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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Going Overboard?


As in, "On the."

Going Overboard?

I was in the supermarket the other day approaching the check-out line when I ran into a frantic young woman. She spoke only a word or two of Spanish and was unsuccessful in her attempt to ascertain the ingredients of some package she was holding. The woman at the cash register didn't speak English and didn't seem particularly interested in this gal's eating disorder. I was right there so I couldn't help but come to her rescue. She had some sort of mixed salad thing wrapped in plastic like you might see in the display window of Starbucks. I had never noticed anything like this at the supermarket. Turns out she was British and a vegetarian, not necessarily in that order. I read the ingredients of the dressing and it contained anchovies. I bid her good luck in her meatless quest. Spain isn't the best place for a vegetarian, unless you happen to be the sort of vegetarian that consumes lots of pork products.

I wouldn't feed my pet turtle the funky looking salad that the cute Brit girl was about to have for lunch. Lettuce has got to be about the most useless thing you can put in your body. Turns out my turtle eats veggies after all. I thought that he only ate his little fishes but I have a basil plant right next to his tank and a few leaves fell in. He devoured them. I think he just likes the basil as a sort of palate cleanser between helpings of fish. I haven't found out whether or not my turtle eats pork, although he will eat pieces of a tortilla de patatas.

Being a vegetarian has always seemed a little extreme to me—extreme and not very healthy. I have met many women who are vegetarians; on the West Coast vegetarianism has reached epidemic proportions. I think that for the most part being a vegetarian is a type of eating disorder. It is simply a control mechanism for people obsessed with weight issues. Pretty silly to deny yourself something simply to keep off a few pounds. It's even more ridiculous when I do it.

There's a great old joke from the movie Airplane where shit keeps falling down around the Loyd Bridges character and he begins by saying, “I picked a bad week to stop drinking coffee,” and ends up with, “I picked a bad week to stop dropping acid.” I have voluntarily decided to go on the wagon the last two weeks of August. This is not the result of some court order after I crashed the school bus I was driving while intoxicated; this is purely by my own volition. I didn't even come to this decision after I found myself face-down in my own filth in a dank prison cell after a night of debauchery (Shit, I wish I had a nickel for every time THAT has happened). No, I decided to deny myself the ecstasy of a cold beer after a hot bike ride strictly on the basis of vanity: I want to try to get a six pack on my stomach instead of inside of it. A sissy-ass reason to quite drinking but I just had a birthday and I am curious if I am even capable of having some sort of underwear model body at this advanced age (50).

You may be asking: Isn't that a little extreme? Hell yes it's extreme. I would go so far as to say that it's kind of creepy not to be able to have a glass of wine with a bowl of olives, but it's only two weeks. Two weeks of brutal and unrelenting sobriety. Two weeks of a merciless lack of change in my consciousness. I only have five days left and I still haven't received any calls from Calvin Klein so I may have to extend my self-imposed exile from Boozeville. I still impulsively buy wine. I figure that I am not going to punish my friends by not having alcohol in the house when I have people over for dinner, and I don't like for people to have to bring anything when I invite them over. I also haven't had a cigar in three weeks or so. I hate my life.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Tribunal del les Aigües

1865 painting of the tribunal by Bernardo Ferrándiz Bádenes (1835–1885),


The tribunal today at the door of the Apostles in the cathedral.

Tribunal del les Aigües* - Valencia's Water Tribunal

Something you come across in almost any guide book about Valencia is the weekly meeting of the Valencia Water Tribunal. This is ancient guild is probably the oldest judicial system still active in all of Europe, going back to no-one-knows-when. It is believed to have evolved from the time of Roman rule and was further developed during the Arab occupation. The tribunal resolves water rights issues for the Valencia community. The decisions it makes are final and there is no higher authority for appeal.

