Yeah, right! - Writings by Brian Murdock

Archive for March, 2012

Madrid,Spain

March 23, 2012

La Pepa, Spain’s first constitution

Yesterday I was going to say this: This is how bad the drought situation is getting.  They predicted it would rain today.  They forecast rain.  They promised and swore it would nice and damp thought the day.  Not a drop.  In fact, it rained so little that by the afternoon I had forgotten that it had never begun.  And tomorrow this non-rain is supposed to taper off and the dry weather will get drier.

         Then I woke up this morning and noticed that it was snowing.  Ok.  This is notMadridfor you.  This is something else, trust me.

         Anyway, that is not why I am writing.  March 19th wasn’t just a day for the dads of this country.  It also commemorated the 200th anniversary ofSpain’s first democratic constitution, affectionately known as the “Pepa”.  Why?

         Well, it goes back toSt. Joseph’s Day again.  A popular nickname in Spanish for “José” (Joseph in Spanish) is Pepe.  Naturally, many of you may be wondering what the relationship between the two words is, or may be not, but here’s the story anyway.  Remember we said that Joseph’s status as the father of Jesús was one that was purely symbolic, as the Holy Spirit takes full credit for conception.  For that reason, José was sometimes known as José, Pater Putativus, or “unofficial/acting father”.  Pater putative when abbreviated is P.P., “Pe-pe”.  See it now?

       That sounds wonderfully logical and immensely scholarly, I am using Latin after all, but it’s also pile of dung.

         The Pepe part is actually a hypocorism for the old name Josepe.  The “pe” at the end gets repeated.  It’s a typical name-shortening technique.  Regardless, what is undeniable is that the nickname for José when feminized becomes “Pepa” and because the word “constitución” in Spanish uses that gender, the coinage stuck.  It’s sort of a roundabout way of nicknaming, but pet names are common and fun inSpain.

         Despite its popularity today as a landmark moment in Spanish history, La Pepa enjoyed a fleeting existence.  Promulgated on March 19th,1812, inCadiz in the south ofSpain, the new constitution received only partial acceptance.  Part of this had to do with the fact that the rest of the country was under French rule and the much of the political and religious elite were not present for its drafting and signing.  That meant that even thought Ferdinand VII was granted legitimate powers as the ruler, the monarch showed his appreciation to the reformers by repealing the constitution just weeks after returning to the thrown in 1814.  Just over two years after its creation, La Pepa rendered ineffective and many of its promoters arrested.  Thanks king.

         Still, it was a first and first it will always be.  The Spanish establishment would continue to show its unwillingness to accept true democratic reform as it would take another 165 years for a lasting constitution to take hold.  That is the one in effect today.

Madrid,Spain

March 19, 2012

Father’s Day

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Today I got an olive tree and had talgiatelle pasta for lunch.  What’s wrong with that?  For many of you it was just a Monday, and you were all probably working, if you are lucky enough to have a job, but in Spain it was Father’s Day.  It was always is on March 19th.  Why today and not the same Sunday as the final round of the United States Golf Championship?

         Very simple.  It’s Saint Joseph’s Day, and that’s the day they choose to honor us fathers in this country.  The reason is simple, and I get the feeling I am repeating myself but I’m too lazy to check my old posts: St. Joseph was the father of Jesus, and therefore…

         Except that he was really only the foster father, so to speak.  So, it’s kind of ironic that the man who apparently had little to do with siring the son of God, but who nonetheless stoically accepted the task of rearing him, should be the man chosen to represent all dads in the country, but I guess there is enough of a relationship there to go with it.  Plus he was such a good guy too.

         My daughters courageously tackled the daunting challenge of cooking breakfast for me this morning.  I suggest you make sure the house is insured against fire before saying ‘yes’ and then sit in the living room and relax.  Mostly.  They did a great job!  They got an A+!

       Then it was two gifts you would have to live in a Mediterranean country to appreciate fully: the sweetest olive tree you ever saw and a wonderful gift card to visit the winery of my choice.  A terrific day together, lunch out included.

         You see, the big winners on this day are the restaurant owners as it is, along with Mother’s Day, one of the biggest days of the years for them.  You can rest assured they appreciate parents more than anyone.

         Interestingly enough, I read that day is used in the singular form “Father’s” instead of “Fathers’” to make it more personal as well as suggest that you are honoring your father that day and not all fathers of the world.  This is reasonable enough because you might not feel that someone like Charles Manson might be as deserving of a steak dinner with his family as other fathers.

         This year there was the added bonus of having it fall on a Monday.  That means a shorter week.  God bless you, Joseph!

