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Friday, August 31, 2007

Faux Pas or Maybe I’m Just Stupid

I went to my new neighborhood last night to meet up with a couple of the girls who live at my next address. The one who is leaving works at one of the cool restaurants in the neighborhood along Literato Atorin Street which runs adjacent to the Russafa Market. This area is a lot hipper and trendier than where I used to live—more artsy fartsy. I got to meet the owner of the place and we soon joined a couple of her friends at a table outside on the sidewalk of this rather quiet street (quiet meaning little automobile traffic).

One of the people at the table began rolling a cigarette by hand and I mentioned how I was dying to smoke a cigar but all of the shops where I buy my Cubans have been closed for vacation. I mentioned that underneath the signs advising customers that they will be back in September the owners should have free samples of the nicotine patch for people who are trying to quit smoking.

With this little joke one of the other people at the table offered me a cigarette. I declined but I asked they guy rolling the hand-made smoke if he wouldn’t mind making another one for me. He looked at me a little funny and assented. He finished rolling the first one and gave it to his friend who fired it up and passed it around the table. As it turns out, it was tobacco laced with hashish. I quickly withdrew my request for a cigarette. I took a small puff just to be polite and just about coughed up a lung.

I booked a seat on the 1405H train to Barcelona today, or the Euromed as this train is called. It gets into Barcelona’s Sants Station at 1713H. The roundtrip fare was 65.10€. I was lucky to get on this train as we are in the heart of the traveling season. When I was at the station yesterday to buy my ticket I noticed that the place looks like a refugee camp with backpackers camped out all over the place.

This move has been a huge pain in the ass. I can’t believe how much stuff I have accumulated since I arrived. All I have with me for the trip is backpack and my little bike messenger bag with my mini-laptop and a couple of books. I will be reading Ernesto Sabato’s El Túnel on the train. It’s only one hundred pages or so which means I may finish it before I get there.

Monday, August 27, 2007

New Digs

My new corner which shares the same square as the Russafa Market.

New Digs

All good things come to an end. That’s a really dumb statement that seems to have been around forever. Everything comes to an end, at least everything observable. Someone probably got paid big bucks for coming up with that lightweight aphorism yet no one is going to pay me a dime to mock it. I just wanted my displeasure with this insipid phrase to be on the record before I say that I am going to miss living where I do now. Living in this apartment has been a good thing. By Friday my life in this place ends.

I have spent a few agonizing weeks looking for a new place to live after the landlord at his apartment decided he wanted this one back. I use the Spanish equivalent of craigslist called comunidad loquo. That’s how I found this place back in December. It was pretty easy back then even though my Spanish was much worse than it is now. I also have a telephone this time around to make it even easier. I only looked at two other apartments back in December, one which was rather charming, and another that wasn’t bad at all, until I found the place where I now live—at least until the end of this month. I have known for three months that I needed to find a new place, but I didn’t think it would be too difficult to come across another place. It was so easy the first time, after all.

I can’t imagine using classified ads to find an apartment to share in the U.S. It’s been many years since I have shared an apartment, and when I did, it was always with friends. Not only am I asking total strangers to take me into their homes, but I am doing it in a language I speak rather imperfectly. I finally got around to buying a cell phone which made things a lot easier. I bought a prepaid phone for 50€ like you see the little corner kid, drug dealers use in the brilliant HBO series The Wire. You just walk into a phone store, shell out the cash, and walk out with a number and a phone. No questions asked and none answered. I told the gal I bought it from that only drug dealers in the U.S.A. use prepaid phones, or “burners” as the kids call them on The Wire. In Europe they are very common and you can recharge them with extra minutes at just about every business in town.

Armed with my new cell phone and my pirated internet signal at home, I started scouring the ads in earnest about two and a half weeks ago. There are probably at least 50 ads for apartments to share every day online here in Valencia. I was automatically excluded from many of them because they were looking for students or women. This still left a healthy crop to choose from and I started dialing and emailing in Spanish. It was a lot harder this time around even with the powerful tools of internet (which I didn’t have at home last time), a cell phone, and much better language skills.

I came across an ad, complete with pictures, for a two bedroom apartment for rent for only 300€ so I sent an email in Spanish asking for details. In return I received a frantic email in fractured English from a man claiming that his wife had been transferred to Africa for a Christian mission and that he was living in Miami. They needed someone to watch their house who would take good care of it in their absence which was why they were asking well below the going rate. He asked me for some personal information. It wasn’t very personal nor compromising so I sent along. I desperately needed a place to live and I needed it fast.

It was the next email when I was certain that it was a scam. He asked that I wire 900€, or rent for the first three months, via Western Union to Lagos, Nigeria and when he received the money he would send the keys and instructions. Instead of breaking off out new friendship at this point, I decided to play along. I was pretty much stuck to a computer most of the day looking for an apartment anyway. I may as well have some fun.

