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Monday, February 22, 2010

Another Day, Another Bicycle

It's not a girl's bike, goddammit!

After the theft of my bicycle about three weeks ago I am now the owner of four bikes. I just picked up this cool city bike at a pawn shop (casa de empeños) for 60€. I have to say that I am extremely happy with this purchase. This bike is exactly what I have wanted ever since I moved here. It is perfect except that I have to get a basket for the handle bars. I wanted this type of bike for my shorter trips around Valencia. I needed a bike to use as my workhorse, so to speak, something not too expensive and easy to get around on. It’s kind of clumsy riding it; sort of like switching from a rally car to a station wagon. It is heavy as hell so I’m glad that Valencia is completely flat. Even humping up out of the river park will be interesting on this hog.

Now all that I have to do is fix up the racing bike that was given to me and my stable of bikes will be complete.

P.S. After actually riding my new bike around I would have to say that it is a bit like navigating an oil tanker (not that I have ever navigated an oil tanker, I can only imagine). As far as I am concerned it isn't the most ergonomic riding position but I still think it's a cool bike. The step-in (i.e. girl's bike) frame is nice if you happen to be wearing real clothes instead of athletic atire. A front basket is going to cost me another 15€.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Brugges 1, Valencia CF 0 & Another Bar Added To My List

In general people here in Valencia will stay at home to watch important football matches if they are shown on regular television stations. Only when the games are on the pay channels do fans come out in numbers to see the games. Last night I had to rearrange my schedule at the last minute in order not to miss the Brugges-Valencia contest in the UEFA Europa League. I was able to make my dentist appointment an hour earlier so that I could watch the game at a bar next door to the clinic.

It was one of the thousands of bars in Valencia, a bar de puretas, or an old man bar, as a Spanish friend calls them. I sat in the back at the bar and looked over a sea of bald spots and gray hair before my eyes reached the big flat-screen on the wall. I have really been cranking up the pressure in my bid to learn Spanish in these past few weeks so I noticed that I was understanding just about all of the chatter from the game announcers, even above the noise of the bar. Not that understanding football-speak is my goal in learning Spanish but it serves as sort of a measuring stick as to how well I am progressing in my studies.

Although this bar is only a few blocks from my apartment it seemed like I was in Comanche territory as they say in Spanish. It’s just that I see almost all of the games in one of three bars in my neighborhood: La Tasca de Russafa, L’Almudin, or my new favorite, Bar Canadá. I think my true goal here in Valencia is to visit every bar in the entire city. I think I have at least 950 to go after drinking in over 1,000 thus far.

As I have said on countless occasions, I stop in at a bar or café at least once a day. I like different cafés for different reasons. In some I like to read and they provide a quiet, uninterrupted chance to pass an hour plowing through whatever it is that I am reading at the moment. Other bars are for food. I have been on another quest to find the best tortillas de patatas in the city. I already found it at El Mercat but I can keep trying. Other bars I go to because they have nice terraces when the weather permits (it hasn’t recently). I have a network of places all over the city that I visit on a fairly routine basis while others in my neighborhood I stop in almost daily. I think if I had to say it, bars are what I love most about living here in Valencia. I like the community they provide—the food and drink are secondary considerations at best.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Last Time I...

I had to go inside of a bank today—something I haven’t done in ages. It was a strange experience all around and for a number of reasons. It sometimes seems that there is a bank on every corner here in Valencia yet it took me about a half an hour on my clown bike to track down the bank I was looking for. This particular branch of the bank has these creepy airlock-type doors through which you must enter and exit. A creepy robot voice told me to place all of my metallic times in lockers provided. I found the table with the paperwork I needed. I heretofore didn’t realize that ingresar is the word the Spanish use for “to deposit.” I looked around for a pen, didn’t find one, and then had to exit again to dig a pen out of my pack which I had deposited-he ingresado in a locker. When I came back through the airlock the metal detector went off again but I think the guy behind the desk saw me and opened it.

