Wednesday, September 1, 2010

GB Gets Hydrated

While in Athens this time around, I insisted that the bipedals get out of the city for a day. I mean, I love museums and all but every once in a while you need to kick back and feel the sea breeze blowing through your flannel. So we headed down to the port of Piraeus and hopped on a ferry heading to the Saronic Islands, which lie between the Saronic Gulf and the Argolic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. (That was for the geography-challenged among my readership.)

We visited three islands that day, but for the sake of time and space, I'll confine my observations today to the island of Hydra. Hydra (pronounced ee-thra) is about 37 nautical miles away from Athens - I don't really know what that means - but getting there took about 3 hours of sailing through clear azure water peppered all the way with small islands. By the way, the name Hydra comes from the Greek word for water (there were a lot of natural springs there in ancient times) and not from the name of the 7-headed monster which Hercules slew. (That's for all of you mythology buffs among my readership.)

Hydra has been on the map so to speak since the second half of the third millennium BCE. That's an awful long time. Historically, we don't know too much about the island apart from who invaded it and when - at least until the Ottoman period when it (and its shipyards) began to prosper. It's a small island and never had a huge population, and was often depopulated due to invaders and plagues and marauding pirates. Fortunately, our ferry wasn't attacked by pirates. I wasn't too worried, but you never know how far those Somalians are willing to travel for booty (hopefully not my booty!).

In the 19th century - thanks to the prosperous sea captains and sailors who lived on the island - Hydra played an importa
nt role in the War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire. Sadly during the Second World War, it was occupied (again) and many people died of starvation. Poor island.

Nowadays things are looking up for Hydra. Tourism - mainly day trippers from Athens - is the island's number one industry which works out just fine because the island is gorgeous. The whitewashed houses of the hilly town of Hydra hug a deep harbour of sparkling aquamarine blue - it's paradise! Townspeople must think it's paradise too because they've made their little white town a green town: all motorized traffic is forbidden (apart from garbage trucks and a fire truck). In fact, visitors to the island are greeted by a taxi stand of donkeys and mules. Locals pretty much walk everywhere because the town itself is so compact, or use 4-legged transportation. A word of warning: you have to watch out for the donkey "exhaust" on the ground!

I must admit that it was pretty hot on the island (not Iraq hot, of course), but I still found myself needing to stop by the little tabernas which lie here and there to cool off and re-hydra-te myself (hee hee, that's a little bear humour). Seriously, staying properly hydrated is not a laughing matter - especially under the Mediterranean sun. I don't know what your problem is, but you humans are chronically under-hydrated. Don't you love your kidneys?

Anyway, most day trippers hang out on the waterfront which I find odd because the best of the town is found by following the back alleys which wind up up up from the harbour. Of course, because of the heat you just have to stop and have a drink - to keep hydrated. It really is important, you know.

There are beautiful churches and the mansions of sea captains to see, rocky beaches, a museum and even a giant chess board. (I was tempted to have a game or two but, in all honesty, I was the Alfred Sung Chess Champion for three years running among the other models I worked with when I was an International Fashion Model, and I don't like to show off.) And if you like cats (bears love cats), the island is virtually overrun with cats basking in the sunshine, doing nothing much but waiting for the fishing boats to come in. They're also fed well by the townspeople, so I think they have it pretty good. How people treat stray animals says a lot about them don't you think?

Eventually we had to leave, with our ferry bound for the islands of Poros and Aegina. Thanks to my highly-tuned investigative skills (as a freelance Goodwill Ambassador, you have to be very intuitive in order to sniff out corruption and stuff), I noticed that at the ferry's bow (that's the front for you landlubbers), there were deck chairs set up. And no one on them -imagine! So for the rest of the day, when we weren't on dry land, we cruised the Aegean with a front row view. Not only that but I managed to convince the bartender to serve us on the bow (that wasn't too hard because he had already recognized me). What a life! I keep telling the bipedals that this could be their lives too if they just developed a better work ethic. Until then, they had better keep buying those lottery tickets.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Grey Bear Navel Gazes

As many of you correctly guessed from my previous posting, I was recently on holiday in Greece again with my bipedal attendants and my god-bipedals. What a great time we had! While there we all took a road trip (bears love road trips) to the Sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi (or Delfi, or Δελφοί) on Mount Parnassus, which just happens to be the centre of the universe. I know what you're thinking: Grey Bear! - the centre of the universe? Really? Yes, I know that the Turks claim that the centre of the universe is in Istanbul, but it's true! It's in Delphi!