I told him that I would send the money directly and thanked him. I promised that his house would be in good hands and that I was even thinking of doing some improvements on it because I am sort of a handy guy like that. I also asked him if he wouldn’t mind if I just wired him an entire year’s rent at the beginning or 3,600€. At this point my Nigerian friend must have felt like Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea and that he was about to land the biggest fish of his life. He probably went out and bought a new car using my email as collateral. He started getting a bit impatient with me in the emails when I still had not wired him the money. I asked him if he knew my brother who was the Minister of Finance in Nigeria, and that perhaps instead of sending him the money I could invest the money with my brother, the Nigerian Minister of Finance, and thus double, or perhaps triple his money. Evidently, he had not heard of that particular internet scam and promised that he would meet my brother, Minister of Finance for Nigeria, after I sent him the money, and could I send the money immediately. Isn’t it funny how money sometimes gets in the way of a friendship. I told him as much in our final email exchange.

And I kept looking. I probably looked at a dozen places this time around, all of which were either downright crappy or just dark and dreary dungeons. I couldn’t believe how many terrible apartment floor plans there are out there. Where I live now is incredibly light and airy. I also have a huge deck which opens the place up to infinity. I looked at one new apartment that had only a single window to the outside while the others opened into a shaft running up the middle of the building. I checked out an apartment rented by two young guys that was under repairs and there was a heavy layer of dust on absolutely everything. It was 260€ a month with no additional charge for the black lung disease.

Sometimes I would talk to someone on the phone about a place and have them treat me like I was from another planet because of my accent. If people weren’t nice I didn’t let things go any further. I didn’t like the neighborhoods of any of the places I saw; they were all farther from the city center than where I live now. I became so discouraged that I considered moving to another city. I was looking at homelessness. In fact, I was beginning to get a good enough look at homelessness to be able to describe it to a police sketch artist.

I answered an ad that simply mentioned a room for rent near the center city. I followed up with an email and then called. The woman was nice on the phone. It turns out she was taking an internship in Switzerland and was vacating her room in a flat that she shared with two other women. We agreed to meet the next day so I could see the place.

I arrived early enough the next day to thoroughly investigate the neighborhood. The building shares the same square as the Russafa Market which is one of the major fresh food markets in the city. The rest of the neighborhood is a lot more historic than where I live now. There is also an 18th century cathedral in this same square. The downtown is only a few blocks away and I can walk to the train station. Like any urban Spanish neighborhood, the place is teaming with bars, restaurants, shops, internet cafes, and everything else needed in modern Spanish life. I found a latin grocery store that sells masa for Mexican-style corn tortillas. I liked the neighborhood a lot.

The apartment itself is in a newer building and, once again, the woman I dealt with was friendly and helpful. Nice kitchen, nice bathroom, nice bedroom with a great desk, and then we went into the living room. I almost fainted when I saw that there was an upright piano. I just told her right then and there that I was moving in whether they liked it or not. And that was that.

The only catch is that she doesn’t leave for Switzerland until the 10th of October and I have to vacate this place by the 1st. I have already fixed that problem by booking a room in Barcelona for these ten days. I am moving all of my stuff into the new placeand I’ll leave on Friday. I haven’t been to Barcelona in a long, long time and it will be like seeing it for the first time. I will take my dorky folding bike with me on the train. I need a vacation after these past few weeks of hell

Friday, August 24, 2007

Being There, Getting Here

Being There, Getting Here

I don’t think that I have ever really explained just how I came to live in Valencia, Spain from Seattle, U.S.A. I had wanted to live in Europe since I lived here before many years ago. Ever since I was about 17 or 18 I have wanted to live in Paris, and although I have traveled there many times, I am still waiting for that dream to come to happen. One life-long dream at a time is all I can seem to muster at this stage of the game. I haven’t given up on living in Paris but I have a few detours to live out along the way.

But why did I choose Valencia, Spain? Living here was never anything like a life-long dream. I barely knew anything about it before I got here. On my first trip to Europe when I was 20 years old I passed through here very briefly. Spain was a lot different back then. It was still struggling to define itself after the death of Franco and 40 years of dictatorship and repression. Nothing that I saw in Valencia back then impressed me enough to make me think about living there one day.

The time came for me when I knew that the day had come for me to move to Europe; it was just a matter of where. I had recently visited Madrid and really was impressed with how Spain had been steadily and rapidly advancing through all of the years that I had been traveling there. It had gone from what was practically a third world country to an advanced and modern society that had surpassed the United States in areas like mass transit and public health. My Spanish as well as my French had been sorely neglected over the years although I made efforts to hold on to what I already knew. I tried to improve my language skills but this is a Herculean task when living in the United States.

I needed to make a decision as to where I was going to live when I moved to Europe. My thinking about this matter was heavily influenced by the fact that my Spanish was better than my French. I felt that moving to Spain instead of France would be an easier adjustment. I also wanted to finally get around to speaking at least one foreign language really well after spending my whole life studying languages. It was kind of like betting on a horse race and I chose Spanish and Spain. Spain is a big country so I had to narrow it down a bit. As much as I love Madrid, I wanted to live on the Mediterranean Sea again after spending three idyllic years as a resident of Athens, Greece with a spectacular view of the Saronic Gulf from my fourth flood apartment.