As I was leaving I was trying to remember the last time I actually walked inside of a bank. I have done everything online or by phone for at least the last eight years or so. Then I got to thinking about other things I haven’t done in a while.

The last time I drove a car: August 2006

The last time I was stuck in traffic: A long, long time ago. I hardly ever drove when I lived in Seattle so I never remember being in traffic there. I don’t remember being stuck in traffic since I lived in the Washington D.C. metro area and I left there in 1992. I don’t know how people deal with traffic on a daily basis.

The last time I ate at McDonalds: Hell if I know but at least over 10-12 years ago

The last time I went to a baseball game: August 2006. Do I miss baseball? Not really, since moving here I have thrown myself into football 100%.

The last time I lived without a bicycle: Never, not including the two or three days after my bike was stolen before I

The last time I made a paella: Two weeks ago after the Levante-Betis football game

The last time I used a clothes dryer: Not since I moved to Spain. This is one of those modern conveniences that I think I can easily live without from now on. In the summer if you hang stuff up on the roof it will be dry in a little over an hour. During the winter you can hang it on a rack inside your apartment.

Monday, February 08, 2010


Since moving here it has been my experience that many Valencianos feel that they live in the best place in Spain and therefore the best place in the world. I certainly don’t waste any time or effort disputing this and certainly not with Valencianos. The local residents of many areas of the world probably have the same feelings for where they call home. I guess that I just haven’t met many indigenous residents in the many places I have lived in my life. I knew only a small handful of people born and bred in Seattle and they all thought highly of it. Most of the people I meet are often other transplants, immigrants, drifters, castaways, and fugitives.

Valencianos truly believe they have the best weather, food, and lifestyle in all of Spain. Spanish people may complain about their country but nearly all of them feel that they have the best lifestyle. Spanish people may travel and venture out to live in other places but almost all of them are in a hurry to return home again. As one Spanish writer has said, “Spanish people don’t immigrate; they just go on a long weekend.” I have never met a Valenciano who was really interested in leaving Valencia for more than a few weeks and even when they leave for a relatively short vacation they prefer to carry a lot of familiar food with them. It’s as if the bad food they will encounter in their travels is tantamount to breathing contaminated air.

Even if I were in a mood to argue their point that Valencia is the best place to live I’d have a hard time coming up with a strong argument to the contrary. I live without central heating and without air conditioning with only a couple of weeks of discomfort in winter and then perhaps another uncomfortable week in summer. There is something like 300 days of sunshine here and sitting outside on a café terrace is an almost daily pleasure. It just a lot easier to agree with people when they say Valencia is agreat place to live.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

You Can’t Keep a Good Man Walking

After the theft of my hybrid Orbea bike that I bought upon arriving in Spain I have gone from bikeless to having three bikes in a matter of two weeks. In a previous post I talked about the first two bikes—a crappy folding bike and an old racing bike in need of some TLC and a few euros in repairs. The latest addition to my new bike stable is this Trek mountain bike with street slicks. It is great to have something nice to ride and if the truth be told it is a better bike than my old one. The frame is better, as are the gears, brakes, and suspension. It is not quite as fleet as my old bike as the tires are a bit bigger but it is more stable on the off-road stuff that I have to negotiate on a daily basis, such as humping through the mud flats of Turia Park.

I have a few things to do to this bike to get it up to speed, as they say. I need to get clip-in pedals and a few other vital options but it is a pleasure to ride. It should be completely the way I want it by the end of this week. As far as keeping it safe I have decided that I will just hoist it up the three flights of stairs in my building and keep it in my room. I don’t want to waste any more time worrying about it getting stolen, at least when it is at home. As much of a pain in the ass that it will be to bring it up and down the stairs, that is preferable to suffering another theft. Since my bike was stolen two weeks ago I have spent a lot of time examining how other people secure their bikes. It is absolutely fucking ridiculous how much people here in Valencia spend on bike locks. I see lots of bikes that have locks that cost more than the bikes themselves. It’s like the police in Spain can’t even be bothered to deal with bike theft. Being a bike thief most be a pretty good vocation here with almost no consequences.

