Yeah, right! - Writings by Brian Murdock

Archive for November, 2012

In Spanish,Madrid

November 30, 2012

Por un Puñado de Pavos

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Aquí os enseño una foto de mi pavo, que se consumió a lo largo de estos días.  Aun estamos en noviembre así que me tomo la libertad de hablar del día de Acción de Gracias, aunque fue ya hace una semana.  Rara vez lo celebro el mismo día, ya que es una semana normal de trabajo aquí en Madrid, aunque parezca mentira. Tanto puente…tanto puente…y tocan cinco días consecutivos laborables.  Hay que jorobarse…no digo el otro porque se me acusa de utilizar con demasiada alegría los tacos en español, cosa que me impacta porque había pensado que nadie utilizaba tantas palabras soeces como los españoles, pero parece solo los futbolistas extranjeros y los profesores pecamos de eso.  Mis amigos me dicen cosas como:

        “¡Joder! Te has pasado un huevo con los tacos en tu libro.  Pareces un convicto, me cago en la puta.”

        “Pero yo solo estaba intentando reflejar el lenguaje que yo oigo de vosotros.”

        “¡Nos has jodido!  Nosotros hablamos así, pero es una cosa decirlo, es otra cosa escribirlo, joder.”

        “¿Y si quiero escribir cómo habláis?  ¿Cómo lo hago?”

        “Yo qué sé.  Ni puta idea.  Pero así no.  Ten en cuenta que la gente no quiere leer esas barbaridades, coño.  Hay que ser más fino.”

        “Vale, vale.  Lo intentaré.”

        Y así es.  Sigo fiel a mi promesa de no usar tacos.  Solo quiero hablar de pavos.  Esto es el mío en la foto, visto desde arriba, desde el punto de de vista de un pájaro volando, algo que un pavo nunca podría hacer, por cierto.

         No es fácil pillar un pavo así porque sí en España, en esta época, por lo menos.  Tienes que encargarlo porque tu pollería normal y corriente no los tiene por allí.  Ellos, a su vez, te lo tienen que encargar.  Lo hacen encantados porque esta fiesta les supone un negocio que antes no existía en sus vidas.  El dueño de la pollería de mi mercado ya había vendido unos diez la semana pasada.  Y bien hermosos, quieras o no.  Aunque le pedías uno pequeño porque tienes un horno con capacidad para seis magdalenas.  Es una joya de otra época donde tengo que calcular la temperatura según oigo la cantidad de gas que sale dentro.  Todos los años al pollero le pido un ejemplar de unos 4 o 4,5 kilos, me dice que vale, y me entrega uno de 5,5, siendo éste “el más pequeño de toda la ciudad.”  Yo sospecho de una pizca de picardía por su parte, propio de algunos comerciantes aquí.  Es un modesto suplemento, aunque tampoco tan pequeño, que a seis euros y kilo, sale el ave a muchos pavos por pavo.  Me explica que la época de pavos en Navidad está dentro de un mes, y que los de tamaño más pequeños se están preparando para entonces y que no los hay ahora.

       “¿Qué pasa?” gruño en voz baja. “¿Encogen de aquí a entonces?”

        Da igual.  Ha salido triunfante del horno y sigue en la casa.  Ahora estoy con los huesos haciendo un caldo de la ho…perdón, de lo más satisfactorio.  El resto ha sido repartido entre mi estómago, mis hijas y algunos amigos que se han emocionado mucho ante la posibilidad de probar un pavo de Thanksgiving de verdad.  Esta fiesta les resulta curiosa a los españoles, y les intriga, sin entender muy bien para qué es y para qué sirve.  Ni cuando con exactitud.  Se celebra el cuarto jueves de cada noviembre, por cierto, y forma parte de un puente hermoso de cinco días.  Pero es una fiesta que atrae mucho a los españoles que conozco yo.  Quizás sea porque se trata de una reunión familiar en la que se come a lo bestia; dos costumbres bien arraigadas en el espíritu español.

Images of Spain

November 29, 2012

Images of Madrid: The Street Bench

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Just not enough attention is given to the old street bench these days, if it ever was.  Here is your classic example in this city.  Three stained planks fastened by sturdy bolts and wrought iron, and all weighted firmly to the ground.  Their plainness is their beauty.  Their lack of finess their class.  The finest specimens lean awkwardly in one direction or another, always escaping perfection, and are worn and discolored at the edges, scuffed by the soles of shoes and rubbing of clothes.  They sport pigeon droppings, resin stains from the trees above, and are tattooed with colorful messages of love, hate and the Spanish political system.  They are havens for the elderly, beds for the poor, hangouts for the group of friends, and nocturnal hideaways for young lovers.