According to legend, the god Zeus released two eagles from opposite ends of the earth, an
d they came together at the spot which would become Delphi. In fact, an omphalos (or belly-button monument) was raised to mark the spot! The Turks only have a stupid pillar.

The site was once associated with a female oracle - the Pythia - who uttered the prophesies of the Python, a snake god who lived beneath the navel. But according to one tradition, the sun god Apollo killed the Python, ensuring that the Pythia would work for him instead. My female bipedal attendant went on and on about this representing the dominance of male-based religious cults over female ones, but I wasn't really listening to her.

Delphi was important for other reasons - you could say that it wa
s the world's first truly diversified visitors' centre: there was something for everyone. Besides the oracle, it had its own games (second in importance only to the Olympics) - the Pythian Games - every four years. You can still see the stadium (below left) which was built in the 5th century b.c.e. (and remodeled in the 2nd of our era), but those awful whistle-blowing security guards won't let you do any laps there.

There's also a lovely theatre (
built in the 4th century b.c.e.) just up the slope from the Temple of Apollo (below right), but you can't go in there either. I didn't even try. In any case, this also made Delphi different from the other pan-hellenic games: it had mousikos agon, or music contests. I guess it was something like Ancient Greece's Got Talent.

But back to the oracle: this new and improved priestess (or sibyl) - at least in Apollo's opinion - and now known as the Delphic Oracle, was the most important oracle in the ancient classical world. From the 8th century b.c.e. onwards, people needing answers - or good musical theatre or a spot of track and field - came to Delphi, although never in the winter. Perhaps she went south for a few weeks. After many plunderings by the Romans (can you say Nero?), the site was finally shut down in 390 c.e. by Emperor Theodosius because he felt it was anti-Christian ... duhhhh. Christians can be such killjoys.

Anyway, the priestess was always a 50+ year old woman
(there was a fear that a young woman might run away with a dashing pilgrim) of good character who was selected from among the peasants who lived nearby. At its peak in popularity, there were three Pythias on the payroll at Delphi, two working in shifts with one as a back-up.

The priestess sat in a cauldron or the pan of a tripod which was suspended over an opening in the earth (probably caused by seismic activity). This must have been very uncomfortable and scary during earthquakes. Whether it was hallucinatory drugs or natural
gases (ethylene, benzene and methane - pee-yoo! - have been suggested) emanating from the ground beneath her (some said that the fumes were from the decomposing snake-god - but how long does it take for a snake to decompose?) or the laurel leaves she chewed, she would fall into a trance and channel Apollo's answer to the question posed by pilgrims. Priests stood nearby to interpret her utterings and mutterings. It must have been like playing telephone.

Kings and paupers and legendary characters like Oedipus all came to the Temple of Apollo to consult the oracle on matters ranging from waging wars to affairs of the heart. Ritually purified and wearing
laurel branches, supplicants (whose order was determined by throwing lots) had to bring an offering of some sort, and while the minimum payment was a loaf of bread, those bearing a better gift got to jump the queue. Nothing's changed much in the world, has it? You humans always find a way to cheapen everything! Grateful pilgrims of means often set up statues and monuments by way of thanks. Needless to say, the oracle brought in a lot of cash for the priests who worked there and they even had to build treasuries for all of their bling.

Delphi em
its a very strong psychic energy (maybe it was the altitude) and while I was there I was drawn to the spot where the sibyl sat and communed with the god. And just as I felt the whistle-blowing security guards (just like the one on the Acropolis from my spirit of the Pythia - or maybe the god himself - take hold of me, I heard a sharp Tooooooooooooot!!!!, and saw a whistle-blowing security guard (like the one from my last visit at the Acropolis when I was called a "toy") tooting away and waving his arms. Whatever.

I'm not so sure Greece is a very bear-friendly country. I'd ask the Pythia myself about this, but they won't let me.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Where is GB?

I'm on vacation (finally!), but where am I? Does the laurel-leaf wreath suggest anything?

Or how about another clue ...

Not yet? Check out my stylish feet!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Now I am Three!

