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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Around the Neighborhood: Buying Locally


Just my own block provides for quite a lot of my needs. If you are to drift a few hundred yards in any direction there are a dozen other worlds that open for you. For the most part, Ruzafa is a maze of narrow streets with barely enough room for one car to pass. The are few through streets to facilitate normal traffic so everyone but local inhabitants avoids this area of town. The new metro under construction further adds to what is already a nightmare for drivers. On a slight twist of the famous quote from former General Motors president, Charles Wilson, “What's good for General Motors is good for America,” I always say that what's bad for cars is good for the rest of life on planet earth.

For pedestrians and bikes, Ruzafa is a pretty calm neighborhood. There are painted crosswalks on almost every corner, something we pleaded for in my old downtown neighborhood in Seattle, to no avail. A couple of bike paths that form part of a city-wide network flow in and out of the area. From these you can get to just about anywhere in and around town. Bus service is impressive and, as mentioned, the new metro line will link up Ruzafa to the rest of network. Parking is a complete nightmare everywhere in Valencia and especially so in the souk-like labyrinth that makes up this old neighborhood. It's hard to imagine why anyone would feel the need to drive, I don't see any convenience in it.

The distances around the neighborhood are just too short to even consider driving a car. Within about five blocks of my apartment there are four major supermarkets. Coupled with the Ruzafa Market, the dozen or so smaller specialty grocery stores, and the green grocers, no one in all of this area has to walk more than about three blocks to do most of their shopping. It's not like people don't drive, but you don't see the massive four and five lane traffic jams inherent in even smaller U.S. cities during rush hours. A four lane street is a bit out of the ordinary here and anything wider is very rare. In the land of strip malls, a six lane thoroughfare is almost a requirement. The layout of these commercial areas makes walking all but impossible. In a dense urban environment, driving seems pretty futile. It just seems to me that a lifestyle that requires a trip in the car to do just about everything is seriously flawed.

Not counting my daily excursions, I probably go for days, and sometimes even weeks, without leaving my little neighborhood. Why bother, everything I need is only a few steps away. I feel guilty buying food items anywhere but in the little circle of merchants I frequent. Sometimes I will walk through Valencia's Mercado Central and as much as I am in awe of the selection available there, I rarely, if ever, buy anything. Why would I? I have my own market. Shopping anywhere else would be like cheating on a spouse. Or even worse, it would be like supporting Barça over Valencia C.F. I feel like these vendors depend on me. It's not like they would miss me if I went somewhere else to shop, but I would be missing out on a lot. It sort of like the old adage, membership has its privileges. What membership in my little community of merchants bus is service and recognition. I like how these people say hello to me when we pass on the street, and I'm just a newcomer. To most other people around here these people are neighbors and relatives.

There are a lot of advantages to buying locally, even if you spend a few extra dollars. I think this is the worst aspect about America's compulsion for bargain shopping: the few cents you save driving to Wal-Mart is hardly worth undermining the sort of community provided by locals businesses. The places where I shop are owned and operated by people who may live right next door to me. I see them walking around the neighborhood. I firmly believe that for every penny people save shopping at the big, corporate outlets, a penny is taken from a middle class business owner. I realized a long time ago that I would rather pay more for something if I could buy it from a business with a local owner, preferably someone I can see behind the counter. I have also been too lazy to drive out of the downtown areas where I have lived in order to shop at the big retail outlets. There aren't any K-Marts in city centers.

You can find the owner hard at work in just about all of the cafés, bars, restaurants, and shops that I frequent in my neighborhood. I like the fact that every time I make a purchase the money goes directly into the pocket of someone I know, most of whom are friends. I always feel good about paying. The other day, a woman gave me change for the bread I bought at the bakery. I wasn't paying close attention—I never do with things having to do with money—and she gave me back the wrong change, but I wasn't sure. She was busy so I stepped aside and went over all of my transactions for the morning. It took me about five minutes but I came to the conclusion that she had given me ten euros too much. Had it been in the supermarket I wouldn't have bothered, not that I would be any less honest, but I wouldn't have taken the time to figure out my money trail. On another occasion I turned around and walked back a block to return one extra euro I was given in change at one of my local Pakistani-owned vegetable markets. In these instances I was dealing with an actual human being and not some huge corporate monolith. Virtues like honesty and trust are difficult to establish with a commercial entity. When you know the people who own the businesses in your neighborhood you feel more connected, more rooted. This is especially comforting to an outsider; each day I feel less like a foreigner and more like a resident.

I have never fit in so quickly anywhere I have ever lived, even though I have the language issue, which becomes less of a barrier every single day. I think that the challenge of learning Spanish has made me work harder at being sociable. If I don't take time to talk to just about anyone who will have a conversation with me I feel that I am wasting an opportunity. As my ability in Spanish grows, I have been able to come across as a complete person, with a sense of humor and a grasp of the world around me, including Spanish political and cultural references. I have been gradually shedding my persona as the stereotypical foreigner with a comical accent—at least I hope that I have lost some of that persona. It's like I am gradually growing out of a very bad haircut. You reach a certain point when learning another language where an intelligent person begins to emerge from the depths of bad grammar and simplistic vocabulary—that is if the person is intelligent to begin with. Before this point on the language learning curve, even the smartest people seem like idiots.

The good news is that there are a lot of cognates in Spanish of English words. This means that because I have a pretty good vocabulary in English, I also automatically have a good grasp of Spanish vocabulary. I think people here are sometimes surprised to hear some rather eloquent words come out of the mouth of someone who barely spoke the language not too long ago. I feel sorry for the Chinese and Arab immigrants who have to start all over in Spanish from scratch as there are few, if any cognates and the grammars are completely different. After two years in Spain my Spanish is better than most of the Chinese I meet in the neighborhood, some of whom have been here for ten years or more.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Walk Around the Block (part 2)

I think it is a little too early to say whether or not the newer, suburbia-style developments will catch on in Spain. I certainly hope not as they are a lot less friendly to the environment, among other things. But I don't want to talk about the fringes of Valencia, I want to talk about the center of the universe: my neighborhood of Ruzafa and, more specifically, my block. The center of my block is the 15th century church of San Valero. There are two landmarks on my block that serve as the nucleus for the entire neighborhood of Ruzafa (Russafa in Valenciano): the Ruzafa Market and the church of San Valero. Some 54% of Spanish people report that they hardly ever or never go to church and a full 18% consider themselves to be atheist. Quite a healthy disregard for the church when you consider that Spain not too long ago had Catholicism as the state religion, to the point where the government paid the salary of priests in the Franco era and beyond. However, the religion of food is thriving in Spain as is evident Monday through Friday in the Ruzafa Market.