This court is strictly oral so you won't see any briefcases or legal pads—definitely no palm pilots or Blackberrys. Precisely at noon every Thursday, as the bells chime in the great tower of the Cathedral of Valencia, the moderators representing the eight water regions of Valencia are lead out by the bailiff. They all sit in their assigned leather chairs in the doorway of the Door of the Apostles of the great Cathedral of Valencia. The bailiff will ask for each of the eight regions if anyone has come to make a complaint on water rights. Most of the time there are no complaints and the tribunal is adjourned. Not a big deal, I know, but it draws quite a crowd of tourists.

I suppose that this tribunal could be done away with and replaced by a more modern apparatus—whatever the hell that means. Like so much else here in Spain, they respect and treasure their past and do everything in their power to maintain it. The same reason they don't dissolve the Tribunal del les Aigües is the same reason the Spanish take such heroic—sometimes Quixotic—lengths to save an old building. I doubt that you could tear down a chicken coup in this country without first consulting the historic society for permission.

One a side note, I just learned that the fountain in the Plaza de la Virgin, directly outside the cathedral, represents the river Turia and these eight water regions: Tormos, Rascany, Mislata, Rovella, Favara, Benager/Faitanar, and Quart.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Evolution for Dummies





Evolution for Dummies

From the New York Times:

In surveys conducted in 2005, people in the United States and 32 European countries were asked whether to respond “true,” “false” or “not sure” to this statement: “Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals.” The same question was posed to Japanese adults in 2001.

The United States had the second-highest percentage of adults who said the statement was false and the second-lowest percentage who said the statement was true


The United States was only beaten out by Muslim Turkey as the dumbest country among those 32 polled. If you were to poll far-right Christians in America's deep south, I would guess that the number of people rejecting the tenets of evolution rise to about 100%.

How much longer can America ignore what is probably the most important idea in biology and still remain any sort of force in the world? I would have to say, “Not very much longer.” We are about to drown ourselves in our willful ignorance and religious-induced stupidity.

British scientist Richard Dawkins has recently come out with a program which questions this lack of acceptance of Darwin's teachings. Even on the mostly-liberal forum where I watched the program there was quite a bit of opposition to the way in which Dawkins challenged the religious fanatics. I don't use the word “fanatic” lightly, but if you reject a major advancement in science simply because of some misguided concept in your religion, then this makes you a fanatic. Many people said that Dawkins should not try to “kill” religion to make his point about evolution.

Dawkins puts it best in the program:"Evolution is also a demonstrated fact. The truth really is out there. It's not a matter of opinion...Evolution is the plain truth." All of you offended by Dawkins and his methods are missing his point entirely. It is religion which is trying to kill evolution. Religious hicks would love nothing more than for scientists to halt all work regarding evolution (and concentrate on making more effective boner pills, I suppose). Evolution doesn't need to kill religion; religion doesn't enter into its realm. It is only religion's hostility to evolution that offends Dawkins.

As far as convincing religious zealots, that's also not his point. The facts are out there and these people are too lazy, intellectually, to seek the truth themselves. They already have the answers, as far as they are concerned. There is no convincing or converting to be done. Instead, Dawkins solidifies the thinking of those who have already accepted science and truth (which to me means rejecting the superstition and ignorance of religious doctrine). Unfortunately, those who have accepted science and the truth are in the decided minority in the United States.

Many American children are not even taught the basics of evolution. I can't remember ever having the subject taught to me in grade school. Only this year has Florida decided to include evolution in its public school curriculum, and it's 2008! I'm sure other deep south backwaters still refuse to have evolution taught. The only thing most of these people can tell you about modern biology is, "I didn't come from no ape."

This means that in a country with a constitutionally mandated separation of church and state we are allowing fringe religious organizations to dictate what classes are given in our publicly-funded schools. From the way a lot of these religious hillbillies talk you would think that they also oppose the teaching of English grammar.

I have never heard anyone who opposes evolution who seems to have the slightest grasp of the subject. At one point in the program Dawkins is speaking with a woman who says there is no “proof” of evolution (that would be news to just about every scientist in the fields of biology and natural sciences). She seems unimaginably unenlightened—almost criminally so—to me, but she and her followers seem to take great comfort in their ignorance. I have never believed in god or religion so this is very strange to me. It is one thing to believe in the fairy tales told to us in the Bible when we are children, but to continue believing in these silly myths while denying scientific evidence to the contrary seems...pagan.

