Friday, December 21, 2007

A Perilous Affair: A Very Personal History of the Pomegranate

 id=This afternoon I stopped by El Corte Inglés and asked for a pomegranate at the fruit counter. It was the first time that I ever asked for one - a granada - in Spanish, and just articulating it made me smile. There is something a little more than magical about the pomegranate - but then again, I'm biased.

Tomorrow Se
ñor Gato and I are off on our Christmas holidays and I won't be able to blog until the New Year. So my Christmas offering then is a story that I wrote several years ago shortly after the Christmas holidays which was published by All Rights Reserved. Because I haven't yet packed and have no time to be creative - and I've had 3 too many glasses of rioja - I'll reproduce it here in its entirety. Yes it's long. And very self indulgent. But please, no need to thank me.

Happy Holidays!


Now that the bedlam of the holidays is but an awful memory, I can indulge myself by taking the time to honour and admire my annual yuletide pomegranate in silent and reverent awe. This year’s offering, a deviation from the traditional crimson pomegranate, is a small but robust yellow-ochre fruit speckled and freckled and slightly puckered by the Andalusian sun; it is a thing of wondrous beauty. But before I pop the slippery seeds into my mouth, suck on the pulp and feel each pip explode on my tongue, I am compelled to ruminate upon the fruit’s role in my life, the evolution or germination of our relationship. In the spirit of personal reflection which this season demands, I put aside my knife and stave off the sweetness that tempts me. In any case, this brief retrospection is far preferable to vows of dieting, exercising and calling my mother more often; in truth, I have gotten off easily.

Over the years, my experiences with the fruit have been diverse, but my earliest memories of the pomegranate were shaped by Greek mythology; as it turns out, not the most auspicious of beginnings. Horrified yet entranced, I read and reread the tale of Persephone and her abduction by Hades into hell where she reigned, unwillingly, as Queen of the Underworld. Her consumption of a handful of pomegranate seeds in a fit of hunger (perhaps a veiled allusion to the world’s first eating disorder) sealed her fate below ground; the number of months she was confined in the netherworld corresponded with the number of seeds she ate. The myth also served to explain the passing of the seasons: her captivity initiated winter while her return to the world of the living heralded the advent of spring. This tale of kidnapping, sexual assault, temptation, and marital strife undeservedly molded my earliest feelings about pomegranates. I stayed shy of them for many years; clearly, they were dangerous.

Little did I know that the “Punic apple” (as the Romans called it, hinting at a Carthaginian ancestry) was believed to be among the first fruits cultivated by humankind, probably in northern Iran or Turkey some six thousand years ago. A versatile fruit, the ancient Romans tanned its rind – a precursor of “pleather”, while its juice and seeds were rendered into ink and dye. A downright sexy fruit, it was utilized as a cosmetic (Cleopatra is rumoured to have used its seeds to render her ruby lips even rubier), the Greeks considered it a potent aphrodisiac and the ancient Egyptians and Hebrews (notably in the Song of Songs) used it allegorically in their love poetry. Its healing properties are well-documented across the ancient world: the buds, seeds, juice and rind of the pomegranate were boiled, pounded, mashed or brewed to treat, among other ailments, jaundice, inflamed eyes, dysentery, tapeworms, indigestion, diarrhea, bronchitis, and even nose bleeds. Today, scientists are considering it as a treatment for skin cancer.

For the ancient Egyptians and Assyrians, the pomegranate tree was the quintessential “Tree of Life” and scholars have reasonably argued that this sinfully suggestive fruit was Eve’s offering to Adam in the Garden of Eden, not the Granny Smith. Because of its swollen pods (granata means ‘full of seeds’), it was considered a symbol of fertility, eternal life and healing, not only in the ancient world, but well into Renaissance times, and its image came to permeate the iconography of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Buddhists consider the pomegranate one of three blessed fruits. Its dual appearance, a desiccated dead-like exterior and moist fecund interior of blood-red seeds, emphasizes the fruit’s ying and yan temperament. It is a union of opposites: life and death, male and female, seed and womb – it is no wonder that my relationship with the fruit was never one-dimensional. In medieval representations, pomegranate seeds bled from the horns of unicorns, who in turn symbolized Christ, and the fruit was often included in portraits of the holy family – think Botticelli’s Madonna of the Pomegranate. But the pomegranate was not the prerogative of weighty religious propagandists: its dual nature is attested by its inclusion in the works of more “populist” writers and artists, the likes of Aesop, Homer, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Rossetti, William Morris, Cezanne and Matisse.

Because of their protective hide-like skin, the fruit made excellent travelers; both pomegranates and their popularity spread swiftly along ancient caravan routes while the Conquistadors would bring them (along with smallpox and measles) to the New World. In China, pomegranates were thrown under the nuptial bed of newlyweds to vouchsafe a fruitful union, while Berber women in Morocco would prophecy the number of their offspring by dropping the fruit and counting the number of ejected seeds. Already possessing a crown (as the blossom end of the orb is known) it is understandable then that the pomegranate attained royal status after it was introduced into Spain by the Moors. Pomegranates would eventually grace the coat of arms of Catherine of Aragon, Henry the Eight’s Spanish wife. The city of Granada, the fruit’s namesake, boasts a regal avenue of pomegranate trees which the invaders planted and throughout the city, pomegranate finials top much of what can be topped with a finial.

La granada, le grenade, de granaatappel, der Granatapfel, il melograno – in any language the word rolls on the tongue as sweetly as a pomegranate seed. But the fruit’s dualism can be reflected in words as well as in imagery. The semi-precious stone “garnet” is a cognate of the Latin punica granatum because of its resemblance to the pomegranate seed. On a more sinister note, the French would lend its name (le grenade) to the eponymous explosive because it mirrored the fruit’s shape and was likewise filled with “seeds”, albeit a more lethal nature. This only confirms my childhood instincts that pomegranates are dangerous creatures.

Now, did I know any of this? – hardly. I was eight.

The pomegranate and I mutually kept our distance for the next few years until a rather questionable cocktail intervened and reintroduced the fruit into my life. When I was about eleven years old, I was deemed sufficiently adept in the kitchen to be honoured with the task of mixing a particular cocktail which my mother had recently ‘discovered’ – the Pink Lady. The Pink Lady has fallen out of favour from today’s compendia of cocktails and I am inclined to understand why – how can something so rosy and frothy and virginal compete with the likes of a Snake in the Pants or a Screaming Orgasm? But I digress. Although I still struggled with long division, I could, with skill and aplomb, shake gin (2 parts), lemon juice (1 part), heavy cream (1 part), grenadine (1 part) and ice in her Tupperware gravy maker, strain it into a cocktail glass and garnish it with a maraschino cherry. During these potable tutorials, my father explained to me that grenadine syrup was originally made from pomegranates although, sadly, most syrups now contain little or no fruit at all. O mores, o tempores! – why are the foamy pink cocktails always the ones to suffer most?

