My Hernia Checks In

Well, so far so good.  I took the metro and bus combo up to the hospital.  The rest of Madrid was going to work and looking pleased about having to do that.

        Once inside, I announced my arrival at the reception desk where I ran into the typical trouble regarding my name.  You see, the Spanish can sometimes have enormous difficulties accepting the fact that I only have one last name, and they can’t really conceive of having two first names, though I can’t understand why because I know plenty of Spaniards with two first names.  But it doesn’t matter, the Spanish somehow feel that am losing out on something and constantly stick a first name in where a second name should go, or a middle name in where a first name normally finds itself, and a second surname where none exists.  On an official level, I believe my name has been registered in so many ways that I could get accused of fraud.

My name is Brian Richard Murdock.  I try to avoid using my middle name for obvious reasons, but it does help distinguish, just in case of the unlikelihood of there being two Brian Murdocks in the same doctors office at the same time.  But if not, I stick to the bread and butter approach.

        “You are…”

        “Brian Murdock.”

        “Let me see…I can’t seem to find you.”  She ran her finger back up the list.  “Oh, here you are: Richard Murdock, Brian.”

        “No, it’s just Murdock.  Just one last name.”

        “Excuse me?”

        “It’s not Richard Murdock. Just Murdock.  The name is Brian.  Or Brian Richard.”

        “Really?   Ok Richard…”

        “No, it’s really Brian.  Brian Murdock.  The Richard is just a second name.  But you can forget about it.  Brian Murdock is the real name.”  It was too late.  Richard is a far more common-sounding moniker to them than Brian.  There was no turning back.

        “Don’t worry Richard we will change it.  Thanks.  Just wait over there for a few minutes.”

        Twenty minutes later I get called us over to the admissions room under the name Richard.  The woman was nice and greeted me warmly.  “Welcome Richard.  Do you have all your papers with you?”

“I think so.  By the way, my name is Brian.  Just for the record.”  I didn’t want them to confuse me with someone else and get a bypass by mistake. 

        “Oh, I see you’re exactly right.”  That was good.  I usually do get my name right the first time round when asked.

        Then I handed over a ton of papers and she handed another ton back to me which I was supposed to sign.  The kind of things I worry will come back to haunt me down the road, like agreeing to some organ donation for the black market or paying a supplementary fee for using the toilet.  I always take a few minutes to look over the details because I know my father would be proud of me, he being a lawyer and everything, but the truth is I barely look at a word.  It’s all there for effect and to impose respect from the very beginning.  Just in case they think I’m not reading, because I’m not, I bring something to their attention, like the name of the doctor being different from the one who was supposed to operate on me, and we just wanted to make sure that everything was in order.  The name happened to be the head of the medical team under which my surgeon was working, and I knew it, but I just wanted to make sure just in case.  Plus, it looked professional on my part.

      Then she asked me to wait outside a few more minutes, thanked me and wished me luck. “Bye Richard.”

        I prayed these mishaps remained at an administrative level.

Bullfighting: Now what?

You have to wonder that at some point the bull comes to the conclusion that something awfully wrong is going on.  After about six minutes of galloping around the ring chasing a big pink cape, plowing into an enormous horse and having a lance stuck in its back several times certainly these thoughts must come to mind:  “This is not what I planned on doing when I woke this morning.”  And he’s right, because in about fifteen minutes, he’ll be dead. 

Unless fate has something.

You see, up to this stage, the experts have been eying the animal carefully and pointing out its strong points as well as its weaknesses.  They analyze the size of its neck, its horns, its musculature.  They watch how it runs, how it charges, how and when it lifts its head, and so on, all to test how it will perform as the encounter progresses.  If any major defects appear, i.e., unquestionable signs of weakness, the crowd begins to get restless and protest.  They whistle, shout, wave their white handkerchiefs and beg the president for a change.  If he agrees, then he tosses a green handkerchief out and the bull gets yanked from the ring.  To get him out, a team of steers trots out onto the arena and lure him back into the corral.  Disgraced, possibly, but still alive. But he doesn’t know the difference.

