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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Football Overdose

Valencia played number one ranked Barcelona last night to a heart-breaking 2-2 draw at home last night. Valencia was leading until Thierry Henry chipped in a ball in the 85th minute to even the score. Henry didn’t play the first half and went on to completely dominate the game when he entered well into the second half. La Liga (as the Spanish football is called) is really heating up in these remaining weeks of the season—at least for the teams in contention. Barcelona has been on top most of the year but Real Madrid has had an incredible few months and could be within four points of Barça if they win today against Sevilla. Valencia is desperately trying to hang on to their number four spot so as to gain a berth in next season’s Champions League. I have watched more matches this week than I can even count.

Last night we went to the Plaza de Valencia CF across the street from the stadium of Mestalla to watch the game. Tickets started at 60€ so I didn’t mind sitting outside the stadium. When we arrived an hour before the match there were already thousands and thousands of fans mobbing the small square. There were police everywhere and quite a few riding magnificent horses while displaying equestrian skills that would have made the Spanish conquistadors proud. When the Barcelona team bus pulled up to the stadium the crowd went bit crazy and a few unruly fans chucked beer and other debris on it when it drove by. The chant of the evening seemed to be “Puta Barça, puta cataluña” which I won’t bother to translate if you will forgive me.

I used to live over by the stadium and I would watch all of the important matches at a place called Manolo el del Bombo (Manolo the guy with the drum). Manolo is an icon in Spanish national football because he attends every game and can be seen with his trademark drum leading the Spanish fans. His bar has a big outside terrace with two big televisions. I have never seen such a big crowd in the square, not even for the Champions League semi-finals two years ago against Chelsea. The night didn’t lack for football atmosphere.

The is certainly no shame in drawing with Barcelona this year. I think they are one of the best clubs I’ve ever seen and I picked them to win this year’s European championship way back in September. Valencia had just come off winning five games in a row and is playing as well as I have seen them play in my three seasons here. We are only one point behind third place Sevilla and four points ahead of Villarreal with five games left to play. Unfortunately, most of those games will be tough as we have to play Real Madrid, Villarreal, and Atlético de Madrid. Needless to say, it’s going to be an exciting end for this season.

On the way home we stopped at La Flor de Ruzafa for a drink at the walk-up window. I just feel a lot more Spanish when I hang out at these places. I was talking with someone I met there and they asked me where I was from. Just to tease them I explained that I lived right around the corner less than two blocks away.

P.S. Real Madrid won their game against Sevilla and are now only four points behind league leaders Barcelona FC. They play each other this Saturday night.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

1,000 Things About Me

You could read every word that I have written on this web page and not really learn much about me. I find the sort of personal, gossipy blog stuff to be a tremendous bore, especially about my life. With that said, just this once I thought that I would share some facts about my personal life.

-I've never had a tattoo.

-I have never had a piercing.

-I have never "peeled out" in a car and never wanted to.

-Most of the time I have a haircut that is well within military standards. Long hair just bugs the shit out of me. I don't know how hippies do it.

-I'm not tryng to brag but I have never seen a single episode of American Idol or Survivor or any other piece of shit "realty" show.

-For almost my entire adult life I have always been the oldest among all of my friends. This has sucked enormously at times as I am always on the end of the “grandpa” jokes. On the plus side, I think that being around younger people has kept me younger, both in body and in spirit. Most of my friends know that if it came down to it I could kick their asses, not that I ever would. I hope that they know that I'm a great guy to have your back in a sticky situation.

-The longest that I have lived anywhere since I was 15 years old was the 8 years I lived in Seattle. Since I was 15 I have lived in 10 places for at least 1 year. Yikes, I'm a freaking gypsy.

-I have been an avid cyclist since I was about 14 and I bought my first Raleigh racing bike. Since then I haven't missed too many bike rides. I have had the great pleasure of living in some great places for cycling. Lately I have been riding daily, almost to the point of exhaustion as I have taken to listening to audio books on my rides and I never want to stop pedaling.

