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 it 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….

Fear and Loathing on the Way to Galveston

A trip to the heart of the American Dream

The White Whale as captured by the author

I drove the 117 miles to Owensboro and arrived at Buddha’s in the early afternoon. This was the first leg of our journey to the heart of the American Dream. I gassed up the White Whale, a 2011 gas guzzling Nissan Maxima, the day before, and put together a road trip mix to listen to on our way down to Galveston. We were going to Galveston to recapture our past and rekindle a friendship that had cooled off over the years.

We had both been to Galveston before and though we had separate memories we were both eager to see her pretty sea wall, hear the sea wind blowing, and see her dark eyes glowing.  

I like to listen to the sounds of the 60s while on a road trip with nothing else on my mind but driving fast, grooving to the music, and avoiding the law if at all possible.

Daniel “Buddha” Hildenbrandt was one of my oldest friends and a spiritual adviser. He was also a teacher at the local community college. He taught communications and was fond of saying, “the main problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

We called him Buddha because of the pudgy nature of his physique. He just looked like a Buddha.

When I got to his place, we watched TV until about 5:30 pm when his daughter, Mara, arrived to fetch a key. After she left, we went out to get a bite to eat at Owensboro’s one and only Sushi place. I knew it was going to be a problem when I noticed the chefs behind the sushi bar were Mexican. I had the Hibachi Chicken. It was terrible.

We went back to Buddha’s place for drinks and more TV. I lucked into a Harold Pinter play on YouTube I’ve been wanting to see: “The Birthday Party,” starring Harold Pinter himself and Joan Plowright, in a BBC production. It was pretty good, but you have to be into Pinter to enjoy it. Buddha wasn’t so he went to bed to read while I watched the rest of the play.

The next day was Friday, October 2. I woke to the news that Donald Trump and Melania Trump both have contracted the coronavirus. Is that karma or what?

We are living in strange times. I was thinking of love in the time of Coronavirus. 1,000,000 dead and Donald Trump was still president. This was before the insurrection at the nation’s capital and Moscow had yet to declare war on Ukraine. The best was yet to come.

We packed and loaded the car. We had to make a pit stop in Evansville so Buddha could see his psychiatrist and check up on his meds. Apparently, I am traveling with a madman. That’s OK. We’re all as mad as hatters here. All the best people are.

We finally got on the road and headed west. I figured to push as far into Arkansas as I possibly could before stopping for the night. We made it to Hope, which was in the first ring of hell. It wasn’t quite dark yet, but it was getting there. We crossed the river Acheron into the abyss. The dreams weren’t broken down there, but they were definitely walking with a limp.

We checked into the Best Western Motel. The maskless clerk behind the desk kept asking us if we wanted one bed or two.

“Two beds, dammit!” Buddha muttered, shaking his shaggy head.

“Do we get a discount?” I asked. “AAA? AARP?”

“Yeah, I’ll give you a discount alright,” the clerk snapped.

“Well, what’s the rate?”

“$75.00 including tax. Do you want one bed or two?”

“Two beds, dammit!”

“OK! Can I see your credit card?”

“Any restaurants in the area?”

“You can Google them and they will deliver.”

“OK. What room?”

“105. Right around the corner.”

Buddha was already heading out the door on his way to the room on foot. I drove around. We unlocked the door and unloaded the car, then took a moment to get settled. Buddha went to get ice.

I Googled the restaurants in the area and found a Pizza Hut and a Dominos. I called both but got put on hold at both places. Well, what could you expect in a little town called Hope, deep in the Arkansas interior? Bill Clinton territory as it were. The town sucked just like Monica Lewinski. Finally, Dominos answered.

“I’ll have a medium Supreme delivered to room 105 at the Best Western Motel, please. When will you deliver it? One hour? Wow! Well, go ahead. We will just have to wait.”

While waiting for the pizza to arrive we made the drinks.

We had picked up some liquor a few exits back. We got separate liquors because Buddha always buys cheap booze and I can’t stand the whiskey he usually gets, so I get something a little better. Turns out he got Ezra Brooks and I got Jack Daniels.

“Well, hell, if I’d a known you were getting Ezra Brooks, I would have drunk your booze. Ezra Brooks ain’t bad!”

“No, you wouldn’t! You’re not drinking my booze! You just drink your Jack Daniels!”

