Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Fickle Finger of Fate

April 30, 2013
   As you may have guessed, we are doing a major feature on the mysterious journey of Billy the Kid's trigger finger. Yesterday I went home and whipped out this scratchboard to illustrate the article (the finger allegedly ended up in a mason jar):

It got the big thumbs down in today's design review. Too dark and oppressive. So I went home for lunch today and whipped out this version:

And, to illustrate the trigger finger in a mason jar I merely walked over to the kitchen and grabbed a jar out of the pantry, poured in some whiskey and dropped in a finger I had been saving from an altercation I had with our pool guy two weeks ago:

Took another angle for insurance:

Okay, so it's not a real finger, but what is it? And, to be historically correct, were Ball jars available in 1881?

"There is no satisfaction in hanging a man who does not object to it."
—George Bernard Shaw

Why Save Anything?

April 30, 2013
   Went for a walk this morning at about seven. Still cool out although it's supposed to get into the high nineties. Met three women coming down Old Stage Road as I went up:

When we passed I heard the woman closest to me say, "I have all these family heir looms and I don't know what to do with them."

This hit a chord with me because just this past weekend I had inventoried several compilation family videos I had converted to CDs at iMemories, a new company that specializes in converting all the mish mash of tape and film onto one, clean format (that will also probably be outdated in a decade or so). These "family heir looms" included classic scenes of our kids doing a music video, singing "Girls Just Want to Have Fun", playing Death Lizard, and Tommy trying to count to 100 and getting stuck in the mid-thirties and trying fake his way out. . ."37, 38, forty-nine—Seventy-TWELVE. . ."  I thought it would be fun to show to Deena and her husband while they were visiting from LA for Deena's baby shower.

We never got to it, but we did watch half of Louis CK's HBO Special "Oh, My God" where he does a bit about nobody watching videos you post on Facebook about your kids. He also lampooned the lunacy of videoing your daughter's dance recital and missing it because the iphone or iPad is in front of you and your real child—"in high def"—is standing right in front of you and you are missing it. And, he predicts adamantly—Why are you doing this? YOU WILL NEVER WATCH IT.

On the compilation CDs I have been inventorying them on the weekends, picking one at random and watching it. In one I watched last weekend, I used my new video camera to document the places I worked. There I am walking through KSLX in 1991 and documenting all the employees doing their jobs. Jeanne Sedello is there as is Reid Reker and a bunch of sales people I don't remember.

I also went down to New Times and did the same drill, walking through the entire building and stopping people, asking them what they were doing (it's interesting to me most the management types flipped me off). Virge Hill award winner Paul Rueben is there, so is Dave Walker and Dewey Webb. Ward Harkavy is there (I believe he is now the editor at the Village Voice). The computers are ancient! Clunky boxes, with small screens and bad resolution. In production they are still pasting up ads on boards!

  Cut to me in Anton Chico, New Mexico (I flew to Albququerque and rented a car) tracking Billy the Kid. Then I'm at the unveiling of the Puerto de Luna historical marker and the reenactment of Billy the Kid's last Christmas dinner at the Grzelachowski family home. The event was put on by Joe Bowlin (now deceased) and features many of the locals in that area. The sheriff of Lincoln County, James MacSwain portrays Pat Garrett and Billy Cox portrays the Kid:

I had another oldtimer from the area Johnny Eastwood portray James East:

I also interviewed two oldtimers from Fort Sumner who actually knew Deluvina Maxwell. Highly interesting to me, but is it to anyone else? Or, is Louis CK right?: nobody is ever going to watch it.

So, why save it? Does it matter? In Tombstone they saved most of the files and paper regarding the mines but what we really want to see is Doc Holliday's shotgun (which wasn't his, but you get the picture). Saving the past is a futile effort because most of the stuff we save is not worth the effort.

On the way back from my walk, I met the three women coming back from their walk and I said, "So, what did you decide to do with your family heir looms?" They laughed, realizing I had eavesdropped on their private conversation. But they were gracious.

The gal in the middle said she will probably give them to a neice. Good call, but even as she said it I thought to myself, "It's going to be a burden to her and she will grow to resent having these boxes full of family history and when it comes time for her to pass them on, my guess is the next neice will throw them away.

So, is anything worth saving? Obviously the Sam Dedrick kids are damn happy their great uncle saved a little piece of tin from his youth. The little tin is the only known photo of Billy the Kid and recently sold for $2.3 million dollars.

