Thursday, August 30, 2007

I Don't See Influential Dead People

... or more accurately, I've been looking for Influential Dead People. Looking up Influential Dead People. Looking at Influential Dead People. But a preposition of some sort is absolutely required.

For the past week, Señor Gato Gringo and I have been rewriting about a dozen chapters for a forthcoming English language textbook whose target market is language schools in North Africa and the Middle East (NAME). Our template was a book with a similar cultural bend, but for Mexico - with logical cultural references to people like Shakira and Frida Kahlo. And because it was geared for the latin market, it had all sorts of bawdy allusions about adultery, fornication, bestial sex dating and romance. This would all have to go if it were to be approved by The Publisher's Kultural Editor; at that point it would be presented to school boards in the NAME.

If this weren't an already impossibly daunting formidable assignment, it seems that many language schools in the NAME (I suspect more ME than NA) have Religious Policemen on their book selection committees. Our editor felt that we were up to the challenge of producing academically rigourous and culturally sensitive lessons which Muslims wouldn't find offensive; apparently, he had never read my previous blog.

Out went even the most chaste boy-girl couplings. Out went the references to slattern Hollywood celebrities like Julia Roberts. Out went photos of diabolical divo Placido Domingo! Out went a whole unit on the zodiac - playthings of Satan - no matter that it was a logical vehicle to teach both personality traits & ordinal numbers! No matter that every one of my students in Morocco knew their sign. Out Sagittarius! Out Scorpio!

Out went all references to any character with an Old Testament name (Jeeeeeewish) - out Hannah! out David! Out went a reference to Bob Dylan (Jeeeeeewish) - no matter that the context was his appreciation of Egyptian songstress Umm Kulthum. Out went a mini biography of Kurt Cobain (suuuuuicide). Out went much abridged verses from that hack William Shakespeare. Out went all mention of dogs (
haram in Islam), and cats (which are not haram but who keeps cats in the house? How do you expect a Muslim kid to relate?).

Jesus Mary & Joseph.

As our friend Ms. K quipped, this was becoming English for Fundos. But as long as no Muslim will
find offence in the results of our Stalinistic language and cultural purges, then we can cash their cheques go to bed with a clear conscience. Besides, whoever said that English culture, history, and mores had to be an integral part of language acquisition? Probably an infidel dog.

So we sold our souls complied. This we did because a) such were our instructions and b) there is, in theory at least, a cheque waiting at the end of the not terribly pluralistic rainbow.

But eventually we would hit a brick wall. We were absolutely stymied when it came to revamping the lesson on the simple past tense which employs Dead People (easier to get permission for the use of their images) to drive the grammar point home. We had Princess Diana, Marilyn Munroe, John Lennon, Ayrton Senna, and Frida Kahlo. Our instructions: replace them with The Influential Dead from the NAME, but with an emphasis on the Gulf States. You know, people who young adults and kids can really relate to, we were told.

So out they went - although Princess Di, that tramp, managed to sneak back into the lesson. That's how desperate we were. For 48 hours we scoured our brains and the internet, lobbing names back and forth. In between that 48 hour period was a sleepless night of staring at the ceiling for inspiration. The ceiling was most disappointing: it offered me nothing. Nothing! The vast majority of the names we came up with were for the most part Egyptian and to a lesser degree Lebanese. Given the age and cultural wealth of these two cultures, this shouldn't be surprising. Gulf 'culture' -
the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf was established in 1981 - is young, a mere embryo in comparison to its North African & Mediterranean neighbours. Who's had time to do anything of value and die? (Of course, I may be asking the same question 50 years from now. Okay, maybe 100.)

Our desperation increased. We scoured our sources: Mr. N and Ms. K came up empty-handed. Every person who sparked the faintest glimmer of hope turned out to be still alive. "What about ---?" "Still Alive." "Damn!" We looked for dead athletes. Then we heard, with not a little gruesome thrill, that Spanish footballer Antonio Puerta had collapsed during a game and had to be taken to hospital. "Maybe he'll die!" cried Señor GG. Of course he did die and we both feel like heels. In fact, over the next few weeks, a significant number of very very famous people will be keeling over. All because of us.

