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Monday, October 27, 2008

Flea Market Free-For-All



Flea Market Free-For-All

With the change in weather I have realized that I don't have much in the way of warm clothes. The biggest gap in my wardrobe is in the line of dress shorts and sweaters. I hate shopping for clothes and I am more comfortable swimming underwater than breathing the fetid air of a department store. If wish I could buy clothes online but Spain isn't really equipped for that. Every Monday there is a flea market in the streets in my neighborhood. You can buy just about anything in one of the stalls, everything from underwear to pet supplies to shoelaces. I had great luck this summer buying athletic clothing so I thought I would give the flea market a shot at revamping my fall/winter wardrobe.

Walking past the market stalls you hear the barking of the individual merchants hawking their wares. “Un euro, un euro, todo por un-eurito (one euro, everything for one little euro),” being the most common thing heard. Some vendors are a little more creative in their sales pitches. I heard one guy this morning shouting at an old woman walking past his stall selling curtain fabric, “ Hola guapa. Ven a abusarme (Hello, beautiful! Come over and abuse me).” I always make a point of walking through the market even if I don't want to buy anything. It's pretty entertaining.

Today I found a stall selling men's clothing. They had a big table piled high with shirts, sweaters and jackets. Everything was going for 2€, or 3 for 5€. I found a shirt I liked so I decided to try it on over the shirt I was wearing. It was a little cool this morning so I was wearing my leather sport coat. I took off my jacket to try on the shirt. I laid the jacket on the table and pulled the shirt over my head. It fit perfectly and as I was admiring my new shirt I noticed that a guy next to me was trying on my jacket. I was laughing so hard I had a hard time telling him that he had on my coat. I did tell him that it looked great on him. He didn't seem to be particularly impressed with the leather spor coat he was about to buy for 2€.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Bike Ride Videos

Virtual Bike Rides: El Saler beach to Valencia and Downtown Valencia



This ride is through Valencia's historic center.
*Music by J.S. Bach



This is one of my favorite workout rides to the beaches south of Valencia. As you can see, most of it is on the bike path but on this day I had to take a slight detour becuase of a mud slide on the trail.

*Music by Chambao

Friday, October 24, 2008

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Doldrums



Doldrums

The sun is being such a little wimp these days, barely having the guts to show his face. Instead, it just hides on the other side of a curtain of clouds all day like a little sissy kid standing behind his big brother. And speaking of little sissies, the lack of quality light turns my psyche into the nerdy sun's severely anemic best friend. I'm not exactly afraid to go outside, but the weather is certainly more hostile out there than it was just a few short weeks ago. It seems like summer was just yesterday. First I had to wear long pants, then shoes with socks. I wore a coat this morning. What's next? Shoveling the walk? Ice fishing?

While living in light-deprived Seattle I would go to the gym to revamp my batteries. I don't have a gym here, and I know that the sun will be back soon enough, so in the meantime I just languish in these gloomy doldrums. It may even be dry enough for a bike ride today. Talking myself into it is the hard part. I just stuck my hand out the window and it's starting to sprinkle so the bike ride is off for today. I don't know if I'm disappointed or relieved. Can I be both?

The end of summer was really abrupt this year. I remember riding my bike to the beach with no shirt just a couple of weeks ago. The next thing you know my clothes are practically getting moldy on the clothesline after sitting for days in the darkness and chilly humidity. Aren't you required to go through some sort of decompression phase when seasons change from one to the other? Can I get the bends from this year's lack of gradual transition? If one of the symptoms of the bends is laziness, then I already have a severe case.

I still garner a bit of irrational hope that the hot weather will return, like some kid who thinks that his divorced parents will get back together. At this point, I think I have to accept the fact that summer is out of my life, for this year at least. Winter will soon be moving in, like a very unwelcomed stepparent. “You're not my real season. I hate you!” I scream as I slam the door to my room. People say that winter isn't too bad and that I should at least give it a chance. I don't have to do anything and you can't make me.

