Yeah, right! - Writings by Brian Murdock

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Madrid,Uncategorized

December 31, 2013

San Silvestre – Running on Full

December 31st isn’t just about raising a glass of cheer to the New Year, nor does it have only to do with wolfing down twelve grapes at midnight, though both stand out in participation and zeal.  In many parts of Spain, and in Madrid in particular, it means locking on your running shoes and bounding ten kilometers down the Castellana of Madrid all the way to Vallecas.  This is known as the Carrera de San Silvestre, and it also is the biggest street race of Brazil, I take it.

            This fun run is just the kind of social gathering the Spanish love.  It’s also packed with feel-good benefits, like getting in a little exercise before the excesses of the night that looms, or burning off a few hundred of those calories that have colonized in your body over the past few days.  The sad news is that we are only halfway through the Twelve Days of Christmas, but I guess every little bit helps.

            Saint Sylvester I was one of the first popes and it was under his papacy that the original Saint Peter’s Basilica was built.  Not much is known about him, and what is available is highly debated, so we’ll center on his death, which was not a tortuous martyrdom as was so common back then, but seemingly natural causes.  The day was December 31st, he missed out on that year’s festivities, but did leave the legacy for long-distance runners centuries down the road, if you’ll excuse the pun.  Certainly this was not part the design, but history has a funny way of working that way.

            I have yet to take part in the old San Silvestre, though if only to free myself from the incessant Whatsapp  New Year greetings piling up on my cell, it wouldn’t have been a bad idea.  I will make it one of my objectives for next year.  There you have it, my first proposition.  A good choice.  I have eleven and half free months before I have to get working on it. 

Uncategorized

December 1, 2013

Images of Spain: Hanging out the Wash

There it is.  One fine display of clothes clipped neatly on a sagging line of nylon rope and dangling in the foreground of the elevator in one of our patios interiores.  It could be located in any one of a thousand buildings.

I can’t speak for all parts of the States, but in general, in my part of Connecticut, hanging out the wash is not only unseen, it’s quite unsightly.  Some people I know get uptight because they seem to think it represents the kind of backwardness only people who shoot alligators in the head will do to their laundry.  But in Spain, even to this day, in modern and cosmopolitan Madrid, a clothes dryer is rarer than a coming upon a forest in La Mancha.  It’s almost considered extravegant.

        There is a certain logic behind this all.  Madrid’s climate is generally so arid that it doesn’t take long for the clothes to become stiff dry.  One night will do, and in the blistering summer heat, even less.  Periods of dampness naturally hamper the process, which is when you have to haul things in and use an indoor rectractable clothesline, because no one wants one hanging around when there is no precipitation.  But other than that, the traditional way is both a money and energy saver.  In Connecticut in the summer, if you are hit by a prolonged stretch of humid weather, your jeans might never quite free themselves of moisture.

      I take pride in this image as it is proof that I have come close to mastering one of the great Spanish chores: hanging out the wash.  And for those of you who are looking for further and irrefutable proof, I will gladly introduce you to the neighbor from upstairs, an amiable elderly woman whom I barely know, but who just recently honored me with her approval of how I set my boxers out for drying.  Coming from a Spanish señora, that says a lot.  They don’t mete out those compliments for free.  It’s another milestone.

      This morale booster would probably never have been brought to my attention had it not been for the fact that a handkerchief had slipped from her upstairs line and drifted onto mine, an unlikely occurrence, but one that could occur all the same.  Clothes drop, but generally not as often as the clothes pins, which have a funny habit of popping off from their grip on the article of clothing they should be securing and plummenting to the bottom of the interior patio.  I always wait in silence for the plasticky bounce and in the meantime wonder about the horror of being the object in flight instead.  I bet a lot of people do.  It seems to take forever.

       She rang the doorbell, I thought it was my daughter, and told me of the predicament, and when I opened my window to retrieve the article she had asked for, my daughter did show up and she greeted to woman.  The woman asked her if “papá” was going to make lunch, she said yes.  Then the woman added, “If it’s just as good as the way he hangs out his wash, I am sure it will be delicious.”

      What I didn’t know at the time was that how I positioned my clothes along a stretch of rope was apparently under scrutiny by the female residents of the building, but then again, by this point in my life, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise.  Spanish señoras are sharp observers of how their neighbors conduct their business, and more so of anything that is visible, such as the wash.  Up until that point my only concern was the family below on the days that I wash my sheets and they dangle down like huge banners obstructing the view.  Of the inside patio, of course.  You aren’t allowed to hangout your wash on your balcony, at least in most parts of Madrid.  That is certainly unsightly and unseen.

      Thanks to the bit of positive reinforcement, I now devote a few extra seconds to perfecting my technique.

