Monday, August 25, 2008

Feria for a Bear(ia)

This past Saturday, I took my bipedal attendants and my god-bipedal attendants to Málaga's feria, Andalucía's most famous summer fair - famous because malagueños have been drinking and dancing and parading horses and killing bulls (I don't like that part of it) through the summer's hottest two weeks for over 500 years.

On August 19th, 1487, the Catholic Kings entered the city, formally bringing it under the aegis of the crown of Castille. Four years later, Málaga's bigwigs decreed that festivities to commemorate Isabel and Ferdinand's reconquista should begin on August 15th - a time which also coincided with ongoing religious celebrations. The rest is history.

During the day, feria-istas (I just made that word up) head towards calle Larios in the downtown core to party away Málaga's daylight hours and, if they're still standing by evening, will continue on to the Real: the actual fair ground.

We were quickly caught up in the bedlam of calle Larios. One of the official drinks of the feria is cartojal: a typical wine from Málaga - sweet and pale - made from the muscatel grape. Bottles of icy cold wine and glasses are sold everywhere: the ice cream shop behind me (upper right) was transformed into a cartojal shop - and at 8 euros a bottle, it doesn't take long for sobriety to become a distant memory. In fact, the official feria website warns feria-istas:

Pace yourself, though, it goes down great but packs a punch and the fair goes on until late...

Excellent advice which we chose not to take. In retrospect, we probably should've eaten something more substantial than a small plate of manchego cheese.

Instead, we indulged in several bottles of cartojal and a few cervezas, stumbling about the streets with other carousing malagueños - many of whom were wearing typical Andalucían dress (flamenco is the dress code and gender-bending is encouraged). I'm not terribly proud of this but I became so tipsy that I actually was convinced to don a bright red flower - a flor de tela - in my bear-hair. But I'm comfortable with that - I mean, I am a boy-bear and all - but I think it's okay to let loose and colour outside the lines as it were. And I was pretty colourful.

Everyone wanted to have their photo taken with me - which I'm used to because I am a very recognizable and rather photogenic bear (a throwback to my international fashion model days) - but as a freelance Goodwill Ambassador, I was a little concerned that my excessive cartojal-consumption may have fallen short of the high standards set by the United Nations. I confess that my image may have been tarnished a bit too. Oh well. Málaga's feria comes but once a year and I can start working on my role as "pillar to society" this afternoon.

Or maybe tomorrow because t
oday is a holiday in Málaga. The feria is over though - it actually ended yesterday - but because this is Spain, malagueños require a day of rest to recuperate from the previous 9 days of abandon and debauchery. And I always say that when in Rome - or Málaga - you should do as the Romans - or malagueños - do. I'm going back to bed. I just hope that no one sends UNESCO any compromising photos of me from Saturday afternoon.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Bear-muda Triangle

I have to share with you my very sad news: I'll be leaving Spain shortly to continue my travels abroad. The good news is that my blog will continue so at least that's bearable. (I love bear puns).

Because of this, I made it a priority last week to visit the last town in Spain's famous sherry triangl
e: Sanlúcar de Barrameda (not Bear-ameda). I've already visited Puerto de Santa María and Jerez so this completes my Bear-muda Triangle of sherry.

I've actually spoken at great length about sherry but, if you'll permit me, I'll repeat what I said about manzanilla:

"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 hibernation season."

Sanlúcar is best known for its manzanilla and it's the best in all of Spain. It has a salty flavour thanks to the sea breezes which cool the small riverside town. I took my bipedal and my god-bipedal attendants there last week for a tour of the Pedro Romero bodega. Because of my extensive knowledge of sherry production, we were able to skip the guided tour and I led the group myself (see above right) ... just another thing to add to my c.v.

I won't bore everyone with the ins and outs of making sherry but let me say that one of the most important components in the process is the flor, or yeast. Flor (which really means flower in Spanish) is indigenous to Andalucía. Because sherry barrels are only filled about 5/6th of the way, a layer of flor develops naturally from the fermented musts (the freshly squeezed fruit juice) which then provides a protective barrier between young wines and the air.

This "seal" not only keeps the sherry from tasting like vinegar but aficionados like myself can actually taste the residual flavour of fresh bread in the final product. Bears have a very refined nose and palate.

Interestingly, the climate and humidity of both Sanlúcar de Barrameda and Puerto de Santa María are different than that of neighbouring Jerez, so the layer of flor is thicker. Science can be so interesting when the final product is sherry! While in Sanlúcar I took the opportunity of initiating my bipedal and my god-bipedal attendants into the mysteries of Andalucían yeast. I think they were still a little confused: I swear their heads can be as thick as the flor sometimes.

Of course, when it was time to leave, the management begged me to sign a sherry barrel. This is an honour afforded to very few and I can now count myself among the crowned heads of Europe. I'm not sure if I was asked because of my former international fashion model days (although I didn't see Claudia Schiffer's signature) or because I'm now a freelance Good Will Ambassador (I didn't see Angelina Jolie's signature either) ... but maybe it's because I know so much about sherry and have "survived" the Bear-muda Triangle. Or maybe it's a bit of all three. I hope so anyway.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Bear, a Bull & a Flea

Being a former international fashion model, I often find myself sitting on the very cutting edge of fashion & design. This past year in Spain - in fact yesterday was my one year anniversary in the hola-land! - has been no exception and I confess that I've been completely smitten with the creations of a company from Pamplona called Kukuxumusu.

