Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bullfighting and friends

So here were are back in America and the culture shock has hit us. I have forgotten how much violence is ingrained in our society. One of the luxuries of living in Alex has been the lack of exposure to crime. Egypt has one of the lowest violent crime rates in the world and with all the poverty you'd figure that they would get with the program and start beating and killing people, but instead Egyptians are more likely to offer you a cup of tea and ask you a bunch of much for poverty breeding crime. But back here at home it's nice to have a reminder that you are constantly in danger of illegal aliens who not only come to steal your job but want to rape and pillage your family members (at least that is what I gather form the tea baggers in the rants and raves section on Craigslist) and of course there is Homeland Security to make sure you don't forget the war on terrorism, just in case you're wondering the national threat level is still Orange. Sarcasm aside, just open any newspaper or turn on the news and you'll know what I mean...violence and fear is sensationalized, an obsession in America. There was an interesting BBC documentary film series that came out several years ago that touches on the propagation of fear called The Power Of Nightmares. Check it out. 
Ana believes this cool theory and it goes like this: "when it's your time to go it's your time to go" so it was our time to go on down to Mexico for some bullfighting action. I know you've been watching the news and reading the papers about all the killings from the drug war (25,000 and rising since Presidente Calderón declared war on the cartels in 2006) and maybe you are wondering why the hell we would want to go there. Good tacos of course. 
The sign says it all, the point of no return.

Not our favorite bullring in the world...the old one in central Tijuana made of rickety wood was dismanteled several years ago to make way for a new shopping center (which still hasn't been built). However, today was the 50th anniversary of Plaza Monumental de Tijuana...a former automobile border crossing once stood on these grounds.  
Like I mentioned, we crossed for the tacos.

The Master of Ceremonies

Our friend Güero used to take care of the mules back at the old Plaza and hook Sr. Lugo and I up with bloody banderillas. The purpose of these horses is to pull out the dead bull carcass from the ring. 

The iglesia where the matadores y picadores say what might be their last prayer. 
The cerveza 

Los Forcadores getting prepared for the pega de cara (the act of eight forcadores taking the bull down with their bare hands, in fact they face the bull head on). See them in action in the video at the end of this post.

Sr. Lugo and Ana on a cold and windy Sunday afternoon.
This has been an atypical summer in San Diego this year.

The music starts as the procession enters the ring and the cotton candy gets sold.
The waves were good that afternoon, this photo was taken from atop of the bullring and shows the US side. This area's is known as Friendship Park and is part of Border Field State Park. It is a place where friends and families gather on both sides. The fence that divides the US and Mexico goes into the ocean. To learn more go here
The popularity of the toros is slowly fading and at the time of writing this Barcelona has banned bullfighting starting in 2012.

What made the afternoon unique was that the bullfighting was preformed by Los Rejoneadores (on horseback). See video at the end of the post.

We made our way up to Ventura and Santa Barbara to visit or friends Jill Milk, Huck Finn, and Baby El 

Mangolicious aka Queen of the Boulevard aka Beryl showing off her new shopping cart chairs

Click on the link above to see his amazing photos.

A couple of Sir Walter's Wayang Golek Puppets (Indonesian)

To learn more click here


Potential lies beyond the sign

4th of July

Fireworks or strange sea creatures.

Third year anniversary shot.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Gent, Belgium Part 2

We enjoyed Gent soo much we decided to dedicate another posting to one of our new favorite cities.

Rumor had it that the sun was in the forecast and sure enough by our third day it was out and so were people. We did a 45-minute afternoon boat tour along the Leie. The guide spoke no less than four languages and cracked some good jokes about the passengers.

A building along the Leie 

Can you say Warregarenstraatje? In English to tourists like us it is called "graffiti street" located Vrijdagmarkt section of the city.

Graffiti Street spans about 100 yards and changes often.

Goedroen and Harry own and operate a screen printing business supplying all the soccer teams, pubs, and other businesses in the region. The work the two of them do is impressive.
While reading the Gent Visitor's Guide it had mentioned that the city was the center of all beer breweries and that Gruut (Gent City Brewery) was "bringing this lost tradition back to life." It sounded like the ideal breakfast spot. For 5 euros we got to sample the Wit Beer, Amber Ale, and Bruin. Ana liked the Wit (wheat) while the Bruin was my favorite. The Amber Ale was voted off the island.  

A boatload of tourists on Leie going under the Saint Michael's Bridge. If you had enough gas and some time to kill, you could ride all the way down to Northern France, but why would you want to do that.  

The other side of the Saint Michael's Bridge.

Huis de Alijn (House of Alijn) is what I would call a museum of Gent historic and popular culture dating back 100 plus years. I have been to my share of museums and this by far held my interests the longest. Upon entering the grounds it is an open and neatly manicured courtyard housing three separate building of exhibits. As a bonus a pub is tucked in the corner to conclude the visit. The articles are arranged thematically with care while the lighting created  a mood of eeriness. The first couple of rooms we entered questioned "the meaning of birth, illness, suffering, and death" from a cultural perspective in a religious context. I picked-up the free pamphlets along the walls to learn more.  The photo above deals with death. I learned that "the relatives wore black clothing in order to be unrecognizable for the deceased."  

A child's toy horse bike.

"...After the delivery, the mother stayed at home for forty days. For the Church considered that every condition which resulted from sexual contact, was unclean. During this period, the new mother received the visit of her neighbours who brought coffee, gingerbread or eggs. On these occasions the woman drank a glass of jenever, "the people's wine", and ate pancakes or gingerbread." 

Then there was the Boxing exhibition in the second building.

...and the stain glass of Saint Katherine.

