Thursday, July 30, 2015

I Don't Get the Metaphors

I was struck by an article in today's Slate arguing that we've reached the point where the journey may be replacing battle as the preferred metaphor for people's experience of cancer. I'm certainly no advocate for the battle metaphors -- and I love the quote in the piece from Aria Jones: "If I die of this relapsed, refractory Acute Myelogenous Leukemia, and you describe me posthumously as having 'lost her battle with cancer,' I swear to God I will come back from wherever my soul may have been sent and haunt the living shit out of you for the rest of your days" -- but I can't say I'm as excited as the article's author about "journey."

I don't really feel like I'm on a journey with cancer, anymore than I'm on a journey with diabetes -- or hang nails for that matter. Cancer's just there. You get your scans, you make you choices, and you live your life for as long as you've got. It's not something that needs to be understood, so I don't really see the need for metaphors to understand it. 

But once again, I'm probably in the minority. The need for metaphor seems to be pretty deeply ingrained in conversations about cancer. And if I have to choose one, I'll definitely take journeys over battles.

Especially since I just bought tickets for another leg of the GCW Tour: Australia (well, Sydney) and New Zealand, next February.  

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

I'm Not Sure This Was the Intended Reaction

On something of a whim, a couple of friends and I went to see a concert on Sunday night. It's been a (very) long time since I've been to a live performance by a rock and roll band. It was a lot of fun, but it also made me feel very, very old.

Here's the thing. Recognize this guy?

No? Ok, how about now?

Let's try another one. Who are these guys?

Maybe this will help...

Those whose age and musical tastes were similar to mine should now recognize the first guy as Colin Hay, founder and lead singer of Men at Work, and the trio as The Violent Femmes. 

Now for the real test: In what years were the two songs in the videos released? If you're like me, you know it was the early eighties but you'd have to look up the actual dates. I'll save you the trouble. "Who Can It Be Now" came out in 1981 when, if my math is correct, I was in the seventh grade. "Add It Up" came two years later. So we're talking thirty -- almost thirty-five -- years ago.

And three decades after those songs were in continual rotation on KROQ, Colin Hay and The Violent Femmes were opening for the Barenaked Ladies in part, if the stage patter is to be believed, because the headliners had been inspired by the others as they were growing up.* 

Now you might think that seeing the bands of your youth play their songs might make you feel young again -- and based on how some of the folks in the crowd reacted, some clearly had that reaction** -- but I found it to be almost the opposite. Looking at the crowd, I was clearly at about the median age, and the standard deviation couldn't have been very high. I'd bet 90% of the people there were between forty and fifty-five, and at least a few of them were wearing the t-shirts they bought when they first saw the bands play thirty years ago. Concert crowds are supposed to be full of teenagers, not old people. 

And when, about halfway through the final act, the openers came back out for a collective rendition of that Men at Work hit, and the crowd reacted like it was still number one on the pop charts, it just made me feel... well, every single one of those thirty-odd years.

But maybe it's just me. After all, a co-worker's heading off to see Aerosmith soon, and Steven Tyler recently turned 67. 

* Interestingly, both Hay and The Violent Femmes were hawking new albums in conjunction with the tour, but their sets were predominantly focused on their old hits. They clearly knew their audience. 
** There was one woman in particular who spent the whole concert, and particularly the set by the Violent Femmes, bouncing and dancing like she was in junior high. But as she and her husband stood chatting during the breaks, it became pretty obvious that junior high was a very long time ago. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

How Can One Possibly Think This Was a Good Idea?

The main news update from today's elevator ride: 

The woman who helped the prisoners in New York escape has plead guilty to smuggling hack saw blades into the prison hidden in some frozen ground beef.

I have absolutely no idea how to respond to this story.

On the one hand, how cool is it to know that the sort of thing that would expect to find in some absurd prison comedy actually works in real life? The only thing that would've made the story better would be if she'd baked the saw blades into a cake rather than burying them in some frozen meat. The idea that this actually worked is just so completely absurd.

On the other hand, I'm having a really hard time imaging the thought process that leads a person to believe it's actually a good idea to smuggle hack saw blades into a prison. What insane premises do you have to adopt in order for logic to lead you to the conclusion that what you really need to do today is to smuggle a saw into the prison?

