Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Reincarnation Gatita-Style

Once again - and rather inexplicably - I have been asked for more, so rather than ¡hola! from Spain, I offer you ahoy (it'll have to do) from Bratislava.

I present: Mačka in Slovak.

My apologies in advance.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The 9 Lives of Gatita Gringa: Life the 8th

I'm not terribly adept at ending blogs - not that I have much experience as this is only my second one but the tickets have been bought, a new Lonely Planet purchased, and the suitcases crammed to beyond capacity, so the time is nigh.

Nonetheless, saying adios - or more accurately, since I'm in southern Spain, adiohhhhh - is not easy.

So rather than saying adiohhhhh, I'll say gracias - or more accurately, since I'm in southern Spain, grathiahhhhh - to this country for such a fabulous year. Thank you (in random order) for:

1) Olive oil & tomato toast and cañas of beer for breakfast.

2) Manzanilla and cream sherries and ponche caballero (a heavenly concoction of brandy, Andalucían oranges, plums, raisins, nuts, and cinnamon).

3) Sangria and tinto de verano because, often, the weather demands it. And I never argue with the weather.

4) Cold Spanish lager; notable inclusions being Alhambra, Mezquita (okay, it's not a lager), Mahou and Cruzcampo (goodness, I detect a theme).

5) Tortilla - especially the tortilla baguettes served at the Europa 2 bar in Granada.

6) Andalucía's weather: 10 months of flip-flop weather (12 if you don't mind getting your feet wet) warms the cockles of my heart.

7) Gibraltar (okay, not Spanish but our drink-soddened Fridays at the Clipper very much coloured our experience here).

8) Allowing the Moors to wreck havoc from 711 until 1492 (mas o menos), but not destroying their architecture after showing them the door. After all, nothing screams 'church belfry' like a minaret.

9) Developing an anti-bullkilling fighting ethos - albeit slowly. But kudos to you for fighting the tough fight - some day, a couple of hundred thousand bulls will thank you.

10) Cervecería 100 Montaditos for having vegetarian tapas options (high praise indeed went to the blue cheese and walnut mini baguette which has since been inexplicably struck from their menu).

11) Potato chips - notably Santa Ana. Sadly, my chip-eating experiences will never be the same.

12) Saint Days. What's there not to like about a day (or 2 or 3) away from work, a copious amount of alcohol, and a borderline medieval procession or two?

13) Ferias - notably Málaga's. Not that I remember very much of it. A drunken nod goes to the especially incorrect ones like the festival de Moros y Cristianos in Alcoy - a costumed re-enactment which commemorates a particularly heated battle between Moorish and Christian soldiers in the 13th century. The Moors always seem to lose. Funny, that.

14) The Osborne Bull. I saw my first bull-on-the-horizon 8 years ago and I still thrill to see el toro atop a hill or standing right-in-your-face by the side of the road. Honourable mention goes to the roadside Tío Pepe bottle.

Kukuxumusu designs. Mr. Testes balls always make me howl, not to mention all those trans-species copulators.

16) Flamenco. How will our Camarón de la Isla cds fair outside of Spain? Will the duende still be there? And the burning question: will Señor Gato Gringo ever learn to play the box?

17) Every Spaniard who couldn't understand a word I said but still tried to make sense of what I was trying to say. An exception being the chica who works in our local pizzeria - how I ever got served a Coca Light after asking - twice - for an agua con gas still defies logic.

18) Madrid. Yeah, yeah, I know: Barcelona, Barcelona, Barcelona. Gaudí Schmaudí. Madrid is - well, Madrid is Madrid. (How obtuse is that?). And Madrid has a bear. Bears rock.

19) Fans. The corollary to 10 months of flip-flop weather (12 if you don't mind getting your feet wet) is having a fan. My favourite has pterodactyls on it. Fans are pretty. Fans work. Why ever don't men use them? - oh right, because men are stupid.

20) Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Martyr Patricio Clito Ruíz y Picasso. Love him or hate him - and I know more people who hate him than love him - Picasso was indisputably the most influential artist in the history of the crayon, paint brush or lump of coal. Born in Málaga, he vowed not to return to Spain while General Franco was in power. Alas, Picasso predeceased Franco by 2 years and never returned to the ¡hola!-land.

Note: a nod to Ms. and Mr. runners-up Penélope Cruz (Señor G.G.'s choice) and Antonio Banderas (mine). Or Javier Bardem (damn!).

Anyway, adiohhhhh and grathiahhhhh. Better yet, rather than saying goodbye, I offer an hasta luego - or more accurately, since I'm in southern Spain, 'uegohhhhh. Because it is 'uegohhhhh not adiohhhhh.

p.s. Be kind to stray animals. And because this is Spain, be nice to donkeys too.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

19 Survivors

I've never seen Madrid's oso crying before.
Descanse en paz.
Rest in peace.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Sacred & the Sacred Profane

This past Feast of the Assumption-long weekend I found myself - possibly like many Spaniards - dangling from the horns of a very Spanish dilemma. Do I sing hosannas to the Virgin Mary or not do much of anything at all? Look skyward envisioning Our Lady ascending to the heavens or offer up a prayer of thanksgiving to the night sky that it's still bright out at 10:00? Sit quietly in church fumbling with my rosary or lie on the beach with a very cold tinto de verano in my hand? Decisions, decisions.

Spain being a secular country and the Virgin Mary purportedly being nice and all, I think she probably didn't condemn me for the fact that I eschewed the dreariness of church for the sparkling water of the pool ... although I'm pretty sure I did raise a glass to her. Always good to hedge your bets.

In truth, like myself,
Spaniards seem to have few problems distinguishing the sacred from the profane - at least when it comes to long weekends in August. Sociologist Émile Durkheim once postulated that what is deemed sacred in the world is not necessarily good and what is profane is equally not necessarily evil. Ergo, there are no hard and fast rules - and nowhere is this more evident than in Spain.