-I am 5'9” and about 180 pounds. The cool thing about living in Spain is that I don't feel short over here. I think that 5'9” isn't so short that you suffer from a Napoleon complex, it just means that you aren't a great asset on the basketball team. Fuck it, I don't like basketball anyway.

-I was lucky to inherit my mother's Mediterranean stomach. My stomach could be used for a toxic waste dump. There isn't any sort of food that is too hot for me to eat. I remember going with my nephew to eat at Seattle's Wingdome chicken wing joint restaurant. When asked I naturally ordered the spiciest wings. Fuck were they hot! I ate them all but I had to pace myself. I asked the waiter if anyone else had ever ordered them and he told me that, as far as he knew, only two African guys. I told him that in the future he’d better let people know that those little suckers are very hot. A normal person would have died eating them.

-I'm an atheist and always have been. Since I have been old enough to consider the subject I've always felt like the idea of god doesn't make sense.

-Never married, no kids, lots of nieces and nephews. My biggest regret in this life is not spending more time with my family. They are always welcome to visit and I have always lived in really cool places.

-I love dogs but don't have one. I lack the security, as sad and pathetic as that sounds. I have a marine turtle called a red eared slider. I call him El Conde de Monte Cristo, or El Conde for short. I named him this because in his former, much smaller tank he spent the entire day trying to escape. He seems more content in his big aquarium.

-We are all great swimmers in my family. I was going to do it competitively in high school until I quickly realized what a completely stupid sport it is. Even as a 14 year old, I had better things to do with my time than stare at the bottom of a swimming pool for hours a day. I am a certified diver but I much prefer snorkeling. I have free dived down to almost 100 feet before. Snorkeling is probably the coolest thing I have ever done in my life, especially when it's somewhere great like Greece, the Caribbean, or a beautiful quarry in Indiana.

-I can't stand playing games of any kind whether it's cards, board games, chess, or whatever. I don't bowl so don't ask.

-I took up playing piano when I was about 38 or so. I don’t play much lately and I suck but I still enjoy playing from time to time.

-I studied Niseido Ju Jitsu when I lived in Florida. I was a fairly devoted student for about three years. You had to be a fairly devoted student or Prof Ricardi would stomp a mud puddle in your chest. He was the best teacher I've ever had and put all of my university professors to shame.

-I don't have anything of a sweet tooth. I have plenty of other vices. What do ya got?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Valencia to Sagunto Bike Ride

This is about a three hour ride, round trip if you hump it pretty good. Not a bad day's ride. I was out for more than four hours with all of the stops and sightseeing that I did. The ride from Sagunto to the fortress on top of the mountain just about killed me today but that's probably because I was showing off for a group of women who were sliding back down from visiting the citadel. There are spots that are just about as steep as you can possibly manage on a bike. I have been trying to make this video for a while. I have had bike and camera failures on earlier attemtps.

The town of Sagunto is really pretty. It has a lot to offer the tourist although I was trying to cover a lot of ground on this ride so I didn't hang around long. The fortress is enormous and has been around since recorded histroy in this area. Hannibal sacked the city in 219 bc which was the beginning of the Second Punic War.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Me Versus Them

Well, it’s that time of year again people. It’s time for the annual pledge drive to support my youth ministries around the world. Any donation that you can make will be greatly appreciate by me and the tens of thousands of children in over 40 countries who are a part of my effort to spread the word of our lord, Jesus H. Christ, Jr.

If you want to know why I wrote that load of shit it’s because I just did a Google search of my name and someone with my name is an ordained minister and has something to do with some sort of youth ministries, whatever the fuck that is. I've always thought "youth ministries" sounded funny, funny and sinister. The bad news—for him—is that he shares a name with a guy who writes wise-ass essays on the internet, and my name comes up first on the list. I’m sure he is called on to explain to his brethren that he isn’t the guy penning a bunch of profane and blasphemous articles. Sorry, padre.

