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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Fleeting Fashions





Fashions of 1990-2010 and 2020-2060


I don’t know if Spain is catching up with the tattoo fad or if tattoos are still fashionable everywhere but it still looks to me like an out of control epidemic. How someone else mutilates their own body isn’t really my business but whenever anyone asks my opinion about tattoos I give it to them: I think they are, for the most part, nothing short of disgusting. And how cool could they be if everyone and their little sister have one? And no, I don’t think yours is cool. It’s nothing personal, I just think that tattoos are trashy and show at least a temporary lack of good judgment.  If this opinion seems harsh and judgmental to you then good. I'm writing this with the hope of dissuading someone thinking about permanently messing up their body. Besides, most people I know regret their dabble into skin art.

I can almost understand a tattoo if it has some deep personal meaning for you. I understand men and women who have U.S.M.C on their beefy forearms. Hell, I’ll even buy an ex-marine a drink.  But tell me how is a dolphin, the sun, or a Loony Tunes-Disney character meaningful to you? I’m surprised that Disney doesn’t go after people with Mickey Mouse tattoos for copyright infringement. And do you really want to share the rest of your life with Tweety Bird® or one of the lesser characters?  

Or how about tattoos in foreign languages you don’t speak? That reminds me of all of those retarded t-shirt slogans in English worn by people who don’t speak English.  That Chinese scribbling on your lower back that you think means “Valiant Warrior” could mean “Butt Plug My Face, OK?” for all you know. I wonder if Chinese people get tattoos in English just because they think it looks cool?

Whether hipsters want to admit it or not, tattoos are just fashion. The problem is the permanency. A tattoo is like having a pair of parachute pants you can’t give away to Goodwill or a mullet that you have to have surgically removed.  I saw a show on TV a while back about some quasi-literate snowboarder who was getting a tattoo. He said that he wanted to stick out from the crowd. I think not having a tattoo is a great way to be different.  So kids, be the first one on your block to say “no” to tattoos.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Snow Day


This past week I have taken a few days off, sort of like snow days but the opposite. The temperatures have been hovering around 40˚ almost every day—quite common for other parts of Spain but not here in Valencia.  As I write this it is 44˚ or 111.2˚F.  There are also beastly gusts of dry, westerly winds that scorch the lungs of cyclists stupid enough to be out in the middle of the afternoon. I learned a new word because of this weather pattern. “El Poniente” refers to these winds that come across the western part of the peninsula. Actually “poniente” is a term meaning “westerly” being the opposite of “oriente.” Any way you translate this it means that it’s been pretty darn hot.

So instead of being snowed in I’ve been sunned in, so to speak—at least between the hours of 12:00-15:00 or so. My skin really doesn’t need another day of sun and even with 50spf I have been getting grilled this summer.  Going to the beach at this time is not a good idea; that can wait for later in the day. Even cruising around town on my bike I zigzag from one shaded spot to the next, kind of like getting in out of the rain. The kids aren’t in school now but if they were I’m sure they’d have these days off because of the weather.  With or without school I’m sure most kids are at home trying to stay out of the heat doing whatever the hell kids do these days when there is a snow day. It’s too hot to cook during the day. Hell, it’s too hot to even eat before dusk.


It's only for a couple of days; it's not like I'm living in Saudi Arabia. It's just been a little Saudi Arabia-ish lately. It gives people who like to talk about the weather something to talk about, that`s for sure which is reason enough to stay home.

  

  

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Least Profitable Businesses and Professions


We all know that the job market is a little flat these days but this doesn’t mean that you have to take any employment you can find. There are lots of jobs out there that you are lucky not having.  It’s not like you marry the first person you meet so with careers it’s sometimes prudent to play hard to get. To get a glimpse of some lousy business ideas just take a look through the yellow pages of your phone book (Some of you are probably asking, “What the hell is a phone book?”).
-Harmonica Repair Shop.  Based on a true story. I suppose that someone has to fix them; just don’t let it be you.
-Car Air Freshener Superstore. Acres of free parking.
-The Hemorrhoid Medicine Hut. Coming to a mall near you. Ewe!
-Segway Driving School.  I saw a meter maid riding one of those dorky things and I thought to myself, “Someone actually found a way to make that job more ridiculous.”
-Food Vendor at Public Executions and Mutilations.  Unless the world is a lot more sick and twisted than I could ever imagine, I don’t think folks work up an appetite while waiting for a hanging.  Selling alcohol at these events is a completely different story. Booze is always a good business. Which leads to the next entry.
-Avoid any business that doesn’t sell booze. You can’t fight human nature and countless studies have shown that humans love martinis, shaken and stirred.
-While you’re at it I’d stay away from any business that requires people to read.  Reading is a skill that just isn’t fashionable these days. What’s next for human evolution? People too lazy and stupid to watch videos?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Everything I Know About Spain I Learned in a Café

