Monday, July 28, 2008

Bad Mail Karma

I come from a family encumbered with the pain and suffering of Bad Mail Karma although fortunately, for the most part, I have been spared many of the horrors which have been visited upon my mother and her sisters. In Spain - contrary to the experiences of my fellow-bloggers - I have experienced nothing less than stellar service from the Post Office. In fact, the only pieces of mail I have failed to receive have been letters sent by my mother and her sisters. But that's their Bad Mail Karma, not mine.

Last week a notice was crammed into our mailbox indicating that either a registered letter or a package - for the little descriptive box remained unticked - was awaiting me or Señor Gato Gringo- for the name in the little address box was illegible - at La Línea's Correos. Huzzah! - a parcel! Or a letter! Is it even for us? asked Señor G.G. who had clearly and rather maliciously just donned his buzzkill hat. You can't read the name on the pick-up notice. It behooved me to remind him that, unlike my family, I don't suffer from Bad Mail Karma.

Now because this is the summer and because this is Spain, many of the country's services have pared back their hours of operation. The post office in La Línea is no exception. In the realm of I-want-to-work-for-the-Spanish-post-office-when-I-grow-up, the Correos here is open from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. for the duration of the summer. Which makes for very long line-ups from 8:00 a.m. to 12:59 p.m. After several abortive and admittedly half-hearted attempts to wait patiently in line, I finally capitulated last Thursday, and not only joined the line but stood in it not very patiently while those in front of me remortgaged their homes and set up trust funds for their grandchildren and mailed boxes of sherry to Uruguay. All requiring vast numbers of forms and a multitude of stamps.

Thirty-ish minutes later, I eagerly thrust my notice and my passport under the glass partition which separated me and a Frazzled Postal Worker, sending him off to the parcel shelf on what I hoped would not be a wild goose chase. Would it be a package? A prezzie?!! I asked Señor G.G. who, upon close inspection, was not only still wearing his buzzkill hat but had also adopted a don't-get-your-hopes-up expression. Husbands can be so tiresome.

Much to my disappointment - although I think I detected an I-told-you-so humpfff from Señor G.G. - the Frazzled Postal Worker quickly abandoned the parcel shelf and began rooting through the registered mail file, from which he pulled out a rather dull but official-looking letter. I offered Señor G.G a you-can-take-your-I-told-you-so humpfff and ram-it-up-your-ass-humpfff of my own. Amidst the humpfffing the Frazzled Postal Worker shoved my pick-up notice and a pen under the glass partition and asked me (I think) to sign for it. I duly signed the notice and shoved it and the pen back under the glass partition. He then shoved the letter and my original pick-up notice back under under the glass partition.

It wasn't for me.

Not only was it not for me but the recipient's name clearly indicated that he was of the y-chromosome persuasion. Perhaps a quick shufti at my passport - or my double-D secondary sexual characteristics - would have satisfied the Frazzled Postal Worker that I could not be anyone by the name of Francisco or Javier.

I confess that I left the Correos a little disappointed and a whole lot perplexed; after all, I had just
been handed a registered letter which clearly belonged to an individual of the opposite sex as well as the original pick-up notice which bore his name and my signature. Indeed, there would be no record that Francisco Javier had picked the letter up. I could rip it up unto a thousand little pieces and cackle in malevolent delight as his electricity is turned off. Hope he's not showering at the time. So it would seem that, like my mother and aunts, Francisco Javier too suffers from Bad Mail Karma.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

All's Not Fair

 id=L.P. Hartley once wrote that the past is like a foreign country because they do things differently there. As a corollary to that, I would add that foreign countries are like foreign countries because they also do things differently there. Profound, no?

How so? you ask.

I offer, by way of illustration of the aforementioned profound observation, the innocuous county fair. As a child I spent much of the summer pining for the fairs which, like cotton candied mushrooms, sprung up in southern Ontario towards the end of August. Fairs which, I would add, for kids were also dark harbingers of the End of Time as they normally closed on Labour Day (the first Monday of September). School began on the following day. Such was the bitterest irony of childhood.

For the past few weeks, harbinger-free ferias have been popping up everywhere in Spain and so, having temporarily exchanged my Publicity Truck Anthropologist hat for a Spanish Fairground Anthropologist hat, I would like to offer a few observations/comparisons between the fair that Señor Gato Gringo and I visited in modest, unprepossessing, nondescript La Línea and that of the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), Canada's mega fall fair extravaganza held in Toronto.

1) Admission
La Línea: free
CNE: $10

2) Beer
La Línea: a major brewery is a corporate sponsor, so expect to be able to buy a can of Cruzcampo at every vendor's stall, including ice cream stands. Because this is a fair, you can also expect to pay the exorbitant price of 1.50 for a beer. You may, however, walk about the fair grounds - and throughout the city for that matter - with an open can. Salud!