I'm not really three - I'm actually 11 going on 12 but my daily regime of moisturizer and sunblock just knocks the years off of me ... anyway, today is the 3rd anniversary of Grey Bear-ology! I know that I've been eerily silent for the past few months but I have only my female bipedal to blame and my inability to just fire her (bears are such softies - especially Freelance Goodwill Ambassador bears). In fact, she hasn't written one lousy teeny blog since we came to Iraq (I'm in Iraq everyone!). To be fair, there have been a number of extenuating circumstances (including the theft of my camera), so I´ve tried not to judge her too harshly (she´s a bit fragile you know), but we're finally just starting to get things back in order, and I *should* be back blogging soon.

Besides moving to a new country, we have a new member in our family and a new addition to my staff. Below you can see me and my new friend Celeste. Isn't she pretty? The only thing more attractive than simple grey flannel is the minimalist pairings of black & white. Simple and elegant: just like an Oreo cookie!

As always, thanks to everyone who follows my blog & here's to another 3 years of travelling (with my bipedals - at least with the male one!) and writing for all of you. I'm going to go have a glass of champagne now - or maybe I'll wait until Spain beats Portugal in tonight's World Cup match. As the Spanish say ¡podemos! (we can do it!)

Wow - wouldn't that make a really nifty day for all of us!!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

GB Shops: a Teeny Update

Apparently a little guilt (and a formal written warning) does wonders for my female bipedal attendant's ability to locate things she's responsible for. Behold ~ my Harrods' bear penny!

Monday, March 29, 2010

GB Shops

This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who knows me but, besides travelling the world and performing humanitarian acts of weighty significance, I like to shop. After all, before I became a Freelance Goodwill Ambassador I was an international fashion model for the House of Alfred Sung. I don't believe that being a Humanitarian and an Avid Shopper is contradictory in any way. I'm sure my female god-bipedal remembers fondly our almost wild goose chase through the winding streets of Venice searching for just the right mask for Carnevale. I know I do.

So when we were in London (y
es, I'm still "in London" at least in spirit), I absolutely insisted that we all take the tube to Knightsbridge and pop into Harrods for a few hours of window shopping. After all, anyone who is (or was) anyone is (or was) a patron of Harrods the likes of Oscar Wilde, Sigmund Freud, A. A. Milne (of Winnie the Pooh fame), Noël Coward and members of the British Royal Family (to name a few) passed through its doors regularly.

Sitting on a 4.5-acre site, Harrods is the UK's largest department store with 330 departments, and is in fact almost twice as large as its biggest competitor. That's pretty impressive since it started out as a wholesale grocery store (specializing in tea) in Stepney some 175+ years ago. It even has its own Latin motto: Omnia Omnibus Ubique — All Things for All People, Everywhere, which is nice and all, but there's no mention of bears. And Harrods has bears!

While we were browsing about (I saw a lovely smoking jacket which cost £1249.00 but since I don't smoke I decided against it), I was able to visit some friends who call Harrods home. For some reason which escapes all logic, Harrods houses its massive family of bears in the basement. In the basement! With the souvenirs! Souvenirs! At least I was able to spend a bit of time with them because my bipedals wanted to drop by the Green Man, (Harrods' pub, named after their green-coated doormen) big surprise, eh? so while they drank, I made some friends. Of course they all knew me because bears follow my blog religiously, but it's always nice to put a (bear) face to a name.

Before I left (sadly without the smoking jacket), I made my very own commemorative Harrods bear coin. They had a nifty minting machine and all I had to do was pop in a penny and turn the handle and voilà! my own bear penny! My female bipedal took it from me to "keep in a safe place" and I haven't seen it since, which I think means that she's already lost it. I could be angry with her but it does give me an excuse (not that I ever need an excuse!) to go back to London for a weekend and swing by Brompton Road.

I think all in all, we spent half the afternoon at Harrods - and even I stopped for a pint in their pub - but I could've stayed all day. Harrods has had a pretty colourful history: it premiered England's first escalator in 1898 and calmed its jittery patrons by offering them a glass of brandy at the end of their "ordeal". In the 60's, Christian the Lion (a cub) was "on display" (you humans!) at the store but after escaping from his cage at night and tearing up the carpets in the furniture department (good for him!), Harrods decided to sell him. Happily for Christian, the people who bought him had George Adamson (of Born Free fame) reintroduce him successfully to his natural habitat in Africa where lions belong! In 1983, terrorists - members of the Provisional IRA - set off explosives outside its doors killing 6 people. Shopping just shouldn't be dangerous!