This is not the case for most bulls.  In a sense, we are at the point of no return.  Once you’ve made it that far, there is no turning back. 

Stage Two: the banderillas.

All Taken Of

Well that was quick.   Everything is back in its place and I’m on the road to recovery.  The doctor came in this morning, actually it was about 12:30, and he said, “You’re ready to go home.”  He wasn’t even my doctor and he had never seen my wound, but God bless him, he knew what he was talking about… but there was more to the story that just that so I will have to backtrack…but first a little shuteye.

My Hernia has its Days Numbered

Actually it’s hours by now.  It’s been an hours since I’ve last been able to eat….and that’s practically all that I think about.   My only salvation is breakfast in bed the following day.  Everything is set for tomorrow, which turns out to be Memorial Day in the States, so I’m not quite sure if it’s the best date to get operated on.  I’m still praying my doctor is getting plenty of rest at home despite the newborn.  Other than that…it’s time to pack and get ready.  Think I’ll take the metro to the hospital.  Kind of fancy the idea.  I still don’t hav Twitter, so I won’t be twitting, so it may be a day or twon before you get the latest. 

Yes, folks, they are just that good

Fine, I have to admit it.   FC Barcelona won the Champions’ League Final fair and square.  They looked great.  Outstanding.  Manchester United did all right for the firt half, but Barcelona slowly but surely took over and by the second half, it turned into a one-sided event.   The bad side of me pulled for Manchester for a while, but eventually my admiration for Barça’s game got the best of me.  There really is no comparison.  In fact, if anything, last night’s performance all but confirmed that we are before one of the greatest teams in the history of the game.  I won’t go as far as to say the greatest because I think that is simply too difficult to claim, but certainly a serious candidate and in my opinion easily in the top three.  There are great soccer teams out there, and then there is Barcelona at a completely different atmospheric level.   And a person gets to see that first hand, it makes it that much more special.  Like watching Secretariat win the Triple Crown by 3o something lengths in the Belmont or Woods take the Masters by twelve strokes.  Such is the difference.   A sincere congratulations to Barcelona from a diehard Real Madrid fan.

Mi Hernia con los Días Contados

Pues ya está.  Queda un día…ni eso..quedan unas pocas horas para que mi hernia se encuentre con el destino.  Eso es, me van a meter tripa, justo para el comienzo de verano para que esté en buena forma para la playa.   No tengo casi nada preparado, principalmente porque no sé qué es lo que tengo que tener preparado.  Nunca he tenido que pasar por esto.  Pero he limpiado la casa a fondo, después de una semana maravillosa con mis hijas, y así la tengo lista para cuando vuelva…que supongo que volveré- porque mañana es el Día de los Caídos en los Estados Unidos.  Vaya momento para someterse a la buena voluntad de mi cirujano, que, por cierto, espero que le esté dejando descansar bien.  

          Por lo demás, lo único reto que tengo por delante es el de no poder comer a partir de la cena esta noche.  ¡Vaya rollo!


Bullfighting: The Loneliness of Being a Picador

Of all the thankless jobs in the world, one of the highest on the list must be that of the picador.  This is the guy that everyone likes to heckle and shout at because, for the most part, he’s just doing his job.  The problem with the picador is that everything about his duties seems to suggest he has an abnormally unfair advantage over his foe.  He plods in on an enormous horse which is heavily padded on its right side and blindfolded.  He is perched in his saddle in a portly way, often because his body is portly too,  and wields a lance the length of a tree.   Clearly, the picador could sign up for a session or two with a public image consultant.

           So, seemingly, there is very little about what he does that requires finesse and artistic skill.  Yet, after a closer look, we will se that their is more to his role than meets the eye.