         Thanks Ana and Clara for the wonderful day!  Love you.

Madrid,Spain

March 16, 2012

Coffee

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Upon glancing at one of those evilly enticing Yahoo! headlines you wish you never looked at before, I picked up another piece of otherwise useless knowledge that the search engine somehow makes indispensible in my life, and learned that coffee as one of the big no-no’s in our healthy living diets.  But, get this: drinking a cup every day drastically reduces depression.  So, I can forego the drink in favor of a happier body until I slip into a deep emotional slump and kill myself.  Go figure.

            Coffee is just one of the national drinks here inSpain.  It’s mostly drunk in espresso form which is why Spaniards have trouble adjusting to lighter versions.  I still get flak as an American for being somehow partially responsible for all the watered-down crap they make back home.

            “But what about Starbucks?” I rebut.  “That should be proof enough thatAmericaknows a thing or two about a good brew.”  I can’t stand Starbucks and only go there when I have a need for a good clean toilet or want to feel reassured that I am cultured, but unfounded attacks on my country gets my blood boiling so high that if I spilled it one someone I would get sued for not having posted a label “Warning – Blood May Cause Severe Burns”.

            They say things like.  “Your coffee is so watery it doesn’t taste like anything.”

            “Yeah it does.”

            “Like what?”

            “Like water.  Plus you get a ton of it.  The way it should be.  Not one of those itty-bitty cups that you down in 30 seconds.  If I get a coffee I want it to last for about six days.”

            Plus, the fact is, American coffee does have some taste to it.  In fact, I would add it has flavor.  All kinds of flavor.  And it smells good.  And after about32 ouncesyou start to shake.  That’s the part that keeps you from putting a gun to your head.

            InSpain, you have several basic types that will help you from doing yourself in:

1)      Café solo – small black espresso

2)      Café con leche – coffee with milk or café au lait.  Not a cappuccino.

3)      Café cortado – coffee with just a splash of milk.

Café cortado is like a café con leche but with less milk and it is normally ordered after a meal like lunch or dinner.  Café con leche is more of a morning drink and also taken at the late afternoon merienda time.  I mention this inside tip so you can impress your friendly Spaniard by ordering the right coffee at the right time.  Asking for a café con leche after dessert is a dead giveaway that you’re a “newcomer”.  Unless, of course you like it.

            In summer it is common to change and get a café con hielo, or ice coffee.  The Spanish don’t get fancy about this one.  They mean what they say.  This consists of served a black espresso with an empty cup of ice.  Sugar is normally added to the hot drink so that it dissolves and then the whole think is poured into the glass of ice.  Voilá!  The result drink is dreadful.  It really is.  Interesting as an experimental study, but the final product could be dumped…but away from the clean water supply.

            The Spanish love it, which probably explains why they aren’t on Prozac.

Madrid

March 13, 2012

The Supermarket Line

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There are three grocery stores nearby my place, one is cheap and skimp on style the way I imagine most Soviet supermarkets were like, another pretends to be economical but slams you in the end, and the third is somewhere in the middle of the road and I like that but it’s also a little further away.  Today I chose the second one because I needed some powdered sugar and it was the closest by.  The Socialist-state one is across the street and when I am feeling frugal I head for there, but it usually means waiting in a long line because the policy is that they never open more than one cash register at a time.  It’s always been like that and it’s funny because they have at least three.  They never operate them at the same time and it’s funny too because there are plemty of workers moving around.  They like to open boxes at that store.  Lots of boxes and that means I have to put up with cashiers who have been ired for their extremely laid-back work technique.

     That’s why I chose the other, but I might as well have been in the Socialist-state one because there was a line there as long as the ones I remember for getting gas back in the 1970s.  They were dreadful and yet I can’t really explain why that happened. There was an explanation for this line: there were simply too many people trying to buy at the same time, as is usually the case just before lunchtime, and not enough workers to service them.  The store has a policy which is written proudly in big letters that the minute more than three people in line they will open another cash register.  In the soviet-store from across the street, such a guarantee would provoke a hearty laugh since the only time a new cashier comes in it’s to close the first one, which they do with a chain and a well-articulated “I’m closed”.

     On this occasion there were approximately 25 people in line meaning they would have had to open eight registers which, of course, they did not have.  Signs of desperation appeared on the faces of the customers and I joined along just enjoy the feeling of being a part of a larger group representing general dissatisfaction.  Eventually they activated another but the numbers continued to pile up behind us.  My daughter and I were are that point where we could sense we were coming to the end of the road but unsure of when that would exactly occur since the variables such as credit cards, coupons and lost bar codes could prolong the agony.  I did a recount and determined another five cashiers would be needed to come to the rescue for the store to comply with its promise but at that moment I would have been satisfied with just one more.  That one came, from the far left. A voice called the customers over.