So the science of evolution isn't going to go away. In fact, the advances in the field during my lifetime have been dramatic, shattering and breath-taking. There are also people who deny the existence of global warming (the same folks as the evolution deniers, I would imagine) even though the facts have been piling up at an alarming rate. These people have been forced to constantly redraw the lines in their arguments against global warming as the scientific facts become irrefutable. The folks who once denied global warming now claim that its causes are not man-made. This argument is also bullshit but it gives them a bit more time (at least in their own pathetic world view). It's the same thing with evolution. If your religious faith relies on the fact that evolution is false, then it's time to find a new religion. You still have religion's moronic views on the “afterlife” which scientists find too ridiculous to argue.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

El Rincón de Ademuz


An ancient sabina juniper. These are common at higher altitudes in the Mediterranean.

El Rincón de Ademuz

Living in a city, you don't often realize the incredible brightness of the reflected light of the moon. Most of the time you don't even take notice unless you happen to be on a rooftop terrace at night during a full moon. Besides all of the light pollution inherent in city life, being stuck crawling around at the bottom of canyons of tall buildings isn't exactly conducive to star gazing. When you are camping in the mountains on a clear summer evening, the light of the moon can be positively startling. When the moon rises above the mountains to the east, its reflected glare from the sun is like a huge spotlight searching you out among the rocks and pines, allowing you to see objects clearly that are not cast in the huge shadows. When you turn your back on the moon it sometimes looks like a bright pair of headlights are coming up behind you.

To arrive at this little shred of insight I had to travel a few hours by car to the Rincón de Ademuz, an appropriately named little corner of the Valencia Community which sits like an island in the province of Valencia in a sea of Castilla-La Mancha and Arragón, not that this little area is very Valenciano. Practically no one speaks Valenciano here and you have to think that they lean more towards Real Madrid than Valencia CF during the football season. So it's only a couple of hours away from Valencia but isolated culturally from the capital of the community. Coming up the highway from the south we leave Valencia and pass briefly through La Mancha before landing back again in Valencia at the town of Ademuz, population 1,100 give or take a few goat herders.

Our destination for this trip is the highest point in the Valencia Community, a little crest in these mountains called Alto de las Barracas which tops out at 1,836 meters. My friend, Nacho, is a photographer finishing up a book of photographs of Valencia and he needed a few shots up this way during the summer months. I was happy to tag along.


From Ademuz we headed up further into the mountains of this lost corner of Valencia, past the beautiful little village of Puebla de San Miguel (photo left). From here you have to wind up a rather tortuously steep road to arrive at the approach to Alto de Barracas and other destinations in this part of the mountains. The sabina junipers along this path are spectacular. Just about all of the more ancient trees in this area show evidence of the harsh climate and high winds which twist and turn the trunks and branches into impossible forms. There are a lot of olive and almond trees at the lower elevations planted on terraces built of stone. I was trying to imagine the amount of work it required to construct these stone terraces. They were probably centuries in the making.

After only thirty minutes of hiking we were mostly above the tree line. Looking out across the hilltops you see patches of bright green surrounded by the golden grasses. These spots of color are sabina rastrera, another juniper tree that hugs the ground. The dead versions of this bush-tree look like the bones of some prehistoric jellyfish, if prehistoric jellyfish had bones. From about 1,000 meters away I spotted a cairn on a ridge. I didn't know how to translate this word into Spanish but I told Nacho that it is a Scottish word (his wife is from Edinburgh) and is used to describe a memorial or a landmark. In this part of the highlands this cairn can be seen from all directions for miles and miles. I couldn't help myself and I added at least another meter to this heap of stone that could have been here for centuries. Now you can really see it from a distance! I love coming across cairns up in the mountains. They are like lighthouses for hikers and every bit as welcoming.

