Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Reading at a bookfair in Halifax

I'm in Halifax, reading from The Big Why for only
the second time. The first effort was at the Red Barn
near Lake Simcoe, the oldest barn in Ontario -- so
old it is made of aluminum.
I walk down to the harbour, the tall ships are in.
There is something mournful when city planners get
their hands on harbourfronts. They turn them into
fairgrounds, which all look bad in the noonday sun.
The rose bushes still have bunches of pungent petals
(in Toronto theyve all gone to rosehips). Graffiti:
Shut up and work
Shut up and buy
Shut up and die
That cheers me up. Something lonely creeps into my
bones. Perhaps this is common when youre alone in
a hotel, eating alone in restaurants, watching Friday
Night Fights on the cable channel in your hotel room.
I do love the number of clean mirrors a hotel room
has. The size of them.
I decide to get a haircut. I remember my mother, who
once told me I look gormless when my hair is long.
You dont need to be told that too many times.
But the two barbershops I pass have closed down.
There are gates across the windows, theyve been
shut down for some time.
A woman at the desk tells me of two places, in
a mall across the road. Were you planning on getting
your hair cut today?
Or tomorrow.
You better do it today, she says. Everything shuts
down tomorrow.
Nova Scotia is the only province left to ban
Sunday shopping.
So I walk into the mall. Of course, it's bustling.
I walk up to a lottery-information booth. A woman
is busy at a pile of scratch-n-win tickets. I ask
the clerk where I can get my hair cut.
There are two places, she says. And points in
their two directions.
Which one is better, I say.
Oh I couldnt tell you.
I ask the woman scratching the tickets.
Oh theyre all the same, arent they.
Across the way, in the food court, a gay man
in a sleeveless white shirt points in one
direction and I can read his mouth: The Golden
But the Golden Clipper is all booked, deep into
next week.
So I'm left with the place no one in their
right mind gets their hair cut.
I'll take him, a woman says. Her hair is
streaked with peroxide. I immediately like
her. She's a talker. She talks all the way
through fifteen dollars of haircutting.
We end by agreeing that writing poems is
much the same as cutting hair. I've made
her promise she'll keep a journal. She is
going to keep a running commentary on the

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Town of Luton

Check out Convergence, a journal from the School of Media Arts at the University of Luton.

National Gallery in London

Spend some time at the National Gallery. You might see a man in a cream suit.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Two Days in Luton

Our flight landed in Luton. We were to stay with friends
in London, but we were bushed. We'd had five hours sleep
in three nights (long story). We were both ill and the friends
had babies. Did we want to be responsible for Spanish
influenza in UK babies?
Luton, my god let's stay in Luton.
We check out a kiosk at the airport that nails
down last-minute hotels. Two Irish women.
Oh yes, for fifty pounds they can get us
a four star hotel. In Luton. We take it. We've begun
and ended this trip with four star hotels.
It is the best fifty pounds I have spent in my life.
I get a swimsuit and we keel out in the sauna. We eat fish and chips
and bangladeshi food on Wellington Street. A student
in a health food store tells me they study media
in Luton. The odd feeling of living near London, remembering
that man in the cream suit outside the National Gallery -- he
wore a golden mink around his neck, a stole, as he spoke
into a silver cellphone.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Bullfight in a Thunderstorm

Last night it was the novices turn at the Plazas
de Toros de Las Ventas, rural matadores who are
making their first appearance in Madrid. It´s ten-thirty,
dark, only three euros for general seating. The stadium
ringed with lights and then the black circle of night.
The dirt bullring is wet from a shower, but it promises
to clear up. In comes the first bull, plunging out
of the chute and looking around at us, startled.
Then a crack of thunder and you can see
the rain descend. It´s as if it begins at the stadium
lights, and pours down. A crack of lightning over
the stands, and the crowd begins to climb up over
us, into the canopied cheap seats called gradas.
We move down. We put newspapers over our
heads. Some have pulled out umbrellas, colourful
ones you might find on a beach. We are in the front
row as the rain slams into the dirt. The bull has been
worked over, punctured by picadors and banderillos
and now the matador in his suit of light. But the rain
is the thing. The bull slips, the toreador stumbles, the
bull  passes, turns, and flips onto his side. The bull
is covered in mud.
Will they stop this? The rain eases off, we have great
seats, the royals keep it going (he waves a white
handkerchief). One bull is too weak, so they
call him off. The brass band plays as they bring
in the steers. The steers are the circus clowns
of los toros. They are cavalier, white with patches
of brown, twice as big as the bulls. They cajole the
bull to join them. But he doesnt. He does not
want to leave the ring. His chest heaving, he pisses
on the wet dirt.
Later, after the last bull is killed and dragged
off by the mules in their flags and bells, we
see the bulls hung by a leg, being skinned
and chopped in two with a cleaver the size
of a sheet of paper.
I forgot to mention the best thing we´ve eaten:
half a peeled avocado, with a thin slice of bacalao
covering its round back.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Ethnic Cuisine of Spain

History and geography intertwine in one of the most varied and rewarding cuisines in the world.

