Yeah, right! - Writings by Brian Murdock

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Uncategorized

August 2, 2016

Where the hell do you think you’re going now señor Brian? 4

While Javi’s family’s vineyards spread out for miles in the province of Toledo, his family actually lives in a town over the border in Cuenca called La Fuente de Pedro Naharrro, the Fountain of Pedro Naharro, a curious and elegant name for an otherwise very ordinary town. To get there, you simply get on the 2-lane nacional, head for Corral de Almaguer, take a left, race off into the night down another straightaway towards Horcajo de Santiago, take another left and speed away to La Fuente, as they call it affectionately. 25 minutes of driving all said and told. At nighttime, when the traffic is light, it’s pretty much a breeze and it invites you to step on the accelerator a little more. The road knows few curves, the view is clear, and the driving is easy. Taking the back roads of Spain can sometimes be one of the most pleasurable and entertaining forms of getting around the country and the only true way of getting to know the nuances of the land. The nacionales, as they are called, are generally in excellent shape, but the regional and local roads can be a little more dicey. Still, I can’t think of a better way to experience the country.

               Spain’s highway system as a whole, I should point out, has surely come a long since the days I first came to live back in the early 90s. A simple look at statistics should help illustrate the point: in 1970 there were a meager 203kms of highway in the entire country. That’s about the distance between New York City and Hartford, Connecticut. By the time I had settled down here in 1991, the figure had shot up to 3,793kms, but even then not one of the six major motorways that radiated from Madrid like bicycle spokes was completed. Any long-distance trip required at least one section of knuckle-whitening circulating along a two-lane road while trying to overtake a truck full of wooden planks before getting slammed head-on by another hauling cement blocks. My premature greying, in addition to genetics, is due to this harrowing experience over the years.

               By 2014, drivers could enjoy over 15,000kms of highway to help them sail around Spain and reach most major destinations in a fraction of the time it once took. And in one piece. You see, one of the most profound consequences of this improvement in the nation’s infrastructure has been a gradual reduction in the fatalities on the road. Obviously there were several factors that have led to this decline, such as an increase in the average age of the average driver, more effective speed traps, greater awareness of the dangers of driving while under the influence, buckling up on a regular basis, and better built vehicles, but it’s hard to deny the importance of this continuous upgrade of the road network.

                As in many countries, years ago the numbers were frightening. In 1960, there were a paltry 1 million vehicles on the road, and the poor conditions led to a staggering 1,300 deaths. By 1989, the number of deceased peaked to record numbers, though a little research suggested no one really knows how many people died on the road that year. One source indicated 3,086 victims, another put the figure at an astronomical 9,344, but I am inclined to believe the DGT (the equivalent of the DMV) statistics which reported 5,940. While that might sound stunning, consider the fact the last year the United States saw those numbers was in 1914.

               Now, with more than 31 million cars purring around, a mere 1,126 people lost their lives. Yes, that’s lower than the 1960 figure when there were 30 million fewer vehicles. Still too high, say some, but the 3.6 victims per 100,000 is one of the lowest rates in Europe, and it looks impressive when compared to 10.1/100,000 in the U.S.

              Where are these lethal run-ins bound to happen? On the secondary roads. Annually, between 75-90% of all deaths by vehicle occurred in these otherwise pristine, bucolic, peaceful lanes. Such violence amid such serene scenery boggles the mind, and nobody better than Javi knew that. His father was picked off by an oncoming car at an intersection in Horcajo some twenty years before and was killed in the act.

                A grim reminder as we approached that there is never really any need to hurry home.

Uncategorized

November 23, 2015

Snap Out of It: Don’t Know Much about Catalan History

I am a confessed Wikipedia user.  For some time it’s become taboo for people to admit this because someone out there has spread the rumor that you can’t rely on its truthfulness because the they had done something like embed that some famous person had died when it was obviously not true.  A point well made, sort of.  People go into schools and on occasion start blasting away, but that doesn’t mean you can’t trust the education system.  There is plenty to complain about with Wiki, mainly the fact that the format varies so greatly from entry to entry that you get things like, Leonardo Da Vinci competing head-to-head with, say, Jennifer Lopez, in terms of numbers of words used to cover their lives.  About 8,500 a piece.  Then there is Tom Walsh, born in Davenport, Iowa, in 1886, and who played professional baseball for the Chicago Cubs in 1906.  Here are his stats:

      MLB debut: August 15, 1906, for the Chicago Cubs

      Last MLB appearance: September 26, 1906, for the Chicago Cubs

      Number of Games: 2

      Batting Average: .000

Here’s his bio as lifted verbatim from the page:

     Thomas Joseph Walsh was a Major League Baseball player. He was a catcher who played for the Chicago Cubs in the 1906 season. He was born on February 28, 1886 in Davenport, Iowa. Tom played just 2 games in his career, going 0 for 2 in just 2 plate appearances and an average of .000. He died on March 16, 1963 in Naples, Florida.

