Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sampling Jerez

A lot of people don't realize that bears like a nice glass of sherry now & again. Not all bears, of course. Some prefer liqueurs while others like a digestif. Many years ago, when I did my first photo shoot in Madrid for the Spanish version of GQ (I was an international fashion model then), I was introduced to manzanilla - and it's still my favourite tipple.

Manzanilla belongs to the fino sherry family and its name means "chamomile" - like the flower and the tea. In fact, it's called manzanilla because people think it tastes like the tea. I think it tastes like sherry but what do I know? Bears normally drink green tea - not chamomile - because it regulates our body temperature, which is very important during the hibernation season.

Anyway, since I am now in Spain, I decided to do a "sherry tour" and I took a few days off - with my bipedal attendants - to visit two bodegas in Jerez. We started off at the Gonzales Byass Sherry house - the home of Tío Pepe (see me above with Tío ). As a former international fashion model, I really admire Tío 's sense of style. Like me, he's minimalist chic! No wonder he was once painted by Pablo Picasso.

González Byass is the best selling brand in the world. They use palomino grapes to make their sherry which I thought was a bit odd because I always assumed that palominos were horses. I don't think they use horses to make their sherry though. I need to look into this because I am a vegetarian bear.

We also visited the winery of Domecq, whose bodega is called La Mezquita, or "the Mosque", and has Moorish arches and beautiful whitewashed walls. They were very generous with their sampling (as you can see, above-left) and they encouraged us to open and try everything. So we did. I confess that I baulked at having to wear a name badge at Domecq because it just confirms to those who aren't 100% certain that it's me, that it's me. Just to be safe, I took an assumed name but I was still swarmed at the gift shop.

Domecq is also the home of Harvey's Bristol Cream, the favourite sherry of one of my bipedal attendant's mother. She bought a bottle of one of their new products Harvey's Orange - a blend of the Bristol Cream and a twist of natural orange essence. What says Spain better than sherry and oranges? Needless to say, the bottle didn't last too long although no one offered to share it with me. Why do people think that bears are teetotalers?

What was interesting about both bodegas were the signed casks. Over the years, many famous people have visited both Domecq and González Byass and have left their marks on the oak casks. You can see the signatures of the Spanish Royal Family (past & present), Steven Spielburg, Pablo Picasso, Paloma Picasso, Charleton Heston, famous international heads of states, athletes, Hollywood-types and, of course, me! (Once again, my name badge failed me - I was recognized!)

I still have to return to the area and visit the Osborne winery in El Puerto de Santa María - home of excellent wines and sherries and, of course, el toro muy famoso - the Osborne bull. Rumour has it that there is a spot in the town's plaza where witches were once burned and, as a Freelance Goodwill Ambassador, I think it's important that I go to El Puerto de Santa María to acknowledge the people who died there at the hands of ignorance and intolerance. And have a glass of sherry. What a great world it is when you can make a difference in the lives of your fellow planet-dwellers and, at the same time, enjoy a nice glass of Pedro Ximenez Viejo and a handful of olives.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Straight on the Strait of Gib from G.B.

Bears don't have pockets so I never seem to have change. I have a pair of bipedal attendants but they're notoriously unreliable. This normally isn't a big deal but when I first visited Gibraltar - or Gib - I wanted to make a few phone calls from their groovy phone booths. Unfortunately I had to settle for a photo op. I don't mind adding that, when I was there, there was quite the line-up to have one's picture taken in a traditional English phone booth. Some people are such attention seekers.

I like Gib because it's geographically and historically interesting and because my bipedal attendants can drink excellent English beer and that keeps them quiet. Western Europe and Morocco are divided by the Strait of Gibraltar and this strait is linked by the so-called Pillars of Hercules, with Gib on the north and probably Jebel Musa on the south. No one can really decide about the Moroccan bit. There are two other Moroccan towns vying for the crown but, to be honest, it's only Gib I really care about here.

Besides being a former international fashion model and freelance Goodwill Ambassador, I spend a lot of time signing autographs and reading the Classics. One of the 12 Labours of Hercules was to return the cattle of Ge
ryon from Spain to the king of Tiryns. En route he had to climb the mountain which was actually once the giant Atlas but he decided to smash a path through it rather than go up and down it. Using his brute strength, he split the mountain. Not only could he pass directly through it but Hercules also effectively joined the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. Voilà: the Strait of Gibraltar.

The people of Gib have commemorated this rather destructive feat of engineering by erecting t
he "Passage of Time" memorial at the Jew's Gate on the Upper Rock - which underscores Gibraltar's association with the Pillars of Hercules. You can see me between the two pillars and although I'm strong (I am a bear after all) I'm not strong enough to support the world!

Not far from the Jew's Gate are the Apes dens. I don't know if bears and apes have gotten along well historically - although I'd like to think so - but I didn't have much of a chance to talk to these ones. One of my bipedal attendants (the female one) is a little freaked out by monkeys, so we didn't spend too much time here.

These Barbary rock apes - or Macaques - are awfully used to people. Visitors to the Rock like to have their photos taken with the apes and sometimes even feed them. But it's important to remember that they are still wild
animals. As a Goodwill Ambassador I am a role model to millions of people and I have to respect the law. Needless to say, I didn't feed the apes. Even if I had wanted to - and I didn't because it is against the law - my bipedal attendant (the female one) would never have allowed it.

I've been to Gib half a dozen times now and although I always risk being mobbed by autograph hounds, I love visiting. It reminds me of my former international fashion model days when I would fly to London for my shoots - but this is better! Not only can I drive a right-hand drive car (although I usually employ a driver), have a pint of Fuller's London Pride and buy a bag of crisps at Marks & Spencer, I can enjoy the balmy climate of the Mediterranean! England with palm trees! This is a bear's - and an apes' - paradise!