 

Madrid,Uncategorized,What's happening in Madrid

September 21, 2013

A Relaxing Cup of Café con Leche

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I try to avoid getting involved in these matters, but sometimes I just can’t resist.  Madrid’s mayor, Ana Botella, made some recent remarks about the city when campaigning for its candidacy to host the Olympics.  Madrid got bounced in the first round of the final selection, and Ana Botella became the brunt of countless jokes regarding her seemingly ragged use of English.

      The catch phrase is now “a relaxing cup of café con leche (coffee with milk)”, and it has become so famous that even my little 3rd-graders know about it, and so infamous that you can now buy coffee mugs online with the sentence stamped on them in different colors and fonts.

      It has been ridiculed and parodied beyond belief, with jokes and videos spreading like wildfire far and wide throughout the social networks .  Such was the uproarious laughter that I finally caved in and decided to check out on Youtube the video and endure the suffering for myself and by myself, in the comfort of my living room.

      I’ll be as brief as possible, and resort to my expertise as a teacher to provide a fairly balanced opinion.  To be honest, it wasn’t great but it was a far cry from the disaster that I expected given the backlash it received.  Ana spoke with a heavy accent, had several fairly serious pronunciation issues, and clearly hasn’t mastered the language.  That explains the forced diction and the artificial gestures.  Basically she looked as if she was trying to pull off the tough task of speaking in public in a foreign language and she did the best she could.  For the most part the speech was standard, not very inspired, promotional garble which was delivered with difficulty.  And the famous Spanglish that everyone is laughing at hardly exists.  The speech lasts 2.50 seconds and more than halfway through it, she spits out the now notorious “a relaxing cup of café con leche in the Plaza Mayor.”  She mentions the Madrid de los Austrias, and immediately adds what that all means in English. The rest of the talk was given in English.

      First of all, you can call a cup of coffee “relaxing”.  Several “experts” from Spain have expressed to me their utter disbelief that Botella would use such an adjective to describe a cup of joe, but the fact is you can.  Just to clarify that one.  As for the use of “café con leche”, that was just a little friendly use of local language.  Probably not the best choice, but still, even I could see that.  Plus, it’s not that easy to translate.

      Verdict: the speech wasn’t topnotch, and Botella’s English needs work, but it wasn’t horrible either and certainly not worthy of the thrashing it took.

      So, after listening to two weeks of relentless criticism and watching the clip myself, I have come to the conclusion that the event has accentuated two very grave and present facts: Spain’s English level is still wanting; and God help you if you make a mistake because if you do you’ll become the laughing stock of the nation.

      As for the first part, there is nothing surprising about that. Spain has for years suffered from an inferiority complex when it comes to speaking this language.  It’s the famous “asignatura pendiente”, as they say here.  Back in the 90s, most parents came to me saying that they couldn’t help their kids because they had learned French in school.  Then came the gradual switch to English, which, though taught throughout a student’s life, produced poor results.  Poor teaching and general disregard for the language.  On top of that, as many will tell you, Spain dubs all of its TV programs and movies.  The industry is one of the finest in the world, but it does have its downside.  It prevents youths from picking up the language naturally, and, what’s worse, it fosters an aversion toward the language.  Few people spoke it, and not very well at that.  And I am talking about the capital.  Once out in the smaller cities or in the country, forget it.

       The effects of the past faulty educational setup and social antipathy are still being felt today.  A recent report rated Spain in the middle ground when it comes to competence in English, 18th, to be exact, and behind some 15 other European nations. That’s not so hot.  But I am here to tell you that, despite the rejection and the mediocre teaching techniques, it is heads and tails above what it used to be.  With the arrival of bilingual education (Madrid is nearly at the forefront of this movement) things are turning around considerably.  We are still talking about a change that will require a generation or two to come into its fullest fruition, but it will happen. I am not concerned.

      What does unsettle me is the vicious blasting over practically nothing.  I browsed through about the first 100 comments and couldn’t find a single one that had anything fair to say about it.  The chiding was merciless, but that behavior is as traditional here as watching soccer. The Spanish are often the first to admit that they don’t like to speak English because of their sense of embarrassment about saying the wrong thing.  This I find amusing because their love of swearing shows they don’t seem to have any qualms about blurting out in Spanish, “Holy shit! That motherfucker is really pissing me off,” in front of their grandmother.

      Then again, after the berating Ana Botella received, I don’t blame them for not wanting to utter a single word of English, because look what happens to you when you slip up.  I would shut my mouth too.