    What is not mentioned between that late September day and the moment he passed away due to a stroke, was the time he invested running a construction company that helped build such memorable structures as the Grand Coulie Dam, Yankee Stadium, The Queens Midtown Tunnel, and the United Nations Headquarters, all achievements that could have earned him a place in digital eternity…but didn’t.  Instead, people can read about his rather stunted career behind the plate and modest performance while wielding a bat.  Word had it he wanted to stay on, but when he sent his father tickets to the World Series, his old man declined saying he wanted him to drop his aspirations to excel on the diamond and return to the family business.  That wasn’t an entirely cockeyed request back then, seeing that baseball wasn’t the glamorous sport we know it to be today.  It was a shame, though, because the Cubs lost that series, but went on to win in 1907 and 1908.  It is, to date, the last time they would be crowned champions.

     Who was Tom Walsh and why in hell is he there?  Why the hell is he being mentioned here?  He was my grandfather, and while I am proud to see his brief stint in professional sports recognized by some evidently very, very avid baseball buff, with a lot of free time on his hands, he really has no business appearing. Not for those reasons, at least.  But what they heck.  This is Wikipedia.

     Nor should Victor Cucurull, for that matter.  But he is.  Victor belongs to the ANC, which does not stand for the African National Congress in this case, but rather the Asamblea Nacional Catalana, an organization devoted to promoting Catalan independence.  That’s fair enough, as people who wish to secede from Spain are naturally going to want to do so in an orderly fashion. Victor is a professor and

     I get the feeling he is, unless someone can otherwise prove me wrong, an instutionalized liar.  And he probably knows it.  Either that, or he is a lunatic.  Either that, or he’s a brillant provacateur coming up with outlandish claims just to piss the rest of the Spaniards off.  A look at his Youtube videos suggests the first two to be the most likely.  In any event, here are a number of his postures on a very revised history of just about everything:

     The legendary lost civilization of Tartessos, placed by every serious scholar to be located somewhere in southern Spain, was really founded in the otherwise modest Catalan city of Tortosa.  I believe the relative similarity in the letters used constitutes definitive proof.  Other jaw-dropping assertions include Catalonia being the world’s first nation, Ancient Rome reaching its greatness thanks to the incorporation of Catalonia, Catalonia rising as the world’s most powerful nation in the 16th Century, America being discovered by Catalans, and so on.

      But wait, there’s more.  Like what? Well, famous Catalans were (but really aren’t) St. Ignatius Loyola, Christopher Columbus, Leonardo Da Vinci, Amerigo Vespucci, and Miguel de Cervantes. To name just a few.  Speaking of Cervantes, apparently Don Quijote was penned in Catalan, translated into English and finally Spanish.

     These preposterous claims certainly trigger laughter, but they also instill a deep sense of sadness and indignation.  It’s pathetic to have to lie about your past to give it prestige.  It’s dangerous that people do it.  It represents the extreme to which the nationalists will sometimes go to justify their existence.  I should add that no entry for the Catalan version of Wikipedia about this man has ever been posted, thus suggesting that not even his own people take him seriously.  And they shouldn’t.

    Nor should the person who added his bio to the global resource website.  He was obviously pro-Spain and clearly doing his best to ridicule the man.  And while Cucurull probably deserves it, using a formal fact-finding website normally devoted to truly encyclopedia-worthy individuals, as a way of networking your frustration defeats the purpose and does little for your cause.  Plus, it gives publicity and importance to someone who is about as worthy of such an honor as my poor grandfather, who essentially did little more than toss a few baseballs back to the pitcher.

Forensic Files,Uncategorized

November 22, 2015

Files, Feuds and Funerals 19

The day after Dad died I went for a jog for the first time in about ten days.  Just down the hill from where my parents live, you can zig-zag along a planked path to the Farmington Canal Trail which, when completed, will be comprised of no fewer than 84 miles of carefully laid route for cyclists and runners alike.   As the name clearly indicates, it was a canal, of the kind that was typically built in the first half of the 19th Century, and like those canals built in the first half of the 19th Century, it was quickly replaced by the railroad.  The track was literally laid where the boats once navigated.  Train travel lasted all the way up to  the 1980s, when flooding put the via beyond repair.  It was if the canal had distantly had the last laugh.  It was not long after that new potential as a recreational path became evident, and construction has been underway ever since.