         They have harbored me in summery moments of extreme heat, and provided a place for a break from a long walk, when I didn’t feel like going into a café.  They have even saved me from certain moments of peril.  Just the other day, my daughters wanted to invade Claire’s, and the presence of one of these fine friends made that possible.  I let the girls run amok inside so that they could pinch and fondle every last necklace and purse in the store, while I spread my arms out freely over the wooden ridge of the backrest, and peacefully watched the people go by like minutes of time.

Images of Spain

November 23, 2012

Images of Spain: A Homemade Cathedral

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Certain things defy all logic.  In this case, there are about seven of them: 1) that there is a cathedral in a small suburban town called Mejorada del Campo being built nearly single-handedly by an amiable former monk named Justo Gallego; 2) that there is even a cathedral in Mejorada at all ; 3) that Justo has been working on it for over fifty years; 4) that he is 88 years old and still shows up every day to get a little more done; 5) that he is indisputably a great inspiration to those in search of spiritual strength and yet the Catholic Church refuses to recognize his efforts or his sacred temple; 6) that barely anyone goes by to see it;

That…that…Well maybe there are only six…but that’s pretty good.

        The shameful thing is that I have been thinking about a seventh for ten minutes and have given up.  Justo has been methodically erecting this enormous temple since the early 1960s and acts and talks and moves and gestures and beams and seems as if he has no plan to depart from this world for another fifty.  That could constitute the final and most defiant fact of them all.  Time will tell; as will his death.

        For the moment, however, good old Justo is still there.  I saw him the other day with my own eyes.  We hadn’t been there but two minutes when his frail, frugal frame emerged from an arched doorway, in a spry, yet, restricted gait that suggested age, yet, agelessness.

         Yes, I saw him with my own eyes.  I saw his bright and watery aged eyes with my own eyes.  He was still as optimistic about his project as I remembered, although it had been two years since I had last been at the cathedral.  There have been changes.  Frescoes depicting the nativity story have been painted over the arches, though the church itself still has a ways to go before being completed.  The crypt has shown some progress.  There is a small altar where the main one which eventually be placed, if it is at all.  That was what I could remember.  But much still remains the same.  There must be doesn’t a details I have forgotten about.

        Yes, here is a picture of its interior, taken from above.  Yes, that is a tiny statue of the Virgin Mary on the stump of a truncated miniature pillar, and yes, that’s a car parked in the nave below.  Don’t ask what make it is because I don’t know.  But that’s the kind of thing I expect to find in Justo’s cathedral.

        A visit to this unique place, this is not my first post on the subject, is a renewal of the spirit to fight for what one believes in.  A renewal of the understanding of knowing how to do stick with that spirit without throwing one’s humility out the window. So approachable.

        Some make fun of Justo and his apparently quixotic philosophy on life; while others admire him with a slight dose of envy laced with frustration and cynicism.  They claim the man could have finished it years ago, but hasn’t because he doesn’t want to, because when does, he won’t know what to do with his life.

        That’s quite an analysis they come up with, I think to myself.  On behalf of myself.  In spite of myself.

Images of Spain,Travel

November 21, 2012

Images of Madrid: Coffee

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This isn’t just an image of this country, it’s a reflection of my own soul, about halfway through the morning when I am still a few miles from fully joining the rest of the world.  There are really two cafés in my life each morning.  The first to get the motor running so that I can greet the day without punching the daylights out of anyone, and the second to allow the rest of me to join the civilized.

This is a picture of a café con leche, taken in the dusky environs of an old café in the center.  This is the standard cup of joe inSpain.  It’s not an espresso or a cappuccino, though it has espresso-style coffee as a base, and it can have a cappuccino style look to it.

Despite the surge of Starbucks in this town, most people stick to this kind of brew as their stimulant of choice.  In Madrid it costs on average somewhere between 1.20 and 1.50.  This place happened to stick me for two euros, but that’s because they give you an individually wrapped biscuit on the side, and charge for the charming atmosphere.  That’s what I’m guessing. This is the kind of haunt where you get a hot coffee and plan on sipping on it for a while.  That’s what cafés are there for.  Cafeterías, on the other hand, which are less sophisticated and less literary versions, specialize in just about everything quick to cook and serve.  At cafeterías, grabbing a cup of coffee can serve as a simple pit-stop.  You stand at the counter, shout out your order, wait a minute for it to be served, down the drink, toss a few coins on the table, and head for the door in the time it takes to play a Sex Pistols’ song.  It’s the mid-morning coffee break coffee.

