Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Dial "Z" (or Th) or "R" (Rrrrrrrr) for Election

My mother frequently complains that the only thing on CNN - one of the few English-language television channels she receives at her "winter residence" here in Spain - is coverage of the US election. As annoying as that may be - our only English-language television channel is from Gibraltar which despite the fact that it's about 1000 metres from our home has crap transmission - one has to concede that it is a rather important election. But the US isn't the only country in a state of electoral flux: Spain too is facing a national election in about 2 weeks. An election which has put the country on a high terrorist alert. Yeah!

The contenders: José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (or Thapatero), Spain's current Prime Minister and leader of the socialist party (The Left) and Mariano Rajoy (Rrrrrrrrrahoy), pinhead and leader of the Partido Popular (The Right). Not that these are the only 2 political parties in Spain - they are just the 2 political parties deemed worthy enough to participate in this debate. Undoubtedly Gaspar Llamazares, leader of the IU left wing, is a little miffed these days.

Rodríguez Zapatero (Thapatero) is most notable for a prodigious pair of eyebrows which appear to be on the verge of taking flight from his forehead. He was elected 4 years ago on a wave of governmental mistrust after the PP bungled the investigation of the May 4th Madrid train bombings in which they blamed the ETA rather than Moroccan-al Qaida operatives. Rajoy (Rrrrrrrrrahoy) is a dead ringer for everyone's high school biology teacher (a negative in my books), and is notable for disliking people who are not Spanish yet choose to live in Spain and speak their own languages, and people who like to do the nasty with members of the same sex.

The election campaign officially began last Thursday, in spite of the fact that both parties had been vigorously campaigning - complete with billboards and signage everywhere - for the past 7 or 8 weeks. Last night, for the first time in 15 years, some 12 million Spaniards watched both party leaders drop their gloves of courtesy in a televised debate. In fact, this historic debate proved to be the 4th most viewed show in Spanish history, following closely on the heels of the 2002 Eurovision Song Contest and Real Madrid winning their 7th European Cup. Just so you know where Spanish priorities lie ...

Señor Gato Gringo and I tuned in to watch the mudslinging (you're a liar! no you're a liar!) but because we could, at best, understand 5% of what was actually being said, we watched for about 15 minutes before calling it a day. But 15 minutes was more than ample time. This is what we observed:

1) Mr. Rajoy (Rrrrrrrrrahoy) never blinks. In the 15 minutes we watched, the man didn't blink once. Not once. It was singularly creepy. Mr. Rodríguez Zapatero (Thapatero), on the other hand, made ample use of his blinking reflex. How can you trust a man who has no physiological need to blink?

2) Mr. Rajoy (Rrrrrrrrrahoy) didn't button the jacket of his suit. I'm sorry, but this was a formal affair - the first freaking televised debate in 15 years. How can you trust a man who couldn't be bothered to button his jacket? He also has bad taste in suits. How can you trust a man whose colour palette is grey, blue-grey, and blueish-blue grey?

3) Mr. Rajoy (Rrrrrrrrrahoy) used cardboard charts to illustrate his points. These were worthy of a grade 5 student before the advent of personal computers. Mr. Rodríguez Zapatero (Thapatero) just raised one of his prodigious eyebrows at these. How can you trust a man who couldn't be bothered to learn how to use a personal computer?

Ergo, based on our close and careful scrutiny, Mr. Rodríguez Zapatero (Thapatero) clearly won the debate. Most polls agree as well. Unfortunately, we missed - or possibly heard but just didn't understand - the following gem:

(Rrrrrrrrrahoy) called on Zapatero (Thapatero) to control immigration, and Zapatero pulled out documents to show that under the previous PP administration an immigrant obtained his papers by giving a bus pass as proof of residence."

A bus pass! How rich!

The truth is, should Mr. Rajoy
(Rrrrrrrrrahoy) win the election, life for immigrants will become a wee bit harder. He has actively flogged a campaign promise in which all non-EU immigrants (i.e., swarthy people) will be compelled to sign a "Contract of Integration" which includes learning Spanish and undertaking "to adapt to Spanish customs". Where that leaves illegal immigrants is anyone's guess. As an individual who enjoys an "independent" immigrant status, such changes could spell trouble for me.