The market is indoor but the 20 meter ceiling gives it an outdoor air. I like the feel of the market so much that I walk through it every time I pass by, and I pass by every day. I use the market as a short-cut through the neighborhood. It's a haven on rainy days and the air conditioning is a respite from summer's hottest afternoons. Most of the time the weather is just perfect in Valencia, but I still duck inside just to see what things look good on that particular day. Knowing what is in season is one of the keys to good cooking, especially in Valencia where farming isn't very dependent on hothouse fruits and vegetables. The growing season spans all twelve months of the year in the vast agricultural area that makes up the Valencia Community. Most of the produce that you find in the market has only traveled a few miles from the adjacent country side.

The fruit and vegetables here often lack the sort of perfection you see in American supermarkets. This simply provides shoppers with the challenge of finding the best products at any given point on the calendar. In the fall the weather favors the harvest of mushrooms. Not the little button mushrooms wrapped in plastic, but lovely wild things that are bigger than your hand. The more mountainous regions of the country have a richer culture of collecting and preparing mushrooms than the coastal area of Valencia. Valencia has its favorite called revollon mushroom (Lactarius deliciosus) which are in season in November. There are days as you pass through the market when you can't resist buying a half a kilo of these beautiful things. It doesn't take much imagination to find a dozen or so ways to prepare them. I lean toward the French tradition of using butter, cream, and wine as the base. I rely on the Italian starches of gnocchi or thick egg noodles for an accompaniment. You have to enjoy revollones while they last because they will be off the menu as abruptly as they arrived.

In other months of the year there are other harvests to exploit. In the spring we are pelted with cherries; tomatoes are at their best in summer, and in the winter you just have to take the best of what you can find. Planning a meal should begin when you arrive at the market. It's always best to enter with an open mind. You can see shoppers struggling to come up with a menu from the available ingredients on that particular day. The good news is that the poultry and pork products are always in season. Seafood is also pretty reliable throughout the year, in one form or another. Valencian rice is another dependable staple. I will drop in and out of the market in this volume about as often as I go there myself; for now I want to talk about my block.

The parish of San Valero is at the center of Ruzafa. I have found very scant traces of the history of the church and the two lines pertaining to its origin offered here I found in Ruzafa: La Bien Plantada by Luis Corbin Ferrer. The original church on this site burned to the ground on September 9, 1415. Construction on the present structure began on June 25, 1636. The main door to the church opens into the Plaça/Plaza Doctor Landete. I use both spellings for the plaza because the street sign is also in Valenciano and Spanish. There are three quiet cafés to choose from in the little open area of the plaza which fill up and empty out with the tides flowing in and out of the market. A small fountain adorns this quiet little piece of Ruzafa along with some orange trees, a row of birch trees for shade, and a few stately date palms just to remind you that the Mediterranean is nearby.

There is at least one wedding every Saturday afternoon at San Valero which bring added crowds to the square, not to mention the dozen or so religious holidays that insure a decent turn-out for mass. Just about everything that is goes on in the church is celebrated by a pealing of the bells in the tower. There is a special ringing of a smaller bell for the call to mass throughout the day. The first one is weekdays at 07:30. When I first moved to the neighborhood I was a bit annoyed by the early mass bells but I soon became charmed by all of the different varieties of ringing. There is the hourly and half-hourly ringing of the big bell. After the twelve bells have rung out for noon there is a louder pealing. The bells can be heard throughout the neighborhood. I always say that if you are too far away from the church to hear the bells, you are too far from Ruzafa and you'd better start getting back.

I either notice the bells ringing or I don't; they are like the beating of your heart, or the watch on your wrist, or the constantly moving celestial bodies. If you are walking through the streets on a deserted Sunday morning you can actually feel the vibrations for the bells after they have finished ringing, or maybe I just think that I can feel them. For weddings and religious celebrations all hell breaks loose in the tower when they ring all of the bells at once. It's the most joyous sound I have ever heard outside of a great piece of music. If you happen to be sitting at a café in the little square, the noise just about knocks you out of your chair. You are tempted to clap when it has all finished.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

El Cocinero Fiel

El Cocinero Fiel

By far the best cooking videos I have found in any langauge (at least those languages I can stumble through) come from a guy calling himself El Cocinero Fiel. I will have my hands full making all of these recipes. Today I am making gnocchi. It's not Spanish but I have a ton of potatoes lying around.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Walk Around The Block

A Walk Around The Block

To examine the lives of people in Spain, you need to take a look at the street where they live. The word for a city block here is a homonym of the word for apple—for reasons that don't seem to be entirely clear to anyone (other Spanish speaking countries use the less colorful word “cuadra” which means “square”). So a block is an apple? My anemic powers of description were practically swooning (wheezing?) with the possibilities. Unfortunately, a bit of investigation into these words proved fatal to my poetic aspirations. The two meanings for the word apple (manzana) in Spanish probably derived from different roots, with “apple” coming directly from Latin for apple (mattiana), and “city block” a derivation of the French word for house (maison). This rather prosaic explanation immediately extinguished any hope I had for a more flowery introduction to city life in Spain. I had to toss out all of the metaphors relating to fruit to describe urban architecture and start all over from scratch.

If a city block is an island surrounded by streets, my own little Spanish island has just about everything you need to survive. I realize that the block I live on is an exception—even for Spain—but I could probably live on my block for years without crossing the street. Since there happens to be a 15th century church next door, in theory I could be baptized, have my first communion, get married, and have my funeral service without having to look both ways for oncoming traffic. I suppose that would greatly reduce the risk of having an automobile accident. Let's take a walk around my block to give you a little insight into the urban density that is common in every Spanish city.

I was going individually list every business on my block, but that would be a little long-winded. As it turns out, there are a total of 36 separate outlets including three banks, three cafés, a hair salon, two pharmacies, three florists, a couple of little clothing stores, three bakeries, a pet supply store, a shoe repair shop, a photo developing place, a lottery booth, and a butcher. All these places and we haven't even stepped inside the Ruzafa Market where there are several dozen food vendors as well as another café. That's what I call a full-service island. The Ruzafa Market is the nucleus of the neighborhood in which I live. It is open Monday to Saturday from something like 7 a.m. (I don't know for sure, I'm never up and outside that early) until about 2:30 in the afternoon. It is a huge indoor market with dozens and dozens of individual vendors selling everything you can imagine eating. There is a separate seafood section as well. The market is an absolute marvel and it is twenty paces from the door of my building. As I said, my block is an exception but it happens to be where I live.

People in this sort of dense urban environment are able to effect most, if not all, of their daily outings on foot. As far as running most errands, the distances are too short to even bother with a bicycle. Most city blocks here are quite large and many are triangular in shape. Most buildings form kind of a wall around the outer edge of the block and there is an open area in the middle between the buildings. This open area in the middle—sometimes a couple of acres—is often used for businesses that require a lot of floor space such as car dealerships or supermarkets.

