Blood and Sand

Streets of Pamplona Before the Run

I went to Pamplona to run with the bulls and catch a couple of bullfights. I had never been to a bullfight before and didn’t know what to expect. I had rather a detached and academic approach towards the whole affair but I must admit I was fascinated by what I saw and emotionally moved.

To prepare for my journey I brought with me to read, Death in the Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway. I have prepared some quotes from the book to accompany the pictures I took. No on can quite explain the experience of bullfighting like Ernest Hemingway. He is the master.

Here I am getting ready to run
Here come the bulls!
Here I am after the Run celebrating with a Hot Milk and Brandy

There are three acts to every bullfight. They are always the same. The first act is where the bull charges the picadors and the matador distracts the bull with his cape. The picador drives the steel of the pic into the neck muscles of the bull to weaken it.

Act two is the banderillas. They are a pair of sticks about three feet long tipped with a harpoon-like shaped steel point at on the end four centimeters long. They are placed two at a time in the humped muscles at the top of the bulls neck as the bull is charging the matador. They are designed to complete the work of slowing the bull down. Four pair are usually put in.

The Bull charges the horse and Picador
The Picador weakens the bull by stabbing it in the neck muscles.
The matador protects the picador by distracting the bull with his cape

“So, I went to Spain to see bullfights and to try to write about them for myself. I thought they would be simple and barbarous and cruel and that I would not like them, but that I would see certain and definite action which would give me the feeling of life and death that I was working for. I found the definite action, but the bullfight was far from simple and I liked it so much that it was too complicated for my then equipment for writing to deal with, and aside from four very small sketches, I was not able to write anything about it for five years and I wish I would have waited ten.”

-Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

The moment of truth

The last act is the sword and the muleta. The muleta is a red cloth folded over a stick. With the muleta the matador masters the bull before going in for the kill. Finally the matador kills the bull by thrusting the sword high between the shoulder blades of the bull.

The coup de grace

“The bullfight is not a sport, that is it is not an equal contest or an attempt at an equal contest between a man and a bull. Rather it is a tragedy, the death of the bull, which is played more or less well by the bull and the man involved, and in which there is danger for the man, but certain death for the bull.”

-Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

Death in the Afternoon

“So far, about morals, I only know what is moral is what makes you feel good after, and what is immoral is what you feel bad after and judged by those moral standards, which I do not defend, the bullfight is very moral to me because I feel very fine while it is going on and have a feeling of life and death and mortality and immortality, and after it is over I feel very sad but very fine.”

-Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

Blood and Sand
The bull is dragged off by a team of horses
Hemingway’s presence was felt everywhere

All photos by the author except the photos of himself which were taken by his wife, Maureen

Dancing in the Birmingham Jail

Going to Alabama with a banjo on my knee

Entrance to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

On a recent trip to Birmingham I visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Across the street from the Institute on the side is the 16ths Street Baptist Church. Directly across the street on the front side is Kelly Ingram Park. This complex is steep in the history of Birmingham and the Civil Rights movement in this country.

16th Street Baptist Church

The 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, was bombed by white supremacist terrorists on September 15, 1963. Four members of the Ku Klux Klan planted 19 sticks of dynamite attached to a timing device beneath the steps on the east side of the church.

There were four girls were killed in the attack: Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carol Denise McNair, and between 14 and 22 other people were injured.

Martin Luther King Jr. described the bombing as “one of the most vicious and tragic crimes perpetrated against humanity.”

The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing marked a turning point in the United States during the civil rights movement and contributed to support for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by Congress.

In the years leading up to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, Birmingham had earned a national reputation as a tense, violent, and racially segregated city, in which racial integration was met with violent resistance. Martin Luther King Jr. described Birmingham as “probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States.”