Permit me to illustrate:

I mentioned in my previous post that
Señor Gato Gringo and I recently visited Sanlúcar de Barrameda in order to consolidate our positions as World Class Sherry Aficionados. While waiting for the bodeda to open beetling about the town, we popped into the 16th century iglesia of San Francisco, built by Henry VIII as a hospital for English sailors. One can only imagine that funding for the church took a serious tumble after he banished his then-wife Catherine of Aragon from court but that's for another blog, a historical romance and possibly a mini series.

It was very pretty although the articulated statue of Christ on the Cross was a little over-the-top.

just outside the church, celebrating the glory of God and the ingenuity of humankind, is a resplendent pyramid of manzanilla barrels from the Bodegas Pedro Romero. This is the sacred and the sacred! How clever is that? So how is it that I've never seen beer kegs arranged o-so-prettily outside any church back home? Have the Spaniards figured out something that we in North America have yet to? (Yes).

Later that day, while waiting for the Mexican restaurant to open beetling about Spain's windy city Tarifa (yes, the t-shirts are right: Tarifa does blow) we popped into the iglesia San Mateo. And although I could have spent a little more time admiring the 16th century Gothic architecture of the church's interior, it was its 17th century Baroque facade set off to full advantage by the lottery ticket vendor at its entrance that caught my eye.

After all, it's never to early to buy my El Gordo lottery ticket - the draw, after all, is only 4 months away.

And although I appreciate the fact that bingo has long been a popular source of revenue for the Catholic Church deemed a morally acceptable alternative to gambling (why exactly I've yet to figure out), I've never noticed lottery ticket hawkers at church doors before. Perhaps I'm not terribly observant or perhaps the fact that San Mateo is the patron saint of bankers has something to do with it ...

Let me quickly add that a portion of my ticket will go to church renovations, so by financially assisting a historical church, my big fat el gordo win is a shoe in. (Of course, Tarifa's 20,000-some inhabitants probably feel much the same way). After all, nothing in Spain goes together better than religion, booze and gambling. And to that I say amen - or better yet, olé.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing

It's not like I expected the heavens to open up and hosts of seraphim and cherubim to descend, placing a golden crown upon my brow. Although that would have been nice.

It's not like I expected a mighty sceptre to be placed in my hands and a satin sash tied about my person by no less than the King of Spain himself. Although that would have been nice too.

It's not like I expected a t-shirt that said "I did the Sherry Triangle and All I Got Was a Lousy T-shirt" slipped over my head. But I would probably have settled for that.

Just about anything would have sufficed ...

This weekend, marked by a visit to Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Señor Gato Gringo and I made good on a vow we made back in December: to complete Cádiz' Triple Crown of bodegas before we left Spain. Now I suspect that there are equally laudable goals a visitor to Spain can set for him or herself - although truthfully, no examples spring immediately to mind - but surely this is one that merits some sort of official recognition. Perhaps if Franco were still alive ...

As I expounded upon oh so many months ago, for sherry to be sherry it must be fermented and fortified in one of these three towns in Cádiz: Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar and El Puerto de Santa María. Of the three, Sanlúcar is probably best known for my not-very-secret vice - its manzanilla: a fino wine rendered slightly salty by the winds which blow off the sea estuary of the Guadalquivir river. Needless to say, on Saturday Señor G.G. and I made a sizeable dent first in Pedro Romero's sampling room and then in its shop. How we haven't been banned for life from any of Spain's bodegas defies logic and good business sense.

Having now toured many of Cádiz' bodegas in English, Spanish and more recently, as a self-guided Sherry savant, I can safely say that a Bodega Tour Guide is a career opportunity I would like to explore further. In fact, I would be a Bodega Tour Guide Extraordinario. Wouldn't my family be proud! Didn't the bodega-istas (I just made that word up) at the Pedro Romero bodega invite me to autograph one of their sherry barrels? Well not so much invite, but allow me to scribble my name in a darkened corner. In secret. Well not so much allow because no one was actually around to stop me ... but I'm confident that my signature is still there.

In fact, it is only mode
sty that prevents me from stating that I believe myself to be the Most Knowledgeable Person in the Entire World on the Subject of Spain's Sherries. I am a resource that demands to be exploited!

the Most Knowledgeable Person in the Entire World on the Subject of Spain's Sherries and a future Bodega Tour Guide Extraordinario, I would insist that there be some sort of acknowledgment for completing the Sherry Triangle. I mean, Pythagoras had busts chiseled in his honour for his lousy triangle. And I bet survivors of the Bermuda Triangle get to appear on the Tonight Show. In fact, this will be my first order of business. Just after the sampling.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

I Scream

I love ice cream.

I come by this passion honestly as my family is a family of ice cream eaters. And with the exception of my mother's aberrant penchant for grapenut flavoured ice cream - and by aberrant I really mean beastly - our tastes run rather conservatively. (Although I do get a craving for a nice peanut butter & chocolate cone every once in a while).

Enter Neapolitan - that most perfect of ice cream flavours. A glorious marriage of chocolate, strawberry and vanilla - the Triple Crown of flavours - it is perfection in a bowl (or cone) for it removes or at least minimizes the agony of choice when faced with a gazillion other varieties. Best served in a brick - where the strict delineations of flavours can be faithfully respected - it can be eaten anally meticulously colour by colour or mixed into a soupy amalgam of flavours. There's probably a doctoral thesis buried in how people eat Neapolitan ice cream.

Now I know you're thinking that this is the obligatory we're-in-the-throes-of-summer post, and, after all, what says summer better than ice cream? Well,
Señor Gato Gringo might suggest beer and, in the darkest corners of my heart I might argue that a glass of tinto de verano or sangria really hits the spot. But you'd be wrong.