       I didn’t have a bike nor was I a cyclist, but I did try to get a few k’s in to keep my body going.  The heat wasn’t too bad but the humidity was atrocious, and before I had reached a mile and a half, I humbly decided to turn around and limped back home with a quiet whimper, comforted by the thought this pathetic show of athleticism was not made too public.  During the march of tears, I did have a chance to sense that, despite the unquestionable beauty of the path, all lined with an amazing array of deep green New England summer foliage, there was also no doubt that if there ever was a place that was apt for the type of heinous crime that would eventually end up being featured on Forensic Files, that was it.  Any kind of weapon seemed suitable, and there were scores of ideal ditches for a body to be buried in.  It was unnerving.

      We then planned out the day.  There was no longer a need to go to the hospital, but the funeral home was a must.  We set up a time with the manager in the afternoon.  In the meantime, I returned to the supermarket to load up on food for the next few days.  I also took the opportunity to purchase a lottery ticket, which is something I do from time to time, just in case there is an outside chance a bit of good news will fall my way.  The chances are remote indeed.  About 1 in 176 million.  Someone told me there was a better chance of you getting struck by lightening something like 16 times than hitting the jackpot.  One study in California, because this is the kind of thing scientists in California sometimes dabble in, even spent some time, and I presume someone’s money, to analyze the success rate of winning if you bet on the most frequently called numbers, the underused numbers and the random numbers to see if any one of those  proved itself  to be a superior strategy.

     Not so surprisingly, none outdid the rest, making it clear once again that gambling is just as unpredictable as we always thought it was.  The only exception was the underused numbers which performed better than the rest but by a margin so small you would have to wait  until the Sun burned out for any noticeable results to make themselves known.  And by then, obviously, it would be too late to reap the benefits.  I have always thought it would be great to win the lottery so that we could help my parents out in these times of hardhip for them, times which have only gotten worse with the passing of more times.  I could buy them a decent condo, and set it up as such that they wouldn’t ever have to deal with this situation again.  That would provide some happiness to everyone.  People should be allowed to land the big prize just once in their lives on the condition that they use the proceeds to help someone out you is worse off than them.

    But that didn’t seemed to make a difference, according to the girl at the supermarket who sold me my potentially winning number.  She claimed, “They say winning the jackpot is said to bring you happiness for only about three months. So, you have to ask yourself if it’s worth it.”

     “I’d say it is.  ‘Cause winning $267 million is great.  But every three months to ensure my happiness.”

Snap Out of It,Uncategorized

November 20, 2015

Snap Out of It: Bipolar Catalan Shopping

Here’s a not so uncommon scenario: I’m going for a walk in Madrid with a local and discussing Spanish politics, and handful of topics which essentially has not changed in the past 30 to 40 years.  These include scandals, fraud, embezzlement, money-laundering, inside trading, tax evasion, contract bidding favoritism and other forms of abuse of power, mostly related to increasing one’s personal wealth, or the general state of the economy, which hasn’t seen the best of times lately, to the role of the monarchy in modern Spain and, invariably, nationalism…a thorn so big in Spain’s back, it’s practically a spike.

     And the conversation could run along the lines of “Those bastard Catalans, who do they think they are?  They’ve never been their own nation, they have no legitimate claim to be independent.  At the very best, they could be considered to be a part of Aragon, and the Aragonese don’t won’t to leave Spain.”  And least most of them don’t.  “Catalonia is a part of Spain and that’s all there is to say about it, and there are millions who live there who want it to stay that way.

     Then we stop at a supermarket and I get told not to go in because the store is owned by a Catalan company.  Given the time and the distance to the next grocery store, I talk him into giving just this once, and then we enter.  Once inside, many of the familiar products that have produced so many moment of joy and happiness to my mind, soul and stomach, are quickly banned from immediate consumption because they are either owned or produced within the territory of Catalonia.  Oh, it goes beyond cava, sparkling wine which mostly comes from that region, or fuet, the local salamiCatalan products and international products produced in Catalonia have essentially infested your average Spanish market.  It’s been like that for years.  And here are just a few worth naming to prove my point:

  • Water: Font D’or, Font del Regas, Fuente Liviana, Malabella, Mondariz, Veri, Acquapanna, Aquarel, Badoit, Evian, Font Vella, Fontvella, Lanjarón, Perrier, S. Pellegrino, Salus, San Narciso, Viladrau, Vitell, Volvic
  • Olive Oil: Borges
  • Snack foods: Cheetos, Doritos, Fritos, Lays, Matutano, Pringles, Ruffles, Santa Ana, Tuc
  • Rice: Nomen
  • Coffee: Bonka, Nobel, Bonka, Cafitesse, Dolce Gusto, Marcilla, Nescafe, Nestle Gold, Piazza d’Oro, Pilao, Ricoré, Soley
  • Sweets: Golia, Pez(2), Smint, Solano, Chupachups, Mentos
  • Cereal: Cheerios, Chocapic, Crunch, Estrellitas, Fibre, Fitness, Golden Grahams, La lechera, Nesquik
  • Chocolate: Colacao, Ferrero rocher, Gnutella, Kinder, Lindt, Nocilla, Paladin, After eight, Bounty, Caja Roja, Choclait chips, Crunch, Dolca, Kitkat, M&M’s, Maltesers, Mars, Milkybar, Nesquik, Netsle, Quality Street, Snickers, Twix
  • Meats and sausages: Argal, Casa Tarradellas, Casademont, Embutidos Mercadona, Espetec, Fuet Espuña, La selva, Noel, Vic
  • Cookies: Artiach, Artisabores, Chiquilín, Cuetara, Dinosaurus, Filipinos, Marbú Dorada, Rio, Fontaneda, Marie Lu, Principe, Yayitas
  • Ice Cream: Camy, Carte D’Or, Cornetto, Extreme, Frigo, La lechera, Magnum, Mars, Maxibon, Miko, Nesquik, Nestle, Pirulo
  • Dairy Products: Ato, El castillo, Okey, Quesos Hotchland, Actimel, Activia, Dan’up, Danone, Flora, Ideal, La lechera, Ligeresa, Royal, Sveltesse, Vitalinea
  • Butter: Artúa, Flora, Ligeresa, Tulipan
  • Bread: Brooks American Sandwich, Panrico, Bimbo
  • Pizza and Pasta:  Buitoni, Casa Tarradellas(3), Hacendado Pizzas, La cocinera
  • Soft drinks:  Nestea, Kas, Ice tea, Tang
  • Cakes: Bollycao, Dip Dip, Donetes, Donuts, Eidetesa, Horno de Oro, Mañanitos, Qé!, Bimbo cao, Martinez, Tigretón
  • Soup: Knorr, Maggi
  • Sauces:  Solis, Calvé, Hellmans, Ligeresa, Maggi
  • Tomato paste:  Solis, Calvé, Hellmans
  • Frozen products: La Sirena, Maheso
  • Wine: Alella, Ampurdán, Bach, Conde Caralt, Costers del Segre, Ederra, Heredad Torresano, La vicalanda, Legaris, Leiras, Marraso, Nauta, Nuviana, Oroya, Penedés, René Barbier, Scala dei, Septima, Solar viejo, Terra Nova, Valdubon, Viento sur, Vionta, Viña Pomal

    And that’s just a reduced list.  We haven’t even gotten to the rest of the home.  Most of those brands are household names and half of them have found their way on to my shelves at one time or another. To leave them out would mean to exclude a substantial portion of everyday foodstuff in Spain.  And yet, radical pro-Spain supporters, sometimes known as españolistas in quarters where many people aren’t in favor of staying within the union, are willing to boycott anything that has been manufactured in that region.  Whole websites exist devoted to making the consumer aware of just what brands not to patronize and provide a Spain-friendly alternative.   They even provide insight into how to detect on the label if the product is of Catalan origin.

     The irony of this is that the majority are furious at Catalonia for wanting to become independent.  “Don’t you blame them?” I ask. “You treat them like shit.  You don’t want to support their economy, but you insist they stay in Spain.”

     Somehow, like so many things in life, they have a ready answer.  “We don’t wsnt to give them our money, because then they turn around and use it to backstab us.”

     Oh, brother.  That’s a tough knot to undo.  It’s no wonder things have reached the point they have.  Many companies are threatening with abandoning the region, while others have joined the cause.  As for the profits being used to boost the Independence movement, that most certainly is an exaggeration, and doesn’t help improve relations between the two.

 

Forensic Files,Uncategorized

October 22, 2015

Files, Feuds and Funerals 12

Carrying out at market comparison study of funeral homes is limited in its breadth in a town like Hamden, CT.  There were only two: Sisk and Beecher & Bennet.  The parish priest recommended the former, and we automatically assumed it meant he was taking a cut for sending any corpses their way, so we wisely decided to check both before settling on one.

     The easiest way to start our research was by swooping upon the websites to see which each had to offer.  Poking around new pages can be an enlightening and even enjoyable pastime, even with the dullest of subjects.  A person can discover a lot about human nature.