Four Spirits

The Four Spirits sculpture was unveiled at Kelly Ingram Park on September 2013 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 16th Street Church bombing. The sculpture was crafted by Birmingham-born sculptor Elizabeth MacQueen and designed as a memorial to the four girls killed in the bombing. It depicts the four girls in preparation for the church sermon at the 16th Street Baptist Church in the moments immediately before the explosion. The youngest girl killed in the explosion (Carol Denise McNair) is depicted releasing six doves into the air as she stands tiptoed and barefooted upon a bench another barefooted girl (Addie Mae Collins) is depicted kneeling upon the bench, affixing a dress sash to McNair; a third girl (Cynthia Wesley) is depicted sitting upon the bench alongside McNair and Collins with a book in her lap. The book depicts a refrain from William Butler Yeats’ poem, The Stolen Child. The fourth girl (Carole Robertson) is depicted standing and smiling as she motions the other three girls to attend their church sermon. At the base of the sculpture is an inscription of the name of the sermon the four girls were to attend prior to the bombing—”A Love that Forgives.”

Birmingham, the world is watching
Klan Robe
Give us the Vote!
White People Only – Rosa Parks
Birmingham Jail
Letter from the Birmingham Jail written by Martin Luther King Jr.
Telling the Tale
Joy to the World

My visit was quite a history lesson. It is one I believe everyone should be aware of and, in my opinion should be taught in schools all across America and not covered up. Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.

References: Wikipedia

All photographs by the author

Lake Chapala Society

Lady Gaga Show

Entrance to the Lake Chapala Society Compound
The Lake Chapala Society, Ajijic, Mexico

On the 16th we went to the Lady Gaga Show sponsored by the Lake Chapala Society. This is a club for ex-pats. They put on shows and have a beautiful compound with many attractions for members and guests. The show was quite entertaining and the performers were excellent.

The Lady Gaga Show
The Lady Gaga Revue
As Freddie Mercury and Lady Gaga
As Freddie Mercury
Maureen and Al

A conversation with Al Mitchell. While waiting for the Show to start Al and Maureen were conversing. I was just half-listening and sipping my red wine and enjoying the beautiful day.

Maureen: When I broke my foot, I had to wear the black boot of death.

Al: I know people who when they had to wear a boot on one foot would wear one on the other foot just to keep their balance.

Me: Whoa! Wait a minute there, Al! Who do you know that wore two boots?

Al (laughing): Well, I can’t remember their names.

Maureen: It sounds feasible.

Me: Give me a name. Name me one person who wore two boots.

Al (laughing): Well, I might have made that up.

Me: You damned right you did! That is preposterous! Your whole story is preposterous!  Caught you, didn’t I?

Me and Al both laughing. We “clink” out plastic cups of wine together and let it drop. So it goes.

On the grounds

Frida Kahlo’s image was everywhere
Dinner at the Peacock Garden Restaurant

Later that evening had dinner at the Peacock Garden Restaurant. Al Mitchel, Maureen, and a few others who were at the Lady Gag Show. Later Cindy Joined us.

What I like about Ajijic is the number of fine restaurants it has to offer and the chance to socialize with friends and meet new people.

All photographs by the author.

To be continued…

Another Day in Paradise

Day 2 in Ajijic, Mexico

Ajijic is a great place to wander around to get to know the area and its inhabitants. It is a charming little village of about 11,000 people. Many expats live there and others from around the globe travel to Ajijic frequently. We had friends that were there so we were able to socialize with them while on our visit.

Below is a working farm just around the corner from where we were staying at La Casa Campbell. We walked by it everyday.

The other pictures depict some of the streets near where we were staying . We were walking distance of Lake Chapala so we usually walked there everyday.

Working Farm
Revolution Road
Grocery Store at the corner of Revolution and Zapata
Corona
Revolution Road
Calles Cardenas
Calle Cardenas
In the Dog House

On the Malecon
Al Mitchell, one of our friends from Kentucky who was already in Ajijic when we got there. Al is one happy guy!

Lake Chapala

All photos by the author

On the Road to Ajijic

Casa Campbell

Lake Chapala

Earlier this year, my partner Maureen and I made another pilgrimage to the land down under (the border) to visit the charming village of Ajijic, Mexico. This was my second visit and her first. In order to get to Ajijic one flies into Guadalajara then taxis the rest of the way from there to Ajijic. It’s 54 kilometers and the trip takes about an hour costing 500 pesos with tip.