No, dear reader ... my thoughts turned to ice cream - specifically
Neapolitan ice cream - not to cool my feverish self in La Línea's steaming temperatures but rather I was reminded of it in the grocery store. Not in the frozen food aisle mind you, but in the dairy case. Yes, in the dairy case where - a veritable peacock among pigeons - a tricolour container of pink, white & brown margarine sat rather gaily next to the butter and the aioli, putting their pale spreads to shame.

Neapolitan margarine? - although I have no idea (or burning desire to know) what the actual flavour is like, the list of ingredients did indicate a high percentage of sugar. Perhaps I'll just stick with the ice cream.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Bad Mail Karma

I come from a family encumbered with the pain and suffering of Bad Mail Karma although fortunately, for the most part, I have been spared many of the horrors which have been visited upon my mother and her sisters. In Spain - contrary to the experiences of my fellow-bloggers - I have experienced nothing less than stellar service from the Post Office. In fact, the only pieces of mail I have failed to receive have been letters sent by my mother and her sisters. But that's their Bad Mail Karma, not mine.

Last week a notice was crammed into our mailbox indicating that either a registered letter or a package - for the little descriptive box remained unticked - was awaiting me or Señor Gato Gringo- for the name in the little address box was illegible - at La Línea's Correos. Huzzah! - a parcel! Or a letter! Is it even for us? asked Señor G.G. who had clearly and rather maliciously just donned his buzzkill hat. You can't read the name on the pick-up notice. It behooved me to remind him that, unlike my family, I don't suffer from Bad Mail Karma.

Now because this is the summer and because this is Spain, many of the country's services have pared back their hours of operation. The post office in La Línea is no exception. In the realm of I-want-to-work-for-the-Spanish-post-office-when-I-grow-up, the Correos here is open from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. for the duration of the summer. Which makes for very long line-ups from 8:00 a.m. to 12:59 p.m. After several abortive and admittedly half-hearted attempts to wait patiently in line, I finally capitulated last Thursday, and not only joined the line but stood in it not very patiently while those in front of me remortgaged their homes and set up trust funds for their grandchildren and mailed boxes of sherry to Uruguay. All requiring vast numbers of forms and a multitude of stamps.

Thirty-ish minutes later, I eagerly thrust my notice and my passport under the glass partition which separated me and a Frazzled Postal Worker, sending him off to the parcel shelf on what I hoped would not be a wild goose chase. Would it be a package? A prezzie?!! I asked Señor G.G. who, upon close inspection, was not only still wearing his buzzkill hat but had also adopted a don't-get-your-hopes-up expression. Husbands can be so tiresome.

Much to my disappointment - although I think I detected an I-told-you-so humpfff from Señor G.G. - the Frazzled Postal Worker quickly abandoned the parcel shelf and began rooting through the registered mail file, from which he pulled out a rather dull but official-looking letter. I offered Señor G.G a you-can-take-your-I-told-you-so humpfff and ram-it-up-your-ass-humpfff of my own. Amidst the humpfffing the Frazzled Postal Worker shoved my pick-up notice and a pen under the glass partition and asked me (I think) to sign for it. I duly signed the notice and shoved it and the pen back under the glass partition. He then shoved the letter and my original pick-up notice back under under the glass partition.

It wasn't for me.

Not only was it not for me but the recipient's name clearly indicated that he was of the y-chromosome persuasion. Perhaps a quick shufti at my passport - or my double-D secondary sexual characteristics - would have satisfied the Frazzled Postal Worker that I could not be anyone by the name of Francisco or Javier.

I confess that I left the Correos a little disappointed and a whole lot perplexed; after all, I had just
been handed a registered letter which clearly belonged to an individual of the opposite sex as well as the original pick-up notice which bore his name and my signature. Indeed, there would be no record that Francisco Javier had picked the letter up. I could rip it up unto a thousand little pieces and cackle in malevolent delight as his electricity is turned off. Hope he's not showering at the time. So it would seem that, like my mother and aunts, Francisco Javier too suffers from Bad Mail Karma.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

All's Not Fair

L.P. Hartley once wrote that the past is like a foreign country because they do things differently there. As a corollary to that, I would add that foreign countries are like foreign countries because they also do things differently there. Profound, no?

How so? you ask.

I offer, by way of illustration of the aforementioned profound observation, the innocuous county fair. As a child I spent much of the summer pining for the fairs which, like cotton candied mushrooms, sprung up in southern Ontario towards the end of August. Fairs which, I would add, for kids were also dark harbingers of the End of Time as they normally closed on Labour Day (the first Monday of September). School began on the following day. Such was the bitterest irony of childhood.

For the past few weeks, harbinger-free ferias have been popping up everywhere in Spain and so, having temporarily exchanged my Publicity Truck Anthropologist hat for a Spanish Fairground Anthropologist hat, I would like to offer a few observations/comparisons between the fair that Señor Gato Gringo and I visited in modest, unprepossessing, nondescript La Línea and that of the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), Canada's mega fall fair extravaganza held in Toronto.

1) Admission
La Línea: free
CNE: $10

2) Beer
La Línea: a major brewery is a corporate sponsor, so expect to be able to buy a can of Cruzcampo at every vendor's stall, including ice cream stands. Because this is a fair, you can also expect to pay the exorbitant price of 1.50 for a beer. You may, however, walk about the fair grounds - and throughout the city for that matter - with an open can. Salud!

CNE: a major brewery is a corporate sponsor, but don't expect to be able to buy a can of Labatt's Blue at any vendor's stall, including ice cream stands. You will have to purchase your brew at licensed bars, beer halls, and restaurants. Because this is a fair, you can also expect to pay the exorbitant price of $4.00 upwards for a beer. You may not walk about the fair grounds - and throughout the city for that matter - with an open can. Cheers!