Of course, many people automatically think of the Al Fayed family who have owned Harrods since 1985 (it came with a
£615 million price tag), and the untimely deaths of Diana (Princess of Wales - not Whales) and their son Dodi Al Fayed. You can visit the shrine there but, in this bear's opinion, it's a mite tacky it even has a wine glass bearing (bearing!) Diana's lipstick smudge from her last meal. But I admit that the Egyptian designs throughout the store are pretty nifty. In 2002, Harrods had a real Egyptian cobra stood guard by a pair of £62,000 ruby-, sapphire-, and diamond-encrusted sandals. I hope the cobra was paid well. I don't know what snake lobbyists felt about that but these day animal rights advocates are angry because Harrods still sells fur and it's the only department store in the UK to still do so.

That make
s me sad. Maybe when I return I'll get my penny (unless "a certain someone" finds it) and join the protests that are regularly held outside its doors. I mean, if people are happy wearing fox and mink, are bears really safe?

Monday, March 15, 2010

GB @ the BM in GB

I know I've been remiss in keeping everyone up-to-date with my many adventures, but it's been hard for me to get a Certain Someone (see my bear paws making imaginary quotation marks in the air) to maintain my blog these last few weeks - for that reason, I've just rolled up my shirt sleeves (not really - I don't wear shirts much any more) and I'm blogging myself. Now, if you look at the photo (left), you'll see me and a very blurry but awfully famous landmark. Where am I? - yup! - that's me in front of Big Ben, so I must be in London!

At the end of January, on our way back to Turkey from Spain, I managed to squeak in a bit of a layover in Great Britain. My bipedal attendants and I took the train into "the City" for the day. We were pretty lucky, what with the deep freeze and all the snow dumped on Britain over the holidays (well, a Canadian bear might have said "dusted" Britain) because the weather was quite fine while we were there - although cold enough that a Certain Someone (see my bear paws still making imaginary quotation marks in the air) complained. A lot.

So: London in 24 hours! We started at the British Museum - known as the BM by those in the know (hence the title for this blog posting) but I don't really like calling it that anymore because my male bipedal kept sniggering (BM = bowel movement) like an 8-year old every time I said BM. Some people just need to grow up. After 250 some-years, I think the BM demands a little respect. Between Her and Him, I bet there's a lot of grey bear-hair under my grey flannel.

Anyway, I saw lots of amazing things there, including mummified cats from Egypt (phew - no bears at least!), the colossal statue of Ramses the Great, the Rosetta stone (which Champollion used to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs), the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World!), the Portland Vase, alabaster reliefs from Nineveh, Hoa Hakananai'a - that big statue of a staring fellow - from Easter Island, the 7th C Anglo-Saxon Sutton Hoo treasure, and of course, the Elgin (or Parthenon) Marbles.

my International Incident in Athens, I was pleased that the highly professional security team at the BM had no problem with me having my photo snapped in front of the Marbles. I know that Athens really really wants these reliefs back (they once graced the Parthenon) - after all, they were sort of stolen by Lord Elgin around 200 years ago. In fact, the BM is full of lots of priceless treasures (like the Rosetta Stone) whose countries of origin understandably want back. In this case I'm inclined to see the Elgin Marbles just stay put in London. I guess I'm just being spiteful which, I know, doesn't suit me very well - being a Freelance Goodwill Ambassador and all. Still ...

Goodness! There was so much to see at the BM - and we did see a lot - that I can barely (bear-ly!) remember everything. We were there for hours and hours, and naturally - after all of that walking and all of that culture - the bipedals started whining to beat the band. To shut them up - and in spite of the fact that I really wasn't ready to leave - I generously suggested that we pop across the street for a traditional English lunch (which naturally included a pint) at the Museum Tavern.

Being a vegetarian bear, I couldn't have the fish & chips - which really does seem to be a when-in-Rome thing to do (or a when-in-London thing to do) - but the staff there whipped up a vegetarian alternative for me: haloumi & chips. Haloumi is a goat and sheep's milk cheese from Cyprus and can be battered and deep-fried because it has a high resistance to melting. I won't say that it tasted 100% like fish, but with the beer batter (and the pints of Old Peculiar) it was pretty close.

