28 março 2020
The situation seemed easy enough, march on, occupy the town that controls the road, and keep the other buggers out of it.
The Rebels were first on table but the Lancers doubled their efforts and got there first. A spirited clash of cavalry on main street resulted in the Lancers making what they later referred to as "a feigned retreat".
The question of how it all went so wrong so quickly as never been satisfactorily answered. The Lancers, having suffered heavy casualties, were ordered back to escort the guns while the Fort Henry Garrison moved up to support the Grenadiers and the troops in the town. Suddenly the remains of the Rebel cavalry, which had been written off, doubled around the town. The artillery, startled no doubt, did not adjust their aim quickly enough and sent their shells over their heads. In moments the Rebel riders were upon the Grenadiers and the remnants of the Lancers. Whether it was the surprise or just fickle lady luck, both the Grenadiers and Lancers crumbled and fled without harming the enemy! Now with the light fading, and each side tottering on the edge of exhaustion, Victory or Disaster hung by a thread!
25 março 2020
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23 março 2020
|"Still Life - 1901" by Pablo Picasso. Art used for criticism under "Fair Use."|
I've been told that the image of an average American in Spain is of someone at a baseball game with a hot dog in one hand and a Coke in the other. If this is the case, then I'm no an average American. Hot dogs taste about as terrible as they look, like boiled phalluses (circumcised, clearly). Now, now, I certainly give credit to the, uh, "genius" who figured out how to sell unwanted animal parts by wrapping them up into something Linda Lovelace would swallow. Just forgive me if I resist the impulse to deep-throat wieners every summer. Coca-Cola, on the other hand, resembles battery acid in both appearance as well as tooth decay. The taste is hardly worth getting excited about as far as sodas go. More or less Pepsi under another name. Perhaps if they put the cocaine back in, I'd be more inclined to hold a favorable opinion. Some might argue that this first paragraph could disqualify me from American citizenship. Though I'd argue that it would disqualify me from most Memorial Day barbecues.
It should come as no surprise that I don't have much a taste for hamburgers. It seems that the only American meats my stomach can stomach are steak, pork, and chicken (though even the chicken can elicit occasional bouts of diarrhea). So it goes without saying that hamburgers were among the last things I expected to eat in Spain. Imagine my surprise, then, when I heartily chowed one down for lunch and begged my host mother for seconds.
Truth be told, I didn't know it was a hamburger at first. I often didn't know what kinds of meats went into my sandwiches. Being that I would be living in someone else's home for two months, I avoided being picky about the food. I didn't expect to run into too much trouble here, since I'm an American, and Americans can eat just about anything provided it's properly salted. The Spanish sandwiches I had been used to thus far were either ham, turkey, egg, or pig liver. The latter being among my favorites, if not a tad oily. The hamburger smelled like steak, and tasted about the same, too. When I lauded my host mother for her cooking skills, she revealed the secret identity of my meal. Morgan Le Fey seduced King Arthur by disguising herself as Guinevere, and so too did my nemesis, the hamburger, trick me with false vestments. I'm not an expert on meats, so I couldn't tell you if burgers are prepared differently in Spain than in the United States. I just know that it tasted a hell of a lot better. Speaking of hamburgers, I went to a Spanish McDonald's. To my disappointment, it tasted exactly the same as its American counterpart. Probably about as unhealthy, too.
My host mother was a very skilled cook, I daresay she rivaled my own mother. (And that's saying something!) She made delectable fried potatoes, green peas with ham, tomate y pan, cream of zucchini, fresh clams with rice, and that cold tomato soup, gazpacho. I noticed that the Spanish diet includes a lot of eggs, for every meal and in every dish. Nowhere is this better seen than with the Spanish tortilla. In America, the popular conception of a "tortilla" comes from Mexico, which is a flatbread of ground wheat flour. In Spain, the "tortilla" is a bit closer to an omelet, with some major exceptions. The Spanish tortilla can be produced in any frying pan, it requires a mix of eggs, potatoes, onions, and oil. One can add vegetables or meats at their own pleasure. The closest thing I had had to a Spanish tortilla in the States is quiche. Though I'd venture that the tortilla tastes plenty better, especially with ketchup or salsa.
I also tried my tongue on the foods outside of my home, of course. During a brief festival in Santander, I had the good fortune of eating chorizo and paella. As I write this, I am learning that chorizo is a type of sausage, but it certainly didn't taste like one. (Tongue is not as reliable as I once believed it to be.) The chorizo meat was chopped up and mixed with fries and an egg sunny-side up. Quite spicy, though an attractive snack. Paella, on the other hand, was a savory display of Santander's seafood. Being that the city was by the sea, I'm surprised I didn't come across more seafood, but I won't linger on that. Paella is primarily a rice dish, but mixed in with whatever else is available. I can recall fish and shrimp in the paella I had, but beyond that, it's a blur.
