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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Summer Menu Changes

Summer Menu Changes

It is officially summer and it is officially very hot, but only if you are standing directly in the sun. My place has air conditioning but like most Spaniards, I don't bother turning it on—not yet, anyway. I sleep well with just a quietly oscillating fan pointed in my general direction; instead of being a shock to the system, a dive in the Mediterranean is a welcome relief from the heat; tomatoes are riper and fatter than ever; cold beer tastes better; bike rides are shorter and sweatier; and the summer menu is now in full swing.

Forget about using the oven. Even cooking on top of the stove is to be avoided at all costs, at least during the day. I don't even turn it on to make coffee in the afternoon, switching instead to a favorite beverage that is the national summertime drink in Greece but unknown here in Spain: the frappé. Spaniards will mix ice with their coffee during the summer months but that is a very imperfect substitute for an ice-cold frappé.

In a cocktail shaker add ½ cup of milk to a cup of water. Add ice, Nescafé instant coffee and sugar. Shake vigorously and pour into a tall glass. Drink it with a straw.

A frappé is foamy and sweet and perfect on a summer afternoon. Unfortunately, they don't drink them in Spain so I have to make them myself at home. When I lived in Greece I would have to say that drinking a frappé at some little café on an island was about as close as I have ever come to perfection in this life. Now that the afternoon temperatures are soaring I try to get to that same place whenever I am at home to make a frappé for myself—I don´t believe I heaven but I know how to get there.

I made my first huge batch of gazpacho yesterday. Once I have my first taste of gazpacho in the summer I can't get enough. I will have a glass two or three times a day. I hope it's good for me but when it comes to my vices, I really don't care.

I rarely drink any sort of alcohol before evening, and it's much too hot to drink wine in the afternoon, but it's hard to turn down a glass of sangría. Sangria is something rather unique to Spain. I never came across anything similar in Greece, Italy, or France, but I may be wrong. There are as many different recipes for sangria as there are people making it. The important thing is that it be served cold and that some sort of red wine makes it into your glass accompanied by fruit. The rest is up to personal interpretation.

Preferably in a ceramic pitcher, add red wine, a bit of Spanish brandy, lemon and orange juice along with slices of both fruits, any other sliced fruit that sounds good to you, sugar, cinnamon stick, and top off with something like 7UP. Serve very chilled.

I subsist on cold salads this time of year. I made something yesterday with olives, tuna, hard-boiled eggs, onions, red and green peppers, navy beans...I think you get the idea. I basically cleaned out my refrigerator and cupboards, threw it into a bowl, and dished it on to a plate.

Monday, June 16, 2008

El Cabañal / Les Arenes

(Haz clic en el título para ver más fotos)

Just when I think that I have seen absolutely everything there is to see in Valencia, just when I feel a bit jaded with my new home, I have my eyes opened to an area of the city that I thought that I already knew well. The barrios of El Cabañal (written “El Cabanyal” in Valenciano) and Les Arenes run along Valencia's beautiful Malvarosa Beach. Valencia is probably one of the few cities in the world in which the wealthy inhabitants don't want to live on the waterfront. This area of Valencia has been in decay for many years but is rapidly showing signs of gentrification (I'm not sure that word exists in Spanish, nor do I know the Spanish equivalent). This past weekend the excellent (at times) Spanish TV program Callejeros did a feature on El Cabañal which has made this area the focus of countless conversations in Valencia.

It is a very interesting area architecturally with countless examples of modernist style homes. What sets this area apart from the rest of the city are the one and two story homes in most of the neighborhood, instead of the larger apartment buildings found in the rest of the city. It's has the feel of a funky beach town mixed with a gypsy camp. Most of the life here goes on in the street, more so even than the rest of the city. I have never passed through this part of town without hearing guitars playing people singing mournful flamenco ballads. People here use the sidewalks are extensions of their living rooms. Whenever I ride my bike through El Cabañal I feel like I am passing homes without walls.