Barcelona is a beautiful city but I felt that the people there spoke Catalan so much that it would hinder my study of Spanish. Of course, people in Valencia have their own language as well, but I felt that Valenciano wasn’t as prevalently spoken in Valencia as is Catalan in Barcelona. I think my original assumption was correct. Valenciano is not widely spoken in the city.

I wanted to live in a fairly large city. Valencia is slightly larger than Seattle and has the urbanity I like while there is fairly easy access to the country. Valencia doesn’t have the best airport or rail connections but neither does my former home on the West Coast. I did put some thought in where I was going to start my new life just in case you thought I just threw a dart at a map.

I would have to say that Valencia turned out to be an excellent choice. I feel more and more at home here and I think that I know the city about as well as a veteran cab driver. Spending countless Sunday mornings pedaling through every nook and cranny of the city tends to make you pretty knowledgeable about local geography. I could work as a guide in the Albufera Nature Park to the south of the city because of the hundreds of hours I have spent bike riding along every bike lane, road, foot path, and goat trail in that area.

Right now I have to find another apartment, always a horrible experience. When I heard that we were losing our lease where I now live I contemplated moving to another city in Spain, or perhaps even across the border to France—not Paris, mind you, not yet. In the end I decided to stay here in Valencia a while longer. I love it here and I hope that my new accommodations don’t do anything to change my opinion. Where I live now will be almost impossible to beat for a lot of reasons, but change is usually a good thing for me. The change I have experienced these past 9 months certainly have been.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

XXL, 100% Cotton Illiteracy: English T-Shirt Slogans


One thing that you notice when you travel outside the United States is that people almost everywhere wear t-shirts with something written in English. I’m way too lazy to look into this but I would guess that Americans invented the concept of turning humans into walking billboards by putting slogans and advertisement on t-shirts. The Hard Rock Café pretty much built their entire franchise on t-shirt sales. Their iconic logo was the T-shirt of choice for people all over the world. T-shirts are bumper stickers for people. T-shirts with some sort of slogan are a fact of life everywhere I have ever been.

The lingua franca of t-shirt slogans worldwide is definitely English. I don’t know why this is the case but I can offer up a few theories. English is probably studied as a second language more than any other language in the world. The Simpsons is dubbed into almost every language in the world but I think people just want to watch it in the original. There are probably other important reasons why people study English but none come to mind. So therefore, people who study English probably think that it’s cool to walk around with a t-shirt with something written in English splashed across the front, or back, or both. People who haven’t ever studied English also probably think it’s cool.

A lot of times I get the feeling that the people wearing these shirts haven’t the faintest idea of what they say, whether they have taken an English class or not. How else can you explain a 70 year old Greek woman with a t-shirt emblazoned with “Frankie Loves Hollywood?” I don’ think that there is a 15 year old kid on the planet who would be willing to wear a t-shirt that says “True Love: Mom” if he knew what it meant, like the kid I saw last night. I wanted to punch him myself, or at least give him a wedgie. I once came across a little street urchin wearing a Harvard t-shirt and I thought, “Damn, that school needs to take better care of its alumni.” A Harvard man shining shoes in Chihuahua, Mexico? That ain’t right.

You see lots of slogans that aren’t grammatical, don’t make any sense, or are just plain stupid. The first time that I noticed this phenomenon was in the mid 1980s when people in Europe wore t-shits that said “Relax” and “No Problem.” You would see dozens of these inane shirts every day if you were in a heavily touristed area. There doesn’t seem to be a presiding t-shirt slogan on the tourist trail these days, just lots of shirts with really dumb things written in English—always English. You almost never see t-shirts with something written in French, or Spanish, or Russian, or Arabic, or Chinese. I’m not sure that I can even tell the difference between Chinese or written Japanese but you don’t see either on a shirt.

I was shopping for clothes the other day in shop run by a Chinese family. All of the clothes they sell are manufactured in China (Valencia receives more cargo from China than any other port in Spain). I was looking at their selection of t-shirts when it dawned on me that all of the dumb t-shirts you see were probably manufactured in China. This would explain the sometimes fractured “Engrish” and the senseless slogans.

Lots of American kids get tattoos of Chinese characters without knowing a single thing about the language. For all they know, that Chinese character on their butt may say “Drink Coke.” They just get them because they think that they look cool. I don’t mean to sully the good name of tattoo artists—the most trusted professionals in body mutilations—but I don’t think that you can count on many of them in the United States to know the intricacies of Mandarin Chinese. One little extra line in that character for “Peace and Understanding” in Chinese will change it to “All Deliveries made in Rear.” You need to be careful, especially if you decide to travel to China with your new ink. I'm sure Chinese people laugh their asses off at the tattoos on American hipsters.

