Thursday, March 27, 2008

Eine Klein Fernsehenmusik

 id=It's really too bad that the German word for television is Fernsehen rather than some variant of television, because Eine Klein Televisionmusik would have worked much much better than the one that the Germanic tongue hoisted upon me. But there it is. Eine Klein Fernsehenmusik. Intrigued? Didn't think so.

Nonetheless, since Señor Gato Gringo and I have been living in the south of Spain, enduring bone shattering winds and an apartment which can produce mould like that house in Amityville produces horrors, we have had unhindered recourse to our furnished apartment's television. Our flat in Madrid didn't have one - well it did, but it elected not to work and our landwhore elected not to replace it - so we went 6 months bereft of a box that showed moving pictures and spoke in many languages.

Now that we have access to a box that shows moving pictures and speaks in many languages - and by many I mean one and one-eighth as Gib TV rarely honours us with a tolerable reception - we watch it. And the operative word is watch rather than listen, or better yet, comprehend because at any given time - save for when Gib TV honours us with a tolerable reception - our programming is all in Spanish, a language that we at best can rarely barely hardly and - if we're really lucky and they speak slowly - kind of understand. It is exhausting watching television with a dictionary in hand.

Spanish television is curious for a number of reasons. It's not just our one and only video station which on the stroke of midnight turns into a hardcore multiple-partnered multi-orificed porn channel - although the first time the clock hit twelve it did cause for some frenzied grabbing of the remote control. Like TV everywhere, the days and nights are littered with talk shows, insipid game shows, American sitcoms (dubbed), Spanish sitcoms (not dubbed), soaps & serials and endless news programmes: soft (with cooking segments and tricks around the house) and hard (with news). I was going to say soft and hard just like the porn but thus far, the porn has been anything but soft.

But the curious thing? you ask. It's the music. With the exception of the news (hard), producers here feel it incumbent upon themselves to put a musical soundtrack to everything. And when I say everything, I mean everything. For example, on España Directo, a soft news programme on TVE1, you can be as sure as God made little green apples that an animal story will be accompanied by the Tokens' The Lion Sleeps Tonight and just about any human interest story will either feature REM's Shiny Happy People (if it's really upbeat) or the Proclaimers' I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) (if there's a family reunion) or Henry Mancini's Baby Elephant Walk (if it's really banal).

Nor have television commercials been spared by these inane soundtracks. There is the store here in La Linea which sells frozen prepared foods - frozen prepared foods made more enticing by Kansas' Dust in the Wind. Or the commercial for recycling accompanied by Coldplay. I know that Coldplay always makes me want to separate my plastics from my corrugated cardboard. Of course the recycling ad in question has nothing to do with separating waste but what time of the day you're allowed to throw your garbage into the bins.

It's all so annoying, especially since this background music is usually played at a volume which almost completely drowns out the individual(s) speaking and may be causing permanent damage to my eardrums. Chronic hearing loss notwithstanding, this is a problem for linguatards like me who have to watch TV with a Spanish-English dictionary in hand. So any given evening when we're watching the news (soft) or checking out the local ads, you can be as sure as God made little green apples that either Señor GG or I will be be flipping furiously through our dictionary saying Damn it! - what did he say? Was that pera or perro? But fortunately because this is a cooking show and because this is Madrid rather than Beijing, it's usually pear rather than dog.

And just in case you can't remember Henry Mancini's Baby Elephant Walk, here it is in all of its trunk-trumpeting glory. Be forewarned that you'll be humming it for the next 5 days straight.

(I warned you)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tears & Toros: An Easter Retrospective

It's over. Not unlike the elation-cum-relief experienced at the conclusion of those Ramadans Past, I am also sorely tempted to hum a few bars of Roy Orbison's It's Over. Only it's not Ramadan, it's Easter. Clearly not the same thing but in many ways similar enough.

I am pointy-hatted out. No more coneheads. No more pasos (processions). No more mournful dirge-like saetas. No more wailing and flailing. No more, no more ...

And I for one say yippee!