The pub has been around forever (although it's current state dates to 1755) but from the 1600's, it was known as the Dog & Duck. Too bad it wasn't the Bear & Duck - or the Dog & Bear. Mind you, bear baiting was wildly popular in so-called Jolly Olde England (Henry VIII was reportedly a huge fan) and one account left by Robert Dudley (a "favourite" of Queen Elizabeth I) says that "... it was a sport very pleasant, of these beasts, to see the bear with his pink eyes leering after his enemies approach ..." Honestly - you call us animals? You humans are so barbaric! Maybe it's just as well that we leave my fore-bears alone.

I think that's all I can manage for now - my bear paws are getting a bit sore and if I make a habit of typing out my own blogs then I'll be paying you-know-who to do absolutely nothing at all. It's not that I'm not without compassion, but I think it's time a Certain Someone (see my very sore bear paws still making imaginary quotation marks in the air) learns the dignity of work.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Two G's

As most of you probably know, I’m no longer in Turkey but I still have much to tell you before I move on to sharing my current situation with you. While we were in Spain last month, I insisted on taking my bipedal assistants (and the female bipedal's mother) to Barcelona for a few days. It’s unbelievable that we lived in Spain for over a year and never made it to the semi-autonomous region of Catalonia, but life with the bipedals seldom makes sense to me.

Bearing in mind (bear!) that there’s tons of stuff I can talk about – artistically, Barcelona was the stomping grounds of Picasso, Miró and Dalí - I think I’ll limit today’s post to Gaudí, Catalonia’s most famous son. Born Antoni Plàcid Guillem Gaudí i Cornet in 1852 (he was a Cancer if you’re into that – I’m a Capricorn), he became one of the most original architects in the history of – well - architects.

Gaudí was a sickly child, and he spent most of his time travelling out of doors on a donkey and communing with nature. His love of the outdoors would ultimately influence his work as an architect and a designer. I don’t know if he met any bears at all and, to be honest, I don’t remember seeing any bears in his work – that should be a study UNESCO could fund. I should make some calls.

Gaudí survived his childhood fevers and went on to study architecture. He was a bit of a dandy and wore only the most fashionable clothes - although he refused to wear new shoes and got his brother to break them in for him. Ooooh - tight shoes! - as a former international fashion model, I spent a lot of time on the world's catwalks and I know exactly where he's coming from.

Anyway, when he graduated it was said “Who knows if we have given this diploma to a nut or to a genius. Time will tell.” Time did tell: although he began his work in the Gothic style but it wasn’t too long before he had developed his distinctive, almost fairy-tale style which featured fantastic creatures, watery-themes, organic curves and mosaics. (Still not sure about the bears though.) He designed everything from lamp posts to houses to factories and parks, to churches and religious colleges.

In the early days though, his work was severely ridiculed (apparently writer George Orwell despised his designs - I don't know if Gaudí liked Orwell's books) but he eventually managed to secure a wealthy and influential patron, Eusebi Güell, and the rest (as they say) is history.

A vegetarian (like me!) and strong supporter of Catalan sovereignty – Catalan culture and language being unique from the rest of Spain's - he was also a big-c Catholic, and after a while he only worked on religious commissions (probably why I didn’t see any bears – are there bears in the Bible?).

He’s probably best known for the Sagrada Família – Barcelona’s monumental cathedral dedicated to the Holy Family, which has been under construction since 1882. Gaudí dedicated 15 years of his life to it and he didn't have an easy time of it. While working on it, several of his friends and family members started to die off, and at the same time, Barcelona began to suffer economically. Construction slowed down on the church, and then his patron died. Poor Gaudí. He became a recluse and even began sleeping in the Sagrada Família’s crypt. I don’t think living in a subterranean crypt will help keep your spirits up.

In 1926, fate dealt Gaudí another nasty hand: a street car ran him over while he was crossing the street. I think he was deep in thought. Because of his appearance - he looked like a street person – no one recognized him and no one wanted to help him. Poor Gaudí. Finally someone brought him to a pauper’s hospital where he stayed until frantic friends managed to track him down. They tried to bring him to a better hospital but he insisted on staying where he was, among the city’s poor. He died three days later and was buried in the Sagrada Família which, I think, he would have wanted. Half of Barcelona dressed in black to honour his passing.

