Saturday, March 29, 2008

Is that a bull on the road or are you happy to see me?

AOG, Madrid
This midday, Spain's AP-6 highway, which runs near the beautiful city of Segovia (where Spain's answer to Fairy-tale castles is perched against a raveen), had to be close for about an hour. The reason?

Six fighting bulls had escaped from a nearby ranch and they were attacking passing cars.

Did it make the news? Indubitably, yes. Eventually, Spain's Guardia Civil had to, somehow, chase them back into their pasture.

Thankfully, no major injuries or accidents were caused by the animals...or the bulls! (ha ha bad joke, but Spain's Civil Guard are infamous for behaving like troglodytes most of the time).

The ranch's owner will be charged with causing a traffic hazard.

I wonder what would have happened if these same circumstances had taken place in the US?

Here is one of the videos taken on the highway.

Close call at the end....

Remember, these animals are very dangerous. They aren't called fighting bulls for nothing!

Shaving a Beaver

AOG, Madrid

I came across this cartoon and it made me laugh.

Thing is....

She is so right!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

German in the Knesset

AOG, Madrid

A good day for Germany and Israel. Or so it would appear.

"The Shoah fills us Germans with shame. I bow before the victims. I bow before the survivors and before all those who helped them survive." So said Angela Merkel at Israel's Knesset in German, using the Hebrew word for Holocaust.

Her visit to the Knesset has proven to be controversial. It is the first time that a German Chancellor visits and her use of German has, alone, ensured that some of its members were not present in protest to this dispensation- something which was heatedly debated last week.

Merkel's visit was emotionally charged due to the memory of the Holocaust, and in her address the Chancellor said the murder of six million Jews at the hands of the Nazis continues to be a source of shame for Germans.

"The mass murder of six million Jews, carried out in the name of Germany, has brought indescribable suffering to the Jewish people, Europe and the entire world," she said.

A few of these MKs have declared that although Germany is Israel's friends, the memory of the victims should be respected.

National Union-National Religious Party MK Arieh Eldad said in response to the committee resolution that he would stand up and leave the hall during Merkel's speech. "I can't bear the thought of hearing German in the Knesset," he said. "This is the language my grandparents were murdered in."

Until today, I was not aware that one could be murdered in a particular language. I always thought one could be murdered, period.

However, the circumstances surrounding the common histories of Germany and Israel are not easy to dismiss, nor should they be.

I for one am all for using whatever language in a political forum so long as communication is ensured.

Tibet 1-China 0

AOG, Madrid

or the past few days, Tibet has sought to free itself from China's control. The Chinese Government, ever the eternal sentinel of totalitarianism, managed to control the flow of information at first. Few images, and most of these heavily censured and biased.

However, thanks to modern technology, more images soon surfaced- on the free world anyway (I'm surprised I just typed those words; I had relegated them to the "Cold War" portion of my brain). In China, television images today showed a return to calm. Shoppers shopping,kids playing in school, and no demonstrating monks in sight. Some of the Western papers are amazed that this situation did not surface earlier.

Quick to accuse everyone of wrongdoing, the Chinese Government has accused the Dalai Lama of trying to boycott the Olympic games and the Dalai Lama has threatened to resign if the violence in Tibet goes on and welcomes any investigation by China's authorities to prove that he has not.

I find it amazing that this is their main concern. It reminds me slightly of the situation in Buenos Aires in 1978.
Back then, the Argentine military Government was busy detaining, torturing and killing a few dissidents in order to show the world its best face. So that no one suspected anything, many people died.
For all intents and purposes, the 1978 World Cup was held in complete normality. Alas, along came the Falklands invasion and the military Government collapsed. Argentina and its democracy never looked back.

I am still amazed that the IOC chose Beijing as the best place to hold the 2008 Olympic Games. In 1980, Moscow, as a nuclear power, somehow managed to organise the games whilst ensuring a large boycott because of its invasion of Afghanistan. I remember thinking at the time, as my parents pointed out, that politics and sport should not mix. And yet, when do they not?
Four years later, the Soviet Union retaliated by boycotting the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

It is too late to ask why Beijing will hold these games.