What We´ve Eaten

The waitress clinks by, she´s holding eleven wine glasses in one hand, upside
down, the other hand she has seven more. The room is white and black, a
tablecloth, a white tablecloth. We´re sitting down, we´re inside and there´s
a bowl of gazpacho, with croutons and crunchy bits of green pepper and cucumber.
Open the wine, bring on the veal and the meatballs on big white plates and
cutlery from France. Did you know, she says, this is the first time we´ve sat
down, in a week, indoors, and had a meal?
It´s true, isnt it. We´ve eaten what, sandwiches and tapas and spanish tortilla
and more sandwiches and shrimp and mainly nothing that you´d need a napkin
for, or a fork. Olives and well there was that bull´s tail.
You had the bull´s tail.
I gave you a forkful.
You disappeared with other people and sat down and had a bull´s tail.
Okay I´m sorry but look isnt this exciting. And the prices are fabulous.
We´ve managed to spirit away and open the Rough Guide and find
a spot that´s Catalan and cheap and good. Let us sit back and enjoy this,
our first meal in a week.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Sitting Beside the Lonely Bullfighter

Dont forget, he said, youre a tall white boy. You can have any man here. Just say, Take me, homo -- although you may frighten some.
How did I end up here? What time is it? The woman I´m with is dancing in the windowsill with some Spanish boys wearing Camper shoes. Earlier, we´d been in a vermouth bar, a nickel counter, faucets mixing soda water with the cold vermouth. I love how the Spanish are rough with their drinks. They twist the glasses under the taps, and slam the drinks onto the nickel counter. There is spillage of vermouth and beer and wine.
We met a retired journalist, and a tooth fell out his mouth. He picked it up, stirred it in his glass of vermouth, and shoved it back in. Yes he was a little embarrassed.
We sat in leather chairs, cones of garlic hanging in the rafters, we have eaten plates of bull´s tails in a restaurant that had a reserved table, set aside for the bullfighters. There are pink oleander bushes waving in the open windows.
But all that was before this disco bar.
It was even before the five pints of limon and vodka. It was before the oval dishes full of grilled asparagus and fresh strawberries that are growing now by a river thirty miles south of Madrid. Euros are whizzing out of my wallet. What are euros. Get rid of them.
A bullfighter, my friend says, he came in here yesterday. He sat at that table with his two handlers. He is poor, this bullfighter. He is from a small town. He fights all the time. Last week he had his own two bulls, and had to finish off another. Each time, he was bruised by the bull. He came out that third time with a white bandage on his knee. But he finished it off. And now he sits here, with more money than he´d ever make in his village, but still poor, he sits there with his two friends and three women who are dressed plainly, and he will have the attention of all the waiters dressed in white shirts and black bowties. We will lose our waiter to him, but it will be worth it, to have sat beside the lonely bullfighter while we peel meat away from the bones of our bull´s tail. It tastes like kidney.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004


The art of bullfighting by Goya.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

The Toreador Takes a Bow Holding a Sunflower

The Toreador throws his hat in the ring. It is a gesture
to the baderillos and picadors and the men holding
the fuschia capes, it says: the bull is mine. We are
sitting in the shade, drinking champagne purchased
from a man with a tin bucket on his shoulder. We are
sitting on green plastic cushions, in the cement
stadium in Pamplona. We watch the picadors leave the
ring, mounted on their blindfolded horses, the horses
looking mediaeval in their wicker vests.
The Toreador steps over to his hat and turns it over
with his foot, so the inside is not exposed. There is
applause. The bull looks bewildered.
And then a pass. The flourish of red cape, the bull
leaps, the bull has caught the toreador, the toreador
is butted by the bony head, the horns on either side,
the toreador is lifted, the crotch of his knee hooked
on a yellow horn, the crowd is on its feet, the toredor
in the dust, the bull is puncturing his legs and groin,
the men with fuschia capes arrive, the toreador holds
his head in his arms, the others lure away the bull
with the glorious capes that look like open vulvas,
the toreador tries to get to his feet and collapses
in the arms of his comrades. He is carried off. A second
toreador arrives. He is on his knees for a pass.
It´s a sport of tempo.
All that bull weight in delicate high heel shoes.
Because of the rain his cape is heavy with dirt and now
blood from the wounds on the bull´s back. Wounds from
the banderillos´ blue and yellow barbed sticks.
The bull is so true to his nature. He cannot be anything
except himself.
His yellow horns streaked in his own blood.
The toreador wears him down, the bull´s head drops,
the toreador stands over the head of the bull and
thrusts. The bull is down. The bull is up. The bull
runs to the side of the ring and collapses. He rises
to terrific applause. The bull is coughing, his large
tongue drags in the dirt, and his legs buckle one
last time.
And up stand the little brass bands, and in come the
three mules to drag the bull out by its horns.
The toreador takes a small tour, holding a sunflower
and a rose. He salutes the royal box. The brass band
is now playing, oddly, a Gary Glitter tune. The toreador
picks up a dropped sword, by bending his knee.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Hemingway in Pamplona by John Affleck