I reluctantly left childhood. I weighed the pros and cons of being a little less self-centred and became more aware of the physical world around me. This was especially so at Christmas when I came to realize that it wasn’t all about me – my parents received gifts as well. I began to notice the presence of a lumpy scarlet pomegranate in my mother’s Christmas stocking, a holiday offering from a very hip and urbane Santa Claus. The presence of fruit in Christmas stockings has lost its impact for most of us, but for my parents, who were born between the wars, the inclusion of oranges and other tropical fruits was an extravagance that we simply cannot appreciate. The pomegranate – no longer completely maligned in my mind – finally made an appearance in our household. No longer the stuff of legends or processed sugary syrups, but finally the real thing, an honest-to-goodness pomegranate: a swelling, dented, dappled globe with the leather weather-beaten face of an octogenarian. Neither pretty nor ugly, it was interesting-looking. Learning the secrets of the pomegranate requires effort but like everything else in life, the seeker who is pure of heart is ultimately rewarded. My father showed me how to open this seed-laden orb, how to score the sides of the fruit with a small paring knife, how not to cut too deeply into the “honeycombs”, how to remove the cone-shaped crown and pluck out the seeds which you eat. Over the years, my collective labours with a paring knife have caused more damage to my hands than to the fruit. I wonder now if, unconsciously, I was seeking to emulate the split and bloody flesh of the fruit with my self-inflicted gashes and slashes. Fortunately, my carving skills have improved (marginally) with age. It is an interesting theory and more appealing than admitting that either I am a spasmodic with cutlery or that pomegranates are capable of committing acts of vengeance upon those who cut them.

By the time I was an adult, we had established a truce, and I was more at ease with this enigmatic fruit (each pomegranate has exactly 840 seeds– why is fruit required to be so precise?). Pomegranates began to appear in my life outside of the holiday season and so I acknowledged their presence as permanent. When I was a graduate student working on an excavation in Upper Egypt, our dig house had invited over for cocktails colleagues from Chicago House – the residence and research centre for Egyptologists from the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute. For many of us, this was akin to inviting well-to-do relatives over for Christmas dinner; they boasted gracious air-conditioned living quarters, reception rooms and a well-stocked library. We didn’t have flush toilets. Although crates of beer were sourced from a speakeasy in Luxor, it was decided that we should offer an alternative – perhaps cocktails or aperitifs. The local hard liquor was unanimously deemed awful and pricey, and the only alternative was the indigenous (and equally awful and pricey) wine. I suggested a faux-sangria. Fruits were harvested from the souk and, atop the dighouse roof, we concocted a heady brew of a non-vintage Omar Khayyam (red) and the juices of pomegranates (the seeds squished by hand), tangerines, grapes, blood oranges, and grapefruit. Later that evening, under a bejeweled canopy of stars, our sangria was greedily quaffed as if it were the nectar of the gods. Pshaw – it was nectar.

Although the pomegranate and I got off on rather shaky ground, it has taken root, insinuated itself into my life for weal or woe; at the risk of anthropomorphizing a piece of fruit, it has gotten under my skin like a persistent but perhaps flawed suitor, its dual nature making it less than perfect in my eyes. They are no longer interesting-looking but objects of undeniable beauty. Recently, I have been harbouring a fantasy about pomegranates, perhaps representing the climax of our life-long affair; the tables have finally turned and now I pursue it. I want to embrace the fruit completely, to grow my own pomegranate tree so that, each morning, I can open my sun-bleached azure shutters (this is a fantasy), lean outside my geranium-trimmed window and pluck a fruit for breakfast. Surely this is every Canadian’s secret desire? In this reverie, my pomegranate tree is planted on the near side of my olive grove but close to the orange, lemon and almond trees. In order to realize this delusion, I have purchased from the Internet seeds for a Dwarf pomegranate tree. This takes some level of commitment, no? Sadly, it ends there; I am a poor lover. I have read the accompanying instructions and remain too dense to understand phrases like “breaking the dormancy of the seeds” – why does gardening sounds so violent? – or the term “gibberelic”, which I do not believe is really a word anyway.

It is now the dead of winter so I must excavate deep into my yellow pomegranate to find life. Ying and yan. I know that I will not grow a pomegranate tree this year; I am still too intimidated by the process and even if I am successful, our northerly climes guarantee that it will be nothing but a sun-starved house plant. A dwarf of a Dwarf. But I will take solace where I can find it: I have wandered the halls of hell with Persephone in my imagination, drunk the juice of the pomegranate in the quickening shadows of an Egyptian temple, found shade under its branches in Morocco, gaped at its image on medieval tapestries in Paris and delighted in its whimsical form on pottery in Granada. I know that next year there will be another pomegranate at Christmas, as does my mother; long after my father’s death, pomegranates still appear in her stockings. In the meantime, I have my own granada, perhaps plucked near the royal city of pomegranates, to savour. Did Eve offer Adam a pomegranate? I hope so. Was he wrong in taking it? Hell no.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Culture Culinary Shock 101

 id="Egg nog?"

"Egg Nog,"
I repeated. "Egg nog."

"Egg nog?"

When I had finished repeating egg nog for the 6th time, I mused a bit ... "There are two types of egg nog: good nog and bad nog. Well, just like the little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead, when egg nog is good, it is very very good and when it is bad it is horrid."

Now if I had recorded this class and were to replay the tape before a college of pedagogical pundits, they would have had no difficulty or hesitation in identifying my piss-poor attempt at defining egg nog as the precise moment when I had lost the class.

Which was too bad because as far as classes go, this was an assemblage of rather brainy and hip individuals, and I had - rather erroneously - laboured under the assumption that it would take more than egg nog to ruffle their feathers.

Just moments before we were engrossed with José 's all-too graphic recounting of the one and only time he attended a pig-killing while visiting family in Galicia, in Spain's windswept northwest. This is an impeccably attired city-dweller who is not only blessed with an incredibly dry sense of humour but from whose pores oozes a razor-sharp sardonic wit. A meteorological marvel - wet or dry - Jose's a funny guy but not the type to revel in pig sticking. And he didn't. But he finished his anecdote by adding that after the pig was no more, everyone enjoyed a nice feed of blood pancakes.