Another guy who shares my name is a “wealth adviser.” Once again, whatever the fuck that means. I guess you could also say that I am a wealth adviser because I am constantly advising people to get wealthy, the sooner the better. Unfortunately, few of my friends have bothered to follow this sage advice and I am forced to pay my own bar tab, freaking bunch of unambitious lose-oids. The truth is that I’d much rather be a wealth spender than a wealth adviser. I think I’d be good at that. I think that is my true calling in this life, just going around spending wealth in creative ways, mostly having to do with booze, mild drugs, and prostitution Oh man, is the reverend ever going to get pissed when he has to explain to his followers that he didn’t write this. I almost feel sorry for the guy. Come to think of it, the wealth adviser guy probably will have some explaining to do if any of his clients think that he is responsible for this essay.

Maybe I could get paid by everyone who shares my name by not writing vulgar and blasphemous essays on the internet. I’m sure it would make his eminence’s life a lot easier if he wasn’t constantly being forced to convince his flock that he didn’t write an essay about the Pope being almost dead. Actually, just a brief glance at what I have written lately would be enough for his Excellency to realize that an essay about an almost-dead pope is the least of his worries. And let’s be honest, I don’t care if the guy has a Nobel Prize in economics, any wealth adviser sharing my name has a tough row to hoe with prospective clients if they ever bother to search his name on the web. All that I am suggesting is that these people pay me a monthly fee to stop dragging their good names through the dirt. Names and reputations they have worked hard to cultivate. I don’t think this is blackmail; I’d simply stop doing what I am doing, something that although it may be thoroughly tasteless and vulgar, is nonetheless perfectly legal. Cash only, please.

P.S. I saw a little Spanish girl between 4-5 years old moving a soccer ball down the street by smacking it with her doll which she was gripping by one foot. There's a metaphor or something in that.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Arroz a Banda

Arroz a banda is not paella, although it is made in a paella pan (also called a paella). It is a Valencian rice dish made with some sort of mutant shrimp called cigalas here in Spain. I don’t know what we call them in English. I have never made this dish before so I was delighted when my country mouse friends invited me to their home out in the hills near Catadau (about 40 kilometers south of Valencia). Alain is French and a damn good cook. His recipe for lapin à la moutarde (rabbit in mustard) is one of the best things I’ve had since arriving. I took advantage of my most recent meal with my friends to record this video. The dish is fairly simple and the result was truly amazing. I can’t wait to make this at home although I don’t have the cool gas paella cooker he has. When he makes paella Valenciana (with chicken and rabbit as opposed to seafood) he uses a wood fire. For this dish he says that the smoke flavor can interfere with the fish flavors.

Fish Stock
Shrimp (or whatever the hell they are)
Red Pepper
Can of diced tomatoes
Saffron, Olive Oil, Salt

Brown shrimp in pan with oil. Remove shrimp. Sauté pepper and onions, then add garlic. Pour in canned tomatoes. Add rice and mix with sautéed vegetables. Add fish stock and bring to simmer. Add a few shrimp heads. When rice is cooked add the rest of the shrimp on top of the dish. Cover with newspaper for about five minutes after turning off the stove to dry out the rice a bit. Serve. ¡Buen provecho!

Variety Stores

Monday was some sort of religious holiday here in Valencia. Even to be culturally aware I can’t be bothered to pay any attention to religion so excuse me for not knowing or giving a shit about what the holiday was all about. The important thing to me is that a lot of my normal stores were closed. The good news is that there are a lot of other outlets in the neighborhood which also didn’t get the email about the Catholic holiday so they were open. I totally screwed up and didn’t buy much in the way of food before the long religious holiday began so by Monday I was down to a half a jar of Dijon mustard and a can of anchovies…and I was really hungry.