CNE: a major brewery is a corporate sponsor, but don't expect to be able to buy a can of Labatt's Blue at any vendor's stall, including ice cream stands. You will have to purchase your brew at licensed bars, beer halls, and restaurants. Because this is a fair, you can also expect to pay the exorbitant price of $4.00 upwards for a beer. You may not walk about the fair grounds - and throughout the city for that matter - with an open can. Cheers!

3) Midway Games
La Línea: yes, you can while away the hours demonstrating your id= shooting skills with an air rifle and target. Boring no? Ahhhh, but your prize isn't a mirror printed with a Rollings Stone album cover but a glass (or two) of regional wine or sherry. This is Shooting for Shots (as seen right). Uh-oh! - won too much and having difficulty aiming your rifle? No problem! - apparently everyone is a winner at this game and lack of accuracy is no impediment to being handed a shot of manzanilla. Goodness, even the people who run the games are tippling!

Shooting for Shots ... bwahahahahahaha. No.

4) Midway Barkers
La Línea: barkers here don't bark which leads me to consider renaming them. Perhaps we can call them mute-ers. Although you can find barkers along the midway and behind the stalls of their games of chance, they will leave you alone. Often, when they're not having a shot of wine, they appear rather bored. If you suffer from feelings of low self-esteem, better to avoid the midway.

CNE: barkers here are worse than their bark (apologies for the skewed metaphor) and it is best to abstain from making eye contact with one of their ilk, lest your manhood be impugned and you end up spending $55 just to win a $3 Shrek doll.

4) Portrait Studios
La Línea: likely to jump at the opportunity to dress up in costumes from the Old West and have your photo taken in front of a backdrop of a real sort-of bona fide bogus saloon? Well, you can't do that here but you can send your kiddies off to dress up in traditional Spanish costumes and sit at a table replete with a bottle of sherry and awaiting glasses.

CNE: Taking photographs of your children holding wine glasses aloft is not encouraged but you can dress up in costumes from the Old West and have your photo taken in front of a backdrop of a real sort-of bona fide bogus saloon.

5) The Virgin Mary id=
La Línea: blessings from the Virgin are actively sought among midway barkers and vendors, and it is not uncommon to find photos of her displayed among prize lots of stuffed dogs and penises (see right: virgin on the bottom shelf, penises on the top ... whatever would the Pope think?).

CNE: the Virgin is conspicuously absent.

6) Closing Time
La Línea: the word flexible jumps to mind. The feria closes when people go home. Throughout the week, midway lights were turned off between 5 and 6 a.m. On the final night - or morning - we joined fair-goers on our bus to work. At 8:30 a.m. The fair had just closed. If you're not much of a night hawk, the kind people who organized raffles considerately selected 2:30 a.m. for the drawing of winning tickets.

CNE: closes sensibly at midnight (exhibition buildings at 10:00).

I could continue - in between beer and homemade potato chips I did take extensive albeit illegible and greasy notes - but I think I've made my point rather impressively. And the point, in case you've lost track of it, is that
foreign countries are like foreign countries because they also do things differently there. And by differently, I mean very differently. Olé.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Un Mosaico de Mí

 id=Once again, work has become rather burdensome and has cast its noisome shadow over the those things most important in my life; namely, over my vast leisure activities. Because of my current Reduced Blogging Capabilities (RBC) - which I hope will be temporary - I'm going to take a short cut this morning by brazenly stealing an idea from fellow blogger My Blue Streak. Like her, I seldom bore readers with exhibitionist indulgences (an obvious exception being the search for my peculiar aristocratic name which, not surprisingly, is Baroness La Gatita the Ceaseless of Midhoop St Giggleswich), but this one was rather fun.

Create a Mosaic of You-ness

a. Go to Mosaic Maker and open a free account.
b. Go to
Flickr Search and type your answer to each of the questions below.
c. Choosing from images which appear on the first page
only (no cheating), choose one.
d. Copy and paste each of the URLs for the images into Mosaic Maker.
And the questions are ...

1. What is your first name?
2. What is your favourite food?
3. What high school did you go to?

4. What is your favourite colour?
5. Who is your celebrity crush?

6. Favourite drink?

7. Dream vacation?

8. Favourite dessert?

9. What you want to be when you grow up?

10. What do you love most in life?

11. One word to describe you.

12. Where do you live?

This is mine - I'm sure the ancient Romans would be green with envy:

I have few explanations for #10's photo (What do you love most in life?) but rest assured, the words ape, primate, simian and/or monkey did not figure into the equation.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

My Life as a Publicity Truck Anthropologist

 id=Spanish neighbourhoods are seldom quiet and, yes, I've accepted the fact that people here don't need a phone or be face-to-face to conduct lengthy conversations. Half a city block is hardly an impediment to having a nice roaring chat.