In a nutshell, should Mr. Rajoy
(Rrrrrrrrrahoy) win the election on March 9th rather than Mr. Rodríguez Zapatero (Thapatero), it is highly likely that this blog will be relocated and renamed to 타이페이안에 고양이 (Cat in Taipei) or possibly кот в kiev (Cat in Kiev).

Friday, February 22, 2008

In Search of Marvels on a Blustery day

 id=It's another rainy day with winds howling at 52 km/hour and I'm seriously considering enlisting the aid of some Marvel Comic superhero to get rid of this freaking Levanter wind. Surely one of them - Wind Warrior? - has the superhuman power to destroy or at least divert this "strong easterly wind of the Mediterranean, especially in the Strait of Gibraltar, attended by cloudy, foggy, and sometimes rainy weather especially in winter".

And incapacitated by a Mighty Headache (thanks to  id=the barometric pressure which has been going up and down for the past 3 weeks like my self-esteem), I cannot find the will to blog today. I'm seriously considering enlisting the aid of some Marvel Comic superhero to get rid of this incessant wind-driven pounding in my head. Surely one of them - Hammerhead? - has the superhuman power to destroy or at least divert this Mighty Headache.

So in place of my normal wit and erudition, I offer you the opportunity to discover your Peculiar Aristocratic Title. Marvel at mine! I trust that you will all be jealous.

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Baroness La Gatita the Ceaseless of Midhoop St Giggleswich
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Music on the Bus Goes Boom! Boom! Boom!

 id=Radio Ga Ga? I asked Señor Gatito Gringo. Yup, he nodded.

It's not too often that you find your bus driver singing Queen tunes while driving his bus but then again, Radio Ga Ga had just finished playing on the radio. That would be the in-bus radio - for city buses in La Línea are equipped with radios, and use them they do. Often at a volume which causes my ears to bleed.

Buses (or at least the ones in La Línea), if you will forgive the pun, are a bit of a trip. And because Señor G.G. and I are usually 3 decades younger than the average rider, these junkets to and from work have become a great source of amusement. Except for the ear bleeding.

A quick word about the buses: they have very few seats - the norm is 16 on the entire bus. I counted. In the middle of the bus, where you would except to find, say seats, is a wide open space where people leave their handcarts and baby strollers completely unattended so they (their handcarts and baby strollers) can roll back and forth as the bus lurches around corners.

Nor are they terribly environmentally friendly for every fare is acknowledged by a freshly printed ticket. In theory you can be asked at any time to show your ticket and if you fail to produce one, you will be fined € 5. Not such an exorbitant fine since the price of a ticket is 90 cents. Nonetheless, in the 4 short weeks I've been here, I've accumulated enough tickets to wallpaper a small bungalow. My fellow passengers, who have been riding the La Línea bus much longer than I, and who have clearly run out of small bungalows to wallpaper, have elected to toss their tickets on the bus floor. The buses' wastepaper baskets are sadly ignored.

Because La Línea is a fairly small city and perhaps because its seniors are by nature ornery you can't teach old dogs new tricks, and in spite of signs advising passengers to exit by the rear door, passengers routinely deboard the bus from the front, gumming things up for those of us trying to get on.

Because La Línea is a fairly small city and perhaps because its seniors are by nature ornery you can't teach old dogs new tricks , exact change is not a requirement. Bus drivers not only make change but the change box sits in plain view for all to steal from admire. Even if they brought an exact change policy into effect, it would be ignored. Just like the "all passengers must exit from the rear of the bus sign".

Because La Línea is a fairly small city, bus drivers know their passengers. Conversations are normally struck up during the course of the trip and, because this is Spain, most people engage in conversation with the driver from as many seats away from him as possible. It is not uncommon for someone in the back of the bus to conduct a lengthy chin wag with the driver. How do they do it? you ask. They yell. Quite simply, Spaniards are loud people. Two people sitting beside each other will calmly have a conversation at deafening volumes. Why? Because Spaniards are loud.