Back in the late 1990s Seattle changed its downtown zoning laws to mimic the European model of having the first floor of apartment buildings reserved for businesses. Like many Americans cities, many people worked in the Seattle downtown and left at the end of the day for the suburbs. I moved to the lower Queen Anne, or the Uptown neighborhood of Seattle in 1998. I saw firsthand how the downtown area went from being practically deserted to the thriving and lively place that it is today. Housing soared in the downtown while most suburban areas had negative growth. Evidently, many people like the idea of living where they work and play.

Most of Valencia is zoned for buildings of nine stories: the bottom floor for businesses and the other eight for apartments. There are almost no single family homes in this city of 800,000 inhabitants, there's just no room for houses. There is also almost no sprawl to Valencia. The whole city is bordered either by agricultural land, the Mediterranean, or smaller towns that are architecturally similar to Valencia. If you feel cooped up with city life, the country is only fifteen minutes away by bicycle. It would take me thirty minutes by car to get to the country from the center of Seattle, and Seattle suffers less from sprawl than most large U.S. cities.

What I find odd about Valencia, and the same is probably true of other large Spanish cities, is that as the city grows outward, in some areas they are adopting some of the characteristics of American suburbia. Shopping malls with huge parking areas, big box stores, and homes with yards are sprouting up—at least in a section to the west of Valencia. Some of the new apartment blocks on the edge of the city are being separated by wider and wider boulevards that can accommodate many lanes of traffic in each direction. The problem is that building more lanes of traffic never reduces traffic but actually spurs even more congestion in something traffic planners call “induced traffic.” I find these newer areas of Valencia to be completely awful on a number of different levels and I can't believe anyone would voluntarily live in there when they have so many more agreeable choices available to them. The wide streets that are sprouting up in these new semi-suburban parts of town mean that traffic flows faster—good for cars, bad for pedestrians. The lack of corner bars in these new neighborhoods seems like it would make them a total disaster for the average Spaniard who requires at least two on every block.

These newer neighborhoods are spread out too much to run daily errands on foot which drastically changes the nature of life for most Spaniards. I am confident that this new trend in urban planning isn't going to catch on. In Valencia, the new suburbia represents probably less than .05% of the total population of the city, if that. A home in the country is a dream of many Spaniards but I don't think many people are willing to give up the convenience of city life just to have a bit of a garden attached to their single family home. A lot of things are changing in modern Spain and as people become more affluent perhaps they will choose to drive everywhere instead of walking. More and more people are doing the majority of their shopping in the big chain grocery stores instead of at the local markets. The latest figures from 2005 show that Spaniards do 45.4% of their food buying at the big stores, 16.7% in smaller grocery stores and only 28.8% at traditional stores and markets. Convenience and speed are winning out over quality and service.

Although the new suburban-style subdivisions are populated by relatively affluent Valencianos, a lot of the newer, more moderately-priced developments on the edges of town also reflect a move away from the dense urban architecture found in the rest of the city. The buildings are taller. There are fewer, if any, businesses on the ground floors. The streets between apartment buildings are wider. All this translates into less of a community feel to these areas. They seem all but deserted. It's hard to believe that that people are willing to sacrifice a lively neighborhood for a few extra feet of living space in their private dwellings. To each his own. I have friends who live in very modern sections of Valencia but as much as they love their beautiful apartments, with convenient parking and other modern amenities, when it comes time to hang out, most of them migrate to my little neighborhood of older buildings, narrow streets, and dozens and dozens of bars and restaurants.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Introduction

An Introduction

What am I trying to accomplish in what I write about Spain? I am not trying to over-romanticize the country or paint it like some Photo-Shopped post card you find in tourist trap rip-off joints. At the same time, there is just way too much for me to love about having the wonderful opportunity to live in Spain for me to spend much time on anything negative. I let the citizens of Spain handle all of the criticism, Most of the time I stick to highlighting all of the things I love and admire about life here. Sort of the flip side to the aphorism, “No one is a prophet in his own country,” is the one that says you should only be a critic of your own homeland—no matter where you live, you probably have your hands full critiquing your birthplace. It is especially annoying to read travel writers who bitch about the places they visit without understanding them in any meaningful way. I always find it more insightful for a writer to explain something to me than to blindly criticize. Isn't travel supposed to be joyous and fun? No one said travel is always going to be easy. Even if I were on the verge of freezing to death in Antarctica I could probably appreciate the view.

It's not like I'm some sort of starry-eyed Pollyanna who can't see any of the ills in modern Spanish life, but I think it is more important to convey to American readers how Spain deals successfully with the some of the challenges inherent in creating a modern, urban society. I must highlight the urban part. Spain's urban nature is one of my favorite characteristics of the peninsula. Spain is incredibly urban, even many of the smallest hamlets are set up like major urban centers with people living in apartment buildings of 4-6 stories. Valencia has a population of over a million yet I can walk practically anywhere in a matter of 30 minutes. There is great public transportation here but it hardly seems worth it when you can just walk to about 90 percent of your destinations. I can get anywhere in town on my bike in less than 20 minutes. Seattle is very similar to Valencia in size and in the robust nature of its urban center. I walked or rode my bike almost everywhere in Seattle. I have been singing the praises of city life for quite a while, I am positively evangelical on the subject. I'm a fanatic, an urban extremist. Even if there were no ecological benefits to be derived from city living, I would still preach its quality of life merits.

I can barely remember back when I needed to drive a car every day, I only know that it irritated the living shit out of me and I felt cars were stealing my life. Even if you forget about how much they cost and how dangerous driving is, to me just being inside a car is a soul-deadening experience—and double down on that if you are in stuck in traffic. I would have to sit down and think long and hard to remember the last time I was even in a car. I consider this sort of forgetfulness a huge luxury, much more so than driving around in an expensive sedan. There isn't a sports car invented that has more appeal to me than a seat on a comfortable train. Too much of American society is built around the automobile. I consider this bit of urban/suburban architecture to be one of the greatest mistakes of the 20th century, a mistake we will have to rectify in the next 25 years if we want to continue improving human life on the planet (not to mention saving the lives of countless other species). I know that we can't simply do away with cars, but we can marginalize them to a certain degree.

I see automobiles as much more of a convenience than a necessity here in Spain. For anyone living in Valencia, you can get around just fine without one. Cars provide a bit of convenience, especially to people with families. I suppose getting the whole family on the train for a trip out of town could provide a bit of a challenge, although it is certainly within the realm of possibility. Getting around Valencia in a car seems more of a nuisance than a convenience, with or without the family. Like almost every other urban center, Valencia suffers the ills of traffic congestion and lack of parking. One of the most exciting urban developments is going on in Amsterdam which is simultaneously removing parking and narrowing roads in its urban center. I think that this is about the only way to effectively deal with these two issues. The more you try to give in to congestion and parking, the worse they get.