What to save? That is the question.

"Ninety-five percent of everything is trash. [But, oh that five percent.]"
—Harlan Ellison

Monday, April 29, 2013

When Badass-Grandma-Hotrodders Fall Into Your Lap

April 29, 2013
  When I was in my twenties and thirties I had these road dreams—fast cars on the desert. Two-lane Mamas floor boarding full-blown hemis, taunting every gearhead they meet and screaming off into the night. It was a persistent dream that infected my day time thoughts. I gradually realized these powerful dream images might make a strong story line in a road picture. They weren't all Argosy Babes, either. I had one particular dream sequence where a tiny, old grandmother with a beehive hairdo is driving a bad-ass car and she pulls up along side a car full of gearheads and doesn't even look over. She's smokin' a Virginia Slim and it hangs off her lips like a dead chigger.

   Anyway, a great, big, juicy setup for a midnite road movie set piece. My problem was simple: where in the hell would I ever find decent art reference for this?

   Last Saturday, I was driving into the Beast on Cave Creek Road for Deena Bell's baby shower when I spied a yellow muscle car up ahead.

After I snapped off a couple reference photos with my phone, I pulled up along side:

"Pay attention: the universe is trying to help you."

—Old Vaquero Saying

The Joy of Being Carded

April 29, 2013

   Drove down into the Beast twice this weekend. On Saturday, Deena Bell Bortscheller had her baby shower at Lux on Central Avenue. The place is so hip there is no name on the front. You have to KNOW it's there. It was packed.

This is a pic of Lori Holly taking a photo of the Two Mamas, Kathy and Deena. The Deenster is expecting in June. It's a boy.

From Lux I went deeper into the Beast and had a late lunch at Gallo Blanco.

Had a street taco and posole and a Negro Modello. Pretty sweet little lunch ($14, plus $6 tip).

Drove in again on Sunday at noon to attend Channel Eight's Check Please Eating Extravaganza at Cityscape on Washington. Outdoors venue, place was packed. Great food and wine. Actually got carded (I quipped to the dude who carded me, "God bless you. I haven't been carded since Nixon was president.").

Saw Hayes Carll last Thursday night at MIM. Great venue. A mini-Grady Gammage room with wonderful acoustical designing and intimate setting. Too bad the sound was muddled. Couldn't hear the lyrics, even at four rows back. Kept looking around to see what the problem was. Still enjoyed the tunes but it did dampen the effect.

Got up this morning and worked on The 66 Kid. He's a little bit Brando, a pinch of James Dean with the swagger of Bruno Mars.

Also, put the guy in the following sequence:

"Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere; and sometimes, in the middle of nowhere, you find yourself."
—Old Carkid Saying

Friday, April 26, 2013

Agitating Myself On Purpose

April 26, 2013
I read with interest that Louis CK has a special computer (I heard he disabled it with a bolt) he uses to do his work on.

"When it's time to write, I have one computer that has no ability to get on the Internet. Because the ability to just move your finger less than a millimeter and be looking straight into someone's pussy or at the new Porsche, or a whole movie—To Kill A Mockingbird, let's just sit here and watch the whole thing!—it's too much. So if you put a couple of moves between you and that, you've got a fighting chance."
—Louis CK in Rolling Stone

He goes on to say when you reach that moment of agitation, you need to stay there, not bail and go buy something or look at porn.

It's so easy to do now, which makes it tougher to actually grow, or get to a place where inspiration can strike, which, he claims is waiting for us, just on the other side of agitation.

It was with this idea in mind, I once again challenged myself "to stay in the moment". For me I need to bypass, or at least forestall, the addiction to email and posting right here! Hey, it's fun, it's actually part of my business plan and it's helpful in many ways, but if you're trying to write and draw a graphic novel, it's, well, wayyyyyyyyyy off purpose.

Like I did when I went on my quest to do 10,000 bad drawings, I basically told myself I need to do six drawings every morning before I can look at my email. Here's today's sketchbook page:

The feral dogs notes are from my walk this morning when a neighbor's dog got out and attacked me. As for the drawings, I didn't say they had to make sense. I made the commitment to do six sketches. And, of course, as random as these scenes are, they somehow start becoming a story. Isn't that crazy?

Long live agitation, the basic fuel for creativity.

