Saturday, December 1, 2007

Bear Baiting 101

I know that I've spoken a bit about bull fighting in Spain and how awful it is but I'm mindful that I'm still a bear and bears face some pretty terrible things in this world too. Not to take anything away from the bulls though. So I'm going to put my freelance Good Will Ambassador hat back on and talk about something very close to my heart: bear baiting.

Bear baiting? Sounds like something out of medieval Europe doesn't it? Well it was but it's still practised in parts of rural Pakistan.

These unfortunate bears are tethered to a post to await the incessant attacks by several savage pit bull terriers trained to inflict injury. The bears can move but they can't escape and they can't really defend themselves either because their claws, canine teeth & incisors have been plucked - itself a painful procedure. Since molars can't be wrenched out they are usually crushed by a hammer. Poor bears.

Up to 2,000 men will stand around them in a circle and watch and cheer and wager on the outcome. The odds are stacked heavily against the bears.
Although illegal (Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1890, under the Pakistan Wildlife Act, and it's proscribed under Islamic Law too), bear-baiting is a traditional 'sporting' event. This is an afternoon's entertainment. Poor bears. Poor dogs too.

The bears are owned and trained by the Kalanders (a gypsy group) who specialise in training Asiatic black bears. It is believed that there are fewer than 300 Asiatic black bears still in the wild in Pakistan. The adult bears are killed but the cubs are sold to the Kalanders who train them. I don't know how much training is necessary when you're tied to a stake - your only natural weapons of defence having already been removed - and killer dogs lunge for your head.

Bears sustain more injuries than dogs and are permanently scarred with ripped noses and mouths and much worse. Because the bears are so valuable to their owners, they are not put of their suffering but kept alive for future 'fights'. Poor bears. Dogs tend to be far better cared for.

This 'sport' is kept alive by a finely honed network of hunters, wildlife dealers, gypsy bear owners and land owners. But it has to stop now. The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) has spent a great deal of money on the construction of a sanctuary for rescued bears. The sanctuary is at Kund Park in the northwest of Pakistan. I'd like to visit there to try to cheer those bears up.

Click here to help WSPA in their fight against this barbaric practice. It only takes a minute to send a letter, but think of the difference you can make in a bear's life.

p.s. I was going to feature a photo from a bear-baiting spectacle but I just couldn't. They're too disturbing. Poor bears. Poor dogs.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Bulls and Bears

When most people talk about bulls and bears, they're usually talking about the Stock Exchange and Wall Street. I only know a little about these things myself. Well, I actually know absolutely nothing because as a former international fashion model and current freelance Good Will Ambassador bear, I have my own financial manager and accountant to worry about things like that. So really, this post should be called "Bulls and the Bear". But it's not. I think I need a new secretary.

Anyway, a few Sundays ago my bipedal attendants took me to visit La Plaza de Toro de las Ventas, which is Madrid's prem
ier bullring. It's a really nice building but the fact is, a lot of animals die there, and it made me really sad. An animal myself and a current freelance Good Will Ambassador bear, I can't help but be affected by the suffering of others. I did have my photo taken with Las Ventas' iconic statue (top left) in which it appears that a matador is flying through the air after being charged by a bull. I like that statue because it seems that the bull is winning. Very few bulls win though.

There are many Madrileños who want bullfighting banned. Last month, with the backing of 2 left-wing deputies and about 70 associations, some 30 arts and sports personalities presented a motion before the Spanish parliament, which demanded the "abolition of all types of ritual spectacle that includes the ill-treatment, death or torture of animals." They neglected to ask me to join them - obviously an oversight on behalf of their planners - but I support them 100%! Parliament is debating a draft law on animal rights but I'm not holding my breath - bullfighting has deep roots in Spain. It's been around for thousands of years - at least since the days of Emperor Claudius 2,000 years ago.