Speaking of which, there are also different types of coffee:

Café solo – Your standard espresso. It’s small and dense and powerful, and is often heavily laced with sugar. It’s a quick picker upper, but a bit of a letdown for those used to those cups which accompany you throughout the morning.  A few drops of brandy make for a nice alternative, but probably not at  breakfast.

Café con leche – Your standard café au lait.  Comes in different sizes, but nothing compared to what you find on the other side of the lake.  I guess a kind of latte, or whatever you call those things, but about a tenth of the size.  Many prefer to have it served in a “caña” glass.  The fancier the coffee shop often the frothier the milk.  In the frenzy of the mid-morning breakfast break, though, you are likely to get just the milky version.

Cortado – This is a café con leche but just with a splash of milk.  This is the popular choice for after lunch or dinner.  The Spanish almost never order a café con leche at these times.

Café Americano – This is the coffee with more coffee than the rest.  It’s an attempt to produce a drink that resembles the American version, except for that it falls short by about ten ounces per cup.

Café con Hielo – Or ice coffee. This is a popular choice when the weather is hot.  Its literal translation is “coffee with ice”, which more accurately describes the drink: you take a small cup of espresso café.  Stir in a bag of sugar.  Pour the coffee into a glass filled with ice, without having it spill out into the saucer of course…this is one of the more challenging eye-hand coordination feats of this country.  Then drink it, usually in one gulp.  This is not my favorite variation, I’ll have to admit, but it is a hit with the locals.

The flavor of choice for their coffee here?  Coffee flavor, of course.

Images of Spain,In Spanish,Madrid

November 17, 2012

Imágenes de España: Puesto para Parar Los Desahucios

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Esta foto se tomó cerca de la Calle Arenal, frente la tienda de disfraces Maty.  Aquí se puede firmar peticiones a favor de parar la locura actual, la de desahuciar a la gente.  Verás, el inconveniente de comprar una casa a toda costa es que cuando las cosas se ponen feas, y en los últimos años se han puesto bien horrorosas, manteniendo la parcela de tus sueños se convierte en una pesadilla. Yo dejaré de ser un graciosillo en esta ocasión porque hay poco divertido en todo esto.

 

Uno de los temas actuales más calentitos se centra en los desalojos galopantes que afligen el país, movidos y promovidos por los bancos, las mismas instituciones a las que el gobierno, ergo nosotros, así como el resto de Europa hemos tenido que rescatar.

 

Todos menos Grecia, supongo – aunque no me extrañaría que echaran unos euros también.  ¿A que sería irónico?  Es bien conocido que en plena hambruna de patatas en Irlanda, cuando la gente literalmente se moría de hambre por falta de estos tubérculos, el gobierno irlandés, bajo el control del gobierno británico, las exportaba a otros países, razonando que se podía conseguir dinero gracias a su venta y con el comprar comida.

 

Nuestro regalo a los bancos nos metió en un agujero de unos 200 mil millones de euros y ahora que todo el mundo tiene que hacer su parte para evitar el hundimiento del hasta nosotros los profes lo estamos notando, ya que nos están rebajando nuestro sueldo (me niego a decir que “nos quitan la extraordinaria” porque suena a una paga que antes nos regalaban y no es así).  No están quitándonos la paga de Navidad, están reduciendo nuestro salario un 7.2%.  Las cosascomoson.

 

¿Cómo han demostrado su gratitud los bancos ante nuestra generosidad y comprensión debido a sus descuidos garrafales?  Fácil.  Echando a miles de familias a la calle por estar en deuda con ellos.  ¡Qué majos!  Y ahora bien, todo el mundo sabe que algunos casos son el resultado de la mala administración de dinero por parte de los dueños de la casa, pero muchos son familias honestas y trabajadoras que ya forman una parte del 25% de las Fuerzas No-Empleadas, y simplemente no pueden llegar al fin de mes…ni al fin de quincena.     ¿Dónde están su rescate?  ¿Dónde está la compasión?   Los desalojos han provocado mucha tensión y tristemente culminó el otro día en la muerte trágica de una mujer vasca de 53 años.  La suya es la segunda en dos semanas a causa de estas circunstancias.