     Funeral home websites are an especially rich source of entertainment for the curious. Curious, in part, because I had never had a need to consult their services.  Curious because the person of concern was still lying in a hospital bed, life sustained by the cold metal machine and even colder machinery. They feature many of the sections you’d find in most service-oriented businesses, like a home page, about us, and contact us info.  Then there were a couple of eyecatchers such as “What we do” on the Sisk site.  I like to think that I’ve had enough life training in my background to pretty much have a overall idea of the nature of the funeral home profession, but the mere fact that they felt we needed to be enlightened in this department made me jump at the chance and click on the words.  Beecher and Bennet (going forward “B&B”) discussed at length the advantages of depositing your deceased loved-one on their premises, with one persuasive reason being “conveniently located”.

     Like just about anything in America, these funeral homes like to be careful about how they word things. Everything regarding death and dying either appears to be an almost pleasurable experience or doesn’t appear at all. In Sisk, for example, the word death crops up only four times, from what I can tell. They otherwise skirt the use of the word at all cost.  I could find just one mention of it in Beecher and Bennet’s site.  Their circumspective language can reach such great heights of ambiguity that it’s not always easy to know what they are talking about.

     The section called “merchandise”, doesn’t sell coffee mugs, daily planners, T-shirts and mouse mats with the assertion “I buried my aunt at Sisk Brothers” or “Embalming is Better at Beechers” stamped on it, or several dozen kilos of cocaine.  The term is actually a cover-up for what is really on offer: caskets.  Beecher refers to them as something even vaguer, “commemoration”.  It actually took me four visits to the menu to finally realize that that was what I was looking for.  Casket selection is more varied than one might originally imagine because, as some of you may know but I surely didn’t before I poked around those pages.  But all caskets certainly looked plush and heavy on comfort, ideal for eternal sleep.

     I also learned that death protocol depends greatly on just when and where the act occurred.  And who was there too.  If the person was alone, then you have to call the police.  But from what I could tell, not necessarily so if they were accompanied at home or in the workplace.  That didn’t seem to fit my idea of what happens in all those episodes of the Forensic Files.  A lot of times, the deceased are well accompanied – by the person who put them in that state.  Then they feign they are panicking and call the police.  Of course, if they’ve just beaten them over the head with a stoker, then it might be difficult to say it was natural causes, but there are those who try to pull off the “accident” angle.  Those are the ones who don’t lock their car doors, but on occasion commit homicide.  More often than not, it’s the fact that they try to play it cool and act naturally which makes them seem more unnatural than ever.  And they talk…oh they talk more than they should.  The Spanish they use a Latin phrase “Excusatio non petita, accusatio manifesta”, in other words, “If you excuse yourself, you accuse yourself.”  In one case, a husband killed his wife and dragged her down into the basement to make it look like she had tripped on her way down as a result of wearing some highly inappropriate high heels for the task.  The man kept complaining about the shoes over and over until the police noticed that the shoes were on the steps in a way they normally would be if someone had actually fallen over.  That led them to discovering the truth.

    Neither of the funeral home websites discussed how to handle deaths as a result of murder or manslaughter.  We ourselves were just trying handle the big day ahead of us; as I said, “Mom, come take a look at these urns and tell me what you think.”

     I can assure you it was the first time I had ever uttered that.

Uncategorized

October 3, 2015

The Eye of the Hurricane and the Navel of the World

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The weekend is in full swing and it looks like the United States is going to be spared of a major hurricane, the change in outlook being the result of one of the most spectacular hurricane forecasting debacles in recent times.  I am fully aware of the complications involved in accurately predicting of the weather, and tropical storms are notoriously shifty creatures, but what made Hurricane Joaquin  especially befuddling was the fact that these guys couldn’t even get it remotely right with 48 hours of the actual events. It was as if they had their eyes glued to the computer screens but forgot to look out the window.

     The storm was supposed to stay as a harmless tropical storm and roam far from any land, except for maybe Bermuda, but that’s pretty far from any land anyway.   But it turned straight south all of the sudden and more or less came to a crawl over some sparsely populated islands in the Bahamas.  Those poor people went from thinking a menacing storm would float well north of them to becoming enveloped in one of the worst systems of the season.  And instead of taking on a few hours of pesky light hurricane forces, the cyclone quickly intensified into a only major hurricane this year.

      Then, instead of making a hook shot at the Eastern Seaboard, the way most models foresaw, the storm is now slipping further away from the coast just a two days before it was supposed to arrive.  The meteorologists were off by a mile.  A 1,000 miles to be more precise.  America’s weather technology took a shellacking almost as bad as the Caribbean itself.  Most of their models even remotely saw the storm turning into anything, and they completely missed the correct path.  These are our storms.  We’ve been dealing with them since the dawn of formal meteorological forecasting.  Ironically, it’s the European and the U.K. models which time and time again gets it right.  One avid fan of these storms claimed they look at a larger picture rather just key one a few features.  They listen to the whole orchestra to see where the music is going, not to just one clarinet player.