I think, in retrospect, it was the tears that did me in. The weepi
ng of the faithful as trono after trono of doleful virgins and bleeding Jesuses passed by? The old ladies crying because that's what they do best during the pasos? The scared shitless kids? Nooooooo ... it was the tears of the costaleros - the "sack men" who carry the floats - upon learning that their processions were to be cancelled. You see, it rained much of last week. And although it's perfectly acceptable to "walk" a procession on your knees or in bare feet, it just won't do to get wet.

In all of Semana Santa, we had 2 dry days. Which meant for a lot of rain delays which turned into cancellations. And the most visibly affected were those float-carrying costaleros. They unabashedly wept like babies and in huge numbers. Imagine roomfuls of sobbing sack men. Now I appreciate the fact that to carry a trono is a tremendous honour and that these men put a lot of stock and hours of training and hard work into carrying them. But to see them weep and gnash their teeth ... well, that's just disturbing. Get a grip: there's always next year.

Mother Nature:1; Costaleros: 0.

So how to console oneself after nature cruelly washes away your moment of glory with a few torrential rainfalls and winds up to 70 km/hour? You can watch last year's Semana Santa processions which were televised every freaking night it rained but chances are if you're that interested you already own the DVD or you can go to the bullring. Fortunately, in many towns in Andalucia, any one with a pair of cajones can hie himself to the bullring and, if not run with the bulls, taunt them. Fun no? Indeed! Señor Gato Gringo & I spent the better part of this weekend (the cold & rainy parts) glued to the television, watching in car-accident fascination as men (young & old alike) climbed into the bullring in the nearby town of Los Barrios to, if not run with the bulls, taunt them.

Now, imagine a bullring with a lot of testosterone-engorged knobs males. Release a young-ish but nonetheless fierce bull into the arena. Watch as these testosterone-engorged knobs males wave their arms about to draw the bull's attention, use their windbreakers as a muleta or cape, reach to pull the bull's tail, try to touch the bull as it approaches, and then run for cover like the cowards they are when the bull actually does charge.

Such fun! It's fun to watch the testosterone-engorged knobs males posture about!

Watch as the young-ish but nonetheless fierce bull gets really anno
yed. Watch as the young-ish but nonetheless fierce bull charges and lifts the testosterone-engorged knobs males up up up, tossing them into the air and stomping on them.

Such fun! It's fun to cheer for the bulls!

Apparently over 60 such bull-taunters were injured in bullrings this weekend. To the best of my knowledge none were killed but those 60 certainly got a thrashing. A thrashing they deserved.

Young-ish but nonetheless fierce bulls:60; Testosterone-engorged knobs males: 0.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Planet of the Macacae Sylvani

Anyone who knows me even superficially (which is how I prefer it) will know what I hate 2 things:

1) monkeys, and
2) clowns

In fact, I would be hard pressed to admit which of the two I hate the more but because I was in Gibraltar last weekend and because Gib is plagued with Barbary apes rather than Ringling Brothers' clowns, today monkeys it is. I hate monkeys.

Given my general loathing of monkeys, the attentive reader might ask why Señor Gato Gringo and I decided to spend a glorious March afternoon cable car-ing it to the Upper Rock and then walking down through its nature park. Excellent question. I wish I had an equally excellent answer but I don't. Except that there are some excellent pubs at the base of the Upper Rock although, admittedly, none of these necessitated a cable car ride to the top and a walk back through the Planet of the Apes. I guess we figured that it was something we had to do - and once done, would never have to be addressed again.

And Gib's apes - Macaques to be exact and macacae sylvani to be even more exact - are indeed heinous creatures. They are thieving beasts that will grab for anything that suggests that there might be food inside. It is therefore unwise to carry unconcealed plastic bags or Kentucky Fried chicken whilst visiting the Upper Rock. When not snatching KFC snack packs and bundles of small infants, they like to pick vermin off each other and chow down on the fruits of their preening efforts. They also like to manipulate their genitals. Because they are accustomed to people (and their bags of food and bundles of small infants), they will often climb on top of gawking tourists, which apparently many gawking tourists find amusing.