"Treat mom to a margarita this Mother's Day. Remember, you're the reason she drinks."
—Old Vaquero Saying

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Solo, Duo, Trio, Quatro

April 25, 2013
 I ran into Chuck Hall, as in the blues band—Chuck Hall And The Brick Wall—at the post office yesterday and, while standing in line to get a package, Chuck told me he and local blues legend Hans Olson are thinking of doing a special show at a venue downtown (Phoenix) and they're going to call the show, "Solo, Duo, Trio, Quatro" because at Janie's (a cool little bar next door to us) they've been doing a three hour set that starts with Hans opening as a solo, then he's joined by Chuck and they do some tunes (Samantha at Janie's says they are killer together), then Hans sits down while Chuck's trio jams on, and then for the finale Hans comes back up and plays with Chuck and his band as a foursome: thus the title, "Solo, Duo, Trio, Quarto". Dang, is that hot, or what. Hope they do the show before 11 at night so I can come. They're thinking about the same venue where I saw John Hyatt (something Ballroom).

Speaking of which, I'm going to see Hayes Carll tonight at the MIM (Musical Instrument Museum). Hayes is the musical heir to Outlaw Country in the vein of Ray Wylie Hubbard, Towns Van Zandt and Guy Clark.

Just heard that John Cusack is set to play Brian Wilson in a biopic of the genius Beach Boy. I'm all in, but personally I think Jack Black would do a funnier take on the nervous breakdowns.

Noodling several 66 Kid ideas and also a Billy the Kid Trigger Finger feature layout we are doing for the next issue. I posted a cover prelim sketch yesterday.

I also received a new book of compilations comics from the classic cartoon "Bringing Up Father" yesterday (it was the package I was standing in line for at the post office, above) and used it to study the style of George McMannus and his crisp style.

I see quite a bit of influence on later cartoons, for example Marge Simpson is somewhere in the line work and facial symbols, but then when it comes to originality, I think I side with ol' C.S.:

"Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of then, become original without ever having noticed it."

—C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Born Under A Good Sign

April 24, 2013
  Working on a couple things this morning. Did a different approach to the next cover:

And I'm also working on a sign I grew up under:

This is the legendary sign that loomed over Al Bell's Flying A on Hilltop (a suburb of Kingman), Arizona, circa 1957. Learned a ton here (I was the designated Ice Jugger).

"The only thing standing between you and greatness is you and literally millions of smarter, more talented and ambitious people than you. Good luck."

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

El Encanto Is The Scene of Much Hilarity

April 23, 2013
  We have been so busy we have missed a few birthdays at the True West World Headquarters, so Carole set up a luncheon at El Encanto to celebrate the birthdays and say goodby to a couple folks (an intern) and hello to another staffer (hello Sheila!). Great day to be outside. Sat on the patio and had a nice leisurely lunch. I had the pescado (sea bass):

Left to right: Ken, Sally, Sheila, Darren, Meghan, BBB, Carole, Sheri, Greg, Chad, Rebecca, Leah, Robert, Sue, Lucinda and Tommy.

"Great ideas originate in the muscles."
—Thomas Edison

Was The Lone Ranger Based On A Black Lawman?

April 23, 2013
We have an intriguing article in the next issue that makes the case that the Lone Ranger was probably based on Bass Reeves, a black peace officer. I'd love to tease Cowboys & Indians and their cover (which will be on the newsstand at the same time as ours) and at the same time piggyback on the juggernaut of Disney advertising and promotion that is going to be flowing very soon. With that said, whipped out this cover sketch this morning

What do you think?

"Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present."
—Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

Monday, April 22, 2013

Great News for Not-So-Gentle Tamer

April 22, 2013
   Just got the word from Bronzesmith two minutes ago:

Not-So-Gentle Tamer Has Been Funded And Is Going to Be Cast
We have fantastic news!!!!!!Thanks to a very generous donation from North Central University, we are able to begin casting the 10 ft tall AZ Centennial Monument “Not-So-Gentle Tamer”. Thank you to everyone who has shown their support of this historic piece that honors our great state and the women who helped tame the West. A special thanks to our artists, Bob Boze Bell and Debbie Gessner, and their incredible talents, to the Prescott Area Art Trust, The Prescott Valley Arts and Humanities Council and the Town of Prescott Valley where the monument will be located. We can’t forget Lora Lee Nye, who commissioned Bob Boze Bell in the first place and sold Ed Reilly the first raffle ticket, and Ed for having a vision that benefits our great state for generations to come.

