Saturday, March 28, 2009

Incident at Barajas

Authorities at Barajas airport in Madrid reported a baffling incident earlier this morning. A passenger arriving from the United States was briefly detained when a routine customs check indicated that she was attempting to introduce a number of unquarantined animals into the country. After a warning, the passenger was let go, and the animals sequestered in the quarantine facility at Barajas.

However, an hour later, under mysterious circumstances, following a heated altercation with a heavily bearded man at the main office of the quarantine facility, it was discovered that the animals in question had been "liberated" and could no longer be accounted for. Authorities now believe that the bearded stranger was in fact acting as a distraction while his attractive female accomplice was engaged in liberating the animals in question.

An all points bulletin has been issued to residents of the autonomous community of Madrid to be on the alert for a number of fecally incontinent animals, who may be travelling as a gang, or who may possibly have split up and be travelling solo, possibly disguised as candy spokesbeasts. The animals are not believed to be violent and may respond to snacks of jelly beans or other similar candy treats.

Authorities remain baffled by the incident, but stress that there is no cause for general alarm.

In completely unrelated news:

oso_poolar 002

Friday, March 27, 2009

Even more regrettable doggerel

Felipe Segundo of Thpain
In his portraits, looks like he's in pain
Persecuting the Flemish
Will make a king phlegmish
And probably give him migraine.

QQ 24 - 27

Chapters 24 & 27.

(Cardenio's tale is split over these two chapters, for no particular reason. I summarize both here)

Cardenio (that's the wretch's name)
Loved, and pined, and wooed in vain.
So rent his garments. Went quite mad.
(In fact the poor boy's tale's quite sad)
Now lurks in mountains; lives in cave
Cursing the name of the vile knave
Who stole his love, a damsel fickle,
And left him in his current pickle.


Chapter 25.

Up in this remote mountain eyrie
The Don's behavior gets quite hairy
Decides -- to honor Dulcinea --
That in the mountains he will stay a
While and practice knightly courtesies
(Unfortunately starting with a strip-tease)
Gives squire a note for Dulz the Dainty
And sends him off with Rocinante

Chapter 26.

Repulsed by views of naked Don,
Sancho skedaddles, and e'er long
Is back at inn, with knaves and varlets
And - pace, maiden aunt - that harlot,
And - some good luck for Sancho Panza -
That priest and barber from La Mancha.
Tells them about exposed rear end
of Don. They scheme to rescue friend.

Plain people of Ireland: How long do you plan on recycling that appalling "varlet-harlot" rhyme? It was already stale the first time around.

MOTP: Feel free to step in and take over any time you like. Until then, SILENCE, INSOLENT RABBLE!!

Products of la Mancha

man of la mancha

Man of La Mancha

cheese of la mancha

Cheese of La Mancha

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Visitor

An excellent film, which may have slipped under your radar. If so, I strongly recommend that you see it.

Surprisingly many films are shown undubbed (that is, in the original language, with Spanish subtitles) here in Madrid. Several cinemas, many of them quite large multiplexes, show only undubbed movies. The three films I've seen since coming to Madrid - "Milk", "Nixon/Frost" and, this afternoon, "The Visitor" were all in English.

I won't attempt a review of "The Visitor" other than to say that it features actors that I hadn't seen or heard of previously*, was understated, and ultimately very moving.

(* with the exception of Michael Cumpsty, a fine actor who happened to be in the same scholarship program as me in Chapel Hill. Go Mooseheads!)

¡¡ Speak to me, Jimmy !!

malasaña 006

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Change One Letter Update

We haven't played "Change One Letter" in a while. You remember the rules - change (or add, or delete) one letter in an existing book title and give a brief description of the resulting work.

Mon Quixote : Caribbean version of a classic picaresque tale

: A rebel cow threatens to destroy Glasgow, but is dissuaded by his mom, only to be butchered and sold to a local steakhouse by his fellow rebels.

Hart of Darkness : The real story of Bambi's mother, and why she had to die.

Exopus : When their ice-floe is threatened by global warming, one brave penguin leads his tribe to find the promised land.

Walter the Farming Dog : The story of a canine ahead of his time, who tries to persuade his pack-members to give up their hunting-gathering ways and settle down.

Portrait of a Lad : Henry James's recently discovered masterful account of the life of a Glasgow soccer hooligan

The Three Billy Goats Ruff : These caprine caperers are more interested in playing bridge than crossing it.

Oscar and Lucida : Disturbed young man is almost saved by a pretty new font.

The Belle Jar : A southern debutante´s descent into madness.

When You Are Engulfed in Flakes : David Sedaris battles dandruff.