This would make a good title for a book. The problem is I really despise these types of self-help books which attempt to explain everything in one little treatise written on a junior high school level. Of course, I haven’t really learned everything I know about this country simply by sitting in cafés. This would discount all of the incredibly hard work I have done attempting to learn the language. If you want to know anything about Spain you need to travel, watch their movies, listen to their music, read their novels, and—above all—talk to the people. But who wants to read a book about a guy who had to work so hard to learn the paltry bit I have about this place? We want 15 minute abdominalss, we want to learn Spanish in seven days, we want everything and we want it for free. And we want it yesterday.

But you can look at a Spanish café as a sort of microcosm for daily life here. I think cafés in July really bring out the Spanish in the Spanish—if that makes sense. People here in July seem to be a distilled version of themselves as they plop down at a table on a beautiful terrace to have a coffee or a beer. There is a certain truth to the part about this being a distilled form of the people because there as so many fewer cafés to choose from in summer as many owners have closed for holiday. Everyone else generally has more free time in summer to sit in cafés so things can get a little hectic, or they would get a little hectic but this is Spain and they are notorious for not putting up with the hectic. Chaotic they do well but even in the most chaotic situations there is a numbing calm about it—and they will celebrate with food.

Speaking of chaos, they love stories about natural disasters on Spanish television. If there is a flood somewhere it will surely make it on the afternoon news. I can’t really explain why it is they enjoy watching footage of villagers being swept downstream by a flooding river except that perhaps it’s because not much else happens in Spain to satisfy what seems to be people’s need for the spectacular. In the USA we like stories of gang-related violence or serial killer news—activities not too common in Spain. Getting back to the summer months, you will notice a lot of news stories about bulls behaving badly as this is the month of lots of village bullfighting festivals where they set raging bulls loose in the streets. America has the Crips and the Bloods, Spain has 500 kilo bulls running amuck.

I suppose that you could learn everything about this country by sitting in a café. Sooner or later you are going to see everything the nation has to offer. It may take a while but it's a nice place to wait.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Pollo Al Ajillo


Yet another iconic Spanish dish that I have been meaning to perfect for quite a while but could never find the right recipe.  I was thinking about making my own video for this dish but the one above freaking nails it. I made one slight variation in that I drained almost all of the oil before I added the spices and garlic.  Most of the people I know—and they are almost all Valencianos—complain that this dish is too oily—and that’s saying a lot for Spanish folk.  I have made this two times before and I had the same complaint, thus I learned my lesson. It’s not like my version is going to make it into the Weight Watchers cookbook but it’s a hell of a lot lighter than most recipes I have studied. Besides, in Andalucía pollo al ajillo is almost always served with fried potatoes so who are we kidding?

OK, this isn’t just the fried potatoes talking here, this is one of the best chicken dishes I’ve ever made.  The white wine I am drinking with it isn’t exactly dissuading me either (just by accident it is from Cadiz—pretty much ground zero of Andalucía).  One thing I really notice in the finished product is the great rosemary I picked just this afternoon.  We are lucky now that it is flowering in August which adds even more zest to this humble herb.