     To make matters worse, the only reason this was news was because of the threat to American interests, but hardly anyone even mentioned the fate of those sparsely populated islands, though populated all the same.  Hurricanes tend to barrel through violently, but it doesn’t take them long to move on.  Thank God, because no one would want that kind of wind around for a long time.  Buildings can withstand terrific wind speeds of 125 mph.  They just might not fare as well if they have to do the same for twelve hours.  Or 24 hours, for that matter. And no one should have to ever endure that kind of horror.  Well, that’s what those poor souls down there populating those sparsely populated islands have done, and I, for one, fear for their fate, even though hardly anyone in the media does.

     After all, when the Navel of the World is just a few hundred miles away, being in the eye of the hurricane means nothing.  You might as well be flicked off the surface of the body life some unwanted bug.

Uncategorized

September 20, 2015

Files, Feuds and Funerals 5

Dad wasn’t a huge pizza fan, he preferred burgers, but he was known to chomp down a good slice when the opportunity arose.  My brother Pat had decided to get two pies for home since no one here was in any real mood to start cooking.  Eli’s, seemingly the only real decent restaurant around Hamden, as far as standard American fare went, provided the goods and got the job done.  I really love American pizza.  It’s the dough, I think, or the cheese.  It’s so thin.

    I was snacking away at a triangle of sausage pizza and listening to mom as she told me how dad stopped talking for ever.

     He was reading to her a book called the Tudors.  I think it was more historically accurate than the show on TV which captured so much audience thanks to its gratuitous sex scenes.   Dad was asking her to lie down so he could go back to reading.  I can’t recall what part of the book they were in.  I can’t recall her ever telling me.  Maybe she couldn’t recall either.  Then he suddenly just stopped talking.   And he looked at her with begging eyes.  And gripped her hand.  They called one brother and then a sister and both insisted they call 911.  Call 911. The ambulance didn’t take very long to come, apparently, I wasn’t there to greet it or its occupants.  My mom and sister were anguished because they felt they hadn’t acted quickly enough, but I don’t know.  I think they did a fine job. Couldn’t have been more expeditious.  The stroke performed to T, too.  It just operated faster.  Sometimes there’s really just nothing you can do.  There really is nothing you can do.

     Then she went on to tell the story about another brother wanting to go to the Getty Museum in California because we had some cousin who was curator there, but it turned out he had left the position in 2000, or some 15 years before, and I figured that chances were he wouldn’t be available.

     Maybe it was the jetlag.  I hadn’t slept for nearly thirty-five hours and facts and figures were becoming blurred in my head.   My father stopped talking.  All of a sudden.  That’s all I could remember.

     I let those thought stew in my head as I finished off my fourth slice of za.  Why couldn’t they make pizza this good in Spain?  They make lots of it.  It just ain’t the same.  Eli’s didn’t start out making Italian food.  Across the street, the flagship restaurant catered to your usual notch-above burgers and a island bar lined with TVs for sports lovers.  There’s a sense it’s there to entice students from the local university, Quinnipiac, but my guess is that the prices don’t match the target customer. The pizza joint covers that department.  If I had to guess, I’d say that the owners chose the name because their establishment is on Whitney Street, one of the main arteries leading out of New Haven to Hamden and beyond.  That road gets its name from Eli Whitney, former resident of New Haven and inventor of the cotton gin, a machine designed to separate the cottonseed from from the fluffy material itself…apparently one of the most painstaking tasks in all of agriculture.  It was also extremely time-consuming.  So much so that plantation owners were beginning to abandon the use practice of forced human slave labor, not out of moral disgust obviously, but rather because it was no longer cost efficient.  Whitney’s cotton gin changed that, unfortunately.  While still in need of a great deal of perfecting, it did boost the production of clean, seedless cotton by tenfold, thereby giving it the breath of fresh air it needed to resuscitate.  Instead of free labor, it intensified it.  To this day, Whitney’s invention has been cited as one of the reasons the South continued to defend the horrid custom, which led to a war the caused the death of some 600,000 people.  Certainly not something you’d like to put on your résumé.  Whitney, by the way, came from one of the oldest families in New England.  He died in New Haven, at the age of 57, of prostate cancer, though I don’t think much of the medical world could actually determine that at the time.  Back then, they probably just said he died.

     I finished my pìzza and announced I was no longer available for conversation, as I would soon be falling asleep.  It was time for bed and I settled down to a long summer’s night of cable TV.

