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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Rites of Summer



My summer has been one step forward with cycling and other sports followed by at least one step back with early lunches (called almuerzo here in Spain) of embarrassingly luxurious food, many times shared in picnic form at a local café that allows us to bring in treasures from our local market next door. A single anchovy in oil over a piece of bread, the thinnest slice of jamón Serrano with melon, cheese with truffles, and other wonders that go directly from the market stall to the table without passing through the kitchen. Olives, of course, there are always olives.  It’s impossible to beat an ice cold beer after a two hour bike ride in August but a few sips of wine with the picnic is almost as good, so I have both...at the same time.

I’ve had a haircut since this picture was taken as my long hairstyle tended to vary (on its own) between television evangelist, professional wrestler, or country music star wannabe (and who wouldn't want to be a country music star?).

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Shut Ins



For many years I’ve had a question about the nature of Spanish people, or at least those here in Valencia. Do they have some deep, dark secret they're harboring? To they all have something shameful to hide? Just what is going on with a majority of the homes here? Why does almost everyone in this city have their blinds and windows closed almost all the time?

As I sit here typing this I’m sitting on the bed in one of my back bedrooms looking out into what we call the “patio de manzana” or the rectangular interior area of the group of buildings which form my block (manzana is “apple” in English but also “block” from two different root words). Almost every flat has its windows closed and most have their heavy exterior window blinds shuddered. It is August 25th at 08:00 but on this morning I almost feel uncomfortably cool without a shirt so I know that people aren’t attempting to fend off the vicious sun. I’ve noticed this phenomenon throughout the year which means that it isn’t just a summer thing. Why on earth would you want to block out the sun in the winter? Why would you ever want to block out the amazing light we have here in Valencia? Most people would kill to have even a fraction of our sunshine.

It isn’t because people are running their air conditioners. People use air conditioning very sparingly in Spain with the exception of the big department store, El Corte Inglés, whose polar vortex exhales with such force each time the front doors open that the frigid air practically knocks me off my bike, but I can’t hear a single AC unit running in the courtyard outside my window. I've asked dozens and dozens of people about why they keep their windows and shutters closed and I've received not much in the way of answers. Sometimes when entering people’s houses I'll have a coughing fit because the air inside is so stuffy and uncomfortably warm because all of the windows are closed. People will ask me if I want to have them open a window and I feel like screaming at them, “No, I want you to open all the damn windows and keep them open!”

Different patio, other month
The responses I've received from locals vary but hover mostly around evasive, like they don’t even know why they do what they do. I half-expect people give me some medieval answer about keeping out the pox or something like that. I've been told that keeping their flats closed up keeps in the cool night air which is highly unlikely since you'd have to open up to let in this coolness. Keeping windows shuttered in the winter does act as an insulator but this is mostly undone by the fact that you aren’t allowing in any heat in the form of ultraviolet rays. I can’t stand shuttering my windows even at night as this blocks out the artificial light from the street and it makes me feel like I’m living in a crypt.

The only answer that I've come up with on my own is that people are incredibly modest and don’t want to be the target of peeping Toms. This would also explain why almost no one uses their little balconies. I seem to be just about the only person on my street that actually uses my modest little balcony as an actual part of my living space. The only time I’ll see my neighbors out on their balconies is when they’re having a cigarette. As I said, I think this is because people feel too much like they are under a microscope when they’re exposed in this open area.

I open my windows the first chance that I get in the early spring and I don’t bother to close them until winter. I want to bring in every ray of light and every breeze that passes by. If I have any complaint it’s that my windows aren’t big enough to capture all the light and air that is available. On especially hot days I’ll sometimes leave my front door wide open to get the breeze from the stairwell. One morning I noticed that I had left the door open throughout the night. When I shared a flat with a good friend here in Valencia we would remove the window in the kitchen area of the flat leaving an opening of about 2 x 1.5 meters during the months of summer.

I just can’t believe how many people close up their flats like they are closed for business. And when I say “most people” I mean like about 90% of the households you see here. If you don’t believe me just take a look. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Lesser Known Works of the Grand Masters: The Catalogue



It is our honor here at Madrid’s Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia to present one of the most talked about collections in our museum’s illustrious history, Lesser Known Works of the Grand Masters: From Prehistory to the Present (If you can even call that new crap art).

- The Last Breakfast by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519 Italy) oil on canvas

Depicts Jesus our savior clad in his underwear having a cup of coffee in the kitchen while reading the sports section.

- Wally by Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564 Italy) sculpture in marble

Sculpted years before his more famous marble masterpiece of the biblical hero David, the young Michelangelo chose as his model Wally Delvecchio, a tubby middle aged janitor at his art school. This was the first recorded representation of man-boobs in all of the long history of art.

- Early American Road-kill by Norman Rockwell (1894-1978 USA) oil on canvas

Twice rejected by the Saturday Evening Post this painting details a classic American family’s reaction to the death of their pet cat which has recently been flattened by the Wells Fargo Wagon.

- Various Cleaning Products by Andy Warhol (1928-1987 USA) screen printing

Warhol became the first artist to elevate to the status of pop art the bottles of mostly toxic crap we keep in the cabinet under the kitchen sink.

