Yeah, right! - Writings by Brian Murdock

Archive for April, 2012

Madrid

April 29, 2012

Holy Week is over…a looong time ago

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Every culture is different, there is nothing different about that.  And any difference is cultural, and there is nothing particularly cultured about that.

   Still, I get a kick out of observing these nuances.  Yes, I know. Holy Week ended nearly  a month ago and some of you may have thought that old man Murdock was going to finish another string of posts without actually finishing up…like some forgotten home chore…a book undusted…a shirt unironed…a plate unwashed.

     This time it almost happened, but I still had that one afterthought in mind because it really does strike me as something peculiar.  On Easter Sunday, when millions of Christians rise and celebrate the resurrection of Christ, what goes through the minds of a large percentage of the Spanish population is: “Hope the traffic’s not too bad on the way home,” basically because it will be bad…the unknown element is just how much.

     And that pretty much sums up the Easter holiday weekend.  Oh, you hear an occasional “Happy Easter” or eye the odd chocolate egg in a pastry shop, but other than than that, the day that marks the grand triumph of Jesus’ return to life and ensure that we will all be saved from eternal damnation somehow doesn’t quite get the news coverage you would otherwise expect.  It’s as if the aspect of this week which most attracts the Spanish is the accompanying of Christ in his lowest, loneliest and most desperate moments; weeping for him; suffering from his suffering, and then saying, “Ok, that’s over with. See you next year, same hill, same cross.”

        I have mentioned this curious approach to the week to a number of Spaniards and many have noted that they had never thought about it before and agreed that I had point.  Not that they feel I am right.  “That’s true.” is often their vague reply.  “Interesting.”   I even brought it to the attention of a priest who also saw what I was getting at but added “Well, that’s because it’s Good Friday and it’s the big day of the year.  The most important one.”

     “What do you mean it’s the most important one?”  No doubt it’s the most solemn moment in the Christian calendar, but wait, that’s not where it ends.   “A lot of people get crucified,” I continued.  “Very few actually slide a five-ton boulder away from their grave a few days later and return to their friends to say that all is well.  I mean, that’s sort of what sets him apart from other individuals who have been executed throughout the ages, don’t you think?”

        “Yeah, that’s true.”  Again that distant acknowledgement.

        But that brings me to my point.  There is no point in fighting culture when it comes to these traditions.   It’s is simply the way things are done here.  So, with the very lowest expectations in mind, I went down on Easter Sunday to the Plaza Mayor to watch the tamborada, which is a big drum fest put on by two marching bands.  It was the only official event on the city’s agenda for that day.  I gathered that at least something was being being done for Easter, I might as well go and see it.   And, well, while not quite the mind-blowing experience I expected it to be, it was fairly entertaining.  I was especially impressed by the wide range of ages in the group.  It was from a small town in Zaragoza and my guess is that the local audiologist is the richest man in the area, as well as the licensed firearms purveyor.

      Yes, it was fun to watch and listen to you.  It lasted about an hour and when it was over, the leader of the group concluded out loud, as best as he could because for some reason he had no microphone to communicate with five thousand people from ground level at an outdoor event, “Thank you very much.  That ends Holy Week for this year.”  And they started rolling the drums again and departed.

        There you have it.

Madrid,Spain

April 21, 2012

Renewing my driver’s license: It is done

We’ll it took all of three weeks at the most for my new driver’s license to come in the mail.  And with that the process was complete.  That certainly says a lot in favor of Spanish red tape.  There simply was none, or very little, and it could not have been more painless.  Save the 54€ of course, which always comes at a time when you least appreciate it.

      Anyhow, I opened the envelope and studied the card.  I looked horrible in the photo.  I mean godawful.  I had an instant urge to fly into a rampage a lo Mel Gibson calling everyone whores and jackasses.

     The woman at the clinic did say it was time for a photo because, in her words, “ten years had passed”, and God bless her, she managed to capture effects of the elapsed time in a single blurry shot.  I looked as if I had moved on.  I looked a touch more worn down.  I looked as if I were up for parole.  We’ll see what the next ten years of driving should bring.  I feel there is so much ground yet to cover.  I’ll just need a car and a ton of money for gas.