This week's episode of Callejeros brought you into the homes in this area, for better or for worse. I was cracking up laughing at times when the journalists simply walked up to a door, knocked, and then asked if they could enter with the film crew. People would allow them to enter their apartments, many of which were pretty funky: junk everywhere, filthy toilets, half-dressed family members, you name it. This area is probably one of the poorest in Valencia with some streets looking like a gypsy camp out in the country. Goats and chickens can be found in some of the vacant lots littered with trash. There are a couple of streets I pass on my bike rides that are particularly colorful, if by colorful I mean naked children running around, and mothers who don't look to be more than 16 years old screaming after them. I'll have to look up the Spanish word for “squalor” and "squalid." Those words would be "mugre" and asqueroso," respectively—two words that I already knew as it turns out.

But as I said, this area runs right into one of the finest beaches you'll ever see next to a large city. Besides the great location you have some really cool architecture from the 1930-40s. For every crappy gypsy squat you probably have a couple dozen incredibly cool homes that have been restored to the old splendor, and then some. What I am seized with while riding around admiring these old city homes is an acute sense of patio envy. Just look up and you can see rooftop terraces complete with palm trees, not to mention stunning views of the Mediterranean. In my opinion that's just about the best thing this life has to offer.

There are now two streetcar lines linking this area with the center of Valencia, not to mention a half a dozen bus lines and two bike trails. The adjacent port has also been recently overhauled and in August the Formula 1 circuit will be up and running for the Valencia Grand Prix. I would say that El Cabañal's reputation as a sort of rough area of Valencia are numbered.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

World's Best Goalkeeper?

Eurocopa Update

After watching two great games last night in the Eurocopa I thought I would scribble out a few lines about what to expect from the next round of Group C which includes the following match-ups this Tuesday. Both games begin at 20:45:

Holland (6) vs Romania (2)
France (1) vs Italy (1)

(number in parenthesis are points thus far)

Holland has already defeated both Italy and France and they are the decided leader of Group C going into the quarter finals. Not only will they empty their bench in their game against Romania but if Romania still cannot manage a goal against the Dutch scrubs then I would look for an own-goal from Holland. There is no way they are going to allow either France or Italy to advance. I would be shocked if Holland wins or allows the game to end in a draw.

Italy played a fantastic game against Romania, one of the better offensive exhibitions that I've witnessed all year. Unfortunately for Italy, the Romanian goalkeeper, Bogdan Lobont, had one of the finest games I've ever seen a goalkeeper play—unless you are counting the keeper on the other end of the pitch during this same game, Juventus superstar, Gianluigi Buffon, who stopped a penalty kick late in the game to keep Italy in the tournament. Lobont was like a player in the middle of a Space Invaders game gone horribly wrong. Instead of missiles, he was being bombarded with kicks and headers, mostly from Luca Toni (Toni is on my shit list for having dismantled Getafe's chances in the UEFA).

This afternoon at 18:00 we have Spain and Sweden. Everyone in Spain is as high as a kite after their lopsided victory over Russia, but Russia may be the weakest team in Group D. The Spanish television station broadcasting the games has been running absolutely shameless and rather unsportsmanlike advertising spots for the games. During half-time in the Spain-Russia game when Spain was leading 2-0 (I think) Canal Cuatro had a notice saying that “The Russian fillet is half cooked.” Not only rather unsportsmanlike, but it's just bad luck and bad manners to talk shit. For the run-up to the game with Sweden, Cuatro has had spots with a cartoon replica of Abba with their knees shaking with the caption “The fear us.” Once again, bad form and bad luck.

I like Spain's chances in the tournament but if I were a betting man I'd have to take Holland. It's very early still and anything goes. ¡Vaya España!