Because La Línea is a fairly small city and bus drivers know their passengers, it is not necessary to ring the bell to signal your intended point of departure. The driver knows where you get off and will just pull over. This morning, our driver - who was listening to the news rather than Queen - pulled over and shouted at the man behind us, something to the effect of are you getting off or what?

Because La Línea is a fairly small city and bus drivers know their passengers, it is not necessary to ring the bell to signal your intended point of departure at a designated bus stop. It is not considered inappropriate behaviour to shout out a request. Drivers will cheerfully pull over anywhere.

Because La Línea is a fairly small city and bus drivers know their passengers, it is not necessary to ring the bell to signal your intended point of departure at a designated bus stop on your side of the street. Bus drivers will happily pull over at stops that mirror those across the street.

Because La Línea is a fairly small city and passengers know their bus drivers, certain conduct is considered acceptable. Bus drivers, who are already behind schedule, are not criticized for going for a coffee while we wait. Yesterday afternoon, our Radio Ga Ga driver pulled over mid-route at a lottery kiosk to buy a lottery ticket. Did anyone say anything? Of course not. Besides, if they did it would have been something like, Pepe, will you pick one up for me too? No, not that one - the shamrock scratch ticket!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Brief Account of the Pining Pachyderm

 id=A Valentine's Day Tale

Draw near gentle reader - gentle lovelorn reader - on this, the day of Saint Valentine, the most lugubrious day of your year, and listen to the edifying tale of Petita the Pining Pachyderm. Heed my words and hearken unto them that you may find succour and draw strength from them on this most cruel of days.

Cast your eyes upon the likeness of Petita the Elephant - denizen of the zoo of Benidorm, a no great distance. Is she not fair of countenance?
Yet hers is a melancholy tale, for Petita has been most unfortunate in love and now a spinster, remains pure and chaste. It pains me, gentle reader, to admit that she has been repeatedly rejected - and once most sorely attacked - by her would-be suitors for "failing to meet their aesthetic standards."

Rogues! Vile creatures! Is not the pale moon envious of her feminine charms?

Forsaken and alone, she sought relief from
Kaioso, an elephant of the gentler sex who became Petita's fierce protectress. Through Kaioso's gentle and continuous ministrations, Petita, ever sensible of the warmest gratitude towards her new confidant, began to recover from the grievous wrongs perpetrated upon her.

Yet three days ago - still in the dark days of winter - as the fulsome winds began to blow from the Musselman's land in the Orient, Cupid's dart succeeded in finding its target and pierced the skin of Luca, a dashing 5 ton gentleman-elephant with an income of at least £10,000 a year. Luca, intoxicated by Cupid's sweet poison, neither spurned nor assaulted his new lady-love, and has begun to court the comely Petita.

Let us pray, gentle reader, that Luca's intentions and ardour will remain constant and true.

Gentle reader - gentle lovelorn reader - take heart
on this, the day of Saint Valentine, the most lugubrious day of your year. Look to Petita for your inspiration. You are but an arrow away from true love.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

And Now, the Weather ...

 id=Last night we were able to pull in a partial signal from GBC (Gibraltar) TV - a momentously thrilling feat because this English-language intruder not only snatched the linguistic monopoly away from our Spanish stations but also meant that we could watch TV without a dictionary in hand.

We tuned in just in time for the weather. This is a fairly exciting time for weather people: the Levanter, which has been blasting us for over a week now, offers all sorts of possibilities for commentaries, the inclusion of inane arcane historical weather facts, and meteorologists get to oooh and ahhh about how strong the wind is blowing. Given that there's an airport 50 meters from the town, you'd think that Gib's meteorologists would have a ready & presumably accurate source of data for their evening reports. So one might have thought that Gib's weather forecast for tomorrow (now today) would have included information like:
Temperature: 15° (high), 12° (low)
Humidity: 77%
Visibility: 9 km, mostly cloudy
Wind: E 72 km/h
Sunrise: 8:12 am, Sunset:7:00 pm
Barometer: 0 mb and falling.
Well you'd be wrong. (Although the above forecast is accurate).

