A day in Ronda, Spain

September 23, 2016 2 comments

Entering Ronda, a small city in the south of Spain, on a hot, sunny, September Saturday, we were surprised by crowds that made it seem as if everyone in town and the surrounding, picturesque, Pueblos Blancos, White Villages, were jammed into the city streets.
At first we assumed they may be celebrating Santa Teresa de Jesus, whose hands are kept in the Madres Carmelita Descalza convent at the center of the city. Franco, who helped by Hitler and Mussolini led the fascists to victory in the Spanish civil war and ruled the country until his death in 1975, was so fond of Santa Teresa that he ‘borrowed’ her hands to kiss them nightly. The hands, encased in a silver reliquary, were returned upon Franco’s death. But no one was lined-up at the convent, not even to buy the delicious cakes baked and sold by the unseen nuns.
The reason for the crowds was next door, for la corrida, the bullfight. The best toreros and the fiercest bulls were to meet at the Plaza de Toros for what many consider the best bullfights in Spain.
I am not a fan. Bullfights are controversial, even in Spain; Barcelona has already banned them. But as luck would have it, we had visited a fierce bull breeding ranch and learned much about bulls and bullfighting.
The young bulls are raised in a fenced pasture where they lead a life of leisure, eating—4,000 euros per bull yearly upkeep—and sleeping. They are so lazy that their food is placed uphill and their water downhill, to get them to move a bit, leading one to wonder how they develop their tremendous strength, other than by testing themselves against their contemporaries, sometimes with fatal consequences. They never, ever, see a man on foot until fully grown, and at 1,500 pounds, enter the arena.
Bullfighting is considered an art. To become a torero remains the poor man’s dream; the best earn up to 250,000 euros per corrida. But a bullfight is carried out according to tradition and strict rules; the various toreros have very specific duties. The number of charges, just as the number of passes is prescribed. Plus the bulls are very intelligent; after only a few charges at the cape, they will charge the man.
A bullfight is the ultimate reality sport. The fiercer the bull the better, though some are duds, disinterested Ferdinands; no one knows till the moment of truth.
Attending a corrida was tempting. But the small arena sits only 5,000 and with tickets costing thousands of euros and long gone, we settled for people watching and sightseeing—we came to Ronda to see its spectacular gorge and bridge. Everyone was in a festive mood with many, mostly women, wearing colorful costumes from yesteryear and happy to smile and pose, even for a dumbfounded tourist.
It was lucky we were there that day, enjoying the atmosphere and an unhurried lunch of tapas and sangria at a shaded outdoor cafe. A most memorable day.

Am I going insane? Someone is.

June 21, 2016 2 comments

There is an old joke–all my jokes are old–about a man about to marry into a Baptist family. [I think it would work almost as well if the man would be marrying into an orthodox Jewish family.] The man asks the cleric about dos and don’ts.
Dancing is a no-no, he is told, but sex is okay.
“Really?” the man asks, surprised.
“Any sex.”
“In the bedroom, in the bathroom, in the kitchen?”
“Yes, yes and yes.”
“Indoors and out?”
“Standing up?”
“Uh, no, that might look like dancing.”
Sadly it reminds me of the Republican, right wing stance on terrorism and assault weapons. “We are waging a war against terrorism. We must,” they say, “kill ’em all. Bomb them back to the stone age, hunt them wherever they hide, pursue them to the ends of the earth, do everything we can, whatever it takes, even if we kill a few innocents, even if we have to snoop on Americans, or on leaders of friendly countries, do whatever you can, even if it means hacking away their money, blowing away their resources and weapon caches.”
“How about stopping them from buying assault weapons in the USA?
“Uh, no, that might look like dancing.”

Time Stand Still while I hide behind the camera

June 17, 2016 Leave a comment

Last night Ruth and I attended a performance of “Time Stands Still,” a play by Donald Margulies, at the Langhorne Players, a seventy-three seat venue literally around the corner from us. What a treat. The play is very thought provoking, which is what led me to write this piece but, before getting to that, I must acknowledge the excellence of the cast, the direction, the production, frankly the whole thing. There was nothing amateurish about any of it even though everyone involved was a volunteer.