"Blood pancakes?" I asked.

"More like crepes."

"Blood crêpes?" I asked.

"They're a speciality of the area."

"And they're red?" I asked.


"Are they sweet or savoury?" I asked.

"The ones I had were sweet."

"I'll bear that in mind next time I'm in Galicia and I see crêpes on the menu."

"They're really delicious."

"Sounds gross ... I'm sure they are, but being a vegetarian and all."

Fast forward to egg nog.

"... and when it is bad it is horrid."

"Yes, but what is it?" asked José - he whose feathers were least ruffled.

"It's a drink that we traditionally have at Christmas and New Year's although my father often made it for us as children throughout the year."

"Yes, but what's in it?" asked José.

"There are regional differences, but the staples are eggs, milk, cream, and sometimes sugar, vanilla and nutmeg. Spiked versions usually see the welcomed addition of rum, brandy or whisky. When I make it, I use Kentucky bourbon."

"Are the eggs cooked?" asked José.

"In more contemporary recipes, eggs are partially cooked or heated through because of health concerns. This is bush league stuff. These are the same people who wash their hands after they handle chicken and routinely wipe down their countertops. As an Egg Nog Purist, I would never consider using anything but raw eggs."

"And do you actually drink it?" asked José.

"It's really delicious."

"It sounds gross."

"Gross? No, not at all ... hope you choke on a blood crêpe José."

Monday, December 17, 2007

Christmas Snail Mail

 id=I was raised in a household which harboured an unconcealed disdain and utter contempt for our country's postal system for the simple reason that it sucks. Or perhaps sucked; I've been out of touch with Canada Post for the past 2 1/2 years so perhaps they've finally - if not improved upon their service - at least learned what service is. This is a postal service which once delivered a letter with the postal code T0K 0E0 (an admittedly negligible town in the foothills of Alberta) to Tokyo before it was rediverted to Canada. I suspect I have Japan Post to thank for realizing that T0K 0E0 is not one of the 47 prefectures of Japan - so it behoves me to send them a heartfelt ありがとう.

In start contrast to Canada Post, Spain's Correos must send out their mail on the heels of Mercury rather than on the slime trails of snails. Letters from Madrid to an admittedly negligible town on the shores of the Mediterranean take about 24 hours. Letters I have sent to Canada and the U.S. have taken 2 to 3 days. It is quite humbling/refreshing/astounding to be on the receiving end of such service until I remember that there's no reason for mail delivery to take any longer. The only parcel to mar this almost perfect record was the month it took for one parcel from Canada to arrive - but given the fact that the sender neglected to include the apartment number in the address, they can be forgiven.

And displaying a wealth of confidence in the stellar service offered by the Correos, our friends and family from back home have inundated us with Christmas cards this year. We are stepping over bags of mail and sliding down the mountains of still unopened mail accumulating in our living room. Yes, we have received four (four!) cards this season. This represents a dramatic 100% increase from last year's faring in which two stragglers arrived in Morocco some time in mid-February - one of which was 14 months late.

But for the past few days, I've been frantically checking my mailbox - by Madrid standards, The Card should have arrived by now. Yes, last week King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia sent out their annual Christmas card with a not terribly imaginative photo of the royal family (see right). At least not terribly imaginative compared to 2005, when their yu id=letide offering was photoshopped to include members of the family not actually present. Now, not to put too fine a point on it, my card has yet to arrive and I'm peeved. I'm trying not to take this too personally but I do feel somewhat slighted. I don't wish to cast aspersions toward the Palacio Real and, in my heart of hearts, I know that I can't blame the Correos, so what gives?

In the meantime, I'll just have to remain patient - a quality which is sorely lacking from my genetic makeup. And hope that the card wasn't sent to Tokyo. No, that was Canada Post wasn't it? Perhaps King J-C just neglected to include my apartment number. Perhaps it'll arrive in January. Perhaps pigs fly. Oh right, this is Spain - they do!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"We Three Kings Pigs of Orient Are ..."

 id="It will be cold and there will be many little pigs."

Such was the augury pronounced by our personal sibyl Rosa (or Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrosa), our Spanish tutor. All because we offered a "we're going to Segovia for the long weekend!" in faultless faulty Spanish as we parted last Wednesday afternoon. It was not the response we had expected. "Pshaw," we said (not really). "The forecast is 16° with sun and a few cloudy periods," (that we did say). And as our weather report said nothing about little pigs and we really had no opinions or expectations about them, we chose to ignore her so-called prophetic ramblings. But then didn't Apollo place a curse on the sibyl Cassandra that no one would believe her? (He did). Those gullible Trojans didn't heed a word she said; we were in good company.

So off to Segovia we go in search of its famed Roman aqueduct, Templar castle, Romanesque churches and Alcázar which we were unable to find because of the impenetrable fog that enveloped the city. An impenetrable fog that was broken up intermittently by rain. Punctuated by bone-chilling damp and cold. This didn't come as a total surprise. A) We had Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrosa's prediction. And b) On the train ride in, we watched in horror as the outside temperature - which blips before passengers on a pixel screen - dipped progressively lower as we left Madrid: 16°, 15°, 14° ... all the way to 4, and the sky - which blips before passengers as the sky - darkened progressively.

Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrosa 1: Los Gatitos:0

Then there were the little pigs. I've mentioned elsewhere that Spain's totem may be the bull (which it is), but the animal which truly wears the crown in the barnyard is the pig. The pig is King in Spain. True, there are no giant silhouettes of pigs lining the country's highways, exhorting travellers to have a snort of brandy while en route, but nonetheless, the pig rules. And since every king requires a royal residence, our pig claims Segovia.

P id=igs can be found all over Segovia. And by all over, I mean everywhere. And by pigs, I mean baby pigs. Pigs that are plucked from their little piggy homes when they're exactly 3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days old (=114 days). It would seem that pig farmers in Castilla-León are not only very much into numerology but are keen counters - at least up to 114. Maybe even 115. But 115 has no place in the world of baby pigs. The little piggies must also be unblemished by Biblical standards; their colouring must be "white, creamy or waxen, clean and homogeneous, without strange spots of blood or other discolourations." Flawed little piggies presumably don't go to market (and go wee wee wee all the way home).