This was last night's weather report: "Tomorrow it will be grey and windy."

I can't argue with its succinctness and I suppose that in a world of excessive verbosity I should be lauding and/or applauding this meteorologist's economy of words but, frankly, I am at a loss as to why she just didn't show the above photo - a photo, I might add, that they could have used for the last 10 nights - in lieu of a report. Why bother with words at all? Surely a picture is worth a thousand words. Or at the very least seven, i.e., "tomorrow it will be grey and windy".

Monday, February 11, 2008

Ten Things to Do in Gib When Levanter's in Town

Although Levanter sounds like the character from an American sitcom from the 70's, he (or it) is anything like the village idiot neighbourhood savant who sits on the stairs of the apartment building stoop and dispenses homespun wisdom. In fact, in scientific terms, Levanter is a strong easterly wind of the Mediterranean, especially in the Strait of Gibraltar, attended by cloudy, foggy, and sometimes rainy weather especially in winter. Cloudy, foggy, and sometimes rainy weather that, I might add, can completely obscure Gib. No small feat, that.

Or in less scientific terms, my Just Desserts. My Comeuppance. As punishment for my hubris committed against the meteorological gods - a character flaw best exemplified by uprooting our home from cold wintery Madrid for the warmer climes of Andalucía - the Viento de Levante (so named because its origins are fabled to be in Lebanon) is my Nemesis. So yes, its windy and frankly, all those negative ions are bumming me out and the incessant gusts are messing up my hair and this is all becoming a bit tiresome.

This became more than apparent this past weekend when Señor Gato Gringo and I stupidly decided to make the 20-minute hike from our flat in La Línea to Gibraltar, that massive chunk of limestone which dominates the horizon. The weather was less than perfect Friday afternoon but the Sirens of cheap ale and Marks & Spencer beckoned us through the shifting mist and drew us in like the rubes we were. As Friday afternoon eclipsed into Friday night and Saturday morning, that strong easterly wind of the Mediterranean, especially in the Strait of Gibraltar, attended by cloudy, foggy, and sometimes rainy weather especially in winter compelled those in the know to shut down the cable cars which run from the base of the Rock to its summit. No cable cars, no Barbary apes. No great loss.

Still, looking out of our incredibly overpriced hotel window Saturday morning - where $76 Canadian doesn't bag you a private bath or a TV in your room - and casting my gaze above Solly's Salt Beef Parlour, the strong easterly wind of the Mediterranean, especially in the Strait of Gibraltar, attended by cloudy, foggy, and sometimes rainy weather especially in winter was nonetheless disheartening. What to do?

So should you find yourself on one leg of the Pillars of Hercules and the monkeys et al. are out of your reach - probably not a bad thing in retrospect - I have generously compiled a list to make your stay more enjoyable. So with no further ado, I present:

Ten Things to Do in Gib When Levanter's in Town

1) Go to a pub - where Señor G.G. and I discovered that the price of a pint is less than a tomato sandwich and where we experienced - this after after several years overseas - the euphoria of toilets with actual flush handles rather than knobs that you pull or push. (Just reading that last sentence makes me want to shoot myself).

2) Take a spin on bus #3, to "Both Worlds". How often do you have the opportunity of visiting Both Worlds? True, the name is evocative of a cheesy Disney theme song and the bus just putters about town but your friends and family won't be any the wiser.

3) Buy cheap crap. Gib is one of the few remaining VAT free destinations in Europe and day trippers abound with bags of said crap. If you're looking for a cheap bottle of Bombay Sapphire, I recommend Booze & Co only because it has the best name hands down. If you smoke, buy cartons of dirt cheap cigarettes. If you drive, fill up on gas. A thorough search of Gib did not render any examples of Fags & Co or Gas & Go. Nothing at Marks & Spencer qualifies as cheap crap.