The only way I can evaluate acting is by suspension of disbelief. And that they did. Laura Scotti as the star photojournalist Sarah and Nigel Rogers as James, a journalist who is her partner in life and adventure were superb. At no time did I think they were anything but what they were portraying. And so were Tom Dinardo as Richard, their much-wiser-now editor and Sara Stepnowski as Mandy, his naive, unsophisticated and uncomplicated trophy wife. They all delivered their lines—and there were many of them—so smoothly and fluidly and credibly and with such good timing, while navigating the small stage, that much credit must be given to the director, Jean Brenner.

Ruth and I have attended performances at the Langhorne Players before, but after such a performance, we wondered why we don’t go more often. We will.

What led me to write this piece was the ending of the play, when Sarah brings out her camera [spoiler alert] and focuses on the departing James. One question raised in the play concerned the role of a journalist. “I’m there to take pictures, that’s my job,” Sara states at a key point when Mandy confronts her: why not try to save the poor kid dying rather than taking his picture? Why not save the baby elephant separated from his mother? Sarah believes the greater good comes from letting people know what is happening, while Mandy, who traversed the widest arc during the play, has matured into a person who understands what is important and is willing to put everything else aside.

It reminded of when my kids were doing gymnastics and I would film them. (I have boxes full of VCR tapes of their gymnastics exploits, tapes I keep promising myself I’ll translate into DVDs)

I got the big bulky video camera (this was around 1980 when one had to lug a recorder as well) to record them for posterity and to let them watch themselves and improve. What I discovered was that by getting behind the camera, I attained separation. By concentrating on keeping them in focus and in the frame I saved myself much anxiety and the worry that they would fall or fail at a trick.

Sigmund Freud defined happiness as the absence of pain. Those who take the biggest chances, he claimed, are likely to feel the most happiness when they succeed and the most pain when they don’t. By remaining behind the camera, I dampened the extremes, I got to watch their performances later, when I knew the results. I didn’t set out to do that, but it worked out that way.

In the play [spoiler alert] Sarah chose to return to the front lines, to feeling the adrenaline surge while remaining behind the lens, apart, feeling her subjects’ pain, but remotely. James chose a normal life, one with direct emotional involvement. Freud might have said (imagine Austrian accent) that Sarah wanted the highs while hiding from the lows while James was willing to roll the dice.

What Donald Margulies wanted to express, I can’t say, other than to pose questions, as good writers do. One of his points is clear though: life is horrible, and wonderful. Figure out how to deal with it.

Could Bob Dole ever be an Eagles fan? I hope not.

June 12, 2016 Leave a comment

I am an Eagles fan and yes, it is frustrating. They haven’t won a championship since 1950. Even worse, I became an Eagles fan during the seventies, when they put on the field some horrendous teams. Fortunately I have some escape valves. I root somewhat for the New England Patriots. They became my team when I lived in Boston and first started to follow football. This lasted even after I moved to the area, until I switched allegiance to the local team. I also have a sentimental attachment to the Green Bay Packers; because they are from a small town and are owned by the townspeople, they feel like a sort of national underdog. I would think they should be considered America’s team. But make no mistake: The Philadelphia Eagles are my team.
Some people have been Eagles fans for life. They revel in it, they paint themselves green, tailgate at games and make the team a central part of their life. However, I doubt any of them would unconditionally support Nelson Agholor, a wide receiver recently accused of rape by an exotic dancer.
There have been a few instances where women have accused well known, affluent athletes of rape hoping to make a financial killing. For Agholor’s sake, I hope that is the case. Alas, those are the exception. A teeny, tiny exception. Overwhelmingly, women claiming to have been raped have been raped. And then they are made to feel responsible. They are accused of bringing it on themselves by drinking or dressing in a provocative manner or being an exotic dancer or even of being a whore. Rape is rape. There are no extenuating circumstances. None. Zero. No respectable Eagles fan would condone Agholor’s alleged behavior.
Which brings me to Bob Dole. This is someone I respected. Senator Dole, who ran for president in ‘96, seemed a responsible, sober public servant. Whether I disagreed with his views or not, I respected him, till a few days ago.
Bob Dole just said “I’ve been a Republican all my life, and I know that both candidates are flawed, and Trump has done some things that would curl your hair, things that he shouldn’t have said…I mean, what am I gonna do? I can’t vote for George Washington, so I’m supporting Donald Trump.”
I would have hoped Mr. Dole would have said: I have been a Republican all my life but I have also been an American all my life and while I cannot support Mrs. Clinton, my conscience, common sense and abiding love for my country will not permit me to support Mr. Trump.”
That’s what a decent human being would have said. What this Eagles fan says about a player who commits heinous acts or says odious things.
Being a Republican or a Democrat is not like being a sports fan. We aren’t rooting for a team, we are voting for our future.