On my first stop I hit a Chinese grocery store. I am pretty familiar with these places as I did a lot of shopping at a huge pan-Asian store in Seattle. The little store in my neighborhood on Calle Puerto Rico has a decent selection of ingredients necessary for making a good Chinese-style meal. I say Chinese-style because I don’t really know how to make a proper Chinese dish, only American versions of them. I felt like I was coming down with a cold or something so my first priority was to get something really spicy. I bought an industrial-strength size bottle of sriracha sauce from Thailand—a good start for spicy food. Something I miss about Seattle are the ubiquitous Vietnamese restaurants where you can get a bowl of pho for a couple bucks. Pho was always my first line of defense against colds and flu. If I felt a bug coming on I would get a huge bowl of pho and then pollute it with so much sriracha sauce that no organism could possible live in the same vessel as this contaminated bowl of soup. No organism except me. I have the good fortune of having a porcelain toilet bowl instead of a stomach which means I can eat the hottest food known to man. Not only can I eat it but I crave it.

The guy at the Chinese grocery store was asking me if I had ever bought the stuff that I was buying. He was trying to warn me that it was spicy. Spanish people, for the most part, don’t eat much in the way of spicy stuff. I suppose that he has had his share of angry customers who complain after getting their guts burned out. I happen to enjoy getting my guts burned out and told him so. I also picked up a bunch of different kinds of rice noodles and a bag of black rice. Black rice is really good if you have never tried it before. It has a very nutty flavor.

The next stop was a little corner grocery store run by some Pakistani guys. These places are great for buying spices. They have a wonderful variety of hard-to-find stuff. They also have big bags of stuff that I use a lot, stuff like cumin and coriander seed. The little bottles you get at the supermarket don’t go very far in my kitchen. They also have amazing red chili, both in flakes and in powder form. Once again, they have big bags that are made to last. The chili powder is the best I have ever had and much spicier than what I normally get in the U.S. It is also about ten times cheaper here.

I recently came across a recipe for tortillitas, an eggless tortilla that is popular in Andalucía. For this recipe you need garbanzo bean flour which isn’t to be found in the Spanish grocery stores here in Valencia. This is also known as gram flour or besan as they call it in India and Pakistan and I found it at my next stop: a halal butcher shop. There are a lot of Muslim immigrants in my neighborhood and so there are quite a few of these halal butcher shops that cater to them. These places, whether they are run by Pakistanis or Moroccans, also have some interesting food items for sale besides the chicken, beef, and lamb. Next on my “to buy” list is a Moroccan tagine baking dish.

There is quite a lot of variety in my neighborhood when it comes to cooking. I have been making Indian-style dishes as well as Chinese-influenced stuff. This isn’t to say that I have given up on Spanish food. I have another cooking video to upload on how to make Arroz a la banda, a Valencia staple of rice with shrimp.

Monday, April 13, 2009

You Say Car Payment, I Say Tax

Among the complete and utter failures of former President George Bush was his concept of promoting a “society of ownership,” whatever that means. I know what he and the neo-conservative imbeciles who came up with the idea mean by it. It is simply another way for them to discredit the role government can play in our lives. One thing those people always seem to forget is that in a democracy we, the people, are the government. Of course, this wasn’t very true in during the Bush years as he ran roughshod over the American people. I suppose that private ownership is a good thing for certain necessities, but to carry the idea of privatization to the neo-con extreme is just silly—either silly or an outright lie propagated against a lot of very gullible U.S. citizens.

There are many features of a well-run society that must be purchased collectively. I would argue that health care is one of those things. I defy anyone to point to a society with a functioning health care system that is private. Look at the list of the world’s 25 top countries with regards to health care and they are all state-sponsored. Today I want to talk about public transportation. What most Americans don’t seem to understand is that much of the industrialized world has really good public transportation. I wonder how much the average person spends on their private automobile. Whenever people complain about high taxes in the United States I wonder if they consider their car to be a tax? If you have no other choice but to drive a car to effect all of your daily chores, then your car isn’t an option—just like taxes. I don’t have a car, I don’t want one, and—more importantly—I don’t really need one.