4) If you're of a certain age and tend to hit the sack by 9:30 (after falling asleep in front of the television at 8:30), take heart! Gib's prostitutes hit the streets by 8:00 Friday nights. In geriatric-friendly Gib you can have a quick shag and still have time for a nice cup of Ovaltine before lights out.

5) Go to Morrisons. When was the last time you went to a grocery store with an entire section devoted to cole slaw? Where you can buy a tin of "hot balls and sausage"? Where bags of chips include wine recommendations? - as in the case of our chili crisps: We think the subtle heat and delicate sweetness in this pack are divine with the ripe cherry and raspberry bouquet of a lively summery rosé. An excellent choice, no doubt. We stocked up on Bushy's Gibraltar Barbary Beer.

6) The Gibraltar Museum which houses, among other things, the oldest human skull excavated on the Rock and was, at the time, the first 100,000-year old+ skull to be unearthed in the world. Not recognized for what it was, it was tucked away and forgotten until a skull of the same age was found in the Neander Valley in Germany. There but for the grace of the gods, we would be talking about Gibraltarian man. But we don't. Boo hoo hoo, always a bridesmaid never a bride.

7) The Gibraltar Cemetery. A visit to the tiny graveyard is de rigueur if only to see the gravestone of William Grave, Master of HMS Caesar, "who fell while conspicuously exerting himself in the battle of Algeciras on 6th July 1801, aged 38 years." What better exhortation to a life of sloth & indolence than the absolute likelihood of dying by conspicuously exerting oneself? No one has to tell me twice.

8) Avoid the crazy Moroccan lady in the motorized wheelchair. This battery-propelled harpy barrels down Gib's narrow meandering streets like she's looking for a Formula One race and leaves no one standing in her wake. Defying all laws of logic and civic planning, she will pass you - or more accurately cut you off - on the left and then pass you - or more accurately cut you off - from the same direction 2 minutes later. She dogged my every step and in no time at all I was consumed with a burning desire to stick a broom handle in the spokes of her wheels.

9) Listen to the locals. Albeit not a stellar activity, this should probably be done in conjunction with Item #1 (Go to a pub). Gib is a melting pot of polyglot Anglophones, many of whom are of East Indian descent, Spaniards and North Africans whose accents and vocabularies have distinctly evolved over the years. It is curious hearing a Moroccan call you love while handing back your change and wishing you ta as you leave the store.

10) See how many times you have to pass through Passport Control - either the Spanish or Gib side - before anyone asks to see your passport, holds it in his/her hands, opens it, and actually does something with it. Like stamp it. So far as the EU is concerned, we never left Spain this weekend. Considering that 20 years ago, British agents gunned down 3 IRA suspects near a gas station on the border, I thought that security might be a little tighter. I was wrong.

Honourable Mention: The airport runway. In order to enter Gib you must cross the airport landing strip that physically divides the border area from the town proper. If a plane is landing, you obviously have to wait. If you are given the green light, you are instructed to proceed as quickly as possible across the runway. This is made especially problematic when the Levanter is blowing. My advice is to never essay this crossing alone when Levanter is in town unless you have a death wish or are mentally feeble. I was compelled to anchor myself to Señor G.G. - and in retrospect I should have taken the extra precaution of stashing large stones in my pockets for additional ballast - who prevented me from blowing across the isthmus ass over kettle. Depending on your IQ level, this too could be perceived as a fun activity.

Of course, the truly intrepid traveller will plan his or her trip to Gib in fair weather, when there is no strong easterly wind of the Mediterranean, especially in the Strait of Gibraltar, attended by cloudy, foggy, and sometimes rainy weather especially in winter. Not that I regret visiting the wind-swept Rock this weekend for how else would I have compiled such a stellar list of things to do. Should you not take my advice and go while the east wind is howling, bring along my list. You will thank me. And the broom handle. That broad will drive you nuts.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Why The World Sucks

 id=Señor Gato Gringo and I watched our television last night in hopeful horror as volunteers and experts tried to unbeach a 30-ton, 15 metre-long finback whale which had beached itself on La Petunia beach in nearby Marbella. With each subsequent news report, we couldn't help but notice that the surf was becoming redder and redder with the injured whale's blood. Some 3,000 individuals (2,997 more people than shown in the above photo) came to offer assistance with buckets of water or small sailing vessels, or just view this, the largest whale to ever to find its way to the Costa del Sol.

