Monday, October 29, 2007

Sol y Sombra

 id=In Spain, the phrase sol y sombra can have two distinct meanings - well, that's not quite true as the words are translated in the exact same manner but they can refer to two very different things. Sol y sombra, sun and shade. And not unlike its literal translation, sol y sombra has its very light and very dark sides. Yin and yang. Good and evil.

First, there is the sol y sombra the cocktail. If you are one of the five people who read this blog then you know that odds are this is the light side to which I just referred. Just as the tortilla is greater than the sum of its parts (4), so is the sol y sombra (2). Simply put: a) mix equal parts of brandy and anisette. b) Drink. Voilà: heaven in a glass. If you're a bit of a nob you can a) mix the brandy and anisette with ice and then b) strain it into a brandy snifter. c) Drink. Voilà: heaven in a glass but you're still a bit of a nob.

The more sinister aspect of the sol y sombra - that would be the darker side if you're keeping track - refers to the mid-priced seats at the bullring where you get both sun and shade during the course of the afternoon; sombra being the most expensive and sol being the cheapies - not nosebleeds per se but, more accurately, nosebleeds in need of SPF 50. Where a seat in the sun can cost you about 2 euros, a nice seat in the shade where you're guaranteed to need a Shout stick to get all the bloodstains out of your shirt can set you back about 150 euros.

Señor Gato Gringo and I went to the bullring yesterday. I pray that you paid careful attention to my very deliberate use of vocabulary because it - and/or my inability to speak clearly - sent my (advanced level) students into a tizzy this morning. You went bowling? No, we went to the BULL-ring. I'm going bowling this weekend. BULL-RING. You went to the bullfights? Wishing to release them from their my misery, I offered further clarification: we went to the bullring not a bullfight. Ohhhhh ... Lights flicked on.

Señor G.G. and I made the trip out to the bullring at Las Ventas for a number of reasons. Firstly, just shy of its 70th birthday, Spain's largest bullring was designed in the neo-Mudéjar style, and I'm a sucker for anything neo-Mudéjar. Who isn't? So yes, we went with cameras in hand to look and snap. Secondly, I am freakishly drawn to bullrings as well as the grandeur that is the corrida - ineptly translated as 'bullf id=ight'. As my thesis supervisor once said, "Egypt would be great if it weren't for the Egyptians", so would bullfights if it weren't for the bullfights. I blame Hemingway's Death in the Afternoon - he almost made it appealing. If the systematic torture and ultimate execution of the bull could be exorcised from the pageantry of the ring, then I'd be a season ticket holder. Thirdly, I love strolling through bullfighting museums - normally tucked away in the less sacrosanct parts of the bullring - so that I can admire (the heads of) those bulls who gave their matadors a good what-to (see photo, above left, of a bullfight I'd pay to watch and buy the video).

As it turned out, yesterday there was a corrida de novillos (novillos are 3-year old bulls while toros are their significantly more mature and ready-for-the-grave 4-year old counterparts). Six bulls, 3 matadors. Now if you are an educated and informed consumer then you'll want to know everything about the bulls id= you're going to see killed and the matadors who will systematically torture and ultimately execute fight them. Fortunately, you can go online and visit to find out who's who: the family trees of the bulls are painstakingly presented and you can view the matadors' stats. One of yesterday's bull-slayers was Luis Gómez Molina (seen right) who, I'm pretty certain, lied about his age (24) when he signed up to kill bulls for a living. Clearly he is 13. I bet his mother will be proud when a pair of bull's horns perforates her son's crotch and exits out through his anus. If it weren't for the fact that I don't think he's old enough to shave, I'd pay money to see that. Even I draw the line somewhere.

Needless to say, after an hour or so of strolling about, watching old men buy their entradas and young families with toddlers in tow buy theirs, the feeling that we were witnesses at an impending execution overwhelmed us. It was time to leave. On our way out, we walked past the stables and wished the horses good luck. My students, who almost unanimously confessed to despising the corrida said that by the time a child is 3 or 4, s/he is already desensitized to the horrors of the ring from having watched televised fights with their grandparents. Well, we watched the Lawrence Welk Show with my grandparents which was probably equally cruel. But, as one student said, shuddering as he spoke, Watching a corrida on television is nothing like the real thing. It's horrible. Words can't describe it. I went three years ago for the first time and I'll never go again. My rogue corrida lover conceded to its brutality. It's cruel but I love it. I know that's not rational, but that's the way it is.