In Spanish,Spain

Crimen y Castigo

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Vamos a ver.  Lo reconozco.  Iba a subirme al carro y criticar al rey por los tropezones cometidos últimamente, como casi todo el mundo, pero, de nuevo, el muy caballero, en su primera aparición ante los medios de comunicación anuló mi comentario casi por completo.  Más o menos supongo.

        De todas formas, lo haré.

        Lo del rey ya carecía de sentido en todos los sentidos.  Y mira, como decimos muchos en este país, que me cae bien el rey.  Y mira que, como norteamericano con su formación bien arraigada en un sistema de gobierno federal, la monarquía como institución ni me va ni me viene, aunque eso de tener la oportunidad de ascender al puesto de jefe del estado automáticamente por nacer dentro de una familia particular…como qué no sé yo.   Y lo de permanecer en el puesto de por vida…pues tampoco. Pero vamos, prefiero respetar la tradición del país donde vivo, mi otra patria.

         No soy republicano, por lo menos en el sentido que se entiende en España, que, para muchos, ni siquiera es simplemente estar a favor de un modelo de gobierno sin una monarquía, sino además ser de izquierdas dentro de ese modelo.  Tampoco soy republican, en el sentido americano, que no es ser de izquierdas, sino ser de derechas en Estados Unidos, para liar todo un poco más.  Y eso que vengo de una familia con una fuerte tendencia republicana.

           Como iba diciendo, el rey siempre me ha parecido buena persona.  Su papel clave en suprimir el golpe del 23-F ya es reconocido y si solo por ese hecho ya ha ganado un lugar favorable en la historia contemporánea de España.  Incluso su famoso rapapolvo “¿Por qué no te callas?” hacia Hugo Chávez es legendario y muy popular en este país, aunque también hubo quien dijo con la boca pequeña que, como dignatario, como bien sugiere ese nombre, debe tener los recursos y las tablas suficientes para resolver semejante situación con algo más de paciencia.  Hubo quien que me ha comentado que era una señal de que, a lo mejor, el rey ya no era “up to it.”

        Pero bueno, pasan los años.

        Las cosas no son fáciles para España.  ¿Qué os voy a contar?  Hace muchos años este país ostentaba ser la octava potencia económico del mundo, la octava maravilla, como King Kong, y se indignaba cuando en una reunión de la G-20, se quedó fuera.  Tuvo que llorar hasta que le dejaran entrar pero sin derecho a votar.  Fue casi más humillante aún.

        ¿Y el rey?  Pues mira, creo que lo criticable es perfectamente comprensible desde dos puntos de vista claves:

           1)  La Caza de Elefantes: No sé que vosotros, pero siempre tenía la sensación de que la población de estos mamíferos gigantes estaba a punto de entrar en el abismo.  Que fusilar uno era lo equivalente a, yo qué sé, a echar gatitos en un saco en río, pero resulta que es una impresión.  Aunque es verdad que los números bajaron de forma notable durante el siglo XX, llegaron a sus mínimos en los 90, parece ser que hay muchos más que lo que se esperaba. Se estiman unos 600.000.  Encima, por lo visto se puede cazar un elefante legalmente.

         El problema es que el destino de los elefantes no es tan claro.  La caza furtiva sigue siendo rampante.  Y los números no están tan claros, a pesar de lo digan algunas estadísticas.

             Pero no por eso se debería coger un rifle y llenarle a uno de plomo.  Sobre todo si eres el presidente honorífico de World Wildlife Association.  Además, es un elefante.  Un elefante por el amor de Dios.  ¿Qué necesidad tienes de matar uno?  Y siendo el jefe de un Estado que sigue aspirando a ser uno del Top-10 del mundo, ¿qué hace el jefe del estado haciendo eso?  Pasemos al siguiente punto.

             2)  La crisis.  Eso es.  Las dos palabras más utilizadas en España últimamente.  No os tengo que dar los datos que leéis los periódicos igual que yo.  Está la imagen de España por los suelos en el ámbito internacional, muy inmerecido en muchos aspectos…pero dudo de que sea un buen momento para ir de caza en un país lejano.  ¿A alguien le suena el siglo VIII?