The 10' tall Not-So-Gentle-Tamer with BBB and Deb Gessner, the

sculptor who brought it to life.

I believe Ed and his crew are shooting for a May 31st unveiling, so mark your calendars for the big event.

"We could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world."
—Helen Keller

Friday, April 19, 2013

How Do Subscribers Find Us?

April 19, 2013
  This morning two biker gents (they ride Harleys and visit Old West sites) came into the True West World Headquarters and wanted to meet me. After a pleasant discussion about all things Old West I asked them how they discovered True West magazine and here are their answers:

"I was staying at the Wortley Hotel in Lincoln, New Mexico and they had a True West in the room. I tore out the subscription card and have been a subscriber ever since."

—Barry Calley, 71, Dallas, Texas

"I am a single action shooter and at one of the shoots a guy had a booth with old True West magazines he was giving away (from the 1970s). Later I saw a new issue for sale at Wild West Mercantile and bought it."

—Milt Brown, Ely, Nevada

And here they are:

Barry and Milt in the war room.

"Look I'm sorry about your lamp but automatic karate is a serious disease."
—Nathan Buckley

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Roadway Heatwaves And Val Kilmer's Mama

April 18, 2013
   Drove over to Wickenburg late this morning for a speech at the Desert Caballeros Museum. Took the Lake Pleasant Road (Highway 74) and gave myself an hour and a half for the 60 mile run. At about the fifteen mile mark I saw the dreaded electronic sign: "Road Work Ahead. Expect Long Delays." Turns out they have been repaving the road with rubberized asphalt and taking it in sections. The good news is that the rubberized asphalt is highly reflective and creates big pools of roadway water mirages. It's been ages since I've seen this roadway phenom (it's one of my earliest memories traveling on Route 66) and I assumed it disappeared because of new construction materials. Whatever the reason I was thrilled to see the effects and took photos moving and during the flagman stop.

The speech went very well, another standing room only gig. And, afterwards, I had the honor of meeting Val Kilmer's mother. Here she is and her name is Gladys.

She told me Val is in Dallas for his one-man-show on Mark Twain.

"Sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason."
—Old Trucker Saying

A Fifties Fantasy Babe vs. A Fifties Reality Babe

April 18, 2013
Worked this morning on a Fifties Fantasy Babe. Every 14-year-old boy has a fantasy "girl" he desires. In the days of my youth, she had to have Big Hair and big, uh, eyes. Anyway, seems somewhat embarrassing now, but, amazingly this caricature still turns my crank, as my dad liked to say.

From this cliche, I turned my attention to what this "girl" would probably really be like in real life:

"Some people walk in the rain; others just get wet."
—Roger Miller

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Sombreros Are Us

April 17, 2013

   Last week, when Kathy and I were walking around Sevilla, Spain, I spied this little store on a side street:

Antonio's Sombrero Shop got my attention. Here's a shot in the window:

Great Spanish hats of all kinds. As you can see, lots of flat brims, even for the ladies:

And they had botas (boot leggings) as well, although I didn't buy any (I was doing carry on only and I was packed to the gills if you know what I mean):

Loved the little shops in the back streets of the quaint little towns. This is Olvera, Spain, one of the so-called White Pueblos, and one look tells you why:

The church is Catholic and the castle is Roman. Many towns in this region have a Moorish castle and a Roman castle and then a Catholic church right on top of everything. One victor squatting on top of the loser, squared.

"Life isn't fair. It's just fairer than death, that's all."

—William Goldman

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Crazy Headlines Over The English Channel

April 16, 2013
   After getting bumped off my British Airlines connection in Heathrow and a fitful night at a "free" hotel, I managed to catch a cab with a fellow bumpee, a sweetheart of a lady from Brazil, and managed to get through security by 5:20 and onto an Iberian flight to Madrid at 6:20 in the morning.

   It was a packed plane (turns out everyone was going to attend Semana Santa in Sevilla, which was my destination as well, thus the real reason for the bump off the previous flight). I was quite nervous about getting bumped again and quite relieved when the plane pulled away from the gate with me still on the plane. Now I knew—on a smaller scale—how those Canadians felt in Argo!

   Anyway, as soon as we got airborne out came the newspapers and I sketched this scene of the morning commuters sitting across the aisle from me, reading a variety of British newspapers. As a Print Guy I was fascinated to study their reading habits and see what headlines or articles got their attention.

