Friday, August 29, 2008

The 9 Lives of Gatita Gringa: Life the 8th

I'm not terribly adept at ending blogs - not that I have much experience as this is only my second one but the tickets have been bought, a new Lonely Planet purchased, and the suitcases crammed to beyond capacity, so the time is nigh.

Nonetheless, saying adios - or more accurately, since I'm in southern Spain, adiohhhhh - is not easy.

So rather than saying adiohhhhh, I'll say gracias - or more accurately, since I'm in southern Spain, grathiahhhhh - to this country for such a fabulous year. Thank you (in random order) for:

1) Olive oil & tomato toast and cañas of beer for breakfast.

2) Manzanilla and cream sherries and ponche caballero (a heavenly concoction of brandy, Andalucían oranges, plums, raisins, nuts, and cinnamon).

3) Sangria and tinto de verano because, often, the weather demands it. And I never argue with the weather.

4) Cold Spanish lager; notable inclusions being Alhambra, Mezquita (okay, it's not a lager), Mahou and Cruzcampo (goodness, I detect a theme).

5) Tortilla - especially the tortilla baguettes served at the Europa 2 bar in Granada.

6) Andalucía's weather: 10 months of flip-flop weather (12 if you don't mind getting your feet wet) warms the cockles of my heart.

7) Gibraltar (okay, not Spanish but our drink-soddened Fridays at the Clipper very much coloured our experience here).

8) Allowing the Moors to wreck havoc from 711 until 1492 (mas o menos), but not destroying their architecture after showing them the door. After all, nothing screams 'church belfry' like a minaret.

9) Developing an anti-bullkilling fighting ethos - albeit slowly. But kudos to you for fighting the tough fight - some day, a couple of hundred thousand bulls will thank you.

10) Cervecería 100 Montaditos for having vegetarian tapas options (high praise indeed went to the blue cheese and walnut mini baguette which has since been inexplicably struck from their menu).

11) Potato chips - notably Santa Ana. Sadly, my chip-eating experiences will never be the same.

12) Saint Days. What's there not to like about a day (or 2 or 3) away from work, a copious amount of alcohol, and a borderline medieval procession or two?

13) Ferias - notably Málaga's. Not that I remember very much of it. A
drunken nod goes to the especially incorrect ones like the festival de Moros y Cristianos in Alcoy - a costumed re-enactment which commemorates a particularly heated battle between Moorish and Christian soldiers in the 13th century. The Moors always seem to lose. Funny, that.

14) The Osborne Bull. I saw my first bull-on-the-horizon 8 years ago and I still thrill to see el toro atop a hill or standing right-in-your-face by the side of the road. Honourable mention goes to the roadside Tío Pepe bottle.

Kukuxumusu designs. Mr. Testes balls always make me howl, not to mention all those trans-species copulators.

16) Flamenco. How will our Camarón de la Isla cds fair outside of Spain? Will the duende still be there? And the burning question: will Señor Gato Gringo ever learn to play the

17) Every Spaniard who couldn't understand a word I said but still tried to make sense of what I was trying to say. An exception being the chica who works in our local pizzeria - how I ever got served a Coca Light after asking - twice - for an agua con gas still defies logic.

18) Madrid. Yeah, yeah, I know: Barcelona, Barcelona, Barcelona. Gaudí Schmaudí. Madrid is - well, Madrid is Madrid. (How obtuse is that?). And Madrid has a bear. Bears rock.

19) Fans. The corollary to 10 months of flip-flop weather (12 if you don't mind getting your feet wet) is having a fan. My favourite has pterodactyls on it. Fans are pretty. Fans work. Why ever don't men use them? - oh right, because men are stupid.

20) Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Martyr Patricio Clito Ruíz y Picasso. Love him or hate him - and I know more people who hate him than love him - Picasso was indisputably the most influential artist in the history of the crayon, paint brush or lump of coal. Born in Málaga, he vowed not to return to Spain while General Franco was in power. Alas, Picasso predeceased Franco by 2 years and never returned to the ¡hola!-land.