Maybe it helped a bit to be jamming out to El Bicho—the coolest flamenco fusion in Spain—while I was cooking.  I have to say that I really did this Spanish classic justice. Now I know why this is so popular.  I have to admit that I used frozen potatoes but the next time I’ll do it all from scratch (but it’s not like the frozen potatoes are bad if you do them right, and I did them right). Damn,  we eat well here in España.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sagunto...Again...and Valencia CF 2-0 Fiorentino

It’s hot but it hasn’t been blisteringly so this past week. I think we’ve already seen the worst of summer and the worst was actually pretty nice. I rode my bike to Sagunto again just to try to get back into some sort of cycling groove after not doing much for the past two weeks. This is a very familiar ride for me now and I always enjoy it even in this heat (provided I am lathered in spf50). I didn’t even bother with my hydro-pack and just opted for a single water bottle. Being the genius that I am I headed out during the hottest hour of the day. I’m just not a morning person.

It seems rather strange to me that now I August when tout le monde is on vacation there seem to be no tourists in a lovely little village like Sagunto. I saw maybe 20 tourists in the village and then later in the castle. I suppose it is a bit hot and sunny to be humping up a mountain to look at ruins. Sagunto is where the Second Punic War began so the castle—or at least parts of it—date back at least to 218 BC. I don’t know how Hannibal talked his soldiers into attacking this mountain top fortification as I just about died riding my bike up to the castle gate. He probably didn’t do it in August.

Besides leaving in the middle of the hot afternoon my other mistake was not eating anything. I really wanted a kebap but I couldn’t find a shop in the village. On the way out of town I took another route just for the hell of it and I rode by the train station. Perhaps hunger had something to do with it but about a block further I did an abrupt U-turn and headed into the station. It’s not like I was too lazy to ride back home but I have been meaning to check out the local trains while carrying my bike. From Sagunto to Valencia del Norte station is only 2.95€. It was worth that just to save a bit of wear and tear on my skin in this blazing summer sun. Luckily the conductor warned me that the local train tickets aren’t valid on the other trains because a couple through trains stopped before mine arrived. They also mention this in the boarding announcements on the platform (in Valenciano and Spanish).

Spanish trains are fantastic. If I were going to do this more often I would fashion some sort of strap to hang my bike from a bar so that I could actually sit down during the ride. I decided to leave my book behind in the spirit of traveling light so I wouldn’t have had anything to do on the short ride if I could have sat down. I don’t understand people who travel without a book. What do they do with themselves? I noticed most people just fuck around with their mobile phones. I don’t want to be that guy.


The kebap would have to wait until a lot later that evening. We went to see Valencia Club de Fútbol play Fiorentino. It was called the Trofeo Naranja which is just a polite way to say that the game didn't mean shit. Valencia won 2-0 and we all enjoyed our seats directly behind the goal. It sucks not seeing David Villa in a Valencia uniform but the team showed a lot of promise. I got to wear my cool new Valencia CF T-shirt I got for my birthday. I had a kebap finally at about midnight after the game at a place on Calle Salamanca run by some really nice Turks. We had gone there during the world cup when other bars i the neighborhood were too full.  The kebap was everything I had imagined it would be.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Valenbisí


Vélib’ from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

A Valenbisí station beneath the spectacular Torre de Serranos.
Metro and bike sharing: a perfect integration of public transportation. I'm excited to subscribe to Valencia's new bike share program called Valenbisí which is patterned after the system in Paris. I have three bikes and I still think that it will be cool to be able to pick up a bike almost anywhere in the city. There will be two stations within a block of my apartment. Very convenient. I am hoping that Valencia will become another haven for cycling like Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Traffic Sucks and then You Die

New York City’s Transportation Department recently released the most ambitious study of its kind by an American city in which it examined more than 7,000 crashes that occurred in New York City from 2002 to 2006 and that resulted in the death or serious injury of at least one pedestrian. In the wake of the study NYC’s mayor is attempting to make the city’s streets safer for pedestrians. This is a good thing, right? You wouldn’t know it from reading many of the comments on the article in The New York Times.

Instead of applauding the mayor for trying to make the city safer for pedestrians most of the comments either tried to find fault with the study, or criticized the “anti-car” nature of the findings, or blame the inattention of people on foot, or bitched about bicycles and said how they are worse than cars, and a host of other issues not dealing with pedestrian safety. Granted, the article was very poorly written and focused more on the fact that male drivers were more responsible for deaths than women, but what I got out of the study was that something needs to be done to improve the safety of citizens. Although I’ll be the first person to agree that cyclists need to obey traffic laws, I seriously doubt that any pedestrian was killed by a bicyclist.