 

Para que nos hagamos una idea de la gravedad de la situación, los dos partidos principales se han puesto de acuerdo con que tienen que paralizar esta locura hasta que se pueda crear un sistema más justo y menos castigador.  Repito, se han puesto de acuerdo.  Y algunos bancos también empezaron a tomar la iniciativa, como el Kutxa, la entidad que se preparaba para hacerse con su casa.  Claro, no está bien visto que tus clientes se maten por tu culpa.  Lógico.

 

Este esfuerzo será recibido como una buena noticia para aquellos que se encuentran en una situación igual de desesperante, pero para los demás 400,000 desalojados, ni que decir la señora fallecida, todo esto llega un poco tarde.

Travel

November 11, 2012

Excerpt from a New Book about Greenwich 29 (draft)

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Coffee and Cones

Back some 110 milesaway in Simsbury, the household was starting the day free of any real worries.  That is what life is like these days.  Other than learning about that, the first morning of the year was pure enjoyment.  You can’t do much better than waking up in snow-laden rural Connecticut, all sunny and shiny, with good friends, a savory breakfast and children begging to go outside to go sledding.  We pulled out a couple of plastic sleds and bobbled down a little hill in the backyard.  Technically it was a slant if anything.  In fact to call it a hill would be like calling a puddle a sea, but I tell you, that slight gradient provided all the exhilaration our aging bodies could want.  We carried on for about an hour until we tired having packed snow stuck to every nook and cranny of our clothes and we then got things ready for the journey back.  We said our warm and heartfelt adieus to our friends and began the return.

        The first leg didn’t require much traveling.  Three miles down the road, we entered the suburban world of broad and open shopping centers.  We stopped by a couple of stores somewhat relieved that the new month meant setting the reset button on our credit cards.  New year, old habits.  Not even the shops respected the holiday.  Fine, they opened a little later than usual, but that hardly constitutes a day-off.  This used to be a full-fledged holiday, but maybe I am going too far back in time.  We decided to seek temperature asylum inside the inviting warmth of a Starbuck’s.  I thought I would never hear myself say such a thing, but when in a desperate situation, one needs to take desperate steps.

            We went in and while the girls gawked at the window with the cakes and cookies, I tried to get a handle on just what I was supposed to order.  It isn’t easy at those places.  A simple coffee with milk isn’t often uttered.

         Now, of course, let me make it clear that I almost never go into the place because I really can’t stand it.  More than anything I think I have a greater loathing of the clientele than its coffee; and the cups I have tried, while acceptable, are hardly worth calling home about either.  But it’s really those people.  All of them.  A lot of them.  Some of them.  The guys who like to talk really loud about the kind the coffee they want, and carry on tight-knit conversations with the servers as if they have been best friends for years just because share a common liking for brewed toasted beans.  Just drives me up the wall.  Then there are the ones who sit and read their books, or browse the internet, or play with their iPads as if they are steering wheels.  Those people who just plain try to be cool there.

           But why is it?  What makes one of the nation’s largest chains cool?  Would they do that at a McDonald’s?  Hardly.  But I have to admit it, Starbucks has miraculously made itself seem both unique and ubiquitous at the same time.

            Even so, Starbucks has had a rough time of it over the past few years.  The novelty began to wear off as the numbers grew and, of late, the crisis has slammed them because gourmet coffee stops are becoming a luxury rather than a necessity.  Those are certainly understandable factors, but they were not the only ones:  according to one recent article, many of its customers have grown tired of its vast expansion, and some have left.  A woman and former patron decided to go elsewhere when they felt the Starbuck’s was becoming yet another “cookie-cutter” production, like other fast food chains.

         Jeez.  Now, how’s that for a shocker?  Does she mean to say that when there was something like only 875 stores she felt she belonged to an intimate circle of intellectual friends?

        For some reason this never seemed to occur to the immense number of knuckleheads before, or maybe it did and they simply accepted that there was no alternative in their lives, which says volumes about their understanding of free thinking and nonconformity.  It is a sad when I feel closer akin to Sartre by chomping on an Egg McMuffin than slurping a piping hot Starbucks coffee.  But in a sense, I do.

            Starbucks has been aware that its appeal was beginning to tire and couldn’t help noticing that for the past few years profits (“profits” I repeat, not “losses” as some understand) have declined.  The noticed that people were starting to feel more akin to the real local café touch, that Friends ambience.  So, what did they do?  They began to regionalize their produce.  Instead of making the world to conform to its methods, it took a look at local customs and interests and geared its offer towards that.  McDonald’s has been doing that for years, which is why they sell beer inSpain (in part because they can, God bless them) and because Madrilanians probably wouldn’t go for Egg McMuffins.  Spaniards just lack the proper taste buds to appreciate fine American fast food cuisine.