**I like this bit of graffiti I came across in Rocafort, a little village a few miles outside of Valencia. Ni Latin Kings Ni Burger King is a call to oust both Burger King and the Mexican gang The Latin Kings from Rocafort or Spain.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Cinema Manifesto: Romantic Comedies

Most romantic comedies are neither comedies nor even faintly romantic. Hollywood hardly makes a romantic comedy these days unless it has some sort of ridiculous gimmick. Movie people have something they call a log line which is usually a one sentence summary of the film. For most romantic comedies the log line involves some sort of idiotic high jinks.

Here are a few egregious examples of this practice:

Two people make an agreement that if neither of them were married by the time they turned 28, they would marry each other.

Benjamin Barry is an advertising executive and ladies' man who, to win a big campaign, bets that he can make a woman fall in love with him in 10 days. Andie Anderson covers the "How To" beat for "Composure" magazine and is assigned to write an article on "How to Lose a Guy in 10 days." They meet in a bar shortly after the bet is made.

Julianne fell in love with her best friend the day he decided to marry someone else.

A pushy boss forces her young assistant to marry her in order to keep her Visa status in the U.S. and avoid deportation to Canada.

Beth is a young, ambitious New Yorker who is completely unlucky in love. However, on a whirlwind trip to Rome, she impulsively steals some coins from a reputed fountain of love, and is then aggressively pursued by a band of suitors.

I know, I know, you are saying “Please, please just fucking stop already.” I just have one more that you may like:

A group of high school football players have a bet to see who can impregnate the most girls before the end of the season.

I just made that one up but I expect some Hollywood agent to smash my door down with an offer any minute now. I’m pretty sure that somewhere in the Microsoft Word program there is a template for creating romantic comedy log lines and this is what Hollywood writers use to crank out this seemingly endless supply of insultingly bad movies.

Just why Hollywood has this compulsive need to summarize a film in one sentence is beyond my understanding. Do people really base their movie attendance on a one-sentence synopsis of the plot? Do movie goers really want to see a romantic comedy that is constructed upon the basis of a moronic gimmick? Does anyone really like Sandra Bullock? How much would she charge us to stop making movies?

Here’s an idea for a romantic comedy: a story about two normal human beings with average jobs who somehow meet and are attracted to each other? It’s such a completely crazy idea that it just may work.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Bike, Trains, Buses, and Walking

My bike was stolen last week. I have never lived without a bike before. Back in Seattle I had three bicycles: a city bike, a lovely Bianchi racing bike, and a top-of-the-line K2 mountain bike with full suspension and disc brakes. I bought my Orbea Eibar hybrid bike only a couple weeks after arriving in Spain a bit over three years ago. I forget what I paid for it new but if you were to calculate how much it cost me per kilometer I rode it then the price would be infinitesimally small. I rode the living shit out of that thing. I think what pains me the most about the theft is that someone probably bought it from the thief and won’t ride it.

Bike theft in Spain is an absolute curse. The police don’t seem to care a bit about this issue and bike theft seems to be a pretty safe way to make a decent living here as there don’t seem to be any legal consequences for this crime—if it even is a crime here. I think that the authorities really need to do something about this if they want to encourage more people to ride bikes.

Only a couple days after the heist I bought a real piece-of-shit little semi-folding bike from an ad I saw on louquo (Spain’s answer to craigslist). My new clown bike wouldn’t be too bad except I can’t raise the seat because the former owner pounded a pipe into where the seat post should go instead of replacing the seat post. Besides the utter lack of dignity of riding around town on this pipsqueak of a bike, it probably isn’t even safe. I ride it like I am in a breakaway in the Tour de France. It has little tires and the brakes barely work yet I fly around on it like I’m being chased by an Al Qaeda assassination squad. In engineering speak the speed at which I subject this bike to is called “terminal velocity”…literally. The aerodynamics of this bike are also hampered by the big orange wig I wear and my huge clown shoes.