A lot of people making comments moaned about the cost of the study and how their tax dollars were being wasted. I wonder how much of NYC's budget goes for automobile-related expenses like roads and parking?  A lot of comments suggested that pedestrian safety isn't worth the price of slowing down traffic.

Just what is it going to take to get people to realize that cars are much more of a threat to citizens than Islamic terrorists? Something like 40,000 people die in traffic accidents and there are well over a million injuries every year in America. It simply amazes me that so many people commenting on this article don’t seem the least bit bothered by this fact. To me that is a hell of a high cost of doing business with the automobile.

Drivers here in Valencia are pretty much life-threatening to anyone on the street. The police are completely fucking useless when it comes to enforcing traffic laws. Motor scooters do whatever the hell they want and no one seems to care. I wonder if NYC is anything like Valencia when it comes to traffic enforcement? Getting drivers to behave seems like a win-win proposition to me. If police enforce traffic laws the city coffers will swell with the loot from the fines paid and drivers will be forced to act like human beings while driving. What are we waiting for?

The bottom line is that no one has ever described a city as a good place to live because it's easy to get around in a car. Show me a pedestrian area of a city and that's where people want to be. The sooner we make pedestrians a priority over vehicles the sooner we are to having cities worth praising.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mr. Wonderful



First of all, this film is better than most of Woody Allen's work. On paper this isn’t a movie I should like. Formulaic and not really the least bit original are ony two of its faults.  Calling Mr. Wonderful (1993) a romantic comedy is being very generous with the second adjective but it has what many films in this genre lack: it is sweet without being overly sentimental. Perhaps the writers went a bit overboard on the typical romcom gimmick; in this case the lead character is looking to marry off his ex-wife to keep from paying continued alimony in order to pursue his dream of refurbishing an old bowling alley. Perhaps all of the completely shitty movies in this genre have lowered the bar but with all its problems this movie is among my favorites. I have been looking for this movie on the web for years it seems so perhaps that made me think higher of it.

After watching it again I am happy to say that my first opinion holds. Some of the dialogue is really, really clunky and I don’t even like one of the lead actresses but none of that can take away from the fact that at its heart this has a big heart. I like the fact that the movie is populated by people who work for a living. From watching most American movies you would think that all of us work in advertising and we all have apartments with exposed brink.  The main character works for ConEd in NYC, his girlfriend is a nurse, and his ex-wife is a college student. Not only is the main character a working guy but he’s damn good at what he does. From most of the Hollywood offerings you come to believe that working class people don’t even have the right to love. The movie gets a lot of things right.

There are a few scenes in the movie that I love and make it worth watching. There is a long segment when the boys are developing their idea for the bowling alley that really shows the friendship they share.  In another favorite scene for me is when their wives and girlfriends are in the kitchen together discussing love.

The music is perfect and the film would be completely different without it. I like most of the characters, even some of the really minor roles are spot on. New York looks as good as ever. I’m glad I got the chance to see it again.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Salade Niçoise


The salade niçoise* is another Mediterranean classic. This dish may have a French name but it is still peasant food like everything else I cook. It may be on the menu of expensive restaurants but it’s inexpensive and easy to make. Canned tuna is used almost exclusively when you order this dish in France so hold the seared, sushi-grade ahi tuna. Where? How about between your legs? If you’re looking for yuppie food you have the wrong guy and the wrong salad. I don’t mind people jazzing up a recipe but I do mind when chefs try to take food away from the people to feed the rich.

The basic ingredients are standard enough: tomatoes, onion, green beans, new potatoes, greens, olives, hard-boiled eggs, anchovies, capers, and tuna—not much wiggle room. I looked around at dozens of different versions of this simple dish and they all had the same thing, more or less. I found a couple of tricks here and there but nothing that has drastically changed my own recipe. As you may have noticed, the ingredients for this salad read like an inventory of the best things in Mediterranean cuisine. Instead of French olives I bought some black olives from Aragón. I also opted for some big Spanish capers with the stem. The canned tuna and anchovies are from the supermarket and serve this dish very well.