They are doing it to us, and we are letting them.

April 8, 2016 2 comments

Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders are doing it. Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul did as well, just as president Obama did eight years ago. They kept their federal jobs, their titles, salaries and wonderful benefits while openly seeking other employment.
The Hatch act prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activity. Even state employees who are principally funded by the federal government are subject to this law. So why should it be possible for members of the Senate and House to keep their jobs while running for higher office?
Silly me. Because they pass the laws and they carefully exclude themselves from being affected by those laws. And yet, they do like to carry on about their ‘solemn duty’ to follow ‘laws’ that don’t exist. (see phantom Biden rule about supreme court justice nominations.)
So, while I am paying their salary, they not only aren’t showing up for work, they don’t even mind being filmed and recorded while pursuing this other job. If they worked in industry, my HR department would fully support my decision to fire them and no court in the land would dispute my being right.
If you were paying their salary, and you are, why wouldn’t you fire them?
Which brings up a related situation: the GOP platform is explicit about wanting smaller government. They are big on shrinkage, something akin to the “Costanza rule.” So why doesn’t the GOP question whether some positions are needed at all, such as state governors. Does New Jersey need one?
Chris Christie spent the last year seeking other employment. (Some may argue he has spent a lot more time than that.) Even when it became clear he wouldn’t get the position he sought, rather than returning full time to his current duties as governor of the state, Mr Christie chose to take an unpaid internship as Mr. Drumpf’s lackey, in the hope that it may lead to some undefined, albeit well rewarded, federal job.
Fortunately, at least in Mr. Christie’s case, as the ancient knight in the Indiana Jones “Last Crusade” episode said, “he chose. . .poorly.”

How about Hillary as the GOP candidate?

March 3, 2016 1 comment

I haven’t always been a Hillary Clinton fan but I’d like to propose that the GOP nominate her for the presidency.
There are three arguments in favor of this action.
(A) Neither of the three top Republican candidates are qualified to be president. Not even close. Only Kasich, who is running a distant fourth, could pass a presidential qualification test. By the way, Congress should consider instituting such a test to avoid current and past embarrassments: Sara Palin? Barack Obama elected after a two-year, part-time stint as a US Senator? The presidency shouldn’t be an on-the-job training center. (See Cruz, Rubio)
(B) Hillary Clinton is not only qualified and experienced, she has been tested. She has endured and survived relentless unwarranted attacks, not for months or years, but for decades. Starting when Bill ran for president and she was accused of being a feminazi, followed by attacks on her hair, her figure, her laugh, her pant suits, her supposedly being a lesbian (not that there is anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld would say) and on and on. She was even attacked because her husband cheated on her. She wasn’t being attacked for her beliefs but for being a woman. No wonder she has become guarded and secretive.
A double nomination would not only restore our credibility and prestige in the world, it would lead to a functioning government, where members of both parties stop carping at one another and get down to their job: crafting the laws needed for the common good of our once, and still, great nation. And finally, (C) It would be such great fun.

Finally figured out Trump. Duh.

March 2, 2016 3 comments

I’m not sure why sometimes it takes me so long to see what’s in front of my nose. I’ve been thinking of Donald Drumpf (Thanks John Oliver: once you hear that name you can’t help but use it) as a narcissistic, misogynistic, racist, lying demagogue. Which he is, in addition to many other things. (I suspect he is antisemitic as well, given how often he has lost to big time NY developers who happen to be Jewish)

In reality what he is, is a snake oil salesman. That’s why he is winning elections. The people who vote for him may be racists or fascists or whatever, but not necessarily.(At least I hope so) Quite likely they just want to believe the snake oil (eg., he will make us winners, he will get Apple to build their phones in the USA and Mexico to pay for the wall) will work, even though they have to, they absolutely gotta know there is zero chance he can make any of that happen.