I'm not trying to paint some idyllic water color of Spanish life, but I do think that it is useful to detail the aspects of this society which I feel are worthy of emulation. In a lot of the travel writing that I read, not only do I get the feeling that the writers don't really understand the culture of the place they are describing, but I think many don't really care enough to insinuate themselves fully in the host country. In the case of those writers who just seem to be slumming it long enough to crank out an article or a book, I find this attitude to be incredibly condescending. A lot of other writers just seem to take their preconceived notions about where they are going and stow it into their fanny packs with the rest of their travel gear. I never learn anything from these authors as I have my own preconceived notions about the places they are talking about: Tuscany is sunny and people drink wine, Provence is choked full of quaint villages and olive trees, or whatever boilerplate Conde Nast travel magazine view of the world they are regurgitating. I remember thinking that I sort of wanted to be a travel writer in that sense. Who wouldn't want to get paid for traveling? Then after I read about three travel magazine articles I realized that I could never hope to bend my writing style to fit that model. Most travel writing seems to have sort of a one-size-fits-all formula. Start off with some little historical tidbit, throw in something about how you, too, can be an “insider,” and then top it off with descriptions of expensive meals and even more expensive hotels. I've never been a big fan of guidebooks when I travel and I certainly have no interest in writing one.

So just what is it that I am trying to communicate in what I have written about Spain? More than anything I would like to make people laugh with the stories I tell about my life in Spain. Humor is about the only way I can make my writing the least bit entertaining. I don't think that I have the skill to simply write entertaining descriptions of life here, at least not yet. I am hoping my writing can improve to the point that I don't have to be a fool to have people read my stuff. There are worse things than being foolish. Right off the top of my head I can come up with “boring.” I also try to explain how to go about daily life here in Spain without stumbling every step of the way, as I did when I first arrived. I would have loved to read essay like some of mine to help me decipher the simplest aspects of life here that seem anything but simple to the outsider.

What I like most about reading travel writing is when I feel I have learned something about where the author has been. I have tried to write something that I wish I could have read before I got here, something to walk me through the ways and enigmas of everyday Spanish life. I had to learn everything through trial and error, sort of on-the-job training. There were many times when I felt like the whole process was like trying to put something together without a set of instructions. I want what I have written to be the instruction manual for anyone who cares to know more about how people live in Spain. I write quite a bit about Spanish food and cooking so consider this to be a recipe book about how to...how not to make all of the same mistakes I did upon arriving in Spain.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Right Side of History

From the NYT 09NOV08 about why a lot of conservatives have embraced the Obama election:

The presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said she was hard-pressed to find a similar moment when the tone had changed so drastically, and so quickly, among so many people of such prominence.

“I don’t think that’s happened very often,” Ms. Goodwin said. “The best answer I can give you is they don’t want to be on the wrong side of history, and they recognize how the country saw this election, and how people feel that they’re living in a time of great historic moment.”


I'm glad I have been on the right side of history, not only with this election but for most of my adult life. I'm glad I was opposed to the war in Iraq from before the beginning. This is just one of the advantages of being well read; I am not blind-sided by history, whether it is in the making or in the recent past.

So the Obama transition team is obviously talking about what problems they would like to address upon taking the reins. Their debate is over whether it should be health care, the environment, or energy self-sufficiency, or perhaps all three. What the fuck did the Bush presidency do upon taking control of the White House? In 2000 they lowered taxes for the richest Americans and in 2004 they tried to turn Social Security over to the bastards we are now bailing out. Which side of history do you choose?

I firmly believe that Obama could easily be the best president in our history. I base this belief partly on the fact that we have had so few good presidents, and partly on the belief that by taking office during such a troubled time he has so much that he can accomplish. Only history can tell (and those writing the history). I am confident that I am still on the right (left) side. I pity the people who are angered by the Obama victory, the people who can't enjoy this moment and wish all the best for our new president and what he may do for our country. I am dumbfounded by those individuals who believe that Bush was anything but a total disaster for our nation and the world.

Comments:

As I said to a friend today: If you can't be positive now then when the fuck can you be? Obama has a tough job to do and will no doubt disappoint many from time to time. But what is great is that America, and particularly its young people, my generation, has chosen positivity and progression.

-- Tom

It took us a while to do it but yes, we have chosen the right path. I wish it had been in 2004. How anyone could have picked Bush over Kerry is a mystery to me. Obama learned from Kerry's mistakes. He was tougher than Kerry and quicker to respond to the Republican slime machine.

-- leftbanker

Some good comments, Obama certainly has his hands full but people should get behind the guy not bring him down.

-- Paris Apartments


I've also noticed that the conservatives are walking a fine line right now. I think as long as Obama doesn't do anything really stupid (sex scandal etc.) I think he is going to have a lot of support from both sides. You get the feeling that republicans are at least going to give him a chance instead of attacking him from day one like Clinton. They know they fucked this country up and are really unpopular right now. Also, from a political standpoint, what republican in his right mind (including Bush) wants to be the guy bashing Obama right now... it would be political/legacy suicide (although we all know what Bush's legacy is going to be: "Worst President of All Time")

-- Catch-23

And I'm with you that he could go down as one of the best presidents of all time ... Don't you kind of get the feeling that will find a little more room up on Mt. Rushmore for him.

-- Catch-23

With such a blank slate to start with, (e.g. nothing to show so far), how could he ever be seen as being wrong on ANYTHING?

Greatest ever? Has he EVER put his life on the line for this Nation? NO.

Has he ever risked his all for something other than his own ideals? NO.

How can you even project this person who has yet to serve a day in office as the "best ever"? What about our Founding Fathers? What about Lincoln? Good grief, there were a few that didn't perform well in office but to go ahead and crown Obama as the heir apparent to the "greatest ever" is shallow.

In no way am I defending Bush. Heck, I can't stand him, but for crying out loud, so many of you have swallowed every drop of the Obama cool-aid that we may never recover from the so called recovery of Bush.

Don't label me as a "blind Bush supporter right-wing nut jobs". I am far from it. But I certainly did not support Obama and his lack of experience that he is bringing to the office. I will support him as our elected President, just as I supported Bush while he was in office. My voice is not muted, but I am, and always will be able to form my own opinion and I refuse to submit or succumb to either side that tries to ram down my throat a liberal or conservative slant. Balance, negotiation, and sacrifice is key.

-- Kelly W.

Greatest ever? Has he EVER put his life on the line for this Nation? NO.

Has he ever risked his all for something other than his own ideals? NO.


I didn't know these things were prerequisites for the presidency. I'm glad you don't like Bush because as a president he was a complete disaster. I know that the right wingers like to brand everyone who voted for Obama as some sort of brainless robot but that's just not the way it works for liberals. If Obama screws up, the liberals will be the first to let him know. One of the reasons that Bush was such an incredibly awful president was that conservatives supported his every lousy move. I happen to think that Obama has the right characteristics to be an extremely effective leader. This whole lack of “experience” tack is pretty lame. Dick Cheney had all the experience in the world on paper and he turned out to be a loathsome vice president.

-- leftbanker

Experience to serve in the Oval office should be a requirement. Otherwise, when your VP comes in with more experience than the POTUS, you get exactly what we had for the last 8 years. A puppet in the top seat, with the puppet master in the VP role.