            Pero hay más preguntas:  ¿De verdad nadie pudo impedir eso?  ¿Nadie tiene la capacidad de poder para decir que lo que pretendía Juan Carlos no puede ser permitido?  Yo que sé.

        El caso es que fue el mismísimo rey, the king himself, que puso las cosas en su sitio cuando dijo, después de agradecer a todos los que le habían ayudado con la cadera rota, que lo sentía mucho, que se había equivocado y que no volvería a pasar.

        Y ahí está.  Eso es el rey que tanto me gusta.  El rey al que admiro.  El mismo que tuvo las agallas de mandar callar a Chávez, también tuvo las pelotas de reconocer su error y pedir perdón, y no después de semanas de presión, sino a la primera.  ¿Tú ves a algún político hacer eso?  ¿Cuántos meses y años se tiene que dedicar a perseguir a uno hasta que reconozca su error o delito, si es que lo hace?  Yeah, right!  ¡Anda ya!

        Muchas veces la hacen al final cuando ya están acorralados y no tienen más remedio que admitirlo.  Sé cómo es.

         Así que, el rey se ha mostrado ser humano, algo que todos sabemos, pero que a veces se nos olvida.  Y ha mostrado ser un hombre noble, algo que también sabíamos pero que también se nos olvida de vez en cuando.  Asunto olvidado para mí. Solo propongo una pena de trabajo comunitario en plan voluntariado:  Un mes dando de comer a los elefantes en el Zoo de Madrid.

Madrid,Spain

April 15, 2012

The Story of Three Spaniards on the Titanic 3

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Praise be to Nero’s Neptune

The Titanic sails at dawn

And everybody’s shouting

“Which side are you on?”

-        Bob Dylan, Desolation Row

Victor did not survive the sinking.  He probably knew that he was doomed because purportedly his last words to his young bride were “May you have a happy life.”  Yeap, that sure sounds to me as if he saw his near future as certainly looking bleak.

     He was last seen, if we are to believe the Countess of Rothes’ words, on his knees with a group of fellow believers, and saying a “Hail Mary” under the guidance of a priest.  There would be no divine intervention to pluck him from his fate, but that’s usually the case.

     So, in some horrid form or fashion, be it by drowning or freezing, he ceased.  Just plain ceased.  His mother could not believe it when she saw his name on the list of missing passengers.  If you recall, she was under the impression that he had been in Paris all that time.  Plus, she had proof.  At least, that she thought so.  She said, “That can’t be.  I just received a postcard from him fromParis.  Look.”

     I sometimes wonder what ever happened to the butler as a result of following orders.  No one seems to mention a thing.

     Here’s where things get interesting again.  Very interesting, indeed.  María Josefa and her personal maid, Fermina, stayed in the Plaza Hotel in New York City where they would have to wait for the next boat to come in with the dead bodies.  Fermina went down to the dock to identify her employer, but his corpse was not among those there.  Like so many, it had been lost at sea.  Time went by and with no luck of their recovering Victor’s body a new and very different issue arose.  According to Spanish Law of the time, a person would be considered missing for up to twenty years unless irrefutable physical proof of his death could be produced.  This complicated matters greatly for María, as it meant should couldn’t remarry or receive the inheritance awaiting her as a widow until she was 43.  Money was less of an issue for her I am sure as belonged to one of the richest families in Spain, but still, it was money.

     There are a number of versions of what happened next, but the one that has taken hold as the most accurate tells that the family actually bought a dead body in order to prove he was deceased.  That body had been found floating in the Atlantic near where the Titanic had gone down, and was taken to Halifax where a representative of the family deemed it to be that of Victor.  No death certificate has ever been produced nor can a tomb with his name on it be located at the cemetery for victims of the Titanic.   Not a trace.   But it was good enough.

      Eventually both women returned to Madrid, where both they tried to start anew.  Fermina would eventually return to her sewing business and lived for many years on Calle de Regueros in the center of Madrid.  She would die in 1968, some say 1969, in Madrid, some say Uclés, Cuenca.  But that is actually where she was born.

       María Josefa married again and had several children.  All the same, and despite the tale about buying a body, they say she was terribly in love with her husband Victor and never separated herself from the picture she had of him.  She passed away in 1972.