I started writing down some of the headlines I could read from across the aisle: "My Adoptive Dad Abused Me For Years But Social Services Ignored My Complaints Because He's Gay." Yes, this is an actual headline in a Brit newspaper. It gets better: "Forgive Me, But There's Nothing David Granger Can Teach Me About Hating Your Brother." I'm not even sure that works as a headline or a sentence, but it sure got the attention of my aisle compadres.

Here's a convoluted, and quite sensational, header atop a grainy, store surveillance photo of a fat guy buying beer: "Calmly Stocking Up On Beer, 'Monster' Son Just Hours After Executing His Loving Mother."

Some were straight ahead: "How I Gave Adele Her Voice Back." and "Judge Warns Crooks After Romanian Gang Came to Britain To Steal." Oh, and "The BBC Is Up The Creek." But, then it was back to a very odd zane: "Charity? That's A Bit Rich, David!" and, finally: "Desperate Or Daft—Why Would Any Woman Log On To Find A Sugar Daddy?"

"How do you capture a memory, or a feeling? I don't know, but that's my job."

Monday, April 15, 2013

In Praise of Spanish Bodegas

April 15, 2013

Based on dumb luck, Rick Steves and constant searching, we found quite a few spectacular Spanish bodegas on our two week road trip to the Extremadura region of Spain. As I mentioned, any bodega, which is a combo-neighborhood bar-cafe, worth its salt has ham parts hanging over the bar, like this one in Sevilla.

Or, this one in Madrid:

They love ham so much they even have a Hamon Museo (Ham Museum) in Madrid, not far from our hotel. Notice the cone shaped paper cups at the bottom to catch any blood. Here's another view with a closer look at the cup phenom:

Many bodegas have bullfight photos, like this one in Plaza Mayor in Madrid, showing a painful groin shot:

The attraction is great food, and here's a shot of the local dish paella:

And, of course, these neighborhood hangouts usually have a sultry bodega babe somewhere on the premises:


The other component of a great bodega is a loud bartender. This is our favorite guy at Don Fernando's with a sign that says "desde 1505" (since 1505).

The bodega tradition goes back several centuries but it's interesting to note that in the 1770s a typical bodega served chocolate as the main drink and you couldn't read a newspaper or smoke, talk politics or play cards. Today you can see patrons doing all of the above AND talking loudly, which brings us to the main focus in a good bodega and that is a loud bartender.

This guy was great, talking very loudly, not unlike Abbott and Costello in "Who's On First." Very friendly demonstrative guy, as is typical of bodega bartenders all throughout Spain.

Of course, Spain has a very high unemployment rate and they have a rep for not wanting to do certain types of work.

"So many men without posts, so many posts without men."

—A famous writer's lament about Spanish lack of productivity

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Rolling Head Gathers No Mas Respecto

April 13, 2013
  Got home last night after traveling all day. It was a 10-hour-flight from Madrid to Chicago, then another three-and-a-half hour flight on to Phoenix. Add in the customs interrogation, the delays and the security jostling and, well, we're beat.

  But very happy.

  Great trip across the Extremadura countryside, reading Spanish history all the way (and all the way home on the plane). I keep waiting for it to get better but each chapter of the Spanish saga reads like a comic opera with major tragedy at the end of each act. Some of the stuff is so crazy, it defies credulity. For example one of the Spanish kings had 11 offspring with most of them plotting to take over the crown. The King killed one of his sons at dinner and had another strangled. None of the kids made it to adulthood.

  All I can say is, I'm glad I didn't have the power of the Spanish crown when I was raising two teenagers.

Both the Spanish and the Moors had a thing about cutting off heads. One of the Moorish Kings of Andalusia would, from time to time, capture and cut off the heads of a rival general's brothers then pack them in salt and have them sent to the general as a general greeting: "Hey, this is who you are dealing with mo fo."

Anyway, cut off heads figure in much of the art of Spain, like this little art piece, in the church in Sevilla!

Meanwhile, Kathy and I were in a hip store in Sevilla and on an impulse I bought a Rolling Stones concert T-shirt commemorating the Stones' 1972 American tour which I saw at Phoenix Memorial Coliseum. I asked Kathy, who speaks better Spanish, to tell the cute girl waiting on us, this fact and my wife said, "No."