    Here’s where solidarity kind of falls apart.  I jumped on the offer and headed right for the conveyor belt and we ended up being first in line.  In a sense, we cut in line because there were about four others ahead of us who were sliding off to the first two and had entered the point of no return where to give up their positions in the queue would have meant relinquishing their time and effort up until that point.  Even though they would have reached their destination earlier, what could be said for their time and devotion?

In Spanish

March 6, 2012

La CIA y yo

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Pues daban lluvia para ayer e hizo un sol espléndido, así que hay que esperar más.  Parece ser que los meteorólogos están tan desesperados con la falta de precipitaciones que están dispuestos a decir cualquier cosa.  Pero hay que tener fe, pero fe de verdad, así como paciencia porque, a pesar de lo que digan los expertos sobre la actual sequía (según algunos informes es la peor en siete décadas), eso de pasar largos periodos sin que caiga ni una gota de lluvia es algo bastante frecuente en este país.  Y no me habléis del cambio climático…el clima siempre está cambiando.  Además, hace setenta años en el 1941, unos de las sequías más terribles de la historia española, ¿qué?  Como decía yo. Hay que tener fe en las cosas y no como los feligreses de un pueblo de España.  Fue hace años y el párroco de la iglesia al terminar la misa anunció que el domingo siguiente iban a celebrar una misa especial y pedir a Dios que haga todo lo que sepa hacer para que llueva.  Animó a todos a venir.  Pues efectivamente, siete días después, ahí estaban todos los miembros de la congregación sentados en los banquillos mientras salía el cura.  Les miró en silencio y con cara de consternación como se les da tan bien a los sacerdotes cuando están mosqueados.  Antes de dar comienzo a la misa les dijo, “Tengo que reconocer que me siento decepcionado, pero realmente desilusionado.  Veo que habéis venido sin mucha fe.  Porque si mal no me acuerdo, les dije hace una semana que íbamos a juntarnos hoy a rezar por la lluvia veo que nadie ha traído paraguas.”

         Pues eso.  Pero no venía a hablar de eso.  Es que la historia me acordaba a Bienvenido Mr. Marshall, que, a su vez, me recordaba a los americanos y España, que, a su vez, me hizo teclear la palabra “Spain” en mi buscador, que, a su vez, hizo que saliera la C.I.A. entre los primeros en la lista.  ¡Qué gracia! Me dije.  A ver que tiene que decir estos amigos de este país.  Luego os cuento.  Tened fe.

Madrid,Spain

March 5, 2012

Dry, dry Spain

This is one dry winter, I tell you.  Drier than most.  In fact, according to the reports, the least damp for the past 70 years, with the last one lacking this much rainfall going all the way back to 1941.  The article didn’t mention climate change, but you can bet hundreds of readers thought it.  Actually I don’t know how many people really read the story because only two people commented on it: one didn’t make any sense at all as if the person hadn’t read the article, and the other forecast an imminent end to civilization as we know it.  In any event, there is no question about it, when it comes to precipitation, this winter has all but gone without it.  I can attest to this personally.

        I finally got out to the country yesterday and took a look around my belovedAlameda.  I rented a car at a heftier than hoped for price, my bad for waiting until the last minute, printed out the reservation at school knowing full well that the documents were being scanned and thus making me subject to a possible inspection by the school authorities for engaging in private use of company machinery; it0s just the kind of dangerous life I lead.  It was all of three pages so I don’t expect a mighty reprimand; actually two plus the obligatory third page which prints out just one line of meaningless codes and ruins a perfectly beautiful stainless piece of paper.  It never fails.

         The north ofMadridhardly boasted the lushness you would expect from those mountains at this time of year.  In fact, it was so parched in spots it looked more like late June than anything scenery you would find in early spring beneath the snowcapped summits.  There was some snow up there, but hardly what you would expect.  It just hasn’t rained.  Never does these days. They call for it from time to time, the day comes and goes and nary a drop.  Tonight it was supposed to rain, and right now the moon is so bright that you don’t even have to turn on the light to read in bed.  I wonder what this is going to do to my allergies.  Maybe some of those cypresses will die off as a result and give my nose a break.

         Oh well, lacking about as much inspiration as rain, I think I’ll post this and drop off for the night.