Why, I have no idea.

Such close contact to humans is having a deleterious affect on the apes' social groups which are, in fact, beginning to disintegrate. The new alpha males in the ape community have less body hair and carry digital cameras (but still manipulate their genitals). People-friendly and potato chip-jonesing apes are also expanding their territory and are beginning to move down the Rock - some have been spotted ambling down Main Street in town. And if that isn't reason enough to leave them be, let me add that having an ape sitting on your head is just plain icky. Have you seen their asses?

Of course, the Upper Rock is peppered with signs which warn visitors not to feed the apes and that those who do face a £500 fine. I am happy to report that I required no such counseling; our bag of Marks & Spencer seed bread would not make its way into the digestive system of any monkey. Of course, the Upper Rock is peppered with tourists who disregard the signs which warn visitors not to feed the apes and that those who do face a £500 fine.

Like the foolish young man we watched who dug a plastic bag of food and water bottle out of his knapsack to feed an ape which was pretty much in his face with its grubby little clawed hand and opposable thumbs out demanding its lunch. I hope it takes a bite out of his face, I shouted said none too quietly to Señor G.G. The fact that he was 1 meter from one of those signs which warn visitors not to feed the apes and that those who do face a £500 fine didn't help much. Go for his nose! Chew on his ears! I shouted said none too quietly to Señor G.G. In 2004, doctors at St Bernard’s Hospital treated 168 people for ape-related injuries.

Huzzah! I say.

So should you ever find yourself on the Upper Rock, heed those signs. Hearken to the words of Gibraltar's tourist office: "If you let them, the monkeys will be their captivating selves and show you aspects of their everyday lives." Like picking vermin off each other and chowing down on the fruits of their preening efforts, and manipulating their genitals. If that's not fun for the whole family, I don't know what is.

Monday, March 17, 2008

He's Here ...

Elvis may have left the building but Jesus has just arrived. In fact, he arrived in La Línea last night at 7:45. Exactly. How do I know? Because I watched his arrival on TV last night.

Yes, yesterday was Domingo de Ramos, Palm Sunday - the official kick-off for Semana Santa (Holy week) - when the country (but especially Andalucía) revels in a weeklong celebration of wailing and flailing. And as of today, Jesus has four more days to go ...

Quite simply, Semana Santa is a really big deal in Spain, bigger-than-Christmas big (but especially Andalucía) and its traditions are thought to date back to the Counter Reformation, if not earlier. For some reason - perhaps it's the weather - people in the south don't just commemorate the passion of Christ but empathize with it - actually feel it. This is a week of weeping and gnashing of teeth (in Old Testament proportions). I would not be remiss to say that it's a little scary (in Spanish Inquisition proportions).

Since yesterday was Palm Sunday, Jesus made his triumphal entrance into Jerusalem - or in this case La Línea - on a donkey. Who doesn't love a donkey? And doesn't Jesus look - well - if not happy then at least not in excruciating and tortuous pain? But wait! - our Jesus-entering-the city is being followed by Jesus-being-whipped. Just so we don't forget why we're all here.

The week is marked by a series of pasos, or long processions, during which the town's various religious fraternities and brotherhoods bear ornate and oft times gaudy tronos or "floats"- some of which date back to the 16th century - from its local church, through the neighbourhood, and back to its originating church. These massive wooden platforms (some weigh as much as 5,000 kilos) are topped with statues of the saints (the local virgin is very popular) or dioramas of biblical scenes and can be seen swaying like heavily laden camels through the barrios on their way to neighbourhood churches or cathedrals. As many as three thousand members of any given brotherhood may participate in the processions of Semana Santa and, depending on their seniority, may carry candles, staves or banners.

Hierarchy (and pageantry) isn't dead in the Catholic Church.

Often a tinny brass band marches and plays on, succeeding in cheapening and enhancing the mood at the same time.