But one day last spring the street was louder than usual.
It was squawkier than usual.

In fact I thought it was a car stereo blaring at the usual eardrum-popping decibels favoured by most young Spaniards. But the second time it happened, I realized that even by Spanish standards this was ear-bleedingly loud. The third time, I actually grabbed my Nancy Drew magnifying glass and looked out the window. And by grabbed my Nancy Drew magnifying glass and looked out the window I really mean that I asked Señor Gato Gringo to look out the window and to promptly report back. Which he did.

It was a publicity truck.

I confess that upon hearing this I sprung from the sofa and rushed over to the window my curiosity was piqued. What was this? - 1953? Industrialized countries still used publicity vehicles? Why? To advise us all to grab a bible and head for our bomb shelters? Should I duck and cover? Will they sound an all-clear? Even for La Línea, this was bizarre.

Of course, this was only the beginning. Over the course of the last seven months we would encounter many many very loud publicity vehicles in La Línea as well as in other parts of Andalucía. If the promoter is savvy and plasters a poster to the side of his vehicle, we can with great erudition figure out what is being advertised - for instance a bullfight or a concert - otherwise we are completely in the dark.

And having carefully observed said vehicles over these past months and taken meticulously detailed notes, I can safely say (in my role as Publicity Truck Anthropologist) that I've spotted marked similarities within this herd of seemingly disparate creatures; namely:

1) Their message is not only tinny but entirely incomprehensible - not just to me I suspect but to those who share the speaker's mother tongue. Presumably this is because their audio system dates from the Spanish Civil War. Franco called and he wants his loudspeakers back.

2) They are very very loud. Given that most streets in our town are one-way and extremely narrow (pedestrians or motorized vehicles were clearly an afterthought to La Línea's road planners), the already deafening racket bounces up up up into the windows of us those unfortunate enough to be living on the top floor of their apartment buildings.

3) A natural corollary to featuring an unintelligible voice-over and an unreasonably loud sound system is to add a soundtrack. In fact, I suspect that it is de rigueur to select music best suited for - and probably plucked from - a 'mental hygiene' classroom film from 1964.

4) The vehicles are clunkers seldom pretty. Sometimes they are vans, other times trucks, and often a station wagon. Being that I didn't think station wagons still existed pretty much guarantees that, in the evolutionary world of cars, they are firmly idling in the Middle Pleistocene period.

All in all, I have to wonder about the efficacy of advertising in such a Fred Flintstone-like manner. I mean, Spain is hardly an illiterate country and Spaniards are voracious readers. And to be honest, these publicity cars scare the crap out of me. Not just because they're really loud (which they are) but I keep wondering if there's a really important message that I'm missing. Are they closing the border with Gib again? Are terrorist pinheads targeting sites in La Línea (God, I had to wipe the tears from my eyes as I typed that), or has someone thrown dead water buffaloes into the town's water supply?

Or maybe they are mental hygiene tips blaring through the streets of La
Línea. That might explain why Señor G.G. has been building that bomb shelter on the roof and washing his hands a great deal and rereading his driver's manual. His Spanish must be a lot better that I thought.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

How Not to Do Córdoba.

 id=Hot on the heels of vowing never to complain about the heat, Señor Gato Gringo and I decided to escape the heat that I'm not complaining about and take a junket out of town this past weekend. And what better way to escape the heat that I'm not complaining about than by visiting a city 10 degrees hotter! Not that I'm complaining. But it is disconcerting to watch the colour of your pee turn darker and darker (a nice yellow ochre jumps to mind) in spite of the fact that you're imbibing 2 litres of beer, sangria water an hour.

So to make amends to the weather gods whom I've clearly offended, I offer an albeit brief but heartfelt Travel Advisory for the City of Córdoba. So without further ado ...

How Not to Do Córdoba

1) Don't be seduced by July/August rates.
There is a perfectly rational reason why hotel rates plummet during the dogs days of summer - which by some astronomical anomaly are about 75 days long in Córdoba rather than a week. In short, it's hot (not that I'm complaining). If you really had your heart set on traipsing about labyrinthine alleys which admit no breeze and watching the ice melt in your sangria as the waiter crosses a shadeless plaza to serve you, ignore Rule #1; otherwise, spring for an extra 10 euros and come any other time of the year.

2) Don't even bother coming on Sundays and Mondays. Pretty much everything of a cultural and historical nature closes at 2:00 on Sunday and reopens Tuesday morning. To me this seems a somewhat uppity slap in the face to the Unwritten Rule in Europe that everything of a cultural and historical nature is closed on Tuesday. If shopping and drinking is your thing, ignore Rule #2; otherwise, if you really had your heart set on seeing the Mezquita, see you on Tuesday. Or Wednesday. Or Thursday. You get the drift.