      So suddenly everyone is an expert in English.  In some cases even more so than the English themselves.  Take the Comunidad de Madrid’s standardized exam to check on the progress of its bilingual program.  The actually exam itself was Cambridge’s Young Learners of English tests which are recognized by the European Union as valid measurements of a child’s level of the language.  The exam has three parts – Speaking, Listening, and a combined part on Reading & Writing – which are graded from 1 (being the worst) to 5 shields.  That means a student can receive a total of 15 shields.

      Cambridge oddly asserts that there is no passing or failing in these exams.  However, if you receive ten or more shields, then you are ready to go on to the next level.  Hmm.  I’ll have to think about that one.

      In any event, if you can achieve that number, then you have what is considered to be an A1 level.  Cambridge does not specify a minimum in any one category, as long as you obtain ten.  This standard is admitted by the European Union.

      The Comunidad de Madrid has decided that it would use the Cambridge exams but assess students differently in two ways:

        1)    Evaluate just the Speaking and Listening, requiring a total of 7 shields to pass, and 4 have to be in speaking, and at least 3 have to be in listening.  So, in short, they require at least a 70% on a test, and, in some cases, that isn’t enough, since if the speaking is a three and the listening is a four, you don’t pass.  On one occasion, a student had a 5 on listening and a 3 on speaking (yes, that’s 80%), and failed.

        2)    They could also assess all three parts in which a pupil needed to obtain 11 shields (and at least 4 in speaking), to pass.  In theory, a child could get up to 13 out of 15 shields and still be turned down.  How’s that for motivating.

      Of course, none of this has anything to do with how Cambridge looks at it, and that’s considering it’s their test.  The Comunidad de Madrid simply decided that it was going to prove to the world that its standard was tougher than the rest without really justifying it at all.

      This kind of cockiness is known in Spanish as “chulería”, and in Madrid, it’s as common and typical as a relaxing cup of café con leche.

 

Travel,Uncategorized

October 24, 2012

Excerpt from a new book about Greenwich, 26 (draft)

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Still December 31st.

Blue Laws

Now the media were getting all pumped up again because the death took place on a huge backcountry estate in Greenwich and had all the makings of a good scandal.  Details were sketchy, but just from the initial reports, the whole scene sounded good and grisly.  I rubbed my hands with anticipation and grinned, but I would have to wait and see.

         So, I focused my attention on the rest of the day which was being constructed on certain uncertainty, thanks to the current atmospheric conditions.  The storm was moving north which just happened to be the direction we were heading in, so for once I used my noggin a bit and decided to wait a few hours to see if things cleared up.

         In the meantime, I went to buy the Greenwich Time to check out what it had to say about the end of the year.  I walked down to the deli, flipped the bird at dog on the way (mainly because it was inside and out of sight), purchased that day’s edition, bid a happy New Year to the owners and returned.  I got to the doorstep and kicked off as best as I could the snow from the rubber canyons of the soles of my boots and walked in, only to pull them off again, sit down at the dining room table and set the expanse of the newspaper fully on the glass surface.

        Considering it was the last day of the year, the headlines were extraordinarily dull, as if it were the 17th of Boredemder or Tedium Tuesday. Here’s what I laid my eyes upon:

  • UnionReaches Vote Threshold.  Yawn.
  • Brushing Up on Painting Techniques. Yawn and groan.
  • YMCA nears funding goal.  Slap in the face.
  • Man dies after being tasered by police. This was not in Greenwich so it doesn’t count.
  • Lawmakers may consider wine sales in supermarkets. Bingo!

        Now that last one is what I called news!  Good news!  Long overdue news!  It turned out the state would probably give in because it could foresee a long-term revenue advantage built into the whole plan, but the rest of us believed it as something that should have happened long ago.  Then again, this was Connecticut, and things don’t always moved forward that quickly.  For example, alcohol, up until just a few years ago, could not be sold after eight and never on Sundays.  Now the closing time has been raised an hour, and the Lord’s-day thing seems destined to be shelved with all of those other former-sabbath prohibitions.

     But it sure took a while, trust me.  These religiously-based rules were called blue laws and Connecticut was notorious for them.  In fact the first mention of them in written form had to do with the rigid legislation that reigned in this state.   Some laws may have resulted in many a dreary Sunday afternoon watching the game while sipping on a glass of water, but after looking at the way things were run around here back in Colonial times, you definitely get the feeling the state has loosened up over the years.  For example, as a child you could legally be put to death for swearing or refusing to sweep the floor.  To me, that makes staring at a closed sign on the liquor store appear almost refreshing.

       The good thing about living in Greenwich, though, was that you could always cross the border into Port Chester, New York and buy booze basically at any time you want, then run it back.  Our neighboring state is generous and more flexible in that sense.  In fact, it seems to me that there was little that you couldn’t do around the clock there.  Some call it shameless, others reckless, and even others opportunistic;  we just called it lucky.