I hate to whine and live in the past, but summer here in Valencia is such a fantastic season. I have quickly become very warm-blooded, heliotropic, and not really a fan of the rain and darkness. The cold makes my blood thicker than the stuff running through the veins of my turtle. He seems to be weathering the cold a lot better than I have these past couple of weeks. I thought that he'd be slowing down to a crawl but he is swimming his little turtle butt off, cold water and all. November is a lot better—a lot less rain if not much warmer. By the time winter actually rolls around I will have completely acclimatized. Until then I will try to buck up and get through this.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Belgium1, Spain 2


The very familar sight of Villa celebrating after a score.

Belgium 1, Spain 2

The other night during the World Cup qualifying match between Spain and Belgium, the Spanish television announcer said that it has been a great pleasure for him to be able to watch the Spanish squad over the past year or so. I couldn't agree more. It's impossible not to enjoy watching a team that hasn't lost or tied a match in all this time. Wednesday night's game in Belgium was one of the biggest pleasure I have witnessed thus far in their amazing campaign—but perhaps I am forgetting all of those other great matches. Once again, it was Valencia CF forward, David Villa, who came through for Spain, although it's hard to pick out one player for praise in this squad that plays so incredibly well together. Villa's goal came in the last minute to snatch another victory for Spain from the clutches of a draw in a hard fought match.

It's not just the winning that makes this team such a joy to watch. They are incredibly creative at making plays. Cesc Fàbregas, the Arsenal midfielder, is almost too clever for his own very clever teammates with some of the passes he makes. The other players have to be thinking five steps ahead to keep up with where he is likely to place the ball—and he doesn't even start most games.

Belgium scored first and played a very physical game against the smaller Spanish team. Villa got roughed up pretty thoroughly during the match and he even got into a bit of a shoving match with a defender. I couldn't believe that Spain might actually have to settle for a draw. In the end—the very end—he had his revenge taking a perfect pass from Güiza and heading into the goal.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Turning Palaces into Museums


A former Valencian palace in disrepair

Turning Palaces into Museums

If you talk a walk around Valencia's historic district you will notice how people used to live back in the era of aristocracy. However, the opulent palaces of the former monarchs now serve mostly as museums for the citizens of Spain. Between Spanish local and state taxes, rates reach 43% for people earning 53,000€ or more annually. Maintaining a palace with those kind of tax rates would be a bit of a challenge. One the other side of those high taxes, Spain's socialist policies over the past 30 years (along with joining the European Union) have raised living standards for almost all of its citizens. It's not quite the old adage, “a chicken in every pot but two in none,” but it's something like that.

Middle class Americans who have been under the delusion that the American conservative movement has their best interests at heart may finally be coming to their senses. All it took is an almost complete failure of every tenet conservatives have been preaching for the past generation. The conservative movement has been polluting the minds of middle class Americans with myths such as: the private sector is always more efficient than government, therefore we should privatize as many functions of the government as we possibly can; government regulation is bad and hinders industry; taxes suck the lifeblood out of an economy; we should allow people to amass incredible riches because this just demonstrates how well capitalism is working; and Ronald Reagan's moronic credo, “Government isn't the solution, government is the problem.” Along with these myths, Republicans have controlled through outright lies, like when they say that they are more fiscally responsible than Democrats. The pendulum is about to make an abrupt change in direction and it can't happen too soon.

In my opinion, America's ever-growing income disparity between rich and poor is the single most disturbing aspect about our culture and the one that presents the greatest risk to our democracy. It is also a direct result of Republican policies since Reagan. When I say “rich” I don't mean someone who is comfortably well off, I am talking about multi-billionaires, or the hyper-rich. The average income for the top 0.1 percent was $3 million in 2002, that's two and a half times the $1.2 million, adjusted for inflation, that America's new aristocracy reported in 1980. Most middle class Americans have seen their incomes actually shrink.

All citizens still have the right to vote but the privileged few have direct access to the corridors of politics that you and I will never see. An individual voice is considerably stronger if they have the funds to sell their agenda to lawmakers. Once again as with wealthy people, influence will always be a product which and be bought, but America's hyper-rich are seriously distorting our version of democracy—what should be our prized possession as Americans.