I nodded my head - I understood what he meant. Sol y sombra. Light and darkness. Yin and yang. Good and evil. I made a mental note to fail him.


Addendum: With undying thanks to our friend and fellow gin & tonic poker-aficionado Mr. N. who first introduced me to the Sol y sombra. The drink not the bullring.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Palatial Martinis

 id=We touched the two glasses as they stood side by side on the bar. They were coldly beaded. Outside the curtained window was the summer heat of Madrid.* (EH)

I suppose that when any bar has been the haunt or any city the stomping grounds of a larger-than-life persona (LTLP), that place - for weal or woe - has been indelibly stamped w
ith the spirit of that LTLP. Some places capitalize on it embrace it; others try (often vainly) to exorcise the unwanted spectre from their premises altogether. Spain is no exception to this pithy little truism I just pulled out of my ass, and I probably need not say that the LTLP in question is none other than Ernest Hemingway. Although I just did.

For the record, I'm more than a little fond of his writing although I admit that most of my coevals aren't:
Hemingway! Pshaw! curling up their sneer-prone lips at the mere mention of his name. Arguably, Hemingway's works haven't terribly aged well and sneer-prone lips modern readers often forget that his simplicity of style or economy of thought or bipolar disorder, was a cyclonic breath of fresh air in the 1920s. But, whether you love or hate him - and I suspect that I would have despised Hemingway-the-Man - there's no denying that he was a LTLP. And if he had questionable taste in outdoor sporting events and hairstyles (he would eventually adopt a 'comb-over"), he certainly knew a good martini when he saw - or drank - one.

Hemingway arrived in Madrid some 84 years ago and, so he could be in the thick of things, stayed around the corner from our apartment on San Jeronimo in a pension much frequented by matadors. This was the beginning of his love affair with Spain and King Midas-like, he gilded for both posterity and for the nobs who feel compelled to embark on Hemingway Pilgrimages, the bars and c
ervecerías of Madrid. The Cervecería Alemana, El Sobrino Botín (the world's oldest restaurant - they have a certificate to prove it), and the Chicote - to name but a few - are among the most notable and well-visited stations of the cross watering holes along the Hemingway Trail. And to toss another truism at your feet (from the slightly more reputable Newton rather than me): for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Not surprisingly then, there are bars in Madrid that go to great pains to distance themselves from Hemingway - including hanging "Hemingway never ate here" banners from their doorways.

Which brings me to the Westin Palace Hotel which, during Hemingway's time was not a Westin hotel at all but in my ti
me lamentably is. The excellence of the Palace Bar - and its martinis - were praised and captured in print for posterity in The Sun Also Rises*. And although we don't count ourselves among the nobs who feel compelled to embark on Hemingway-pilgrimages, Señor Gato Gringo and I were of the firm opinion that when our friend and fellow gin id= & tonic poker-aficionado Mr. N. came to visit last month - himself a martini enthusiast - an afternoon with a $6,000 (give or take) martini in the Palace Bar was a must. Nor were we disappointed.

As we sat sipping the driest martinis known to humankind,
admiring the rather pretty stained glass dome in the cupola (right), for a few hours we were transported to another world: not Hemingway's world but a world of opulence and privilege which would, barring unforeseen circumstances, have to last us a lifetime. A few hours during which, I might add, we nursed those martinis - not because they were astonishingly sublime (although they were) but because we couldn't afford or at least justify another round. Shall I order 3 more drinks or shall mother have her hip replacement surgery this year? At least the waiter frequently freshened our bowls of olives and nuts.