Just this weekend I visited some friends in the countryside south of Valencia. I was able to take the metro from a station that is about a 15 minute walking distance from my house for a 37 minute ride to a station near where they live. The ride cost me about 1€. For an individual, there is no way that you can beat public transportation when it comes to price, and for convenience driving isn’t even close. Valencia is currently expanding its metro system to include the port area in the network. The metro also services the surrounding areas of the city, like this area south of town. Valencia also has a great network of bike paths in and around the city. How many American cities can say that?

Conservatives in America would have you believe that things like good health care for everyone, public transportation, and bike trails are all part of some crazy pipe dream invented by left-wing hippies. I live in that pipe dream, it’s called Europe. I would just like for conservatives to point to the paradise of free enterprise and ownership that they would like to build. Perhaps you can find it in an Ayn Rand novel but I can’t stomach her writing so I could never live there.

For those of you who haven’t heard, the latest craze in conservative circles is to declare yourself a libertarian. After all, just about all of the high conservative ideas have proved to be failures, so why not step away and call yourself something else? Evidently, Ayn Rand novels have been flying off the shelves as desperate conservatives look for guidance in the pages of novels written for well-to-do 17 year old East coast girls. I read her stuff when I was about 17 and it made me want to puke. In the world of her novels it seems that you are either some sort of creative genius or you are just rolling little balls of shit. I pretty much knew when I read her stuff that I was no creative genius which left option number 2. Fortunately for me there was option number 3 which was to dismiss her novels as completely stupid which flattered people who thought they could file themselves under option number 1. It’s incredible to me that adults hold up her views as being some sort of valid option for humanity.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Enough Already!

Semana Santa, holy week means lots of religion, lots of processions, lots of people actually going to church (for the first time all year for most Spaniards, I would assume), and lots of the Pope on television. There are still quite a few nominally Catholic people in Spain, although they aren’t really believers, and many are probably outright atheists. The problem is that traditions—especially those that have been around for centuries—die slowly. A lot of folks just pay lip service to religion rather than take a stand opposing it. They will cross themselves automatically when entering a church, even for reasons of tourism. It’s the way they were brought up, it was the way I was brought up, but that doesn’t mean that is the way it should be.

To my credit, I have never, ever believed in God or Jesus or life after death. My first thoughts on the subject steered me towards atheism as I felt that any other concept was just too farfetched if not totally crazy. Virgin births (the idea for which came about because of a faulty translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew to Greek), miracles (your miracle is my coincidence), rising from the dead (sure thing, pal), and all of the rest of the stories told to me in my forced religious education just didn’t sit well with the skeptical nature I inherited. My parents insisted that I attend Catholic mass very Sunday and I was also coerced into weekly religious indoctrination called catechism. Catechism was the absolute most boring education I have ever endured in my entire life. I was so bored during catechism that I often felt like fainting. I was too bored to even challenge the stupidity of Catholic doctrine or the tenets of Christianity. I just wanted it all to end.

My father died when I was 15 years old and I never attended mass or went to catechism again. I had stopped going to mass years before his death when I just lied to my parents and told them I was going to the 09:300 mass on Sundays. They always went to the mass at 11:00. I would skip out of the house at 09:30 and go play baseball, ice skate, or do whatever the hell was in season at the time. When they went off to church I would come home and watch television with my thug buddies from the neighborhood, and perhaps my younger brother who was at least as big of an apostate as I. This was when I discovered the movies of the Marx brothers. Later it was kung fu theater. It sure beat the hell out of the Catholic mass, but that’s not saying much. Mowing the grass was better than going to mass.

Not only have I never believed in god, but I refuse to acknowledge organized religion’s authority in any matter having to do with the individual. Even Spain is supposed to be a secular state although they still grant a lot of weight to Catholic matters. Back in America freedom of religion should mean freedom from religion, if that is what you choose. As an atheist I have been asked to give countless prayers to a god that doesn’t mean a damn thing to me. I have never coerced anyone into considering just how stupid their religious beliefs are if they were to only give them a cursory inspection. I resent people who say that atheism is a religion. That is a stupid statement and it’s like saying that not collecting stamps is a hobby (not my quote, unfortunately).

