Saturday, November 21, 2009

OK, I lied

Yes, I know. I promised I would leave you all in peace until Monday, but here I am in my gorgeous hotel in Cadiz, with at least an hour to go before I can respectably head out for dinner, so I thought I would just check in.

Seville was beautiful, as always, though I think I might be forgiven for developing a slight persecution complex. When I arrived at the station, refreshed from my trip on the super-sleek AVE (which whisks one from Madrid to Seville in just two and a half hours), it turned out that the taxi-drivers' union had called a strike that morning. So, after chatting with the singularly unhelpful woman at the tourist office at the station (why do they hire people for whom dealing with the public is such an obvious burden?), eventually finding the relevant bus stop (which was at least two blocks from where she had said it would be), fighting my way onto the bus among hordes of schoolkids (who were infinitely more helpful with directions than the lady at the tourist office), I finally arrived at the hotel, sweaty and more than a little flustered, about an hour later.

sevilleandcadiznov2009 048

This was not the scene which greeted me upon arrival in Seville.

An hour after that, feeling much better after a shower and a delicious lunch, I was taking my cafe cortado seated at the little square outside the hotel, when what did I notice? One taxi after another, pulling up outside the hotel, dropping people off, picking people up ... you know, doing the things that taxis usually do. It appears that, by 3:30 pm, whatever the taxistas' beef had been with the city was settled, and they went back to work as usual. Which was of little consolation if one had had the poor judgement to have arrived an hour earlier.

But I have to admit that lunch was all the more delicious after such a minor setback.

I´m currently here in Cadiz, apparently still being stalked by the Hollywood stars who complicated my stay in Seville*. Getting to Gibraltar tomorrow seems to be more complicated than I had imagined**. But I am resolute. There are apes to be photographed.

* To be continued.... What movie stars are (apparently) stalking me across the breadth of Andalucia, and why? Tune in next time and find out.

** Obviously, what I should have done was arrive on a cruise ship, like my sister and her husband did a few years ago. But I feel roughly the same way about luxury cruises as did the late David Foster Wallace.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Closed for the weekend

I am not taking my little laptop to Andalucia, so will not be blogging over the weekend. Why not make a comment or two in my absence? The silence out there is deafening, with a few honorable exceptions.

Hasta lunes!

Thursday, November 19, 2009


From the "we roam the web so you don't have to" archive:

Hotel lets guests live like hamsters

You know, I can honestly say that I never once dreamed of living like a hamster as a child.

(Thanks to Teresa, the brilliant creator of the frogapplause comic strip , for bringing this to my attention).

Poultry update

All the dead partridges have finally been sold from the local polleria. Instead, the display window features a prominently displayed ostrich egg. It's very big.

ostrich egg for sale

About fifty yards down the street, the main feature at the X-rated movie theater is:

foot porn?

which seems to suggest that they are catering to an extremely specific fetish that one might have naively imagined to be rather narrow.

Meanwhile, over in the Lavapies district, all the pirates are getting tattoos:

arr, matey!

to the obvious delight of their lusty, buxom pirate wenches.

Lazy Day

Well, after staying up past two o'clock to watch the final episodes of Season 2 of "El Internado" (and an excellent cliffhanging final episode it was too, but I will spare you the details, except to say that both my guesses were right), I didn't roll out of bed until 10:15 this morning. A leisurely day, assorted phone calls to sort out minor credit card issues, then to RENFE Atocha to buy the train tickets to Seville, Cadiz and back. Lunch at ROOT, then stopped in to the Museo de Bellas Artes to see the Goyas again. Went by the school to sign up for one last week of classes next week (even with the unfavorable exchange rate, it's still good value - 30 hours of instruction, in a class of only six students, for about $420, though admittedly it would be cheaper in Guatemala). Then I went to see "Julie and Julia", which I enjoyed thoroughly.

For supper, looks like some fine sheeps cheese and some of the Albariño that's chilling in the fridge. I leave for Seville on the AVE at noon tomorrow - will get back to Madrid at noon on Monday.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Heading South!