When the bill came which I had injudiciously offered to cover, it became immediately apparent that I would have to nip to a bank machine as
I seldom keep $18,000 (plus tip) on my person. As Mr. N and Señor G.G. contemplated stealing various bits of furnishings from the rotunda and waxed poetically about the quality of the hand towels in the gilded men's room, I repaired to the lobby and asked a hotel employee where I could find an ATM. I will show you, he said. Follow me. And off he went with me in hot pursuit. He passed through the front door of the hotel and nimbly began to weave his way through the Plaza de Las Cortes' traffic with me yelling You could've just told me! Although I didn't yell it, I just thought it (loudly) to myself and tried to not feel like the biggest nob in the world as he stood guard beside me at the ATM and escorted me back to the hotel lobby.

Did Ernest Hemingway receive service on this scale? In spite of the fact that ATMs had yet to be invented, I'm certain that he did -
LTLP's and Nobel Prize winners often do get fussed over - but at that moment I didn't really care one way or the other. After all, it's not every day that you can while away an afternoon sipping $6,000 martinis. And besides, I was too busy feeling a tad churlish for having stolen the oversized hand towels from the ladies' room for Mr. N.

Addendum: Thanks and/or apologies to Knarf in the City who did not authorize the use of this, his photograph but, if you recall Knarf, it was my martini in the photo.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sidra House Rules

 id=I saw Yogi Bear for a few moments yesterday, not in the flesh of course but on the big screen. Or more accurately on the small-to-middle-ish screen for Señor Gato Gringo and I had gone to the movies and this was a cineplex theatre. And there nestled between the Coming Attractions and the Feature Presentation was el Oso Yogui - as he is known in these parts - the spokesbear for tourism in the Principado de Asturias. And in case you didn't know and in the unlikely situation that you care, Asturias is an autonomous community, situated on the north coast of Spain facing the Cantabrian Sea (a.k.a. the Bay of Biscay). Not exactly Jellystone Park but with a few more perks.

But wait! This isn't the Yogi of my childhood. Where's the picnic basket he's just stolen from some gormless campers? And what's that in his hands? It would seem that Yogui is pouring - rather deftly I might add - a glass of sidra (or cider) in the Asturian fashion, known as El Escanciado. Note how Yogui holds the bottle above his head and aerates the cider with a long skillful vertical pour. As the sidra splashes into the glass - always held at hip level - it is imbued with bubbles and its characteristic zippy taste. It should come as no surprise that the Principado de Asturias has given Yogui the moniker the maestro escanciador - the master cider pourer.

So maybe Hanna-Barbera Studios was right after all: he is smarter than the average bear. Or more precisely, perhaps Yogui is smarter than the average Yogi .

Nonetheless, I couldn't help thinking of the unlikelihood, in Canada at least, of a cartoon character demonstrating the proper pouring technique of the local tipple to promote tourism. I just can't see the 'perfect pour' - or Daffy Duck hawking Baby Duck - used as the trailer at a Saturday matinée. But then again, today's Feature Presentation was sponsored by Mahou, Madrid's brew of choice. And had we not just laid plunder to the concession stand on the way into our micro-theatre where we had bought a mondo-sized popcorn and beer? Oh happy day! The man behind the counter apologized for having to pour the cans of Amstel into paper cups but otherwise we couldn't bring them it into the movie with us. We were outraged. We found it in our hearts to forgive him.

We really had no choice but to order a beer with our popcorn. It was less expensive than the kiddie-size pop and Señor G.G. and I always strive for fiscal responsibility. It was the right thing to do.

We like this country.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Great Tortilla Conspiracy or How Not to Make a Tortilla

 id=Some seventy years ago when George Orwell was in Spain fighting with the Republicans in the Civil War, I'm pretty certain that between shooting fascists and getting shot through the neck, he managed to squeeze in his fair share of tortillas. So enamoured was he - or so I imagine - with the tortilla that he came to the conclusion that all tortillas are equal, but some tortillas are more equal than others. This is still true today. For there is the half-assed Mexican tortilla - essentially unleavened flatbread made from ground corn - and then there is the Spanish tortilla - an ersatz potato omelette - which can best be described as a gift from the gods.

... when made properly.