Friday, June 13, 2008



There is a huge difference between how Spanish and American cultures view profanity, especially on the official level of television. Where almost no form of foul language can escape the vigilant ears of censors on American TV, almost anything goes—at least linguistically—on Spanish programs. I just finished watching one of my favorite talk shows here in Spain called Buenafuente. Normally this show airs at midnight but there are also weekly recaps that come on in the morning. On this particular episode the host and namesake of the program, Ignacio(?) Buenafuente, was interviewing Pancracio Celdrán, Catedrático del Taco or professor of obscenities. He is the author of El Gran Libro del los Insultos. Not only did they cover just about every Spanish vulgarity, but they also spent quite a while talking about the word “fuck” in English.

Could you even imagine if anyone ever said “fuck” on an American TV show? First of all, at least three little old ladies in Alabama would drop dead. But that would never happen because the censors would bleep it out and then make the producers of the show wash the video in bleach before allowing it to be aired. Afterwards they would wash out the mouth of the guilty swearer with soap. I just finished reading a long report about the strength of America's right to freedom of expression compared to almost every other Western democracy, so why do we get so bent out of shape over profanity? Your right to free speech in America evidently does not cover yelling “Cocksucker!” in a crowded theater. Does being protected from vulgarity on television make us more civilized?

I don't think that Spanish people, on average, swear any more or less than American people, and when I say American people I don't include myself because I swear more than anyone I have ever met—at least anyone I have ever met who wasn't in the American military. Tourettes Syndrome-like swearing seems to be a by-product of military service, like some sort of phantom Gulf War disease. Although it isn't apparent to me that Spanish people swear any more or less than Americans, I would say that obscenities are more accepted and used by a larger percentage of the population.

Certain words like mierda (shit) and puta (whore) are used with almost alarming frequency in Spain. Hardly an episode of Family Guy (Padre de Familia) goes by without the word mierda being used, and I don't think this is a direct English translation. Profane words hardly seem to make a bleep on the radar in Spanish life unless they are used in a hostile or aggressive fashion.

Besides mierda, the other thing you hear a lot is puta and hijo de puta (son of a whore) which is one of the big insults in the Spanish-speaking world. I'm surprised that there isn't a protest organization here called something like Mothers of Sons of Whores to stand up for the rights of those being insulted. Being the son of a whore doesn't sound like the worst thing in the world to me, but I come from an English-speaking country. For me it sounds kind of glamorous—at least it would if mom were one of those high-profile hookers. Anyway, it sounds more fun than being the son of a virgin.

Take those seven words George Carlin says you can't say on American TV, put them all in one sentence, and you could say that on a Spanish talk show, even in prime time. There's even a popular show called “Without Tits There's no Heaven” (Sin Tetas no Hay Paraíso). I've never seen the show. I guess that the premise is just too obvious for me, I mean, come on, heaven without boobs? Of course not. My point being that there ain't no tits on the radio nor on American TV, not physically and not even the word. We do do violence, however, and lots of it. Spain has yet to really catch up to us as far as this fascination with graphic violence is concerned. I'll leave that irony for another essay.

Buenafuente mentioned that he thought that the richness of English was being lessened by the over-use of the word “fuck” in the modern, English-speaking world. I don't know his level of English but if his English is anything less than very good this may be explained by the fact that you will hear words in another language that you know, and not hear those you don't—if that makes sense. If you know the word “fuck” in English you will hear it every time it is spoken, which may seem like a lot but it really isn't. What you aren't hearing is all of the words you don't know. If all you know of Spanish is puta and mierda, it will seem like people are saying these words a lot. I certainly wouldn't say that English or Spanish speakers swear any more than the other. What I will say is that—at least in America—we show a lot of phony puritan concern for profanity in the public sector, especially on the airwaves.

There is a wonderful scene on an episode of The Wire in which detectives Bunk and McNaulty investigate a crime scene while only using the word “fuck” in every and all of its almost countless nuances. What the scene illustrates (besides their great police work) is that profanity is not much more than linguistic sawdust.* It is simply filler that has no purpose other than to fill the space between words which actually are meant to carry meaning.