Every restaurant offers a host of little piggy dishes but the pièce de rés id=istance is the local speciality: cochinillo asado, or roast suckling piglet, slow-cooked in wood-fired ovens and basted with lard until crispy. Windows of restaurants are festooned with either images, replicas or actual roasted piggies cut open along the stomach and spreadeagled in a pigs-can-fly posture or rows of dead little piggies all white, creamy or waxen, clean and homogeneous, without strange spots of blood or other discolourations.

Segovia is a holocaust of pigs. Even in my most carnivorous days - and in truth pork was my meat of choice - I couldn't have imagined a table set with a 3 month, 3 week, and 3 day-old little piggy. This is veal for pork eaters.

But amid all this porcine carnage, there was a bright spot. And it wasn't the weather. At the visitor information centre - which our guidebook indicated was beside the aqueduct we never saw because of the fog - we were somewhat taken aback with the city's belén. Instead of the ubiquitous plaster Holy Families, the visitor centre offered a cochinillo nativity scene, enlisting the stuffed pink piggies sold to tourists for their Sagrada Familia. Either the stuffed pink piggies weren't selling very well or Segovians have a very wry sense of humour for, there before us, was:

*the Virgin Mary (
stuffed pink piggy in a blue robe)
*Joseph (
stuffed pink piggy with a staff)
*baby Jesus (
stuffed pink piggy wearing a diaper).
*a group of shepherds (
stuffed pink piggies with little sheep)
*an angel (
stuffed pink piggy with halo) suspended from the ceiling, and
*the Three Kings (
stuffed pink piggies with crowns) arriving from the East.

 id=In a culture that places far greater celebratory weight on the Visitation of the Three Kings (los Reyes Magos) than on Christmas Day - after all, baby Jesus (stuffed pink piggy wearing a diaper) didn't get any gifts until the Magi appeared on the scene - I was tickled (pink) that the city was able to deconstruct the over-the-topness of the country's belénes, the sanctity of the Christmas season, the metamorphosis of the Three Kings into the Three Little Pigs, and its own iconic gastronomic piggy in one fell swoop. Although I think my grandmothers may have both rolled over in their graves.

Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrosa 2: Los Gatitos:0

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Ferdinand the Bull Redux

 id=I saw my first bullfight this weekend; in fact, I watched several. I didn't actually attend a corrida - as if that mitigates my viewing of it - but rather watched a series of bulls and matadors bull-killers fight to the death on television. I admit that I had to change the channel when the picadores and the banderilleros were due to divest themselves of their weaponry into the back & neck of the bulls - as if that mitigates my viewing of it - but I did witness the estocada or coup de grâce of all 3 animals. So to be accurate, I saw parts of my first bullfight this weekend; in fact, I watched the parts of several.

Not surprisingly, t
he bull-killers all won. In the past 307 years, only 52 bull-killers have lost to their opponent, Now, I don't know this for a scientific fact - I do have a mathematical pea brain after all - but I suspect that many many more bulls have died. The odds are not exactly in their favour.

In truth, I hadn't intended to watch any of the fights but
Señor Gato Gringo and I were living the high life in a hotel room in Segovia with a real live television set (we still don't own one) and were channel surfing. I could say that our choice was either the bullring or the Castillian version of 'Star Search' (sans Ed McMahon but with an equally unctuous hostess) but that would be a patently obvious lie. We could have turned the television off altogether but somehow those three corridas became three train wrecks that we had to see to the bitter end. And consequently pay for with unsettled sleep and vivid nightmares.

It's been said that it's relatively easier to watch a corrida on television because you don't hear much of the ringside action - like the groaning of a dying animal for instance - and are somewhat distanced by the event by the chatter and banter of the colour commentators. Viewers are desensitized. Having said that, it wasn't easy. Not even relatively. Nor did slow-motion replays in any way deaden my sensibilities.

Of the three bulls, one was fortunate. And by fortunate, I mean relatively fortunate. It died quickly. The death blow, as it were, felled the 500 kilo bull in seconds. But usually the sword doesn't kill the bull and the bull-killer and his peones partners in crime have to circle the animal and play chicken with it using their capes. As the bull dekes and charges, the sword cuts up his insides. But this was a relatively clean kill.

most fortunate bull-killer was awarded both ears.

Of the three bulls, one was most unfortunate. The bull-killer's aim was not sure, and the tip of his sword barely pierced the animal's back and it (the sword) wobbled and then fell to the ground. At this point, the bull-killer should administer a descabello, i.e., the cutting of the bull's spinal cord to effect a quick and relatively painless death.
If the bull is still reluctant to die, a partner in crime is called in to do more damage to the spinal cord - this time with a dagger. Not so here: our brave bull-killer elected to drive the sword into the bull 2 more times but again, he could not find the 'sweet spot' between the shoulder blades that theoretically will allow for a relatively instantaneous death. As his partners in crime circled the bull, the bull-killer jabbed away at the animal's head. It took minutes to weaken the bull to death, a death by attrition.

most unfortunate bull-killer was whistled from the ring.

I don't know why I watched. More to the point, I don't know how I watched, but for some ineffable reason, I felt it was important. I am pleased to say that I still don't understand its appeal, more than ever I am repulsed by its barbarity and I am happy to remain a cultural infidel. Yes, I'm glad that I watched. And I will never do it again.

Segovia with its 2000 year old Roman aqueduct is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Until recently - ignorant little gatita that I am - I thought that the UNESCO Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval essentially meant that a city/monument would receive financial assistance in self-preservation while enjoying a through-the-roof boost in tourism. Apparently it can be applied to an event.

Recently Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa led a host of celebrities in a campaign to gain Unesco World Heritage status for bullfighting. Their belief was that a nod from UNESCO would protect 'the sport' from pesky peaceniks and do-gooders who want bullfighting banned, as well as injecting into it some much-needed revenue as attendance is down in Spain. Indeed, why not put the ritualized and public torture and execution of animals on par with the Alhambra palace in Granada or anything & everything that Gaudi lent a hand to?!! This is genius. And this is why Llosa is one of Latin America's leading novelists and essayists and I'm just a lowly unpaid blogger.

"To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must be of outsta id=nding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria". These include, but are not limited to, the proposed site's ability to represent "a masterpiece of human creative genius". Hmmmm, one bull with filed-down horns vs. several men with lethally sharp steel weapons. That is creative!