Otherwise, if all you need to be elected is to be either a liberal or conservative, then something is wrong when our only choices are the ones we have had recently.

And yes, a candidate for our top office should have some experience in putting our Nation's goals, on a national level, ahead of their personal goals.

So far, I have not seen any history of his willingness to do the hard stuff that would have given him some enlightenment to gain the experience he needs for the office.

-- Kelly W.

Obama is a better choice than Bush or McCain and certainly much better than the idiot Palin. I think he's the best candidate we've had in my lifetime.

-- leftbanker

You must be very young, indeed. Obviously you have not heard Obama speak much off script and you certainly have NEVER heard him challenged by the media during the entire campaign. His most common word is "uhhhhhh". Clinton was much more able to speak intelligently than either of the Bush's, Cheney, or Palin.

As for Palin. You have yet to study her totally. There is much more there than just what you have seen by Katie Couric's ignorant interview when she was dumbfounded about the type of news sources that exist in Alaska. Heck, that would be no shallower of a question than to ask you what you read in over in Europe to stay abreast of world events. Palin has been an outstanding governor for Alaska and is highly respected by her constituents in the state, both left and right. Something the media overlooked from the start when they wholeheartedly decided to project a slant of her as some kind of backcountry Hick. Not much different than how they portrayed Bill Clinton when he first ran from the state of Arkansas.

The best choice out of the candidates during the last election was certainly Hillary. Hands down a better qualified candidate but unfortunately too many from the right AND left just couldn't get past the fact she is a woman.

But I will leave you alone. I have better things to do than try and debate you long distance.

-- Kelly W.


Sorry Kelly, not only is Sarah Palin a moron, she is an anti-intellectual like our current president. As vice president she couldn't do too much harm but as commander in chief she would have been a disaster. Have you heard her talk? She isn't a well-educated adult, not by any means.

I wasn't against Hilary but in the end the best man won.

-- leftbanker

Actually I have heard her talk. She is my current governor and she has done a great job for the state of Alaska. The press has simply minimized her and drawn an incorrect caricature of her that the majority swallowed. Hook, line, and sinker.

And yes, you are right, as VP she wouldn't do that much harm. But I do have grave concerns about putting a person in the Oval Office with no qualifications of any kind, where he CAN do a lot of harm. A continuance of the last 8 years under the cloak of being a democrat is, I am afraid, what we are in for. He has no executive experience and has never been tested or challenged on a national or global scale other than his worldwind trips for the election campaign.

A couple of years as a professor and a senator do not make a quality candidate. He has yet to be properly vetted for the office.

As for the best candidate? Time will only tell, but I doubt he will ever be the best in our history based upon what we have seen from him so far.

-- Kelly W.

You gotta love the Palin apologizers. Really? This business of her 20 months of “executive experience” being worth a damn is beside the point. Barack Obama is like 100 times smarter than her, intelligence is far more important than experience. As Bill Clinton said to the chagrin of many Obama supporters, “…no one is ever really prepared to be President.” It sounded bad at the time, but he was right. Nobody has POTUS on their resume, but the smart ones make a go of it, the dumb ones start land wars in Asia.

As for going down in history as one of the greatest president of all time, I was just being a little silly with my post election euphoria. Only time will tell I guess. Bush fucked the country so many ways it may be beyond Obama to do much anyway (you like how I’m already blaming Bush for Obama’s failures!!!) Yes, I have drank some of the Obama Kool-aid … mmm, try some … but why not? Is it so wrong to have a little hope that the country might be getting back on the right track? If Obama ends up being a huge disappointment, I’ll puke up the Kool-aid. Why did it take seven years for republicans to start criticizing Bush when he was the same terrible president on day one that he is today?

And by the way: Leftbanker is like 100 years old


-- Catch-23


I'm half that. And how old will I be when you will be able to kick my ass? I have two words for you: 1,000 push-ups!

I'm with you on the Sarah Palin apologists. No matter what anyone says about her, I still have a bit of common sense left in me to realize that she's a fucking retard. Plain and simple. I know that W went to Harvard but don't try to tell me that's he is even remotely intelligent. I've heard the guy speak once or twice.

I love how I'm a cool-aid drinker for simply voting for Obama when the other side supported every moronic move Bush made as president. What are they drinking?

-- leftbanker

Part One:

I'm coming into this discussion a little late, but since Kelly W. and Leftbanker are both good friends who I respect about as much as anyone I know, I thought I'd throw in my two cents to the argument.

Last year about this time, I supported Barack Obama, but I figured--as did most Democratic voters--that Hillary was the likely nominee for the party. Had Hillary won both the primary and general election, I would be damn near as elated as I am about Obama winning.

But Hillary didn't win. Her campaign started out disorganized and lackluster, while Obama's was stunningly disciplined and inspiring, and by the time Hillary got her act together, the race was already over, but she dragged the primaries on, which I think helped Obama more than if Hillary had conceded after Super Tuesday when she was all but mathematically eliminated.

I think most progressive and liberal Democrats love Hillary and would have supported her as adamantly as they supported Obama.

However, I think two key issues about Hillary hurt her candidacy and neither had to do with her gender. First was her early and ardent support of the Iraq war, which alienated the anti-war faction of the party, and led many within the party to reject her candidacy for what they thought was her betrayal of her core supporters. Secondly, many Democrats simply did not wish to see another Clinton presidency and the associated three-ring media circus that the Clintons seem to drag in their wake, whether this is their fault or not.

-- mat

Part Two:

I think Hillary is way more experienced than Obama and is every bit his intellectual equal. However, Obama is a vastly superior leader. Just read the reporting on both campaigns done by The New Yorker and Newsweek, which are linked on my blog. Hillary had great difficulty controlling her most trusted and closest advisors on her campaign (especially her husband, whose shoot-from-the-hip behavior cost her South Carolina), which at times caused great chaos and disharmony. Meanwhile, Obama ran a tight ship where he was in charge and that his staff never forgot that fact, and because of this, his campaign staff was disciplined and focused. He often rebuked their advice and did what he thought was best, such as his speech on race in Philadelphia in March. This is the true measure of leadership and he showed this acumen throughout his campaign.

Meanwhile, Hillary couldn't even stop her husband from his stupid and illogical behavior during the South Carolina primary when he made race an issue and it cost her the primary there.

I have never in my life seen a more qualified candidate for President than Obama. His intelligence knows few peers, plus his ethical character is of the highest order. He is calm under pressure and isn't easily rattled. He's an idealist but also understands that democracy is about compromise. Most of all, he doesn't come from the elite class, but earned his way to the top through our meritocratic system as had Bill Clinton.

In fact he's a lot like Bill Clinton, who was also young and inexperienced in 1992 when he first ran, and who inspired young voters. However, I think Obama is of a much higher moral and ethical character than Clinton.