My father once told me that children shouldn't use profanity when adults were around. He knew better than to think that kids weren't going to swear. That's like expecting kids not to misbehave or set stuff on fire. That's what kids do. My father passed away before he was able to give me advice about using profanity as an adult. The funny thing is, I swear worse than a pirate in English (or better than one, depending on your point of view) but in Spanish I choose not to swear. I just think that profanity sounds dumb with an accent. I still have to think before I say a lot of stuff when I speak Spanish. If I had to think before I spoke English I would rarely choose to employ profanity. In my native language the filth just sort of leaks out, it's the sawdust that fills the cracks in conversation.

How anyone could possibly be truly offended by profanity is strange to me but I suppose that's because I'm not exactly the delicate sort. I don't have to keep smelling salts in my purse for fear that I may swoon when someone says “shit” or “fuck” in the course of conversation. Making a big deal out of profanity is like when parents make a big fuss when they hear their young children use foul language. No matter how you feel about profanity, it's part of the language and it's here to stay. Pretending it doesn't exists just seems silly to me, but what the fu%# do I know?

*I wish I could take credit for that great bit of word coinage. I came across it in a text book on English grammar.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

From the Bookshelf

I have been trying to read Spanish and Latin American literature but I find that reading works translated into Spanish are less of a linguistic challenge for me, even at this stage of my learning curve. It took me almost a week to struggle through 126 pages of the Gabriel García Márquez novel Crónica de una Muerte Anunciada. I followed that with a Spanish translation of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (El Curioso Incidente del Perro a Medianoche). I was able to crank out this 264 page book in three days and I hardly needed to look up a word. Now I am reading Primo Levi's novel, Si ahora no, ¿cuando? (If not now, when? Or the oiginal Italian, Si non ora, quando?).* It is also proving to be easy to read for me.

I'm sure the day will come when I am able to read almost any Spanish work without too much difficulty. I wouldn't say that day is going to get here any time soon. In the meantime I'll keep struggling with the more challenging works and breeze through the translations. The important thing for the student of Spanish is to read...a lot. Reading is the best vocabulary builder and the best place to see a lot of different grammar patterns. Reading also reinforces vocabulary that you may have already learned. I may know the meaning to a lot of words but this doesn't necessarily mean that I have been able to incorporate them into my spoken Spanish. If I have a somewhat tenuous grasp of a word and then I see it again in print, this usually clarifies the meaning for me. Having the word in context is always better than just reading a definition.

Aseo, letrina, váter, inodoro, retrete, servicios are all Spanish words for “toilet,” all useful words when traveling. If you are asking for the restrooms you would only use aseos or servicios. I remember one time in Seattle I was in a bar and a foreign guy walked up to me and asked, “Eh...toilet?” I had to be a smart-ass so my answer was, “Yeah, I guess this place is a toilet but it's close to my apartment and the people here are pretty cool.” Remember, the important thing is that I think that I am funny. Perhaps my sense of humor is just too sophisticated for your tastes. In that joke I acted like I had confused his request for directions to the bathroom with a pejorative statement about the bar we were in. None of this has anything to do with learning Spanish.

The most difficult thing about learning Spanish is knowing that there will never be a finish line, there will be no banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished.” The good news is that learning Spanish won't take nearly as long as the war in Iraq, that and the food is better here. Some days I feel extremely comfortable in Spanish and other days I think it would be easier for me to communicate through tap dancing and farting—if I can steal a line from Kurt Vonnegut.

*I have this cool new computer with the spico keyboard which gives me instant access to letters like ñ, á, í, and even ü—umlauts are so cool, I use them whenever possible. I'll have to start writing a lot more I Spanish or this computer will seem like a waste of money.