I’ve had a somewhat troubled relationship with hard-boiled eggs. I have looked at literally dozens of recipes for this simple menu item and have tried every trick in the book and I still fail quite often. For today’s cooking my eggs happened to turn out perfect. I don’t know exactly what I did to deserve this bit of fortune but it may be due to the fact that the eggs I used weren’t particularly fresh. I had them sitting out on my counter for a few days. I have read that fresh eggs don’t lend themselves well to hard-boiling.

This salad stands on the strength of the ingredients you use. For me the least important of these are the greens. In fact, they are so unimportant to me that I forgot to buy them when I went to the market so my salad is green-less. I did, however, find some beautiful new potatoes that I boiled. I peeled and dressed them while they were still warm so that they would absorb the oil, vinegar, and lemon juice. I did the same with the green beans. After that I refrigerated these vegetables.

The tomatoes this time of year on the Mediterranean are amazing, so that wasn’t going to be a problem. You buy tomatoes this time of year and after a day in your kitchen they are practically bursting, as if they are impatient to be used in one form or another. The best way to use them in August is raw with just a pinch of salt and perhaps a drop or two of olive oil; leave the heavier dressing for the other, lesser vegetables.

Most of the French videos I looked at said that the dressing for this salad is a vinaigrette with quite a lot of vinegar (2 parts oil to 1 part vinegar) and that mustard isn’t used in a salade niçoise. I’ll go with what the home team recommends. I’m going to try to mix vinegars because most recipes call for balsamic vinegar and I find it pretty strong to use at this ratio. I used the oil from the anchovies as a supplement to the regular olive oil. I added salt and oregano to the dressing as well as a little lemon juice.

My camera ate most of the first video I shot for this dish so I had to do it over the next day. Luckily I still had enough stuff leftover. I did have to go out and buy more greens which was sort of ironic since I don’t even like greens and I had forgotten to buy them the day before.

*Every time I have to use a Spanish or French character I’m thankful for the laptop I bought here in Spain even though it was expensive.

Monday, August 09, 2010

How to Make Greek Salad and Tzatziki


The humble Greek salad is one of my all-time favorite dishes. Nothing earth-shattering in this version but I can say that it is authentic. Keep in mind that I lived in Greece for three years and probably had this salad 100 times in restaurants. Tzatziki is another Greek favorite and super easy to make. !Buen provecho! Καλή όρεξη!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Xàtiva

Xàtiva, if you are wondering, is written here in Valenciano instead of Spanish as noted by the back-slanted accent. They actually speak Valenciano here. On the train I sat next to an older couple who were speaking Spanish to one of the employees on the train. As soon as the train stopped at the station they immediately began speaking Valenciano to each other. You just don’t hear Valenciano spoken much in Valencia but it is much more common in these rural towns. I have learned very little Valenciano since arriving—I have my hands full with Spanish. I keep saying to myself that I’ll start studying it but I’ll probably start a campaign to improve my French. It’s confusing being me.

Xàtiva is a perfect little day trip from Valencia. It’s a 50 minute train ride on the cercanía or local train (7€ round trip). These trains are incredibly efficient and timely. There is one leaving at least every hour from Valencia’s Estació del Nord. Mine said it would leave at 12:23 and it left at 12:23. It stops several times along the way at places with crazy Arabicized names like Alfafar-Benétusser, Massassana, and Algemesí. Along the way you see evidence of what the Moors brought to Spain, mainly oranges and rice—this is Spain’s breadbasket for these two items. This coastal region is also spotted with the remnants of the forts, towers, castles, and walls built since before the Roman era. I was on my way to pay a visit to the castle that towers above Xàtiva that successive inhabitants had been building and destroying for over 2,000 years.

There are ticket machines for the local trains so buying a ticket took about five seconds. Without bothering to check train schedules before I left home it turned out that I only had to wait about 20 minutes for mine. Unlike airports, I love train stations and Valencia has a nice one. Airports just can’t match the majesty of train stations, at least the older ones (Barcelona’s newer Sants station is every bit as ugly as any airport). Even in the USA we have some lovely stations, even though we seem to have forgotten their purpose. I also love traveling by train; even the metro is fun for me—at least more fun than riding in a car.