Beneath each float are hidden 24-48 costaleros or "sack men" (although up to 250 for the more massive tronos) and it goes without saying that to break your back during Semana Santa is a profound honour. The costaleros are protected from their ponderous loads by the thinnest of neck pads which probably lose all efficacy in the first 2 minutes of marching. Long-time bearers often have a permanent "float bump" - a raised bunion-like swelling on their shoulders - not unlike a prayer bump on a devout Muslim's forehead. This will undoubtedly ease their entry into heaven.

If the wailing and the flailing isn't lugubrious and unsettling enough, the marchers - penitentes - who march in front of the pasos and make the "Stations of Penance" are often barefoot and wear costumes a little too reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan. These outfits - the colours and emblems of which are determined by the brotherhood they represent - are intended to depict the Nazareños (or people from Nazareth, although the Nazarenes in the Child's Illustrated Bible in my dentist's office never looked like this). Probably the most disturbing feature of this already disturbing costume is the capirote, the tall conical hood which conceals the face; its intention is to evoke the conduit of the penitente to the heaven.

It invokes fear in me. Of course, the slow rhythmic beating of the drums, the swaying paces of the float bearers, and the continual lamenting of the flamenco-like saeta, ("arrow") by choirs and onlookers help. In a word, it's all very mediaeval. The only thing missing is a trussed up witch and a few bundles of twigs.

In some places and on specific days, a town will host two pasos a day. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday will mark the zenith of the week's most funereal aspects. Señor Gato Gringo and I must decide which "festivities" to attend. Seville's - hands down Spain's most elaborate - with its 58-some pasos, is out of the question. So popular is it that hotels are sold out months and months (sometimes as much as a year) in advance and private individuals have already rented out space on their balconies from which to view the pasos. Malaga is the next best thing to Seville but requires an almost 3-hour bus trip and, I know that Christ is said to have died on a cross and all that, but a 3-hour bus trip? Seriously! And coming in at number 3 are the celebrations in Cádiz and although the bus ride is shorter, requires a transfer. I mean, please ...

So it will probably be La Línea or nearby San Roque. San Roque - although still requiring a bus trip (10 minutes) - has the advantage of being a more typical white-pueblo-type Andalucian town. Never underestimate ambience. No disrespect to La Línea but watching the float of the "Virgin of the Joy" pause and then pass by the Okay! Pastelleria on her way to the church was a little incongruent. Unless it's a Station of the Cross that I just don't remember: The Virgin Stops For a Coffee and a Croissant.

: Señor G.G. has just informed me that Antonio Banderas participated in the Semana Santa festivities in his hometown of Málaga on Sunday where, complete with pointy hat, he served at the mayordomo of the Virgen de Lágrimas y Favores (the Virgin of Tears and Favours). I must confess that Málaga is looking pretty good right now.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Country In Mourning (Still)

On Tuesday, I felt compelled to talk about the disappearance and death of Mari Luz Cortés because I couldn't erase from my mind the images of her grieving family - and over 1,000 fellow townspeople - accompanying that tiny white coffin through the streets of Huelva. I was so fixated on her that I didn't even notice the date on the calendar. It was Señor Gato Gringo who snapped me out of my stupour with this scintillating verbal exchange:

"It's March 11th"
"It's March 11th."
"It's March 11th!"
"Oh, shit - you're right!"

The United States has 9/11, this is 11/M; and of course Tuesday was the 4th anniversary of Madrid's horrific train bombings. On that spring day in 2004, 191 commuters were killed and 1800 injured when 10 bombs were successfully detonated (another 3 were not) at three train stations at rush hour. Killed simply because they were going to work. Killed because of the hatred and cowardice of their misguided murderers.

Tuesday's official ceremony - no speeches, just the laying of flowers to the accompaniment of an orchestra and choir - was held at Atocha, Madrid's busiest downtown station, the station which saw the heaviest casualties. There are now permanent monuments to the victims both within the train station (the above photo is Atocha's art deco clock) and outside, and there is also the Bosque de los Ausentes (the Forest of the Departed) - a labyrinthine hill planted with 191 olive trees & cypresses - in Madrid's Retiro Park. All three monuments, although very different, share a simplicity of line and colour and rhetoric that draws the visitor deep within to his or her own thoughts.