Several years ago, before Señor Gato Gringo and I had ever visited Spain, I decided to make a Spanish tortilla as an appetizer at a small dinner party. Keeping in mind the culinary rule of thumb that one should never serve to guests what one has never previously prepared, I offer its corollary: never serve to guests what one has never even seen. Poring over cookbooks for the perfect recipe - which brings to mind another culinary rule of thumb that the dish with the fewest ingredients will have the most variations - I even went so far as to purchase a cast-iron frying pan, something worthy of Grandma Clampett, for I had read that tortilla purists never make their tortillas in stick-free pans. And I was going to be a tortilla purist. Needless to say, the tortilla was a Comestible Catastrophe. It stuck to the cast-iron pan, the potatoes were undercooked, it fell apart, it went into the garbage and, kitchen maven that I am, I deftly offered my guests a bowl of ripple chips - the perfect appetizer to shark kebabs and mango couscous.

Now imagine, if you will, the pages of a calendar flipping past in the winds of time, an hourglass spinning in a long tunnel - and Señor G.G. and I have not only visited Spain but have even moved here. We know what tortillas look and taste like. Tortillas abound in bars where they are served as tapas and grocery store aisles where they are sold as Gatita Gringa-proof idiot-proof faits accomplis. But today I couldn't help but notice that I just happened to have the dreaded 4 ingredients - eggs, potatoes, onions and salt - in the house so why not? Why not exorcise that Comestible Catastrophe, expel that Dish from Hell (DfH) from my repertoire?

Now that I know what I'm making, how hard can this be? (Hubris alert! Hubris alert!) Potatoes were sliced, onions chopped and everything pan-fried with a little salt in olive oil. Eggs were lightly whisked, the potato-onion mixture tossed in, and then everything poured into a hot pan. Hold on - my recipe says to use a different pan, a smaller one, but I eschew this advice and use a larger one. A larger pan makes much more sense. My recipe says to cook the tortilla for about 12 minutes but after 8 minutes it's getting awfully dark so I decide to go ahead with the prestidigitation part of the preparation: the slide and flip. I even have a special tortilla flipper - a wooden plate with a handle on one side - to make the slide and flip easy-peasy.

I slide the tortilla onto the flat part of the flipper. The tortilla is a little thinner - more of a tortilla flat than an omelette - than I thought it would be but I suppose such is the price of using a larger pan. Holding the tortilla-bearing flipper with my left hand, I turn the frying pan over to cover the tortilla and with a quick flip execute a perfect slide and flip.

Except it wasn't perfect: it was the Return of the Comestible Catastrophe. Comestible Catastrophe 2. The Son of Comestible Catastrophe. Perhaps I flinched - although more likely I exulted prematurely from my aforesaid hubris - and the end result was a half-raw, half-cooked gelatinous mass laying like some science experiment gone horribly wrong bubbling on top of the burner of my stove. And not just any burner and any stove but a gas range. As I tried to poke the bulk of the half-raw, half-cooked gelatinous mass from the gas burner, I succeeded in giving myself a third-degree burn to one of my finger but I suppose such is the price of not having the wisdom of turning the gas off first.

It is neither fun nor particularly rewarding to have to clean a half-raw, half-cooked gelatinous mass from one's stovetop. The liquid cement that should have been my tortilla was removed in dripping handfuls to a plastic bag. I suspect that I'll have some 'splaining to do when Señor G.G. takes out the garbage tonight.

Really pissed off Undaunted, I was determined that - God as my witness - I would make a tortilla before the day ended. After all, I reasoned unreasonably as they have little in common that if I can make a French omelette then I can make an eff-ing Spanish omelette.

Now imagine, if you will, the pages of a calendar flipping past in the winds of time, an hourglass spinning in a long tunnel. Thirty minutes have gone by. Potatoes were sliced, onions chopped and everything pan-fried with a little salt in olive oil. Eggs were lightly whisked, the potato-onion mixture tossed in, and then everything poured into a hot pan. Hold on - my recipe says to use a different pan, a smaller one, so I take its advice and use a smaller pan. My recipe says to cook the tortilla for about 12 minutes but after 5 minutes it's become golden brown so I decide to go ahead with the prestidigitation part of the preparation: the slide and flip. I even have a special tortilla flipper - a wooden plate with a handle on one side - to make the slide and flip easy-peasy.