You will be hard pressed to find anyone as admiring of Bill & Hillary Clinton as I am, but I gladly chose Obama over Hillary because I thought he was the better candidate.

I think he proved it. It didn't take sipping from Kool-Aid to learn this. I am sorry, Kelly, but I have always been a man of reason who used sound rational thinking and an honest amount of skepticism to make up my mind about things. I have never followed anyone or anything blindly. And I sincerely think Obama could be the best President of my lifetime. As I said on my blog, if you review the Presidents in my lifetime, this isn't that high of a goal for him to achieve.

-- mat

Part Three:

And Sarah Palin? I will only say this about her: She's against a woman's right to choose. She opposes evolution and not only supports creationism, but also thinks it should be taught in public schools. She thinks global warming-- and the science that supports it overwhelmingly--is a liberal hoax. She opposes gay marriage.

I don't know about you, but that kind of unenlightened, anti-intellectual, anti-modernity type of thinking is downright dangerous to me. I don't care how wonderful the people in Alaska think she is, her thinking and ideas are out of step with a majority of Americans.

Kelly, I hope you know I would rather amputate my leg than insult you or think anything but the best about you and what you think. We're all entitled to our opinions in this country, and honestly what makes this country great is the diversity of opinions on any and all subjects. Leftbanker happens to be the best friend I have ever had, plus he's been my mentor all my life; his opinions and ideas have driven me longer than I can remember. He and I obviously differ on many subjects and ideas, but, then again, I don't know anyone with whom I agree more on most things than him.

-- mat

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Crap Bike Video

I made another video but it's crap. I didn't mean to put the word "crap" in bold, a poetic slip of the finger. I didn't bother to post it here but you can follow the link to my youtube page and see another of my cool bike rides south of Valencia. This one takes in the Albufera, the big wetlands area that is like Spain's Everglades.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Fun For The Whole Family



Fun For The Whole Family
(May not be suited for children under 18 and adults with even a shred of human decency)

I don't have any sort of spam filter on my comments box. It is a very old system that is no longer supported. YACCS comments is probably one of those things created in the crest of the dotcom era and then promptly set adrift in the harrowing sea of the internet. I sort of like the simplicity of my commenting. There is no word verification as most other comment systems use. Sometimes the word verification requires more typing than the actual comment you want to post. Wouldn't just one or two random letters be enough to thwart the bots that haunt the internet? I'm just asking. So for better or worse, I have stayed with my program.

I almost never even bother to look under the hood, so to speak, of my commenting program but when I did the other day I saw that I got spammed by some sort of porn-bot that left about a million comments. Fortunately, they were left in a post from about two years ago. That is like putting up a billboard in a cave. It doesn't seem like much of an advertising strategy, not that I know a thing about advertising. I set out trying to delete these rogue comments. The problem is that there is no way to do that other than deleting each individual comment which I actually set out to do. As I was deleting comment after comment I began to feel like some sort of crazy tech world Ahab. It would probably take me a good solid 24 hours of deleting to undo what the bot did automatically. I quickly gave up my quixotic endeavor.

Before I just said “fuck it” I couldn't help but notice the titles of some of the fabulous porn sites offered in the comment spam. They were all generated by the same IP address but there were offers of every type of porn imaginable (and stuff you wouldn't ever want to imagine). Britney Spears blow job, celebrities, lesbians, black lesbians, teen lesbians, hentai, anime, gay, MILF, black, mature, granny (when mature just doesn't do it for you anymore), Asian, Japanese (if Asian just isn't specific enough for your tastes), hairy pussy (I am so sorry about that one), how to have sex (for the kids?), how to have anal sex (what's wrong with just learning on the job), and perhaps a half dozen other variations on the theme of human reproduction. I actually wrote all these down on a piece of paper so I could remember them. That sheet of paper looks like some sort of perverted note to take shopping or the world's most ambitious "to do" list. I just hope that I don't accidentally pass away before I can get it off my desk and into an incinerator. I should probably check off some of the weirdest ones just to give folks something to talk about if I do happen to meet with an untimely demise.

If there were any justice in the world, any at all, I could get the the actual home address of the creeps who send this stuff. I have been keeping myself entertained this morning by thinking of ways that I would get even. On the top of the list is me renting a huge dump truck, filling it with my own feces (more poetic than just using random poop), driving up to their door, ringing the bell, and when they answer I get rid of the fetid load right in their living room. Or is that too good for them? I'll keep thinking. You work on getting me their addresses.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

¡Obama Wins!



¡Obama Wins!

So I finally have something to celebrate the day after a presidential election. After two extremely bitter defeats I woke up happy as hell this morning, a bit hungover but happy. I have never seen so many happy people the day after an American presidential election, joyously happy even. What could possibly be wrong with the rest of the world literally cheering the Obama victory? People here in Spain that know I am American have congratulated me. They are almost as happy as I am about the outcome. It was like the rest of the world was begging us to do the only right thing to do and put a wise and intelligent man in the White House. We have! Compare how Bush arrived as president, under the sleazy doings of a Supreme Court verdict. Then in 2004 Bush talked about his “mandate.” In the historic words of Gil Scott Heron, mandate my ass.

I knew Obama was the one when I saw a photo (above) in the New York Times of a rally in Portland, Oregon that drew over 90,000 people. It is a brilliant photo of Obama standing amidst this sea of people. I know that Portland, like Seattle, is totally left-leaning and hippie but still, 90,000 is a hell of a lot of hippies. I just can't imagine people cheering a Hilary victory and forget about McCain. His campaign was despicable, what a surprise coming from the Republicans. Obama ran a brilliant campaign and steered clear of most of the mudslinging. The problem is that the Republicans had no mud to sling. The mountain they tried to make out of the ridiculous Ayers molehill only showed just how desperately bankrupt they are when it comes to ideas. Their agenda has shown itself to be an abject failure.

I think my favorite scene from last night was Jesse Jackson—a great American—bawling his eyes out on CNN. And to all those who will say that I am an Obama-bot or that I am deluded, to them I say that I am not like the right-wingers, the people who defended the miserable presidency of G.W. Bush at every misstep and horrible blunder that he made. I love how some call Obama "slick talking," as if being able to form coherent sentences in your native language is some sort of liabilty. Now all we have to do is undo all of the damage done by Bush and the conservatives.

For now I will savor the victory and listen again to the very magnanimous and humble speech he gave last night in Chicago. I wish that I could accurately convey the pride I feel having Barack Hussein Obama as my president.

Celebrating Food


Fabada asturiana

Celebrating Food

Sometimes I think that I probably spend too much time writing and thinking about food, not to mention the time I spend actually cooking and eating. I could understand how other people probably think that I am a bit obsessed about the subject. I guess that you could say that cooking is sort of a hobby for me, but it's not like building model railroads or collecting stamps. You have to eat everyday. Unless you live at home and your mom cooks for you then you are going to have to make a lot of that food yourself. You can either eat well or not.