My meager brain just can't comprehend it. 

The Latest Cancer Update

The latest from the cancer front:




Actually, there's not much to report. A little bit of fatigue, a definite increase in the foot neuropathy, and way too many bathroom adventures, but beyond that I can't say I'm hugely impacted these days by the cancer. 

Good for getting through the day, but it makes for a pretty boring blog. And with seven or eight weeks until my next scan, we may be entering a bit of a dry spell. So posting may be slim and/or the topics may veer pretty far from the usual.


The Salad Bar Math Problem

How is it that a little of this and a little of that repeated across a dozen or so potential ingredients adds up to a really big salad? 

It's a problem I'm wrestling with more and more as I try to eat healthier. But I have to wonder if a pound and a half of salad, even if made up of all sorts of healthy components, actually qualifies as healthy. Yet every time I tell myself I will build a small salad, and yet every time I wind up with a gargantuan amount of vegetable matter. 

I wouldn't care so much if it weren't for the fact that "healthy" and "compatible with the digestive system" are not at all the same thing. Sadly, the healthier I eat the worse it seems the effects are on my innerds.* I was hoping a smaller salad might make for a happier abdominal experience, 'cause if this continues I may have to go back to the bacon cheeseburgers.

Just once, it would be nice if things didn't have to be complicated. 

* Oddly, I've heard of similar effects from others. Seems salad really wants an entire colon for the digestive processes to work, and when it passes through an abbreviated version terrible things can happen. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015


My living room is now free of boxes. I have successfully purged my space the multiple cardboard boxes full of the crap treasures I'd acquired over the past few years. 

Hand print I made when I was seven? Dumpster.

Every greeting card I'd received and bothered saving over the last twenty years? Recycle bin.

Twenty volume history of America published in 1963? Now available for purchase at the Seattle Goodwill.

More picture frames than I can count? Also at the Goodwill, along with three other boxes full of books and other miscellaneous junk. 

I highly recommend purging your space as a means of improving your mental health. 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Forest, Trees, Hammer, Nail -- Insert Your Favorite Cliche Here

So I had to go to the doctor. A regular doctor, not the oncologist. 

When I changed my insurance at the beginning of the year so I could start going to the SCCA for my cancer I lost access to all my other doctors as well. And since I've only got so much mental energy for dealing with medical stuff, all of which is currently being consumed by cancer, I basically ignored that fact for as long as I could.

A few weeks ago I needed updated prescriptions for my insulin, which was a problem since the doctor who wrote them was no longer caring for me. The oncology PA was nice enough to cover the gap, but she made it pretty clear that this was a one-time thing and I needed to find a primary care doctor to deal with my non-cancerous health issues.

So on Thursday I saw my new primary care doctor, chosen on the basis that his was the open schedule at the clinic I chose for being a) covered by my insurance, b) more or less integrated with the SCCA so that it wouldn't be my job to move my medical records back and forth, and c) fairly close to my house.

I'd actually be interested to see another doctor at the same clinic if only because the doctor introduced himself by saying, "I'm Dr. _____. How can I make you feel better today?," and I just can't decide whether that phrase sounds more like something a slightly quirky doctor would come up with on his own or something one of the larger clinic networks in the region market-tested the hell out of and is now mandating as the prescribed greeting for all patients. I could see it going either way.

But actually, the doctor seemed a pretty nice guy in a really boring job. He asked me a few questions, poked at me a bit, but generally spent most of the time typing into a computer. I felt sort of bad that he had to go through some eight to ten years of school and training for the services he provided me. It seemed like serious overkill.

But in retrospect, I have to admit that I only really got one of the many things I was hoping for from the appointment: I got new scripts for my insulin. On everything else, the outcome was pretty much the opposite of what I was expecting. Specifically:

I've got these weird lumps in my arms that are driving me crazy and which I'd like to have removed. But per the doctor, the surgeons won't remove them until my cancer treatment is concluded. When I reminded him that my cancer treatment will never be concluded, he reminded me that the lumps are harmless. 