3) Don't accept a "gift" from the "persistent ladies" around the Mezquita. I trust everyone caught the wickedly clever subtleties in my choice of vocabulary, because by "gift" I mean not a gift at all, and by "persistent ladies" I really mean gypsies. In any case, don't even think of touching, let alone expelling carbon dioxide on their regalo, their "gift" of a sprig of rosemary because it is not a regalo but an opportunity to separate a fool (you) from his/her (your) money. If you really had your heart set on having your wallet snatched out of your hand by the "persistent lady's" accomplice, ignore Rule #3; otherwise, choose to make eye contact with the cobblestones and/or adopt a callous sneer as you walk the city's streets.

4) Don't look for a drink after 11:00. Defying every law of physics, Córdoba's sidewalks have the preternatural ability to roll up with no human or mechanical assistance or contrivance around 11:00 at night. Although theoretically an intellectually stimulating phenomenon to witness, this is truly not a wondrous event to experience when it's, say, 11:01 and you really want a beer and because it's 11:01, the temperature has probably plummeted to 35° which, as everyone knows, is a doable climate in which to sit out of doors with a cold beer. In a word: find an after hours bar. If you really had your heart set on ending your evening at 11:01 ignore Rule #4; otherwise, when the clock hits 10:59, give chase to any thirsty-looking local.

5) Don't trust any guidebook or, for that matter, this Travel Advisory for the City of Córdoba. The Tourism Poobahs of the City of Córdoba are notorious for changing the hours of operation for monuments and museums. Why they do this to unsuspecting visitors is not clear to me - I have generously eliminated gratuitous evil as a likely motivation - but I do I suspect that toga-wearing augers with freshly sacrificed birds in one hand and greasy entrails in the other are involved in selecting the hours and dates slated to be changed. After all, Córdoba was once the capital of the Roman province of Hispania Baetica and I'm sure that old habits die hard. If you really had your heart set on spending the evening in the gardens of the Alcázar because your guidebook told you it would be open, ignore Rule #5; otherwise, verify all times at the nearest Punto de Información Turística.

6) Don't trust the
Punto de Información Turística. It's not that they intentionally lie - again, I've generously eliminated gratuitous evil as a likely motivation for their dispensing of misinformation - but take everything with a grain of sal. Córdoba is vying with Łódź in Poland for the title of Miss Cultural Capital of Europe for the year 2016 and consequently, 93% of the old city is under renovation. In a word: Spain is a country ensnared in red tape, and as we all know, in every bureaucratic system, right hands and left hands seldom have martini lunches over which to catch up on news - notably, what's currently cocooned in scaffolding and therefore closed to the public. If you really had your heart set on only viewing the Convent of Santa Fill-in-the-blank from the outside, ignore Rule #6; otherwise, verify all times at the nearest Punto de Información Turística ... there is no otherwise.

You're welcome.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Walking Sweating in a Winter Summer Wonderland

I swore when I left Canada for balmier climes three years ago that I would never - on pain of death - complain about the heat. And although I came dangerously close to forfeiting my life by a rogue weather commentary in the blog I maintained during my former incarnation, I have remained true to my word. Somehow biting on my tongue and grinning like an imbecile while perspiration collects in a tepid lagoon between my cleavage is still more favourable to having your friends hold you down and shove forks into your eye sockets.

Having said that, it's hot out. Really hot. Not that I'm complaining.

For the past week or so, Andalucía has been cursed blessed with 60% humidity and temperatures in the high 30's to the mid 40's which, if Spain were cursed blessed with a Humidex, would be more accurately represented by readings in the mid 40's to low 50's. It is so hot that Señor Gato Gringo and I have been pricing the inflatable kiddie pools at Carrefour with an eye on the almost shady (not really) corner of our roof terrace. Unfortunately, we can't choose between the high-spirited dolphins or the chilled penguin motifs but until we can, I'm not complaining.

So yes, it would seem that once again the Leveche or the Sirocco or the Chergui (call it what you will) is in town - the furnace-like winds which blast up through North Africa from the Sahara. In Morocco, life pretty much comes to a complete standstill when the Chergui blows in on its noxious winds. Not that I ever complained. Not surprisingly, Spain isn't much different. Only the beer is more plentiful and cheaper. And the sangria - did I mention that?

So I have bought a fan. And I use it. It seems that they're not totally decorative after all although mine is awfully pretty. What's there not to like about polka dots and bulls?

Having now experienced the Levanter winds of winter and now the blistering blasts of the Leveche, I feel like our stay in the south has been nicely bookended, meteorologically speaking. Personally, I'm just relieved that we won't have to endure Spain's northerly wind, the Matacabras - the "goat-killer wind". Not that I would complain if we had to. Although the goats probably do.