Certainly the Chinese Government has spent millions on building and organising the event and I am sure that for most people in China, hosting the games will be a source of joy as well as national pride. For many in Beijing, the Olympics will help China to continue its -controlled- conversation with the world. It already acts as its factory.

However, I can't help but think about the lack of human rights, the persecution of dissidents, and this latest instalment in Governmental repression by a Communist regime.

According to The New York Times, "To earn the right to play host to this summer’s Olympics, Beijing promised to improve its human rights record. As its behavior in Tibet — and the recent arrest of the human rights advocate Hu Jia and others — demonstrates, China does not take that commitment seriously."

Should this country then be allowed to hold the Olympics? 28 years later I ask myself the same question. Then I said yes, of course, politics and sport should not mix.

But, today, 28 years later, knowing full well that both of these have, in fact, mixed, I am not so quick to support China's "right" to hold the Olympics. Not under these circumstances. Not in a country where people's lives are not held in a very high esteem by their own government.

Some Historians have argued that the Olympics, amongst other things, helped to liberate the stodgy Soviet Nomenklatura of the USSR. By 1990, only 10 years later, the Soviet state was falling apart. We are still living with the consecuences of that socio-political and economic capitulation to liberal capitalism (albeit not Western-style democracy yet).

Perhaps in 20 years time, China might be freer- or even free.

But I am sure that between now and then, many people will continue to die; human rights will continue to be violated; and the West will, hypocritically, continue to allow it to go on given its economic dependence on China. It is hard not to notice that the US removed China from its list of top 10 human rights violators just as the biggest anti-China protests in 20 years erupted in Tibet.

Since no Government is impermeable to criticism, here's a petition to ask it to stop its actions in Tibet.

Hopefully it will make a difference. It does not matter how small.

The protests began March 10, the anniversary of a failed 1959 Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Goncourt 1969

AOG, Madrid

Today was one of those sunny Winter days for which Madrid is world famous. After saying goodbye to my partner, I had a Sunday afternoon to kill.

I took a train to Atocha station and walked towards Retiro Park. Once there, the lure of second-hand books (see previous post) was much too tempting.

I spent about an hour shifting through never-heard-of titles as well as a few known ones. I was in the mood for some Latin American literature, and the shops did not disappoint.

I was particularly interested in a couple of books by Cuban author Alejo Carpentier: Ecue-yamba-o! and The Kingdom of this World which belonged to a white leather literary collection with gold lettering which also included (amongst about 90 titles) Lezama Lima's Paradise (1966) and a couple of books by Vargas Llosa. As attractive as they were, they shared one thing which I did not really care for. the price: 10 Euros a piece.

For a second-hand book.

So I looked on, partially scared-off because of the price, and the prospect of adding two more books to my ever-expanding collection of books I never have enough time to read- which is huge.

On that topic, Spanish über author Javier Marías wrote a column a few months ago in El País where he mused about his book collection. It too is probably quite large. He was rather miffed that a visitor to his library had asked if he had read all the books in it. Of course he had! he was surprised at the question. I was surprised at the answer.

Since my youth, I have been an avid book buyer, and an avid reader. However, there just aren't enough hours in my day to read all the books I've bought. Nor all the magazines I own, or all the papers I purchase daily cover to cover.

When I was at University, I remember exchanging opinions with one of my fellow classmates on graduation day. She said something like "Maybe now I'll have time to read all the titles on the reading list!" Oh how we laughed....

But she was right. Perhaps in other centuries, or other decades, time was more abundant, or life (of this I'm sure) went on at a slower pace.

So, for me, having read all the books I own is a bit of a task, a challenge, and an impossible dream. I'm sure I'll die not having finished off a few dozen novels.

Am I the only person who reads a 2-3 books at a time?

In any case, I opted not to buy these titles and walked off. As I reached the last stall, I was still peckish for literature. So I went back up, thinking perhaps I could dish out for Carpentier's books and maybe bargain.