Monday, June 09, 2008

My Definitive Recipe for Arroz al Horno

Baked rice is probably my favorite Valencian recipe, if not my favorite Spanish dish, if not one of my all-time favorite meals. I prefer it to paella if for no other reason than that I don't really have the stove needed to cook a huge pan of paella, a dish that requires a constant heat to the whole pan—at least to do it well. Traditional paella is usually cooked over a wood fire for this reason. Arroz al Horno, as the name states, is cooked in the oven. An oven I got.

I have made this dish more than just about any other dish in my repertoire—perhaps once a week. I have developed my own tricks for it and my Arroz al Horno is pretty damn good, just ask anyone who has tried it, and all my friends have tried it. Mine recipe detours a bit from the traditional method on just a couple points. I love potatoes so I use more potatoes than you will find in traditional Arroz al Horno. I cover the entire baking dish with potatoes. I also brown them and they always come out great. The potatoes act like a heat shield—just like on the space shuttle. The spuds protect the other, more delicate ingredients. I don't use bacon. I love bacon but it's really not necessary in this dish. Other than that mine is your typical Spanish granmother's Arroz al Horno.

Arroz al Horno

2 cups rice (I use Fallera Valencian rice)
5 cups stock (chicken, beef, or pork will do)
3-4 Chorizo sausages
3-4 Morcilla sausages (I sometimes substitute blanquet sausages)
Pork ribs cut into cubes
5 plum tomatoes
1 ½ cup cooked garbanzo beans (I use a 400g. jar)
1 bulb of garlic
3 large potatoes
Saffron, salt

Begin by peeling the potatoes. Boil them until they are just a bit tender. Remove from the water.

Heat the stock to a boil. Add the pre-cooked garbanzos and when stock returns to a boil take it off the heat and add the saffron. You want everything to be hot that goes into the baking dish.

Cook the ribs in olive oil until they are browned but not over-cooked. Remove. Slice the chorizo into bite-size bits and cook them. Remove and put the meat in the baking dish.

Trim the tops from the plum tomatoes and slice them into thirds along their width. Season both sides of each slice with salt and a bit of oregano.

Sauté the rice in olive oil as you would with risotto. Stir constantly. When it has cooked a bit add it to the baking dish.

Pour the stock with the garbanzos into the baking dish. Stir the contents of the dish so everything is mixed well.

Add the tomato slices to the dish. Lay the morcilla sausages around the dish. Place the garlic bulb in the center.

Slice the potatoes at about ¼ inch thickness and lay them on top of everything else in the baking dish. Salt the top of the potatoes.

Place the dish into a pre-heated oven at about º190. When the tops of the potatoes begin to brown remove the dish, flip the potatoes, season the tops, and return the dish to the oven. When the tops of the other side of the potatoes are browned a bit, cover the dish with aluminum foil. Remove the dish when the stock has evaporated.

Changes in the American Dream

Gasoline prices reached a national average of $4 a gallon for the first time over the weekend according to a story in The New York Times. That's a lot for America but actually pretty cheap for standards in Spain and the rest of Europe. The problem is that a lot of the American lifestyle over the past half-century or more has been predicated on the idea of cheap gas. Americans have been foolishly buying enormous vehicles for the past decade without ever considering what would happen if the price of gas were to suddenly double, and it has suddenly doubled—and then some. Unwise choices have also been made in the area of housing.

Since the end of WWII Americans have been abandoning the cities to live in single family homes in the suburbs. Many people commute very large distances every day to reach their jobs so that they can enjoy the American dream of a single family home with a huge yard. With gas at $4 a gallon this whole house of cards is beginning to crash. People are finding it difficult to fill the tans of their gas-guzzlers, commuting is eating away at paychecks, and even mowing the lawn with a gas mower is beginning to sting pocket books.