I slide the tortilla onto the flat part of the flipper. The tortilla is a high and fluffy, undoubtedly thanks to my ability to read a recipe the judicious use of a small pan. Holding the tortilla-bearing flipper with my left hand, I turn the frying pan over to cover the tortilla and with a quick flip execute a perfect slide and flip.

And it is perfect.

Oh joy! Oh Bliss! Tortilla for supper tonight. However will it taste? At this pre-prandial moment, it is enough that it bears no resemblance to The Comestible Catastrophe's Revenge which still sits congealing in the plastic bag on the kitchen floor. Dear reader, just be thankful that I don't possess a digital camera because that would have been the graphic accompanying today's blog.

And if it tastes like crap? - then the answer to the question How Not To Make a Tortilla can best be answered in this way: go to a bar and order a beer & a slice of tortilla.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Books from Hell

 id=The Book from Hell. We all have one - at least I believe that we all do - and I have enough of them to stock a mid-sized bookmobile. And I consider myself a reasonably well-read and a not unintelligent individual. But it's possible - just possible - that I'm working my way to removing one from that curséd list, although I hesitate to speak too precipitously. Things happen.

The Book from Hell (BfH) is the book that you simply cannot finish. At least on the first attempt. And usually on the second attempt too. Or quite possibly not at all. The BfH may be a lightweight crap book but, more likely than not, it's some weighty (literally or figuratively) tome of a book, a much-lauded classic if you will. Many readers are loath to admit to having a BfH and will willingly lie through their prevaricating teeth rather than admit that A Clockwork Orange was monkey poo. Or anything by Lawrence Durrell.

My second such
BfH (note how I cleverly confound the chronology) was Vanity Fair. I knew that I should read it and I tried. I tried twice. Somehow the knowledge that I should be enjoying it whilst I read it did little to ensure my success. Finally, in the grips of a particularly virulent cold a number of years ago - housebound, doped up, and (consequently) only two-thirds cognisant of my surroundings - I essayed Thackeray yet again. And, dear reader, I was victorious. Ultimately it's a book that screams for a heavy-handed editor with a very sharp pencil. Or a reader with a lot of cold drugs. Did I really give a rat's ass about any of the characters or the denouement of the storyline? Not really. Has finishing it enhanced my quality of life in some way? Not at all.

Then came Lempriere's Dictionary - the most opprobrious piece of dreck sitting on my BfH bookshelf. Its notoriety is twofold. Firstly, it was a ponderous novel (with a plot dense enough to rival Günter Grass' The Flounder, another BfH) with pretentions of being quite good. Alas, it missed the mark. Secondly, every time I tried to read Lempriere's Dictionary, for I kept putting it down, my now ex-paramour Satan, in some queer fit of dyslexia in which the words monogamy and monotony were often confused, felt compelled - spurned on by the devilish book no doubt - to acquire a new & improved girlfriend. After this happened three times, I gave him and the book up. I used to blame the book, and a very small part of me still does. But long after Satan and I parted company, and taking the precaution of being single at the time, I picked it up again and finished it. It sucked right to the end.

The lone survival mechanism, a last resort really, that the most mulish of readers - those who refuse to be done in by a BfH, like me - employ is skimming. There has yet to be
a book written that I cannot finish, but that's only because I unabashedly skim if needs must. I skimmed through Shantaram and as I flipped past pages, my otherwise unoccupied mind kept wondering what super-massive black hole Roberts' editor had fallen through, imprisoned still with his editor's pencil in hand. In fact, last week when I finished Damascus Gate, I responded to Señor Gato Gringo's question - did you like it? - with a fair and accurate assessment: I hardly skimmed it at all.

So why all this nattering on about Books from Hell? Because, dear reader, I have recently repaired to a BfH from my early years - a book that I had to verily blow the dust from in order to wade through its pages. And being in Spain it behooved me to try. I refer to none other than Don Quixote, my very first BfH. Yes, for th
e past few weeks I've been lugging its 982 pages of poetry & prose and 39 pages of endnotes around the city, raising the eyebrows of my students and fellow subway commuters. Raising eyebrows because everybody that I've spoken to admits, rather shamefacedly, to never having read it. Or having read it in the Spanish equivalent of Prince Valiant comics.