Spain,Uncategorized

September 12, 2015

A Mal Tiempo, Buena Cara

Hace varios años yo pertenecía a un grupo de élite en el cuerpo de enseñanza al ser un profesor nativo de inglés con magisterio.  Vamos, estaba más solicitado que George Clooney en Alegoría un sábado por la noche.  Pero últimamente, con tanto extranjero consiguiendo el título universitario necesario pasar impartir clase, me he convertido en un chico del montón.  Para colmo, este año estoy dando lengua española a chicos nativos del español.  Hay que ver.

       En fin.  A veces pienso que más que instruir sobre morfemas deritativos, estoy enseñando morales delictivos.   Veamos el ejemplo del primer tema, que se titula igual que este post.  La unidad esta llena de referencias sobre cómo ver las cosas del lado positivo.  Y para ilustrar semejante idea, incluye un extracto de la novela “Tom Sawyer” que habla de la famosa escena de la valla en la que el niño travieso consigue que todos sus compañeros hagan el trabajo por él, con el añadido que le regalan algo para poder hacerlo.  En resumen, les estafaba, haciéndoles creer que estaban haciendo una cosa divertida (es decir, realizar una tarea que le correspondía a otro, sin cobrar) e incluso dar algo de propiedad a cambio.   ¡Joder!  Me dije.  Como la mismísima vida aquí en España.  Ya lo pillo.  Es que llevamos todos estos años educándolos así.

       Encima, Tom debería sentirse orgulloso de haber sido capaz de cambiar de actitud y convertir una situación desesperada, como puede ser tener que pintar una valla de treinta metros por dos metros de alto, en un éxito total, palabras textuales, mediante una genialidad llamada “la picardía”, española, añaden algunos con orgullo.  Solo al final se nos invita a reflexionar y decir si Tom lo podía haber hecho mejor.  ¿En qué sentido?  ¿Ayudar?    No me jodas.  ¿Qué te parece si cumple el castigo solito, en vez de conseguir que sus amigos lo realicen por él (con numerosos beneficios materiales)?  El problema es, la mayoría de las estafas, siempre que estén bien hechas por supuesto, son genialidades.

        Pues nada.  Dentro de 30 años cuando uno de mis alumnos se encuentra delante de un juez declarándose inocente ante las acusaciones de haber embolsado 33 mil millones de euros de los contribuyentes para comprarse un chalet en los alpes, un bungalo en Bora Bora, por no hablar del asunto de unos amigos que tienen una constructora que acaba de hacer un aeropuerto en Cáceres, alegando que será el perfecto lugar para turistas que pretenden viajar entre Portugal y Madrid.  Todos lo delitos han sido obras de arte, obras maestras, fruto de la imaginación y genialidad.  Antes no tenía ni un duro, y acabó teniendo una fortuna.  Antes de ser arrestado, por supuesto.

         Ese mismo hombre dirá, “Pero, señorilla, en mi clase de profe Brian, me dijo que Tom Sawyer supo poner buena cara a mal tiempo.”  A que reconocer que sería un alumno bien atento y aplicado.

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September 9, 2015

Files, Feuds and Funerals 3

Whenever I arrive in the United States, I am never really sure just what kinds of changes I will encounter.  I’m sometimes afraid I will return one day and hardly recognise this country at all.

     I have to admit, however, that I am comforted by the assurance that there are certain aspects of life here that will never, ever change for as long as the troposphere allows people to survive on the planet.  One of the most persistent traditions in the New York area is the traffic jam on the Van Wyck Expressway.  I guess the term “expressway” was coined to convey intent rather than actual confluence.  Yes, the vehicles come together…but then they stop.  This 14-mile stretch of road has been home to fifty years of continuous backup. While there are times when I have been known to exaggerate a point or two, in this case I shit you not.  It’s like watching decades of Blade Runner. I can’t recall there ever being a time when my car didn’t have to come to a complete standstill at least once.

    The driver of the car that came to pick me up, a friendly man from Uruguay who had lived in America since the 80s and was planning on returning in October for a wedding, and it was stop and go, for a half a mile or so, while we exchanged impressions about the heat, which had been horrendous in Madrid that year.  At least it was dry, I told him, and he agreed it was better.  Somehow, though, he managed to thread us through much of the sluggish transit without too much delay.  Then, as usual, we picked up speed and coasted by Citi Field and the New York Times.  The Lincoln bobbed up and down over the potholes with muted thumps, another timeless piece of local music.