This whole part of the sierras is a haven for hikers and mountain bikes. Trails are easily marked and there are a lot to choose from. I'm not much of a hiker but I would love to return here on a bike where I will be able to do a lot more exploring. We couldn't find the path to Alto de las Barracas but it was standing right in front of us. It was an easy scramble up the last 400 meters or so. We took a few minutes to enjoy the great view from the top. This isn't like some formidable mountain peak. Just look at all the goat droppings on the ground to tell you this. We didn't see a single goat on this day but there was enough goat poop on the ground to make me think that this must be a major grazing area, at least at some point in the season.

After the pictures from the summit of the Valencia community, my friend needed a few night-time photos. We had a few hours to kill before it would be dark enough so we headed down to Puebla de San Miguel. We parked in the square next to the church and the only other public place was the Comisión de la Fiesta, which in these parts seems to serve as a community center-bar. We entered through a bead curtain and it looked like the whole town was inside—all 20 or so. A few people were standing at the bar, a another couple of groups of folks were sitting at the tables playing cribbage, and the kids were running around in packs. It seemed strange to me that out here in the boonies of the Valencia province no one was speaking Valenciano. I guess this means that I have assimilated into Valencian life.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Paella


Almost everyone who knows a single thing about Spain knows that paella is one of the signature dishes of this country. Most foreigners probably even know enough about paella to give a fairly complete recipe: rice, green beans, garrafón (butter beans), chicken, rabbit, a bit of garlic, tomato, and saffron. At least this is the recipe for Paella Valenciana, give or take an ingredient or two. What most people don't know is that for people who live in Valencia, paella is not just what you call the dish, it is the event of sharing a paella with friends or family. I was going to a paella at the country home of friends who just recently moved from my Valencia neighborhood of Ruzafa.

I met another friend of mine, who also lives in Ruzafa, at our favorite bar. Not only is Adrian from Ruzafa but—except for brief excursions like the one today—you couldn't get him to leave this neighborhood of Valencia under the threat of violence. Like me, he feels that Ruzafa is the center of the universe. To leave the center of the known universe (after a beer) we had to take the #1 metro line going south from the Plaza de España station.

In just a few stops the metro rises out of the tunnels and glides out of the city, past agricultural communities with mostly Arabic names which stand as witnesses to Valencia's centuries of Muslim rule. Most words beginning with “Al” stem from Arabic. This prefix represents the definite article in Arabic and besides a lot of local place names, you find many Spanish words derived similarly. Here in the countryside of Valencia, riding through the orange trees which were first brought here by the Moors, you see strange names like Font Almaguer, Alginet, Alfafar, L'Alcúdia, Al Farp, Albal, and today's destination of Catadau.

In the countryside, the language of Valenciano is much more widely spoken. You notice this sharp contrast the moment you leave the city limits of Valencia. We are met at the tiny metro stop by our hosts, a Frenchman and a native Valenciana. This means that two out of the four of us are local. It only seems natural that the language changes from Spanish to Valenciano. Just when I get to the point where I am almost completely comfortable with Spanish, it's time to start learning another language.

I watch a lot of television in Valenciano. There is one show in particular that I try to see as often as possible that is about bicycle touring in the Valencia Community. I can understand the language rather well if I make a big effort but I rarely hear it spoken in the city. Between my knowledge of French and my growing fluency in Spanish, Valenciano shouldn't be too difficult to pick up if I can just find a good grammar book. As I slowly but surely master Spanish, doors are continually opening for me—like this weekend in the countryside. I can only imagine that learning Valenciano will open even more doors—not only in Valencia but in Catalonia to the north and the Balearic Islands where the language is also spoken.

The first thing you need to know about paella is that it is best cooked on an open fire. It is hard to find stove tops big enough to accommodate some paella pans which can be as big as several meters in diameter. The one we will be using on this evenig is perhaps only one meter in diameter which would still present a challenge to most kitchen burners. A wood fire provides an even heat for the entire pan at an intensity capable of keeping the rice at a boil.