            Two picadors appear and gently walk around the outer ring until they are positioned to take on the bull.   In reality, it’s just one.  The other acts as a sub and he moves around to the far side to avoid distracting the animal.  Half the horse’s body is draped with an enormous heavy pad which allows the bull to slam into it with causing any major damage.  This is a stark change from bullfights 100 years ago when this was not the case and the horse would be the victim of horrible wounds and many times death.   Being a picador back then required excellent horsemanship.  

          But that’s all changed.   Now all you have to do is brace yourself for the impact.   As I mentioned before, the horse also has its eyes fully covered to keep it from freaking out when a 1.200 lb beast with two horns comes charging at it.  The result is that the horse just sits their quietly until “boom!” it gets blindsided by somthing large and snorting.   We can imagine it saying something like “Holy cow!  What the f*** was that?”

          Once the clash of the two titans has occurred, the picador uses his lance to lean on the back of the animal; he drives it into the flesh and muscle.  The techniques used depend on  the strength of the bull.  If it especially bold, he might jab numerous times, but if it seems quite docile, then he might just apply pressure and keep the animal from getting to aggressive with the horse.  With big bulls, this process is often repeated. 

           Why does the picador do this?  For several reasons:  one is to test the bull’s ferocity and bravery.  In other words, how does it react to having a a spear stuck in its back?  I know how I would.  Many bulls actually seem to dig the pain and get angrier.   Others kind of leap away and say, “Wow, that sucks!”    The reponse will give us a good idea of how the outcome will be.  Another reason is to drain the bull of its strength.   Tiring the animal out will allow the matador to later fight the bull with any chance of success.  Otherwise, it would be nearly impossible.   And finally, by poking around the back the picador softens the bull’s muscles.   This will come in handy when the time arrives to kill it, as we will see later.  

              So where is the skill involved in doing all of this?  Well, there isn’t a whole lot, but one entails luring the bull into the trap.  This is not as easy as you might think.  Bulls don’t just go for anything.  Plus, in the middle of the ring, there are a million sounds and colors to distract it. So the picador has to loop around with the horse and raise his lance and get the bull to lunge towards him.  That may or may not happen, depending the man’s technique and the bull’s willingness.   Once the bulls charges, the picador will want to make sure if sticks the point in the right place.   Normally that occurs, but from time to time, he is off the mark, and there is a big scandal with a protesting crowd for being to rough with the beast.   Ironic, don’t you think?  After all, they have come to see it get stabbed to death; why should they be particularly bothered now?

        And finally, you need a heck of a lot of strength. 

           So, why does the picador get so much flak?  Well, basically, as I said before, because his job seems to be the least challenging, the safest and the one which inflicts the most damage on the bull.  

          As far as saftey is concerned, well, there is a great deal of danger involved if the bull manages to overturn the horse.  It doesn’t happen that often, but it’s not rare.  I have seen it done several times, and when it does, all hell breaks loose.  Once the horse fell on top of the picador.  These are clydesdale weight animals, mind you, so that has got to hurt.   Once on its side, the horse’s health is also at risk because the bull can get to the non-padded areas.   It all becomes a big mess. 

         And what about the bull?  There is no doubt that the lance piercing takes its toll.  I personally can’t stand it when the picador just jabs away relentlessly like an angry butcher.   But anyone who is familiar with bullfighting will tell you that the picador is an unsung but essential member of the ritual and when his duties are well performed, a tactically fascinating part of the process.  Let’s give him a well-deserved round of applause.

El Cirque Du Soleil

Ya está.  Por fin he hecho el Cirque.  He plantado un arbol, he escrito un libro, he tenido un hijo (bueno, dos hijas) y ya he visto al gran Cirque du Soleil. 

              Por fin he llegado a la carpa de espectáculos por excelencia.  Hizo falta un cumpleaños y un esfuerzo para conseguirlo, pero se hizo y bien.  Fue todo lo mágico que me podía esperar, con diversión para todas las edades, aunque es posible que los peques no disfruten tanto como los mayores, ya que para muy es muy sofisticado para ellos y pierden muchos detalles y guiños.   Pero se lo pasan muy bien de todas formas.  Las acrobacias son los más impresionantes de todos, y los skits también son de buena calidad.  Ha sido un placer conocerlo. 