There has been too much this week for the country to mourn.

This year's remembrance seemed especially poignant for Madrileños as 11/M fell just days after Sunday's federal election. In 2004, a federal election was held 3 days after the bombings. During that election, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and his socialist party toppling the favoured ruling government - a government that sought to blame the bombings on the ETA rather than consider other groups (such as an al-Qaeda inspired terrorist cell) - and were swept into office in a wave of protest.

Now Madrid is not the first city that I've visited or lived in with a history of terrorist attacks. I spent time in Middle Egypt in the early 90's shortly after fundamentalist groups there began to target tourist-laden trains and cafés; Morocco too has been terrorized by extremists. Just last year, bombs went off near an English-language school in Casa. As an English teacher, this brought the possibility of being blown up into tiny bits closer to home. But just closer.

But I didn't feel particularly threatened: not in Egypt, Sudan, Morocco, not anywhere - until Madrid. And I love Madrid. Absolutely love it. But the fact is that Señor G.G. and I took the Cercanías (commuter trains) or subway pretty much very day. And as I was stuffing myself into a train during rush hour like one of a million like-minded pimentos into a single olive, my mind invariably began to entertain dark thoughts. It could happen again. What if today is the day? Did I remember to wear clean underwear?

Maybe I felt, if not nervous, then acutely aware of my own impermanence in this world every time I rode on Madrid's trains because commuting is something that you normally don't question. You just do. You get on a train with millions of other people who are just rushing to work or rushing to get home. There's no suicidal pilot. No Twin Towers. No box cutters. Riding a train is unexceptional. Something you can do in your sleep. Not out of the ordinary but in the ordinary. Perhaps that's it - perhaps because in Madrid, the ordinary was attacked, and that somehow changed things. Even for someone like me who schlepped to work every day, without having to think too much about it, on a train - just like everyone else.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

El Último Adiós

 id=My yesterday was bookmarked by death. Not the best way to begin a week but at least I can say that there was nothing personal going on between the Grim Reaper and me. In the morning it was the nameless body under the sheet by the side of the road. Last night it was Mari Luz Cortés, the little 5-year old girl who went missing on January 13th after she had gone to a neighbourhood kiosk to buy a bag of potato chips. Her last recorded words were to the two friends who had accompanied her part way: wait for me.

Her body was discovered on Friday floating in the Ría de Huelva estuary and her funeral was yesterday. The whole town - a town which has declared 3 days of mourning - attended. The country's flags are flying at half-mast.

Initially, Mari Luz' disappearance received short shrift in the Spanish media which still gave (and gives) seemingly unlimited coverage to the case of Madeleine McCann, who went missing in May of 2007. Some alleged that this was because Mari Luz was a gitana - a gypsy - and was a child of a tough neighbourhood of Huelva, a city plagued by crime and drugs. There were even rumours that Mari Luz' disappearance was linked to the settling of a feud between two warring families. After all, this is, some people whispered, what gypsies do. In any case, her family certainly couldn't afford to launch the media blitz that the McCanns did:

"There have certainly been no high-profile visits to the US First Lady, Laura Bush, or TV adverts with footballers David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo calling for Mari Luz's safe return. The McCanns flew to Rome for a special audience with the Pope ..."

Others suggest that the perceived drama surrounding the Madeleine case - that the family was vacationing at the time, that these seemingly perfect parents not only showed little public emotion but were even suspects - made the story more newsworthy, even freakish from a Spanish perspective. But whatever the reason (or combination thereof), the 5-year old's photo was eventually seen on bus shelters, in shop windows, and affixed to electrical polls through Spain. A website was created. A bank account was opened to accept donations. Marches were conducted. Balloons released. Private detectives were hired. There were alleged sightings. A bogus ransom demand was made.

But all for naught. Mari Luz was found in the same clothes that she was wearing when she went missing. Has she been dead all this time?

