing you can do about Time, you might as well find a bar and patiently wait it out until 5:00.

Strict adherence to these 10 Simple Rules will guarantee a worry-free and happily sodden visit to any of Spain's bodegas. Of course, I will be happy to make any necessary amendments after completing the Sherry Triangle with our next road trip to
Sanlúcar de Barrameda. It is truly gratifying to be helpful. In fact, I feel so good about compiling this list that I can totally almost deal with the Catholic guilt of skipping work on Friday. Perhaps I should buy a plenary indulgence from the Church - isn't that what they're there for? Or better yet, just open that bottle of Solera Gran Reserva designed by Salvador Dalí. After all, Spain is a secular country.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Squirrelly Thoughts

They can be a high level imperative/OO programming computer language or a common rodent. Among the latter - because I know zippo about scripting tools - they have names like Fox and Douglas, American Red and Eastern Grey. They come in red and grey, black and albino. They Some fly although most don't. A very famous one comes from Frostbite Falls although most don't. They are omnivores but cannot digest cellulose. Their brains are the size of a walnut which is interesting because they eat walnuts. Until 1975, they appeared in The Joy of Cooking.

And they now appear in the window of a local pet store.

Yes, it seems that squirrels - and chipmunks - are among La Línea's pet of choice. The squirrels in question are of the red variety which is good news for kids since The Joy of Cooking suggests that red squirrels taste quite gamey and should be passed over in favour of grey squirrels, so there's no fear that Mr. Nutty's cage will be culled near dinner time.

Chipmunks apparently taste rather nasty.

I confess that I can't quite get my head around this one. Perhaps denizens of whichever country(ies) hedgehogs call home felt the same thing when those spiny little creatures became all the rage in North America.

But squirrels? Chipmunks? How much fun can they be? Do they purr? Do they fetch? Beyond teaching them to eat out of your hand - which even my goldfish learned to do (and they played chase and hide & seek) - the best you can expect is to have the power lines in your backyard chewed to bits.

Of course, I'm just wilfully contrary because a squirrel that I once tried to
tame bit me - this after my mother told me to stay away from it. She was right. My hand hurt. And I didn't have the nerve to tell her and I spent weeks feverishly vigilant for signs of rabies. Fortunately, irritability, bizarre thoughts, and abnormal postures are among its symptoms so my parents were none the wiser.

Presumably the fellows in the pet store window don't have rabies, and in their honour I raise my voice in song:

How much is that doggie rodent in the window? (arf! arf!) (squeak! squeak!)
The one with the waggley bushy tail
How much is that doggie rodent in the window? (arf! arf!) (squeak! squeak!)
I do hope that doggie's rodent 's for sale