I explained that I'd chosen a general practitioner over an endocrinologist (i.e., a diabetes specialist) because I only had so much mental energy I could devote to health issues, and cancer was using it all up. A few moments later I got a referral to an endocrinologist, though at least to an endocrinologist based at the SCCA to make the appointments easier. So, yay!, more time at the SCCA

Then there was the message that came with my test results. In short, he suggested I talk to my oncologist to see if there was any objection to putting me on an anti-cholesterol drug and a blood pressure medication to counteract the possibility of kidney damage related to my diabetes. So I've got one condition with a median survival rate of two more years, and in addition to the eleven pills a day I'm already taking, this doctor wants to add two more to the mix to prevent problems that wouldn't likely arrive for another five to ten years. 

The movie theaters here in Seattle play these Geico commercials that revolve around the idea of "it's what you do." I was sort of reminded of those by my visit with this doctor. Got a patient with Type I diabetes, you send them to an endocrinologist. It's what you do. Got an elevated protein test? Prescribe blood pressure meds. It's what you do. Never mind the fact that I've got much bigger problems than cholesterol or protein.

I wouldn't care much about all this if it wasn't for the fact that I've seen way (way, way) too many people who were totally trashed by doctors trying to do too much. We're talking ten, twenty, or more pills a day. And I'm sure it was all well-intentioned, and started with the best medical knowledge available at the time, but it's always struck me as a pretty fast trip from "a pill for this and a pill for that" to "a pill for this and a pill for that, and this pill to counteract the side effects of that pill, and this other pill to offset the interplay between those two pills and this third" and suddenly cause and effect are all screwed up and you're basically running a biochemistry experiment within the confines of your body. I could be wrong, but to the best of my knowledge the FDA only requires drug makers to prove safety and efficacy, they don't require trials of every possible drug interaction before they grant approval. And I have no desire to be a test ground. 

Which is the long way of saying, I won't be taking any medications for blood pressure or cholesterol anytime soon. 

But at least I can get my insulin. I suppose that's something. 

Friday, July 24, 2015


Apologies for the lack of updates since the last Cancer Day and finishing the Spain photo updates. I've no good reason. I've just been listless since I got back from Spain. I blame the decision to paint the wonder room. 

Painting required me to move all the crap out of the wonder room, and since the condo isn't all that large and I really need my bed for sleeping, all the crap wound up in the living room. Coming home from vacation to a living room full of crap is not anything a recommend for good mental health. 

There's an insurance agent's office near my bus stop, and they post "helpful" articles on a bulletin board outside their door. Ironically enough, I read one this morning about how unhealthy "clutter" is for one's well-being, with all sorts of recommendations about how to get rid of it. 

With any luck, I'll be able to follow some of the suggestions this weekend to get the stuff out of my living room. I'm not sure I can take the piles of boxes full of weirdness collected over the last couple of decades (by both me and Mum) for very much longer. 

Love my siblings, but I just don't see any possible scenario in which a photo of three of us kids taken forty-seven years ago (prior to the arrival of Sib4) and then printed (very large) and framed which somehow made its way from my Mum's stuff to my condo is going to wind up on my wall. 

The fact that the bloody thing has spent two years taking up space in my very tiny condo is testament to the fact that I definitely inherited Mum's hording gene. 

And don't get me started on the plaster handprint...

Sunday, July 19, 2015

I Should've Bought a Bigger Thermometer

I've always loved Galileo Thermometers and a few months ago I found one for something like $20 at Pier One so I bought it. I should've held out for a bigger one. It's hot enough in Seattle today that my thermometer has run out of globes -- which reminds me that I really need to get someone to replace the insulation in my attic.

In short, it's bloody hot in Seattle today. Which has nothing to do with cancer, but when it's this hot it's hard to focus on much of anything else. But it is a good excuse to find an air conditioned movie theater...

Ta Da!

Well, that's it. I've been all the way through the Spain and Morocco pictures and updated the posts here with the relevant visuals. And with that, the Spain/Morocco leg of the GCW Tour is pretty much complete. 

And not a moment too soon. All those things that moved to the back burner when I started gearing up for the trip are starting to boil over. It's time to move on. 

But in reviewing the pictures I realized that there isn't a lot of proof that I was there. So before we drop Spain and Morocco completely, here are three more photos to prove that I was there...