Later, police charged those taxi drivers who had refused to bring him to hospital because of his appearance and because he had had no money in his pockets. Good for them! (- the police, not the taxi drivers.)

Twelve years later, during the Spanish Civil War, anarchists destroyed the only copy of Gaudí’s blueprints for the Sagrada, so it’s been really hard for architects to continue as Gaudí had intended. Nonetheless, 2026 has been slated as the year the cathedral will finally be finished - which just happens to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. Finished or not, millions of people (and at least one bear) visit the church every year.

I am, by nature, a very empathetic bear (being a freelance Goodwill Ambassador helps), and I have to wonder if Gaudí led a very happy life. I think behind all those whimsical dragons, there was a very sad man. He certainly had a reputation for having a foul temper (good thing he didn't have to break in his own shoes!). I just can't help thinking that a few bears here and there - even electric purple mosaic-ed bears - might have made him a happier man.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

GB takes a Bear-Break

I realize that technically, I'm no longer on my bear-break but as my bipedals neglected to book me into accommodations which included wifi, this is really the first opportunity I've had to update you on my Christmas adventures. But please don't think that I'm complaining - bears don't complain. Sometimes we just grrrrr quietly under our breath.

Grrrrrrr ....
just joking!

I got back from Spain
(with a very short stint in London) a few days ago. I was in Nerja for the most part - a lovely seaside pueblo blanco (white town) on the Costa del Sol in oh-so beautiful Spain. I confess that I wept great big hot bear tears when our plane touched down in Málaga - which pretty much matched the great big hot bear tears I wept when I flew out of Málaga in 2008.

I love Spain.

Anyway ... Nerja. Nerja d
ates back to prehistoric times - as attested to by the skeletal remains and artefacts found in its mammoth underground caves (discovered some 50 years ago) which may actually tunnel through the mountains all the way to Granada. Naturally it was the Romans who first put it on the map. They called it Detunda, a name I don't care very much for at all. I much prefer Narixa, or "Abundant Spring" - the name later given to it by the Moors, which would later metamorphose into Nerja. It became a centre for silk production and by the 900's, its goods were travelling the trade routes all the way to Damascus. Later it was a hub for the processing of sugar cane from the Spanish colonies, but these days all you can see are avocado groves and then more avocado groves. And tourists.

One of Nerja's prettiest spots - perched on the edge of its 14th century old town - is its mirador, or look-out spot: the Balcon de Europa (so named by King Alfonso XII). It's a pretty "balcony" or avenue lined with king palms and it juts out on a cliff, 23 metres above the Mediterranean. You can see me on the balcon, and behind me in the (above left) picture is gorgeous Burriana Beach, while below is me and Alfonso XII.

A-12 visited Nerja back in 1885,
right after an earthquake devastated the area. History remembers him fondly but his claim to fame is being shot at - on his honeymoon - by his pastry chef while taking a spin in Madrid. (The chef missed.) A-12 actually wasn't the first to call the promontory (it actually used to be a gun battery on the site of a fortress) the Balcon de Europa, but he thinks he was and no one bothered to correct him and the town obligingly erected a statue to him. He was the king after all.

I must confess that beyond going for walks through the old town, I didn't do very much - maybe because I'm a bear, my body was inclined to hibernate - except conduct some quality control inspections in Nerja's bars. Especially sangria. It's so easy to mess up sangria that I felt - since I had some time on my paws - to check out the local offerings. I'm very pleased to say that every litre I had met my very stringent specifications.

I also paid a few visits to the Nerja Donkey Sanctuary. The sanctuary - which survives on donations from the public - provides a loving home and medical attention to abandoned, unwanted, and sometimes abused (*sob*) donkeys, mules, and horses. Apart from the equines, there are a bevy of goats and sheep mulling about, 2 pot-bellied pigs, and a few cats and dogs. I liked to stop by the market on the way and pick up some carrots as a treat. It takes so little to make a donkey happy but what I think they really like is the gift of money - you can click here to make a donation or for as little as 25€, adopt an animal!

I did manage to discover on this trip a wonderful little restaurant which I wish I could've taken my god-bipedals to. It's called Me Siento Como Quiero, which I think very roughly translates into "I Want What I Feel Like". Now it is an Italian restaurant (sorry guys) but it serves the best pizza I've had in the last few years (and that includes my 2 months in Italy!). But the best part? - I mean after the food? Their daily pizza special includes 2 pizzas and a bottle of wine ... ALL for 10 €! Even my female bipedal attendant's mother got in on the action. What a lush she's become!

