Sand, Mammary Glands, Museums, and Pool Parties

If I were to gather containers of sand from Charleston’s various beaches – the Isle of Palms, Sullivans, Kiawah, Seabrook, and Folly – I doubt anyone could identify where each container came from.  The sands of our barrier islands are pretty much indistinguishable. This, however, isn’t the case with the three beaches we’ve visited in Andalucía – Zehora, Caleta, and Tarifa.


Caleta Beach, Cadiz

Zahora’s sand reminds me a bit of slushy snow – it’s wet and sticky and orange-ish in hue (think Trump’s spray-on tan), and its blanket holds smooth rocks, ocean glass, and some cool shells.  The sands of Caleta, on the other hand, are drier, but also orange-colored.  Alas, Caleta’s beach is strewn with seaweed and litter.  By far the nicest sand is found in Tarifa, a funky mecca for surfers and kite boarders. There the sand is white, dry, and fine. Unlike the sands of Zahora, you can brush it off with a flick of your wrist.  One of my traveling companions, Brooks, age nine, was so taken with it, she gathered some and took it home to the apartment.


Perhaps of more interest to the general reader is the topic of naked female breasts, which, of course, are on display at most European beaches.  Like Mr. Palomar, the protagonist of Italo Calvino’s novel of the same name, I feel awkward when I get the opportunity to gaze at a total stranger’s mammary glands, and like Mr. Palomar, I do end up sneaking a peek, which I hope won’t be taken the wrong way by the flaunter of aureoles, which unfortunately isn’t the case when Mr. Palomar encounters a topless beachgoer in the novel.


In college, I remember being peer-pressured into going to a bar that featured a topless waitress.  When I entered, immediately, my inner-Victorian[1] took over as I stared intently into her sardonic eyes while she cracked jokes about the awkwardness of the situation. I was way uncomfortable in the head-hanging area of what might be called un-fun, but, of course, I couldn’t help indulging in a surreptitious glance or two (or maybe eight or seventy-eight).

Well, at the three beaches mentioned above, you occasionally encounter bare-breasted women but not to the extent I did in Cannes and Mykonos in the early ‘80s.[2]  Here in Spain, all but two of the topless I’ve encountered were closer to menopause than puberty. But, hey, I admire their lack of inhibition.  Bikini tops (and bras) look uncomfortable. Why not give the voyeur a thrill and Mr. Palomar the heebie-jeebies?

I don’t mind, however, staring at whatever in museums, and Caroline, Brooks, and I have taken in quite a few.  My favorites on the Vejer leg of our holiday are located in Gibraltar and Cadiz.  Both display a rich trove of ancient artifacts dating back to Paleolithic times. The one in Gibraltar has a couple of Neanderthal replications, “Nana” and “Flint,” constructed according to skeletons found in caves in the rocks.  Caroline questions the unkemptness of these two.  Wouldn’t they groom one another she wonders.

The museum in Cadiz has an impressive cache of Phoenician, Greek, and Roman artifacts. Photography wasn’t allowed there, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

flint and nana

So here’s a naked breast for you voyeurs out there

All in all, we’ve had such a good time, especially hanging with Charlie and Concha. We even got to go to a  pool party at the home of one of Charlie’s acquaintances, allowing us a more intimate peek at the Spanish having fun. Everyone was so nice and welcoming.

In general, I have found the Andalusians to be incredibly helpful and patient, whether it’s demonstrating how to operate a parking meter or preparing a special dish for Brooks. And, by the way, the food here in Vejer is wonderful.  The town has justly earned a reputation for fine dining. You won’t find sand in your food or topless waitresses but some absolutely delicious Moroccan cuisine to go along with traditional Spanish dishes.

Buenos noches from Vejer.


View of Vejer from our apartment’s terrace

[1]Hat tip to Charlie Geer for this useful coinage.

[2]Those beaches don’t have sand at all, but what the English call shingles, pebbles that are uncomfortable to lie on without a blanket.