In 2004, Barcelona voted to become a bullfighting-free city but unfortunately, that decision was overturned. Fellow blogger Kalebeul recently featured a video prefaced with these comments:

"Village bullfighting is far more exciting and beautiful than the formalised crap on offer in big rings like Barcelona’s Monumental, but if the photo above gives some idea of the upside, the downside involves stuff like dwarf bullfighters cutting fillets off animals as they race past because they’re too short to plunge the sword in from above."

The photos were pretty grizzly and I couldn't even look at the video. That just makes me so sad. By the time we all left La Plaza de Toro, we needed to exorcise the spirits of those poor tortured bulls. On a warm autumn day the only thing that came to mind was a pint on a sidewalk pub. That helped. But only just a little.

If, like me, you want to see an end to this horrific 'sport', you can e-mail Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero at and the Ministry of the Interior (which governs bullfights in Spain) at

Until then, maybe I should extend my duties and become a
freelance Good Will Ambassador bear for bulls.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

A (Grey) Bear in Madrid

There are bears in Madrid and not just in the zoo!

Imagine how thrilled I was to find that I'm not the only bear here - although I may be the only grey-coloured bear and I'm certainly the only former international fashion model and current freelance Good Will Ambassador bear.

You can see me (left) next to the city's iconic statue, "El Oso y El Madroño". This is Madrid's most popular meeting place for people, possibly because of its location at the junction of Puerta del Sol and Calle Carmen - kilometer zero, the very heart of the city - but more likely because people just want to see the bear. Who wouldn't? There are always crowds of people having their picture taken with El Oso and sometimes they can be a bit of a pain because they block your access to the sidewalk but I know how it is. The day that I had my picture taken with 'el oso' it was pandemonium. Sometimes I forget how famous I am in Europe. Just like David Hasselhoff.

But the bear, you ask. Why a bear? And why is it leaning against a tree? Well it's not just any tree, it's a strawberry tree - or a Madroño tree - although the strawberries aren't real strawberries but they are red like strawberries. The bear is real though. The bear and tree are actually on Madrid's coat of arms so almost everywhere you look in the city, there's a bear! You can see Madrid's bear decorating the entrances to restaurants and pubs - even on manhole covers, although I guess those would be bearhole covers. I wanted to have my picture taken with one of those but my bipedal attendants were concerned that I'd get dirty. There are sacrifices I have to make to maintain my image.

Madrid's bear is actually a she-bear, which would make her an osa not an oso. If you look closely at her, you can see that she's a girl- or at least not a boy-bear. This symbol of the city goes back to the 13th century when there were lots of bears in the area. The strawberry tree represented an agreement made between the Church and State over disputed land claims: the Church got the p
asture lands and the State (or Madrid) got the trees. In the actual coat of arms, the bear also has 7 stars which represent the stars of the constellation ursa minor (little bear).

Interestingly, the painting The Garden of Earthly Delights by Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch which is here in Madrid was catalogued as "the picture with the strawberry-tree fruits" in the inv
entories of the Spanish Crown. Later it was renamed. I like the first name much better. Although I have to admit that the painting is a little bizarre - not the sort of thing that bears normally like, what with the scenes of animals torturing people - but as a former international fashion model and now freelance Good Will Ambassador, I've been exposed to a lot of cultural things. I understand various allegorical themes.

Is it any wonder that I feel so at home here in
Madrid or that busloads o
f Japanese tourists often chase me down the street with their cameras? I thought it was because they recognized me as a former international fashion model and now freelance Good Will Ambassador but maybe it’s because they think I’m Madrid’s El Oso. Although anyone can see that I’m grey and not brown.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Holy Toledo!

I don't know where that expression comes from exactly but it seems like no one else does either. Maybe it refers to Toledo, Ohio - I don't think so though - or Toledo, Spain - I do think so but that's only because I was just there and I've never been to Ohio. I was in Toledo this past weekend so I have a feel for these things now.