        There is a new book out called Los Diez del Titanic, which recounts the fate of all the Spaniards on the ocean liner that night, and I may just have to get a copy and learn more.  We cannot forget the others, but the story about Victor, María Josefa (Pepita) and Fermina is by far the most famous, and perhaps the one that best embodies so many aspects of the sinking of the Titanic,  which has become by far one of the most famous tragedies in the history of mankind, not because it was one of the worst tragedies of mankind but because it was a tragedy that so tightly and succinctly depicted the nature of mankind and its destiny.

        So I pose the question to you:  Which side are you on?

 

Madrid,Spain,Uncategorized

April 14, 2012

The Story of Three Spaniards on the Titanic 2

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On the night of April 14th, Victor and María Josefa attended a dinner hosted by Captain and then retired.  Not long afterwards, the Titanic coasted into the iceberg.

At the time of the collision, María Josefa was asleep in bed, but her husband was still awake and Fermina was in another cabin sewing a corset.

        Both María Josefa and Fermina were startled and they insisted he take a look.  He went up on deck and noticed everything that the sea was calm but that the crew was scrambling to assess the damage.  At first, most were still convinced that nothing too serious would happen, but apparently Victor was not convinced.  When it became apparent that the vessel was not going to stay afloat for much longer, the passengers put on their life vests and panic set in.

          Since they were 1st Class travelers they naturally were given priority to abandon ship.  Though they had left all of their belongings behind, Victor ran back at María’s request to fetch a pearl necklace and then returned.  It was announced that only women and children should board the lifeboats, a decision that sent María into near hysterics, as she could not fathom leaving her husband behind.  One version notes that Victor had actually boarded with them and then given up his place so that a woman with her child could get in, but that contrasts from other more reliable sources, such as the ones provided for by the survivors themselves.  María Josefa refused to go.  They literally had to tear her off Victor and put her in Lifeboat 8.  Fermina, who had become separated from them, managed to arrive just as they were lowering the boat.  They literally dumped her in from above.

          Also on Lifeboat 8 was a well-known English noblewoman known as the Countess of Rothes.  She is depicted in the film Titanic as a caring woman with a strong will.  Not only did she perform many tasks on the boat like row and hold the rudder, she also managed to keep spirits up in the face of utter despair.  In her account of the events, she mentions with pain the ceaseless sobbing of María Josefa as she called out over and over for her husband.  She handed over her place at the tiller to another in order to go over to the young bride and comfort her.  She was an extraordinary woman.  Here is how she told it.

      Hours later, they were picked up by the Carpathia.

But the story doesn’t quite end there.  There was a twist…

Madrid,Spain,Travel

April 13, 2012

The Story of Three Spaniards on the Titanic I

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The 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 is just around the corner, and I since I trust I won’t be around to write about it for the 200th anniversary, I guess it’s my turn to add a thought or two.  I promise not to give my opinion of that numbskull idea of sending a ship to trace the voyage step-by-step for the modest price of $9000 per ticket.  The lengths people will go to prove humans haven’t changed much since then.

        What I will do is tell you what relationship there was between the ill-fated ocean-liner and Spain.  Ten passengers from this country were on board, of which, it seems three did not make it out alive, and of that trio, only one death was “confirmed”.

        That individual, and the two who accompanied him, happen to be who we will focus our attention on because the story alone would have made for another movie.

        Here goes:

        It started about a year and half before when a young couple got married and began its honeymoon.  The groom was a Madrid man named Víctor Peñasco y Castellana, nephew of King Alphonse XII and heir to one of the largest fortunes in Spain.  His wife, María Josefa Pérez de Soto y Vallejo, also fro Madrid, was herself to come into a mighty a legacy of similar size and depth.  To say that theirs was the union of two enormous estates does not even hint at the extent of their affluence.  They weren’t just well-off, they were filthy rich.  Billionaires of their time.

          The wedding was celebrated on December 10, 2010, and was followed by what was customary among the immensely wealthy back then.  Endless travel amid shamelessly lavish living.