I recently watched a BBC series called Francesco’s Mediterranean Voyage about a Venetian retracing an ancient trade route from his city to Istanbul. I loved all of the scenery as I had lived in this corner of the Mediterranean during my Air Force days. What I didn’t understand is how a modern, supposedly educated man can give lip service to all of the religious bullshit that has been handed down to us for centuries. The host, Francesco, talked about supposed miracles and seemed way too impressed by the might of the church throughout the Venetian dynasty that lasted over a century starting in 700 a.d. I hated how he crossed himself upon entering ancient churches built with the blood of medieval peasants. He is about my age and still holds up as truths a lot of stuff I never believed in as a four year old.

I think that it’s way past time for educated, modern men and women to stop pretending to respect the Bronze Age myths of the major religions (or the even dumber creations of Mormons or whoever). This means we need to stop ourselves from laughing out loud whenever the Pope shows up dressed like whatever the hell he dresses like. This means not taking seriously people who spew insane religious doctrine—and most religious doctrine is insane. This means not allowing religion to pollute the minds of our young people by accepting religious censorship in scientific education. This means having rational people finally saying, “Enough already, there is no such thing as angels or saints or miracle, just like there is no such thing as leprechauns or ghosts. One person’s religious procession during holy week is my idea of crazy people dressing up in stupid costumes. I’d rather wait for the Gay Pride parade if I want to see outrageous behavior and funny get ups.

I only wish that I had used my time in a more useful manner as a child rather than waste away hours and mind-numbingly boring hours reading bible stories. I fantasize now about a childhood spent reading about the absolute wonders of evolution. Instead of the Bible I could have been taught stories from Richard Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale about the true origin of life on our planet. Of course, that book wasn’t around when I was a kid but I pray that there are some parents today wise enough to inculcate their children into the beautiful world of natural science instead of the foolishness of religion.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

French Lessons

French Lessons

After years and years of heartless neglect I have finally decided to bring my French down from the attic—or up from the basement, I don’t even know where I put it—dust it off, and see if I can apply the same rigor I have been using to learn Spanish to improve a language that I studied back in my university days. My main motivation will be to improve my reading ability in order to finally read all of the books written by my great uncle, Marc Bernard. The second reason is that if I ever get a chance to live in France, I don’t want to arrive knowing as little about French as I did about Spanish when I arrived in Spain. If I have learned one thing from my stay here in Valencia it is that you cannot be too well prepared before making the move.

My spoken French is pretty terrible but I am able to read it somewhat. I am adopting the same learning methods I have been using here in Spain. I dove right in and began reading a book by Marc Bernard called Vacances. I had read parts of it before but now I am doing a more thorough job of it. I must say that it is kicking my ass, or I should say that reading it is kicking my dictionary’s ass as I am forced to look up a lot of words. Vocabulary is the most essential element in learning another language. You can get by with only a tiny bit of grammar but without the vocabulary you just won’t understand anything. As far as I have found, there is no easy way to learn new words other than looking them up and committing them to memorization. If anyone knows of another, easier method, please let me know.

Another essential ingredient in learning another language is sustaining an acceptable level of motivation to continue studying. I don’t lack that motivation in Spanish because I use it every single day from the moment I wake up in the morning until I sign off at night. When you are studying a foreign language that you aren’t really using it can get pretty tedious. It becomes this abstract concept instead of a living, breathing organism which is what a language should be. I started doing a language exchange where I advertised for on a local internet bulletin board for someone wanting to swap an hour of French for an hour of English on a weekly basis. Just knowing that I will use French once a week should be enough motivation to study a bit every day.

It’s not like I don’t have a long way to go in studying Spanish. I just feel like I have reached a certain point where I am feeling pretty comfortable and I won’t feel guilty spending an hour a day reading in French. After just one class I already feel more committed to this endeavor. Now I need to start planning a trip to France for the summer.