3) Midway Games
La Línea: yes, you can while away the hours demonstrating your shooting skills with an air rifle and target. Boring no? Ahhhh, but your prize isn't a mirror printed with a Rollings Stone album cover but a glass (or two) of regional wine or sherry. This is Shooting for Shots (as seen right). Uh-oh! - won too much and having difficulty aiming your rifle? No problem! - apparently everyone is a winner at this game and lack of accuracy is no impediment to being handed a shot of manzanilla. Goodness, even the people who run the games are tippling!

Shooting for Shots ... bwahahahahahaha. No.

4) Midway Barkers
La Línea: barkers here don't bark which leads me to consider renaming them. Perhaps we can call them mute-ers. Although you can find barkers along the midway and behind the stalls of their games of chance, they will leave you alone. Often, when they're not having a shot of wine, they appear rather bored. If you suffer from feelings of low self-esteem, better to avoid the midway.

CNE: barkers here are worse than their bark (apologies for the skewed metaphor) and it is best to abstain from making eye contact with one of their ilk, lest your manhood be impugned and you end up spending $55 just to win a $3 Shrek doll.

4) Portrait Studios
La Línea: likely to jump at the opportunity to dress up in costumes from the Old West and have your photo taken in front of a backdrop of a real sort-of bona fide bogus saloon? Well, you can't do that here but you can send your kiddies off to dress up in traditional Spanish costumes and sit at a table replete with a bottle of sherry and awaiting glasses.

CNE: Taking photographs of your children holding wine glasses aloft is not encouraged but you can dress up in costumes from the Old West and have your photo taken in front of a backdrop of a real sort-of bona fide bogus saloon.

5) The Virgin Mary
La Línea: blessings from the Virgin are actively sought among midway barkers and vendors, and it is not uncommon to find photos of her displayed among prize lots of stuffed dogs and penises (see right: virgin on the bottom shelf, penises on the top ... whatever would the Pope think?).

CNE: the Virgin is conspicuously absent.

6) Closing Time
La Línea: the word flexible jumps to mind. The feria closes when people go home. Throughout the week, midway lights were turned off between 5 and 6 a.m. On the final night - or morning - we joined fair-goers on our bus to work. At 8:30 a.m. The fair had just closed. If you're not much of a night hawk, the kind people who organized raffles considerately selected 2:30 a.m. for the drawing of winning tickets.

CNE: closes sensibly at midnight (exhibition buildings at 10:00).

I could continue - in between beer and homemade potato chips I did take extensive albeit illegible and greasy notes - but I think I've made my point rather impressively. And the point, in case you've lost track of it, is that
foreign countries are like foreign countries because they also do things differently there. And by differently, I mean very differently. Olé.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Un Mosaico de Mí

Once again, work has become rather burdensome and has cast its noisome shadow over the those things most important in my life; namely, over my vast leisure activities. Because of my current Reduced Blogging Capabilities (RBC) - which I hope will be temporary - I'm going to take a short cut this morning by brazenly stealing an idea from fellow blogger My Blue Streak. Like her, I seldom bore readers with exhibitionist indulgences (an obvious exception being the search for my peculiar aristocratic name which, not surprisingly, is Baroness La Gatita the Ceaseless of Midhoop St Giggleswich), but this one was rather fun.

Create a Mosaic of You-ness

a. Go to Mosaic Maker and open a free account.
b. Go to
Flickr Search and type your answer to each of the questions below.
c. Choosing from images which appear on the first page
only (no cheating), choose one.
d. Copy and paste each of the URLs for the images into Mosaic Maker.
And the questions are ...

1. What is your first name?
2. What is your favourite food?
3. What high school did you go to?

4. What is your favourite colour?
5. Who is your celebrity crush?

6. Favourite drink?

7. Dream vacation?

8. Favourite dessert?

9. What you want to be when you grow up?

10. What do you love most in life?

11. One word to describe you.

12. Where do you live?

This is mine - I'm sure the ancient Romans would be green with envy:

I have few explanations for #10's photo (What do you love most in life?) but rest assured, the words ape, primate, simian and/or monkey did not figure into the equation.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

My Life as a Publicity Truck Anthropologist

Spanish neighbourhoods are seldom quiet and, yes, I've accepted the fact that people here don't need a phone or be face-to-face to conduct lengthy conversations. Half a city block is hardly an impediment to having a nice roaring chat.

But one day last spring the street was louder than usual.
It was squawkier than usual.

In fact I thought it was a car stereo blaring at the usual eardrum-popping decibels favoured by most young Spaniards. But the second time it happened, I realized that even by Spanish standards this was ear-bleedingly loud. The third time, I actually grabbed my Nancy Drew magnifying glass and looked out the window. And by grabbed my Nancy Drew magnifying glass and looked out the window I really mean that I asked Señor Gato Gringo to look out the window and to promptly report back. Which he did.

It was a publicity truck.

I confess that upon hearing this I sprung from the sofa and rushed over to the window my curiosity was piqued. What was this? - 1953? Industrialized countries still used publicity vehicles? Why? To advise us all to grab a bible and head for our bomb shelters? Should I duck and cover? Will they sound an all-clear? Even for La Línea, this was bizarre.

Of course, this was only the beginning. Over the course of the last seven months we would encounter many many very loud publicity vehicles in La Línea as well as in other parts of Andalucía. If the promoter is savvy and plasters a poster to the side of his vehicle, we can with great erudition figure out what is being advertised - for instance a bullfight or a concert - otherwise we are completely in the dark.

And having carefully observed said vehicles over these past months and taken meticulously detailed notes, I can safely say (in my role as Publicity Truck Anthropologist) that I've spotted marked similarities within this herd of seemingly disparate creatures; namely:

1) Their message is not only tinny but entirely incomprehensible - not just to me I suspect but to those who share the speaker's mother tongue. Presumably this is because their audio system dates from the Spanish Civil War. Franco called and he wants his loudspeakers back.