     The big place to buy at was this dumpy-looking but effective warehouse called WestConn, which still exists by the way.  The second choice was Cumberland Farms, one of the first true convenience stores in the area.  The Farms was a last resort because it jacked up its prices in standard screw-you-because-we-can-do-it-since-we’re-the-only-ones-open fashion.  It also purveyed all of those hazardous frozen cooked foods from the 1970s and 1980s that most likely have been responsible for the death of a generation or two since.

     WestConn was the main aim, though, and also where you got your kegs for the parties when getting kegs for teenagers was not so frowned upon.  Families actually supported it.  Hell, parents practically pumped the taps for the guests. I remember my older sisters and brothers throwing some of the biggest shindigs in town.  It was the kind of status that, back in the 1970s, made you proud to be a Murdock.  The police would sometimes come and politely but firmly ask us to tone things down, turn a blind eye to the dozens of wasted teens stumbling off to their cars, and when all was settled down, go back to the public school parking lots and hang out…or whatever else they did at night in those days.  In fact, having the local authorities sweep in to break up the crowd was a unquestionable sign of success.  It meant we would be the talk of school on Monday.

      They often came because one of our neighbors would always complain.  He was a self-contained kind of person who owned two nasty German Shepherds called Lothar and Himmler, or some name like that.  Most balls that floated onto their property were left there forever as acknowledgement that no toy was worth getting neutered for.

       By the time I was of the age to have my own parties, drinking laws had changed fairly radically, with the brunt of responsibility falling heavily on the owner of the home, namely my parents; that curtailed almost all activity on a legal level.  Which doesn’t mean we didn’t have parties; we just had to go underground.  I authored two major clandestine events.  One was in winter when snow covered the lawn.  The side of the driveway was full of incriminating tire tracks.  Some even curved around trees.  The morning after, as I gazed out the front yard, I pondered the situation calmly but with a degree of desperation stirring inside.  This was not going to be easy to explain.  I gave it some thought and came up with one of those unsound Grinchy ideas.   That was it!  What if…

        On paper it was a risky and last-ditch effort to salvage a lost cause.  I went to the garage and returned with a shovel and, this is the honest to God truth, started to fill in dozens of wheel tracks.  The finished product looked like, well, a lot of wheel tracks sloppily filled in with snow.   I leaned on the handle of my shovel and surveyed the results of my endeavors.  It looked like crap and there was no way in hell my parents weren’t going to nab me.  In fact, had they arrived at that moment I most certainly would have been writing these lines from a jail cell as my father, being a lawyer, would have dug up some old blue law which entailed a life sentence.

          It was hopeless, unless I got lucky and my parents return flight got delayed two weeks.  Other than that, I just couldn’t see myself pulling it off.  In fact, as I drove off to a friend’s house, I made tentative plans to seek adoption should the need arise.  It didn’t.  You see, it could not have been a sunnier day, but it was also very windy, and the blustery weather effectively swept the tracks clean, like a desert.  By afternoon, no easily detectable evidence could be found.  Only the most experienced manhunter would have possibly noticed something, and, even then, maybe not.  Mother Nature had saved my ass.

        Years later when we lived up in Darien and I tried it again, she would kick it.  This time it was summer and it was raining all day.  I even considered calling it off, but we were all in the mood, so we said what the hell.  Well, muddy soil is a far more difficult terrain to control, and I awoke the next day to go to work, I knew I was a challenge because the backyard looked like one of those battlefields in France during World War I.  It was as if Mother Nature was telling me, “You know, Brian, you are one big dumb fuck.  And this time I’m going to make you pay for it.”

       The first to nail us was Mary Jones, the housekeeper, who had no reason to be up at that time or day, or even that day at all, but had lived with us far too long to know what was going on.  She went through the roof and I took a shellacking as a result.  But that was just the beginning of it.  Luckily for me I had to go to work and missed the arrival of my parents whose irate eruption, from what I understand, would have triggered a tsunami had it taken place on the shore.  I got my share when I got home, and a well-deserved one.  That party would end up being the final full-fledged Murdock party in history…the end of an era.

Images of Spain,Uncategorized

October 22, 2012

Images of Spain: the village café

It’s Saturday around two o’clock and though te international press, especially the British and the New York Times, would like the world to think that much of this population is picking its food out of the trash bins or killing dogs for meals, much of the country looks like this.  This must be such a disappointment to the foreign correspondent in search of misery and despair. Oh weel, their problem.  You see, this is not just a typical sight in the cities and large towns, but even the smallest villages.  This place, Guadalix de la Sierra, is somewhere inbetween, but what is clear is that, come midday on almost any given weekend, and you will be hard pressed to find an empty table.  It’s been like that for as long as I can recall.  Just people hanging out and enjoying themselves over the weekend.  There is something essential to it.  Something very Spanish, highly Spanish, immensely Spanish.  No matter where you go, you can find this scene, especially since the smoking law has pushed much of the clientele outdoors regardless of the weather or climate or both.  Life goes on.