The people who pen English sayings on Chinese-made t-shirts are just like those tattoo artists. There is probably some Chinese kid who studied English for three years and now works at some Orwellian Ministry of Annoying T-shirt Slogans. His job is to sit around all day and think up English slogans. Who knows, maybe the kid has a sense of humor and is writing these dumb slogans on purpose. How else can you explain some of these things I have seen people wearing in Valencia:

Too Brown Maybe You Clean Your Lenses
Breakfast • Lunch • Happy Hour
God Save Everyone from Basic Clothes
And this one.

Kykase Stop
The Victoria is worth only


Or this one worn by some middle aged dork:
Young Free Cool

Imagine if these were tattoos? Giving an old t-shirt to Goodwill is a hell of a lot easier than getting an unwanted (and ungrammatical) tattoo removed with laser surgery.

Maybe I will sit in one of the popular tourist spots in Valencia with a red, felt-tipped marker and correct all of the grammatical and syntactical errors that I see on people’s t-shirts. I could put frowning face stickers on the really egregious examples of poor English. Maybe airports can put in scanners in the security queues that spell and grammar check all passengers' t-shirts. I’m sure that the technology already exists. I don’t think that there are freedom of speech laws in any country on earth that would defend a t-shirt that says “I Eat Your Skin.” Taking these shirts away from people is for their own good. Instead of correcting their shirts perhaps it would be better to translate the slogans people wear into the language of the owner.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Every city should have a Miracle Street like Valencia. More new pictures on my photo page if your are interested.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Holgazanear (intransitive verb) to idle, to laze about/around, to loaf

I recently learned that you can use an infinitive in Spanish to answer a question. So if someone were to ask me what I’ve been doing this month of August I could reply with:

What the hell else am I supposed to do? It’s August in Spain and not just Spain but the endless beaches part of Spain, the part of Spain where other people in Spain go to goof off. Along this entire coast you can’t spit without hitting a topless beauty or a fat, naked, 60 year old German tourist. Of course I’m screwing off, there is nothing else to do. I’m no history expert but I’ll bet every battle the Spanish have ever lost took place in August when at least half of their army was taking a trip to the beach with their families and the other half was working in the family café trying to keep enough beer cold and sardines on the grill to serve the summer hordes.

One more thing that I really love about Valencia is that you can take the subway to the beautiful city beach. There aren't many cities in the world that you can say that about. I live on the line that serves the beach so I see a lot of people either going or coming. My favorite sight is the stuff that parents pack to entertain their little kids when they spend the day on the water. Pails, shovels, watering cans, sailboats, and, of course, balls are part of what the beach caravans have in tow on the Valencia metro. This is one aspect of Spanish life that is exactly the same as it is in America: kids all use the same paraphernalia when they go to the beach.

Valencianos mostly drive to the beaches south of town and for this ten minute expedition families bring more crap than a Spice Route camel caravan. Chairs, tables, umbrellas, blankets, volleyball nets, rackets, and all of the kid junk listed earlier. It’s hard to imagine all of this stuff fits into the little cars people drive—maybe they make two or three trips. Goofing off requires a lot of equipment if you are doing it right.

If you can find a restaurant that is actually open in August it will be filled to capacity, at least during the hours when Spanish people eat, which seem to get later and later as the summer moves along its trajectory. Lunch is still going strong at an hour when many American early bird specialists are already packing up their leftovers in doggie bags and heading home to bed. The crowds wash in and out of the beach cafes like the tides. If you were to take a water sample of those tides, the results would come back as coffee, Coca Cola, red wine, and beer. It probably takes at least one nuclear reactor just to power all of the espresso machines working furiously along the coast. I would rather suffer the consequences of a dozen reactor core meltdowns than risk having a few million Spanish people go without coffee for a single afternoon.

I’m pretty sure that they still print newspapers in August, and there is probably news on television, but maybe if we just ignore it the news will go away—it can at least wait until September. I’m too caught up in the trashy Spanish novel I’m reading to bother with the newspapers, except to read the Calvin and Hobbes comic in the local paper, Levante. Even soccer takes a break in August so there’s no reason to read the sports.

Thank God that in the middle of all of this hustle and bustle I have time to take a nap. These aren’t my usual little power naps of ten to fifteen minutes, these are howling one hour affairs so intense that I don’t know what day it is when I wake up (not that I really knew what day it was when I first laid down, but still). I wake up semi-paralyzed and semi-conscious and I check to make sure I didn’t lose anything to some international group of organ thieves—not that anyone who knew any better would want anything coming out of this burnt-out old carcass. I use the slobber on my chin to fix my bed-head hair and then head down to the café for a coffee.