I think that higher gas prices are the best thing that could happen to America. There's no other way to convince people to make sane decisions about where they live and what they drive. Higher fuel prices will force people to live closer to where they work and shop, it may even convince them to use a bicycle for transportation. What a hippie idea that is! Unfortunately, we should have allowed ourselves the luxury to gradually tax gas prices until they had reached current levels. We could have used the windfall from fuel taxes to build public transport and to create the necessary infrastructure for a more dense population environment. Right now we are just pissing all of our money away to the oil companies and OPEC. I suppose this is part of the Bush strategy of defeating our enemies by making them sinfully wealthy. Think about how rich Iran is becoming every time you fill up.

For a good part of my adult life I have chosen to live a fairly urban life, or one in which a bicycle is a logical mode of transportation. I don't own a car here in Spain and don't plan on it any time soon. My bike, the metro, and trains are all I need to get from A to B—not to mention walking. When I lived in Seattle I had a car but used it mainly for recreation. I would have preferred to take a train to visit the mountains near Seattle but train service is rather spotty there. Then and now I am not too concerned with high fuel prices. If you are commuting 20-30 miles a day I would imagine that you fuel bills are eating you alive. As with the mortgage crisis, I'm sure that conservatives in America are now blaming poor people for the poor decisions they have made in what they drive and where they live. I would say that they were just following orders.

Allowing Americans to come to informed decisions on matters effecting their well-being is not really part of the play book in the era of advertising. If this were true people would never buy anything they don't want or don't need. Where would America be if that were true? The entire retail house of cards would come tumbling down if everyone made wise purchasing decisions. Hell, folks might even start saving money if they'd stop buying crappy exercise equipment that they never use.

Had our government done something to encourage to people to buy sensible vehicles and to live in environmentally responsible cities we could have avoided the blackmailing being done by Exxon and OPEC. We can thank the conservatives for allowing this problem to be completely ignored in America. Ronald Reagan axed all of Jimmy Carter's plans to develop alternate energy forms. You can look it up. If we had continued along this path since 1979 we would probably be in a lot better position to deal with higher oil prices, instead we are bleeding from every orifice. Over the years conservatives have done a great job of making profane words like conservation and environmentalism. They laugh at global warming, one of the biggest threats to the human race. They deny the findings of a consensus of the world's scientists on this matter. Conservatives have fought against mass transit initiatives everywhere they pop up. Consequently, most American cities have pretty poor mass transit, if any at all. The chickens are coming home to roost as we hand over out national wealth for OPEC.

Fuel prices are causing problems here in Spain but they paid a lot for gas for a long time. Their lifestyle is already pretty stingy when it comes to energy consumption. I don't know anyone who actually owns a clothes dryer or an SUV. Most people here drive cars that make the new Mini Coopers look like stretch limos, walk everywhere, hang dry clothes, recycle everything, and basically live a pretty green lifestyle dictated by economic factors. Americans are going to be forced to swallow a pill all at once that Europeans have been chewing slowly for decades. I would say “better late than never” but there never was gong to be a “never” in this scenario. We all should have known this day was coming. It's fucking here, folks, and it's not leaving. Gas prices will never return to $1.50 a gallon. Get used to it. Trade in your V8 SUV for a compact...or a bike.

We need to invent a new and improved American dream. Instead of the house in the suburbs with a picket fence we'll trade it for a city apartment within walking distance of restaurants and museums. Instead a huge car we'll start taking the bus. I've been living this way for a long time and I can tell you that it's a great way to live.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Eurocopa 2008

Euro Copa 2008 is underway which means a whole lot of football for the next three weeks until the final on June 29. It's an orgy of games, especially during the first round of the group selections when there are TWO games PER DAY! Sorry, was I shouting? OK, I have to calm down a bit or I'll never make it to the finals. A couple of deep breaths and I'll be completely composed. But then I start thinking about Spain's chances this year and their first game against Russia. Do you really think Spain can go all the way this year? Why not? Why the fuck not? Ooohhh, sharp stabbing pain in chest ... must ... eat... less... pork. Not to worry, I just needed to let out a big burp; too much junk food during last night's two games.