2) They are very very loud. Given that most streets in our town are one-way and extremely narrow (pedestrians or motorized vehicles were clearly an afterthought to La Línea's road planners), the already deafening racket bounces up up up into the windows of us those unfortunate enough to be living on the top floor of their apartment buildings.

3) A natural corollary to featuring an unintelligible voice-over and an unreasonably loud sound system is to add a soundtrack. In fact, I suspect that it is de rigueur to select music best suited for - and probably plucked from - a 'mental hygiene' classroom film from 1964.

4) The vehicles are clunkers seldom pretty. Sometimes they are vans, other times trucks, and often a station wagon. Being that I didn't think station wagons still existed pretty much guarantees that, in the evolutionary world of cars, they are firmly idling in the Middle Pleistocene period.

All in all, I have to wonder about the efficacy of advertising in such a Fred Flintstone-like manner. I mean, Spain is hardly an illiterate country and Spaniards are voracious readers. And to be honest, these publicity cars scare the crap out of me. Not just because they're really loud (which they are) but I keep wondering if there's a really important message that I'm missing. Are they closing the border with Gib again? Are terrorist pinheads targeting sites in La Línea (God, I had to wipe the tears from my eyes as I typed that), or has someone thrown dead water buffaloes into the town's water supply?

Or maybe they are mental hygiene tips blaring through the streets of La
Línea. That might explain why Señor G.G. has been building that bomb shelter on the roof and washing his hands a great deal and rereading his driver's manual. His Spanish must be a lot better that I thought.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

How Not to Do Córdoba.

Hot on the heels of vowing never to complain about the heat, Señor Gato Gringo and I decided to escape the heat that I'm not complaining about and take a junket out of town this past weekend. And what better way to escape the heat that I'm not complaining about than by visiting a city 10 degrees hotter! Not that I'm complaining. But it is disconcerting to watch the colour of your pee turn darker and darker (a nice yellow ochre jumps to mind) in spite of the fact that you're imbibing 2 litres of beer, sangria water an hour.

So to make amends to the weather gods whom I've clearly offended, I offer an albeit brief but heartfelt Travel Advisory for the City of Córdoba. So without further ado ...

How Not to Do Córdoba

1) Don't be seduced by July/August rates.
There is a perfectly rational reason why hotel rates plummet during the dogs days of summer - which by some astronomical anomaly are about 75 days long rather than a week. In short, it's hot (not that I'm complaining). If you really had your heart set on traipsing about labyrinthine alleys which admit no breeze and watching the ice melt in your sangria as the waiter crosses a shadeless plaza to serve you, ignore Rule #1; otherwise, spring for an extra 10 euros and come any other time of the year.

2) Don't even bother coming on Sundays and Mondays. Pretty much everything of a cultural and historical nature closes at 2:00 on Sunday and reopens Tuesday morning. To me this seems a somewhat uppity slap in the face to the Unwritten Rule in Europe that everything of a cultural and historical nature is closed on Tuesday. If shopping and drinking is your thing, ignore Rule #2; otherwise, if you really had your heart set on seeing the Mezquita, see you on Tuesday. Or Wednesday. Or Thursday. You get the drift.

3) Don't accept a "gift" from the "persistent ladies" around the Mezquita. I trust everyone caught the wickedly clever subtleties in my choice of vocabulary, because by "gift" I mean not a gift at all, and by "persistent ladies" I really mean gypsies. In any case, don't even think of touching, let alone expelling carbon dioxide on their regalo, their "gift" of a sprig of rosemary because it is not a regalo but an opportunity to separate a fool (you) from his/her (your) money. If you really had your heart set on having your wallet snatched out of your hand by the "persistent lady's" accomplice, ignore Rule #3; otherwise, choose to make eye contact with the cobblestones and/or adopt a callous sneer as you walk the city's streets.

4) Don't look for a drink after 11:00. Defying every law of physics, Córdoba's sidewalks have the preternatural ability to roll up with no human or mechanical assistance or contrivance around 11:00 at night. Although theoretically an intellectually stimulating phenomenon to witness, this is truly not a wondrous event to experience when it's, say, 11:01 and you really want a beer and because it's 11:01, the temperature has probably plummeted to 35° which, as everyone knows, is a doable climate in which to sit out of doors with a cold beer. In a word: find an after hours bar. If you really had your heart set on ending your evening at 11:01 ignore Rule #4; otherwise, when the clock hits 10:59, give chase to any thirsty-looking local.

5) Don't trust any guidebook or, for that matter, this Travel Advisory for the City of Córdoba. The Tourism Poobahs of the City of Córdoba are notorious for changing the hours of operation for monuments and museums. Why they do this to unsuspecting visitors is not clear to me - I have generously eliminated gratuitous evil as a likely motivation - but I do I suspect that toga-wearing augers with freshly sacrificed birds in one hand and greasy entrails in the other are involved in selecting the hours and dates slated to be changed. After all, Córdoba was once the capital of the Roman province of Hispania Baetica and I'm sure that old habits die hard. If you really had your heart set on spending the evening in the gardens of the Alcázar because your guidebook told you it would be open, ignore Rule #5; otherwise, verify all times at the nearest Punto de Información Turística.

6) Don't trust the
Punto de Información Turística. It's not that they intentionally lie - again, I've generously eliminated gratuitous evil as a likely motivation for their dispensing of misinformation - but take everything with a grain of sal. Córdoba is vying with Łódź in Poland for the title of Miss Cultural Capital of Europe for the year 2016 and consequently, 93% of the old city is under renovation. In a word: Spain is a country ensnared in red tape, and as we all know, in every bureaucratic system, right hands and left hands seldom have martini lunches over which to catch up on news - notably, what's currently cocooned in scaffolding and therefore closed to the public. If you really had your heart set on only viewing the Convent of Santa Fill-in-the-blank from the outside, ignore Rule #6; otherwise, verify all times at the nearest Punto de Información Turística ... there is no otherwise.