        The company took it a step further.  They have gone so far as to change the name of their cafés so that they sound more like a local place.  This would have been the equivalent of McDonald’s opening up a place under the guise Micky’s Bar and Grill and having a suspicious looking red-haired clown say while wiping the bar counter, “So what’ll it be boys?  Burgers and Coke on tap?”  Those fast-food chains don’t venture there, but massive beer producers do, for example.  They’ll come up with their own version of micro-brew brew, and marketed it as a select product, concealing the company name if and where possible.   This brings me to my point, why should Starbuck’s get the recognition it gets when it behaves like most other multinational?  That is why there is something that’s not quite right with the whole operation.  Something that doesn’t fit.  Some fundamental flaw in the Indie movement law.  I digress.

       The rest of the day turned into a kind of tour of Connecticut.  First it was down toDurhamagain to have a New Year’s lunch with Janet and Bill and their son Rick, a good friend of ours.  We had a mid-afternoon meal.  Since it had snowed since the last time we were there, everything look just right for the occasion.  The hue, that undying afternoon light.  It starts around two in the afternoon and evolves constantly for a couple of hours.  The snow was aplenty, and the temperature right, so we decided to make a snowman.  Getting the initial ball together was easy enough, but once it came time to rolling it around, roll it did, but grow it didn’t.  I trekked all over the place until the wellbeing of my back found itself challenged.  Just what kind of snow did they have up there in centralConnecticut?  We abandoned the main goal and reduced our objective to snow-gnomes, and that worked out much better.

         Then it was over to my parents’ place where we met up with my brother and sister-in-law.  We had a little bite to eat while we combed the internet for some information on how to keep a little family tradition on January 1st: eating ice cream.  It’s a dicey deal planning one filling your belly with it on a melancholy New Year’s Day evening, but we managed to track down a local place that happened to be open, as if it had heard our beckoning; all it took was for one call to confirm.

         The owners specialized in homemade ice cream, and boy were they good at it.  The place was one of those tiny wooden shacks with doors that creaked when you opened them, tables and seats that wobbled, ceiling lights that would serve nicely for long-term interrogation, and ice cream servers whose average time as an employee was about three weeks.

       The ice cream was outstanding, as were the portions.  Thank God the previous days preparation stretched our stomachs to just the right size to handle the load.  It had one of those quirky features in the form of a map where people could pin their hometown on.  The United States was well-represented, except for maybe North Dakota, as were various places in the world.  The girls proudly pierced the paper of a dot which read Madrid.

       Years ago, places like this weren’t that uncommon in Greenwich.  Now they are a rare and endangered species, which was partially why we had to go to Hamden to find one.

     We finished.  It was time to get in the car and work off the calories at the accelerator pedal.

Images of Spain,Madrid,What's happening in Madrid

Images of Spain: Fighting Evictions

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This is just off Arenal, right in front of the Maty costume store.  And right next to Caja Madrid.  Here you can sign petitions to stop the madness raging in Spain of late.

          You see, the down side of going to any lengths to own a home is that when things get ugly, and they’ve gotten pretty grim over the past few years, holding onto that little parcel of your dreams can turn into a nightmare.  I will refrain from adopting too lighthearted an approach today, because there is little amusing or witty to tell.

         Talk of the week in Spain has centered around the rampant evictions taking place all over the country, moved and promoted by the banks, the very same financial institutions the government and our tax money, as well as Germany’s and the rest of the European Union’s, has had to bail out before they went belly up.  That put us in a 200-billion-euro hole and now everyone has to do their part to keep the country from sinking and even possibly leaving the euro, something which will probably not happen, much to the disappointment of the British.  And now even we teachers are having to grin and bear it, this was unthinkable months ago, as they plan to cut out our Christmas bonus.  That’s the famous paga extra, which by the way, let’s get the facts straight, is not an extra paycheck the local authorities deliver out of the goodness of their hearts but rather one-fourteenth of our salary.  They aren’t canceling a bonus; they are reducing our annual income by 7.2%.