The café is full again and I am beginning to wonder if all of these customers have been evicted. It's hard to imagine they have homes when they spend 10 hours a day at this joint. I’m sure they think the same about me and I don’t even bother changing clothes from day to day. I stick with flip-flops, surf trunks, and the soccer jersey du jour (today it’s the Portugal national team jersey). I speak Spanish like Tarzan so I may as well look the part. I haven't worn shoes in months and can you explain to me again the purpose of socks? I don’t know how much longer I can keep going at this frantic pace. Something has got to give and I hope it isn’t the seam in the ass of my surf trunks from all of the fried squid I’ve been putting away.

I have to be honest; I’m exhausted. It’s 8:30 a.m. and I’m ready to go back to bed for an hour, maybe two, three at the very most. I don’t know if I should be worried but my blood pressure is so low that the readings begin with decimal points. I’d call a doctor but they are all out of the office in August. For medical emergencies you are supposed to rent one of those sound trucks and try and page a doctor at the beach. I tried that but all the little kids mobbed me because they thought I was the ice cream man. It was pretty funny but things got ugly once the little bastards found out I didn't have any ice cream. I was able to take out a few of them but in the end I got stomped something fierce. Ice cream sounds good right now, even if it is 8:31 a.m. In August, 8:31 a.m. is like four in the afternoon.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Let the Buyer Beware

Can you tell me what's wrong with this not-pretty picture?

Let the Buyer Beware

I’m really not a very demanding person. I don’t demand much from myself—one look at me will reassure you of this. I don’t send back my steak at a restaurant if it isn’t cooked correctly; I’ll just eat the damn thing. I don’t return clothes that I don’t like after I buy them. I will either wear them or I won’t, and I’ll shut up about it. But sweet Jesus, when I stick a Q-tip in my ear I expect the little piece of cotton to still be attached to the stick when I pull it out. I’m not trying to gross anyone out here, but that’s sort of the whole fucking purpose of a Q-tip. It’s for getting stuff out of your ears, not filling them up with crap. Perhaps I am overreacting here. Maybe the little piece of cotton was already missing when I stuck the Q-tip in my ear. This is certainly possible since they aren’t really Q-tips™ but some cheap Chinese knock-offs I bought at the Chinese Wal-Mart. I have to go now. I need to lean over and shake my head the rest of the day until a little piece of cotton falls out of my ear. Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Last Words of the Not-So-Bright

This is sort of like humor, but different. This could be reality TV if there was a Darwin Channel.

1) The hick and his gun:

Don’t worry, it ain’t loaded.

2) (Based on a true story. I believe it happened at the Brooklyn Zoo.)
While throwing rocks at the bears at the zoo one night after hours:

Polar bears can’t swim, that moat must be ten feet deep.
(His actual last words were, “He’s biting me…hard.”)

3) The fix-it guy plugging it in:

I can’t believe you wanted me to throw this lamp out.

4) Another tragic tale of a crossing, a hick in a car, and a speeding train:

I can totally make it!

5)A lake, a cliff, and a hick:

It looks deep enough to dive to me.

6)A hick looking down at a very steep, very long stair rail:

Watch this, I seen it on the X-Games.

I apologize to all of the hicks out there who may have taken offense to this post. We regret to inform you that several hicks lost their lives in the making of this essay.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Veraneando ( Summering)

It isn’t nearly as hot as it was only a week ago and I can actually hear the summer starting to wane just a bit every evening. There is a Mercadona grocery store across the street from my apartment and I can hear them close the shutters on the windows every evening promptly at 9:15. As we move into the middle of August it is almost completely dark at this hour when last month there was still almost an hour of daylight after they closed. These are the cues that the modern day urban naturalist picks up on to gauge the seasons of the year.

You can tell that it is summer by the faint amount of laundry that cycles through my washing machine. I think that I may have done one load in the last three weeks or so. The summer dress code in Valencia—at least for me—is decidedly casual: flip-flops, surf trunks, and soccer jerseys which usually follow me into a cold shower when I get back from a bike ride to the beach. There’s a bit of a water shortage so I’m just doing my part by killing two birds with one stone.

The few neighborhood cafes that have remained open in August get pretty full in the evenings as not everyone has left town. It seems that everyone that has stayed now has more idle time than usual so café card games flourish, dominos take on an added seriousness, and the extras chairs that are usually stacked against the wall are all in use.

Now that the heat has backed off considerably it has turned into fine reading weather. I have just started on my second spiral notebook as the first is now completely filled with the words that I had to look up in the dictionary. I already have three pages of new vocabulary and the list is growing rapidly as it seems that I am now reading faster and faster in Spanish. I read everything that I can get my hands on and this week at the flea market I got my hands on four new books. One of them is a lovely guide to the Valencia Community. These books go by the name of Eye Witness Guides in English and I have guides for Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam, and London in English. They are called Guías Visuales in Spanish and I found this one for 4€, a real steal as they go for $25 or so new.