You're welcome.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Walking Sweating in a Winter Summer Wonderland

I swore when I left Canada for balmier climes three years ago that I would never - on pain of death - complain about the heat. And although I came dangerously close to forfeiting my life by a rogue weather commentary in the blog I maintained during my former incarnation, I have remained true to my word. Somehow biting on my tongue and grinning like an imbecile while perspiration collects in a tepid lagoon between my cleavage is still more favourable to having your friends hold you down and shove forks into your eye sockets.

Having said that, it's hot out. Really hot. Not that I'm complaining.

For the past week or so, Andalucía has been cursed blessed with 60% humidity and temperatures in the high 30's to the mid 40's which, if Spain were cursed blessed with a Humidex, would be more accurately represented by readings in the mid 40's to low 50's. It is so hot that Señor Gato Gringo and I have been pricing the inflatable kiddie pools at Carrefour with an eye on the almost shady (not really) corner of our roof terrace. Unfortunately, we can't choose between the high-spirited dolphins or the chilled penguin motifs but until we can, I'm not complaining.

So yes, it would seem that once again the Leveche or the Sirocco or the Chergui (call it what you will) is in town - the furnace-like winds which blast up through North Africa from the Sahara. In Morocco, life pretty much comes to a complete standstill when the Chergui blows in on its noxious winds. Not that I ever complained. Not surprisingly, Spain isn't much different. Only the beer is more plentiful and cheaper. And the sangria - did I mention that?

So I have bought a fan. And I use it. It seems that they're not totally decorative after all although mine is awfully pretty. What's there not to like about polka dots and bulls?

Having now experienced the Levanter winds of winter and now the blistering blasts of the Leveche, I feel like our stay in the south has been nicely bookended, meteorologically speaking. Personally, I'm just relieved that we won't have to endure Spain's northerly wind, the Matacabras - the "goat-killer wind". Not that I would complain if we had to. Although the goats probably do.

Monday, June 30, 2008


Podemos! = we can!

Who thought football can be as fabby as hockey? Or maybe it had to with the fact that yesterday, I personally drank every drop of sangria in the country ...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Brief Digression Inspired by the Light Bulb

It is simple in design - although I've never been able to figure out how it works - and has been around forever. Or at least for about two hundred years which, since my projected life span is less than half of that, is forever. At least 22 different individuals - who were probably able to figure out how it works - have laid claim to its invention prior to Joseph Swan and Thomas Edison, but unfortunately, nobody really gives a rat's ass about them. I am, of course, talking about the light bulb.

But in Spain, the incandescent bulb - which consumes 3% of the energy produced here - will soon be having its filament broken forever: in 3 years time it will be no more. By replacing the incandescent bulb with a low consumption colleague, it's estimated that 6.5 tons of CO2 will be saved each year. So huzzah!

Naturally, when I read that it was lights out for the incandescent bulb, it got me thinking about toilets. How so? you ask.

First let me say that I am rather partial to the motion detector bulbs that for the past several years many Spaniards have screwed into their sockets. They are cost and energy efficient, and have kindly provided me with a remember when story that never fails to make Señor Gato Gringo cringe. And making your husband cringe is what marriage is all about. I'm pretty sure that my mother told me this on my wedding night.

Our first visit to Spain, many years ago, saw a greatly vexed Señor G.G. experiencing his first motion detector light bulb in a roach infested bathroom in Algeciras. A roach infested bathroom, I might add, which was equipped with a Turkish style toilet (which sounds fairly exotic) or a simple squat (which does not). This is a visual you probably don't want to dwell on, but imagine squatting over a hole in a presumably soiled and sticky floor, clutching with one hand at your trousers, when the light - sensing no movement - goes out. Much hilarity ensures as you desperately try to flail your arms about to re-trigger the motion sensor, all the while trying to keep your pants from falling on a presumably soiled and sticky floor and maintaining your balance. I keep telling Señor G.G. he should practise yoga.

Needless to say, his evacuation was not a happy experience although, with practice, Señor G.G. almost/sort-of came to like the squattie. After all, if - and depending where you're travelling this can be an awfully big 'if' - the floor area is clean enough, you can spread the newspaper out and take a shufti at the sports section while answering the call of nature. Oddly enough, this is seldom never given as an argument in favour of adopting the squattie as your loo of choice. But if you're one of the millions of people who have problems relaxing your puborectalis muscle - and modesty prevents me from broaching this subject with Señor G.G - I invite you to click here. If you require a wheelchair to beetle about, never mind.

To recap for those who require a flow chart:

Incandescent bulbs
low consumption bulbs motion detector bulbs → Algeciras squat toilets → fun for the whole family.

Logical, no?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Los Pájaros

It all began in a pet shop in San Francisco with a mynah bird, a couple of lovebirds, a lawyer, and a socialite. Forty-five years later - unlikely though this may seem - it has come to its diabolical climax here in La Línea de la Concepción sans the mynah bird, a couple of lovebirds, a lawyer, and a socialite. But birds there are.

It is "Los Pájaros (2008)".

For the past week or so, La Línea has borne witness to unsettling patterns in natural phenomena, marked by changes in the behaviour of its seagulls. But let me digress for a moment and say that the gulls who call La Línea home are no ordinary birds. They are masters of mimicry - if indeed mimicry is what it is - and can parrot all sorts of creatures: cats, crying infants, screaming children and donkeys. Donkeys.

And although I have lived on my fair share of coastlines, I confess that I've never before encountered seagulls like these, let alone knew that they could do impersonations. I don't know if I should be booking them into gigs at local hotels or be spooked. (The latter! The latter!) In fact, there's something about these particular birds that's a bit disquieting. I'm pretty sure that the ones who roost on our rooftop - which I might add is 97% of the birds in question - have learned to "do" Señor Gato Gringo, albeit with a lisp-y Andalucían accent. I was tipped off when I heard "him" calling out for a thpoon for his cereal the other morning. I foresee weeks of either hilarity or marital strife.