Not too Remarkably, Llosa and his cronies failed in their bid: UNESCO denied their request. Go figure. Perhaps with 40 UNESCO designations already notched in Spain's bedpost, those peaceniks and do-gooders at the UN felt that 41 was overkill. Or perhaps the judges just preferred sitting quietly under a cork tree, smelling the flowers too. I'm sure that the Ferdinands of the world were pleased.

Addendum: if you're absolutely clueless what a corrida is all about, go here for an all too graphic viewing.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Spain's Kosher Sagrada Familia

 id=When I was a pupil in Mrs. Slezak's grade 2 class, I created a piece of artwork so sublime that it came as a bit of a shock when it was peremptorily assigned a spot on the cinder block classroom wall rather than in an art gallery in some world capital ... say Paris. That December, I produced the Mother of All Manger Scenes. My virgin was suitably chaste, the shepherds wore their sheep around their necks like fox stoles, the cattle were lowing and the one requisite donkey braying, and the three Magi - anachronistically on the scene some 2 weeks early - were depicted approaching the crib with incomprehensible gifts in equally anachronistic (Medieval) caskets.

And the pièce de résistance? - a giant crucifix mounted atop the very stable where the Christ child had just been born. When I finally brought my masterpiece home, my father turned an eyebrow up at the cross but I argued, as a good Catholics, the Holy Family would have had a cross somewhere in their home. End of story.

Like all/most/some good Catholics we had a model of the nativity scene (or a crèche as we called it) in our home. I never quite saw the purpose of maintaining a crèche since we spent most of the time hauling a slightly-oversized sleeping Siamese cat out of it. Besides extricating the cat from the stable, I would often hold races between the camels and the oxen and the odd Hot Wheels race car nicked from my brother Knarf's collection. Perhaps we were supposed to contemplate the Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful and/or Glorious Mysteries as we set the occupants of the manger back on their feet and hooves and pulled fluffy white sheep out of our cat's bottom.

So now it's December (the 3rd to be exact), and the streets of Madrid are aglow with Christmas lights and its plazas peopled by Beatific Virgins and Overlooked & Generally Ignored Josephs in nativity scenes called belén. So prodigious are these belén that websites and paper guides provide handy lists with times and dates of where they are and what they feature. So although you may be tempted to pop over to the Palacio Real and view the 18th century nativity figures there, you should be mindful of the fact that the belén at the Municipal Museum Plaza de la Villa not only occupies an area of 70 square metres but includes Herod's Palace and a Hebrew mill. How o how to choose?

With belén-season comes the ubiquitous Christmas markets where Spaniards can buy the necessary props and doo-dahs for their nativity scenes at home. These markets range from the über-traditional which primarily sell belén figures (tiny lambs and chickens go for €1.30 each) and paraphernalia (the aforementioned Hebrew mill for example) to the those markets which also flog rubber masks of Prime Minister Zapatero. Who says that religion and politics make strange bedfellows? But I do confess that at yesterday's Christmas market in the Plaza Mayor, Señor Gato Gringo and I were rather taken aback with the sheer abundance of stalls which sold swarthy kings from the Orient and luxuriously accoutred camels, winding rivers of Galilee and blacksmiths' shops - all cheek to jowl with vendors of luminous snot and whoopee cushions and bright pink clown hair. And the more enterprising sellers offered both.

But nowhere is it more true that - at least where Spain's belén is concerned - the devil is in the details. For alongside the caves and the buckets for the wells, there are rows upon rows of tiny ceramic wine and water jugs, all manner of fruits and vegetables, as well as prepared foods for the Holy Family - presumably the end-product of those goats and chickens and sheep and pigs you can buy for €1.30 and up. Pigs? Surely those aren't little clay quarters of cured ham hanging from little clay drying racks?

Yes, in a country where - in spite of the brouhaha they make about bulls - the Pig is King, pork has to be on the menú del día for the Holy Family. What self-respecting Sagrada Familia would - or could - forego a strapping haunch of jamón ibérico (the leg from the fabled acorn-eating black-footed pig) in favour of a couple of green onions and a falafel sandwich? I mean, really. Every tapas bar worth its salt has on its counter a gnawed-at sawed-at pig leg, its dainty hoof pointed towards heaven, screwed into a rather nefarious-looking but conveniently portable slicing contraption - a device descendant of the Spanish Inquisition - so why not the Holy Family?

Truly, the only thing missing is a giant crucifix. And maybe flan for dessert.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Migraines & Midlife Crises

 id=I've been away from my computer for the last few days because the very thought of having to focus on those tiny esoteric symbols we commonly refer to as letters would have been the visual equivalent of the Big Bang. In short, I've had a migraine. This head implosion of mine which began as a crummy headache - most likely brought on from reading yet another Dan Brown novel - showed its true colours on the subway coming home from work two mornings ago.

As those telltale tiny white lights appeared before my eyes and the pain began to do the mambo in my blood vessels, I contemplated cancelling my afternoon class. As I sought a sign from the heavens whether or not this was a prudent course of action, the subway doors opened and two buskers entered the car. Two buskers with instruments - an accordion and a guitar - and, as history would soon prove - very loud voices. They stationed themselves directly beside my seat and began to strum and press buttons and depress levers and squeeze things and sing very lustily.

If you have ever had a migraine or even the soupçon of a migraine, then you know that having two Peruvian musicians strumming and pressing buttons and depressing levers and squeezing things and singing very lustily is probably the closest thing to torture in its purest sense without the aid of a Nazi or a KGB agent. Or Paris Hilton singing. If I had indeed sought a sign from the heavens, this was surely it.

Three stops later and I transferred to Linea 2 not because it'd get me home any faster but I had to get away from the Juan Valdez Twins. Just as the whistle blew a great bear of a man boarded the car with his accordion. Sweet mother of god. Faster than you can say jesus h. christ my head hurts, he breathed fulsome life into the bellows of his squeezebox and off we went on a whirlwind tour every Biergärten ever built in the Free State of Bavaria. I've seen him before - and given money to him on several occasions - and I swear that he recognized me because nodding and smiling at me, he came over beside me and played seemingly for my benefit only. I gritted a smile and willed my brain from seeping out from my ears and nose.

I crawled home and ate pills. Today I resurfaced.