I also picked up a book by Yolanda Garcia Serrano called I always fall in love with the wrong man (Siempre Me Enamoro del Hombre Equivocado). I don’t make any apologies for what I read in Spanish as I think that I have to hit the language from as many different angles as possible and if I sometimes have to read a girlie book, then so be it. I am actually breezing right through it and enjoying it thoroughly. I do think that what I enjoy in Spanish is related to my ability to understand the work. I enjoyed the Pedro Almodóvar film, Todo Sobre mi Madre, but I don’t think that I would have sat through a film with a similar topic in English. I didn’t like Sex and the City but I’d probably watch it in Spanish in the name of learning. Beside, it’s summer. You are supposed to read lighter fare and watch silly movies.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Closed for Vacation

August is the month when everyone who is anyone closes up shop and heads out of town. There are signs posted on businesses all over town explaining that they are taking the month off and will be back in September. The signs are an interesting mix of apology, exasperation, and things that look like counterfeit absentee excuses written by delinquent children. Some of the notes read like messages found in bottles which vaguely explain the whereabouts of the owners and contain an even more unclear explanation as to when they plan to reappear. Many of the signs I have read say that the closure is so that the employees can rest—as if they are all off to some tuberculosis sanitarium to take the healing waters.

The café that shares the courtyard with my building run by the three brothers didn’t even bother to post a sign. A written notice of their vacation plans would have constituted too much work for them. If they did have a sign it would read something like this:

Are you kidding? We are closed about 50% of the year and you come by here in this month and you think we will be open? We would all laugh at you except it is too pathetic to think that someone actually thought they could get a cup of coffee or a beer at our place IN AUGUST! Go away! We’ll be back when we’re back unless the day we’re supposed to be back falls on a holiday in which case it will be the following day. Don’t hold your breath.

August is the month when people make major renovations to their apartments because they are gone all month. It’s the time when businesses overhaul themselves. Two apartments in my building have been gutted and are being transformed. The bakery in my building is getting a major face lift. There is a new bar going in around the corner. If you left town this month you won’t recognize the place when you return.

I was down in the Plaza de la Virgin last night—one of the more popular sights in Valencia—and it was completely filled with tourists. Even the people speaking Spanish were out-of-towners. The waiters and waitresses all seem to be on loan from other countries. It’s like the locals just handed over the keys to the city and left everything to the Visigoth hordes who have invaded.

I never thought that I would say this after living through the Fallas festival but it is really quiet here in Valencia. It is 8 o’clock in the morning and it is eerily silent. I haven’t heard a car horn yet today and even the dog across the street who howls like a coyote every morning at this time is conspicuous by his absence—or at least his bark is. I am straining my ears but I can’t hear a single jackhammer or any sort of power tool. The people doing all of the renovations in town don’t seem to have bosses looking over their shoulders so they start work at a reasonable hour, usually after noon. There is no doubt about it; things are rather quiet around here. Why would I want to leave now?

Lots of Valencianos have second homes, mostly along the shore somewhere. The quiet little Mediterranean beach towns that I rode my bike past all winter are now filled to the brim with people, cars, dogs, and everything else that people from the city take with them when the exodus begins. I think that if I were now in one of those little beach towns I would be listening to the morning cacophony of car horns, jackhammers, howling dogs, and squawking parrots. It’s a good thing that a lot of these places have bike paths because the traffic there in August is atrocious. The major beaches all look like U.N. refugee camps. Anything providing a bit of shade in these places is swarmed by older Spaniards with card tables and chairs where domino games and impromptu picnics are held. If the shade happens to fall on the bike path then you’ll just have to ride around them; it’s called “summer rules.”

With the sun and the heat my bike rides aren’t as ambitious these days as they were back in the winter and spring. When it is almost 40° a little goes a long way as far as bike rides are concerned. I head to the beach at 4 or 5 in the afternoon and return as late as 9. Even then the sun is strong enough to dry me out before I have completely left the beach behind me as I ride the bike path back into town to the north.

It’s not like I really need a vacation since I really don’t have a job to need a vacation from—if a wannabe writer can even write a sentence like that one. Besides, I like it here in Valencia more than ever. I seem to have the whole neighborhood to myself as well as this three bedroom apartment. If you’re planning to visit me, now is the time.

I almost forgot to add one thing: none of the summer rules seem to apply to the immigrant community. The Chinese mini Wal-Marts are all open for business, the döner kebab places run by the Indian subcontinent guests are on their usual schedule, and the Africans still roam the plazas hawking electronic gadgets and other trinkets. Once again, no one sent them the memo about the vacation hours.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Tango de las Madres Locas

Someone must have taped a sign on my back that says, “I only want to listen to music that rips my guts out.” I have been trying to track down some Spanish music other than the usual popular pabulum that you hear everywhere here in Spain. Through luck and persistence I have found quite a lot of stuff that I like, mostly in the Flamenco genre.