Now it's all coming to a seething head. As if flaunting their complex methods of communication, for the past few days the birds have responded to some sort of universal gull call and have convened in La Línea in huge avian mobs. They are spending hours - most of which are pretty ungodly as our visiting friend and fellow gin & tonic poker-aficionado Mr. N. can attest - screaming and screeching and squawking and barking from their catalogue of voices, careening about rooftops, and generally being humungous pains in the ass. Well not so much humungous but creepy pains in the ass.

I fear they are enlisting the swallows.

Señor G.G. saw one perched level with our bedroom window at 4:00 this morning, trying to decide if it wanted to come in. I suspect that it did want in.

Why are they here? Where is this all going? When will it end? How will it end? Are they here principally to elect the new Gull King? Was La Línea chosen to host the 2008 Convention of Laridae Charadriiformes? Long noted to be avid football fans, are they here to cheer on Spain in Euro 2008? - they were eerily euphoric last night when Spain ended their 88-year "Italian" curse by finally eliminating Italy and moving on to the semifinals. Or are they receiving instructions? Orders? Should I be searching the skies for a mothership? Is something nefarious - something truly dark and deadly - afoot?? (The latter! The latter!) Will we all be found dead one morning, with our eyes pecked out and a clutch of rotting sardines at the foot of our beds?

O the horror!

Addendum: there' s talk of remaking the Hitchcock classic with Naomi Watts in the role of Melanie Daniels made famous by Tippi Hedren. I can only hope it's as good as the remake of Psycho.

O the horror!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Floating Tangerines

I'm not certain how Bib the Michelin Man would feel about the story I am about to relate but I suspect that he wouldn't be too pleased because it involves the flagrant misuse - or abuse - of tires. I believe that car tires are rather sacrosanct in his mind and shouldn't be used for crossing bodies of water larger than a stream.

It seems that weekend before last, much to the presumed consternation of Bib, two Moroccans - Tangerines (natives of Tangier not the citrus fruit) to be exact - crossed the Strait of Gibraltar on an inflated inner tube. (I so wanted to make a Bib & Gib joke here but the moment just never felt right.)

To resume: taking every necessary precaution, the two would-be illegal immigrants hapless wayfarers prudently equipped themselves with one bottle of water and a bag of peanuts for a trip which would take them 3 days to make. I might add that I need more than a bottle of water and a bag of peanuts just to take the bus to Malaga - but this story isn't about me. Nonetheless, with flippers on their feet, they kicked and bobbed their way across the Strait and landed in Marbella (with presumably chilled backsides) into the welcoming arms of the Guardia Civil.

Incidentally, three men were originally supposed to make the illegal voyage across international waters but one wisely opted out, fortuitously leaving more peanuts and water for his compatriots.

Although I'm tempted to bestow upon these two would-be illegal immigrants hapless wayfarers the Pinhead of the Year Award, I am drawn to the case last autumn in which three Moroccans were rescued by a ferry which was just 10 minutes outside of Tangier. The three equally would-be illegal immigrants hapless wayfarers had left Rabat 11 hours earlier, and had reached Tangier by paddling on a surfboard. Of these equally would-be illegal immigrants hapless wayfarers, one especially would-be illegal immigrant hapless wayfarer had fallen into the water and was hanging onto the board as fish nibbled at his feet and human refuse floated by. It's safe to say that the cold (it was November) and 3-metre high waves squashed the travel bug in them. And they hadn't even entered the Strait proper yet.

After much consideration and deliberation, it behooves me to give the Pinhead of the Year Award to the surfing Rabatians. In the end, although all would-be illegal immigrants hapless wayfarers would be repatriated to Morocco, the peanut-munchers on the inner tube did make it to Spain. But then again, they did have an advantage: everyone knows that both tangerines (the citrus fruit) and Tangerines (natives of Tangier) can float.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Tudor King, A Spanish Queen, and a Fresh Cucumber

Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard,

To f
etch her poor dog a bone.
But when she got there,
The cupboard was bare,

And so the poor dog had none.

Even as a child, I found this nursery rhyme problematic. Why would Ms. Hubbard keep a bone in her cupboard? Even in days of pre-refrigeration, were there not better places to store animal parts than in an enclosed cupboard? No wonder the poor dog had none - perhaps she should have checked the stew pot.

Of course, the Ms. Hubbard of the rhyme was a thinly disguised Cardinal Wolsey who had the occasion to greatly annoy Henry VIII by refusing to endorse the latter's divorce from Katherine of Aragón. To complete our Nursery Rhyme 101 class, the "bone" was the much sought after annulment/divorce requested by the Tudor king or "doggie". And the cupboard? - no less than the Catholic Church.

Wolsey would eventually be accused of treason but would die on his way to London where he was to stand trial. Henry's marriage to Katherine of Aragón was declared null and void, and the Spanish Queen spent her remaining years banished from court, denied the right to see her own daughter, the future Queen Mary.

So where am I going with this? It seems that Aragón is seeing its fair share of empty cupboards today. As are Castilla y León , Murcia, and Galicia. As is the entire country.

Señor Gato Gringo and I popped into a grocery store on the way to work this morning to pick up some fresh vegetables. As it turned out, our shopping experience was but a brief one because the cupboards were bare. And by cupboards I mean shelves and not the Catholic Church. The same was true in the bread aisle - ditto in the cheese and meat department. There was no fresh fish. The grocery store looked like it had been looted after some post-apocalyptic event. Except for the liquor, potato chips and cereal aisles - thank the gods they were still stocked! And because we are rather thick people by nature, it took us about 3 minutes before we figured it out: the truck strike.