The whale died.

In this region of the world, finbacks -
second only to the blue whale in size and weight - normally ply the waters of the Alborán Sea, the westernmost portion of the Mediterranean Sea which lies between Spain and Morocco. Perhaps the gazillion construction cranes that mar dot the coast of Marbella interfered with the whale's sonar & lured it off course. They are rather mesmerizing.

Poor whale.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Snippets Overheard in a Rental Car

 id=Señor Gato Gringo and I belong to a generation whose childhood family holidays were usually characterized by an overpacked car, one or more incorrectly folded accordion road maps, several pillows in the back seat, and a large leaking thermos of grape Kool Aid. After endless summers of enduring/surviving/enjoying these road trips, we pride ourselves (hubris! hubris!) as being experts in the field of travelling from Point A to Point B in a fast-moving vehicle of self-contained chaos.

As road trip aficionados, we know that in the perfect road trip, the getting there always eclipses the actual destination. This was especially true for Señor G.G. who, as a child, was dragged kicking and screaming to visited every historical fort in Ontario and upstate New York.

This past weekend was no exception. Señor Gato Gringo and I indulged in a mini road trip of sorts: we rented a car so that we could schlep our possessions - boxes and suitcases and bags of shit - which had temporarily taken refuge in Madre Gata's (my mother's) apartment in Nerja to our flat in La Línea de Concepción. In a nutshell, we bussed it to Málaga (3 hours), picked up the car from the agency, drove to Nerja (30 minutes), packed everything up (30 minutes), drove to La Línea (2 hours), unpacked the car from a convenient spot 2 blocks away from the flat (45 minutes), drove back to Nerja (2 hours), spent the night with Madre Gata, returned the car to the agency in Málaga (30 minutes), and then bussed it back to La Línea (3 hours). Fun fun fun.

What can possibly be blogworthy about such an uncomplicated & relaxing weekend? you ask. Absolutely nothing. So as a consolation - and because I have time on my hands - I offer you Snippets Overheard in a Rental Car. Now for this to make any sense at all, you must bear in mind 3 fundamental facts:

1) Spain accounts for 13% of the world's almond production
2) In much of Andalucía, the almond trees are flowering
3) Almond trees are a novelty to me. So much a novelty that I didn't even recognize them until Madre Gata said, "Have you seen all the almond trees? They're flowering now." So much a novelty that even now I wouldn't be able to recognize them unless they're in bloom.

This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. Sorry, wrong tale. So with no further ado, I present:

Snippets Overheard in a Rental Car

Where are the turn signals on this freaking car? id=
Look, an almond tree.
Did you see it?

I'm doing 140 in a 100 zone and getting passed!
Look, an almond tree.
Uhuh. id=
Did you see it?

Fuck! It's 80 here and I'm doing 120 and still getting passed!
Look, another almond tree.
Did you see it?
What's this guy doing? He's doing the speed limit in the passing lane!
Look, another almond tree.
Did you see it?
Get out of the way asshole!

Another traffic circle. Can't they just use traffic lights? id=
Look, another almond tree.
Did you see it?
Yeah - can you tell me if I'm clear?

I find it hard to believe that ATV's are legal on the highway here.
Look, another almond tree.
Uhuh. id=
Did you see it?
Yes, I saw the freaking almond tree.

How in God's name do you open the air vent in this thing?
Look, another almond tree.
Did you see it?
Can you just find the knob for the air vent? id=

Fuck, another toll road. What do you want to do?
Look, another almond tree.
Did you see it?
Okay, we're taking the toll road.

Another traffic circle. Can't they just use exit ramps? id=
Look, another almond tree.
Did you see it?
Can you tell me if I'm clear?

Perhaps, in retrospect, this wasn't such a blogworthy post after all. But the almond trees were certainly pretty. Did I mention that they were flowering? You can even see them from the highway. Did I mention that?