Waiting for us at our destination was the owner of the Airbn we were staying at, Lupita Campbell. We were very happy with the accommodations which, to say the least, exceeded our expectations. We had an entire guest house, La Casita, at our disposal which was beautifully furnished and full of art. We also had a fenced in yard with a fountain and a cabaña in the back. From the roof we had a magnificent view of lake Chapala.

Back porch at La Casa Campbell

Ajijic is wedged between the mountains on one side and the lake on the other. Lake Chapala is the biggest lake in Mexico and is quite beautiful to look at and to visit. It has a wonderful malecon where you can take an evening stroll and watch the sun go down.

The weather is perfect. We were there in January and it was a little cool in the morning but by noon it was quite warm. No need for heat or central air. The hot water heater was warmed by solar power so we had to wait a bit to get a hot shower.

There is a large expat community living in Ajijic supported by the Lake Chapala Society. They are mainly American and Canadians. The locals sometime refer to Ajijic as “Gringo Land.” We have friends who live there and some who travel there quite frequently and we were planning on catching up with them on this visit.

There are many fine restaurants and shops in the village and is a fun place to visit and socialize.

Dan “Buddha” Hildebrandt, Al Mitchell, and Maureen Bacon at Scallion’s Restaurant.

All photographs by the author.

More to come….

The History of the World, Part 1

According to Al

Al Mitchell, man of a thousand faces

Al: Cynthia is on her way.

Me: Cynthia is going to be late.

Al: Well, she had to…

Me: See a film at the Jewish Film Festival…Yeah, I know, I heard you say that three times already.

Al: (Laughing) Well. you know that’s what happens when you get old.

Me: Al, I’m five years older than you.

Al: (again, laughing) Well, sometimes it catches up to some of us faster than it does for everyone else!

Al Mitchell, man of impeccable taste

Another conversation with Al, including Maureen

Maureen: When I broke my foot, I had to wear a boot. I called it, the Black Boot of Death. God, I hated that thing!

Al: I know people who when they had to wear a boot on their foot, would get another one to wear on the other foot, just to balance it out.

Me: (Only half listening): Wait a minute! Who do you know that wore a second boot?

Al: (stammering) Well, I don’t remember their names….

Me: (Listening closer now): Come on Al, give me a name. Name one person you know that wore a second boot.

Al (Stammering and laughing) Hamada, hamada, hamada….Well, I might have just made that up.

Al Mitchell, never a dull moment

Me: You are damned right you made it up! Caught you, didn’t I? Because your story was preposterous!

Al and Me: (Laughing and clinking together our plastic glasses of red wine.)

Driving to Berea

Road Trip

Miss Maureen and Miss Scarlett

Maureen and I recently went on road trip to Berea, Kentucky. We took Miss Scarlett, our newly acquired 1984 Porshe 994.

I said, “Maureen, why do you call your car, Miss Scarlett?”

“Because, I don’t give a damn, is why!”

Well, ask a foolish question…

Berea is a small Kentucky town known for it’s arts and crafts, it’s beautiful trail ways, and of course Berea College.

Berea College is tuition free, but the students have to work to earn their tuition. The hotel where we stayed is completely run and staffed by students. As a matter of fact, my own father attended Berea College when he was a young man and he too worked at the historic Boone Tavern and Hotel.

We visited the artisan village, walked around the college campus and one day I hiked the pinnacles while Maureen stayed behind and went shopping.

A very enjoyable stay only three hours from Louisville. We would definitely go back!

The Historic Boone Tavern
Hotel Lobby
A room in the Boon Tavern Hotel
The Cabin at the artisan village
Woodworking artisan at the Cabin
A shop in the artisan village
A loom in a shop in the artisan village
On the trail to the pinnacles
On the pinnacles
Living on the Edge
On a clear day you can see forever
Way over there

Maureen was drinking while I was hiking
Daniel Boone Trail from North Carolina to Kentucky 1775, Erected by the Kentucky Daughters of the Revolution 1915

All photos by the author.