Between the short wait and the 50 minute train ride I was able to take a good bite out of the book I am reading (Shogun in Spanish—loving it). As soon as I left the station I started the very self-explanatory hump to the castle—by self-explanatory I mean straight up. There is a shuttle vehicle to take tourists up to the fort but I didn’t learn this until I got up to the top. I probably would have chosen to walk in any case. All I could think about on my shirtless hike was what a good bike ride it would be up this mountain. It wasn’t even very hot for early August and I needed to even out my sun tan. I could have used some water along the way but I’m not complaining. I had a decent breakfast before heading out and I’ve had a hell of a lot of exercise lately. Just a couple days before I swam my ass off at the beach at Pinedo so with my usual biking this would make sort of a triathlon.

After paying the very strange admission price of 2.10€ I had some more climbing to do to see the two parts of the castle each on one side of this mountain ridge. There were less than 20 tourists visiting the castle on this particular Sunday in August. I suppose most people avoid this sort of day trip involving a considerable amount of physical effort on hot summer afternoons. I noticed that at least half of the tourists were Spanish so I couldn’t help but wonder when other tourists visited the castle if not during their summer vacations. Instead of buying bottled water from the café at the castle I drank my fill at the drinking fountain. I have found that the tap water in many parts of Spain is quite good. Madrid had exceptionally good tap water. I wish that I could say the same for Valencia. It’s drinkable but has a lot of chlorine and lime. AT home I use a water filter. I ate plastic bottles and will avoid them at almost any cost.

Since I didn’t take the tourist train up the mountain I figured I would hike down as well. As a cyclist, descending is always more difficult for me than climbing. The muscles used in walking down seem to be the reverse of those used in cycling. I was also vaguely regretting my choice of footwear for the day as flip flops aren’t exactly made for bushwhacking or walking on rough stones. Luckily I found another drinking fountain on the way down at the abbey of San José although I had to fight off a half a dozen angry wasps to get to it.

Once I returned to the village I was reminded that there are several shades of slow. There are slow and lazy days and then there are slow and lazy days in Spain. The scale is further tilted to slow during the summer months in Spain and especially so in a small village like Xàtiva. And then there are Sundays. On this Sunday afternoon in August Xàtiva was positively catatonic. I couldn’t even hear the sound of cars as I walked through the historic center of the town. Vehicular traffic is restricted to residents and they all seemed to be out of town.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Michelle Obama's Visit to Spain


One of the most pathetic things I have read recently concerning American conservatives is the criticism aimed towards Michelle Obama because of the Money being spent on her vacation in Spain. As if the First Lady isn’t worth of a vacation. What is she expected to do? Go camping? There is something these right-wing idiots are missing. It’s called diplomacy. Are they trying to tell us that America can no longer afford diplomacy? Are they trying to tell us that we can afford two insane wars (which we are losing…badly) but we can’t afford diplomacy?

The press here in Spain and all over Europe loves the fact that Mrs. Obama chose to visit Spain with her daughter.  It’s good for Spain and if it’s good for an American ally then it’s good for America. Just because George W. Bush was too stupid to have the curiosity to see the world doesn’t make this a good thing for American politicians and their families. In fact, I’d say that not having a passport should have disqualified Bush from even being president.  The Obamas are paying for the visit. Of course security is another matter but that can’t be blamed on the President or his wife. The President and his family have the right—in fact an obligation—to travel and represent our country.  It’s hilarious how much conservatives hate the fact that Obama, Al Gore, and Bill Clinton are so popular overseas; they act like this goes contrary to American interests.  It’s as if people everywhere should hate all of our leaders as much as they hate W.

She has been called a modern day Marie Antoinette by one retarded columnist. I wonder if this same columnist ever criticizes the lifestyles of America’s rich folks who don’t happen to be the wives of a Democrat. Has anyone on the Right made any negative comment about the horrendously lavish lifestyles of America’s richest few? Hell no, that would be communism.  The Right’s rhetoric gets nuttier and less rational every day.

The bottom line is that whatever this trip did actually cost the American taxpayers it was worth every cent and then some.  Michelle’s trip has done inestimable good in extinguishing the negative view many Europeans had of America because of the last resident of the White House.