Sometimes eating can be a chore but it should often be a celebration. From what I have learned of Spanish, French, Italian, and Greek cultures, they choose to celebrate food much more than we do in America. I don't mean this as a criticism of Americans, it's just that these cultures put a higher value on food than Americans or the British do. I would say that Americans and British people put a higher value on comedy than these Mediterranean cultures I mentioned. They could definitely learn from us on this particular subject. At least for me, laughter is as essential as eating, but for now I am talking about cooking and the role food plays and should play in our lives.

Spanish food is fairly simple, for the most part. Most people here aren't particularly sophisticated about the food they eat or how they cook it. I think that the French are much more savvy about cooking techniques and food preparation than the Spanish. This doesn't mean that the people in Spain don't have a reverence for food. A casual walk through the lovely Mercado de Ruzafa will demonstrate just how highly Valencianos value what they put on their tables. It's not just a matter of the quality of the food people buy, it is the very way that they choose their food. Supermarkets are popular in Spain but most people buy a good portion of their staples at their local market.

In the market people have a closer bond with the food they purchase. In the stalls of the market you deal directly with people who know their products intimately. There is a degree of customer service in the market that you would only expect in a fine jewelry store or a pampering health spa. I go regularly to the same stalls at my market and have developed a pretty firm relationship with all of the merchants. I have a level of rapport with my butcher that Dick Cheney probably has with his heart surgeon. Considering how much pork I buy from my butcher, I should probably ask for the phone number of Dick's surgeon.

You can enjoy food without parting with a lot of money. It is up to all of us to savor the simplest things: a ripe tomato, a perfectly hard boiled egg, a glass of modest wine, a mug of great beer, a loaf of freshly baked bread, or an olive. I think that one of the things I admire so much about the Spanish is that they really make an effort to stop their lives every day to sit down to the table for their afternoon meal. It isn't even called lunch here; lunch is just a little snack they have before noon. The afternoon meal begins at around 2 pm and is their most important of the day. Even after all this time here I still have trouble adopting this daily ritual, and I really like to eat. It's just difficult for me to stop whatever it is I am doing and sit down at the table. This simple act is what elevates the status of food for the Spanish. It doesn't really matter what it is they are eating, the respect they give the meal is what is important.

You can show a lot of respect for just about any sort of food or drink just by presenting it well. I
For example, it's rare to see people here eating potato chips out of the bag. They decant the chips into a bowl before serving. That doesn't sound like much but it all adds up. A meal without a glass of wine is almost unthinkable in these Mediterranean countries. I think that the wine is almost as valuable for its symbolism as it is for the taste it contributes. Wine is like a secular prayer that we enjoy at the table. Since we don't really have an English equivalent (how odd), I will say it in French and Spanish (blogger won't accept Greek). Bon appetit! ¡Buen provecho!

Zuppa di Cozze

Zuppa di Cozze

Monday, November 03, 2008

My (non)Learning Curve

My (non)Learning Curve

My life is becoming so routine here that I think that I have started to take a lot of things about life in Spain for granted. When I first arrived two years ago everything was very new and very different. It was easy to identify and the contrasts and to point them out. I think that most of my first impressions and observations about life in Spain were accurate and fairly insightful. I wish that I had been able to read the stuff I have written about Spain before I arrived—it would have made things a lot easier. Just the simple things like ordering a coffee or a beer in a café took quite a while for me to perfect. It's not like I was so terrifically clumsy at first but now so many things that once were a bit of a mystery I now perform fairly effortlessly. If I stay another two years I wonder how different I will be then. Constantly improving in Spanish helps to answer most of the questions about life here.

It really is a daily struggle to improve my Spanish. I still have so far to go but I have also come a very long way. I would have to say that my reading ability is very high. I'm sure that I read more in Spanish than most Spanish speakers. Being a heavy reader has its advantages as well as being one of the great joys in life. My vocabulary is almost too big for my speaking ability—if that is possible. My Spanish friends always point out to me that some words that I use are a bit flowery and literary for every day speech. I still don't understand everything I hear on television. I would put my comprehension of movies in Spanish at about 70% at this point, sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on the amount of slang. Note to self: watch more movies in Spanish. Note to Spanish film makers: make more and better movies for me to watch. Message to Spanish TV writers: You Suck!

As far as media goes, I can't understand why everyone in the world with a computer doesn't speak perfect English. There is just so much out there for people learning English to make it easier. Think of all of the great music, movies, and television programs that are available. That alone should be a great motivating factor to master English. If you learn English, you get to watch The Sopranos and The Wire. The Beatles, The Godfather, Ernest Hemingway, Monty Python's Flying Circus, The New York Times, are just a few more reasons to study your English grammar.

As an American, I have always been self-conscious about my poor ability in speaking other languages. Scandinavian, German, and Dutch people all speak English, at least that is what I thought. Many do Speak English or another language but now I realize that many don't—or at least not very well. I have also written in great detail about why I'm not all that impressed with someone from Finland or Norway who has learned English. If they don't, their world is going to be very, very small (both countries have fewer people than Madrid). I also no longer have to feel bad about not speaking another language well because my Spanish is better than most people's second language here in Europe (if they know another language at all). I can also say that I have a high level in the second and third most widely spoken languages on the planet. The fact that Chinese may be the only language that matters is a problem I'll face when we get to that point. I think I may still have a couple years to form a plan for that certain eventuality.

I have also written I some detail about how language is not an ideology as many people seem to think, especially in America. You have even less control about the language you speak than the silly religion you may follow. It's easy enough for a thinking person to ditch ignorant religion they may have inherited, but shedding your language is another matter. Trying to learn another language—especially as an adult—is a huge pain in the ass. I'll keep studying but my learning curve in Spanish is less steep than a wheelchair ramp. It's called a false flat in cycling terms; that's when you think you aren't going up but you are...very gradually. I suppose that as far as learning Spanish, gradual is better than never.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

A Few Last Thoughts Before The Election



A Few Last Thoughts Before The Election

There are only two days before the election on Tuesday, November 4, 2008. By all the polls I have read, Barack Obama is leading by a comfortable margin. There appears to be a huge interest in this election and voter registration drives are making inroads to many segments of American society that have never felt any use in participating in our political process. If the last two presidential elections have taught us anything, it's that your vote matters. I really love this new trend of allowing people to vote early. It not only frees up the booths on election day but it gives citizens more opportunities to vote. Early voting is an even a better idea than declaring election day a national holiday.

Those who are opposed to voter registration drives, and other measures which give citizens the chance to let their voices be heard, are only demonstrating their total contempt for democracy. If voting isn't at the heart of what made our country then I don't know what was. That fact is, when lots of people vote, the Republicans lose. A high voter turn-out will almost assure a victory for Obama, a really high turn-out should usher in a landslide. Anything less than a landslide victory for Barack Obama would be absolutely unimaginable for me considering how the Republicans have gone a long way in destroying the American economy, tainting the way the world sees us, and making the fantastically rich even richer.