And with that, it's time to finish patching the kitchen ceiling, finish painting the wonder room (and hall and bathroom), call to get an estimate on new insulation for the attic, find a general practitioner, etc., etc., etc....

Saturday, July 18, 2015

It's a Shame I Can't Backdate a Post, aka, The GCW Tour, Spain & Morocco: The Niece's First Oyster

In reviewing the photos from Spain and Morocco I've found a few that should've generated a post but didn't. Here's one set. The night before San Fermin the niece and I went out for tapas in Pamplona. I convinced her to try an oyster...

Which one to choose?
Is this the smallest one?

Maybe I can distract them with this.
Stall with a palate cleanse.

Still in there?
Why is the bartender watching me?

You're in this with me oyster.
Maybe the uncle isn't looking. Ah well...

Down the hatch.
Keep it down! Keep it down!

Ta da!
Cheers from Dave.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Cancer Day Updates

Well alrighty then. Here's where things stand as of 10:00 pm tonight.

Important stuff first...

I've managed to get as far as the night train to Marrakech in terms of updating the recent GCW posts with photographs. Clearly, I significantly underestimated the amount of time it would take to get through them all, but we're getting there. More tomorrow, I'm sure.

Boring stuff second...

In the plus column of today's cancer accounting, we have three items. First, the general consensus is that I look good. which appears to count for something in the cancer battle. Second, I feel good, which may or may not count in the cancer battle, but certainly counts in terms of getting out of bed every morning. And third, I was able to walk for three weeks in Spain, which made for a much better trip.

But on the negative side, after six weeks without the anti-cancer drugs my tumor markers are higher then they were. Not as high as when this whole thing started, but the trend has been upward, when the desire is for downward. 

But the challenge is that because I was off the pills for so long, it will take some time to figure out what's going on. If they scan me now and the tumors are bigger, we won't know if it's just because I stopped taking the pills or if I've completely stopped responding to them. To figure all this out I'm going to have to take the pills for awhile before I can get scanned to find out what my tumors are doing.

I guess it's a judgement call whether the positives outweigh the negative, but as far as I'm concerned they do. 

'Course I reserve the right to change my opinion if it turns out my tumors exploded during my break. 

It's Official

I'm "pleasant." My medical record says so.

I know because my oncologist wanted to see where my tumor markers were at the first time I was seen, and so he had the notes from my first visit open and I looked over his shoulder to see what it said. The opening statement said I was a pleasant 46-year-old male with cancer.

The fact that this is in my medical record raises all sorts of questions that will likely never be answered,* but it's oddly comforting to have an official imprimatur on such an evaluation.

Of course, "pleasant" doesn't produce much of interest in a Google image search, so I went with "peasant." The peasant search was rather fascinating. You get a lot of medieval art, the odd Monty Python screen capture, and an absurd amount of scantily clad women. All I can figure is that "peasant" appears to be the preferred adjective to describe a lot of barely there clothing.

Odd to think that what was once a signifier of abject poverty eventually evolves into one of sexual desirability. But that's fashion for you, I guess.

Clearly, there's not much to keep your brain occupied when you're waiting for an infusion to begin...

* On what basis was this determination made? Does it have an impact on the treatment I receive? If I became unpleasant, would my medical record be updated? Etc., etc., etc.

Partial Update

I've been making my way though the Spain photos, and posts from the GCW Tour through June 28 have been updated with visuals. If you ask me, the posts are definitely better when there's more to look at than just my text.

And jeez, someday before I depart this planet I really ought to learn to recognize the difference between its (possessive) and it's (contraction) on the first go. For whatever reason, confusing the two has always been my go to typo, and I've already made countless corrections from the first few Spanish posts. Embarrassing.

In any case, tomorrow is Cancer Day, or $20,000 Thursday, or whatever I'm calling it these days, so while I'm waiting in between appointments or being infused, I should be able to get through the rest of the photos. I hope so anyway. I'm ready to move on to some other things, but need to get this taken care of before I do.

Tomorrow's appointment will be unusual in that I'm pretty sure I'm seeing my oncologist, despite the fact that there hasn't been a new scan since I last saw him. It'll be interesting to see how it's different seeing him, rather than the PA, when there isn't big news to be delivered. 