A friend gave me one of his old racing bikes that needs a bit of fixing up and I hope to have that working by this weekend. It’s not exactly what I am looking for but it could be a good bike with a little care. I hope I don’t have to invest much money in this experiment. It needs new tires and inner tubes at least and I don’t know what else. I am still looking for another bike, something similar to the old one as thin racing tires aren’t a good match for the bike trails around town, especially on a rainy day. Here in Valencia they insist on using these small tiles for the bike trails and the ruts between the tiles can be treacherous in wet conditions, even for fatter tires.

I have never walked so much in my life. I have taken several metro trips around town and into the outlying areas. I have also chased down a few buses. I carry bus and metro cards on my wallet. They bus system in Valencia is excellent and would be even better if I was more familiar with the routes. It seems that you can get just about anywhere in town by only walking a couple of blocks. Public transportation is inexpensive here as well as highly efficient, something I consider to be the hallmark of a progressive society.

The walking part has been the hardest for me. I really hate walking mainly because it is just so damn slow. Something that has taken a bit of the sting out of my walks has been listening to audio books. I just finished listening to Jon Krakauer’s new book, Where Men Win Glory: The Pat Tilman Odyssey. I also listened to this while standing on trains that were too crowded to pull out a book. I am thoroughly hooked on audio books for any situation in which reading isn’t possible. I think my audio book days are about over because I should have enough time tomorrow to get the racing bike fixed up well enough to ride.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Geography of Somehwere Nice

The Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler probably had more of an effect on me than any book I have ever read. This effect can be measured by my choices of living environments. I moved in constant search of livable cities, from suburban Washington D.C., to Miami, then to Seattle, and now Valencia, Spain. This book has shaped my own writing as well and I hope to publish a novel that is centered on the American suburban landscape some time soon. The problem in America is that few people know anything other than the strip mall model of urban-suburban architecture. However, when presented with what seems like an attack on their lifestyle, they become defensive and refuse to even consider an alternative. Too many people have accepted a life in which the automobile is responsible for effecting 100% of their transportation needs (in my current model car use represents 0%). I don’t think these people are making a choice, I don’t think they ever felt they had a choice. We have allowed the exigencies of Chili’s® parking requirements to dictate our urban planning with no voice given to the citizens. I feel that the need for a healthy and social living environment is the single most important factor in defining our happiness.

I have found Valencia to be about as close to urban perfection as I could ever imagine urban perfection to be. The city has good public transportation as well as a fantastic network of bike trails in and around the city (as well as having wonderful weather almost year-round for cycling). Almost every urban block in Valencia is like an island capable of sustaining life for those citizen castaways who call it home. My apartment is less than one block away from a major supermarket, a green grocer, a half a dozen bars and restaurants, a shoe repair shop, a tailor, several hair dressers, a tobacconist, a pharmacy, a bakery, and a pizza take-out joint—among a few other businesses. Why anyone who lives in Valencia drives a car is beyond my capacity for understanding.

My local bar—or I should say my favorite bar—serves as the collective living room for my little neighborhood. People shuffle in and out all day long to have their needs met, whatever those needs may be. The bar/café is where people come together throughout the day and throughout the week to meet with friends, to connect with other people when they are alone, to quietly sit and read a book or loudly scream during an exciting football match. And my little bar is only one of literally thousands around Valencia that serve this same purpose. I shudder to think of the isolationism and solitude of the life most suburbanites lead as they drive home from work, enter their garages, and then raise up the castle drawbridge and spend the rest of their day with no contact with other people in a sort of Unibomber existence.