          By the time they boarded the Titanic in April 2012, they were still honeymooning.  Yes, that’s fourteen months later, you read right.  During that time they had toured much of Europe’s most select towns and resorts.  They were the jet set of the age and their lifestyles rivaled the most opulent you can find today.  The trip thus far had cost somewhere in the neighborhood of 800,000€.

         As the story goes, they learned of the trip while dining at Maxim’s in Paris and decided that they simply had to be a part of it.  One person who was not so keen on the idea as Victor’s mother.  In fact, she was dead against the idea, pun, I guess intended, and she flat out forbade them to take the boat.

         To get arouund the obstacle, the couple came up with a mischievous plan to deceive mom.  They wrote several postcards and had their butler stay behind in Paris and send one off every day so that his mother would believe they were still in Paris.  Victor and María Josefa (affectionately called “Pepita”), in the meantime, would board the Titanic with her personal maid, a seamstress originally from Cuenca named Fermina Oliva Ocaña.  Once in New York, they would be able to let their parents in on the ruse.  It would be a bit of harmless fun.  Antics for the rich and carefree.

Madrid,Spain

April 12, 2012

Holy Week in Madrid 10

There was a procession on Holy Saturday in the Basilica de Jesus de Medinaceli.  It was eight in the morning.  Knew I wouldn’t be doing that.  Instead I hung out in bed and did some reading and thought about what to do after three days of viewing crucifixions.  I needed a little break.

Plus, it was cold that morning.  The weather had gotten progressively chillier over the week, and the households were having greater and greater difficulty retaining warmth.  Spanish central heating systems, at least the ones I have known and lived through, are run by dates and not temperature.  That is, they are turned on and off at certain times of the year regardless of what the conditions are like out there.  That’s what gives them character.

In spring, that date is usually April 1st.  It’s a month has a funny way of behaving like January one day and June the next.  And in the generally arid climate of centralSpain, temperatures can swing as great as 20 degrees and more from morning to afternoon.

But for some reason it is always nippy in the morning, which is precisely when I would appreciate sensing my radiators humming and warming the air so much I could plant a thud of dough on the floor and what it bake before my very eyes.  But it doesn’t happen.  Eventually, if the cold weather persists, they crank up the heat for just a few days, but it can get spotty and it can make for one frosty house, I tell you.

So anyway, as I was saying, it was Saturday and things were quiet on the Semana Santa end.  The morning procession was out of the question and there was another one around 4:00 that afternoon in the center of town.  I gave it some thought, I really did.  But I kept thing to myself that the four I had seen so far had been about the same.  Fascinating traditions, but similar all the same.  An image of Christ and an image of Mary, a couple of bands bulging with drummers, lots of hooded guys looking for someone to scare, a dozen or two mourning women who look as if they were pretty skillful with a ruler, and that pretty much wrapped it up.  In other parts of the country, especially in the south, they would have several scenes from the passion itself.  Jesus taking the crown of thorns.  Jesus getting whipped.  You know, to add a little variety and jazz it up.

Madridis part of theOld Castileand that region is traditionally very austere and sober in its style.  No flashy Romans with spears or ears getting lopped off.  No crowds shouting, “Crucify him!”  You do, however, hear an occasional “¡Guapo!” (Good-looking!) when referring to the statue of Jesus, which is not what comes to mind when I think of execution.

Anyhow, I decided I would wait till Easter the next day and make a move.  That was just about when Jorge called me up saying he had gone down and was looking at the procession coming out of San Ginés Church and saying that I was missing the best procession of the week.  I preferred to think he was exaggerating and said we’d talk later.

 

Madrid,Spain,Travel

April 8, 2012

Holy Week in Madrid 9

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The Basilica of Jesus de Medinaceli is surprisingly one of the newest of the classic churches (it wasn’t consecrated until 1930) and yet one of the most popular in the capital mainly because of the cult of the statue of Jesus the Nazarene.

       This figure, more commonly known as Jesus of Medinaceli, was actually made in Sevilleback in the early 17th Century and later was stolen and taken to Morocco where it was held for ransom.  Once returned, it was moved to Madrid by the Duke of Medinaceli and placed under the supervision of the Trinitarian monks, also known as the capuchins.  The monastery remained until the late 19th Century, but when appeared the order would lose its house, a new church was commissioned by the same noble family.  The Christ figure barely survived the Spanish Civil War.