Thousands of people lined the streets of Huelva yesterday to bid Mari Luz an último adiós and to escort the tiny white coffin on its final journey. So sad. How do you find meaning or solace in such a terrible thing? That at least the parents have closure? Perhaps. Or that her death will rekindle public awareness to the fact that there are some 200 children still missing in Spain. Hopefully.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A Letter to a Stiff

 id=Dear Stiff,

I must confess that seeing you lying there on the sidewalk this morning - a human lump covered with a white sheet - was a bit disconcerting. One doesn't really want to see a dead body on their way to work. Especially on a Monday morning. I suppose that's a bit selfish since all I had to do was look at you while you are, in fact, dead. Perhaps this shouldn't be all about me. I must say that you were well attended by the half dozen or so local police officers and the ambulance attendant. Were they waiting for the coroner? A detective? A body bag?

We couldn't see any signs of a car accident and because it was already 10:30 in the morning, we can only presume that you weren't a homicide. So what happened to you dear Stiff? Were you an elderly person who just keeled over? A rummy whose body just stopped functioning? Did you hear that
Rodríguez Zapatero's socialist party won last night's election and the shock killed you?

I hope you have people who love you and will mourn for you. It seems an awfully lonely way to go. I must say that seeing you there
- a human lump covered with a white sheet - with your elbows sticking out from under the sheet akimbo and your toes turned inwards saddened me. But your passing certainly seems to have enlivened the half dozen or so local police officers who were milling about, chewing the fat and laughing. Watching over you sure as hell beats yesterday's assignment: providing security for yesterday's Miss San Roque Beauty Contest. Having watched the contest and having seen the 40 contestants, I'd rather hang out with a stiff too.

Have a nice afterlife.

Yours sincerely,

La Gatita Gringa

Thursday, March 6, 2008

A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall

 id="So please, oh PLEASE, we beg, we pray, Go throw your TV set away, And in its place you can install, A lovely bookshelf on the wall."

— Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

If you live in the UK (which I don't) today is World Book Day. If you live in Spain (which I do) it falls on April 23rd - so chosen some 85 years ago by Catalonian book lovers to honour the love of reading on the day Miguel Cervantes died. And since April 23rd is also the date that Vladimir Nabokov was born, that Inca Garcilaso de la Vega died and that William Shakespeare was born and died (and undoubtedly countless others), UNESCO threw in its weight and dubbed it World Book and Copyright Day, or alternately International Day of the Book or, if you prefer, World Book Day.

But because I live about 500 metres away from the UK and the fact the tip of Gib wasn't obscured by clouds this morning - an excellent omen - I am going to get a head start on the April festivities and give the UK World Book Day a nod. By way of thanks.

Emilie Buchwald was correct in saying that "children are made readers on the laps of their parents," so on this day I'd like to thank you Mom and Dad. Thanks a million. But I'd also like to thank you Dr. Seuss. And thank you Oscar Wilde. Thank you Roald Dahl. Thank you Sir Walter Scott. Thank you Kenneth Grahame. Thank you Beatrix Potter. Thank you Rudyard Kipling. Thank you Lucy Maud Montgomery. Thank you Brothers Grimm. Thank you Charles Perrault. Thank you Robert Louis Stevenson. Thank you Laura Ingalls Wilder. Thank you Louisa May Alcott. Thank you J. M.Barrie. Thank you L. Frank Baum. Thank you Lewis Carroll. Thank you Arthur Conan Doyle. Thank you Margery Williams. Thank you Carolyn Keene (who never existed) ...

(I used to practise my acceptance speech for my Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role in front of the mirror when I was a teenager).

... and thank you to everyone I'm forgetting. Since I can't hug any of you, I'll go hug a book. Do the same.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Help Me Ronda (sic)

 id=Ernest Hemingway is credited with saying - and I say credited because I cannot find the source - that the Andalucían town of Ronda is the best place 'to spend your honeymoon or to see a bullfight for the first time". And presumably, the 4-time wedded bullfighting aficionado would know.