            How have the banks shown their appreciation for such generosity and understanding despite their professional screw-ups?  By tossing thousands of families out onto the street for not having enough money to pay the mortgage.   Thanks guys.  God bless you.  Now everyone knows that some of these cases may have been the result of a particular person mismanaging their budget, but many are honest families who are now a part of the growing 25% non-workforce, and simply can’t keep up.  Where’s their bailout?  Where’s their rescue?   The forcible ousting has created immense tension, which sadly culminated in the tragic death this weekend of a 53-year-old woman in that Basque Country.  Hers is the second death due to these circumstances in three weeks.

            To give you an idea of the seriousness of the situation, the main political parties have come together for once in their lives and are working to stop the evictions until a better and fairer system can be set up.  Some banks have already taken that initiative.  This may become effective as early as Monday.

            That may spell miraculously good news for those poor people who are on the verge of losing their homes, but it will have come a little late for Amaia, not to mention for the 400,000 alreadyevicted homeowners since the crisis began.

Travel

November 9, 2012

Excerpt from a New Book about Greenwich 28, (draft)

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JANUARY 1st

I woke up nearly French kissing a slender nine-month-old black lab named Pepper who, despite our being only recently acquainted, had taken a true liking to my side of my bed, and as a result, to me.  Pepper was large for his age, which meant he was only going to get larger, but for the moment he was still small enough to fit atop the mattress and yet big enough to muscle me around.  I have always been lax about dogs sleeping on my bed; it must be some kind of ancient Viking gene in there that still found the use in such behavior.

          I had already had one run-in with this lovable beast.  He had a funny way of snuggling up to you just minutes after committing some treacherous act.  In this case after violating my toiletry kit and chewing on my toothbrush as if it were a finger bone.  That was the kind of dog Pepper was, and I had grown to like him; otherwise I never would have let him sleep with me…not on the first date at least.

            Does this kind of lascivious behavior go on in the town ofGreenwich?   Quite possibly, but I could quite tell you because we weren’t even there.  In the end, we did go upstate toWest Simsbury, and we did make it without a hassle, and we did join our dear friends Vicente and Joan and their kids and a friend of the family’s and ate a wonderful turkey and drank lots of wine and cava (Spanish sparkling wine), and shared plenty of memories.  We did make merry until our bodies dropped…which was about 12:15 am.  Pathetic, isn’t it?  Things aren’t just what they used to be, and inAmerica, where most finish their dinner hours before midnight, fighting off sleepiness to ring in the New Year becomes a formidable challenge for anyone over the age of 35.  It was a great time, I tell you, and since we were a bunch of cheeky bastards, as the British would say, we even offered to sleep over at the place with the excuse “it would be more fun that way!”

       That was where Pepper came in.  The peppy pup was the newest addition to the family after a rather tough year of losses in the domestic animal department.  The list of casualties included two dogs, a cat, a handful of chickens and maybe a horse, if I could recall.  Pepper was at that cute but slightly dopey age, socially awkward and trying to make friends in anyway possible.  As you already know, he wasn’t doing a very good job of it. Sucking on someone’s toothbrush is not becoming of a host, and I don’t care if he’s got four legs, hair, floppy ears and likes to hump stranger’s on the leg.  You just don’t so that.  But I am spineless when it comes to dogs, so I forgave him.

          I went on line and took a look at the Greenwich Time website to find out the latest on the death of that girl, with the remote hope the Time would produce anything substantial.  After all, it was a death in its hometown, so I guess it had no choice but to come up with an explanation.

         Murder.  It was murder.  I suppose we knew it all along, but still the authorities had to make sure they had the facts straight before they jumped to any conclusions.  Made sense.  The Greenwich police had a history of being especially clumsy and slow-footed when it came to solving violent crimes, in part, I have no doubt, because there are so few they have to deal with.  That can make for some pitiful investigating.  Posterior analysis of the Martha Moxley case, for example, left experts dumbfounded as to how in the name of God the members of the local law enforcement could have screwed up in so many ways.  According to some, the police could have solved the case in a matter of weeks at the most.  Instead, it took twenty-five years and a conviction based on the flimsiest circumstantial evidence the judicial system has ever seen or heard.