I would say that the mood here in Spain is one of very guarded optimism, and when I mean “guarded” I mean that the Spanish have put their optimism in a fortress with 50 meter walls and a moat around it and they are willing to throw their optimism—kicking and screaming—from the highest towers of that fortress at the first sign of defeat. I saw a video on youtube encouraging Brits to support Spain in the Eurocopa as their selection didn't qualify. I have also heard a song here to the tune of the Spanish national anthem that begins with words of hope for the Spanish team and then ends with Spain being defeated in the early rounds. The Spanish are then prodded to support teams that will still be in it.

It's going to be pretty frantic around here for the next few weeks so if you don't here from me just call 9-11 and send over an ambulance for me. Thanks. Until I do drop dead I'll be dividing my time between my apartment, where I can watch one of the daily matches, and the bars that have pay cable TV for the other game. It will be grueling—mostly for my intestinal track and my liver but this is when all of that training will really pay off for me.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Long Range Planning and Dead Ends

Long Range Planning and Dead Ends

I like to think that I take the long view of life, I see the big picture. I try not to let the splendor of the moment interfere with my obsession with eternal nothingness and death—whichever of those comes first. I think that enjoying the present gets in the way of my far-sighted goal of building a pyramid to honor my legacy when I am gone. I'm making it out of plastic water bottles so it won't erode like those low-rent pyramids made of stone.

I was worrisome even as a first grader. I remember my first trip to the school nurse after I cut my knee sliding after a ball on the asphalt playground. Most kids may have been concerned that the injury I received may have needed stitches. I asked the nurse to answer a simple question for me and not sugar-coat it: Even with this rather unsightly gash on my knee, would I still be able to have an open casket at my funeral, whenever that might be? If my injury would require that I be cremated, I don't know how I would be able to break this disappointing news to my parents. They just wanted the best for me and now another dream of theirs was shattered.

I just read a science article about how the universe is going to end. How am I supposed to act out this charade of a life even when we know that so little time is left? Scientists say we only have something like 15-20 billions years. I'm a realist so this probably means 15 billion years, tops. The Pollyanna's predicting 20 billion years just seem like hippie dreamers to me. I may as well max out a couple more credit cards; I won't be around to worry about paying them off thanks to this whole reverse big bang thing. I'll get a couple of pay movie channels while I'm at it. Fuck it, what's the difference?.

I was supposed to get a haircut today but why bother? I'll bet that even those plucky band members on the Titanic didn't bother getting a haircut after the shit hit the fan. Between sets the musicians probably took advantage of the Titanic's little-known post-iceberg-collision, open bar policy (as sad and depressing as it is to consider the fate of those valiant performers, I take comfort in the fact that since this was in 1912, at least they didn't have to play Hotel California). If there was any sort of decency in the world we'd have an open bar here on earth while we're sitting around waiting for the universe to come crashing in on us like a galactic tsunami. Instead, I'll cash in my retirement and just settle for happy hour somewhere. I hope there's a game on while I'm waiting.

I hate it that you have to buy 10-15 minute blocks of time at most parking meters. 10-15 minutes? Don't they know about the collapsing universe? Why can't you buy parking in increments of 10-15 seconds? What kind of person can plan ahead 15 minutes in these times of uncertainty and rapid change? I would feel like such a fucking idiot if I put 15 minutes worth of change in the meter and then an asteroid crashed into me at Starbucks. If I come back to my car and there is time left I will sit and listen to the radio until the meter expires. If I paid for it I'm going to use it.

For lack of a better metaphor let's just say that when the meter runs out for us in the universe you can be sure that tickets will be issued, there will be a fines to pay—at least if you believe in religion. I suppose that being an atheist is the moral equivalent of not paying for parking and gambling that there isn't a meter maid on duty.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Pervo Returns

He's Back!