However, before I got there, I found a book I was -at first- of two minds to get: Creezy, by Félicien Marceau.

I am no fan of translated-into-Spanish books and, wherever possible, I try to get an English translation.

But this time, two things made me change my mind: the price (1 Euro) and the words "Winner of the Prix Goncourt 1969". The Goncourt
is France's top literary honor and this, coupled with the date -1969, made me buy the book.

I also liked the Brown & Pink cover.

It appears to be typically French in this respect: The main character is this amazing model/it girl who makes this respectable Government high-ranking married man fall in love with her. The novel begins with its aftermath. He is shattered and reminisces over his affair with Creezy.
Just the sort of thing one never reads about in French novels, n'est ce pas?

The title alone is hilarious: Creezy. I don't know if Monsieur Marceau was aiming for a form of Chrissie or if in 1969 the English word "crazy" appeared to be ultra cool and modern, and hence, a good name for a character. Perhaps both? Perhaps just a pun of sorts?

In any case, the good thing is that this fading book, with its brown pages and stiff, almost carton-like paper, seems to be unread. The binding is immaculate.

For a pocket book, quite an achievement.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Eliot Spitzer, what's the big deal?

AOG, Madrid

I suppose that if you have lived long enough outside of the US, you come across events like the ones surrounding the (now) ex-Governor of New York with slight amazement.

Eliot Spitzer's short tenure in office as New York's Governor started on January 1st, 2007. He did so with a record margin of victory and a profound sense of promise- here was yet another Democratic "presidentiable".

He resigned on March 12, 2008, in a scandal over his involvement in a sex ring, bringing an abrupt close to a legislature marked by, according to the New York Times "an almost unbroken string of stumbles and frustrations."

Surprisingly, to many, perhaps to most, all of his previous work and achievements mean little when compared to his sex life, by all means a private and personal affair.

According to the New York Times:

"Mr. Spitzer's difficulties were a stark contrast to his long and steady rise. Over the previous eight years as attorney general, Mr. Spitzer, a Democrat, gained national recognition as the 'Sheriff of Wall Street' for his pursuit of corporate corruption and his self-styled role as the defender of the American investor. During his campaign, his signature promise was to change state politics "on Day One" of his new administration, with ethics reform high in his sights."

I read this and I am amazed at his downfall. Some call him a hypocrite. And yet, here I am thinking, aren't we the hypocrites? Is this man not allowed to have a brilliant career, be good at what he does, and nail whosoever he desires, be it man, woman or banana tree?

Are we to understand that having sex with a prostitute is an offense capable of erasing all of your past achievements?

Would this happen to an NFL player? Would it take away his accolades? No. Hollywood star? No, certainly not. President of the US? Well, I don't know for a fact that Clinton and Kennedy used prostitutes, but according to popular lore, they both slept around. And they remained in office. One of them was even re-elected.

So I ask, what is the big deal? Are politicians not allowed private lives? And if they are not, then certainly they retain to sleep with whomever they want (short of paedophilia). I think public life obligations stop just above the belt line.

Ok, so he booked $1,000 an hour prostitutes. So? Whose business is this? Did he pay for them with public money? If so, then there is a different issue. There is a crime. He misappropriated public funds. And, no, sorry, I don't buy the whole "prostitution is a crime" spiel. It is a crime only because people choose to make it so. It is known as one of those "victimless" crimes. Thus, no crime at all.

If there is a crime at all it is that he overpaid for sex. One thousand dollars an hour is certainly well beyond the scope of normality. Like those nails that cost the Pentagon $200 each. An abuse on the part of the provider, but little else.

It would appear that even his wife,
Silda Wall Spitzer, finds this as not too big a deal. Certainly she has stood by her man during the public resignation speech, as political wives often do.

According to the Washington Post, "hers was the loudest voice in Spitzer's inner circle urging him not to resign". Here was the main injured party, and it appears like the injury is not bone-deep.

So why are we all tearing our tunics in shame and anger? I hope the charge of "sin" does not come up. We live in the XXI century. Such concepts are outdated. So then, what is the charge?