Conservatives seem to suffer from an acute case of amnesia when it comes to the kind of world they want to construct. In fact, we have already seen the society they are planning. It is remarkably similar to the America of 100 years ago, a time before income taxes, social security, unemployment insurance, worker safety and environmental laws, and federally insured savings deposits. Do we really want to return to the Gilded Age? We spent most of the last century literally fighting in the streets to change our society for the better and now conservatives want us to return without so much as raising our voices? Do we really want to return to the way we were in America a century ago or like modern day Brazil, do we want to continue on our path of ever-increasing income inequalities? Or do we want to return to the path out country was on before we were derailed by conservative ideology, a path which was followed by European social democracies who have continued leveling their societies and providing for their citizens. Pick just about any measurement you want and we are probably trailing most Western European countries. Don't we as citizens of such a wealthy nation deserve more?

I don't believe for a second that the Republican Party leadership cares at all about abortion, as this is just a wedge they have used to divide American and to help them sucker middle and lower income religious people into believing that they share common ground. People who want to criminalize abortion don't seem to realize that not too long ago this was the way it was in America and we didn't like it. As much as you may hate the idea of abortion, only a total fool or an idiot could believe that criminalizing it again is going to make abortion disappear. It will only make it much less safe. If anti-abortion activists have their way, America can expect to return to a country where illegal abortion was the biggest killer of women of childbearing age. You don't even have to go back in time, you only have to look to our Latin American neighbors to see how things will look if we decide to follow their policies concerning a woman's right to her own reproductive decisions.

It is tragic that so many middle class Americans defend the hyper-rich but what these people don't realize is that the economic pie is only so big. If one percent of the population is taking home 20% of national income, a lot of people are going to come up short on payday. People say that we shouldn't use our tax policies to redistribute income. I couldn't disagree more. We did it before when we first instituted the national income tax system and it immediately brought about a cataclysmic drop in the living standards of the hyper-rich at that time. A lot of mansions on Long Island and in Providence had to close their doors because it just got too expensive to be stinking rich.

Reagan lowered the top tax bracket for the wealthy and since then the mansions have returned with a vengeance. This new breed of hyper-rich make the old families look like squatters. We have baseball players making $25 million a year. Does that sound like how a healthy society should allocate its resources? How about a CEO who makes $20 million a year in a company that loses money for its share holders? Why have CEO salaries in America gone completely through the roof? Where in 1980 CEO salaries were about 42 times those of their workers, they have risen exponentially to 364 in 2006.
In 2007, the CEO of a Standard & Poor’s 500 company received, on average, $14.2 million in total compensation, according to preliminary numbers from The Corporate Library, a corporate governance research firm. The median compensation package received was $8.8 million.*

I can't imagine how these bloated salaries for top corporate officers are not watering down the value of the companies' stocks. And we wonder why corporate America is in such bad trouble.

I think that the increasing disparity in the incomes of Americans since Reagan's “revolution” is harmful to our country for many reasons. It has damaged our reputation as being a society relatively free of class division. When I was growing up there weren't really any rich people in my town. There were some who had more than others but kids all went to the same public high school (besides the few who attended the shitty Catholic high). Universal public education is probably the single most important idea that has defined everything good about our country. That idea is in serious jeopardy when many wealthy families are abandoning public education. There have always been private schools for a few select rich families but that trend has been growing rapidly. College education is becoming alarmingly expensive and is more and more becoming the domain of the rich.

If we are looking for places to spend vast amounts of taxpayers' money, I can't think of a better place to start than revitalizing our public school system and making college more affordable to low income Americans. I think that this war in Iraq has shown that we have the resources to pay for any sort of foolishness imaginable, so to say to citizens that we can't afford necessary things like education and health care is ludicrous. We are the richest nation on earth yet we have been told that supporting education or providing national health care is out of our reach. These are pipe dreams; most European countries provide great health care to their citizens as well as providing free education to the university level. Of course we can afford it; it's simply a matter of choice. It's like someone telling me they can't afford to go on vacation yet they drive around in an expensive new car. They could afford a vacation but they made another choice. America's choice seems to be fighting two pointless wars at the same time. America is either a country of equal opportunity for all or it isn't. A good way to insure that we have equal opportunity is to provide excellent public education to everyone.