  I asked why? And Kathy said, "Because she doesn't care."

Kathy took this photo of me wearing the Stones T-shirt near the Plaza Mayor in Trujillo, Spain where the statue of Pizarro stands proudly and defiantly:

This is a second photo Kathy took of me contemplating Cowboy Ground Zero. The statue of Pizzaro was donated to the town of Trujillo by the late sculptor's wife in the 1920s. He was an American who specialized in horses (he was an avid polo player) and was struck with the historical fact that the Conquistadors preferred Spanish ponies, not big quarter horses. The big building behind me, at left, was erected by the Pizzaro family to honor Francisco, who died (stabbed in the neck) by one of the surviving brothers of a general Pizarro had killed. Pizzaro killed two of the attackers and ran through another with his blade before they got him. In one of the early battles in Peru, Pizzaro and less than 200 mounted conquistadors went head to head with 80,000 Incas and killed 400 while losing only 3 or 4. Their superior firepower and armor carried the day yet it is still talked about because he faced bigger odds than Custer did at the Little Bighorn. Of course the Incas didn't have access to Winchester repeating rifles either.

"Where Spain keeps the cow, the rest of Europe drinks the milk."
—Old Vaquero Saying

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Notes From The Spanish Road

April 10, 2013
After a delightful tour of the Andalusia and Extremadura regions of Spain we landed in downtown Madrid this afternoon on our final leg of our Spanish adventures. One thing is clear: we are from the New World visiting the Old World, although our New World, in Arizona at least, is starting to feel old to me. I remember a time before "interstates and shopping malls mucked up the fruited plains," as Richard Denby so aptly put it in his review of the movie "On The Road," which sucked, but that's another story.

I have been here for two weeks now and I have noticed a few things:

• When people are talking loud on a cell phone in a public place, it doesn't matter what language they are speaking, it just sounds obnoxious.

• No matter where people are from they genuinely believe their home is the best place on earth.

• Street signs in Spain leave something to be desired, with most of them randomly placed on the sides of buildings, in tile, where they may, or may not, be the name of the building. Plus, they are crazy names, like "Jesus Del Gran Poder" and "Lopez de Gomara" and, "Maria Auxiliadora" which becomes "Recaredo" 500 meters down the road and then "Menendez Pelayo" two blocks later. Same road, different name. Not fun trying to find something by a street address. In fact we had to hire a taxi driver to find our hotel in Sevilla and then we both had to park and walk through a maze of alleys and passageways to find the Murillo Hotel (plus, NO doorman! ha.).

• The Spanish Empire thrived for 150 years and then it went away and the Spanish are still trying to figure out why.

• Part of the drive to find new places to exploit in the New World was because the Romans exploited Spain and drained it of most of its natural resources. Plus corruption soaked into every pore of civil and government life until the machinery simply broke down. Stop me if any of this sounds vaguely familiar.

• Thanks to bone-headed advice from a certain distinguished professor, the first time I came to Spain in 2003 I was expecting a higher form of Mexican food ("like we eat in Santa Fe," Paul Hutton boasted) and i couldn't believe how bland the food was. But on this second tour I took the food for what it is and have totally enjoyed the cuisine including gazpacho soup, which is similar to our Southwestern soup but  different. Albondigas, however, is not soup, but meatballs in gravy over french fries. And chorizo is not what we have in the Southwest, but a form of sausage. Paella is somewhat overrated, but a tasty dish nonetheless, and the tapas (wonderful little dishes served at bodegas with cerveza) are quite good. We had a potato soup at a roadside restaurant today that was homemade and delicious.

• There is no merlot or cabernet red wine. There is simply vino tinto (red wine) or vino blanco (white wine) and you get what they have and it is almost without exception, exemplary.

• As much as I love their cafe con leche (coffee with hot milk), I cannot get used to having only one small cup and I find myself constantly longing for a refill, but it never comes. You have to order another cup which just seems wrong to an American. And, on a related note, there is no coffee machine in the hotel rooms and, weirdly, they don't do wash cloths or clocks, but instead have giant bath towels (bath sheets actually). There is a hair dryer, however, in all the rooms. Go figure.

• The closer you get to Madrid the more gang graffiti you see. In 2003 we saw none. I heard two rap songs in a row in a supermercado (supermarket) in Merida, both in English and both sounded bizarre as hell in the context of a grocery store in ancient Spain.