“What the hell Buddha? You don’t think I would have replaced your whiskey? You mean to tell me you wouldn’t have shared?”

“I don’t want to have this conversation right now!”

“Why not?”

“Just don’t.”

“OK.”

We drove the rest of the way in silence.

Meanwhile, back in the motel room, we decided to watch a little TV while waiting for the pizza. It was 9 pm EST and 8 pm Central. Buddha grabbed the remote and engaged the “on” button. TV said, “No Signal.”

“Call the front desk and tell them the TV doesn’t work,” I said.

Buddha grabbed the phone, listened intently, punched the dial hooks repeatedly, looked up wild-eyed.

“No dial-tone! Motherfucker don’t work!”

“Call him on your cell phone.”

Buddha stared at the black desk set and started stabbing the numbers into his cell phone.

“Hello? Yeah, this is Buddha in room 105. The phone don’t work…. I’m calling you on my cell phone…. OK…OK…Ok. That’s not why I’m calling you. The TV don’t work either…OK…. OK…Ok.”

He hung up.

“What’d he say?”

“He said he would come down and try to reboot it himself.”

“Well OK then.”

So, we waited a few minutes, freshened our drinks, and munched on some smoked almonds. Pretty soon there was a knock at the front door.

Buddha let in the night clerk who again was maskless, but he was at least pretty friendly. He took the remote and began trying to reboot the TV.

About that time, we got another knock at the door. It was Dominos. Buddha answered the door. He paid for the pizza, $20.00 including tip.

The smell of the pizza filled the room.

“Wow, if you are getting pizza, I’m getting hungry.” This from the maskless night clerk.

“You want a slice?” I asked.

“No. No.”

The clerk didn’t have any luck getting the TV to work either.

“Let’s see, the TV don’t work, and the phone don’t work. Don’t you think we should get another discount?” I asked.

“Yeah, I’ll give you another discount. I’ll give it to you right now.”

And with that, he left.

Buddha and I just looked at each other and shrugged. Then we devoured the pizza.

A little later on that night, the night clerk showed up with our receipt which included our discounts. All in all, an $85.00 room ended up costing us $65.00. Not bad.

We got up early the next morning and hit the road again right after breakfast. It was around Texarkana when the drugs started kicking in. It was only a matter of time before we would see the bats.

As soon as we crossed the Texas state line the environment seemed to change. The horizon stretched out further, the roads became wider, and the countryside a lot brighter. You could see further in all directions. There were also a lot of Trump signs. We were definitely in Trump country. If there ever was time to be traveling armed, this was it.

Donald Trump. The 45th president of the United States of America was nothing more than a screaming hyena, a barking dog, a snake oil salesman, and a carnival barker. But he held a death grip on American politics for four years, and even though he was impeached twice and lost a fair and free election he still has a death grip on the GOP and a large number of the electorate. One-third of the country thinks the election was stolen and that Joe Biden is not the legitimate president. What a mess! But I digress.

There we were, driving along US Highway 59 with an open road in front of us and Ruby and the Romantics blaring on the radio and I couldn’t help but think that here we are, 20 years into the next century. I remember the 60s as being a beacon of hope when the culture hit a high watermark. If you look back and squint your eyes just right, you can almost see where the crest of the wave finally broke and rolled back. It’s been downhill pretty much ever since.

Next stop: Galveston!

Gringo Land

Photo by the author

I was sitting at a sidewalk table at a café in front of a large window, sipping my whisky and soda. I could watch the passersby on their way home. It was late and everyone had left the café except for me. A tree sat a few feet from me in a large round pot casting a shadow over the empty table sitting next to it. There was enough light to read by. I liked to sit late at night in this café and read and drink my whiskey and soda in peace. It was quiet now that all the other customers had left. There only remained two waiters, one old like me and the other young. The younger one seemed impatient to go home. Probably had a wife to go home to. That was not the case for me nor I suspect for the other waiter.

I noticed out in the street a young man and a pretty girl walking briskly by. I was entranced by the beauty of the girl and I was envious of the young man who was with her.

I signaled the waiter for another drink.

The younger waiter sauntered over.

“What will you have?”

“Another whisky and soda.”

“Don’t you think you’ve had enough, senor?”

I just looked at him. He went away to fetch the drink.

The two waiters were huddled together at a table near the door. They were whispering. Probably talking about me I thought. Probably want me to go. Well, I’m not ready to go.