Now, it's been quite a while since I've lived in a city with a metro system; in fact, it's been about 11 years. So I freely admit that wandering underground minstrels are rather new to me - I've seen them in the tunnels before in other cities but never actually on the trains. (Undoubtedly I've just proclaimed to the world that I am a hick.) Anyway, it came as a bit of a jolt a few months back to have my earnest and careful reading of Don Quixote shattered by the incredibly amplified opening notes of Vivaldi's Concerto No. 1 in E major, Op. 8, RV 269, i.e., "la primavera" or Spring. And when I say amplified, I mean with a portable amplifier. These musicians - singly or in pairs - play a tune, pass a cup around and then leapfrog to another car.

What amazes me is that for the most part, these musicians are really good. But what really amazes me is how much money they appear to make. After any given serenade that I've been an audience to, I've watched a goodly handful of commuters stuff 20- and 50-centimes and 1 euro coins into their cups. This for 3 minutes of work. I dare say they earn more than me. I dare say that wouldn't be too difficult.

Now I've been told by Señor Gato Gringo that many people of our generation will change jobs a minimum of three times during the span of their careers. This is somethi id=ng virtually unheard of in our parents' generation when you retired from your first job after 50 years. I believe I am currently on career #4 and certainly #5 (6, 7, & 8) can't be too far off. So it's good to know that, in the near future, should I acquire any aptitude playing an instrument or any talent rendering a passable tune - both skills which have been hitherto denied me - I too can become a busker.

Can't wait to tell my Mom.

Addendum: apologies to the friends, family and fans of Grammy Award-winning accordionist Walter Ostanek, (pictured above left). It's (I said it's not he's) something of a family joke. I should have used an image of an accordion but I have no self restraint. No apologies are offered to the friends, family and fans of Yosh & Stan Shmenge, aka, the Happy Wanderers (pictured above right).

Friday, November 23, 2007

A Tale of Two Cities

 id=It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Oops, wrong one.

Once upon a time there were two cities - except they're not so much cities as enclaves - which just happened to be in northern Morocco - except they're not so much Moroccan as Spanish. And unles
s you've lived in either Spain or Morocco, chances are you've never heard of either Melilla or Ceuta and for that oversight you can be forgiven. Ceuta is 28 km² while Melilla is smaller still and are, therefore, easy to overlook.

But history has shown that it is often the tiniest easy-to-overlook places that excite the most interest, int
rigue and bickering. These enclaves are no exception and have played witness - and victims - to the power struggles of the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Visigoths, Byzantines, to name but a few. Melilla would eventually become incorporated into - not Morocco - but the Kingdom of Fes, while Ceuta bounced back & forth between warring North African dynasties until it was captured by the Portuguese.

With the reconquista of Spain - when the occupying Moors were ousted from Andalucía over 500 years ago - Melilla was incorporated into the Spanish province of Málaga. In 1580, Portuga
l lost its independence to Spain and the majority of Ceuta's population became Spanish. Fiercely Spanish. So fiercely Spanish that 60 years later, when a newly independent Portugal was at war with Spain, Ceuta was its only former colony that sided with Spain.

Currently, the two enclaves - the only EU cities located on mainland Africa - are the-grass-is-greener
destinations for daring & desperate Africans trying to reach Europe. The border crossing is a daunting place.

Thanks for the history lesson Gatita but so what? you ask. So what indeed? The problem lies in the fact that Morocco has laid claim to the two enclaves. It doesn't matter that neither city was ever part of the Kingdom of Morocco (est. 1956); the official Moroccan stance is that Spain is illegally occupying Moroccan territory. This month King Juan Carlos embarked on the first visit to Ceuta and Melilla by a Spanish head of state in over 80 years. This decision was not warmly received by the Moroccan government - visions of a stirred up hornet's nest come immediately to mind - and in response to the announcement, Morocco recalled its ambassador from Spain. Bet that really showed them.

The visit was "regrettable" it said. Rabat expressed "strong rejection and clear disapproval" of what was viewed as a visit to two "despoiled Moroccan towns."

"Spain must understand that the time of colonialism has ended, and for good." This from Prime Minister Abbas El Fassi who might take a good long hard look at Morocco's claims to the Western Sahara - the ancestral land of the Saharawi people which it 'annexed' in 1975.

So the King and Q
ueen came and people cheered and people booed. Around 1,000 Moroccans voiced their displeasure with the royal visit, and demonstrated at the border posts. On the other side of the barbed wire, Ceutians and Melillians of Moroccan descent expressed gratitude for the jobs they had - jobs they couldn't find in their villages and towns in Morocco - and enthusiastically waved little red and yellow flags.

And across the Straits of Gibraltar? Some 88% of Spaniards polled believe that the two autonomous cities are an integral part of Spain while 51% admit to not
understanding Morocco's claims to the territories since both cities have been Spanish for longer than Morocco has been a sovereign nation.

is a tale worthy of Dickens. If by some act of Allah - for nothing less could bring it id= about - the 2 cities, whose inhabitants are 85% Spanish (or Spanish origin) and 10% Muslim, revert to Moroccan control, that would signal the effective end of tapas bars in Morocco. No more cañas of cerveza; no more pinchitos of tortilla. No more Spanish potato chips!! And whether or not it is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done, that would truly suck.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Bully for the Bull

Unthinkable! It would seem that the country whose cultural legacy includes the Spanish Inquisition (which no one expected) - the very land which spawned the hammer of heretics, the light of Spain, the saviour of his country, the honour of his order freethinker Tomás Torquemada - still, in the year 2007, has its iconoclasts. To the best of my knowledge I haven't actually met one and I confess that I had my doubts that these recreants even walked the earth. But no more! - for Señor Gatito Gringo's classroom has been cursed by the presence of one such heretic.

They are the anti-toro-ites. These so-called 'Spaniards' scorn, revile, spit upon el toro de Osborne. Quite simply, they hate the Osborne bull.

How can it be, you ask? I wish I knew. The 4,000 kilo, 14-meter high black silhouette of the bull has, without a doubt, become Spain's unofficial national symbol. Originally commissioned by the Grupo Osborne (sherry company) in 1956, the original bull (calved the following year) was smaller, had white horns, and bore the words Veterano-Osborne and a picture of a glass of brandy. The toro, as we now know him, only became bigger & better when, in 1961, legislation was passed that required a 150-meter distance between Spain's highways and any roadside advertising. As the bull pulled back, he grew in stature.