*Trends in CEO Pay AFL-CIO

1)Once at 90%, the top marginal tax rate was lowered to 50% in 1982 and eventually to 28% in 1988. However, in the intervening years Congress subsequently increased the top marginal tax rate to 35% (the top marginal tax rate as of 2007).

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

You Call That A School Shooting?

For Pete's sake! Do you call that a school shooting? You're a total disgrace to the breed. You say that you got picked on by the jocks, and that was why you hated athletics, but if we were to put this in baseball terms it would read: Cops 1, Confused Teenage Loser 0. I know that you actually shot yourself, but if you knew anything about sports you would realize that if you put one in your own goal by accident it still counts for the other team. You don't get a “do over.”

All of your classmates pretty much agreed that you were a complete fuck-up. Still, shooting yourself in the groin while pulling the automatic out of your pants? That goes way beyond being a loser. It's absolutely tragic, but in a sort of “ha-ha” funny variety of tragedy. What was that you were ranting just before the accident? “I'll teach all of you.” Teach all of us what, exactly? How NOT to unholster a firearm? How to shoot your own cock off? I'll take a pass on that lesson—never know when that thing can come in handy—no pun relating to a joke about masturbation intended. You may have actually had a chance to use yours if you could have just graduated from high school. You probably could have used your wiener in the prison where you will spend most of what remains of your life except they couldn't find very much of it.

You wanted to shoot up your school to become famous. Now that it's all over, they found out you left a video on youtube to brag about what you were planning. As of today it's been watched over 300 times. Wow, you are almost as famous as what's his name and the other little fuckhead, you know the ones, those two little shit stains who were famous for about a week after they both went nuts. I mean, you weren't even anywhere close to being original about what you tried to do. You will basically be remembered for the maladjusted little creep that you were. Who knows? You may have simply grown out of the dork you were in high school and gone on to do something remotely interesting with you life. If you make enough money it doesn't even matter if you're a dork. I'm afraid that it's a little late for that scenario to pan out for you.

Think about all the time you wasted over the years thinking about how you were going to get your revenge on your classmates. Just about anything else you could possibly imagine would have been a better use of your time. Most of the kids who tormented you over the years will go on to live incredibly pointless lives—that should be revenge enough for you. With all the money you pissed away on guns and ammo you could have hired an expensive prostitute to go with you to the prom. I think I saw that in a high school movie but it still seems like a better idea to me than shooting off your own reproductive organ.

What you never stopped to realize is that just about everyone's life sucks in high school. Everyone lives with mom and dad or some awful combination of that formula. You say that you hate school. Wow! Really? You and about every other kid in the world. Don't like getting picked on? The bullies call your a douche bag? Try taking a few minutes away from your video games and do some push-ups. Besides, most of the morons who do all of the bullying will be in jail, or married with two kids and divorced before most normal people graduate from college. You weren't thinking Big Picture, my man.

Monday, October 13, 2008

My Definitive Recipe for Arroz al Horno*


*unless I make improvements

Baked rice is probably my favorite Valencian recipe, if not my favorite Spanish dish, if not one of my all-time favorite meals. It is also the second most iconic dish in the category of Valencian food, first being paella, of course. 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. People used to cook this in their big neighborhood ovens back when that wasn't a common item in everyone's home.

I have made this dish more than just about any other dish in my repertoire—almost every Sunday during the winter months. I have developed my own tricks for it and my Arroz al Horno is pretty good, just ask anyone who has tried it, and all my friends have tried it. I think that this says more about just how good this dish is when prepared competently than anything about my own cooking ability. It is an easy dish to make if you have someone—let's say your Spanish grandmother—walk you through it once or twice. For all of you out there, allow me to be the Spanish grandmother we never had.