The People of Costa Rica

Pura Vida

One of the most enriching aspects of our trip to Costa Rica was meeting the wonderful people that live there. They were friendly, hardworking, happy and always smiling. The have a saying in Costa Rica, “Pura Vida,” and it punctuates everyone’s speech. They say it in greetings and in goodbyes and whenever else it makes sense to say it. It means, “the pure life.” And they surely enjoy life in their beautiful country. I hope you enjoy some of the pictures I took of these happy inhabitants.

Fernando and Maureen

Fernando was our driver on our first day in country. He picked us up at the airport and drive us to our first destination, the Arena Volcano. On the way we stopped for lunch at Mi Rancho.

Our Guide Greivin

This is our guide, Grevien. He took us on a tour of the rainforest.

Corry

This is my guide Corry. He took me on a waterfall tour and to the beach.

Swimming hole
Natural Waterslide
Pretty Costa Rican Girl
Girl in Blue
Two Girls on the Shore
Having Fun at the Beach
Taking a swim
Party Boat
All Hands on Deck!
And the sun sets on another magnificent day in Costa Rica

All photos taken by the author.

Someone to Watch Over Me

Editor’s note: I published this story previously, but I have rewritten it and made revisions and I hope have improved it. Please give it a read and let me know what you think. Thanks in advance!

Downtown Nairobi. Photo credit: Benn bell

The first thing you see when you get off the plane at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta airport after the “Welcome to Kenya” sign is the sign which says, “DON’T TALK TO STRANGERS.” There were other signs I saw along the way during my two weeks stay in Nairobi but I chose to ignore them. In Uhuru Park, there was a sign that read, “Beware of Human Beasts, Don’t Be the Next Rape Victim, Every 30 Minutes a Woman is Raped in Kenya.” At the Nairobi Serena Hotel, before we were allowed to drive onto the property, a uniformed armed guard probed the underside of our car with a long-handled mirror. Once inside and checked into our room I looked out the window and saw a uniformed guard standing watch. At a restaurant we went to called The Carnivore, we passed through a security fence that was manned by security guards carrying automatic assault rifles and flanked by large German Shepherd dogs straining at their leashes. Yes, I can’t say I wasn’t forewarned.

I had traveled to Kenya with a companion who was there on business attending a worldwide meeting of company officials who were stationed around the globe. While Mary was going to meetings, I was on my own.

On the first day, I hung out at the Hotel. The Serena is a Five Star Hotel and very nice. I had breakfast with Mary in the dining room and later I had lunch out by the pool by myself. I enjoyed a cheeseburger with fries and a Tusker beer. This is the beer of choice in Kenya.  Their motto is, “My beer, my country.” It tasted crisp and refreshing. After lunch, I took a dip in the pool and sat in the sun reading as the water slowly evaporated off my body.

After a couple of days of this, I decided to venture out on my own. I had walked the mean streets in some of the toughest cities in America, so I wasn’t too worried.

I struck out mid-morning on a beautiful sun-drenched day. The skies were azure blue with cotton candy clouds. Nairobi is a mile high so the atmosphere was crystal clear and every object stood out in vivid colored relief.

I walked the half-mile stretch along Uhuru Highway to downtown Nairobi. Traffic was going about in a chaotic fashion as I walked to the corner of a busy intersection crowded with people. I was approached on all sides by people who wanted to sell me things like trinkets or cheap jewelry. A rather large and burly individual who was a head taller than me and wearing a tight red T-shirt walked up to me and pounded his chest. “Promote me! Promote me!” He said over and over again, striking his chest for emphasis.

I just walked away. Soon others were following me and asking me questions. They all wanted to know if I was from the States? Did I know Obama? One fellow dressed in raggedy clothes stopped me and asked for money to buy some rice. I wasn’t inclined to give him any, especially in front of the crowd and all, but I did say to him, “I’m not going to give you any money, but if you will meet me here in one hour, I will buy you some rice and give it to you.” He looked a little disappointed but reluctantly agreed.