Madrid,Spain,Uncategorized

October 16, 2012

Images of Spain: The Spanish Flag

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 If you look at the balcony of the building, just any ordinary building in this city, you will spot an unusual sight.  Part of this has to do with my poor photographyship, but also part of the blame can be placed on my mobile phone’s flash, which is about the size of Smint candy.  Even though the camera itself is not bad, the lack of proper lighting makes night shots look about as crappy as this one.  But it served me well, because just as it is a task for you to discern the elements of the Spanish flag in the center of the picture, so is it equally a challenge to find that kind of banner in the center of the country, let alone other parts of the country where strong independent movements are taking greater hold. Here, the absence of national symbols is even more notable since the day I took the gem, last October 12th, Spain was celebrating its “National Holiday”.  No one in Madrid calls it that, it goes by the Puente de Pilar, and there are about half a dozen other names for the day.  Inexplicably, reference to Columbus is all but nonexistent.

    The point is, though, and I think my artistic eye has succinctly captured that, is that pride in Spain as a unified sovereign nation is waning a bit these days.  In Madrid most Spaniards are naturally pro-Spain.  They just don’t go for the flag thing.  Some because it still reminds them of Franco, or so I am told.  Or so I am told.

    The Spanish flag is a symbol of Spain.  Within Spain, it is a symbol of many facets of this nation.  Perched up on the iron rail of balcony in that nameless building on a tired Saturday evening, it is a symbol of loneliness and of being alone in that loneliness, like when you stop to think about how large the universe in comparison to your cell phone camera flash.

      My daughter told me it was time to go home.  ”It’s just a flag, Dad.  And in a ridiculous spot.”

Uncategorized

October 1, 2012

Filing Your Toenails on a Park Bench in Madrid

The title has nothing to do with the subject whatsoever…but then again, you said it had to.

There are ways of getting ahead in Spain, you just have to be extra patient when it comes to finding what you want, since it rarely comes to you the first time around.  I have a book presentation coming up in a couple of weeks, and the first thing I needed for this to happen was to have the books available  I had always planned on it being in October, with the quirk being that I had2011 inmind.  So some 365 days behind schedule, I was comforted by the fact that the new gym at my school was conceived in the early 90s, and is just now being opened, or that the library next door which was due to receive the local readership six months ago is built but still hollow, with not a single volume within, and nothing in sight.    I feel the warmth of a soul blanket when I see that a new wing at the Niño Jesús Children’s Hospital has been left but a worthless shell for the last, God knows, ten years, and it would seem that completing the structure doesn’t fit the annual calendar for the next decade.  Some might observe that a human with my sensitivity should not harbor such thoughts about a medical center for society’s littlest ones, but they are wrong.  I relish its failures.  They tack on another twenty minutes of sleep at night.

         Yeap.  I could proudly say that by sitting down to sign some books a solar year later I was actually proving to many that things could be done expeditiously when you put your mind to it.

         One factor inhibiting progress was actually making my work available to the general public.  A physical version of it.  Not the digital dumpy formats that no one wants.  I don’t blame them.  Ever see a Kindle.  It’ll drive you mad.  Plus the Spanish just like to have that volume in their hand, even if they have no intention of reading your book.

         So, I decided to get a whole bunch of books from theUnited Statesand market them here.  Why the big shipping?  Easy, it was more inexpensive to have them printed inSouth Carolina, and somewhere around there, and ship them over here than actually have them printed inSpain.  By a long shot.  Consider this:

         If I want to buy my own book, without the royalties, obviously, Bubok inSpainoffers it to me for something horrendous like 10 euros.  If I decided to do the same in the States, it comes to $3.40.  Yes, that’s less than three euros when the conversion is carried out.  Then I can dump another ton into two-day express service to my doorstep, and it still comes to a little over 4 euros per unit.

    To be continued.

Travel,Uncategorized

August 2, 2012

Excerpt from a New Book 8

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Christmas morning on the way to my brother’s allowed us the first good glimpse of my hometown since my return.  We turned off Valley and onto the woody Cat Rock, a street infamous for its narrowness and hairpin turns.  I remember one young man had been killed a few years before when his car slammed into a tree.  Without knowing all the details I believe it was all high school alcohol related.  The hairpin bend didn’t help either.