My 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 recipes. I cover almost the entire top of the baking dish with potatoes. 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)
2-3 Chorizo sausages
2-3 Morcilla sausages (I sometimes substitute blanquet sausages)
Pork ribs cut into cubes
4 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 (or don't peel them) I boil them until they are just a bit tender. Most Valencian recipes call for you to slice the potatoes and cook them in a generous amount of olive oil. I think the potatoes come out better if you parboil them first and then slice them

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.

Slice the chorizo into bite-size bits and cook them. Add the chorizo to the baking dish and wipe the fat from the pan with a paper towel.

Cook the lightly salted ribs in olive oil until they are browned but not over-cooked. Remove and put the meat in the baking dish.

Finely dice and onion and a garlic clove for the rice sofrito. Sauté the rice in the rib fat with olive oil, tomato, and garlic as you would with risotto. Stir constantly. When it has cooked a bit and coated thoroughly with the sofrito, add it to the baking dish.

Trim the tomatoes. I use an apple corer to completely remove the middle. Slice the tomatoes in half along their width. Season the cut ends with salt and a bit of oregano.

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 and morcilla 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 except the tomatoes. 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. Remove the dish when the stock has evaporated.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Tortilla-palooza


I realize that this probably makes no sense to anyone but Americans but I couldn't help naming my first tortilla competition “Tortilla-palooza.” I can only imagine the puzzled looks on my Spanish friends' faces as they read the SMS message I sent out the morning of the event: Tortilla-palooza esta noche a las ocho. It isn't really meant to be a competition but more of a celebration of this great Spanish dish of eggs and potatoes. I talk about tortillas all the time and everyone has their own interpretation. This event should shape up to be a mix between The Galloping Gourmet and The Ultimate Fighting Competition.

I should probably get a job cooking for a huge family since shopping for food and preparing it has become one of my favorite things to do here in Spain. I went to the Ruzafa Market and was able to buy food in the quantities that earn respect for you in this place: three kilos of potatoes, two kilos of onions, two kilos of various sausages, a huge bag of olives, two dozen eggs, and four loaves of bread. I would say that I have become rather adept at shopping in the market. It's not like rocket science but I'd like to see a rocket scientist try to out-maneuver some little Spanish grandmother in line at the butcher. The old ladies here would make mincemeat out of those braniacs from NASA. I may not be able to name all twelve planets in our solar system, but at least I can keep from getting punked in line by an 83 year old Spanish woman.

I made my first video while making my tortilla. I have a lot to learn about making videos as you can see from the final product. I missed a few key points in the instruction, partly because I forgot ans partly because my camera woman was MIA. I'll try to do better the next time around. My friend Adrian also made a tortilla. He favors using a lot more egg in his dish and he doesn't use onion. He says that if you use onion then it isn't a tortilla de patatas but a tortilla de patatas con cebollay. I would expect nothing less than gastronomical tyranny from a Valenciano. He told me that he actually learned how make a tortilla properly only when he was in Italy studying in the Erasmus program. He had a housemate from Asturias who instructed him on the Northern Spain method of making a tortilla. He uses even more oil to cook the potatoes than I do. His tortilla was almost a disaster after his first turn but I helped him fix it and the dish came out really well. I was afraid that I might usurp the local boy. I actually told everyone that it wasn't a competition but I was gald to hear that several people preferred his tortilla to mine. I am magnanimous in defeat if I have had enough to eat and drink.

This is my first attempt at making a video with my new camera. I used Windows Movie Maker to edit although I didn’t do much as you can see. I hate having to learn a new program through trial and a hell of a lot of errors. My next video will be more professional and more entertaining—I promise.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

One Vote Cast

One Vote Cast

I take voting pretty seriously. The first time that I was allowed to vote I just had to walk a few steps to our garage as this was the neighborhood polling station back when I was 18 years old. I haven't missed a presidential election. I was wondering how I was going to vote in this election since I no longer have a stateside address. Luckily, Barack Obama and his team answered this question for me. Obama took out an ad in El País a while back directing U.S. citizens living abroad to a website that gives instructions on voting overseas. I suppose that I should have wrote about this a month ago for those who may not have read the Obama ad. I printed up the form from the website, mailed it off to my home state of Washington, and was promptly sent my ballot. I mailed my ballot yesterday.