        So why did the bungle it so badly?  I told you, they hadn’t had to solve one in decades years.  How the hell were they supposed to know?  You don’t just go to homicide school, pick up a few tips and say, “Bring on the psychos, I’m ready.”  There is nothing like on-the-job training to get the necessary experience and knowhow.  Not that they learned much from the Moxely case.  Ten years later on August 31, 1986 young Matthew Margolies of the Pemberwick-Glenville section ofGreenwich(a sweet, low-key part of town) disappeared on his way home.  The circumstances were eerily similar.  A youth, a neighborhood full of families, a wayward walk home, a frantic search.  This is time it took nearly five days for the boy to turn up beneath a pile of leaves with several stab wounds in his belly.  The Greenwich Police had checked there several times but didn’t spot him and figured he had to be somewhere else.  It took a former investigator with a little sixth sense (or maybe a proper usage of his five senses) that led to the child’s discovery.   To this day no official suspect has even come close to being charged; and believe me, a little research shows that the Greenwich Police Department had plenty to work with.  How this could be boggles me to no end.

        This time, though, they managed to bag the case in a matter of hours, though there wasn’t much to it since the culprit basically led them to the body.  Here’s how it went:  In the backcountry section where the famed large Greenwich estates get so big they look like prep schools, there was a sizable property owned by a hedge fund mogul named Donald Sussman.  Apparently Mr. Sussman was one of the first to make it big with this newfangled style of investing known as the hedge fund, and I applaud him because not only does it take a lot to come up with strategy like that, it strains the brain just to figure out what the hell it is all about.  It seems as if all of my friends are into hedge funds, and not one can really tell me how they work.  The minute I ask the question, a kind of blank expression overcomes their faces and they stare out into the distance morosely the way veteran primary school teachers do.  Mr. Sussman clearly had a good grasp on things and he did it very well.

         But let’s not get into that because the poor man had little to do with this tragic event.  His only crime was being a very affluent resident in a very affluent town, and couple that with a violent crime and what you get is a Class A news item.  And a very large property, so big, it required live-in service, including a gardener.  This brings us to the deed itself…and its protagonists.

        The live-in landscaper, Adam Dobrzanski (that “brz” combination I find particularly challenging to pronounce), was a Polish man who had come to this country with his wife and two children just a few years ago.  My guess was that it was to start a new life and search for happiness through the American dream.  Well, things haven’t turned out so well for him, or his family.  He literally lost all grip on his sanity and killed his 20-year-old daughter in such a brutal way it breaches the wall of all that is rational, reasonable and conceivable.  He slit her throat.

        Ironically, the initial concern surrounded the wellbeing of the father, as he had whizzed off frantic text messages to his wife that he was going to do himself in.  Her name was Renata.  Where was she at the time?  Well, in the Caribbean with the Sussmans who were on Christmas vacation.  What was she doing there? Well, she was the family housekeeper, and was probably there to do the cooking and help out in any way.  But that wasn’t all.  She had also filed for divorce two weeks earlier, and it would seem that this troubled personal story involving a troubled husband led to the family’s demise.   Adam Dobrzanski, it would seem, lost it.

       The police rushed to the scene fearing for Adam’s life, which turned out to be genuine because when they found the man he really had tried to kill himself about a dozen different ways, but hadn’t managed anything better than a bloody mess.  It was when the semi-conscious Dobrzanski muttered something about his daughter that the police set off a frantic house-wide search. They found her, but it was too late.

        Imagine being on the plane taking the family back and having to spend those hours thinking about the only reason you are making the trip is to go to the town morgue to identify your dead, 20-year-old daughter who has just had her throat slit by your husband…that is…her father?   I am sure that woman has lost all sense of time and space and dimension.  Her world had become shapeless, never quite defined; never quite together.  I sighed and felt like I didn’t want to talk aboutGreenwichanymore for a while.  This no longer had to do with a town.  Happy fuckin’ New Year.

Images of Spain,Madrid

November 8, 2012

Images of Spain: The Common House

     Just a few years ago, people would do just about anything to have their own home, even if they couldn’t afford one.  Banks blithely meted out cash to the cashless and everyone was happy.  And landowoners would erect buildings just about any place they could.  This one is pieced together on a strip of land so narrow, it challenges the imagination.  My guess is that the owner inherited the property, could not think of what to do with it, and decided in the end to build a home for people who like to walk sideways.  This is not the narrowest home in the world.  I think that’s up in Norway or some place like that, and it belongs to an elf, but if the objects around this structure serve to give you an idea of its tiny dimensions, just look at the width of the pickup parked in front.   Oh well, as long as the owner stays away from the chorizo and cañas he should be all right.  At least he has a place to live…which is something more and more Spaniards are struggling to keep.