      We were entering what was known as the mid-country section of Greenwich. According to the post office, this is still part of Cos Cob, and that may be so, but physically it has the feel of all the back streets of Greenwich.  Cat Rock must be a very old road.  What gives it away are the numerous houses which stand practically on the street’s edge, an unusual feature considering most homes are set back well beyond a healthy front yard or are hidden deep and only are visible when the trees are bare.  The design of the property was totally different and people probably didn’t necessarily think about factors like long driveways and literally pulled out into the road.  I also discovered two very old private graveyards in the area, and that’s a dead give away too.  The years etched in the stone were no longer visible.  That automatically makes them ancient in my book.  The woods were still covered with snow and the brooks were alive with young water from freshly melted snow.

         We threaded Cat Rock, managing to head in all four cardinal points at least once, and soon arrived on a side road where my brother lived.  We piled out of the car in Christmas morning fashion and wished each other a Merry Christmas in Christmas merry fashion, and cheered a lot.  The girls equipped themselves to spend the rest of the day playing out in the snow.  They and the cousin did just about everything a person could do too and in the snow.  No verbs were spared.  They rolled it, packed it, sculpted it, tossed it, fell in it, tumbled in it, froze in it…just the way you should when you’re a kid.  We had left the front yard look like a herd of wildebeests had rumbled through, a unsightly scene of unspeakable proportions for Greenwich, but the fact was rain was on the way and predicted to arrive in just a few hours and if they didn’t take advantage of it then, by the next day it would be pretty much all gone.

       Soon my parents and my sister joined us and the festivities began.  Christmas at brother and sister-in-law had done a magnificent job of decking the house so that it looked and smelled and sounded just the way you want it to on that day, especially if it has been a couple of years since you’ve been back.  The day was a lot of fun and lunch was delicious.  It really was.  And it was nice to just hang around with the family for a few hours, look out at the snow-laden backyard and woods and watch the day start to age.  We went for a walk after the meal and spent a lazy afternoon until it got dark and the jet lag lurked and we began to think about getting home.

       Mom and Dad were staying the night in Greenwich.  My brother had booked them a room at the Greenwich Country Club, and since nighttime travel on the treacherous winter roads of backstreet Connecticut can be challenge for anyone, let alone the elderly, I jumped into the car and took them over.

        Country clubs have long been a natural part of Greenwich’s vast landscape.  Where many towns call themselves home to one or maybe two of these private social societies,Greenwich boasts more than ten.  Here’s a list from just off the top of my head:

  • Burning Tree Country Club
  • FairviewCountry Club
  • The Field Club
  • GreenwichCountry Club
  • Innis Arden
  • Milbrook
  • Round Hill Country Club
  • Stanwich Club
  • Tamarack

If water is more your thing, you can always try entry into one of these yacht clubs:

  • Belle Haven Yacht Club
  • Greenwich Boat and Yacht Club
  • Indian Harbor Yacht Club
  • Mianus River Boat & Yacht Club
  • Old Greenwich Yacht Club
  • Riverside Yacht Club

And we can’t forget:

The Greenwich Polo Club (Founded in 1982, by the way.  That was just what the town needed to become what everyone expected of it.)

       A number of these, and I won’t name which, are extremely exclusive, but the one that stands out as a symbol of this town is unquestionably The Greenwich Country Club, also known as GCC, or simply “the Club”.

       Self-billed as the Premier Private Country Club of the Northeast (though I get the sneaking suspicion it’s not an official title of recognition), GCC was founded in 1892 and originally known as the Fairfield County Club.  It was one of the first private golf clubs in the country.  Not long after it would adopt its current name and for decades it lived a quiet existence at a time when people cared little about these places.

        The Country Club I grew up with was not the original building since a fire in 1960 devastated it.

        Back then, the 1970s I mean, the place was nice and all, but far from the top-notch luxury palace someone with a fanciful imagination might come to expect.  My family joined in the 1970s and GCC quickly became one of our homes away from home, especially for me.  I’d say I used it more than anyone else in the family.  My friends and I were a gang of classic club rats; a dangerous breed of kid from a wealthy upbringing with a lot of time on our hands and little to do.  Friday bowling….Saturday golf…and in the summer more golf, some tennis (not too much because it might ruin your swing) and a jump in the pool from time to time.  There was lunch at the mixed grill, lunch at the halfway house, or a snack at the end of the round before calling home to get picked up.  That pretty much summed up my existence.  Pathetic, don’t you think?

        To claim that the Greenwich Country Club is not Snob-Centro at times would be sort of like lying in your face.  It’s very exclusive and pretty snooty too, though not as much as some people would imagine.  There are plenty of very friendly and very generous members.