In case you're dying of curiosity, in the end we chose Egyptian Nobel Prize-winning author Naguib Mahfouz, Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum, that Egyptian-dating tart Di, and Lebanese-born Khalil Gibran. And Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum? You know Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, don't you? He was the former Vice President & Prime Minister of the UAE and Emir of Dubai who dabbled in real estate and bred prize-winning thoroughbred racehorses. Fortunately for us, he died last year at the age of 63 and he is, without a doubt, someone young adults and kids can really absolutely definitely unquestionably relate to. YES!!! we screeched, jolted out of seats in pure electric joy, pumping our fists into the air, and high-fiving each other. We've found him!

But the book is done - or at least our contribution to it. Of course, it hasn't received final approval yet - the Kultural Editor has yet to come down from the mountain with a verdict. I suspect more rewrites. Ultimately it'll be too fundo for most countries in the NAME and not fundo enough for Saudi. And preliminary eyebrows have already been raised about a chapter in which a (male) university student is looking for a (male) roommate. The objection? Why would 2 men live together in an apartment when they can live at home until they get married?

Oi vey.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Many Fleas & Elroy Jetson's Dog

Yesterday being a Sunday when most things in Madrid are closed (with the notable exceptions of bars and museums), Señor GG and I decided to head out to the Rastro* flea market. With over 3500 stalls, Rastro is purported to be a) the world's largest open-air flea market b) Europe's largest open-air flea market c) Spain's largest open-air flea market d) Madrid's open-air flea market or e) all of the above. My inability to judge distance and depth notwithstanding, it is awfully big. I am told that it stretches across the barrios of La Latina, Embajadores, and Puerta de Toledo but - like the science of spatial measurement - such niceties are pretty much lost on me: all I know is that it's 15 minutes from our apartment. All that Señor GG knows is that tavernas selling cañas of beer (for less than 1 € a pop) are strategically spaced at 10 meter increments throughout the market. He has a better grasp of the science of spatial measurement than I do.

Rastro apparently earned its sobriquet (el Rastro = the trail, i.e., as in trail of blood) from the custom of dragging slaughtered animals down the street - a seemingly common practice since an abattoir as well as several tanneries stood in the area some 400 years ago. I'm so happy that my budding relationship with Spain's butchered animals is beginning to taking root.

Since the market is naturally divided among various streets, over the years these areas have become associated, either by design or haphazardly, with particular goods and wares. There was or still is the calle de los Pajáros (where parrots and other exotic birds were sold) and the calle de los Pintores (where painters were not sold but rather sold their work). You'll find areas devoted to rare and collectible books; religious statuary with various degrees of decapitation and amputation; antiques, both genuine and questionable; bits of iron and brass and wooden hardware (which, if he were alive, my father would've spent hours sifting through); movie memorabilia; clothes fallen off the back of a truck new & second-hand; magazines, many quite lurid; trading cards and stamps; enough knitted Peruvian woollens to clothe the world for a glacial, an interglacial, and possibly a second glacial period; enough Indian brass Ganesha statuettes to fill an elephant graveyard; enough Tibetan incense to make it smell less like an elephant graveyard; and a lot of crap. A whole lot of crap.

This time, Señor GG and I decided to devote our morning to the magazines and trading cards dealers because we are both secret hoarders of trading cards and keen ruthless traders. It is fair to say that we have both made killings over the years with our Operation Desert Storm cards - Saddam Hussein alone financed our villa in Ibiza). Alright - everything I just said after the word 'because' is a lie but I did buy Operation Desert Storm cards at a flea market several years ago - I've just forgetten where I put them. Bet that Saddam Hussein one is worth something now. And Chemical Ali. Damn.

In any case, we just ended up there so we decided to see who could find the cheesiest trading card. Among the football clubs, tennis players, porn stars, famous parks (Hey Javier, I have Hyde Park - I'll trade you for the Bois du Boulogne!), we found Duran Duran, Samantha Fox, Simple Minds, and The Cure. Although it was initially determined (by me) that 80's television has-been actress Lori Singer (remember Fame?) was the hands-down sure-fire winner, Señor GG overruled me with his preference for the Swedish one-hit-wonder band Europe whose only gift to the world was disbanding Final Countdown - gloriously resurrected and elevated to its zenith of kitsch by the television series Arrested Development.