Kukuxumusu - which means 'the flea's kiss' in Euskara, (the
Basque language) - has been around for almost 20 years and the company got its start during the 1989 San Fermin fiesta ... what we think of as the Mother-of-All Running of the Bulls festivals. Story has it that 3 friends, Gonzalo, Koldo and Mikel, wanted to earn some drinking money for the fiesta, and so they began designing very quirky t-shirts.

The rest is history.

Among the many things that has made
Kukuxumusu successful is its upside-down world wherein bulls get the better of humans and an octopus falls in love with an ink-squirting fountain pen so it's no surprise that an almost anatomically-correct bull by the name of Mr. Testis would eventually become their mascot. In the world of Kukuxumusu, you can even find bears doing things that bears normally don't do, which modesty prevents me from describing in too much detail (although consenting individuals over the age of 18 can see here).

Yesterday, my bipedal attendants, my newly appointed god-bipedal attendants (which makes me wonder if my bipedal attendants are planning on giving notice) and I found ourselves enjoying Happy Hour piña coladas in Tarifa's old
town. Tarifa is one of a handful of cities in Spain to have an exclusive Kukuxumusu store and needless to say, when Mister Testis - who just happened to be ambling through the old town - recognized me he came running toward me and gave me a big - well not bear hug - but a big bull hug. Then of course everyone had to take a picture of us: the iconic spokes-animal of Spain and the world's most famous former international fashion model and freelance Good Will Ambassador. We had to pose for hours (and sadly, my piña colada got warm) but one can't disappoint The Public.

I think my head is as big as his testicles.

Kukuxumusu's creations are available outside of Spain but I think that next month, when my bipedal attendants and I leave Spain, we'll all be (unofficial) Kukuxumusu ambassadors to the world - because god knows they've bought enough of t-shirts, coffee mugs, fans, sun hats and hip flasks this past year. Clearly I need to lower their allowance.

(Unofficial) Kukuxumusu ambassador to the world ... I think I'll start updating my c.v. now.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Córdoba Recycled

I realize that I haven't written for some time but I confess that, because of the recent heat, my siestas are getting longer and longer. What's a bear to do? - I mean, we are genetically programmed for long sleeps after all. In any case, a few weeks ago I decided to pay a visit to Córdoba. As a freelance Good Will Ambassador, I'm naturally drawn to places which tolerated and embraced different religions, cultures and ideas. That's part of my job description.

Founded by the Roma
ns over 2,000 years ago (Julius Caesar once sacked it out of pure spite), it would eventually fall to the Moors in the 8th century. During this period it rivalled Baghdad and Cairo as the epicentre of art, learning & culture and, in its day, was considered the most brilliant city in all of Europe. It became a kingdom in its own right in 929 but was retaken in 1236 by Ferdinand III, which signaled its decline from greatness. Of course, the plague didn't help.

Phew! That's a lot of history!

We can still see today those cultural links between East and West that Córdoba forged over the centuries: Roman, Islamic, Jewish and Christian influences are everywhere. In the Je
wish quarter or Judería, I visited one of the three synagogues which still exists in all of Spain. It's very small - bear-size in fact.

While walking through the Judería, I was as
ked by camera-wielding touristos to pose with Averroës, (I know! I know! - always the fashion model!), the Muslim philosopher, theologian, physician and all around Big Brain of the twelfth century. Among his many accomplishments - because he really did have an awfully big brain - he's believed to have been the first physician to identify and treat erectile dysfunction. Sometimes I'm glad that Grey Bears don't have reproductive bits.

Although there's
lots to see in Córdoba - my bipedal attendants proved very adept at sniffing out excellent bars and stealing beer glasses from them - the biggest jewels in the city's already heavy crown are its alcázar (or fortress) and mezquita (or mosque). And if I had to chose - although no one really asked me to - the mezquita is my favourite. And not just because my grey flannel fur is shown to full advantage among its red and white horseshoe arches and pinkish light. (Although it does).

When you meander through the Patio of the Oranges or the mosque itself, it's hard to imagine that it took builders just one year to start and complete the mezquita. But in 785, what would be considered an architectural tour de force, pretty much set the Arab world on its ear. Walking through the mosque is like walking through a forest of columns and semi-circular & horseshoe arches, except here there are no lions and tigers, and only one bear.

Like many things in Andalucía, the
mezquita would eventually be converted into a church, and is now the city's cathedral. It's kind of like architectural recycling, I guess. But that's what I like about Córdoba - and Granada and Sevilla and much of reconquered Spain for that matter. Andalucía isn't just bullfights, flamenco, excellent sangria and beer, tapas, and traditional homes with shady patios and gardens of jasmine and bougainvillea and bubbly fountains. (Although that's part of it). I mean, in the end, if we can't get along and play nicely, can't we at least respect the pretty buildings each of us made? I bet the mezquita's architects would agree.