I continued to walk along the street deeper and deeper into the heart of the city. As I walked along, I noticed another fellow tracking me and falling into step beside me. He was wearing a dark brown suit, but it looked like it had seen its better days. A little shabby with frayed cuffs. He had on a soiled white dress shirt and a thin black tie loosened at the throat. He was wearing black dress shoes that were run over at the heels and in bad need of a shine. “Hello!” He said, flashing me a big smile. “Can we have a conversation?”

“Sure,” I answered. “What did you want to talk about?”

“I like to talk to Americans about politics and history.”

“Ok. What did you want to know?”

“Can we go somewhere and sit down at a table to talk?”

“Where did you want to go?”

“I know a Tea Room not far from here. We could go there.”

I started to get a little suspicious at this point and I wasn’t in any big hurry to go anywhere with this stranger.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

“Sudan,” he answered. “I am staying at a refugee camp near the border.”

“I’ll tell you what. I am going to walk around a little bit, you want to meet me here in an hour, we can talk then. How’s that?”

He hesitated a little bit but finally agreed. So, I had the same arrangement with two strangers I had met in Nairobi and I had only been in town for 15 minutes! I thought chances are either one or the other or both wouldn’t show up, and I had bought myself a little time.

I spent the next hour exploring the city. I went to gift shops, hotels, and had lunch in an outdoor café. I checked my watch and saw it was time to head back to meet my new friends.

I got back to the corner at the appointed time and guy #1 wasn’t there yet. I looked around and noticed a market about half a block away. I walked over to it and went in. After my eyes adjusted to the low-level light, I saw baskets of various products including rice. The pungent smell of spices hung in the air. I secured a bag of rice and walked out returning to the corner. My new friend showed up with a big smile on his face.

“Jambo!” he said

“Jambo!” I returned.

I handed him the rice. We made eye contact as he took hold of the bag. He nodded his head. I could tell he really appreciated the gesture. Then he walked away.

Now the second guy, the guy with the suit. I thought was going to be a no-show. I waited about 15 minutes and was about to leave when he rounded the corner. He greeted me warmly and pointed his hand out in front of him and said, “The Tea Room is down this way.”

We walked about six blocks and I was beginning to wonder where we were going.

“Say, where are you taking me?”

“It’s just a little further.”

We walked on another two blocks. While we were walking along, I learned that his name was Asim and that he needed to get back to his camp sometime before nightfall. My friend became a little more excited as we stopped in front of a rather imposing-looking two-story structure in the middle of the block with a wide set of concrete steps leading up to the front door.

“Ah, here we are,” my companion spoke to me as he swept his arm up the stairway in the direction of the entrance. We had arrived at the Jade Tea House.

Once inside I had a distinct feeling that I had stepped into a time portal. I felt as though I had been swept away to another time and place, like something out of Casablanca, the Blue Parrot perhaps. The interior of the Tea Room was dark and the blades of the overhead fans were whirring about pushing the hot air around the room. I felt a little uneasy as I looked around. Others were seated around at various tables deep in what seemed like a conspiratorial conversation as if they were plotting some crime against humanity or an act of terror. Or maybe they were just plotting to get out of Nairobi if they could just get their hands on the letters of transit.

We went upstairs to another level where it was a little brighter and sat down at a table. Soon a waiter come over and we each ordered a cup of tea.

Asim and I started having our conversation about what was going on in America. We worked it around to politics in Africa. There was a presidential election going on in Kenya and we talked about that. Then he reminded me that he was Sudanese and was living in a refugee camp. Oh, boy I thought, here it comes.  As we were sitting there, I noticed a lone individual sidle up to the table next to ours and had a seat. It seemed like he was listening to our conversation. He didn’t order anything, he just sat there on the edge of his seat. I focused on Asim while he made his play. I tried to figure out how I was going to handle his request for money. I excused myself to the bathroom to buy some time.

When I got back to the table, I decided I would pay our tab and leave. Whatever change I had that was coming to me I would let Asim have and that would be it. I called the waiter over and asked for the check. When he got back, I handed him a 50 Shilling note and he brought back my change which I pushed over in front of Asim.