Toledo is in Castilla La Mancha. The walled old city sits on a mountaintop - which as a bear was no problem for me to climb - and is surround
ed on three sides by the Tagus river. This is Don Quixote country. You can see me (left) nestled in the arm of Cervantes, who wrote Don Quixote. I rather feel sorry for him because everyone wanted their photo taken with him, and as a former international fashion model and now a freelance Good Will Ambassador, I know what it's like to be pestered by photographers and autograph hounds. Fortunately this wasn't really Cervantes but an inanimate object.

Toledo - a Unesco World Heritage city - has more churches, convents, mosques, synagogues, statues, and other monuments per winding cobblestoned street than almost any other city in the world. It was once called the Cuidad de las Tres Culturas, referring to the time (La Convivencia) when Christianity, Judaism, and Islam lived side by side in peace. I think that time only lasted for
about 3 weeks. It's a shame that they didn't have Good Will Ambassadors - freelance or otherwise - back then, what with the Spanish Inquisition, and the explusion of the Jews and Muslims. They would have been very busy.

I think that the Catholic monuments have fared better over the centuries than their Jewish & Muslim counterparts. I guess Queen Isabel saw to that. But now they're restoring Toledo's mosque (at over 1000 years old, it's the city's oldest building) and have converted 2 synagogues into a museum and a cultural centre. You can see me (right) sitting on the rooftop of our hotel, the Santa Isabel. In the background is the Cathedral which was built between 1226 & 1498. It's not as big as Seville's Cathedral but I think this one is nicer. Except there's a tomb there of Cardinal Mendoza, one of the founders of the Spanish Inquisition. I didn't expect to see that but I'm told that no one expects the Spanish Inquisition. I don't think Cardinal Mendoza could have been a very nice man so I didn't say anything nice on his behalf. Admittedly that's not an appropriate way for a freelance Good Will Ambassador to act but I didn't say anything
really bad either.

One of my favourite places was the Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes - especially t
he cloister where you can see me (left). There are orange trees behind me! When I was having my photo taken, there was some excitement among the other tourists so I couldn't stay too long. My celebrity can be a burden sometimes but I accept it willingly. Outside the monastery are huge iron chains which, at one time had been used to chain up Christian prisoners, but during the Reconquista were used to hang Jewish dissidents. It's hard not to feel sad at things like this. I know they're only chains but ...

... but I enjoyed Toledo. I drank cerveza & sangria and ate lots of patatas bravas. I even saw a Sephardic Jewish group perform. I saw lots of paintings by El Greco (el Greco lived in Toledo) including the amazing The Burial of the Count of Orgaz which is in a church. But I didn't buy a sword. Toledo is famous for its swords. They've been forging these weapons for over 2000 years! When Hannibal was defeated by Toledan swords he decided to use them himself and outfitted his own soldeirs with them. But I'd seen enough gruesome sites for one weekend and I decided to buy as a souvenir a pot of honey made by bees in the mountains around Toledo. As a freelance Good Will Ambassador, I think it's important to choose non-violent souvenirs, and as a bear, what better choice than honey?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Study of Grey on Blue

I'm very partial to colours - flannel grey being the most dignified hue in the colour palette - so it shouldn't be surprising that I was really looking forward to my trip to the northern Moroccan city of Chefchaouen. Or Chaouen as the locals - and me - call it. Chefchaouen means "look at the horns" because the mountains that loom over the town look like goat horns. I liked Chaouen: the only thing that could have made it better was if it were a grey city. But it's not; it's a blue city.

I confess that because Chaouen is a mecca for hipsters, hippies, more affluent Moroccans and Europeans - especially from neighbouring Spain - I was concerned that I'd be mobbed by paparazzi and autograph hounds. As a former international fashion model and freelance Good Will Ambassador, my privacy is important to me. Surprisingly, I was left alone by my international hordes of fans.