Sooo... My original plan had been to take the train to Cadiz tomorrow, stay two nights there, with a side day-trip to Gibraltar, and come back by train on Saturday. The airport "at" Cadiz is actually halfway between Cadiz and Jerez, making flying a relatively unappealing option.

Foolishly, I did nothing about making concrete arrangements until today. Only to find, to my horror, that there is not a hotel room to be had anywhere in downtown Cadiz for either Thursday or Friday nights. So I had to make a change in plans. In place of the original itinerary, I am now going to take the AVE to Seville on Friday, stay overnight in Seville, then continue on to Cadiz by train on Saturday. I was able to book a hotel room in Cadiz for Saturday and Sunday nights, and will return by the early train first thing Monday morning, arriving in Madrid shortly after noon. As my classes at Don Quijote next week are all in the afternoon (from 1:00pm until 7:00pm), this actually works out quite well.

The only snag in the whole arrangement is that I had to cancel dinner plans for Sunday night with friends of Paddy who are visiting Madrid for Thanksgiving week. However, I hope to be able to reschedule with them later on next week.

I am currently still debating whether or not to schedule a trip to Bilbao for Friday-Sunday the following weekend. I suppose I probably should; after all I don't know when I will next get back to Spain.

El Internado: un lugar donde todo puede suceder.

So, having watched six of the eight episodes in the second season of "El Internado", the various subplots are way too convoluted even to begin to summarize. Before watching episodes 7 and 8, I am willing to hazard a few guesses of my own.

1. It seems pretty obvious that the monster who lives in the subterranean passages linking the Internado to the well in the woods is actually the deformed twin of Elsa, currently directora of the school, and pregnant with twins of her own. After all, we discovered at the end of episode 5 that the little baby coffin in which he was supposed to have been buried was empty. Also, Jacinta knows him (we've seen her talking with him on at least one occasion). Methinks that Elsa is going to discover this repressed secret from her past before season 2 is out.

2. Who is Fermin, the mystery thug-turned kitchen help? We know he was sprung from jail by his shadowy backers to find something that's hidden in the school. I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that there is a stash of looted artwork somewhere that the Fascists hid there during WWII (when the school was still an orphanage) obtained from their Nazi buddies. Why else would he be peeling off the backs of existing paintings?

Is the new math teacher actually a sex-killer? Personally, I doubt it, this plot strand seems like misdirection all the way.
Will little Paula's math wizard skills, introduced briefly in midseason, then quickly abandoned, prove vital at some point? I'm guessing that they will - for all the wild improbabilities and coincidences, the writers of this soap are actually quite meticulous about tying things together so far. Which is part of what makes it so satisfying.

Well, I realise that this post means little to anybody who has never seen the series. Tant pis pour vous!

Universidad Rey Juan Carlos

Yesterday I spent the day visiting the statistics and operations research department at Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, in Mostoles, just south of the city, where I had been invited to give a presentation. Actually, I more or less invited myself to visit, and when they heard I was coming, they asked me to give a talk. So I dusted off the old "Choosing a Dose Regimen when the Average Patient is a Myth" (last given in Killarney, under a slightly different name: OK, it's here , for the obsessively curious; it's an oldie, but goodie) and headed out there.

This is what the campus looks like (it's very new, the university is only 12 years old):

november2009 130

The talk went well - there were maybe seven or eight statisticians and about half a dozen pharmacologists from the medical school. The latter asked many smart questions at the end (the statisticians mainly smiled and looked encouraging), so I think they definitely "got it".

Afterwards, they took me to a fine lunch, and I met with various people on the statistics faculty. They seemed quite grateful that I had given a talk that managed to engage the pharmacologists, as I gather that Spanish universities still don't do well at inter-disciplinary projects, and their efforts at outreach to the medical school hadn't met with much success to date.

That's me, an international ambassador of statistical goodwill. It was a very pleasant visit, and I gather that they are even going to give me an honorarium (if I can ever figure out the Wells Fargo IBAN transfer number, but that's a whole 'nother story). Still, 200 Euros is better than a poke in the eye, as they say.