        Now it has become one of the most sacred icons in the city, for the religiously faithful, that is.  It stands above the main altar but every first Friday of the each month, the gates to small chapel are opened and the many flock to go up and adore it.  The biggest date is the first Friday of March where the numbers could rival those of youths lining up to buy tickets to their favorite rock group.  Jesus Christ Superstar.  That’s right.  Some people even wait in line for two days and then sell their place to the highest bidder.  I kid you not.

        Well, that’s where we were going.  To the basilica to see the end of that procession.  The church is right next to the backside of the famousHotelPalace, one of the most elite in Madrid.

        The street is aptly called the Calle de Jesús, and the police barricades ran along the sidewalk to keep people from invading the asphalt.  But they were deserted, so we knew nothing would be there any time soon.  The procession was out somewhere in the streets of Madrid.

       We made plans to meet some friends in the Taberna La Daniela, which is right in front of the main entrance of the church.  Perfect.  No better place to wait.  We learned from one of those expert procession-watchers (generally women over the age of 50), who told us that when the statue returned, a paso with the Mary on it would come out from the church to greet it.

         La Daniela specializes in the cocido madrileño, a chickpea-based stew that is one of the capital’s most typical dishes.  The cocido is traditionally a poor man’s recipe made of garbanzos, bones, lard, bacon, hen meat and a bit of beef.  It has since become a rich man’s delicacy in some of these places.  You don’t eat a cocido for dinner, but you can have some tapas, and La Daniela has plenty of them.  We had some cocido croquettes (I was let down), some fried slices of eggplant (outstanding) and a decent mini tortilla.  We had a couple of cañas, small glasses of beer, to accompany.

       Jorge’s mother was with us too.  She loved going to the processions.  We got to talking about the old Catholic tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays during lent and especially on Good Friday.  I remembered it was like that in my home as a child, though I had largely dropped the observance.  She added that when she was a girl, you could get out of not eating meat by paying an indulgence.  Yes, of the kind that Martin Luther compalined about centuries ago.  The Church still could teach that even sinlessness had a price.

       Outside the television reporters gave the latest news on the procession and then departed before the arrival of the image itself, which was kind of odd.  But I guess they didn’t have time to wait around.

      A little after 9:30, the gates of the basilica opened.   The float with a statue of Mary standing on top of it, slid out and waited as the first nazarenos and priests appeared.  Then came a handful of women dressed in black mourning wear and mantillas.  Most of the other processioners turned off before and entered the church from the side gate.  The drummers announced the nearing of the float with Jesus.  Soon you could see it, draped in an emperor purple robe, golden crown of thorns and dark face.  It leaned forward characteristically.  Characteristic of what I am not sure.  But it is.   The two floats met, the band played the national anthem, and then the one carrying Mary was drawn back inside before the other one followed it.  The float with the Christ of Medinaceli was very large, which must explain why it was maneuvered by a mechanical cart beneath instead of the bearers.  It was the only time I saw this set up.

      A few minutes later, the image of Jesus was gently pushed inside and the doors closed behind it.  The procession had rather subtly come to an end.

      And Good Friday too.

Madrid,Spain

April 7, 2012

Renewing my driver’s license 4

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The biggest obstacle facing you as you intend to renew your driver’s license is passing the prueba psicotécnica, which is a dreadfully long-sounding term which seems like a test to see your potential of going postal out in the middle of traffic jam, but is none other than a mild medical check-up to ensure your senses are more or less doing what they are supposed to.

        Things looked a little shaky at first.  I tried calling the clinic nearest my apartment but the number had been disconnected, which was not encouraging.  So, I walked over noticed a big “For Rent” sign on the window where the place should have been.  That was an even less encouraging.  The doorman gave a calling card of a place not far from there where I could get everything done.

       I gave them a ring and they told me I could stop by and do the test whenever I wanted and that no appointment was necessary, so I went over in the evening and found I was the only client there.  It was nearly closing time, but they said that was not an issue.

       The woman at the desk took down my information as well as a digital photo and then the doctor, or medical assistant of some kind, I really don’t know what her position was, sent me down to the end of the hall for the physical.