But it's a classic. no? Not just a classic but a Spanish classic. Not just one of the most influential books of the Spanish literary canon but one that influenced the development of western prose. Not reading Don Quixote is like, well, not
 id=reading Vanity Fair. But I understand. It's a tad cumbersome what with its gazillion love sonnets and reoccurring 20-page digressions on the duties and responsibilities of a knight errant. I know, I tried to read it before when I was 17-years old - perhaps not the best age to engage in 16th century picaresque farces. So I'm at it again. And I like it. And yes, I've skimmed (primarily the gazillion love sonnets and the reoccurring 20-page digressions on the duties and responsibilities of a knight errant) and will probably may continue to skim here and there. That black hole must have an interesting assortment of editors.

So dear reader, do not be ashamed if you have a BfH - or even a bookmobile of B'sfH. We all have them, even those who would deny it (did I just hear a cock crow 3 times?). Of course, my luck, when I'm finally stranded on that much-talked of mythical island where I can only have 10 books to read until death or rescue - and the Entire Works of William Shakespeare doesn't count as one selection - I'll probably wash ashore along with a crate full of B'sfH.

Week One: Atlas Shrugged.


p.s. Have a BfH? Do share.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Our Lady of The Beneficent Sleep-In

 id=With tears of joy streaming down my face and my soul quickening in profound rapture, I wholly embrace this - the 12th of October - as the first long weekend since I started work last month. Yes, today is Nuestra Señora del Pilar (Our Lady of the Pillar) when all of Madrid complacently sleeps in and pretty much doesn't give a rat's ass about virgins and pillars. But in other parts of Spain, where these things are taken more seriously, there will be much rejoicing and not just at the opportunity to sleep in.

Our Lady of the Pillar - not to be confused with Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, of Peace, of the Rosary, of Good Health, of the Missions, of Roses, of Sorrows, of the Swan, of Victories, of the Snows, of the Waterfall, of Light, of the Wind, of the Gate of Dawn, of the Annunciation, of the Immaculate Conception, of Remedies, of Consolation, of Good Help, of Prompt Succour, to name but a few - is the patron saint of Spain and of the Hispanic peoples.

One of my students advised me that Franco tried to convert the saint's day into an ersatz España Über Alles Day in which the supremacy of Iberian blood was lorded over the lower (i.e., non-Iberian) orders. My student glibly refers to Nuestra Señora del Pilar as Racism Day which prompts me to have gazpacho for lunch.

If it weren't for the fact that Señor Gato Gringo and I still have 43 grammar exercises to complete for today's Spanish class (callously not cancelled by our godless tutor) and watch a movie in Spanish for today's Spanish class (callously not cancelled by our godless tutor) and attend today's Spanish class (callously not cancelled by our godless tutor), we might have hopped on a train for Zaragoza (pronounced Thathahotha) where all this nonsense about virgins and pillars began one thousand, nine hundred and sixty-seven years ago. On January 2nd, to be exact.

We can thank the tortilla and sangria-loving Spanophile, James the Greater (opposed to James the Not As Important), whose remains floated in a boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain where they are still venerated at Santiago de Compostella, for much of this virgin-and-pillar brouhaha. For according to legend - rather than anything as tedious as extant historical records - James T.G. was experiencing evangelist's block in Caesaraugusta (modern Zaragoza [pronounced Thathahotha]) when suddenly - miraculously one might even say - the Virgin appeared to him in the flesh. Sitting demurely atop a pillar which was borne by angels, that Greedy Magpie the Mother of God asked him to build her a sanctuary. Another sanctuary. Like she didn't have enough already. The rest, as they say, is history.

Dear reader: that pillar - that very same pillar - was preserved and is venerated to this day by those who choose not to sleep in at a shrine in Zaragoza (pronounced Thathahotha), where - need I add - miraculous healings have been 'documented'. Because a 2,000 year old pillar which once bore the Mother of God's backside wasn't deemed sufficiently numinous and hallowed, in 1905 a crown was added to the virgin's statue valued, a century ago, at €27,000. Although I don't have a brain for those matters financial, I suspect that its value has gone up somewhat since then.