An excerpt from the Literary Traveler.

My Last Will and Testicle

There´s a helium lion floating in the trees.
Dawn. A man lies prone on the lawn, grass clippings
cover his body. A wheelbarrow full of uncooked
chickens beside him. We have been up all night,
carousing along the narrow streets in old Pamplona.
The windows boarded over, boards that are splintered
and gored and dirty. Piles of garbage now. A man urinates
on the garbage. We move away. We´ve been drinking
Coli Motxo, a mix of red wine from a box and coca cola.
All night on this, and now it´s 6:30 and the streetlights
have been shut off. We´ve said goodbye to the women,
they´ve peeled away to get a spot along the route
to watch. We are staying, improbably, in a four star
hotel. We have yet to lay our heads down. A coffee
and we awake to our prospects. A candlelabra flutters
in a recess in the old stone wall. The bulls are waking
up. We saw them last night in a pen, or at least saw
the yellow bone of one horn pry through the gap in the
gatepost. A Spaniard spills my coffee and apologizes.
There is respect for spilled coffee. If you spill beer,
who cares, it´s just beer. The street is choked full of
men in white shirts and pants, red sashes. The cuffs of
their pants are black from dirt and urine. Our shoes
are ruined with urine. We crowd in together and wish
each other luck. We cannot move now, so jammed together.
Then there is a gunshot, and we begin to move. I am, in
fact, being carried along. ¨Dont fall over,¨ has been
the advice. A second gunshot. The pace picks up. There
begin the seeds of panic. The crowds leaning over
makeshift palings, people who have paid over the internet
to have a spot on a balcony above us, oh how lucky
and sane are they. The third shot means the bulls have
been released. In an instant speed dramatically changes.
I look back and see a wall of Spaniards, in a blur of
white and red, bits of their limbs crash into me at
an angle. A body slams into my hip, seven men pile over
my head and hit the stone wall. We lift a couple to their
feet but then hear the buzz and pulse of another wave,
wedging their way through us. A cry goes up, there´s an
old man at my feet, grimacing, his head split open. I
jump over him. And, airborn, I lose my purchase, and hit the
wall, just then I see the speed of a line of bulls zip
past me, their backs ropy and straight and unbelievably
fast. They are through and we run after them, into the
red throat of Pamplona´s bullring. And enter when another
pod of bulls thunders in. And now things have only begun.

Friday, July 09, 2004

On our way to Pamplona

A woman shooes away a butterfly from a
glass display of Rolexes. There are tin
pails beneath our bar stools full of
cigarettes and receipts. Lat night a
man told us that the bull is the virility
of the male. The picador is the bride´s
father. The man with the banderillos is
her mother. Finally, when the bull is
ready to submit to marriage, out comes
the matador: the bride. He is ready to
change his life. This morning we woke
to cement blasters. I looked down from
our open window, naked, and a cement
worker stared straight back at me.
We´re off now on our five hour bus trip
to Pamplona.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

We arrive in Madrid

Okay so I fractured my foot on the stairs and have it
wrapped in a tensor bandage. I am not telling anyone
about this, and still running with the bulls this
weekend. We´ve spent a week of cold weather in London,
I walked to the new Swiss Re-insurance tower (the Gherkin)
and touched it. I brushed my hair in the Cloakroom
of the Savoy and left a pound for the attendant. In the
National Portrait Gallery there´s a fabulous photo
of Lucien Freud entering his banged-up studio, where
David Hockney awaits, his finished portrait on an easel.
And now we´re eating the little fried fish and drinking
small three-ounce glasses of beer in Plaza del Sol and I´m not telling anyone about the
condition of my foot, so that my girlfriend won´t
banish me from the route to Pamplona. More later.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

San Fermin, Spain

Thousands take part in the first bull run of the San Fermin festival in Spain.