I confess that I did spend a lot of time there (my waistline has suffered a little bit at their expense), and when I went last week to have my last pizza and say goodbye, more big hot bear tears were shed. The chicas who work there insisted on having their picture taken with me and, although my Spanish is at best elementary (I think modesty suits me), I'm pretty sure that I've been promised free pizzas and vino de mesa for life.

So that's Nerja in a nutshell. I hope to be back again next Christmas, and if my female bipedal attendant could just sell a few more copies of her blasted book (she couldn't even be bothered to mention me in it once! - not once!), we'd all buy a little place there in the sun ... then the big hot bear tears would really flow - just like the sangria!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

¡Feliz Navidad y Pros-Bear-o Año!

It’s a New Year – or rather an año nuevo – and I’m blogging to you all from sunny (and alternately wet) Spain. We’re spending the holidays in Nerja where my female bipedal attendant’s mother is in hiding from a very cold Canadian winter. Although I guess that since my bipedals are unemployed again (someone, please give them a job!), technically I'm on holiday but they’re not. They’re just freeloading. Again.

Anyway, although I’ll blog about the town of Nerja in a few days’ time, I want to share our New Year’s Eve festivities with you. In Spain, it’s customary to ring in the año nuevo with two very important accessories which at one time shared a life: uvas and cava, grapes and sparkling wine.

Wine production - wine in general - has a very long history in Spain. In Roman times, thousands of vessels of wine sailed across the Mediterranean to all corners of the Empire, gracing its tables and orgies. Many many centuries later (in the 1500’s), a certain Josep Raventós uncorked the first bottle of cava, but it was vintners from France in the 19th century who, recognizing the soil and climate of the area to be similar to Bordeaux’s (the home of champagne), made the cava industry what it is today.

As the best-selling sparkling wine in the world, Spain’s answer to champagne is giving its French cousin a run for its money. I just like the word cava. Cava – it reminds me of the word cave where many of my friends live and it's also the maiden name of my female bipedal's mother. The word comes from the Latin word "cava" which (not surprisingly) means cave, where wine growers aged and preserve their sparkling wine.

Among its many attributes – cava’s bubbles tickle my little grey nose quite nicely – it’s a very inexpensive tipple. Spaniards are practically suckled on cava: babies are given a finger or pacifier dipped in cava to suck on during their baptisms. I love Spain.

Anyway, being that it was New Year’s Eve, my female bipedal decided to throw caution to the wind and bought the most expensive bottle for sale at the grocery store down the road: an extra brut at €3.99. Honestly! – given that she’s now unemployed, you’d think that the €1.19 bottle of cava would have been good enough for her.

Well lubricated by their bottles of cava, Spaniards ring in the New Year by swallowing one uva - or grape - on each of the final twelve strokes before midnight. For those in Madrid, or anyone near a television, the "official" countdown chimes from the clock on top of the Casa de Correos building in the Puerta del Sol. Fortunately, we were able to watch it live. Those twelve grapes – if successfully swallowed – grant good luck for each of the twelve months of the year. You have to swallow each grape completely before you pop the next grape into your mouth and cheating is not permitted … although I suspect someone I know crammed her mouth when no one was looking. So pathetic – like she doesn't need all the luck she can get! A word to the wise: buy seedless grapes.

Interestingly, this New Year's Eve kamikaze grape swallowing tradition started 101 years ago when vinters in Alicante figured it would be a great way of getting rid of their extra stock of grapes. So thanks to enterprising grape growers across Spain (who gave us both cava and New Year's grapes) we bade adiós to 2009 with several bottles of bubbly and then hola to 2010 with a mouthful of grapes – and then some more cava. Well, lots of cava: I think it’s very important to support the local economy. I don’t remember much about nodding off but I did wake up feeling definitely bearish. In fact, I think I should've just hibernated for a few days.

Let me just wind this up with a final word about cava. Cava is made in different parts of Spain but the region of the Penedès, outside of Barcelona, is the best-known. And wouldn't you know it? - I'm blogging en route to Barcelona right now! I'm definitely going to make this road trip a "scientific" taste test as well.