Today is Day 3 of the "indefinite" truck strike that's gripped Spain and parts of Europe. Protesting the soaring cost of fuel, truckers are shutting down the country: gumming up traffic by travelling the highways at a snail's pace, causing gas stations to run dry and grocery stores from restocking their shelves with produce. Petrol tankers are now under police escort. Some factories - notably Mercedes - have closed their doors because parts cannot be delivered. Ferry companies have cancelled routes; work at 60% of the construction sites in the province of Málaga has come to a standstill. One picketer was killed in Granada and another in Portugal, which somehow puts my inability to buy a fresh cucumber into perspective.

Yesterday, the Government and the National Commission for Road Transport (which represents the majority of Spain's truck drivers) reached an agreement on 54 measures to improve the current situation but this doesn't mean that the strike is over as two other trucking organizations have already rejected its terms.

Which b
rings me back to Ms. Hubbard. It seems to me that it wouldn't be a huge abuse of artistic licence to reinterpret the rhyme given the current political climate. You know, the dog would be consumers, the bone would be affordable petrol, the cupboard ... you get the picture. I can only hope that the next time I venture outside, I'm not reminded of any other nursery rhymes - say, Ring Around the Rosie which many believe refers to the Black Death.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Ten Simple Rules for 'Doing the Bull'

One of the advantages of not having been raised Protestant is that neither Señor Gato Gringo nor I have any sort of work ethic. So, it was with great ease and no strain on our consciences that we ditched work on Friday, borrowed a car, and sped up the coast to El Puerto de Santa María to visit the Osborne winery. Having already graced the González-Byass and Domecq wineries with our presence, it was high time we extended the courtesy to Osborne.

This being our third bodega - and I don't mind saying that our not having yet visited the manzanilla bodegas of Sanlúcar de Barrameda weighs heavily on my mind - and being self-acclaimed V
eterans of the Bodega Tour Experience, I have compiled a simple Do-list for visiting the Osborne (or any, for that matter) bodega.

Ten Simple Rules for 'Doing the Bull'

1) Do allow yourself plenty of time for your trip. This being summer, you will find your progress impeded both by road construction and the one Spaniard in the entire country who drives 15 kilometres under the speed limit on the single no-passing lane hairpin roads to the Jerez area.

2) Do try to time your visit with a group of Dutch tourists. Sherry consumption is not a part of their cultural genetics and they will either refrain from dri
nking altogether or have a sip or two out of politeness, leaving several full bottles for your enjoyment. Never visit a bodega with Brits.

3) Do pay attention to the how-sherry-is-made video as the tour guides at Osborne will quiz you during the tour. As we had ignored Rule #1 and arrived late - half-way through the video - we missed the final Jeopardy(!) question which would be later posed to us. But so did everyone else and they had seen the entire video. Being Veterans of the Bodega Tour Experience, we naturally knew the answer but were reluctant to flaunt the depth of our knowledge at the expense of the others on the tour. After a very uncomfortable and very pregnant pause of about 55 seconds, we piped up with the correct answer, earning us paeans of praise from our guide and filthy looks from the Dutch who I thought were supposed to be nice people. In any case, it would be exceptionally useful to memorize the following terms before you embark on a tour at Osborne as these are the most likely correct responses to any final Jeopardy(!) question posed by a guide.

* flor
* chalk

* humidity
* palomino
* soleras
North American oak

Don't worry that you don't even know what these terms signify or that you may blurt out the incorrect answer - you will impress your guide with your retention of this extensive and highly technical sherry vocabulary.

4) Do eat breakfast beforehand i
f your tour is in the morning. At Osborne, the English-language tour is at the ungodly hour of 10:30 so there is the very real possibility that - like Señor G.G. and I - you will be three sheets to the wind by 11:30 a.m. Especially if you have followed Rule #2.

5) Don't panic if you skipped Rule #4. If you are unable to have breakfast before attending a tour and you find yourself three sheets to the wind by 11:30 a.m., know that the chips and olives provided by the bodega are an excellent source of protein and easily fulfils your daily requirements of vitamins and minerals.

6) Do leave all politeness at the door. You are expected
to refill your glass and encouraged to crack the seal on unopened bottles left on the table. Don't be shy - just because the tour guide has slipped out to have a cigarette doesn't mean that the sampling has ended. Odds are you will be berated if she returns to full bottles. We were.

7) Do realize that Rule #8 is predicated on adherence to Rule #6. Which leads me to ...

8) Do prepare to mortgage your house before entering the gift shop. This is especially true if you have followed Rule #5. It's astounding what you suddenly realize you can't live without after a bracing breakfast of potato chips, olives, and the better part of five bottles of sherry. Who doesn't need a bottle of Solera Gran Reserva designed by Salvador Dalí or an umbrella splattered with dozens of Osborne bulls?

9) Do have your photo taken with a bull. Since clambering up th
e sides of the AP-series of highways just to have your picture taken with an Osborne bull can be a bit foolhardy and besides, you are probably three sheets to the wind, you should take advantage of the smaller stationary bulls in the bodega's courtyard. Your mother will thank you.

10) Do realize that your day is now shot. If you have taken a morning tour, by the time you have finished, sampled every available bottle, and spent your children's inheritance in the gift shop, everything in town will be on the verge of closing for the siesta. Since you are already three sheets to the wind and there is nothing you can do about Time, you might as well find a bar and patiently wait it out until 5:00.

Strict adherence to these 10 Simple Rules will guarantee a worry-free and happily sodden visit to any of Spain's bodegas. Of course, I will be happy to make any necessary amendments after completing the Sherry Triangle with our next road trip to
Sanlúcar de Barrameda. It is truly gratifying to be helpful. In fact, I feel so good about compiling this list that I can totally almost deal with the Catholic guilt of skipping work on Friday. Perhaps I should buy a plenary indulgence from the Church - isn't that what they're there for? Or better yet, just open that bottle of Solera Gran Reserva designed by Salvador Dalí. After all, Spain is a secular country.