Sunday, June 13, 2004


Twice a day, an event takes place in our little town that brings traffic to a halt. Women and children freeze in their tracks. Homeowners peer tensely through their kitchen windows with a feeling of helplessness. You see…every day at 10:30am and 5:30pm, the Milk Dud Revolutionary Brigade rides roughshod through the sleepy town of Cabanillas del Campo, Spain.

OK, OK…so maybe I’m being overly dramatic. The Milk Dud Revolutionary Brigade is really just a placid flock of three hundred sheep and goats that are herded through town twice a day to graze. To be honest, there is nothing revolutionary about them. I just thought that this adjective would spice up the story a bit. The reference to Milk Duds, however, is appropriate. These critters leave a wide, speckled trail of them all about the streets and sidewalks through which they’ve passed. Once you’ve connected the dots through the streets of Cabanillas del Campo, following the Yellow Brick Road doesn’t seem quite so impressive.

The MDRB is based at ranch located a half mile from our house, and they graze at a different field each day. I suspect, however, that such grazing is of secondary importance since most of the flock dines quite heartily on flowers, trees and shrubbery planted by homeowners foolish enough to have built a house on or near the flock’s daily route.

The flock is led by two shepherds, four well-trained (albeit unkempt) sheep dogs and a donkey. One shepherd and the donkey take the lead, the four dogs flank the flock in staggered formation, and the second shepherd wipes up the rear – figuratively speaking, of course. This second shepherd is an interesting character. He is a balding man in his sixties who is partial to wearing straw hats. He carries a cane, but doesn’t use it as a walking aid. Rather, he wields it like a Viking battle-axe, which he gleefully whacks across the rump of any sheep or goat that has wandered more than four millimetres out of formation. What initially drew my attention to him, however, was his left ear. He doesn’t have one.

How the hell did he lose his left ear? After all, sheep herding isn’t an especially dangerous profession. The usual suspects of rural limb loss – i.e., combines and other mechanized farm implements – are more or less lacking from the daily life of a shepherd. I first speculated that the ear was gnawed-off by a goat enraged by one too many raps on the fanny by that cane? I quickly discarded this theory, however. Goats are herbivores and tend not to crave human flesh. My second theory took a more psychological angle. Perhaps this shepherd had an unhealthy fascination with the works of Vincent Van Gogh and Quentin Tarantino. Unlikely! He didn’t strike me as a man of the arts. In the end, I concluded that the answer to this (like so many of life’s other mysteries) could be found at Bar Alcázar, and resolved to tactfully broach the subject to José during a future coffee break.

I suppose this isn’t the stuff of a James Cameron movie. Neither Arnold nor Leo are likely view the role of a one-eared shepherd as being a prudent career move. Still, I find the MDRB’s daily sojourn to be an exciting event – and certainly not the type thing that I experienced with any regularity while growing up in Suburbia, USA. And there is a spicy side to living in the presence of the MDRB. Think I’m kidding? How does possible deportation from the United States register on your Spice-O-Meter?

Last December, we flew to Chicago to spend Christmas with my family. As we waited in the baggage claim area of O’Hare International Airport, I noticed a sign warning that incoming travellers who had recently visited a farm abroad must report themselves to the airport’s US Department of Agriculture officer. Foot and mouth disease had recently devastated Great Britain, and the US cattleman’s lobby was eager to avoid such unpleasantness on their side of the Atlantic. I thought nothing of this at first, but then…as the realization dawned on me…I lifted my foot to examine the sole of my shoe. There, clinging to the gap between two cleats, were the remnants of a flattened, hay-flecked Manchego Milk Dud.

This may someday cost me political office, but I must admit that I was unwilling to risk a vacation-spoiling deportation for the better good of a group of wealthy cattle ranchers. I therefore unlodged that sinister Milk Dud by clicking my heels twice and muttering “There’s no place like home…There’s no place like home.” An hour later, I was raiding my parents’ refrigerator with clean shoes and a clear conscience. Neither parent has since reported any adverse effects to their feet or mouths.


At 3:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uh hah!!!! Now I know why my fillings keep falling out. It's those darn Milk Duds! What else haven't you told me? How many times did you skip school? You're coming periously close to being cut out of the will. But then again, as I told you, we're spending it all now!

Big Momma


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