The waiter went to the bar and poured a shot of bourbon into a tumbler of ice and spritzed it with soda water. He carried the drink outside to where I was sitting. He placed the drink in front of me and said, “Why don’t you just fuck off, old man?”

He probably thought I couldn’t hear what he was saying as I am practically deaf. But I hear well enough in a quiet environment.

The waiter went back into the café and sat down with his workmate. They began whispering again. Probably think I’m drunk and need to leave, I thought. Oh, well, I’ll stay a little longer and have one more for the road. 

I like this place. It is clean, well-lighted, and quiet.

I motioned to the waiters for another drink.

“Another whiskey and soda, amigo.”

“No,” the young waiter said. “You’re done. Time to go.”

“Another!” I insisted.

“We are closing now.” He began to wipe the table clean with his towel.

I slowly stood up, looked at the bill he had unceremoniously laid on the table.  I pulled some cash from my pocket and paid the bill, leaving a modest tip.

I walked down the street away from the café slowly, a bit unsteady on my feet. I could feel the eyes of the two waiters burning a hole in my back. I wasn’t ready to go home yet. I didn’t want to face my dark room and the empty bed. One more drink, I thought. There must be someplace open tonight. Only thing was, they would unlikely be as clean and well-lighted or as nice as this last one was. I didn’t want any music. No, I really wasn’t in much of a mood to listen to any music. And I didn’t really want to stand in front of a bar. What was it I wanted? Not much. Just a clean, quiet, well-lighted place.

I came to a bar that was open. It had red and white walls on the outside with an American flag hanging on one side of the entrance and a Mexican flag hanging on the other. There was music pouring out the door from a sound system hidden somewhere within the recesses of the tiny bar. Not really my kind of place, but I was thirsty, so I stumbled there inside.

There was a gentleman sitting on a barstool in the middle of the bar. A couple was sitting at a table towards the back. I went in and sat a couple of stools down from the guy at the bar.

“What would you like to drink?” asked the barmaid.

“Do you have any bourbon?” I asked.

“Si, we have Jim Beam.”

“OK. I’ll have that.”

She poured the drink and marked it on the bottle then set it down in front of me and went back to her perch she was sitting on. She was talking to the other guy, but he turned around and included me in the conversation.

“Hey! Where are you from?” he asked.

“From the States,” I answered.

“Well, I figured that. Where in the States?”

“Kentucky.”

He nodded his head. “I’m from Oregon. You been here before?”

“Yeah, I live here now.”

“A lot of ex-pats here, that’s for sure! I guess that’s why they call it “Gringo Land.”

He laughed. He had a bottle of beer sitting in front of him and a shot of tequila. He downed the tequila and chased it with a slug of beer.

The barmaid looked over in my direction and said, “Do you want to play a game?”

“What kind of a game?”

“It’s called 21. You roll the dice. There are three winners. One who calls the shot. One who pays, and one who drinks the shot. Do you want to play?”

“Sure, why not? Let’s play!”

So, we took turns rolling six or seven dice out onto the bar from a leather cup. Each time the barmaid counted the tops of the dice. I won the first roll so I called the shot.

“What shot do you want?” she asked, pointing to the bottles of tequila behind the bar.

“What are you drinking?”

She pointed to a bottle.

“OK. That’s what I want.”

She poured out a shot and set it on the bar in front of us. We rolled some more. First the guy from Oregon, then the barmaid. At the end of the game, the Oregon guy drank and paid for the shot I called. We all laughed and he left.

In the meantime, the other couple had left and there were only the two of us left in the bar. The barmaid and me. She walked over to where I was sitting.

She was dark and sloe-eyed with long black hair flowing over her shoulders. She was wearing a green plaid shirt with several of the top buttons undone, exposing her ample breasts.

“What’s your name, Gringo?” She smiled broadly.

“Phil,” I answered. “What’s yours?”

“Anna. At least that’s what I put on my Facebook page. You want another shot?”

“No thanks,” I said and then I left.  Now, I will go home. I will lie in my bed and try to fall asleep.  I will think of Anna and what it would be like to be with her. I am probably not the only one in town who has trouble sleeping at night, I thought to myself. Maybe I will dream of Anna. Maybe tomorrow I will find someplace to read. Maybe a quiet, clean, well-lighted place where I can sit and read in peace.

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.