And, sadly, this will bring my six week cancer vacation to a conclusion. As of tomorrow, the fact of having cancer will again be hard to ignore. But it was awfully nice to have a break. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Apologies for the Lack of Visual Updates...

...or any updates at all for that matter. I know I promised to upload Spain photos by Sunday, but between the flight delays, the jet lag, and the fact that what was mostly an annoying cough has blossomed into chills and body aches, reviewing some 4,000 photos has been a little beyond me. 

Instead, I'm going to chug some NyQuil and go to bed.

Maybe I'll be able to start looking at photos tomorrow, or maybe the chills and aches will morph into something else. Who knows? 

Friday, July 10, 2015

The GCW Tour, Spain & Morocco: Well This Must Make a Person Feel Important

We're still in Barcelona.

After the world's worst included breakfast, we got to the Barcelona Airport this morning at the planned time of 10:00 am. Check in went fairly smoothly, though oddly the Air Canada personnel were all wearing Swiss Air uniforms and badges. We got our passports stamped and made it to the gate just as boarding for our flight was beginning. A few moments later our "zone" was called, and since we were strategically positioned near the front of the crowd, we were quickly on board the plane.

We found our seats and were very pleased to see there were outlets at the seats, since we had both left our European adapters stuck in the wall at Hotel Bed4U, and our phone and iPad batteries were on their last legs. Since my iPad was in the worst shape, we plugged it in first to begin charging.

After a but, we noticed the flight was pretty empty. The couple in front of us noticed as well and asked if they could move to some open seats on the other side of the plane.

Oh, no. The flight is full. We've just stopped boarding for a bit.

Stopped boarding? Why would they stop boarding?

Funny you should ask, as the pilot came on the PA to explain: when he awoke that morning, the co-pilot gad felt ill and got worse as he reached the airport. Thus, he reported his condition to airline and airport officials -- the fool! So while he know felt better, he had to be checked out by the doctors before the plane could leave.

Apparently, they were very thorough doctors, as we kept getting that same announcement for nearly an hour. But, joy of joys, after an hour we got word that the airport doctors had cleared the co-pilot to fly, so boarding would resume. Yay! So quickly unplugged my phone and other devices from the empty seats around me, and, indeed, the plane started to fill.

The flight attendants asked everyone to quickly find their seats. Rush, rush, rush. Everyone be seated, as we're closing the doors. And... nothing.

Again the pilot makes an announcement: while the airport docs have cleared the co-pilot to fly, Air Canada policy requires clearance from the company's doctors as well, so we're just waiting on that.

Finally, an hour and fifty minutes after we were supposed to take off, word comes down from Air Canada headquarters: co-pilot is grounded, cancel the flight. Everyone off the plane.

And now the goat rodeo begins...

Plan A -- We're rescheduling the flight for 11:30 pm tonight, and will give each passenger a €20 voucher for food. Everyone line up back at the gate to get your voucher. What about connections, etc.? The gate attendants will take care of that.

So we all line up for our vouchers -- and chance to talk to the gate attendants. Evidence, of course, suggests that Air Canada has never dealt with more than three people at a time so crowd control is not in their toolkit. So what begins as a line, very quickly devolves into a disorganized mob surrounding the desk with a very long tail of increasingly frustrated queue members emerging out of it.

So of course it's time for Plan B...

Plan B -- Everyone just be patient while we figure out what we're going to do. No more food vouchers until that happens. And what about the folks who took the food vouchers and left, planning to return at 11:30? They don't say.

Oops, time for Plan C...

Plan C -- We're going to put everyone on tomorrow's Toronto flight, and so will be handing out hotel vouchers. Stay in line for your hotel voucher. Wait, if today's cancelled Toronto flight was full, won't tomorrow's be just as bad? How are you planning to squeeze us all on? And what about our connections? Good questions, without answers.

But we all stayed queued, until, wait for it, Plan D...

Plan D -- We are rescheduling today's Toronto flight for tomorrow at 9:00am. You will still get a hotel and dinner voucher, but you need to go to baggage claim and get your bags and then return to window #514 at the departure check in desks to get your vouchers.