        A lot of times you just have to put up with a lot of ridiculous rules like not being able to wear denim to the 4th of July picnic but it’s considered too casual and visually unattractive.  Then you go to the picnic and see just what types of outfits are allowed in the name of good taste, and you stop worrying.  They can make a blood vessel pop in you eye.  It should be a crime to treat fabric that way.

          And yet surprisingly, it is not the ominous club you hear about in other parts of the world.  There never was a gatehouse with a guard turning away undesirables.  In fact, it is shockingly easy to access the club.  I like that because it makes me feel that that there is still something unpretentious about the place.

         GCC was never one to preach or practice multicultural diversity, and I doubt it is much better today in that respect, if at all.  Members were white, and from what I can tell, still are.  And they were mostly Christian, and from what I can tell, still are.  In my youth I recall only once seeing a black man who was not a worker there.  I am not kidding.

          To be fair, most clubs in the area went by that policy, so I can’t quite accuse GCC of behaving any differently from the rest.  In fact, barring African-Americans and other minorities from super-exclusive institutions was common practice all over the nation.  Augusta National did not admit its first black member until 1990.

       Speaking of the early 1990s, and of blacks, around that time, the Greenwich Country Club and the town itself took an unexpected hit of poor publicity.  A former Princeton student and lawyer by the name of Lawrence Otis Graham went undercover as a busboy in a private country club to write a report for New York magazine.  He wanted to get an insider’s look at these places and recount his experiences as a black employee there.  Where did he work?  At theGreenwich Country Club, of course.

        Later he included it in a book called A Member of the Club, which is a collection of articles about polarized racialAmerica.

       It was a big deal when word of the article came out, I tell you.  Oh, yeah.  It was the talk of town.  Most people were indignant about the slyness of the reporting and critical of his nitpicky complaints.  The little part about racial discrimination seemed less scandalous.

        If something can be said in the Country Club’s favor, it was that at least they hired him.  The writer had interviewed at three other clubs in the area and not one even offered him a job.  He had actually applied for a position as a waiter but the post was switched to a backroom busboy the minute the managers saw the color of his skin; at least that was what was suggested in the story.  Even if it meant sticking the man in the kitchen and out of sight, they gave him the work.

       The rest of the article exposed little surprising coming from a place like that in a time like that.  If anything, it portrayed that world as a sad and almost desolate place.  Regardless of the controversy, it was still a good reminder that in the days, when people tried to pretend that racism had all but disappeared in the U.S., the writer made it clear that such a belief was a crock and that you didn’t have to watch Out of Africa to find clubs where white males were still the kings.  And he knew just where he could prove his point.  He choseGreenwich.  That’s part of its reputation.  That’s not what makes it special; it’s what makes it an especially prime target.  And I should know because I was about as preppy a child as you could get.  I spent summers and summers at the club just playing golf, and that’s about it.

In the past couple of years, Greenwich Country Club has made a concerted effort to modernize and adapt on many levels, from the physical to the social to the moral.  It has undergone several upgrades and been submitted to a facelift or two.  The facilities have improved enormously.  They have even made some concessions towards integration.  The once untouchable Men’s Grill has been opened up to women, while the Family Grill (once the Mixed Grill) is where everyone can be.  Hispanics still fill up the bulk of the menial jobs, but on the front line there is a new breed of worker.  The young European.

        This is disconcerting because in a deliberate decision, though no one may be willing to admit it.  There is nothing more satisfactory to the preppy American ear than the sound of service in the form of a British accent.  It’s dreadful.  Not the accent, mind you, but the notion.  It sounds more professional, even if the guy has just peed in your Coke before serving it to you.  You’ll say “Thank you!” and he’ll say, “Not at all” In the most gracious manner you’ve ever heard.

         Well, I couldn’t have picked a drearier more desolate evening to stop by.  Except for the cheery but solitary illumination of the Christmas lights clinging for their lives on the bushes and trees and a lamp casting a beam of lonely light on the underpass at the front door, absolutely everything else lacked even the remotest suggestion that life dwelled within.  The place reeked of a bloody and uncomfortable death.  I had to admit I was feeling somewhat irresponsible and uneasy about leaving them off to fend for themselves.  I think even my mother muttered something about Jack Nicholson and an axe as we pulled up.  But there we were.  That familiar white building with those horrible columns.  They have got to be the ugliest and least majestic I’ve ever seen.  They look like lanky legs, totally unfit for such a noble social club.  We went up the flagstone steps and inside.  The reception was as quiet and forlorn as a person could endure.  Sitting low behind a dimly lit desk, a night watchman courteously tended to our questions.  I saw them upstairs and then left, adding before I went, that they were to call me should they see the word “Redrum” scrawled on their bathroom mirror.