Cannery Roe : The Story of Caviar

The God : Fatter Why not take Buddha as your personal savior?

The Compleat Mangler Boxing Tips from Isaak Walton

QQ 19 - 23

Chapter 19.

Our pair are left without a saddlepack.
They're up a creek. How will they paddle back?
It's easy for a loony knave,
Attack some mourners, traveling grave-
ward. Loot the corpse. Break someone's leg.
And when they're down, just make them beg
for mercy. Then just steal their stuff.
As if the injury weren't enough.

By now most readers will be thinking
our Don's behaving like a stinking
turd, whose acts, e'en for a mad guy
seem suited to some Mafia bad guy.

Chapter 20.

Nothing happens, really. Noises in the night, Don prattling, Sancho takes a dump. For God's sake, I'm supposed to weave this into some kind of tapestry of rhyme???

Plain people of Ireland: (expectantly)
We're ..... WAITING .... here.

MOTP: Oh, ALL RIGHT then!!!

Don prates 'bout things eschatological
Sancho's behavior's scatological
"Fulling-hammers" in the night
Give quite a fright to squire and knight.

Plain people of Ireland: (grudgingly)
Not too bad. Gotta admire those internal rhymes in that last line. But what are "fulling-hammers"?

MOTP: Why, I'm so glad you asked. "Fulling" is what these jolly ladies are doing -

It basically consists of beating cloth into submission, and used to involve urine (a.k.a. "lant") for softening purposes, and repeated blows e.g. from dainty feet, as in the picture above, or in the case of Quixote, hammers powered by a water mill.

Chapter 21.

A barber who must serve two villages
Is the next victim of Don's pillages
His battered brassy shaving basin's
A lure to Don, like fleece to Jason.
Once again, like a bambino
He steals. "The Helmet of Mambrino".


By this point, I confess, dear Reader
My view of Don had reached its nadir
Thought "If this is Mickey's obra maestra,
Then he can shove it up his keister!"
But thought of you, my little cupcakes,
Made me continue, for your poor sakes.

Chapter 22.

Next up, to prove he's not all bad
Don does something that made me glad
Frees troop of prisoners, decked in chains
But doesn't get much for his pains.
Freed ruffians, spoiling for a fight,
Attack fat squire and scrawny knight,
And steal their stuff (payback's a bitch)
And leave our duo in the ditch.

Chapter 23.

Our heroes, suffering and in pain, are
Next seen in the Sierra Morena
In dark and craggy mountain pass
Freed prisoner steals poor Sancho's ass.

(But here, at times, it seems Mick's clueless.
Can't quite remember Sancho's muleless.
The donkey, stolen by a badass,
Appears and vanishes like a mad ass.
Mule reappears for a few pages,
Then vanishes, just like Don's rages.)

They find a bag, in mountains jagged.
With gold and such, and then a ragged
Creature, who at first seems mad,
But, it turns out, is not all bad.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Oh those Germans! Whatever will they think of next?

Tender, juicy Obama fingers hit the shelves.

Thanks to my good friend, Peter C., for bringing this link to my attention.

Iberian Mysteries (III) : Animals in my Inbox

OK. This would have the potential to be embarrassing, if I weren't so completely blameless. Ever since my arrival in Spain, I've been subjected to a peculiar kind of torment which, depending on my mood, I find either hilarious, or bizarrely creepy.

It has to do with spam and animals. Naturally (I hope), by now, any normal reader is thinking of pigs. But I don't mean that kind of spam, nor - unfortunately - not always that kind of animal. No, the kind of spam I'm referring to is what is referred to in Spanish as "correos de basura", or trash-mail. In this particular case, trash e-mail. The kind that, in any half-way decent e-mail system would be routed automatically to your trash folder. The problem is that I don't have a half-way decent e-mail provider - I have Yahoo! Which seems constitutionally unable to filter anything, no matter how obvious the signals that a particular message might be spam. Furthermore, its spam filter seems to get worse, not better, with training.

So, every time I check my e-mail, I end up having to label a whole bunch of obvious trash messages as spam. Obviously, I don't open them - I'm not an idiot. But it gets infuriating, because each time Yahoo! sends me a (lying) message, thanking me for training its spam filter to do a better job, while I know full well that next time I log in there will be a whole fresh batch of equally obvious trash for me to deal with.

Now, at home, the nature of these messages ran the predictable, if annoying gamut. You know, the standard letter from that Nigerian politician's widow, winning tickets in the Falklands lottery, products that promised to cleanse my colon of 10 pounds of black gunk (as seen on Oprah!), offers to supply me with Vi;-gra, Ci=@lis, beautiful babes that wanted to date me in my city, the usual kind of stuff.