Witless Trump Ain’t No Insult Artist


I read the other day that almost all of Trump’s supporters – 90% of Republicans according to a recent poll – admire him because he tells it as [he perceives] it is. For example, Maxine Waters is “low IQ,” Senator Mark Warner “a drunk,” and “whimpering” Jimmie Fallon less than “a man.”[1]

In other words, they admire him because he is a vulgarian.  But he’s not a clever vulgarian – his insults lack wit.  I never found Don Rickles funny, but compared to Trump, Rickles seems like Churchill vis a vis Lady Astor.

For example, Trump could utilize someone on his staff to crib insults from the Internet, since plagiarism didn’t seem to hurt the campaign one iota.

“Hey, Fallon,” he might tweet, “you’ll never be the man your mother was” or he could bitchslap Maxine Waters with, “If I ever wanted to kill myself, I’d climb up the top of your ego and jump down to the level of your IQ.”

“You know Senator Warner has a bad drinking problem: one mouth and two hands.”

Har har har.

And Republicans are whining that civility is at an all time low.

[1]That the leader of the so-called Free World” might be investing his time in more important ways than stooping to celebrity bashing doesn’t seem to occur to them.

Making the Rounds in Ronda

In Ronda, we made the rounds of museums, first Museo Lara, owned by a collector of oddities who lives in an apartment above those cultural artifacts on display, obsolete and obsolescent gadgets like telegraph apparatus,  gramophones, and typewriters and other interesting collectables like pipes and musical instruments.


More interesting — at least for me — are the rooms dedicated to the Inquisition where you can actually run your hands across the spikes of an iron maiden or check out the crudity of a head crusher or a chastity belt and marvel at other ingenious instruments of torture.



Then there’s a room devoted to the so-called black arts.  Here you can see such wonderful specimens like this:


Bat-headed crab?

The dioramas are also worth a peek.


Next we visited the Museo del Bandoleros, a unique collection dedicated to those highwaymen who have become the stuff of legend in Andalusia. Some of the more famous ones actually have comic books dedicated to them and comic-book like poetry, some in couplets, others in terza rima.



Our favorite is Juan Jose Mongolla, aka Pasos Largos,  who favors the Moore family.


Anyway, these marauders lived in caves along the highway and would swoop down  on horsemen and stage coaches divesting their victims of cumbersome gold and jewelry.  They also appear to have been popular with the ladies, if several paintings and woodcuts can be trusted that show the bandoleros on horseback serenading women troubadour-style.


They also were on hand to rescue damsels in distress.


These cats aren’t as lucky.


We also visited the Plaza del Toros, the bullring, one of the most revered in Spain, according to our travel guide.  Although it only seats 5,000, it’s circumference makes it one of the largest in Spain.  Hemingway, of course, was a paying customer here.  You can read about his association with the town here.


Still, one of the town’s coolest attractions is the Hotel Enfrente Arte, Spain’s answer to New York’s famous Chelsea Hotel.  I failed to mention in my previous post the wonderful breakfast they serve, which like beer and wine, is included in the daily rate.  A vast array of culinary delights are available.  My favorite was quail eggs and bacon with tomato on toast, brought to your table with a loud ta-da by the gregarious chef.

Our last night in Ronda, we hit another Flamenco show.  Although inferior to the performance we caught in Jerez, this one did feature a female dressed to the nines who was very impressive.  As she stomped her feat and contorted her body, an occasional bangle would disengage from her costume and fly across the stage.

Here she is the afternoon before the performance with one of her fans.


Like all good things — long-running sitcoms, bottles of Jamesons, happy marriages — our stay in Ronda had to come to its end.  On Thursday, we retrieved our rental car and made our way down to Vejer, which I have dubbed the Beirut of Southern Spain.  Here, we’re going to visit our first beach, so stay tuned.

A Morning after Flamenco



When I was little, when away,

I suffered homesickness,

Though my house stank

Of stale (and fresh) cigarette smoke.


This hotel room shares the same smell,

The smell of disappointment,

Of tattered smoking jackets.