If you ask a 100 people from Valencia for advice on how to cook paella, you will receive 1,000 different recipes and you may have to officiate a few fistfights. You won't find a dish more traditional to the culture and history of Valencia and yet everyone has their own set of variations. For true Valencianos, the ingredients won't be too different from those I mentioned; you may see red pepper strips added or snails but the basic ingredients I gave are written in stone...somewhere. Every paellero, or paella cook, will have his or her own tricks to the process.

Our host's trick is to first brown the rabbit and chicken in the hot pan and then remove it. Very unorthodox. Next, he added a can of tomato puree with a bit of garlic. Next come the green beans and the butter beans. When these have all cooked he adds a bit of water and returns the meat to the fire. More water is added and when this comes to a boil the rice is added along with the saffron. He also added a couple of small branches of dried rosemary. Once the ingredients are thoroughly mixed you don't stir the pan. It simply boils down until the rice is cooked. A paella cooked on a wood fire is truly a thing of beauty, not to mention the aroma.

So besides the dish itself, the word “paella” can be used to describe the act of eating paella together with friends. I have been to paellas with 50 people or more, huge affairs staged by the neighborhood committees, called casals. During Fallas in Valencia, these casals will have paella cook-offs right in the street. Wood fires are lit in the road and several paellas will be cooked at once. A true paella is more of an event than a dish or a simple meal.

I would say that four people is the minimum crowd for a true paella. You can order an idividual serving of this rice dish in almost any restaurant in town, but a true paella should be served among friends who share from the same pan. Sharing and large family-size portions are more the rule than the exception in most Spanish cooking. This fits in well with my own philosophy as I rarely cook anything except in huge batches sufficient for feeding ten people at a time.

I doubt there is a better place to share a paella with friends than on a patio in the Valencian countryside, in the hills overlooking the Mediterranean although I will probably keep looking. After a few brutally hot days we were blessed with a perfect evening. I even briefly considered putting on a sweater until I thought about how silly that would be after surviving temperatures reaching almost 40 degrees only two days ago. Instead of a sweater I opted for another glass of red wine.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Summer in Spain


A deserted courtyard in Valencia.*

Summer in Spain

I often think that it is a shame that summer doesn't last forever. At least I think about this whenever I live in a place where summer doesn't last forever. I lament seeing the first signs that summer is waning—a harvested field, the retreat of sunlight in the late evenings—but there is still plenty of summer left at this point. Here in Valencia I would say that we are just at the half-way point. Even with so much summer still in front of me I like to take time to appreciate everything this means. I like to take stock of all of the things that I love about this season so as not to forget about anything important that I may be missing—not that anything that I enjoy about summer is in any way important.

As far as food is concerned, the summer months are a bit paradoxical. It is almost too hot to cook and even eating becomes a tiresome task at times. Even thinking about what to cook gets to be a little tedious. Thinking, in general, seems almost hazardous when you are baking in the sun. Still, you have to eat. The good news is that you have friends who have barbecue grills on their rooftop terraces. If I had a wood-fired grill I doubt that I would cook food any other way—at least until I got tired of it. I suppose that keeping the grill clean is a natural impediment to over-using it. Here in Spain you can buy real wood coals instead of those charcoal briquette things that seem to have been hatched in a chemist's lab. They take a while to get going but waiting for the fire to get up to speed is why they invented cold beer—or at least one of the reason (note to self: write essay on all of the uses for beer).

Summer is the best time for much of the produce harvested in the Valencia Community. About the only thing out of season during summer are oranges. We are absolutely up to our eyelids in vegetables this time of year so I go on buying binges. I just bought a huge bag of red peppers that were on sale for something like 3 kilograms for 1€. When I bought them I had no idea of what I was going to make; they just looked so good that I couldn't pass up a deal like this. I ended up making stuffed peppers.