Then 13 years ago, a further insidious law was enacted which pro
hibited all roadside advertising - a law no doubt penned by an anti-toro-ite - and our Osborne bull was earmarked for the slaughterhouse. The bullophile public refused to be cowed by the Ministry of Public Works, and campaigned - with the help of Osborne - to 'save the bull'. Rather than knackering the bull altogether, a deal was struck: all references to Osborne sherry were to be blacked out - although 2 such Veterano-Osborne branded bulls still walk the earth. Or rather, stand atop their hills. The bull finally and now officially transcended its humble sherry-soddened roots and became a permanent fixture in Spain's cultural and physical landscape.

Of course even without the logo everyone knows that it's the Osb
orne bull except those who don't so then who cares? The bull is Spain. He - for he is a he, as one glance at his prodigious scrotal sac will verify - has become so closely associated with the country that Catalan nationalists targeted and vandalized the only bull in their region so often that authorities finally decided to put the bull out to pasture. Except in someone else's pasture.

There are now some 100 bulls guarding Spain cities and frontiers. Years ago I experienced the same thrill seeing my first Osborne bull as I did catching a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower for t
he first time. Admittedly, I don't get out much.

As a Canadian, I wouldn't object to seeing a hundred 4,000 kilo, 14-meter high black silhouettes of beavers scattered about the Great White North. But alas, as alluded to earlier, the bull does have his detractors. These philistines claim that the leviathan bulls are a blight, that they mar Spain's natural beauty and cite France's limp version - the Renault car company shield - as an analogous example of roadside advertising at its worst. Hardly analogous but certainly hideous. I don't doubt that there are those infidels in
Portugal who abhor the 'Sandeman man' port advertisements which dot the countryside but no one should listen to them either. In another time - but not another place - these anti-toro-ites, these apostates to the Truth Faith would be burned at the stake for the heretics they truly are.

But why rhapsodize about the bull? Why the somewhat squirrelly history lesson? Because today is the Osborne bull's 50th birthday! - no small feat among working bovines. And although we don't have any Osborne in the house, that won't prevent Señor G.G. and I from raising a
glass of his competitor's something special and wishing him a heartfelt ¡feliz cumpleaños!

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Madrid Haiku I: Ode to Spanish Potato Chips

O most perfect chip!
Simplicity is your name:
Patatas fritas

Haiku-ista's note:
The Spanish potato chip may quite possibly be the world's most perfect food. Hailing from a family of chip aficionados, I know a good chip when I eat one. The ingredients are simple: potatoes, salt and olive (or vegetable) oil. That's it. Why they're so sublime I haven't a clue. But they are. And I'll go one step further and admit that many a night Señor Gato Gringo and I forgo conventional pedestrian dinner fair and devour a bag or two of patatas fritas (and a cold cerveza) instead. Ahhh, good eats!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tuesday the 13th

 id=Triskaidekaphobia is the fear - rational or otherwise - of the number 13. Since one would be hard-pressed to think of how an aversion to something as innocuous as a number could possibly be rational - although the crew of Apollo 13 might beg to differ - then it is tempting to dismiss it as an irrational phobia. Or a superstition. But apparently there are over 67 million pinheads sufferers who are afflicted with this very fear. Not that that makes it rational. I'm just saying. Sixty-seven million is probably an unlucky number too.

I am not superstitious. I have stepped on so many sidewalk cracks and, consequently, broken my mother's back so many times that it is nothing short of a miracle that she doesn't have to resort to cleverly positioned mirrors suspended over the hospital bed in which she should, by rights, be confined in order to see us. Not that she would want to see me since I'm the one who broke her back in the first place.

But as it happens, today is martes trece, Tuesday the 13th. Tuesday, you ask. Why Tuesday? It would seem that unlike, say, 99% of the superstition-riddled world, Spain doesn't hold truck with Friday the 13th being an unlucky day. That's just plain silly. No, in Spain (and in Greece and Romania) it is Tuesday the 13th which is so clearly unpropitious. Or, more importantly, today.

There is a whole host of theories as to why the number 13 has been deemed ill-fated: Christians point j'accuse-ing fingers at Jesus' original headcount of apostles and the number invited to dine at the Last Supper. Earlier, Caesar crossed his Rubicon - or more accurately - the Rubicon with the 13th Legion which effectively put Rome in a state of civil war and annoyed a great many people. Still others cite older examples, including the absence of a 13th law in Hammurabi's Code, but that may have been an 18th century b.c.e. typo. A slip of the chisel. I hear that basalt is difficult to work with.

As a lunar year has 13 months, some argue that the number is evocative of mother goddess cults, and therefore became a vilified number - at least by the intolerant burgeoning Catholic Church. Architect Charles Platt postulated the theory that 13 is considered unlucky because we can count from 1-12 with our 8 fingers, 2 thumbs and 2 feet, but not beyond that. This is a fine theory if you're a 2-toed sloth. Since I am not and I like to include my toes when I count, I think we can dismiss that one too.

I might add that 13 is considered a lucky number by the Chinese but until they stop skinning still-living, fully conscious dogs and cats for their fur, I am going to ignore them. Thirteen is also a fortunate number for both Sikhs and Jews (children are bar or bat mitzvah-ed at 13) and because they don't milk bears for their bile unlike the Chinese, I am willing to give their beliefs some credence.

And Friday? The fact that Christ was crucified on a Friday is irrelevant. For those who hold with this theory I would add that he rose again 3 days later, so how unlucky was it? If anything, it was more of an inconvenience - a necessary evil, as it were. Of course anyone worth their salt knows that Friday the 13th entered the annals of history as an unlucky number because the Knights Templar were arrested en masse on Friday October 13, 1307. I mean, duhhhh.

And why Tuesday? I asked that very question to about a dozen (okay, 13) students today and I received about as many different answers. Some suggested that the day's association with Mars, the god of war, made it particularly malevolent, others that it was the day that Adam ate the apple, but most shrugged their shoulders and conceded that they had no idea. Some admitted that, as residents of The Global Village - which may or may not be the same thing as the European Union - they considered both Tuesday and Friday the 13th as inauspicious days.

All I know is that today has been a particularly shitty day. One of those days that began when the alarm went off 3 hours early (although it was actually on time) to this very moment as I realize that my tea has been steeping for 55 minutes on my kitchen counter. With a whole lot of shitty things in the middle, not the least of which was the fact that I broke not one but two fingernails today. But I'm not superstitious. Ask my mother. Ask her how her back is.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Artistic License

I am directly pasting the following post from fellow blogger Eurodogtraining. The complete post can be found here. Thanks to Ms. K for forwarding this link to me. Needless to say, I urge you to sign the petition.
Tuesday, 6 November 2007


Guillermo Habacuc Vargas, an "artist" from Costa Rica took a dog from the street and used it as an art exhibit and caused it to suffer and starve to death in the name of Art. I shall not post more pictures as they are disturbing and too horrific.
To sign the
petition to stop this madman exhibiting, click here:

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Culture & Lifestyle: Spaniards Eat Late

 id=But first the weather ...