Bullfighting…let the show begin

Once everything has settled down, the heavy wooden gate swings open and a few seconds later a mammoth beast appears often snorting and looking like it’s ready for business.  They usually come out at this point with the cocky attitude that so characterizes them throughout the world, as if to say, “That’s right.   I’m bad.  What fool is looking to mess with me?”   Within a few seconds, though, the true nature and stature of the bull comes to light.  Many start charging around wildly at anything that moves, making a great impression on the crowd but at the same time tiring itself out.  I can assure you that this is intentional.  Others trot around with a look on their face that says,  “What the hell is going on here?”  Which makes sense, because they have been plucked from some remote field and dumped into an arena surrounded by 20,000 onlookers…looking upon them.   And if you’re Ferdinand the Bull, you just sit your butt down and smell the flowers while the matadors futilely try to rouse into chasing them around.   I have never quite seen that, but I do recall a couple of occasions in which the animal would wander back to the way it came in…but this time there is a difference:  the gate is shut.   That kind of bums me out because you can sense that the animal is scared and doesn’y like the looks of things and yet its fate is practically sealed. 

            Most bulls, however, enjoy a vigorous sprint towards a lare pink cape known as the capote, that’s right, as in Truman.  In this preliminary stage, the bull charges full steam at the cape whose owner takes the time to show off a little and at the same observe the behavior of the animal.   This is the moment to decide whether or not it should continue…if I were the bull and understood the rules of the game, I know what I’d pick.

Bullfighting: How to have fun

So what is bullfighting all about anyway?  I mean, what actually happens other than a dozen men dressed in tights taunting an animal with capes and weapons on a hot afternoon until it becomes so weary they are able to stick a sword in its back and through its heart until it dies?  A lot, actually.  Quite a lot.  And it helps to know what they are so as to understand more fully the spectacle.  It is a blood sport, a bloody sport no doubt, but one with a lot of technique and bravery involved.  If you do not believe me, I invite o step into the ring and stand face to face with an angry bull and then have the guts to say to the world that these men (and sometimes women believe it or not) aren’t putting there lives on the line.  Then, and only then, are any doubters are welcome to try and prove me otherwise…By the way, here’s one of my favorites of matador macho man Jose Tomás driving a sword into the bull:

 Yes, that’s his body leaning against the animal’s head (no one in their right mind gets that close) and yes, those are the bull’s horns wrapped around his body.  Don’t be deceived by the blunted tip of the near horn…with the neck muscles the bull possesses, it could impale him with just a little nudge.

       Anyway…back to what I was saying.  A normal bullfight consists of the following:  6 bulls taken on by three bullfighters, and, if your mathematics are correct, that comes to two bulls per toreador.  It goes like this:

        Bullfighter 1 takes on bulls number 1 and 4

        Bullfighter 2 takes on bulls number 2 and 5

        Bullfighter 3 takes on bulls number 3 and 6

       Each bullfight is broken up into three main parts known as tercios, or thirds, but there is a little more to it.

       But before that, the show has to begin, which is when all the fanfare marches out onto the sandy arena and greets the crowd and the president of the bullfight.  He will be the one who awards any prizes and makes any major decisions regarding procedure.  Each torero leads his respective team out of helpers.  The blare of brass instruments and the thumping of drumbeats set up the drama for the tension and excitement that is about to unfold.  In the center a man turns a pole with a large sign hoisted on it for everyone to see.  It informs of the bull’s name, its weight and the ranch from which it comes.  While the first can be interesting, the last to bits of information can tell us more.  There are ranches and there are ranches, and in San Isidro, not just any one will do.  As for the weight, a full grown bull usually weighs in between 500-600 kgs.  That’s 1,200-1,500 lbs.  That’s a lot of steak, I tell you.

        You’ll get more later.