Stuffed Peppers

People make stuffed peppers here in Spain but I have never seen them on a menu or on display in a restaurant. Stuffed tomatoes and peppers could be found in just about every taverna I ever went into back when I lived in Greece. I had never had them before I moved there and I immediately placed this item on my favorite dish list. They are often eaten cold so this is a great meal for summer. I can't even remember the last time I made them myself. I brought home the peppers and just pulled a recipe out of thin air with what I had in my cupboards. I started by cooking two cups of rice. I made the rice with a little less water than I normally use as the rice will continue to cook a bit in the oven. Next I sautéed some onion, tomato, and garlic in olive oil. To this I added a jar of cooked vegetables I found in my cupboard (something I wouldn't buy but it was there and I wanted to get rid of it). I added the cooked rice to the vegetables. I finished the stuffing mixture by throwing in some pitted olives.

Cut the tops off the peppers and clean out the seeds. Keep the tops. Fill the peppers with the stuffing, place them all in an oiled baking dish (I used my clay dish I use for arroz al horno and place the tops on the peppers. Drizzle a bit of olive oil on top just because that's what a Greek cook would do. Cover the dish and put it in the preheated oven. After about 30 minutes remove the cover and allow to cook for another 15 minutes or so.

Stuffed peppers are incredibly easy and well worth the minimal effort. Mine came out great but I am anxious to make this dish again and put a little more effort into it. I want to make it in the traditional Greek way with ground lamb, raisins, and fresh mint.

Beer tastes a lot better in the summer than in other months. I love riding my bike to the beach in the early evening and the finishing up by stopping by for a cold beer at a bar near my apartment. There is nothing like that first, ice-cold swallow of beer after you have been out in the hot sun. The next five beers don't quite have that same zing to them but what are you going to do, quit after one mouthful of beer?

The next best thing to a cold beer after a good bike ride is a cold shower. I don't even bother turning the hot water on in the summer except to wash dishes. In fact, the water never gets cold enough for me. Showering at the beach feels pretty damn good, too.

*I love how the streets are totally deserted on Sunday mornings in the old quarter of town. I ride my bike down all the very narrow roads and I can actually feel the vibrations of the church bells because there is no other noise.

I could go on all day about what I like about Valencia in the summer, but it's already too hot to be in the house and it's only 09:00.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Plazas and Terraces



Plazas and Terraces

Because of Valencia's fine weather, people like to sit outside at cafés throughout the year. There are very few days when yo won't see at least a few brave souls sitting at tables on the sidewalk or on park benches. The big plazas in the center of town are filled to the brim with cafés and are a natural place for people to gather and just hang out. I think it is an innate human instinct to group together with family, friends, and total strangers in a public place. In the summer months here in Valencia there are so many people lying around in cafés that you almost feel like you should have called ahead for reservations.

Every neighborhood has its own little park or plaza where people come and go throughout the day and each one of these spots seems to have its own personality. If the park happens to have a fútsal court (a small concrete soccer pitch), sport will dominate the theme of the place. Perhaps the ethnic make-up of the area will influence what goes on in the cafés. If there are a lot of Latin American immigrants, you will hear salsa music coming from portable CD players or car stereos. If you grow up under the influence of the rhythms of the Caribbean, music is one of those non-negotiable items in your life. Age groups often vary from one plaza to the next. Where one place seems to be reserved for older folks, another is full of young parents with strollers, and another may look like a nightclub for teenagers. The bars and cafés surrounding a park or square also tend to dictate the clientele. Any place in the center of town will be the realm of tourists, especially during summer.

Right outside of my building you will find a plaza as pleasant as any in the entire city. The Plaza Doctor Lambrete lies on the north end of the Ruzafa market. The 15th century church of San Valero is at one end of the small plaza. The square is more of a pedestrian shortcut for the neighborhood than a plaza. People flow through here all day on their way to the market or towards downtown a few blocks away. There are two cafés in the plaza, which along with the half a dozen park benches seem to invite pedestrians to stop and sit for a few minutes on their way to where ever they are going. Consolat de Mar, the only street adjacent to the plaza, is choked down to a single lane—thanks to double parking—and cars can barely be heard—a big advantage for any hangout location. Get rid of automobiles and people will flow in. There is a modest fountain that is just big enough for kids to float their toy boats.