I might add that I found an old frilly well-thumbed prayer card for not so much my namesake as my nickname's namesake (Knarf, I'll kill you ...) but at 12 euros, I vacillated and decided to pray to her for guidance. The patron saint of gardeners and rape victims has yet to answer my prayers (she probably has her hands full with the latter) but then again, I have yet to pray to her. Perhaps it will be there next week.

* Note: if you are of a certain age & cultural bend, you must say Rastro as if you were George Jetson's dog Astro - Raaaaaastro)

Friday, August 24, 2007

Post the First: Ruminations on Matters Bovine

Writer's note: I'm not happy with this title. I wanted to say "Ruminations on Matters Taurine" as taurine seemed a more apt adjective to discuss bull-ish things but as taurine is, in fact, a two-aminoethanesulfonic acid, bovine it is.*

A recap?

After a two-week hiatus Cat in Rabat has thus been transmogrified or better yet, reincarnated (this sets the feline clock back to Life #1) into an alter ego more sympathetic to her surroundings. Gone is the head scarf and in its place, an appropriately and equally terrifying (in my eyes) head scarf habit. It seems that Cat is not losing her religion but exchanging one for the other: although it's been two blessed weeks since I've been awoken by the neighbourhood muezzin's call to prayer, my slumbers have been jostled by nocturnal church bells. Between the two ... well, I'll just keep my comments to myself.

And as most habits are hard to break, I can make no promises on the quality or general level of snarkiness cultivated in this blog. Indeed, I was reluctant to continue blogging for a number of reasons, one of which was that I doubted Madrid would keep me an honest a snarky cat. How can I possibly be a snark in Madrid? I asked myself. Only time will tell.

But what's with the matador? you ask. Or wonder. Or perhaps didn't even notice at all. The killer of bulls whom you see above is (or was) Rafael Gómez Ortega - known as El Gallo, or the Rooster. The Rooster, who came from a fairly illustrious family of bull-killers, enjoyed his share of fame in the teens of the 20th century - he developed several unique moves including fighting a bull from a chair. Why he was never dubbed El Tonto (the Idiot), god only knows. He ultimately squandered his fortune and was supported into his dotage by fellow bull-slayer Juan Belmonte, arguably the greatest killer of unarmed ruminants in the world.

But what's with the matador? you ask. Or wonder. Or perhaps didn't even notice at all. It seems that the apartment in which Mr. Cat in Rabat Señor Gato Gringo and I now reside was once his home. There's a pretty little ceramic plaque outside our building advising us as much. Like many fin de siècle apartment buildings in Europe, each floor was once a private - and presumably sumptuous - dwelling and has since been subdivided into a warren of teeny-weeny flats. I like to think that our apartment was once his bathroom, the room where El Tonto The Rooster used to wash bits of bull gore and blood from his holey-er than thou body.

And on a not very somewhat related note, it was announced this week that Televisión Española had - without consulting the union of bull-killers - cravenly (according to the union of bull-killers) decided to pull its live coverage of bullfights, ending a 59 year old run of televised death. It seems likely that viewership is down or, to put it another way, bullfighting fans are aging. Now if you are an aficionado of the corrida, or you're just over 65 years old, fear not: there's still plenty of cable coverage to satisfy your bloodlust.

So there you have it. Two vegetarians living in the house of one of Spain's beloved bull-killers. Rather ironic, no? Undoubtedly a suitably skewy way to begin our next incarnation. Perhaps Madrid - like Barcelona did three years ago - will one day declare itself a bullfighting free city. Ahhh, I had to wipe the tears of laughter from my eyes as I typed that.

*I happily sit corrected. Kudos to Monsieur Mike for validating my gut-reaction in vocabulary. The title of this blog should therefore be Post the First: Ruminations on Matters Taurine.