The locals seemed to know who this character is, but we didn't.

There were some drawings that illustrated a story in the third building before entering the the room of old "found" home movies. The black and white footage of super8, 8mm, 9.5mm, and 16mm is compiled and sectioned into three films on 2 dvds. The first of the batch deals with the arc and scope from birth to old age. The images are spliced together in the style of the "deleted kissing scenes" at the end of Giuseppe Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso or Taesem Singh's The Fall homage to the early stuntmen of "moving pictures." To say the least, the mentioned above are both moving and nostalgic and are set to an appropriate score. Ana and I were fixated by what little we saw and was enough to encourage us to purchase a copy of the film.     

What a difference the sun makes. The people of Gent sitting along the banks of the Leie taking in the afternoon.  

On our final evening we met up with Goedroen, Harry, and their friends for some bocce ball, drinks, snacks, guitar playing, and all around fun. 

Their friend Els is also known as "100%." She is an amazing and colorful artist and makes much of the furnishings in her studio. The house has a sauna she built, a crazy kitchen, courtyard where she grows most of her food, and a studio where she constructs her creations.

Bottles aren't complete without warmers.

Another room.

The dinner was all natural and delicious hence the name 100%. All that was served came from her garden or her dad's farm outside the city. The bread was one of the finest I've ever tasted. There were cats and a dog running around and the conversation was lively. After dinner we all piled into Goedroen and Harry's van and headed to their friend's Christophe birthday party. A cemetery laid behind the house, there was a slide, and the Obama "yes we can" toilet seat. Thanks Goedroen, Harry, and our new friends for a great time!   

Sunday, July 4, 2010

We (heart) Gent Belgium part 1

FYI-if you know us or if we ever have the pleasure to meet warned if you consider extending an invitation to your home or country-we will most likely take you up on the offer. Take Goedroen and Harry for example. This is how it all went down. 
When: New Year's Eve night 
Where: Marrakech, Morocco 
Who: Goedroen, Harry, and their two children
The Situation: In walks a family and they are seated next to us. I observe them for a short bit and it looks like they are having the time of their lives. I was in a friendly mood so I stood up and walked over to their table and we started chatting about our respective trips. Goedroen tells me that they were from the greatest city in the world and pulled out a picture of snow covered medieval buildings alongside a canal. I was interested and maybe it was the wine but she casually mentioned that we should come and visit and wrote down her name on a torn scrap of a riad flier and told me to Facebook her. After a little research of her city of Gent, Belgium we were sold. On the way back to the states Ana and I agreed to take a side trip to visit them and what a trip it was...          
Mexico has Tecate and Belgium has Jupiler, an everyday favorite agmongst the locals. Harry, Goedroen, and Ana taking in the evening.  

The first night was cold and the sun was hiding behind low laying clouds. The shops had closed between five and six and life on the streets was sparse. It was decided that we would catch the South Africa vs Uruguay match in the square between Saint Bavo's Cathedral and Belfort/Belfry of Gent before hitting a handful of establishments, which meant a crash course on Belgium's finest offerings. One of the goals was to try the six Belgium Trappist beers that are brewed by Trappist monks. The breweries include: Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, and Westvleteren. Unlike in the states, it would be considered uncivilized to consume the brew straight from the bottle and thus each brand is accompanied by its' own goblet. For a more comprehensive listing and tasting notes on the Trappist beers please click here   

Orval on tap was next on the list while Goedroen enjoyed her bottle of Export.
Goedroen and Harry introduced us to their friends and local haunts-Bal Infernal, there was a live acoustic band finishing their set as we walked in. The setting was low key and friendly. Their stain glass window says it all. After a couple of beers we were off to the third and final stop-Charlatan which by the way have amazing and unorthodox graphics for their weekly events fliers. We took a photo of one and decided that it might not be suited for Camels and Tacos but if you really want to see it you can always e-mail me.  

Enjoying a bottle of Affigem at the Charlatan. It was a quite evening but we heard that is generally packed and a favorite in Gent. 

Goedroen and Harry's flat is located on the edge of Kouter Square and the literature states that it was a site of military parades and jousting during the middle ages. We missed the Sunday weekly flower market and the live music. Also located in the square behind the gazebo is Handelsbeurs concert hall (built in the 18th century). FYI this photo was taken around 10pm after a meal of Frieten (Belgium fries).   

The sun refused to cooperate the following day as well, but we made the best of it by hitting the streets. The above area is Gent's city center; the water of the Leie is lined on both sides with buildings from the Middle Ages. On sunny afternoons the banks are lined with groups of students and adults enjoying conversation and libations accompanied by light snacks. 


A window from the Carmelite Monastery

Gravensteen (Castle of the Counts). The original structure was made of wood during the 9th Century. The current stone structure was constructed during the 12th Century by Philip of Alsace. During our tour it was said that Gent begun renovation in the late 19th century and we don't know when it was completed or if it was, but there is evidence that crews are still working on the castle. It seems to be partially surrounded by a moat.

Views from the top.

Ana checking for flying saucers.

Another view from the top.

We checked in our IDs for a handheld video guided tour, which amounted to a 45-minute Middle Ages period sitcom of scandalous and cheeky commentary of the different rooms in the castle. Aside from the rooms that displayed the weaponry and body armor, there were execution and torture rooms.    

Waterboarding v 1.0

This is my ideal of a serial killer mask..."come here precious..."

All those executions and tortures can work up a mean thrust. 250 brands of beer conveniently located across the castle. 

Yours truly.

We love the buildings.

The real deal-a Belgium Waffle.

Yes-Gent is amazing
Stay tuned for Part 2