It is widely believed that Ronda - the home of modern bullfighting (wheeeee!) and arguably one of Spain's most picturesque spots (wheeeee! without the sarcasm) - is the otherwise unnamed Castillian village in Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, in which Nationalist sympathizers are tossed from the town's vertiginous cliffs. Whether or not Republican forces actually hurled Nationalists from the cliffs of the El Tajo canyon which Ronda teeters precipitously upon, is now immaterial; the damage has been done. Hemingway made reference to it and that is enough. I suspect that his honeymooning comment did little to undo the damage - hard to find the romance in bodies catapulting into the gorge below, unless you're Generalísimo Francisco Franco. Or his fiancée.

And although I could wax poetically about Ronda's natural beauty (a natural beauty less warmly appreciated by those hurling Nationalists) or about its neoclassical bullring (the oldest operating ring in Spain), its Roman roots, its Moorish past, the Sufi poets it gave birth to, or its winding warren of streets which yields mysteries at every turn, I won't. I'd rather discuss its cuisine. Or more accurately, my breakfast.

It is about 11:30. Señor Gato Gringo, La Madre Gatita, and I have just alighted from the bus in search of coffee. The three of us have unanimously agreed that Ronda's natural beauty (a natural beauty less warmly appreciated by those hurling Nationalists), its neoclassical bullring (the oldest operating ring in Spain), its Roman roots, its Moorish past, the Sufi poets it gave birth to, and its warren of winding streets which yields mysteries at every turn would just have to wait until caffeine was located.

It was located. Kitty-corner to the bus station, La Madre Gatita espied a small café with a churros sign. Coffee and breakfast! - huzzah! We hied ourselves to the café and as the owner, la Patrona, wiped the table crumbs into our collective laps, swiftly ordered 3 coffees, 2 plates of churros, and for me, toast with tomato and olive oil. La Patrona shook her head and said many things in Spanish, many things which included to my untrained ear: no tomato and olive oil. (No tomato and olive oil? Is this not Spain?). I suggested jam and butter and receive a nod of assent.

She returned with our coffee. And a jar of strawberry jam - or at least a jar whose label suggested that it once contained strawberry jam. A moment later, she plonked a much used tub of margarine on the table. Next she dropped off my toast and a knife and said many things in Spanish, many things which included to my untrained ear: Fill your boots. A few moments later the two orders of churros appeared. On one plate. In response to our look of confusion la Patrona looked at Señor G.G. and La Madre and said many things in Spanish, many things which included to our untrained ears: you two can share.

Dear reader, I am ashamed to admit that I experienced Order Envy. The margarine which refused to melt into my toast and the little jam that I could scrape from the jar paled - congealed - in comparison to those hot golden deep-fried donuty confections. Why did I order the toast? What was I thinking? This is Spain! - I could have had churros for Christ's sake! This is Spain! - the toast sucks here! (Actually it doesn't, I was just really cranky).


While Señor G.G. and La Madre licked the sugar off their churros, and in the hopes that my margarine would melt in my absence and the jam jar would spontaneously reproduce, I paid a visit to the loo. A loo without benefit of a lock. And a mirror. And soap. And paper towels. And toilet paper. And a toilet seat. But its flushing mechanism worked so who am I to play Princess and the Pee?

I returned to our table and was summarily commanded to give a full report of the state of the Ladies' Room. Amazingly - and this is a twist I bet you didn't see coming - La Madre elected to risk renal failure rather than experience the bathroom's hidden delights. During my report, we couldn't help but notice that la Patrona was turning off the café's lights. Closing the door. Shutting the windows. And omigod - this is serious! - she's turning off the slot machine that sits in the middle of the cafe. Apparently 11:45 is closing time in an establishment that specializes in breakfast. Of course, this is Spain and the lunch shift probably doesn't start until 3:00.

We paid our bill and tried not to let the door hit our asses on the way out.

By way of a peroration, I'd like to add that Hemingway later confessed to having fabricating the entire Nationalist human-vaulting scene but in reality, in 1936, some 500 'fascist sympathizers' were lobbed from a cliffside house in Ronda by a frenzied mob. No doubt the frenzied mob had just visited the same café kitty-corner to the bus station. And they had ordered the toast.