When going to another country, it's a cardinal sin not to try the ice cream. As expected, they have all the common flavors, vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, etc. I first tried out turron, a flavor exclusive to Spain, since it is based on a treat they have during Christmastime. I'll admit, I've never had turron before, but I found that the novelty of turron ice cream wore off and devolved into blandness. I fell in love with lemon, being partial to lemon flavored everything since birth. Though pineapple comes in a close second, it doesn't quite melt into the tongue the way that lemon can. I also got a chance to try out Italian gellato at a shop adorned with photos of my high school muse, Audrey Hepburn (fresh off of the film Roman Holiday). You could have two flavors on your cone, I chose chocolate chip mint and some coffee variant. Then there was the frozen yogurt, which was beyond any cream I had ever tasted in my life. This may sound contradictory, but it had a sourful-sweetness to it.
In Spain, the laws surrounding alcohol are far more lax than those in the States. People under twenty-one can drink their fill and without the pestering need to reveal their ID. There are probably cultural differences to these matters, as Spaniards drink alongside their meals and for social relaxation. Americans drink to get drunk. Though these are crude generalizations, as I'm sure there's many a drunkard in Spain as there is a connoisseur in the States. Yet in Spain, one can sense that society feels a touch more comfortable with alcohol in the streets. I literally drank all night with some friends outside of a church. I think that this comfort can be attributable, in part, to the decreased emphasis on driving in Spain. Most folks in the Iberian Peninsula take buses, ride bicycles, or walk. So there's less a fear of drunk drivers causing mayhem on the roads, and I should add that drunk driving accidents are still a leading killer in the States. I've long bemoaned to myself that the American "drink-until-you-get-wasted" ethic, has spoiled many an opportunity to craft a better relationship with alcohol.
While not exactly a drinker, I wasn't exactly a greenhorn, either. I had tasted wine before in my childhood as a Catholic. We took of it during the communion ritual, in which we believed that during "transubstantiation", the wine was briefly transformed into the literal "blood of Christ." An odd, and frankly, unnerving practice when one really thinks about it. One that veers a tad too close to the dietary habits of one Count Dracula. It reminds me of a humorous scene in David Attenborough's Gandhi. While riding on a crowded train with the young Mahatma, Rev. Charlie Andrews encounters a Hindu who tells him that he knows a Christian woman who drinks blood every Sunday. Andrews appears rather disturbed to hear this, until the Hindu adds that this is the "blood of Christ." This detail relieves him slightly, though the initial shock of the conversation does not seem to have left him. Heavy stuff, too heavy for me. So I started off simple. I drank beer.
Beer was the blood of Homer Simpson, the quintessential American beverage. You'd be forgiven for assuming that I'd fall into it naturally. You'd be forgiven, until seeing my track record with hamburgers and hot dogs. So it goes that America's favorite drink will garner no favor of mine. Beer certainly had an attractive smell, as does vanilla extract, but both are about as flavorless as the underside of my refrigerator. In a word, beer didn't cut it for me. There are variants of cat piss which would make more of an impression. So, seeking a more heightened experience, I went for the heavy stuff. The blood of Christ.
I can't put my tongue on it exactly, but red wine, or vino rioja, has a warm place in my heart. It seems that, like a good woman, red wine fills the body with warm elation, and daresay, presents a brief clarity of the mind. The blood of Christ. I can personally attest to these effects, having read the works of Haruki Murakami and Pope Francis while drinking the elixir in some bars and cafes. Murakami, I will say, felt a bit more of a comfortable choice to be reading in these places. His strange narratives often feature jazz bars of a sort. A motif that, no doubt, came from his experiences running the jazz bar, Peter Cat. The wine helped be absorb them. With each sip, my brain became more receptive to the words on the page, indeed, they flowed through me. Upon returning to the States, I have found this effect to be just as potent. Further, it not only made reading more enjoyable, but film and music as well. Of course, there were other drinks I had that are worth note: strawberry daiquiri, sangria, tinto de verano, and moscato. I have a little anecdote about old moscato. When in the Cafe Alaska, I ordered the moscato in Spanish, though the bartender seemed unfamiliar with it, so I repeated it again and again, but to no avail. It turns out that I had been saying the word mascota, which means pet. I half-expected Alf to come in as a waiter with a cat sandwich. We both had a good laugh after that.
And then I got drunk.