I have heard people say that this is the most important presidential election in U.S. history. I disagree. The most important election in U.S. history was the 2004 presidential election. I hate to think about how things may have been if Kerry had won.

This time around I think that Obama should be a shoe in. As Chris Rock has pointed out, George Bush has fucked up so badly that he has made it difficult for a white man to run for president. I'm sorry but that is pretty much the rule. If your party has been in power for the last eight years and the country is a disaster, it's time to let someone else run things for a while.

Here is my plan for getting out of Iraq. The very day that Obama takes office he should send a squadron of C5 transport planes to Baghdad, load up every U.S. soldier, and fly the fuck out of that toilet. Everything military we leave behind should be destroyed. I contend that things in Iraq will be worked out more peacefully with US gone. Anyone who says I am wrong has probably been horribly wrong about the war from the start. I have been dead right from before we invaded so pardon me if I think that you are full of shit if you disagree with me.

Monday, October 06, 2008

A Bit About Prices

A Bit About Prices

U.S. Dollar = 1.39 Euro (more or less as of 06OCT08)

The dollar is now stronger than it has been in over a year. It has been rather frustrating watching as prices rise here in Spain while the value of the dollar plummeted. It's a good thing that Spain is inexpensive. This list of prices pretty much covers most of what makes up my budget. I can live on a budget better than anyone I know. I have ever carried and debt. I use my credit card like a checking account and have never paid a cent in interest.

Grocery Shopping:

Dijon mustard 2.18€
Mozzarella .85
Can of tomatoes .75
Loaf of good wheat bread 1.45
Kilo of carrots .65
Rioja wine 1.89
Dry lentils .69
Cream cheese 1.60
Diet Coke .48
Whole chicken 5.50
Half a chicken and a half rabbit for paella 5.50
Rice 1.20
Six pack of beer 2.20
Liter of milk .98
Liter of extra virgin olive oil 3.25
2 kilos of sausages 7.00

Bars and Cafés:

Café con leche 1.20
Bottle of beer 1.50 - 2.00
Glass of wine 1.00 - 2.00
Sandwich 2.50 – 4.00
Slice of tortilla 1.00 – 2.00
Fries 2.00 – 4.00

The daily El País newspaper 1.10

A metro card costs less than 1.00€ per trip.

The only movie theater I go to costs 2.50€ for a double feature

I use my phone very judiciously and I spend less than 5.00€ per month...no kidding.

Apartments go for about 300€ per person.

Tropical fish 2.50€ (Unfortunately, this turned out to be rather expensive turtle food a couple hours after putting it in the turtle tank)

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Diary of a Spanish Student



Diary of a Spanish Student

I have just discovered what could be the biggest technological leap forward in the learning of foreign languages. This new high-tech device will undoubtedly improve my Spanish at an exponential rate and I am looking forward to the quick results. The new technology is the FM radio on my new MP3 player. I listened to Spanish radio all day yesterday and I feel that even after one day my Spanish listening comprehension has improved. I probably should have started listening to the radio long ago but I suppose that my Spanish is just now reaching the level where I am able to actually understand broadcasts in Spanish.

I brought an iPod with me for the purpose of listening to music and books on tape in Spanish. The iPod met with a rather untimely demise after I dropped it my first week in Valencia. Piece of shit technology. Besides the iPod, I have thus far lost two laptops, a 300 gig external hard drive along with everything on it, a digital camera, and some odds and ends. Planned obsolescence is the phrase that comes to mind when I think about my dead tech objects. I suppose that none of these things—with the exception of the external hard drive—were actually meant to live very long.

I want to put audio books in Spanish on my MP3 player but I haven't had much luck finding them. I have dozens and dozens of recorded books in English but have so far only downloaded three in Spanish: Isabel Allende's novel La Ciudad de las Bestias, Don Quijote, and The Da Vinci Code (how to be insulted in TWO languages!). I listened to about five chapters of the Allende novel yesterday. Not a particularly skillful work but I understand almost 100%. The reader speaks with a Latin American accent—not any sort of a problem but I would prefer a Castillian accent being the snob that I am. If anyone reading this knows where to track down more audio books in Spanish, please point me in the right direction.