Travel

Excerpt From a New Book About Greenwich 27 (draft)

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Greenwich Avenue

I kind of liked the idea of hunkering down to a good book that morning and looking out the window from time to time, just to gaze at a flake or two, but my family had other plans in mind.  That meant squeezing out every available minute of shopping time, on this occasion, the mightyGreenwich Avenuewas on the agenda.  I discouraged that proposal on the basis that the snowy conditions outside my turn our drive down the avenue into a kind of uncontrolled slide into Long Island Sound.   That was a totally impossible scenario but they didn’t have to know that.  My next argument was more persuasive from my standpoint.

     “Closed?  How can they be closed?  In America?”

      There was no fighting it.  Shopping was shopping.  Who was I kidding?  Plus stores would be closed the next day and that would mean a travesty for a society which saw no need to defend the once untouchable day of rest.

     “All right, what the hell,” I thought, “I might as well turn it into a visit to old Greenwich Avenue, to see what the heck was going around there.”

      Not much, I can tell you.  Things couldn’t have been quieter, as you would expect on a snowy New Year’s Eve morning.  As you would expect onGreenwichAvenuebut that was what it was like.

    I really don’t know what people who have never been here would have in mind when they think of Greenwich Avenue, but my guess is that they conjure up imagery of boutiques galore, fancy cafés at every corner, dog walkers dragged by a dozen pooches of all sizes shapes and hairdos, and chauffeur-driven town cars gliding up and down the street.  They couldn’t be farther from the truth, at least in part.

    To begin with, Greenwich Avenueis a one-way street and it only goes down.

     Physically speaking, Greenwich Avenue as purely a street has hardly changed over the years.  Really.  It pretty much looks the same it did when I was a tot.  And when you look at old turn-of-the-century postcards, it all looks very familiar.

     What has changed are the stores themselves; quite a bit too.  These locales were once mostly unassuming, unpretentious shops that sold the basics: toys, shoes, stationery, sports goods, records, books, bread, corduroys.  Simple places with signs that read Quinn’s Market, Meads Stationary, Roger’s, Favourite Shoe and Bestever Dry Cleaners adorned the tops of the windows.  You could hand in your painted model at theYellow Brick Roadtoy store for a contest, or eat a grilled cheese sandwich in a Woolworths booth, or get your haircut in a tiny floating fire engine by an Italian named Mike at Subway Barber.  The Greenwich hardware store had those characteristic creaky wooden floors you find in places that sell rakes, hoes and nails, and Baskin Robbins was about as sophisticated as our ice cream got.  When you wanted a real treat, it was the soft ice cream at Dairy Queen in Cos Cob.  The kitsch interior decorations.  They pastel colors.  Sitting at those school desk-like chairs and lapping up  rainbow sherbet before anyone dared venture further into the world of flavors at a time when people still called sherbet “sherbet” and not sorbet.

     Maybe I am being a little nostalgic, a little too gentle with the town’s former image, but I somehow feel I’m not.  Not in the sense that there was a time when downtown Greenwich looked a lot like downtown New England anywhere.  Does that make it special?  Does that make it worthy of praise?  Should we win a prize for ordinariness?  Or do you have to come from an affluent community to be insecure enough to strive to make your town look like all the rest?  Don’t think I haven’t given some thought to this. Oh well, back to what I was saying.

    Intermingled were a few luxury stores, but they were minority.  When a person wanted to do some real shopping, they had to go into the city.  By the early 80s, the chains began to arrive and by the time I was leaving forSpain, people wondered whether the old-town feel would endure the changing times.  It wouldn’t.  The 1990s made that clear.

     If you ask me, no other moment in recent history has so succinctly summed up the transformation that was to rock this street than when Woolworths was bought out and replaced by the upscale retail storeSaks Fifth Avenue.  That, my friends, said it all. Greenwich  had lost what little remained of its plain small-town charm.  Plus, I really liked that old Woolworths.  You could get just about anything you wanted there and the food was the kind comfort crap kids loved.  It was there me and my friends did all our candy shoplifting.

     If there had been any hope of the older, humbler, simpler Greenwich staving off the encroaching arrival of top-notch stores, this signaled pretty much the final nail in the coffin.  Starting then, it was just a matter of time before the others vanished.  They are all gone and replaced by theRugbystore, Ralph Lauren, and such.  Barely a remnant of the street I knew as a boy, except for Bestever Dry Cleaners and Hoaglands Jewelry store.  And the Knapp funeral home, naturally, still has plenty of business to tend to.  But that pretty much summed it up.  Don’t get me wrong.  None of this has really gotten me choked up.  I guess it’s a shame, butAmericahas changed in so many ways and in so many places.  But it didn’t really bring down and I really can’t explain why.