       She was a sweet elderly woman.  Ii was a little like having my kindergarten teacher revise my vision.  She was so constructive and reinforced all of my correct answers with near applause.  I sat down at a chair on the far end of the room and she directed my attention to one of those vision charts with letters used for these things.  She told me to close my left eye and pointed to a letter the size of a billboard and said, “Now, read this one for me.”

      “H” I responded firmly.

      “Muuuy bien!”  Muy bien??  What was she talking about?  I would have been deemed legally blind if I got that one wrong.    She continued.  “And this one?”  It was slightly smaller in size but still pretty close to a plate.

      “P”

      “Muy bien!!!  You are doing a very good job.” And so on.  She moved on to the other eye and we had the same results.  I was half-expecting a lollipop at the end.

       Then she stepped to the right and made me focus on three circles that went from up to down on the wall in a way that even the dimmest of patients could identify as a traffic light.  She explained that she was going to check if I could distinguish colors.  I said all right she had my permission.  Then she commenced.

      The first circle to light up was at the bottom.  It appeared green, the way you would expect.  I said, “verde.”

      “Muy bien!”  She responded with a thrill.  “Now, this one.”

      It was the top one, and the color that came on was consistent with the set up of your standard traffic light.  “Rojo” I called out.

     “Muy bien!  There’s only one left. Here it goes.”  I was tempted to yell out the color before it showed, but I didn’t want to spoil the fun her.  When it did, I said, “yellow” in Spanish and was greeted with another cheer for my success.

      We had completed the eye test.

      I then moved to another desk where they took my blood pressure and mentioned that it was nice and low.  That indicated that I would not go berserk on the highway.

     So far, so good.

     The woman led me back down the hall and into another final room where a machine awaited me to try my eye-hand coordination.   I remembered this one from the first time I had to be subjected to this exam.  It was tricky and I knew it.  Would ten years of aging make it only trickier or would my recent sessions with Ninja Fruit prove I was fine tuned to take on the challenge?

      The activity is called the “Bimanual Test” and it consists of holding onto two handles which can be turned from left to right to control the movement of a two balls that move on a screen.  The balls are supposed to stay within the boundaries of two paths.  The paths can curve inward and then outward.  The combinations are endless.  One path on the right can stay steady while the one on the left can begin to curve.  Or vice-versa.  Or both at the same time.  Any time the ball touches the edge of the path is buzzes.  Loudly.   If any of you can recall the classic board game “Operation”, it is something along those lines.  The only difference is that the future of your driving for the next ten years is on the line.  So there is some added pressure.

        They give you a little practice session to get a feel for the machine, which helps, but I can assure you it hardly measures up to the real thing.  The paths slide here and there a little, but it’s all fairly reasonable.  Once the official test begins, however, they start going all over the place.  It was nuts.  My muscles tensed up making matters worse.  I was jerking the machine around.  There was buzzing ringing out all over the place.  I could sense failure looming.

      On top of that, the nice old medical assistant wasn’t saying anything and I was getting discouraged.  That is, of course, the problem with too much positive reinforcement.  Before you know it, you can’t get enough, and I kept saying in my head, “Lady, tell me I’m doing a good job!  Tell me I’m doing a good job! Where’s the old ‘muy bien!’?”

     Well, it never came.  But eventually the test came to an end.  That was when she approached, looked over my shoulder and said, “Let’s see how you did.”

      “Horribly,” I replied dejectedly.

      The figure came up on the screen.  It read “58 errors”.

      “That is wonderful!  You did a really good job!”

      What, are you kidding me?  I hit the side 58 times?  I ran over the side of the road and killed dozens of pedestrians and she was saying I had done well?

      “But it says 58 errors.”

      “Oh, you can have up to 8,000, don’t worry.”

      8,000?!!!  Was that a true scientifically-based figure?  You could have 8,000 errors and then be allowed to get behind the wheel and take it through a city?  That would have been like driving those balls off the path for the entire time.  Just what were they testing here?  I didn’t want t know.  If she said so, I wasn’t going to worry.