Yes, after months of dormancy the public masturbator was present yesterday on the Carril Bici at Pinedo Beach. I wrote about this creep some months back. He likes to stand just off the bike path and wank off to unsuspecting cyclists. Most people just ignore him and keep riding but I like to think of myself as a bit more civic-minded than most folks. I also believe it is the duty of the strong to stand up to bullies. I don't think anyone really cares to see a middle-age man masturbating in public but most folks don't want to get involved or they feel threatened by this highly aggressive act.

The first time I caught him doing his show I threw some rather large rocks at him and threatened to kick his ass if he returned. He came back just a few days later. He either didn't believe me or he weighed in favor of getting his rocks off in public yet another time. The next time I had my camera and I threated to take his picture. This got rid of him for a long time...until yesterday.

There he was standing at the abandoned factory that the trail skirts on this section of the beach. He was going at it and apparently didn't recognize me. I immediately stopped, took out my camera, and starting shooting. I caught him just as he was turning around and running for his fucking life. “¡Corre, puto, corre!” I hollered after him (run, you little bitch). Someone has to take out the trash.

The thing is, there are plenty of places at the beach that offer privacy—at least from the general public's view. I'm sure there are spots at the beach where this sort of behavior is not only acceptable but welcomed, but not right on my bike trail. Sorry, pervo.

“Hey pervo, I hope your miserable parents see this photo.”

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Músicos Callejeros

Músicos Callejeros (street musicians)

I have wanted to be a street musician in Europe since my first trip here as a college sophomore on a summer school program in Dijon, France. Another kid in the program played guitar and sang. He would sit in the courtyard of the Pompidou Center in Paris and play. He was a very good blues musician and he did pretty well, well enough to pay for his bar-hopping later in the evening. Another friend of mine in Seattle plays classical guitar and he will sometimes play in the street just for kicks. Once again, he's pretty damn good and he did pretty well on his street gigs. I think this is just about the coolest thing in the world and about the remotest thing in the world for me. I can't sing very well and I don't have the best of relations with my chosen musical instrument.

I remember several years ago I had just arrived in Paris from Amsterdam. I got on the metro from the Gare du Nord and a couple of gypsies entered the car and started playing violin and accordion. It was so utterly Parisian that I almost cried. Instead I butched-up and gave them a few coins. I think that I must be one of the few people in the world who actually loves accordion music.

Here in Valencia we have our fair share of street musicians. The kid in the photograph plays a great renaissance recorder. There are lots of gypsy-types playing accordion. I have found that most of the older accordionists you encounter in the street don't speak Spanish. If you want to know the name of a song they are playing you have a better chance of just pulling the name out of thin air than actually communicating with the musician.

I almost always give money to street musicians and sometimes I will even sit and listen to them if they are good. I was in a café listening to an old gypsy play when he played an old tango that I recognized but the name escaped me. I asked him and met with a formidable language barrier that I couldn't cross with any of the dialects I can manage. Luckily, one of the other café patrons recognized the name of the song as La Cumparsita made famous by Carlos Gardel. The old gypsy couldn't tell me the name of the song but he played it for me again. I haven't seen him around lately so I imagine he does what it is gypsies do best, he has moved on.

I saw a program on television the other night about a group of young street performers who live in an abandoned medieval village. Some of them perform acrobatics but most of the vagabonds are musicians who travel all around Europe throughout the year when they aren't squatting in the abandoned village. It looked like a terribly romantic life and something I'd probably like to try right up until I need a good, hot shower (or internet access). I also lack the required skills to make a living on the street.

You don't see many street pianists. I could probably push my piano into the hall and take it down to the street on the elevator. It would be a pain in the ass but I could actually do it. I certainly have heard worse music being played in the street than you'll hear coming from my instrument. I think what I'd really like to do is try my hand at the accordion. I'm not kidding. How hard could it be to play an accordion? The hardest part is convincing your friends your not some sort of spaz.