American poet, Ogden Nash, once said, "Candy is dandy, Liquor is quicker." It sure is. In my drunkenness I remembered the Porter from Macbeth who called alcohol a provoker of "nose-painting, sleep, and urine." Further, there was lechery, the Porter adds, "it provokes and unprovokes: it provokes the desire but takes away the performance. Therefore, drink may be said to be an equivocator of lechery: it makes him and mars him; it sets him on and takes him off; it persuades him and disheartens him, makes him stand to and not stand to, in conclusion, equivocates him in a sleep and, giving him the lie, leaves him." Forgive me, I quoted the passage in full, though the first sentence would've sufficed. In my defense, I just wanted to give the reader a colorful illustration of the contradictory and confusing nature of alcohol, though many are already well familiar. In my case, drunkenness was hardly an aphrodisiac, nor did it make my nose red, or my bladder go wild. It succeeded in, for good or for ill, liberating my id from the constraints of my superego. I grew less inclined to think before acting. There was something quite freeing in that, although it made keeping your balance tricky.
It was not my intention to get drunk, but then, that's what they all say, isn't it? I was fresh off of completing Bertrand Russell's Wisdom of the West, in which he spoke fondly of Socrates' self-control, "In all he did he was moderate and has amazing control over his body. Though he rarely took wine, when the occasion arose he could drink all his companions under the table without getting tipsy," (65). I thought at the time, perhaps out of sheer hubris, that I could exercise a similar restraint. I had also determined not to live up to American stereotypes, but rather, model an American founder, one Benjamin Franklin. In his Autobiography, Franklin has a list of thirteen virtues that essentially compromised his philosophical outlook. All the precepts are worth following, but what stuck out to me most was the first one, "Temperance", which states, "Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation," (104). I tried to follow this edict, and for the most part I was able to, but somewhere along the way, I fell through. I'll try to be more careful with my liquor in the future, though these matters aren't always easy to anticipate. I don't expect them to be.
In my favorite anime, Neon Genesis Evangelion, one of the leading voice actors goes by the name of Spike Spencer. In addition to being an excellent voice actor, Spike is also an expert in dating and travel. While eating in Spain, I often thought back to something he a said about getting a "taste of culture",
"When you're goin' to different places, different countries, and tryin' different foods, that is the best! I always say that is where you taste, when you eat the local food of a place, you're tasting the soul of that place. Because if you think about this: when we move, when we populate an area, why do we populate that area, at any given time? Because that's where you can make food! You know, so whatever's there, in Japan and Asia there's so much rice, because that's kind of there. You don't see a lot of wheat fields. They have a lot of rice. What do we have? We have lots of fields, so we own wheat. So we own a lot of bread and stuff. And, I mean it's that kind of idea, I think food is such a great connector of people. I think it gets down to the very base level. So when you're sharing food with somebody, that you made for them, that's pretty sweet. It shows that you care a little bit more," (YouTube).
I had the privilege of tasting Spanish food, and so, a part of the Spanish soul. It is an opportunity that many do not have, including some who live on the Spanish soil itself. For in Spain, I saw poverty face-to-face. Homeless people sat on the sidewalks, some with small bowls out for collecting coins. I tried to give them what little change I had whenever I could. Though I couldn't always. What shocked me, however, is that whenever I gave, no matter how small the amount, these poor showed immense gratitude. They knew, more than I, what it was like to live without. They knew, better than I, the value of every euro. The euro is not simply a form of currency in the European Union, but a symbol of solidarity and prosperity. Ideals that were put into question by the ongoing economic crisis in Greece. Do these ideals still mean anything to the poor? I can't say.
The shame of inequality is what kept us in different steps of the economic ladder. I began to realize how much of what I am today can be attributed to my wealth. Being a college student, I clearly don't have much of it, but I have far more than they. It's an unfair circumstance, I know, and I have no answers on how to fix it. With what little change I gave, I knew I wouldn't heal their long-term poverty. Yet they still they were hungry. Hunger was an impulse that couldn't wait for economic reforms. My host mother packed me lunches. I gave them half. In the long run, it's a small token, but it beats an empty stomach. I don't where these poor people are today, or if their situations will ever improve. We were strangers then and we are strangers still, yet through the sharing of food, we connected, however briefly.
Through the sharing of food, I showed them, that I cared a little bit more.
"A Fear Of Flying They Call It." http://sansuthecat.blogspot.com/2015/09/a-fear-of-flying-they-call-it.html
Franklin, Benjamin. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Barnes & Noble Books: New York, 1994. p104. Print.
Russell, Bertrand. Wisdom of the West. Rathbone Books, Ltd: London, 1959. p65. Print.
Spencer, Spike. "A Taste Of Culture." YouTube. Web. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLwL9oD1Zek