The cordial reception I received at URJC was in stark contrast to the response I got from Universidad Carlos III ("Carlos Tercero"), who I regret to say, essentially blew off my polite enquiries about a possible visit.

Hello muddah, hello faddah

Now that I have time to amuse myself, I've been listening to the 5-CD "Best of Opera" set I bought at Corte Ingles to help my studying. One of the tracks is Ponchielli's "Dance of the Hours" from La Gioconda. Which is, of course, completely impossible to listen to without having the words to the "Camp Granada" song flash through your mind, in time to the music (which is 100% orchestral). You know:

Hello Muddah, hello Faddah
Here I am at camp Granada
Camp is very entertaining
And they say we'll have some fun if it stops raining

I went hiking with Joe Spivey
He developed poison ivy
You remember Leonard Skinner
He got ptomaine poisoning last night after dinner


Take me home, oh Muddah, Faddah
Take me home, I hate Granada
Don't leave me out in the forest where
I might get eaten by a bear


Dearest Faddah, Darling Muddah
How's my precious little bruddah
Let me come home if you miss me
I would even let Aunt Bertha hug and kiss me

Wait a minute, it's stopped hailing
Guys are swimming, guys are sailing
Playing baseball, gee that's bettah
Muddah, Faddah kindly disregard this letter

Here's a link to the musical version (warning: earworm alert!)-

Hello muddah, hello faddah

This got me thinking about other classical melodies that have been hijacked in similar manner. For instance, Dvorak's "Humoresque", to which my mother used to sing gleefully at least some, if not all, of the following "verses":

Passengers will please refrain
From flushing toilets while the train
Is standing in the station, I love you.

We encourage constipation
While the train is in the station
Moonlight always makes me think of you

If you really must pass water
Kindly call the Pullman porter
He'll place a vessel in your vestibule

As I sit here tearing tissue
Oh, my darling, how I miss you
Everything I do, I do for you.

Since I'm going with your daughter
I've had trouble passing water
Sorry that I ever came to town

I'm the guy that did the pushin'
Dirtied up the front seat cushion
Footprints on the dashboard upside down

Promenading in the park,
Goosing statues after dark
If Sherman's horse can take it why can't you

Here is the instrumental version. Try adding the words for yourself:

Possibly some of my readers can add their own suggestions. Within our family, we had our own "words" to the opening bars of Alfven's "Swedish Rhapsody". Which I am now going to embarrass my sister publicly by including here* (God forbid any of her patients might be reading this - snicker!):

"Our little Emie is the best Emie, the best Emie, the best Emie.
Our little Emie is the best Emie, the best in the whole wide world.
She's the best in the whole wide world, the best in the whole wide world.
Best in the whole wide, whole wide, whole wide
Best in the whole wide, whole wide, world ...
and so on"

Swedish Rhapsody

Well, because she is, no disputing it. Love ya, Emie!

*I'll probably get in deep trouble for this.

The plain people of Ireland: Well, faith, but that's very interesting altogether. Tell us, what arrangement of naked women corresponds to the theme from the "William Tell Overture"?

MOTP: (suspiciously) Is this some kind of trick question?

The plain people of Ireland: (cackling gleefully) Not at all. Think about it!

MOTP: I don't know. I give up.

The plain people of Ireland: (barely able to contain their coarse mirth) Titty-bum, titty-bum, titty-bum-bum-bum!!!

MOTP: Silence, ye salacious wretches! Do ye want to incur the wrath of the League of Blogging Decency. This is supposed to be a fambly blog.

The plain people of Ireland: Yerrah, relax, wouldja? Sure we were only having a bit of a joke. Hi-ho, Silver!

MOTP: Sigh.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Where do you fit in?

Lovers of small numbers go benignly potty,
Believe all tales are thirteen chapters long,
Have animal doubles, carry pentagrams,
Are Millerites, Baconians, Flat-Earth-Men.