- Neighborhood Punks Spilling Paint in Driveway by Jackson Pollock (1912-1956 USA) oil on concrete

Thought to be the first work in Pollock’s move into abstract expressionism and based on a real incident of vandalism after the artist forgot to lock his garage which he was then using as his studio during his “paint by numbers” phase.

- Peasant Boy Picking at Small Pox Scab by Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669 Holland) oil on wood

Painted during Rembrandt’s apprenticeship period with Pieter Lastman in Amsterdam the work was given as a gift to a woman the youthful artist was courting at the time. She promptly nailed the work backwards to an interior wall of her bedroom to block a draft. The painting was only rediscovered in 1989.

- Turdhenge by unknown (ca 3500 BC) photography exhibit

Situated in Wiltshire, England near its much more famous architectural cousin but predating Stonehenge by perhaps 1,000 years, these monuments reaching heights of over 5 meters where made with compacted and dried human feces.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Music Overheard from the Street Four Floors Below



I live on the fourth floor above a fairly busy street. The traffic light below stops cars passing by every sixty seconds, day and night. It’s really not that noisy and I rather enjoy the bustle of city life so I’ve grown accustomed to the din, sort of like living near the ocean and hearing the waves—not that I’ve ever lived close enough to the sea for this nuisance, perhaps in the next life.

The first thing that you can say about people blasting music on their car stereos is that they have one thing in common: they have shit taste in music. No one ever plays Mozart or Duke Ellington at volume levels almost guaranteed to induce hearing loss. There is only one demographic group responsible for musically disturbing the peace: young males.

It really isn’t that often that someone’s music is at such an obnoxious level that I can hear it from my perch four stories above the street, but when I do overhear it I always think about how loud it must be inside their vehicle. Riding my bike around town I will often pass a young male wearing headphones with the music so loud that it’s loud for me two meters away. You only have one set of ears, guys; you should try taking care of them.

Here's a short play list:

Eye of the Tiger: This was at 06:30, before daybreak! I guess you have to play that song at volume 11 for it to make even a little bit of sense.

Flamenco: I love Flamenco music but for some reason young punks (on or off drugs) love blasting this fiery music from Andalucía at window-shattering volumes. Flamenco isn’t popular at all in this part of Spain and many young kids look down on it, sort of like Americans and hillbilly music. I’m guessing that the young punks are out-of-towners.

Rap: Even in Spain, punks dream of being gangsters.

Dance Beats: These cars almost ALWAYS have decorative lights. Look! It’s a car! No, it’s a gay disco! Perhaps it’s both?

Let it Go from the Disney movie Frozen: OK, I've never heard this blasting from a car stereo but I did witness some Manchester City football hooligans singing it at karaoke night in a local bar. More on that at another time.

Monday, August 08, 2016

I Don’t Have Time to...



 “Time is a created thing. To say ‘I don’t have time,’ is like saying, ‘I don’t want to.”
-Lao-Tsu

“I don’t have time to read.” I’m not that kind of person and I doubt I have ever uttered this phrase. I could be piloting a passenger jet heading for a crash and I would probably still find time to read something which is probably why they won’t let me fly passenger planes. I never say that I don’t have time to do anything and I don’t believe you if you say it. “I don’t have time to exercise” or to do anything else is a mostly bullshit statement, or more accurately it is an outright lie.

If you tell me that you don’t have time for reading, exercising, learning Spanish, playing the piano, or whatever I simply won’t believe you. If you tell me that any or all of these things aren’t of sufficient interest to you to warrant your time then I not only will I believe you but I completely respect that sentiment. I don’t play poker, not because I don’t have time but because I fucking hate playing cards so if you ask me if I want to play poker and I say that I don’t have time it means that I fucking hate to play poker. In this case I was just being polite.

I couldn’t care less what you choose to do with your time but for some reason most adults feel that they should read, at least a little. This is why you hear the “I don’t have time” excuse for not reading more than for most other adult activities. Most of the time when people say “I don’t have time to read” what they really mean is “I hate reading as much as this guy hates playing cards.” But here I will come to the defense of non-readers. I think that it isn’t that people don’t like reading; it’s that they don’t like reading books that don’t fascinate them.

I knew a young kid who admitted to me that he had never read an entire book in his life. He said he hated reading. I answered that perhaps he just hadn’t found the right book. I gave him a copy of Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down and he read it in a day. He obviously liked the book to read it in a single day which suggests that he probably does enjoying reading when he has the right book in front of him. I would guess that this is the case for many people who don’t read. I could probably say the same thing about people who don’t exercise—another activity most adults either do or feel guilty about not doing. Maybe they just haven’t found the right exercise?

I don’t have to make excuses very often for missing work-outs but I do something for exercise that I also do for fun and transportation: I ride a bike. I will also admit that I have a lot more free time than most human adults simply because I don’t have children. I probably put more time into thinking about ways to spend my free time than many people have to pursue all of their extra activities. I don’t apologize for that; it comes from the choices I have made.

When I mention a book that I have read or a TV series that I find interesting there is often someone who will spit out the “I don’t have time” line. To these people I will tell them that I don’t apologize for the fact that I have time to further my intellect. This may sound a bit condescending but not half as much as saying you don’t have time. I’m not trying to be superior; I’m trying to make conversation while they are definitely trying to be smug.