In Spain, something similar has happened this week, though in a much lower scale.

A local ex Town Councillor in Palma de Mallorca (Rodrigo de Santos López) has been accused of spending 50,000 Euros in one of Palma's male brothels. He is a member of Spain's Conservative party. It has already declared that if found guilty, he will be expelled from the party.

Apparently he used the Town Council's credit card to charge for his foray into the sex trade. But, in Spain, his crime is that he broke people's trust by using money that was not his own to pay for something which was his own: his pleasure. Therein lies the fault, not in that he used prostitutes, or even male prostitutes. I rather the US gained this perspective one day and lost the one it has now.

I certainly am not holding Spain up as any sort of example (no country on Earth gets to be held up as an example of good or evil, we are all people after all), however, Spain is a good representation of, not so much Europe's more laid back attitude towards extra marital affairs, but rather at the division between the public and the private.

No, no one here finds infidelity a joke, but when it does happen, the approach is slightly more pragmatic, and (although there are always exceptions) less histrionic. Certainly so when it comes to the lives of others. And politicians are others.

For all the Christians out there, perhaps the line "He who is free from sin...", throwing the first stone and all that, should take note. No politician on Earth is perfect. Not Fidel Castro, not Nicolas Sarkozy, not Bill Clinton nor George Bush, nor Napoleon or Charles V. No one.

We cannot chastise politicians for not being perfect. They are not. No one is. And if the fault is rooted in his private life, then shame on us for being so prissy.

But, as I said, these observations I'm making only come about after my not having lived continuously in the US for many years now.

I don't expect the majority of Americans to understand, just as they don't understand why health care should be free and universal because it is a basic human right. But that is another post.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Sunday afternoon

AOG, Madrid

(Igor Mitoraj sculpture)
The nice thing about living in a major world capital is that it has a lot of cultural events going on most of the time. I don't think of Madrid as a major world capital, though I do think of it as a major cultural city- perhaps more so than Barcelona, but not quite London or New York yet.

Nevertheless, Madrid these days is really into its art and it takes itself very seriously. Wherever you read in the Spanish media, the fact that Madrid has three major museums within walking distance of each other is a source of pride. Art is big business in general. That goes double for Spain, for many a bargain when compared to other capitals such as Paris or New York.

The Prado (Spain's Louvre), the Thyssen, and the Queen Sofia Museum of Contemporary Art- alias the "Reina Sofía"- are all on the same street- the Prado boulevard.

Now, within the same street, Caixa Forum Madrid, a cultural, not for profit, organisation funded by La Caixa, one of Spain's largest savings banks, has opened its doors.

Sporting Madrid's, probably Spain's, first vertical garden, its modern headquarters building in Madrid is less imposing that the other three. As in Barcelona, it has taken a pre-existing building, and remodeled it into something new. I have not been inside of it yet but from the outside it is not a very impressive building, except for its vertical garden which you can see on the photograph at left behind the winged sculpture.

However, what it lacks on the outside, it makes up for in its first public exhibition: the work of Igor Mitoraj.

The Prado boulevard has been peppered beautifully with
Igor Mitoraj's sculptures. Neoclassical, postmodern, certainly sensual and at the same time, cold, given their metallic nature.

I discovered it today when I went to visit the "Cuesta de Moyano" (link is in Spanish), an uphill (cuesta) street linking the boulevard with Madrid's Retiro Park and located at the back of the Agriculture Ministry, Madrid's most beautiful ministry building (below).

On the slope you find about 15 covered stands which have been selling second-hand books, as well as new books, since 1925. All sort of literary treasures are found there. My find yesterday was the January 1977 issue of National Geographic. I bought it for the articles on Stockholm and Haiti.

Whilst there, I met up with an improv-class classmate and one of the tutors. We spoke about life in general and how best to get into improv. The sucking of a particular body part was part of the way into improv. Ha ha ha, how we all laughed.

On my way home, I marveled at the sculptures which I had seen in Barcelona a few months ago, at Barcelona's Caixa Forum. And then some.

One of the small pleasures of living in a European capital.