         I went back to my brother’s place, picked up the family and returned back to our friends’ to retire for the evening, which was an easy task for us because we had been up since the crack of dawn and earlier.  It had begun to rain and the snow started to deform and droop and turn just plain sad.  It became pock-marked and dirty.  The air warmed and the night grew balmy and melencholy.  It was time to turn in.  It was certainly time to check into the Unconscious Hotel and forget about things for a while.

        Either that or I needed an extra long episode of the Yule Log.

 

 

 

In Spanish,Travel,Uncategorized

July 30, 2012

Un Yanqui Madrileño en Connecticut 4: $3.99, $4.99, $5.99

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Me gusta llevar a un español a un supermercado por primera vez, si solo para oír el “¡Hala!” nada más entrar mientras se les cae la boca e intentan comprender lo grande que son.  No son hipermercados, propiamente dichos, os advierto, simplemente supermercados.  Hay aldeas en La Patria Postiza que podrían caber en uno.  Ya sabes, no esos pueblos grandes infestados con urbanizaciones, que por cierto, tiene que ser una de las palabras más feas para describir un bloque de viviendas que he oído en mi vida, son esas poblaciones discretas y tranquilas, quedan cada vez menos, que solo se hacen notar cuando se disponen a fabricar la longaniza más grande del mundo con el fin de salir en el Libro de Guinness y en la tele para contarlo.  ¡Vaya frase más larga!  ¡Cómo mola el español!

       En fin, hablando de longaniza, pues con un poco de paciencia seguro que la encuentras allí.  Hay de todo, y mucho de lo que hay.  No basta un tipo de pan de molde, sino varias decenas.  La diferencia principal son los tipos y el número de granos y semillas que componen el pan.  Los hay de tres granos, de cinco, granos, de siete, diez y hasta doce.  Y cada marca tiene sus versiones, sean de un estilo o de otro.  Un pasillo entero de una distancia en la que Ursain Bolt necesitaría unos 11 segundos en recorrer.  No es que no haya variedad en España, lo hay y bastante.  Lo que pasa es que en los States, ya sabes, todo es a lo bestia.

         Hacer la compra en mi país me genera cierta tensión porque, mientras otros aspectos de la vida como es la ropa nos resulta generalmente tirados de precios, sobre todo en rebajas, y parece que el país siempre está de rebajas, una visita al super causa todo lo contrario.  Rara es la vez que salgo por las puertas deslizaderas sin haber soltado menos de 50 pavos.  Y llevo cuatro cosas de mierda encima.  Las tarifas se categorizan generalmente en tres gamas de precios: $3.99, $4.99 y $5.99.  Más o menos así.  Parece como si los gerentes no se hayan querido molestar en complicarse la vida.  10.000 productos, tres precios.  Los hay de otros precios, pero suelen ya pasar a gamas más altas.  Quizás de las cosas más económicas se encuentra las lentejas, a $1.99.  Claro está que ¿quién coño compra lentejas en Estados Unidos salvo un Yanqui Madrileño?

        Se debe tener especial cuidado con las fruterías, carnicerías y charcuterías.  Al igual que en Espein, va por peso, pero ¡Ojo!  El peso a considerar es la famosa libra.

        La conversión es la siguiente 1 kilo =2.2 libras.  Por tanto, cuando ves esas cerezas que han colocado con suma delicadez y que resultan tan gordas, tan carnosas, tan voluptuosas que parecen que los mismos dioses de la agricultura las ha cultivado de una en una, recuerda que el precio de $5.99 que a lo mejor te parece más que aceptable, en realidad ronda casi los $14.00 por kilo.

        Luego mi amigo grita: ¡Qué barrrrrrbaridad!

Uncategorized

July 18, 2012

Un Yanqui Madrileño de Connecticut en America 1

Estaba terminando mi jornada laboral en el colegio donde estoy ubicado estos días y mi compañero me invita a comer por ahí y le digo que no podía porque tener que volver a casa a soltar las gallinas.  ¿Cuando fue la última vez que había dicho una cosa semejante?  Yo, un yanqui madrileño suelto en el campo profundo de Connecticut, un estado del que ningún nativo habla con demasiado entusiasmo, como hacen los de Iowa, por ejemplo, pero que posee unas cualidades magníficas.  Poco tiempo había pasado desde que me movía por las entrañas del metro de Madrid hasta dedicarme mi tiempo a la libertad provisional de unos aves.  Y yo, más que nadie, me sentía tan en casa como fuera de lugar.  No sabía quien coño era yo.

       ¿Qué había pasado?  ¿Me había convertido en una especie de transexual cultural, sin niguna orientación clara?  ¿Acaso ese híbrido me permitía poder analizar mi propia cuna con ojos distintos…uno local y otro del ultramar?

      Creo que sí.  Ya veremos por qué.