Note: a nod to Ms. and Mr. runners-up Penélope Cruz (Señor G.G.'s choice) and Antonio Banderas (mine). Oh, and Javier Bardem (damn!).

Anyway, adiohhhhh and grathiahhhhh. Better yet, rather than saying goodbye, I offer an hasta luego - or more accurately, since I'm in southern Spain, 'uegohhhhh. Because it is 'uegohhhhh not adiohhhhh.

p.s. Be kind to stray animals. And because this is Spain, be nice to donkeys too.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

19 Survivors

I've never seen Madrid's oso crying before.
Descanse en paz.
Rest in peace.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Sacred & the Sacred Profane

 id=This past Feast of the Assumption-long weekend I found myself - possibly like many Spaniards - dangling from the horns of a very Spanish dilemma. Do I sing hosannas to the Virgin Mary or not do much of anything at all? Look skyward envisioning Our Lady ascending to the heavens or offer up a prayer of thanksgiving to the night sky that it's still bright out at 10:00? Sit quietly in church fumbling with my rosary or lie on the beach with a very cold tinto de verano in my hand? Decisions, decisions.

Spain being a secular country and the Virgin Mary purportedly being nice and all, I think she probably didn't condemn me for the fact that I eschewed the dreariness of church for the sparkling water of the pool ... although I'm pretty sure I did raise a glass to her. Always good to hedge your bets.

In truth, like myself,
Spaniards seem to have few problems distinguishing the sacred from the profane - at least when it comes to long weekends in August. Sociologist Émile Durkheim once postulated that what is deemed sacred in the world is not necessarily good and what is profane is equally not necessarily evil. Ergo, there are no hard and fast rules - and nowhere is this more evident than in Spain.

Permit me to illustrate:

I mentioned in my previous post that
Señor Gato Gringo and I recently visited Sanlúcar de Barrameda in order to consolidate our positions as World Class Sherry Aficionados. While waiting for the bodeda to open beetling about the town, we popped into the 16th century iglesia of San Francisco, built by Henry VIII as a hospital for English sailors. One can only imagine that funding for the church took a serious tumble after he banished his then-wife Catherine of Aragon from court but that's for another blog, a historical romance and possibly a mini series.

It was very pretty although the articulated statue of Christ on the Cross was a little over-the-top.

just outside the church, celebrating the glory of God and the ingenuity of humankind, is a resplendent pyramid of manzanilla barrels from the Bodegas Pedro Romero. This is the sacred and the sacred! How clever is that? So how is it that I've never seen beer kegs arranged o-so-prettily outside any church back home? Have the Spaniards figured out something that we in North America have yet to? (Yes).

Later that day, while waiting for the Mexican restaurant to open beetling about Spain's windy city Tarifa (yes, the t-shirts are right: Tarifa does blow) we popped into the iglesia San Mateo. And although I could have spent a little more time admiring the 16th century Gothic architecture of the church's interior, it was its 17th century Baroque facade set off to full advantage by the lottery ticket vendor at its entrance that caught my eye.

After all, it's never to early to buy my El Gordo lottery ticket - the draw, after all, is only 4 months away.

And although I appreciate the fact that bingo has long been a popular source of revenue for the Catholic Church deemed a morally acceptable alternative to gambling (why exactly I've yet to figure out), I've never noticed lottery ticket hawkers at church doors before. Perhaps I'm not terribly observant or perhaps the fact that San Mateo is the patron saint of bankers has something to do with it ...

Let me quickly add that a portion of my ticket will go to church renovations, so by financially assisting a historical church, my big fat el gordo win is a shoe in. (Of course, Tarifa's 20,000-some inhabitants probably feel much the same way). After all, nothing in Spain goes together better than religion, booze and gambling. And to that I say amen - or better yet, olé.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing

 id=It's not like I expected the heavens to open up and hosts of seraphim and cherubim to descend, placing a golden crown upon my brow. Although that would have been nice.

It's not like I expected a mighty sceptre to be placed in my hands and a satin sash tied about my person by no less than the King of Spain himself. Although that would have been nice too.