September was warm, October was warmer, and if the portents can be trusted and everything augurs well, November will be warmer still. And because it's November and it possibly should be a little nippier in Madrid, the majority of Madrileños are bundled up against the cold in scarves, parkas or fur-lined ski jackets, and very tall & menacing leather boots. But the fact remains that it's November 6th and the temperature outside my window is a balmy 22 ° C.

Perhaps the winter outerwear is to appease the Seasonal Fashion God. It's November for Christ's sake. Twenty-degree temperatures be damned, I'm wearing my new winter clothes and the rabbit fur that lines my hood will just have to absorb the perspiration forming on my forehead. Or maybe people truly are cold. This being my first autumn/winter in Madrid, I haven't a clue.

Sadly, I did forsake my flip-flops around the end of September. And although it has rarely gotten colder than 17 ° C, the temperature does dip down at night. So we have made adjustments and concessions - beyond the flip-flops - and have begun closing our windows against the cold night air. This revolutionary decision has had two immediate consequences, one of which we did not anticipate. One: we were warmer (anticipated). Two: we could no longer hear our neighbours (unanticipated).

Our apartment looks inwards into a central courtyard, a 'view' shared by a dozen or so other flats; consequently during warm weather when all of our collective windows are open, we are all voyeurs or auditeurs of sorts. The yappy little dog, the old woman who's hard of hearing, and the workers who are renovating the apartment across the way have all passed through our windows and become fixtures in our home. But more than the eardrum-piercing television volumes, the incessant hammering and the yappy little dog, it is our neighbours' dining habits that have, at least in open-window weather, become our greatest cross to bear.

Spaniards eat late. This is a fact. Armed with the certain knowledge that Spaniards eat late, Señor Gato Gringo and I were pretty confident when, seven years ago, we first visited Spain. Spaniards eat late, we said knowingly to each other. We will have to make allowances. Odds are we even threw in some pithy little comment like when in Rome... Having arrived late in Seville on our first evening, we ate late. We had gone native without any fuss at all. Huzzah! Odds are we were pretty smug about it too.

Our second night in Córdoba was another matter. After a full day of travelling and traipsing about town, we were hungry. It was 6:00.
Spaniards eat late, we knowingly said to each other. We have to make allowances. By 7:00 I thought I was going to lose consciousness. By 8:00 I did. So we repaired to the first restaurant which showed signs of life (there was one only), La Gran Muralla de China. There we had what can only be described as a Sino-Hispanic meal: egg rolls, sweet & sour chicken, a bottle of rioja and flan for dessert. And perhaps because we were the only patrons in the restaurant, the service was excellent. Just as we were preparing to leave, real live people began to filter in - real live people who at 9:00 were apologizing to the waiters for arriving so early. Spaniards eat late.

Our neighbours routinely begin dinner preparations around 9:30. Not eat dinner, prepare it. So three hours after
Señor G.G. and I enjoyed our seitan cutlets and are well on the way to digesting them, it begins. First: The Chopping. The Chopping of onions and garlic and peppers. Chop chop chop. We hear a dozen Samurai warriors piercing the night with their blades. Next: The Wafting. The Wafting of onions and garlic and peppers as they hit the hot oil. The Wafting of anything that once was part of a pig.

It smells so good we want to weep. Dinner is still at least an hour away for our neighbours but we - who
enjoyed our seitan cutlets three hours ago - are salivating and weeping in unison. This is too much moisture for us to bear so with rumbling stomachs and tear-stained faces we go upstairs. It is our bedtime. Shortly after Señor G.G. turns out the light, we hear the clinking of cutlery and the scraping of chairs as our neighbours finally sit down to table.

Spaniards eat late, we say knowingly to each other, burying our faces into our pillows. Our efforts to block facial orifices fail miserably. It smells so good we continue weeping. We console each other with the uncertain certainty that our neighbours are all developing dyspepsia, are rapidly gaining weight, and/or are experiencing freak periods of unsightly bloating.

But now our windows are closed and we don't have to hear The Chopping or smell The Wafting.
Spaniards eat late and, the simple truth of it is, we will never be able to go native.

Saturday, November 3, 2007


To the best of my knowledge, I have never blogged about what I did on the weekend or disclosed intimate details about myself just for the sake of 'sharing'. With the exception of the picture to the right, I never post photographs of myself. Although I would characterize myself as an intensely private, perhaps even secretive, person (I am a Scorpio), my assumption is that little I do is terribly interesting - certainly not blog-worthy - to myself, nor would it be to a blogosphere of strangers. But today I have chosen to break my own rules.

Señor Gato Gringo and I went to the movies today. The film was The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Why do I mention this? For a number of reasons. Once we made the decision to go see the film, the folk song Jesse James started coursing through my brain. Although I don't pretend to have the entire song committed to memory, I can still sing a few verses as well as the chorus:

Well Jesse had a wife to mourn for his life,
Three children now they were brave.
Well that dirty little coward that shot Mr. Howard,
He laid poor Jesse in his grave.

Nonetheless I was jolted when, towards the end of the film, the song was performed by a bowery saloon singer. I had forgotten that the song was contemporaneous and not of my childhood - such is the egotism of the very young. A Robin Hood in his day, James' victims were usually those who exploited and persecuted the farmers of America's midwest: the railroads and the banks (he stole from the rich and he gave to the poor) and to many disenfranchised he was a hero. Unarmed, the once Civil War guerrilla turned desperado was shot from behind by friend Robert Ford, further mythologizing his life, betrayal, and death; shortly after his murder, an unknown balladeer named Billy Gashade wrote the song I watched Nick Cave perform today.

The ballad has been performed by the likes of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen
but it was my father who first introduced me to the song. My father used to sing to me - as he did my brother before me - at bedtime, usually American folksongs (although we are Canadian) like Jesse James or the Missouri Waltz or pretty much anything by Burl Ives. That my father sang and read to me as a child is something for which I am profoundly grateful. To this day, when I hear any rendition of All the Pretty Little Horses, I cry.

So today I saw The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and sang the song in my head before, during, and after the film. Today also marks the 8th anniversary of my father's death. He was my hero. And for that I cry too.