Lovers of big numbers go horribly mad,
Would have the Swiss abolished, all of us
Well-purged, somatotyped, baptised, taught baseball:
They empty bars, spoil parties, run for Congress.

W.H. Auden: "Numbers and Faces"

Monday, November 16, 2009


Bilby will recognize this picture:

Looks like "la llama que llama" has made his way to Manhattan. But where is he going in that taxi?


Now that the exam is done, I have a little more time to poke around the neighborhood (in between "Internado" episodes, natch, of which more anon). Calle Valverde, where I live, is right on the border between two neighborhoods: Malasaña, the heart of bohemian Madrid, and Chueca, the most flamboyantly gay barrio.

While wandering through Chueca over the weekend, I found its in-your-face cheerful gay identity quite heartening. But one phenomenon left me puzzled, even a little depressed. Based on a stroll through Chueca, a visitor from another planet might well be forgiven for concluding that earthlings' preferred mode of pairing off was (i) in the case of heterosexual couples, to pair with someone physically unalike (ii) in the case of male-male couples (lesbians are conspicuous by their absence in Chueca - a legacy of Spain's legendary machismo?) to pair off with your twin, mirror-image, or person who most closely matches your own physical aspect. Couple after couple, they all look like clones of each other.

I don't know why I should find this creepy, but I do. There's something about it that gives me the heebie-jeebies, and I don't think it's just some kind of passive-aggressive response because I'm not currently part of a couple. Something to do with the huge depths of narcissism it suggests, I think. And the thought that it can hardly be considered complete sexual liberation if all anyone seems to want to do is go to bed with someone who looks exactly like himself.

Anyway, it creeps me out, more than a little. Though I guess San Francisco experienced a similar phenomenon back in the early days of gay liberation. So maybe it's a necessary stage of evolution, in a society which has definitely undergone a huge upheaval in the area of sexual mores within a relatively short period.

Enough playing amateur sociologist. Time to go to dinner, and finish preparation for tomorrow's presentation at Universidad Rey Juan Carlos.

Hooray: Kafka se alegra mucho

Yea, folks!! I am pleased to announce that is back in business. Maybe I should work on updating some of its stale content.

Well, maybe in December, once I get home. I can see it in my mind's eye: a whole big fancy book review section, lots more fun word pages, maybe even a Thpanish section (business letters, anyone?). And, of course, I think it's time I stretched my mind (and gave my visitors an opportunity to stretch theirs) by developing another Christmas quiz.

(Rubs hands gleefully at the prospect of hours of geekish fun ahead).

It would be churlish of me not to acknowledge the help of the folks at the Microsoft Business Live support center. After all, it's certainly not their fault that the process to reinstate the domain name was so byzantine, but they guided me through it with professionalism, courtesy, and a determination to get the problem solved that I find admirable. So my thanks go out to them.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Kafka adopts a wait-and-see posture

So, as I finally had the time this weekend, I tried my best to reinstate The jury is still out on whether or not I succeeded, as it takes 24-72 hours to take effect. Two points are worth noting:

1. Four separate e-mails to the Indian subcontinent were necessary to iron out the details. Each was answered with extreme promptness and courtesy, with information that was generally reasonably intelligible and to the point. So it wasn't quite the nightmare that I had expected. And I'm quite willing to forgive the gentleman who urged me to "Have a nice day, Dennis!", because it was he provided the vital piece of information that allowed me to complete the process.

2. I was quite pleased at myself for figuring out that Step 19, the final step in the original sequence (reproduced in an earlier post) was in fact a trap, and should not be completed.

Do I have any genuine understanding of what was being accomplished along the way? Not really. I could convince myself that I had a vague idea of what was happening, but this "understanding" wouldn't hold up under any real scrutiny. However, assuming that the reinstatement goes through as hoped, the domain name issue has been taken care of until mid-November 2014. At which point I'd better not screw up the renewal again, because I will undoubtedly be too senile to navigate through that particular maze again. Of course, by then, everything will probably be controlled by google anyway.