It's not like I expected a t-shirt that said "I did the Sherry Triangle and All I Got Was a Lousy T-shirt" slipped over my head. But I would probably have settled for that.

Just about anything would have sufficed ...

This weekend, marked by a visit to Sanlúcar de Barrameda,  id= Señor Gato Gringo and I made good on a vow we made back in December: to complete Cádiz' Triple Crown of bodegas before we left Spain. Now I suspect that there are equally laudable goals a visitor to Spain can set for him or herself - although truthfully, no examples spring immediately to mind - but surely this is one that merits some sort of official recognition. Perhaps if Franco were still alive ...

As I expounded upon oh so many months ago, for sherry to be sherry it must be fermented and fortified in one of these three towns in Cádiz: Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar and El Puerto de Santa María. Of the three, Sanlúcar is probably best known for my not-very-secret vice - its manzanilla: a fino wine rendered slightly salty by the winds which blow off the sea estuary of the Guadalquivir river.  id=Needless to say, on Saturday Señor G.G. and I made a sizeable dent first in Pedro Romero's sampling room and then in its shop. How we haven't been banned for life from any of Spain's bodegas defies logic and good business sense.

Having now toured many of Cádiz' bodegas in English, Spanish and more recently, as a self-guided Sherry savant, I can safely say that a Bodega Tour Guide is a career opportunity I would like to explore further. In fact, I would be a Bodega Tour Guide Extraordinario. Wouldn't my family be proud! Didn't the bodega-istas (I just made that word up) at the Pedro Romero bodega invite me to autograph one of their sherry barrels? Well not so much invite, but allow me to scribble my name in a darkened corner. In secret. Well not so much allow because no one was actually around to stop me ... but I'm confident that my signature is still there.

In fact, it is only mode
sty that prevents me from stating that I believe id= myself to be the Most Knowledgeable Person in the Entire World on the Subject of Spain's Sherries. I am a resource that demands to be exploited!

the Most Knowledgeable Person in the Entire World on the Subject of Spain's Sherries and a future Bodega Tour Guide Extraordinario, I would insist that there be some sort of acknowledgment for completing the Sherry Triangle. I mean, Pythagoras had busts chiseled in his honour for his lousy triangle. And I bet survivors of the Bermuda Triangle get to appear on the Tonight Show. In fact, this will be my first order of business. Just after the sampling.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

I Scream

 id=I love ice cream.

I come by this passion honestly as my family is a family of ice cream eaters. And with the exception of my mother's aberrant penchant for grapenut flavoured ice cream - and by aberrant I really mean beastly - our tastes run rather conservatively. (Although I do get a craving for a nice peanut butter & chocolate cone every once in a while).

Enter Neapolitan - that most perfect of ice cream flavours. A glorious marriage of chocolate, strawberry and vanilla - the Triple Crown of flavours - it is perfection in a bowl (or cone) for it removes or at least minimizes the agony of choice when faced with a gazillion other varieties. Best served in a brick - where the strict delineations of flavours can be faithfully respected - it can be eaten anally meticulously colour by colour or mixed into a soupy amalgam of flavours. There's probably a doctoral thesis buried in how people eat Neapolitan ice cream.

Now I know you're thinking that this is the obligatory we're-in-the-throes-of-summer post, and, after all, what says summer better than ice cream? Well,
Señor Gato Gringo might suggest beer and, in the darkest corners of my heart I might argue that a glass of tinto de verano or sangria really hits the spot. But you'd be wrong.

No, dear reader ... my thoughts turned to ice cream - specifically
Neapolitan ice cream - not to cool my feverish self in La Línea's steaming temperatures but rather I was reminded of it in the grocery store. Not in the frozen food aisle mind you, but in the dairy case. Yes, in the dairy case where - a veritable peacock among pigeons - a tricolour container of pink, white & brown margarine sat rather gaily next to the butter and the aioli, putting their pale spreads to shame.

Neapolitan margarine? - although I have no idea (or burning desire to know) what the actual flavour is like, the list of ingredients did indicate a high percentage of sugar. Perhaps I'll just stick with the ice cream.