But here in Spain, it's a different matter. With frightening single-mindedness, at least half my spam messages here have titles that fit the general formula:

"You won't believe what these (choose one from column A) do with (choose one from column B)"
"Watch young (choose one from column A) (disgusting prepositional verb from column C) (choose one from column B)"

Column A: girls, sluts, and other more vulgar epithets unsuited to a family blog
Column C: verb indicating some vile sexual act; "get it on with" is about the only one that can be reproduced here
Column B is the most disturbing part, generally naming either some specific barnyard animal, or occasionally just using the term "barnyard animals". More recently, perhaps out of disappointment that I have never, not even once, opened any of these e-mails, there appears to have been an effort to up the ante, so that "giraffes" have been receiving more recent mention of late.

Well, this frosts my eyeballs for all kinds of different reasons. First of all, how can a spam filter not recognize an e-mail in which the word "sluts" and the vulgar term for the privy member of a horse appear in the title as being obscene and pornographic? And even if it doesn't the first time around, how many times does it need to be told? "MILFS with giraffes"? Good grief, Yahoo! How irritatingly stupid can one e-mail system be?

Then, of course, there's the greater puzzle. Just why is it that this kind of spam has been proliferating in my inbox of late, with its beginning exactly coinciding with my arrival in Madrid. Believe me, gentle reader, I never got messages about barnyard sex back in San Francisco. Also believe me - AND I CAN NOT STRESS THIS HIGHLY ENOUGH - when I assure you that I have never in my life done anything to encourage such an onslaught, not even once clicking on, or opening one of these messages, even by accident.

So why the sudden onslaught here in Madrid. Is there something about the particular combination of my e-mail address and I.P. address that attracts these messages?

I can only think of two possible explanations. One is that whoever rented this apartment before me was some kind of rampant bestiality freak, and that the I.P. address is forever associated out there in spamland with barnyard animal lovers.

The other, though seemingly unlikely, cannot entirely be ruled out. My first week here, for reasons I don't fully recall, I ended up sending an e-mail to a friend, alerting him to the delightful online video of bovine revolutionary zeal

Cows with Guns.

Quite reasonably, I titled the message in question "Cows with Guns".

Only later did the horrendous possibility occur to me that some illiterate spam spider bot interpreted the title of my e-mail (you know how they like to permute word-spellings) as "Cows with Gnus", and took it as a sign of an interest in interspecies cavorting.

Is it possible that I have unwittingly been the cause of the onslaught? I guess we will never know for sure.

Iberian Mysteries (II) : The Haunting

watch 001

So, one Spanish mystery was cleared up (literally) during the week. On Friday I noticed that the condensation which had been fogging up the inside of my watch face had completely disappeared. Perhaps the exertion at, and higher elevation of, the Escorial on Thursday did the trick. Or the lugubrious shade of Felipe II was enough to scare away the condensation demons. Anyway, I am happy not to have to squint to tell the time any more.

But one moisture-related mystery has been replaced by another, potentially more perplexing. As generally happens to me when I've been fully immersed in Spanish for a while, occasionally I hit a week where it becomes hard to sleep. I've always taken this to be evidence that my brain is somehow working overtime, engaged in language-related extra processing activity during nocturnal hours. It doesn't bother me particularly, as this kind of sleepless week has, in the past, been accompanied by a noticeable improvement in my command of Spanish.

Anyway, this past week has been one of those weeks. Reading Don Quijote hasn't helped either. Even though it is, frankly, turning out to be a colossal bore, its episodic nature seems to be fueling strange shadowy dreams, not quite scary enough to be considered nightmares, but not particularly pleasant either, and definitely contributing to the overall poor quality of my sleep. Anyway, at around 4:15 am, I woke up to the sound of someone apparently taking a shower upstairs. At first, I thought "How, rude!", turned over and tried to get back to sleep. Then I remembered that there is no "upstairs" - as I live on the top floor. So I listened again, only to realise (cue creepy music) that the noise appeared to be coming from the bathroom in my own apartment. As I staggered out of bed to investigate, the shower noise stopped, but (cue really creepy music), when I turned on the light in the bathroom, the bath surface was completely wet, exactly as if someone had just been showering and had just turned off the shower.

Back to bed, distinctly spooked. I'd noticed strange nocturnal noises before around the apartment, but this was the first clear evidence of a haunting. Ten minutes later, the noise starts up again. Now I leap out of bed, and make for the bathroom. The noise subsides as I turn on the light, but the second shower head is definitely still dripping water, and the bathtub directly under it is completely wet.

march22_2009 001

There is, I tell myself, a (quasi) rational potential explanation for this. The shower heads in question (see picture) have this odd feature. There's a kind of a dustbin-lid shaped pan, through whose holes the water comes through. Depending on the orientation of the pan, relative to the horizontal, it can trap a certain amount of water, even after the flow has been turned off. Then, if its orientation is changed at some later point, this causes a runoff of the accumulated water.