Sabor Flamenco is a compilation CD of various artists interpreting the Flamenco style in their own way. Some of the songs in this collection are straight-up Flamenco while other artists take a more oblique angle in their approach to this Andalusian music style. One of my favorites is performed by a trio that goes by the name Chambao. If this group isn’t popular in the US, it should be. Pokito a Poko is something you’d hear in a cool dance club, super-sexy and bright. I’ll quote from Wikipedia to describe them:

Chambao is a flamenco-electronic band originally from Málaga, Andalusia, Spain, known for a Flamenco Chill sound that fuses flamenco sounds and palos with electronic music. The name of the band is taken from an improvised form of beach tent that is constructed as a means of sheltering from the wind and sun.

Rosario Flores also has a great song on this Cd called El Beso.

In my search through Flamenco music I came across a rising young star named Marina Heredia. I was listening to her CD, La Voz del Agua which features a remake of a Carlos Cano tango, Tango de las Madres Locas (Tango of the Crazy Mothers). I loved the song immediately even though I wasn’t really paying attention to the lyrics. On the second listen I realized what the song was about and the combination of the lyrics and Marina Heredia’s amazing Flamenco voice were enough to about bring me to my knees. It tells the story of the mothers of “disappeared” children in Argentina during the Dirty War of 1976. The mothers gathered in protest every Thursday to protest the horrible crimes committed by the military junta. This is probably the most beautiful and heartbreaking song of protest I have ever heard.
It seems like with every great book I read in Spanish, with every new word I learn, and with every wonderful song I uncover I am getting further seduced by the charm and beauty of Spain.

Tango de las Madres Locas

By Carlos Cano

Todos los jueves del año
a las once de la mañana
junto a la Plaza de Mayo
con lluvia frío o calor
te esperaré vida mía
frente a la Casa Rosada
la espina de tu mirada
clavada en mi corazón.

Me dicen que no te fuiste, mi bien
que te desaparecieron
que te vieron en la cuneta
cantando "El Yira" de Carlos Gardel
que de pronto te esfumaste
que te borraron del mapa
que ni siquiera naciste
que medio loca mamá te inventó.

Con Malvinas o sin Malvinas
grito tu nombre por las esquinas,
mientras que los generales
se dan al Tango
por los portales.
Tango de las madres locas
coplas de amor y silencio
con vida se los llevaron
y con vida los queremos.

Con Malvinas o sin Malvinas
¿Dónde está Pedro? ¿Dónde está Lidia?
Con Malvinas o sin Malvinas
grito tu nombre por las esquinas.

Cada vez que dicen : "Patria"
pienso en el pueblo y me pongo a
en las miserias que vienen
y en los fantasmas de la soledad
¿Petronila qué te hicieron?
¡Qué mala cara tenéis!
- La que me dejó Videla
- A mí Galtieri ya ves...

Con Malvinas o sin Malvinas...

Pokito a poko

By Chambao

Andaba perdia de camino pa la casa
cavilando en lo que soy y en lo que siento
pokito a poko entendiendo
que no vale la pena andar por andar
que´s mejor caminá pa ir creciendo

volvere a encontrame con vosotros
volvere a sonreir en la mañana
volvere con lagrima en los ojo
mirar al cielo y dar las gracias

pokito a poko entendiendo
que no vale la pena andar por andar
que es mejo caminar pa ir creciendo
pokito a poko entendiendo
que no vale la pena andar por andar
que es mejo caminar pa ir creciendo

mirarme dentro y comprender
que tus ojo son mis ojo
que tu piel es mi piel
en tu oido me alborozo
en tu sonrisa me baño
y soy parte de tu ser
que no vale la pena andar por andar
es mejo caminar pa ir creciendo.

pokito a poko entendiendo
que no vale la pena andar por andar
que es mejo camina pa ir creciendo
pokito a poko entendiendo
que no vale la pena andar por andar
que es mejo camina pa ir creciendo

volvere a sentarme con los mio
volvere a compartir mi alegria
volvere pa contarte que he soñado
colores nuevos y dias claros
volvere pa contarte que he soñao
colores nuevos y dias claros

El Beso

Rosario Flores

Con un beso tuyo,
Vi llegar el día
Y por la osadia
Cayo un beso al mar

Con un beso tuyo
Me dormí cansado
Dormías a mi lado tu,
De tanto besar

De toda mi alma
Salieron estrellas
Que volvaron alto
Para no llegar

Por un beso tuyo
Me quede en silencio
Como me preguntas
Si quiero besar

Con un beso tuyo... Contigo me voy
No me lo pregunto... Contigo me voy
Que se me afloja el alma... Contigo me voy

Por un beso tuyo
Me quede en silencio
Cuando sin remedio
Te sentí besar

Por un beso tuyo
El amor a duelo
Fue perdiendo el miedo,
Se dejo llevar

Y se enreda el tiempo
Mojando los sueños
Y tu boca loca
Me quiso engañar

Por un beso tuyo
Ya no tengo dueño
Acércate un poco,
Vuélveme a besar


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Perfection…Tomorrow…or the Next Day

I wonder if it is possible for me to go on an all-out sprint in everything that I should be doing: reading, writing, studying, eating well, working out, playing music, and any other positive activity you can think of, while at the same time avoiding everything the least bit harmful. It sounds easy until you actually think about it. Try to go an entire day without wasting any time. I don’t think that I need to spell out what constitutes wasting time. Everyone has their own definition of what this means. If reading this isn’t a waste of time to you then I think you need to take a good, long look at yourself.