Outside, trucks idle,

Doors clang shut, the blue sky stretches

Across Andalucía and Africa.



Like one just awakening.

Hotel Magic

You know you’re dealing with an ancient human settlement (9thcentury BCE according to our guide book) when the city center is named La Ciudad.[1]  We’re now in Ronda, a ridiculously picturesque cluster of buildings perched on a cliff overlooking a precipitous gorge.


Getting to the hotel through the narrow twisting streets (think Theseus/labyrinth) produced in me something like claustrophobia.  My rear view side mirrors came within centimeters of those of the cars parked along the curb, and pedestrians strolled as obliviously as if they’d just mainlined some anti-Darwinian drug (okay, smack) that rendered them oblivious to the (albeit creeping) oncoming traffic. I recalled the unsmiling face of rent-a-car woman at Seville’s airport suggesting we purchase extra insurance.[2]

However, ever so propitiously, as Caroline shouted, “There’s the hotel,” and suggested I park illegally for a sec while she ran in the inquire, a space came open right dab across the street.  Parking had been an issue in Jerez. Concha had directed us where we could park for free on a tree-lined street, which was great, and worked (no towing, smashed in windows or Yankee Go Home graffito), but our rental did look as if it had been a vehicle parked in the town of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.[3]


The hotel itself — Enfrente Arte — is dada-esque.

I’ll let the photos do the talking.


Here’s what’s hanging in my bathroom.


The most exotic amenity is a sitting area where fish provide pedicures (or, to be truthful, nibble your feet).



The Romantics and Hemingway dug Ronda, and it’s no wonder because it is wonderful.


[1]One of my favorite scams to pull on Brit Lit students is to pose the question “What was the name of the first theater in Elizabethan England?”  They always answer, “The Globe,” but the correct answer is “The Theater.”

[2]I’ve driven a lot abroad (including Jamaica, Ireland, Scotland, and England) and the only damage that happened (in Portugal) American Express took care of.

[3]I.e. bird shit splattered.

Spanish Holiday, Days 2 & 3

Monday 13th

If I were a real man, i.e., drove a Ford 150 Raptor with a Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” sticker emblazoning its bumper, I’d take in a bullfight while here in Andalucía.[1] After all, like many macho wannnbes, I read lots of Hemingway in my youth, commencing, of course, with The Old Man and the Sea, then The Sun Also Rises in my teens, all of those great short stories in my twenties (along with A Farewell to Arms and To Have and to Have Not).  I concluded the grand tour in ’83, half a lifetime ago, with For Whom the Bell Tolls, which I finished in Athens, Greece, the summer before Judy and I conceived our first son Harrison.

Note that the catalogue lacks Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway’s non-fiction paean to the ritualistic blood ballet of bullfighting. That’s just how much I’m not into bullfighting.  People say read Death in the Afternoon for the writing, but I’m hip to Hemingway’s style.  Nope, I ain’t doing it. Bullfighting gives me the heebie jeebies.


In fact, I’m so not macho that I actually didn’t enjoy the Real Escuela de Arte Equestre (Royal School of Equestrian Art) horseshow I saw in Jerez today at noon. Caroline dubbed it “animal cruelty lite” and Brooks considered it “just sad.”

Don’t get me wrong.  No one stuck picas or banderillas in the horses and finished them off with a sword thrust through the heart; however, the horses – and they were beautiful – were forced to be unnatural, to sidle, to prance, to rear, to rear and kick, and none of these stunts were particularly graceful. The rearing reminded me of a weak tween after great strain successfully accomplishing a pull-up in PE.


The final act, though, was the best.  A dozen or so horses and riders did a sort of Bugsy Berkeley routine where they interlaced to form patterns that would no doubt be kaleidoscopically cool looking from a bird’s eye view perspective.

But, hey, consider the source, non macho me.  Virtually everyone else besides us seemed to dig it big time, clapping vigorously with each rear and kick. They say if you visit Jerez you have to see it, and we did.