It would seem that this vision kick started James T.G.'s proselytizing career. Bully for him, I say. James T.G. has been good for Spanish tourism, what with his millennium-old pilgrimage, The Schlep to Santiago and, for those prone to corns and blisters, the less peripatetic feast of Nuestra Señora del Pilar. And for those who don't give a rat's ass about virgins and pillars, the opportunity to sleep in.

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Results Are In

 id=Dear Readers: you have spoken and we have listened. Yes, the much awaited results of the Unibrow Conundrum are in and an overwhelming majority of you (93%) have indicated your desire to see Señor Gato Gringo depilitated until the Second Coming of Christ Neanderthal Man. Or Australopithecus Africanus. Someone suitably hirsute.

My mother has gone so far as to offer to fund
Señor G.G.'s electrolysis which, of course, is just plain silly because those lengthy sessions at the electrolysist's will chip away at my otherwise staggering inheritance. I might add that this is also completely unnecessary because I can easily jerry-rig something with a pair of tweezers and an electrical cord. I envision this as a much anticipated husband & wife activity that will bring Señor G.G. hours of excruciating pain me hours of pleasure.

So thank you all. To the 2% of you fetishists who voted in favour of the supra-nasal slug, sorry. And to the 2% of you
smart alecks who felt you had something to prove by voting 'other', not so sorry.

Does democracy still work? Damn straight it does and
Señor Gatito Gringo has - and will have - the eyebrowS to prove it.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Hola Land

 id=It terms of size, it's a little word. Not as small as 'hi' or 'hey' but certainly less interminable than 'good morning' or 'good afternoon'. In the world of salutations - literally, not figuratively - hola towers above its international counterparts. It doesn't requite glottal gymnastics of the palate; you will not spray anyone when you chirrup an hola. It is sing-songy by nature and almost compels the speaker to smile.

It is insidious.

I come from a country populated by the Über-polite; we routinely apologize when someone else bumps into us. The majority of us Über-polites employ a language that by many standards is equally Über-polite. I was wondering if I could possibly have a cup of coffee? Thanks so much. We preface many requests with I'm sorry, but if you're not too busy ... Having said that, apart from small towns, we Urban Über-polites don't go out of our way to greet people on the street. If fate cruelly throws us together in an elevator, we either mumble an awkward 'hi' or fix our gaze on our shoelaces.

Not so in Spain
where - to my anal Anglo-Canadian mind - the whole hola business has spun precipitously out of control. I'm slowly getting used to hola-ing and being hola-ed by the person who is marooned on the same street corner as I am; hola-ing and being hola-ed by the person who has just sat down beside me on the Metro; hola-ing and being hola-ed by the lone walker I pass on a quiet street; hola-ing and being hola-ed by the person waiting at the bar to be served ... but public toilets?

Almost without exception, if I am exiting a washroom stall - having performed all manner of activities which, had I a choice, would have been executed in the privacy of my home - and there is a person waiting, I will be hola-ed. This is the one place where I would prefer to remain anonymous and invisible. I might add that it is not entirely impossible that I just made an indiscreet noise in that stall. By being hola-ed by that Über-polite woman, I have just been made accountable for my all too recent - and possibly audible and aromatic - expurgations. It's - in a word - embarrassing. The situation is undoubtedly more dire for Señor Gato Gringo where it is considered not so much good manners as de rigueur to hola the person at the next urinal. I suppose bladder-bursting madrileños have perfected the art of making eye contact while offering up their holas without allowing said eye to wander too far south.

Yesterday, as I was flushing and exiting the stall at
Telefónica - Spain's telecommunications behemoth - the cleaning lady who was wiping down the counter looked up at me and smiled. I steeled myself for the imminent display of
Über-politeness and putting aside decades of ingrained loo-aloofness, took the initiative. Hola, I sing-songy sang (oh god, I'm going native) to her. Hola, she responded. ¿Que tal?

¿Que tal? How are you? She wants to know how I am? Where is this going to end?