The people in Chaouen were nice except for the hotel tout who followed my bipedal attendants and me when we first entered the medina. He said all Canadians were paranoid because we didn't need or want his help. That wasn't particularly nice because a) paranoid is a mean word and b) he was really trying to dissuade us from going to the hotel we had reserved and go to his instead. You can see me (below right) on the roof of the Hotel Harmony with Chaouen and the Rif Mountains in the background. Admittedly, Chaouen doesn't look very blue in this picture. But it is.

Chaouen is not only blue - a throwback to its Jewish roots - but very Spanish too. Moorish exiles from Spain founded the city over 500 years ago as a fortress against Portuguese invaders. After Spain became Catholic again (the Reconquista), many Jews and Moriscos (Muslims who had converted to Christianity) came to Chaouen. Until 1920, only 3 Europeans had visited the town! In that year, Spain incorporated Chaouen into Spanish Morocco - the city of Cueta or Cebta on the Moroccan mainland is still part of Spain, just like Gibraltar is British. You can see the Andalucian influence in the town's architecture, food, and language. But that may be because they're catering to Spanish tourists.

There isn't a whole lot to see or do in Chaouen but it's nice to wander through the white and blue alleyways, drink coffee in the Outa el Hammam (the main plaza), and visit the kasbah. The kasbah was built by none other than Moulay Ismail. You can still see huge iron rings in the walls where prisoners were chained. But there are lots of palm trees and pretty flowers there too. Not in the prison though. Many people also go hiking in the mountains but, contrary to popular belief, bears don't like to hike. I really liked the Rif mountains because they reminded me of the Sierra Nevadas in Spain. Chaouen has a very laidback atmosphere - even by Moroccan standards - but that may be because a lot of hashish is grown in the area. I didn't smoke any although I was offered some.

Freelance Good Will Ambassadors should always say no to drugs.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Bear & Sultan

This past weekend, I took a quick trip to Morocco's royal city of Meknès and although this wasn't my first trip to Meknès - I was there in 2000 - this time I was accompanied by a working camera. As a former international fashion model, this was very important to me.

You can see me atop the Medersa Bou Inania - the 14th century Q'uranic school - with the minaret of the Grande Mosquée looming in the background. I rather like Meknès. You can buy amazing donuts here. And my bipedal attendants say that the beer is cheaper than in Rabat.

Probably unlike any other Moroccan city, Meknès is almost solely associa
ted with one historical figure ... one larger-than-life historical figure by the name of Moulay Ismail (1645-1727). You can see me below peeking out from one of the horseshoe doorways at his mausoleum (below right) which, because of his god-like status in Moroccan history, is open to infidels and bears alike.

Moulay "the Bloodthirsty" Ismail seems to have inherited the throne legitimately in spite
of the 80 or so family members who felt they had an equal or better right to rule. Consequently, the first 5 years of his reign are drenched in blood, during which time the claims of his rivals were effectively quashed. I wonder how many of the 80 or so were left standing once the smoke cleared? Repairing to Meknès, he devoted himself to building a capital city & palace that rivalled that of Versailles, even asking for the hand of one of Louis XIV's daughters in marriage. Apparently the Sun King declined.

To help build his palace, he "engaged" the services of tens of thousa
nds of slaves - many of whom were Christians from Western Europe (notably the UK, Spain & Portugal) as well as the Mediterranean rim - who had been captured from ships or snatched from their churches and homes by marauding Corsair pirates, or "Sally Rovers". Their home base was Salé which is the twin sister to Rabat. That’s where I currently live.

These slaves suffered grievously, living and working under tortuous conditions. They were used as pawns by Moulay Ismail during the negotiations instigated by those Western leaders who sought their release. Treaties were seldom honoured by the Sultan and slaves were
often not released even after ransoms were paid. He treated the horses in his vast stable with greater concern & humanity; in fact, the pee and poops of his horses which had completed the hajj to Mecca were caught in a special bowl by an attendant, lest the earth below sully them.