I watched Stephen Soderberg's Che: El Argentino about Ernesto Guevara's revolutionary struggle in Cuba. This movie seems to be the inspiration for the fictitious movie Medellín in the HBO series Entourage. It is Soderberg's white whale. He seems to have shot the epic without a script as the movie is without much of a story besides the backdrop of the Cuban revolution. There are a lot of parallels between the Che and Medellín especially the part about the final product being somewhat of a disaster. I enjoyed Che for what it was, a language tool for better understanding Cuban Spanish. Benicio del Toro was superb in the movie and even looked quite a lot like Guevara. The movie makes me want to go to Cuba and smoke enormous cigars (I can live the Cuban cigar fantasy right here in Valencia).

I am reading the Mario Vargas Llosa novel Conversación en la Catedral which isn't good, it's absolutely grand. It is the best stream-of-consciousness novel I've ever read. William Faulkner's stories just never resonated with me. Vargas Llosa remains one of my favorite writers in any language.

P.S. My turtle seems to have developed a rather unhealthy relationship with one of the sea shells in his new tank. I think he has made the shell his prison bitch.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Weather Report

It's kind of dull to talk about the weather, no “if”s “and”s or “but”s about it. But I am having a very difficult time letting go of summer this year for some strange reason. I never had this problem in Seattle where the summers are very short and not very hot. I was always ready for the change in seasons which usually happened around the end of September. I have been lamenting the end of summer well before summer has even officially ended this year. I remember back in late August when the really hot weather came to a rather abrupt end and almost overnight it cooled down a few degrees. I really liked those hot, hot days. Don't get me wrong, I was bitching about the heat along with everyone else, but I knew that when the temperature had reached its apex then it was only a matter of time before I would be forced to turn on a bit of hot water with my showers. After that comes wearing long pants, and eventually I would need to start wearing shoes again.

I have yet to wear shoes, even when I cycle I still wear flip-flops. I don't think that my feet are going to like being shod again. I have only worn long pants on one occasion thus far. We had about a week and a half of rain and crappy weather there in late September but now it is sunny again and summer is still showing some vital signs. I rode to the beach yesterday without a shirt. There was barely a soul along the entire route. People here just stop going to the beach as soon as they go back to work after summer vacations. Even if the weather is spectacular on weekends, most folks don't think about going to the beach. I can never get enough of it. It is also the best bike ride in my repertoire.

I know the beach ride so well that I could probably tell you what season we are in just by the smells that I happen upon while riding past the dunes and under the shade of the sea pines. Autumn is a time when everything is coming back to life along the beach after the scorching dry season. After almost two weeks of heavy rain the canes are trying to take over sections of the bike path. The wild flowers in the dunes are gradually springing back to life. The beach itself is purging itself of a summer's worth of hard abuse from the thousands of bathers that covered every square inch of sand for three months. Now there is barely a footprint to be found along long stretches of not-very-remote areas.

The short cold snap we went through completely changed my energy level, for the worse. I missed about five days of riding because of the rain. My blood seemed to get thicker and just slowed...way...down. My turtle has also noticed the change. I don't know if it is because of his new tank or the cooler weather but he doesn't eat much these days. He also seems to be reverting to some sort of crazy migration instinct because he swims his little ass off 24 hours a day. It wears me out just watching him. Trying to regain my own inertia was rough but I think I am back to almost normal training...normal summer training.

I took the picture from the patio of my friends' home out in the countryside. We spent almost an entire day just sitting out there watching a huge thunder storm roll in from over the mountains. We had all gone out the night before in the little village of Catadau until early the next morning. The next day I made lunch for all of us. Yo can always count on Spanish people to have the ingredients for a tortilla de patatas—a great hangover food, by the way. So we stayed out on the patio under the roof and watched the storm while eating the tortilla, a Caprese salad, olives, and a bit of wine. We were getting a little wet but you have to enjoy these outdoor meals while you can. Summer doesn't last forever here. What a shame.