• Everyone calls my hat a "sombrero" and everyone guesses I'm from Texas.

• The dude who writes "Game of Thrones" is simply cribbing Spanish history verboten.

"The heart's memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good; and thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burdens of the past."
 —Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

The Seven Cities of Bold and Cowboy Ground Zero

April 9, 2013
Yesterday we drove the length of Extremadura searching for the Seven Cities of Bold and Cowboy Ground Zero. Since I was a lad I have heard tales of the Spanish Conquistadors and their palatial homes built from the spoils of their conquests in the New World. But, alas, like their quest for the Seven Cities of Gold, the gold laden homes in the William Randolph Hearst mode turned out to be pretty much non-existent.

The Seven Cities of Bold
We did find the cities in Extremadura where most of the Conquistadors came from but other than a street named after them and a few small statues, there really wasn't much in the way of the plunder I was expecting to see. Also, since Extremadura seems like such a Wild West name (it actually means "the land west of the Duera River". Ha.) AND it's in Western Spain, I was expecting Zabriski Point and Death Valley, but the land actually resembles Sonoita or eastern Colorado. Very fertile, with rolling hills and small, nondescript mountains.

The seven cities are Zafra, Jerez de Los Caballeros, Badajoz, Merida, Caracez, Medellin (the birthplace of Cortez) and Trujillo. But what the landscape lacks in Wild West panoramas it more than makes up for in the bloodiest damn history I'e ever read. Certainly more than anything portrayed in "Deadwood."
The Romans encountered a savage, warlike people, tough and wiry with unkempt hair and a harsh way of speaking as if they were spitting daggers out of their mouths. These Iberians (the Romans called them Lusitanians) practiced rough justice, simply taking criminals to a cliff and throwing them off. And they were wildly superstitious, reading the entrails of slain enemies to predict the future. They carried poisonous plants in battle rather than be captured alive. For 200 years the Romans tried to defeat them and could not (they, however, conquered the French in a decade).

So it's no surprise that Extremadura produced so many of the Conquistadors who would conquer almost an entire continent from South America to north of San Francisco and east to Florida. It was in Spain that the cattle ranch originated as we know it. The Conquistadors are the ones who brought horses and cattle to the Americas and they established the first cattle ranches in Mexico and their offspring are the ones who met the anglo cattle herders, walking on foot, into Texas. So, to me, the Ground Zero for the birth of the Cowboy would be somewhere in Extremadura. Last night at 8 p.m. I found it:

Here I am standing in awe of the horseback rider from hell. The son of a legendary fornicator, El Largo, who fathered 150 sons including the dude on the horse—Pizarro, the conquistador who conquered the mighty Incas. He has what appears to be rattlesnakes coiling out of his helmet and he wields a mighty sword as he grins the grin of a mighty man who knows where he's going. This is in the Plaza Mayor in Trujillo, the hometown of Pissarro.

"Cowboy Ground Zero, indeed!"

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Spanish Vaqueros at The Feast of Quasimodo

April 7, 2013
Kathy and I are staying in a castle in the town of Zafra, which is in the Extremadura region of Spain. It dates from the 1400s and was converted into a hotel in the 1920s. It's a big sucker and, yes, that is me standing in the shadows at bottom:

We awoke to the sounds of a drum corp marching past our window and later, over cafe con leche (coffee with milk) a man told us today is the feast of Domingo de Quasimodo. He drew us a crude map of the town and a road leading out of it to the south and we set out after breakfast on foot. At the edge of town we saw several people walking up a dirt road and followed along.

After a mile or so, we started hearing the music and the sounds of the festival. As we came up the hill to a church we saw many locals tailgating with tents and barbeques.

As we came into the festival area we saw many vaqueros including these two from Columbia.

Note the botas (leggings) which he calls polainas. If you want to see them up close I am buying a pair tomorrow on the plaza at Equitation Gala (I made the vaquero in the picture write it down). I believe the young girl is his daughter.

Here is a photo of one of the local vaqueros:

And here is an example of female vaqueros standing at the edge of the festival. The town of Zafla is in the distance, high on the hill:

The chica closest to the horse is wearing a snap cap which is typical of the gauchos of South America. The saddle has square, metal stirrups and a cloth seat (it has a name but I didn't write it down).

"A horse is a horse of course unless it's on the plains of Spain where it becomes a caballo."
—Old Vaquero Saying