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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

¿Algo Más?

¿Algo Más?, or “anything else?,” is what you hear every time after your order has been filled at the market. My Spanish has improved by leaps and bounds since I arrived here some ten months ago. Just the other day I explained to a Spanish friend in great detail about the mortgage crisis in America and how this is playing havoc on the exchange rate here in Europe (If I had known before I left just how poorly the dollar was going to fare, I would have converted all of my savings into half-off pizza coupons). My Spanish is pretty good these days but I still don’t know how to say “no” when someone asks me, “¿Algo más?”

I just want to fit in; I just want to be anonymous. How can I do this when I go to the market and buy such puny amounts of food? I don’t even have one of those cool market baskets on wheels than any self-respecting Spanish shopper takes with them when they go to buy groceries. I sometimes feel like I am the only person in this country who cooks only for himself.

I very rarely just order the exact amount that I need for whatever I have planned to cook for that day. Today, for example, I had everything that I needed and I was on my way out the door of the market when I noticed a type of chorizo that I hadn’t seen before in one of the butcher stalls. I bought two big links, “just to try,” as I told the woman working there. When she asked me if I wanted anything else I felt like I wasn’t even in control of myself any more. I ordered four hamburger patties. Just when I plan on getting around to eating these wasn’t clear to me then and is even more of a mystery now that I have had time to inventory the contents of my bursting-at-the-seams refrigerator.

I now live with two Spanish women who don’t give me much help in consuming the vast amount of food I buy and cook regularly. I think that more food falls off of my plate on to the floor than both of them eat, combined, during the same meal. I have even started using the marker board in our kitchen, like the restaurant chalkboards you see all over Europe that announce the daily specials, to advertise what I have cooked and that I need help eating it. If they don’t get on board the leftbanker gravy train I may end up as the “before” picture in some weight loss program.

I buy big pans, really big. My paella pan is big enough to roast a whole pig, something I plan on doing some day when I can catch one of those slippery little fellas. Spanish people cook a lot with these cool clay baking dishes. When I went out to buy one I measured my oven so that I could buy the biggest one that it could hold. Back in Seattle I had a pot for making stock that was as big as those cauldrons the cannibals in the cartoons used to try to cook Bugs Bunny. I could have used it as a sort of low-rent hot tub. I think my quest for size in cooking is not some sort of over-compensation for my diminished sense of masculinity. The only part of my body that isn’t big enough for my liking is probably my liver, but that’s only because of the amount or red wine I drink over here. My fetish for bigness in cookware is probably because I have never got over the fact that although I come from a large family, I have remained single and childless.

Shopping and cooking have become two of my favorite pastimes here in Spain. I like them both more than eating, but I like eating a lot, a lot. Some men restore old motorcycles or build model train sets. I go to the market and pester anyone there who will talk to me. The gorgeous woman who sells me my eggs told me a story today about how her mother used to make her a treat to take to school that was bread soaked in red wine with sugar on top. You can’t make that stuff up. My butcher gave me his recipe for pork stock. The woman at the vegetable stand told me how many potatoes to put in my tortilla de patatas (it seems like an awful lot of potatoes but I’m going to trust her on this). I used to have to walk six or seven blocks to get to my old neighborhood market. Now I can practically trip from my front door step and fall into the Ruzafa Market. I think that I will be there almost daily.

I take shortcuts through the market when I am on the other side coming home. This could prove to be dangerous as I already have toxic levels of pork in my system and it wouldn’t kill me to walk the extra steps around the outside of the market. But the market is fun, the market is exciting, it’s where everyone goes. It’s like a disco during the daylight hours. There is no cover charge but if you’re like me, you’ll always spend more than you planned.

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