I want to multi-task like there is no tomorrow, like Michael Douglas in Wall Street. I want to run on a treadmill while I talk on the phone and destroy people’s lives by buying out companies and firing all of the workers. They will all thank me later when they find jobs at Wal-Mart. I want to step off the treadmill and have an assistant hand me an herbal tea and a paint brush. I sip the tea while I finish a water color of the Champs-Elysées that I can see from my office or living room or wherever the hell rich and powerful go-getters do their work these days.

I finish the painting and send it off to auction at the Louvre. I sit down immediately to practice piano for an hour under the tutelage of a harsh, yet sexy music teacher who is probably German guessing from her accent. Her clothes give no hint as to her nationality because all she’s wearing is something off the sale rack from Victoria’s Secret. Combining sex with a music lesson is just another clever multi-tasking thing rich people do.

Gordon Gecko said in Wall Street that lunch is for wimps, which is a bit of a problem for me because I really like lunch, even more than breakfast—unless we’re having well-cooked bacon for breakfast. Is dinner just for wimps? If it is, I can see a serious problem on the horizon. Instead of lunch my personal assistant/ life coach hands me a vitamin/protein shake. I take a sip as I sit down at my computer to write a chapter of the brilliant novel I am finishing.

Yuch! Are you fucking kidding me? This thing tastes like shit. Good thing I have a personal assistant/ life coach/ nutritionist on hand to clean this green slop off of my computer monitor. I try to order in a meatball sub from the corner place and an alarm goes off. My personal assistant/ life coach/ nutritionist/ crisis counselor rushes in and explains to me that a meatball sub doesn’t fit into the make-up of the new me. He tries to hand me another vitamin shake and I knock it out of his hand.

I decide to fire my personal assistant and hire a new one who isn’t such a “yes man.” I don’t know why I didn’t just hire a beautiful woman for this job in the first place. I have a meeting to go to so I head for the limo with my new lovely assistant behind me. “Sorry, driver. Can you please raise the divider? We have some important matters to discuss.” The meeting is only two blocks away but multi-tasking is a full-time job with me these days. What am I supposed to do, waste all that time listening to light jazz on the radio?

You are probably going to ask me when will I have enough money and power. Charlie Sheen's character asked me the same thing in Wall Street "How many boats can you ski behind?" That's kind of a no-brainer and I'll answer it as I finish this pilates class while I am being tutored in Mandarin Chinese. You just look up in the Guinness Book of World Records the record for most boats skied behind and add one more boat. Do I have to explain everything to you?

This new me is pretty exciting, huh?

I’m going to start immediately. It is only nine in the morning and I have already fucked up today by wasting an hour and a half playing backjack online, not to mention the $25 I dropped. I guess I’ll begin tomorrow, tomorrow or the day after. I suppose that I should just wait until next Monday to begin this crash course in becoming the truest, most distilled essence of myself just so that I start with a new week. However, if I wait until Monday it will already be the sixth of August. It would be nice to begin with a new month. Let me just take a minute to look through the calendar. I have to go online to access my calendar and since I’m already there I may as well check out some of those kooky videos on Youtube.

An hour later I discover that October of this year begins on a Monday so that would be a perfect time to begin my new Personal Power lifestyle. This gives me two full months before I begin getting perfect. I don’t know what I should do during these two months. I could start moving in the general direction of this idealized model of what my new life will be. That would probably make things easier when I finally do begin to do all of the things that I should be doing every day and every minute of every day. Just thinking about the new me gives me a raging hard-on for myself. I suppose I had better start right now if I am really going to pull this off come October 1. I’m going to hit the floor this second and do a few push-ups.

Uno, dos…” Ugh, I’m in worse shape than I thought. I can just reach the remote control from where I lay prostrate and gasping for air here on the living room floor. As I watch a couple of talk shows I decide that it’s probably better for me just to wait until D-Day and start all of this new Power Me stuff all at once. It’s like jumping into a cold swimming pool. Instead of going in a little at a time it’s best just to dive in all at once—or go find a heated pool.

When I’m finished with making myself into a Nietzsche-esque superman I’ll write a self-help book so all of you lose-oids can see how I did it. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that you can do it too because we all know that self-help books are total horse shit and have never done a thing for any living soul—except those on the right (cha-ching) side of the sales transaction.

You are probably asking yourself if I will have time for you when my new Master of the Universe life begins. Sure I will. I have an hour set aside every other Wednesday for charity-volunteer work. I’ll bring you some new mittens. If my schedule is too backed up to come by I’ll just air drop a load of mittens over your entire neighborhood. Gotta go.