That's what I tell myself at least. And indeed, this seems like a reasonable enough explanation for the first occurrence, though what mysterious force might have caused the pan to tilt enough at 4:15 on a Sunday morning is a question that remains unanswered. The part that really spooks me out, though, is the second, 4:25 am "shower", since I have never, in the month that I have lived here, actually turned on, or used that particular shower head.

It's probably just my overactive imagination that makes me positive that I didn't make up the bed before going out to get coffee this morning. So that I shouldn't make anything of the fact that the duvet was perfectly arranged, as if in a hospital infirmary, when I got back.

At least I know that, if there is a ghost in the apartment, it is a clean, neat phantom.

QQ 11 - 18

Chapter 11.

Goatherds share meat with Don and Panza.
There's pastoral poetry - many a stanza.

Chapters 12 - 14.

Lady likes to dress like shepherdess.
Spurns swain. He dies. His flock's now shepherdless.
More pastoral poems -- endless verse;
Snooze quotient's going from bad to worse.
Friends bury him. At shepherd's grave,
Once more - dear God! - Don starts to rave.

Chapter 15.

Next Rocinante wanders, frisky.
Gets amorous with some mares, a risky
Move. Backfires when owners in alarm
Attack our boys and do them harm.
By end of scene (knightlife's a bitch)
Once more our boys are in the ditch.

Chapter 16.

Our battered duo finds an inn.
Don gets confused; gets taken in.
Thinks "castle" when he should think "inn".
Hilarious fun, with knaves and varlet
And -- pace, Maiden Aunt -- a harlot.

Plain people of Ireland: Hey, we've already seen this bit! Boo! Hiss! Rhubarb! Rhubarb! (etc)

MOTP: Aha! So you're paying attention, are ye? Well don't blame me that it's déjà lu all over again. That'd be Mick's doing.

Plain people of Ireland: ¡¡¡But this is BO-O-RING!!!

MOTP: Yes, isn't it though? Think how I must feel. Now please be quiet, so that we can keep this "story", such as it is, moving along.

Chapter 17.

Kicked out of inn. The Don won't pay.
(Civil behavior's not his way)
Some louts have fun with Sancho P.
Playing toss-the-squire with obvious glee.
Don watches motionless, like an anchor
(again behaving like a wanker)
Doesn't even lift a finger
What a cringing, minging, whinger!

EDITORIAL ASIDE (regarding the Don's "character", or lack thereof)

It's clear our Don's a scrawny psychopath,
Who, if you met him on a bikepath,
Would steal your bike and kick your crotch
All while his dopey sidekick watched.

Chapter 18.

When next we catch up with our peeps,
They have a run-in with some sheeps.
It don't go well, Quixote scholars
By chapter's end, Don's down three molars.

Plain people of Ireland (doubtfully): Is "sheeps" a real word?

MOTP: It is now.

Plain people of Ireland: And what about that "scholars-molars" rhyme?

MOTP: Silence, wretches! What about it?

The Aragorn Effect

The figure above summarizes daily visit statistics to this blog during the last month. Usually the number of daily visits chugs along at somewhere between 15 and 20, sometimes reaching an average of up to 30 if I add new content daily. So I was surprised by the March 14th peak*, shown in the diagram above.

A little closer investigation, using the sitemeter tools, shows that this is evidently a direct consequence of a specific post I made wherein I mentioned that I might be reading "Don Quixote" in parallel with Viggo Mortensen. A great number of those 130 visitors ended up on my blog following a search on the name "Viggo Mortensen".

What I found strange (and kind of nice, really) was that a surprisingly high proportion stayed and poked around the blog for several minutes. Obviously Viggo's got a highly discerning fanbase.

*: Still nowhere near the all-time daily record of 1500 visits for the June 1st, 2008 post (explainable by having been linked to on the Genentech intranet).

By the way, I do not recommend equipping your blog site with the sitemeter "extra" statistics module. Although it's not hugely expensive ($6.95 a month), it's almost guaranteed to cause you to waste huge amounts of time, if you have even a mildly obsessive personality. Questions such as who might be visiting your site from Palau or Tuvalu, or who your stalker in Kazhakstan might be, will just haunt you incessantly. Though I did find it amusing, during my 2007 trip to Spain, to be able to total up just how much work time Genentech employees were spending visiting the blog in an average day. A figure which I will not share here, to protect the guilty.