Now, Flamenco is another thing altogether.  Caroline, Brooks, and I met Charlie, Concha, Concha’s sister Maria Jose, and her friend Marissa at a tiny club half a block away from our apartment.

The stage consisted of a percussive board on the floor.  The show started around ten with three performers seated in chairs in a row.  To my right was a terrific guitarist, a vocalist in the middle, and what seemed to be a foot percussionist to the left.  The guitarist went to town while the other two provided frenetic percussion with hand claps and foot-stomping, and the time they kept was complicated, at cross currents.  The singing was plaintive, a sort of extended, insistent lament that featured dramatic, pained expressions.  Undoubtedly, his baby done him wrong or perished in a fire or something else permanent scar producing.

Eventually, the fellow on my left jumped up and started dancing, doing that staccato, rapid fire foot stomping that I associate with flamenco. He, too, was quite dramatic, almost campy, leaning back, throwing his arms into the air.  This short video doesn’t do it justice, but I was too close to the stage.[2] Later cousins joined in with extended vocal solos, and a couple of women took the stage for some solo dancing.


So, all and all, it was a full, day punctuated by a delightful hour long snooze during siesta.  Today we’re off to one of Charlie and Concha’s friend’s house to watch Spain go against Portugal.

 Fun Facts/ Personal Notes

 Few people speak English here, so I’ve become an expert mime, hoisting my hands into the air, scribbling on an invisible notebook to summon the waiter, etc.

Wednesday night we had a delicious dinner provided by Concha on the rooftop patio of their beautiful home.   Check out their views.  Adios!


[1]No, I drive a Mini Cooper with a “Howl if you like City Lights Bookstore” slapped crookedly on the back bumper.

[2]Alas, I’m non my school laptop that doesn’t have iMovie, Final Cut pro, or even Photoshop for that matter, so forgive the crudity of the video.

Holiday in Spain: Jerez, Days 1 & 2

Here in our first full day in Jerez, a lovely, laidback city in Cadiz Province in Andalucía,[1] a solution to the over development of South Carolina’s Lowcountry dawned on me, plopped upon my head like that proverbial Newtonian apple.

The county councils of Charleston, Berkeley, and Dorchester counties should impose mandatory siestas from 3 to 6 pm every day of the week. [cue John and Yoko’s “Imagine.”]

For example, here is a normally busy street in Jerez at 4 pm.  And let me tell you, it’s as quiet as it is empty.


In my dream world where Americans love themselves more than lucre, business chains in the Lowcountry would relocate for the sake of shareholders because 3 hours of closure each day would harm the bottom line. With fewer people, traffic with its incumbent pollution (air and sound) would decrease.  Workers and school children could nap, listen to music, watch soap operas, or catch up on homework.  Returning refreshed, their productivity would soar, and the nighttime, so squandered in the USA, could be reclaimed as a time of comingling with humans outside the narrow confines of condo or apartment (not to mention ranch home or McMansion).

Of course, the odds of this happening are as unlikely as Clemson deciding to change the school colors from orange to fuchsia or Donald J Trump coming up with a nugget of self-deprecating humor.

Suggested example: Trump to Kim:  You’re having a bad hair day!  Christ, you don’t know the meaning of bad hair day.


Nevertheless, in the world of retirement, where I am the master of my time and I can enjoy socialized medicine, I shall live like an Andalucían.

After a my extended nap, I’ll ride my bicycle to Chico Feo (but not Taco Boy).

Fun Facts/ Personal Notes

People here speak with a lisp.  Cerveza is pronounced cerveztha and gracias, gracthia (no-s).

Like in Germany (and probably every other country in Europe), you get a ticket from a parking meter machine and place it on your dashboard.

Here are a couple of photos of our two-bedroom apartment (hat tip to Charlie and Caroline for finding and booking it).

And here’s a photo of Caroline, Brooks, and Charlie.


Charlie, by the way, has recently become a bit of a celebrity in Spain.  Here are a couple of reasons:

Check him out.

[1]I suspect calling any city in Andalucia laidback reeks of redundancy.