      I said, “Thanks, mom.” Got my coat and walked back to the reception desk.  She informed the other woman that I needed eyewear, but since I have been wearing glasses since I was twelve, I hardly found that as a critical discovery.  Plus, I was wearing them throughout the test, so I can’t give her that much credit.  But she was such a nice woman, such a very nice woman.  I just wished she had painted a star on the top of my hand for me to show my family when I got home.

       The rest of the procedure was pretty straight-forward.  I paid.

      Then they gave me a piece of paper that served as a temporary permit until the real license arrived.  It could take up to two months, but probably a lot less.  And in the meantime, I could drive.

      I was off the hook for another ten years.

Madrid,Spain,Travel

Holy Week in Madrid 8

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What is so good about Good Friday?  It certainly is a valid question.  Assuming that this isn’t the consequence of a positive-thinking monk ahead of his time, chances are its origins lie elsewhere, though no one seems to know for sure.  You would think they would, but sometimes that happens.  The exact source of what is probably the most commonly used world in the world “O.K.” (and all its variations) is unknown, and this word has been with us for less than 200 years.  As for Good Friday, the theories have been mainly narrowed down to two: it either has to do with an earlier connotation of the word “good”, which meant “holy”, or is a mutation from “God’s Friday”.  I am inclined to believe the former, but who am I really to say?

        In any event, around the world Good Friday is considered the most solemn and serious day of the Christian calendar.  Even the stock market takes the day off.  InSpain, after two nights of ongoing processions commemorating the final hours of Christ, things roll on.  In fact, inMadrid, this the day when the most parades will depart from their churches.  The problem is, most start basically at the same time, so I had to do a little picking an choosing.  I decided on two: the silent procession leaving the Santisimo Cristo de la Fe in Calle Atocha, and the other was the Jesús de Medinaceli, quite possibly the most sacred image of the city.

        But they wouldn’t be until the evening, so first I went over to Jorge and Susana’s house where we had a typical Good Friday lunch: baked cod.  Actually we had two types.  One was made by his mother.  She had bought the salted cod from the classic store “Casa del Bacalao” inGoya   Street.  Salting food is a very old preserving technique, and cod has been prepared this way for centuries.  To keep from suffering from a heart attack, the fish needs to be desalinated.  To do this, you soak it in water, drain it, and then soak it again.  This process can be repeated for up to two days.  The fish retains its salty flavor, but it is not overbearing, and it is also surprisingly juicy.  She topped it with homemade tomato paste from her garden in theprovinceofCuenca.  Jorge made his own version, fresh cod this time, with olive oil, garlic and almonds.  The meal was unforgettable.  For dessert, we munched on some torrijas, the classic Easter sweet snack.   Basically it is a kind of elaborate French toast.  To accompany everything, a Chardonnay fromCataloniaand an Albariño fromGalicia.  Then it was….siesta time.

        Then came time for the processions.  The weather was unstable but somewhat more promising, though it had rained around midday.  It snowed and hailed too.  I know this because I was outside walking in the streets when this occurred.  In fact, the storm reached its height of fury when I was traversing an open area with no shelter.  I arrived at Jorge’s house with my hair whiter than ever and a few dents in my skull to boot.

      By the evening, I sensed we would not have the same problem as the day before, so things should go more or less according to schedule.  But I also learned that even in the best of conditions, processions are very slow to get starting, so I didn’t leave home until the same time it was supposed to start.  I crossed the RetiroParkand walked up the Retiro Streetto catch the Silent Procession.  It was backed up at the entrance, so I flanked the crowd and stopped at the small plazaof Antón Martín, where there was plenty of space to get a front-row view.  Two pasos passed by, one of Jesus on the cross and another of the weeping Mary.

       The silent procession grabbed my attention for a couple of reasons.  One was that the float of the Virgin Mary was carried by 32 women.  It was the first time I had seen an all-female team of bearers.  Very impressive.  The second was that the silent procession was anything but silent.  With two marching brass bands trailing each paso, at times, it was excruciatingly painful.  The whole beauty of the silent procession is its very noiselessness.  At most the processioners progress to the beat of fateful drumming.  From what I could tell, there was no difference from the others I had seen the previous days.  Disappointment factor in that sense was high.

      Jorge and Susana and their children and his mother arrived a few minutes later.  We decided to walk down Medinaceli to see how that would finish up there.