A few elms, a few orange trees, and three big date palms keep the plaza in the shade even at midday in August. The breeze that is funneled between the church and the adjacent apartment block is almost always welcome. At just about any time of day, when you walk past the square, excuses for stopping for something to drink disappear. Since this beautiful little plaza lies directly below my apartment, it has become my de facto living room. If someone is planning to come to visit me I can sit at one of the cafés downstairs and head them off as they approach the front door of my building. I find it easier and more pleasant to read in a café than at home, and this time of year it is cooler in the square than in my place so I spend a lot of time at one of the tables.





This could be the world's fanciest cat door. It is in the old section of town and is in memory of the four cats who lived in the neighborhood (that's what the inscription says in Valenciano).

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Perfect Zeros: Doing Nothing With Style



Perfect Zeros: Doing Nothing With Style

You would have never thought that being a lazy slob was such hard work until you spend a summer in Valencia. Idleness is an absolutely relentless task around here. It starts the minute you get out of bed in the morning, or at least when you decide to open the persianas, the blinds on the windows here that block out every last ray of skin-scorching, house-plant-wrecking, and furnace-like sunshine that beat down on the little corner of the Mediterranean that I call home, or at least it's where I have been keeping my suitcases and doing my laundry. The word “lazy” in Spanish seems to be more of a challenge than an insult so don't worry about offending me.

Yes, summer can be a real chore, a full-time job, and there is still a long way to go before it's over so you just have to dig in and battle it out like everyone else around here—or leave on vacation for the month. My whole life here is pretty much a vacation so I'm staying put for August. Besides that, it's too hot to move.

Wake up late, have a coffee and listen to people in the café bitch about the heat, maybe do a little shopping and stand behind women at the supermarket cooling themselves with hand fans, and then it's back home for a nap. Wake up an hour later in a stupor from which you are only partially revived by an ice coffee, lather up with 50 factor sunscreen, drink a few liters of water, and go out for something remotely resembling a bike ride. Bike rides in the summer are shorter and sweatier than during the other seasons. The dress code changes radically. Instead of cycling clothing, it's flip-flops, surf trunks, and a shirt that goes into my pack as soon as I clear the city limits. I wouldn't actually call my summer bike rides “exercise,” I just sort of go through the pantomime of a bike workout. It's too hot to think about where to go on my rides so I just go to the beach every day on the bike path. 30 minutes after pushing off in front of my building and I am carrying my bike across the sand at the beach at El Saler. I go for a swim, if you can call it that. Some days I just dive in and head directly to the beach shower.

Showering outdoors is one of the biggest treats of summer. In my old bungalow in Florida I had a great outdoor shower that I used when I got home from the beach. I have often thought that outdoor showers could be a lucrative sort of business if everyone knew just how great it feels. I just wish that you could make the water colder at the beach showers.

One of the hardest jobs this time of year is choosing an outdoor café for coffee or a beer. The good thing is that you have lots of occasions to stop for a beer or a coffee. The even better news is that there are countless places to do it. Just about every bar and restaurant has what is called a terraza de verano, or summer terrace. Tables and chairs are placed on the sidewalks and often in the street. If anyone is bothered by this no one seems to have the energy to complain. In summer it seems that no one can make it the two blocks to the supermarket without stopping on the way there for something to drink, and maybe on the way home as well. What the hell else do you have to do?

A lot of people complain about the slow service in cafés during the summer. Have you ever tried to wait on tables while you are in a very deep sleep? And look at how peaceful he looks sacked out in a chair behind the bar. He looks like a little angel, even with his hand stuffed in his pants and a wisp of slobber on his chin. I don't have the heart to wake him up to order a coffee so I just sit at a table on the terrace and try not to disturb him as I read. The bar owner will wake up eventually and it's not like I'm in any sort of hurry. If there is something that can be defined as the exact opposite of being in a hurry then it comes pretty close to describing this place in summer.

Doing nothing becomes something along the lines of an Olympic event during summer in the Mediterranean. Judges give points for style and give lower scores for difficulty. It's not impossible but judges rarely award anyone a score of perfect zeros.