Now let's just pause here for a moment. If you've been to an airport since, say, September 11, 2001, you've probably noticed that the human traffic at an airport is designed to flow in one, and only one, direction. This is even truer at international terminals, where passport and immigration control applies even stronger unidirectional gates to the flow. By the time we reached our gate, we were no longer officially "in Europe," having officials exited the country when our passports were stamped.

In short, Air Canada has just sent 400 extremely frustrated rats backwards through a maze designed not to let them pass.

It went about as well as you might expect. My two favorite moments were, first, when the Asian gentleman pressed the emergency stop on an escalator so he could use it to go down instead of the preprogrammed up, and second, when the two very confused Spanish immigration officers figured out that they had 400 people coming at them from the back of their booth, instead of the front, so they exited to booth deal with us all. Want to know how to officially cancel the EU exit stamp in you passport? The officer takes a pen and draws two lines through the EU symbol at the corner and then scratches out the serial number on the stamp. At least that's how they handled it in our case.

So now we're all back in Europe, so I send the niece to claim our bags -- I gave her a cart -- and I make a dash for window 514 at departures. Which is closed. But I recognize a few faces in the line at 513, so I queue up there. I'm like fifth in line, and by the time the clerk finishes with the first person there must be two hundred people lined up.

Once again, Air Canada displays its top notch crowd control skills and opens two additional windows. But rather than pulling people from the existing central line, they just stare blankly into space until two new lines form, and all the people in the existing line are even more pissed off.

I recall a TV show once built on the premise of replacing a clerk or waitress or some such with someone who would just annoy the hell out of a patron until they blew a gasket. Depending on how long they tolerated the abuse -- and, presumably, whether or not they would subsequently sign a release form -- the patron would receive a cash prize of some amount. I was starting to think I should be looking for hidden cameras.

Anyway, I finally get my turn with the clerk.

Me: So how do my niece and I get to Vancouver?
Clerk: <blank stare>
Me: Toronto was a connection for us. Our final destination is Vancouver. We obviously missed our connection, so how do we get to Vancouver?
Clerk: Oh, I don't have any information on that, sir. They'll help you with that when you check in at 6:00 am tomorrow. I'm just giving out hotel vouchers.
Me: So you're telling me I could get stuck in Toronto.
Clerk: They'll help you with that tomorrow.

So here we are. Miles from anything interesting in Barcelona, sitting in an airport hotel, with zero clean clothes, not much in the way of euros, a promised free dinner at eight, a promised free breakfast which the hotel will start serving long after we're gone, and yet another 5:00 am wake-up call.

But the niece tells me that she just reached 4,000,000 on Temple Run, so it's not all bad.

But I'd hate to have to calculate how much the co-pilot's almost sick day cost Air Canada.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The GCW Tour, Spain & Morocco: And That's Probably All Folks

Well, that's pretty much it for Spain and Morocco. The niece and I will be shortly boarding the train for Barcelona where we'll have our last meal, then in the morning we're on the plane for home. It's unlikely anything worth blogging about will happen, so I think we can call this done. 

With luck I'll be able to skim through my photos on Sunday and get the images added to the posts. The pictures may also prompt a few more comments on things I forgot about. Apologies for all the imagine free posts; I'll try to get that sorted before the next round.

And next week, things will be back to normal. If I recall correctly, I've even got an appointment with my oncologist on Thursday.

This has been a good break from cancer, but probably best not to ignore that for too long.

The GCW Tour, Spain & Morocco: San Fermin, Day 4

When the niece eats a meal she generally leaves a single bite of each thing for the end, and then finishes them off such that she saves the best for last. We got sort of the same effect from all the hassles securing a spot on a balcony for the running of the bulls. 

Assured we had a spot, and having sorted out -- at least vaguely -- the numbering system of a seven floor building that renders the attic level apartment as "five," the niece and  I were up again at 4:45. The party was, of course, still going strong when we got to the city center at 6:00.

This time when we rang the bell at 6:30 they let us up. It was a nice view from the attic level, if a little high. Happily, though, at seven they determined they had too many people coming so they palmed us off on a neighbor up the street. All things considered, it was a better view. So while we lost out on the provided breakfast -- no major loss from what I could tell -- we had a great view for the bulls, and the hundreds, if not thousands, of crazies who run with them.