The Republicans have run a rather despicable campaign, which should be no surprise to anyone. The problem for them this time around is that the Democrats were able to completely outmaneuver the Republicans at every step. The conservatives have also picked a man who is just too damn old to be president. Their pick for vice president was even more disastrous. I read some where that Sarah Palin has re-energized the conservative base of the party. If that is true, it only further demonstrates that the conservative base of the Republican Party is made up of complete morons, and I put that as mildly as I possibly could. It isn't simply her complete lack of intellect and intellectual curiosity that I have a problem with, it's that her ignorance means that she simply rejects any sort of modern thinking. She accuses Obama of being a socialist yet I'm quite sure that she couldn't define that word in anything but the most childish strokes. I can't believe that anyone could be comfortable with that woman as our president.

If Obama wins, this doesn't mean that he is going to get a free pass from liberals. Liberals aren't like the fanatic right-wingers who have supported the atrocious presidency of George W. Bush every step of the way. Absolutely everything Bush did with relation to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been monumental mistakes. Everything. Yet he could count on the complete support of the most rabidly conservative members of his party. I have disagreed with virtually everything he has done as president but I have been especially opposed to his war policies. Undoing what Bush has done will be an enormous challenge for the next resident of the White House.

If Barack Obama wins, the first thing he should do as president is let the American people know that fixing the country's many problems will take a lot of sacrifice on the part of everyone. If Obama goes about righting the wrongs of the Republicans, he probably won't be too popular in the years to come, but easy fixes just aren't going to work. As far as specific policies, I am most interested in two things: Getting U.S. the fuck out of Iraq—and I don't care how he does it—and rolling back the ridiculous Bush tax cuts for the filthy rich in America. Anything Barack Obama cares to do after that will simply be icing on the cake (as opposed to the shit sandwich Bush has been feeding us for 8 years).

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Fabada Asturiana (Fabada Valenciana?*)


Just to hear if I sound any less retarded in Spanish than I do in English. I made this video in español. Fabada Asturiana is a simple dish that is incredibly rich in flavor. Perfect for the crappy weather we are having right now. The province of Asturia has pretty crappy weather almost all the time so that's why they invented this bean and sausage stew. The video is mercifully short as it walks you through everything you need to know about how to make this dish. The problem for those living outside of Spain will be in obtaining the ingredients. The fabada beans are long white beans that are quite expensive even here in Spain. Along with the beans I was given some smoked Asturian morcilla, or blood sausage which really added a lot of flavor to the dish. Once again, saffron is an incredible luxury that I take for granted here and is prohibitively expensive in many parts of the world.

I have been making beans ever since I left home at age 17. I practically lived on beans, rice, and potatoes back when I was a broke student. I still cook some sort of beans on an almost weekly basis. I never get tired of them. This dish ranks as my favorite of all my bean recipes.

*I actually changed the name of this video on youtube to Fabada Valenciana because so many Spanish viewers said this isn't fabada asturiana.

A French Classic: Coq au Vin


This classic French dish of chicken cooked in wine is just about the best thing I've ever cooked. When I decided to make another attempt at cooking coq au vin I distilled about twenty different recipes into what I have presented in the video. I honestly have to say that I wouldn't change anything. I will use an older stewing bird next time I make this as they are more appropriate for this kind of dish where the chicken is cooked slowly. Other than that, I think this came out about as well as I have ever tasted coq au vin. I went to summer school in Dijon way back when I was in college and I remember loving the two emblematic dishes from Bourgogne: coq au vin and beef Bourguignon. They are both made in a similar fashion so I suppose that I'll have to try making beef Bourguignon some time soon.

As the name states, this dish should be made with an older bird, over ten months while most fryer chickens are 7 to 13 weeks and roaster chickens are about five months old when they are called to duty. This is something most Americans don't think much about but in France they have taken poultry to heights we can barely imagine. It is their national symbol, after all, and adorns their most coveted emblem: the national football jersey. Spain has a lot of nice birds as well. My local market has abot five stalls that deal solely with birds of all types. I bought the regular chicken before I even knew what I was going to make but the next time I will use an older bird.

I realize that this recipe has nothing to do with Spain but France is our neighbor. I have been searching for a challenging Spanish chicken dish but this just popped into my head and I decided to try it. My cooking strategy is to first search out recipes for whatever it is I want to make. Most recipes are garbage and I discard most at a quick glance. I take a few things from different recipes. Then I look on youtube for cooking videos of the dish. Actually watching someone make a dish is a huge help in understanding what is going on. A lot of things become apparent that you may not have understood from the recipe. I ended up plagiarizing a show called Good Eats for my recipe although I made a few adjustments. You can't copyright a recipe.

Coq au Vin

Chicken cut in parts
Un-smoked bacon*
Pearl onions
Mushrooms
Bottle of wine
3-4 cups chicken stock
2 carrots
1 onion
2 stalks of celery (I didn't use celery because it is hard to get here)
1 cup flour
Butter
Olive oil
Salt, black peppercorns, thyme, rosemary, bay leaf

*if you can't find un-smoked bacon you can boil the bacon or pancetta in water for a minute to get rid of the smoke flavor. If you don't the dish will taste like bacon and not much else.

Mix salt and pepper to the flour and dust the chicken pieces thoroughly. Cook the bacon in a little water until the water evaporates. This will allow the bacon to render without burning it. Remove the bacon. Add a bit of olive oil and butter to the bacon fat. Brown the chicken pieces in the oil. Don't move the pieces once you have placed them in the oil. You want them to stiuck to the pan. Remove the browned chicken and put it in a pot with the carrots, onion, bay leaf, rosemary, thyme, and peppercorns. Sauté the peeled pearl onions in the pan with the chicken fat and all the other good stuff, you may need to add a bit of oil and butter. Remove and then cook the mushrooms in the same pan. Remove the mushrooms and then deglaze the pan with cognac (or wine). Add this deglaze mixture to the pot with the chicken. Add the bottle of red wine and the chicken stock to the pot. At this point you can let the chicken marinate overnight but I just started cooking it. You can bake it in the oven or I found that cooking it on the stove was perfectly fine. When the chicken is completely cooked and is starting to fall off the bone, remove it from the pot and keep it warm. Reduce the sauce in the pot buy 1/3. After it has reduced strain the sauce and put it back on the stove. Add the cooked mushrooms and pearl onions. After these ingredients are well blended into the sauce, add the chicken. It is now ready to serve.

*You may want to further thicken the sauce by adding a roux or a beurre manié.


This dish may look like a lot of trouble but I think that it is fairly simple in its execution. I can assure you that it is worth time, money, and effort. When we sat down to eat this meal I never wanted it to end. You were almost overwhelmed by the wonderful aroma as soon as the elevator door opened on my floor. Coq au vin should be served with a hearty starch dish. I made a Spanish potato recipe called patatas a lo pobre. !Buen provecho¡ Bon appetit.