    Once we got to the Whitestone Bridge, I looked left because the span affords one of the most magnificent views of the New York skyline that a person can have.  Expecting to find the usual cutout of a string of concrete, iron and glass mountains at the lower end, capped by the the new World Trade Center, then blocks of foothills before the Empire State Building crowned the lofty middle of the island, I was struck by the presence of a needle-like stick towering above what I would guess to be Central Park.  Towering above the city.  Towering above the Empire State Building.  It was so skinny, it looked as if it would blow over in a breeze.

    “That wasn’t there last year, was it?”  I asked in Spanish thinking he might appreciate my effort.

    “No, it wasn’t,” he replied in English.  I guess he didn’t share my enthusiasm, so I returned to my native tongue.

“It’s not something Trump is building,” I furthered disparagingly.

“Nope. Not this time.  It was built for the Russians.”

    I was supposed to be going to Russia the very next day.  Only something extreme, like my father suffering a stroke, could have changed that.

    “What do you mean it was built for the Russians?”  Hadn’t we just sent our latest and most sophisticated warplanes over to Europe to make Putin tremble in his shoes, why would we be dethroning the city’s most famous landmark to cater to their whims?  That couldn’t be right.  And it wasn’t, really.  47 Park Avenue, as it has been plainly dubbed, has become the tallest residential building in the United States, and apparently the third highest overall.  The reason the Russians are implicated in this all is that they are supposed to be the only ones who can afford to pay for the astronomical prices being listed, especially for the upper floors.  Apparently, one flat per story.  And one story per flat.

     “I can’t believe anyone would even allow that to happen in that part of New York.  I don’t even think Trump would be so sacrilegious.”

     What Trump was doing instead was build a golf course on top of an old dump. You can see it right next to the Whitestone Bridge toll booth.  It’s called “Trump Links”.  Every time I think of links golf I think of Payne Stewart, the player who wore knickerbockers, a vest and a cap.  In 1999, Payne’s learjet depressurized with him and four others on board.  They all died, but the plane kept going in the same direction until it ran out of fuel and nosedived into a remote field in South Dakota.  That’s a fairly far away place for anyone to perish.  Thank God he was already dead. I guess.

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September 8, 2015

Forensic Files, Family Fueds and Funerals 2

If someone were to stop any mother or father on a street and asked them just what they considered to be the most important innovation in travel, most would probably say seatbelts, airbags, and individualized entertainment screens on long distance airlines.  As a result of their creation, childcare suddenly ceased to become an issue since children no longer looked to you for onboard entertainment.  Nor did they look to each other for nonstop bickering to help them pass the time.  Everyone’s needs were tended to and one could safely say that a certain sense of harmony reigned throughout the cabin.  Only the most unsuspecting advances in technology have made the world a better place.

     I actually came upon my first personal IFE screen on an Air France flight I took all by myself, without my daughters, that is, so I couldn’t fully exploit all of its benefits.  Iberia was sorely behind the times in this department and it seemed that its only in-flight entertainment they were offering was a chance to watch the duty-free cart get pushed up and down the aisle.

       It wasn’t until a Delta flight, just like the one we was on now, that this dream was fully realized.  In part.  My girls were ecstatic about plopping on their headsets and crossing the ocean to the joy of watching endless episodes of Glee.  They could barely contain their emotions.  Neither could I.  We hugged each effusively, but for very different reasons.  Then, came the “in part” part of the story.  It turned out that some of the individual systems weren’t working so the flight attendant announced they would be resetting the system to see if all would return to normal.  I could immediately sense where this was taking us all.  I wanted to stand up and scream “Don’t do it! This isn’t a goddamn bowling alley!  Resetting doesn’t do anything!”

       But I was wrong.  It did do something.  It turned off all the screens…for the remainder of the flight.  There were seven and a half hours left.  It ended up being one of the longest flights I could recall.  The plane moved forward so slowly, it thought it was going to have to stop to refuel in Newfoundland.  And, what was worse, not only were my daughters left with their personal IFE; they were pissed too.

        This time, there were no unpleasant surprises.  Everything pretty much worked the way you’d expect them to, except for maybe the fact the tactile screens were not what I would call particularly sensitive to human touch, and you had the feeling you were poking the person in front of you in the back of the neck.

         Aside from that, things went smoothly enough.  I picked up a few inspirational tips from TED TV, futilely tried to reign as champ of the in-cabin trivial game contest, and then settled down with some long documentaries.  One was about the eccentric managers of the Who, another told the story of a celebrated group of California sessions musicians in the 1960s known as the Wrecking Crew, and the last took us through the life of the now deceased film critic, Roger Ebert, who departed from this world after a long, painful, losing bout against cancer.  In the end, he couldn’t even speak.

           By the end, he couldn’t even speak.  I think, and I could swear this, the plane arrived before I had finished.