Many Christian slaves endured prolonged tortures, honeyed with empty promises of better treatment and freedom if they converted to Islam. Often, those who refused to abjure their faith were publicly circumcised; those who did convert were effectively abandoned by their governments as apostates. Their only hope for release was by escape or death. As a bear, I would have bitten them – even though I am a freelance goodwill ambassador.

Western historians consider Moulay Ismail a capricious and monstrous psychopath while their counterparts in
North Africa revere him as the founder of modern Morocco. Let me just add that cutting a man in half - vertically, from head to crotch - was a common method of execution under the Sultan, so you be the judge. Although, to be fair, he did consider it more humane to begin cutting from the head. Just thinking about it makes my seams itch.

I think it would be fair to say that Moulay Ismail would not have made a very good goodwill ambassador, freelance or otherwise.

Grey Bear Tip: Giles Milton's White Gold provides an excellent read for those interested in Moulay Ismail & the plight of his infidel slaves.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Bear & Poet

That's me - not a statue of me - sitting on a bear-size chair next to a bronze statue of poet Fernando Pessoa which stands (or sits) in front of the Café a Brasileira, one of Lisbon's oldest & most famous coffeehouses. I had to wait quite a long time to have my photo taken because every tourist in Lisbon had to have their pictures taken that day too. Tourists can be so tiresome ... always on the prowl for a photo op. Unlike me who, as a former international fashion model, has a moral obligation to share my image with the public.

Eighty-five years ago, the Café a Brasileira ("the Brazilian Woman") first opened its doors on Largo do Chiado - an offshoot of a coffee shop that had operated there since 1905 - to offer Lisbon "genuine Brazilian coffee". The café became a popular watering hole for intellectuals and artists, and gained even greater fame for permanently exhibiting the portraits of Lisbon artist José Almada Negreiros. These paintings were moved to the Centro de Arte Moderna in 1960. Currently, there are no portraits of me there; I am seeking to rectify the situation.

Still a java-hotspot, the café's tables have now spilled outside to acco m modate sun-seeking coffee aficionados. On the occasion of the centenary of native son Fernando Pessoa's birth, his image, cast in bronze, was erected outside what was one of his many haunts. The poet once wrote:

I have no ambitions and no desires.
Being a poet is not my ambition,
It's just my way of being alone.

Really, it's not so different from being an international fashion model and freelance Good Will Ambassador.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

GB Visits the Big Apple

No, it's not what you're thinking - this is the other Big Apple - in Berwick, Canada. Berwick (not pronounced Bear-wick as any logical person would presume) lies in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley and is the province's self-acclaimed Apple Capital. Broadway may have glamour and glitz but Berwick has:

* The Apple Capital Museum
* The Apple Blossom Festival

* The Apple Blossom Princess
* The Apple Blossom Princess Wardrobe Tea
* The Old-Time Apple Festival, and of course,
* The Big Apple (as pictured to the left with me).

Kathryn Elizabeth Cleveland - Queen Annapolisa LXXV - the Apple Blossom Princess to the right. She declined to have her photo taken with me - or so her bodyguards told me - but isn't she a hottie?

My minimalist chic grey flannel fur looks particularly stunning against the crimson red of the Big Apple, don't you think? And my brown eyes pick up the brown in the apple's stem too.

But I digress.

Anyway, I could go on and on about Berwick and how it deserves the moniker Big Apple far more than New York but, really, that would just be comparing apples to oranges.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Who Exactly is Grey Bear?

Grey Bear is a grey flannel bear who once worked as a model for fashion designer Alfred Sung's Club Monaco stores. Not wishing to be seen as just a pretty face, Grey Bear allowed himself to be sold as a charity bear during the 1998 Christmas season and was subsequently taken under the wings of his present bipedal attendants, a couple of irresponsible financially-retarded ne'er do wells.

Fortunately for Grey Bear, these non-ursine/bipedal attendants take him everywhere they travel. He is well on his way to becoming a globe-trotting grey bear.