Just as soon as I pushed the money over the guy at the other table jumped up and four other guys, all wearing suits, came out of the shadows and surrounded the table. Two of the men led Asim away, one on each side of him. Two others stood guard and the ring leader came over and sat directly in front of me. His eyes were shot with blood and his breath stank of alcohol. He flashed an ID at me and said he was a police officer with the Nairobi Police Department. I didn’t get a good look at the ID but it looked like an ordinary driver’s license. 

“Why were you talking to that man?” He wanted to know.

“I don’t know. We just met on the street and he wanted to talk.”

“We have been looking for that man. Did you know he was a drug dealer?”

Uh oh! I thought to myself. Here it comes. First the hook then ….

“He’s also a counterfeiter. I see you gave him some money. Why did you give him money?”

“I was just leaving him the change because I thought he might need it.”

“How much Kenyan money do you have?”

“About 20,000 Shillings.”

“Let me see it.” He reached out his hand.

I slowly reached into my pocket and retrieved my Kenyan money. He reached out his hand further and I reluctantly handed it over. He grunted his approval and started to count it.

“Do you have any American money?”

“Yeah. I guess you are going to take that too?”

He scowled.

“If you are not going to cooperate, we can take you down to the station with us and make you cooperate.”

I didn’t like that idea. So, l reached back into my pocket and got the rest of my money out, and handed it over to him which he promptly proceeded to count. He took out a small notebook and wrote some figures down on a page and tore it out. He handed the slip of paper to me with the amount of money he had taken from me written on it, as some kind of receipt.

“We have a machine at headquarters that can tell if this money is counterfeit.  We will run your money through the machine and if it is real, we will return it to you. Where are you staying?”

I didn’t want to tell him. If I ever got out of this alive, I never wanted to see them again. But I felt like I had to play along so I told them I was staying at the Serena Hotel but I gave them a false room number. Like that would do a lot of good.

After that, he stood up and motioned for me to get up. They escorted me out of the building down the front steps to the curb where a car was waiting. They got into the car and sped away leaving me standing on the sidewalk in a total state of bewilderment. It was only then that the full force of the experience hit me.

I looked up at the sky and the tops of the building were literally swirling around in the blue canopy overhead. Or was it just in my head? I didn’t know.  I became momentarily quite dizzy and thought I would pass out. I had to find my way back to the hotel but I was disoriented and actually quite lost. Calm down, I told myself. At least you are still alive and free at last. Now just assess your situation and you will be fine.

I looked around again and saw in the distance the top of a building I recognized that was in the direction of the hotel. I started walking in the direction of the familiar landmark, navigating by dead reckoning. The closer I got to the building the more familiar were my surroundings. Soon I found myself back on Uhuru Highway and almost home.

When I made it back to the hotel I went right to the room and collapsed on the bed. Mary wasn’t back yet and I feared telling her what happened. I knew she would be furious with me for putting us both in danger. When she finally got back, I told her the story and she was sympathetic but I could tell she was not happy with me. Hell, I wasn’t happy with myself either. We spent the rest of the trip looking over our shoulders as we never knew if the rough and rowdy crew would show back up again and cause more trouble.

We got out of the country with no further incidents but I learned a valuable lesson: Don’t talk to strangers.

The Fauna of Costa Rica

Photo Essay on the Rich Biodiversity of Costa Rica

Strawberry venomous dart frog used by indigenous people to poison their darts and arrows. Photo by my guide Grievens.
Black Iguana. Photo by Benn Bell

Humming Bird (picture taken by my guide Grievens)

Collard Peccary of Costa Rica. Photo by Benn Bell
Costa Rican Turkey. Phot by Benn Bell
Coati. Photo by Benn Bell
Day of the locust. Photo by Benn Bell
Sloth hanging out on tree just outside of the Restaurant where we were easting. Phot by Benn Bell
This little guy paid us a visit one morning. Photo by Benn Bell

Costa Rica is a beautiful country rich in Biodiversity.