It's definitely a sight to behold, and I'll post pictures just as soon as I can.

But for anyone planning a trip to Pamplona for San Fermin, here are my recommendations for making it actually worth your while:

1. Plan far enough ahead that you can get a hotel in the city center, rather than the burbs. If all that's left is HotelBed4U, wait til the following year.

2. Pull a Juliet and reserve a spot on the balcony. Best vacation dollar you'll ever spend. Just make sure you've got accurate instructions on how to find the place.

3. See a bullfight. It's a little campy, and a little boring, but it's actually a useful reminder of how narrow the line between life and death really is.






Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The GCW Tour, Spain & Morocco: San Fermin, Day 3, aka, At Least Six Animals Were Injured in the Making of this Blog Post

Since the balcony scene was cancelled, today's entertainment boiled down to catching up on sleep (very nice) followed by the evening's bullfight.

Bullfights, like most blood sports, are currently a topic of much political dispute. Hence, the mostly naked protesters gathered around the arena before the first run, as well as the recent referendum in Catalonia that outlawed the sport. For now, though, the Spanish are sticking to,the cultural importance argument, and so bull fighting continues.

From my perspective, the are two incontrovertible truths. First, everything dies. Working to prevent bullfighting doesn't "save" the bull, it just changes the when and how of its death. Second, good, bad or indifferent, humans rule this planet, and don't really interact well with other species. Thus, the alternative to bullfighting isn't some nature where the bull gets to roam free over endless pastures until it dies of old age, it's castration, a brief life as part of modern industrial ranching, followed by an eventual bolt to the brain. Well, that or extinction. Given my assumptions, I'm willing to consider that five years on a ranch being left to its own devices, followed by twenty-five minutes trying to gore the people that are annoying you with capes or stabbing you with swords and spears, may not be the worst option from a bull's perspective.

So, bullfighting. I can't really say I understand it, or that it makes much sense to me as a cultural practice. I asked the woman at the bullfighting museum how it got started and what it's supposed to "mean," and had no idea what I was asking. For her, bullfighting just is.

For those who don't know, here's the basics of a bull fight. The matador leads a team of people: four or five with capes, two on foot with short, fuzzy, hooky, speary things, two on horseback with long spears, and himself. Each bullfight has three teams that will face two bulls each. Each of the bulls faces the same basic process:

1. The bull runs out into the arena and looks impressive. 
2. The four guys with the capes are spread around the arena, and start using their capes to get the bull's attention causing it to run the length of the field numerous times, tiring in the process.
3. After the bull has run around for a few minutes, the guys on horseback come out and one of them has to stab the bull twice with his spear.
4. When that's done, the horse guys leave and the two capeless pokey short spear guys come out. Their job is to run up to the bull and jab it with their spears until,he has at least four, sometimes six, of the decorated spears hanging from his back.
5. Now the matador comes out and does his Sasha Baron Cohen impersonation, getting the bull to chase after his cape. Once he believes he's convinced the crowd of his bravery he trades his fake sword for a real sword. He engages the bull again and tries to stab him in the back over the top of his head. If the bull dies, we're done. If the sword stays in but the bull keeps moving, the matador gets a second sword and stabs him through the side killing him immediately. And if the first sword falls out of the bull, the process starts over with a new sword.

There's probably a more precise way to describe all that, but that's basically what the niece and I saw. 

And here's what I thought:

1. This is a lot like watching a really good magician with a really bad audience. The bull is always looking in the wrong direction. Why chase the empty cape? Aim for the skinny, breakable legs that don't move much.

2. The game is totally stacked in the human's favor. Occasionally things go wrong, but when they do the rules are changed. So, for example, after a couple of horses got killed during a bullfight, they changed the rules so the horses get wrapped in armor.

3. All the Matadors really do look like they're doing Sasha Baron Cohen impersonations, which makes it really hard to take them seriously.

4. The danger in a bullfight isn't really the it's the humans and chance. Accidents happen, and people often choose to do really dumb things, and sometimes those combine to produce terrible results. 

All things considered, I'm glad I saw it once. But I wouldn't bother to go to a second one.