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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Suburban Traffic, Anger, & Conservativism: My Theory

I think that city life forces people to be more liberal in their thinking. You have no choice but to accept other people for who they are and you must learn to live and play well with others. You are in direct contact with many people every time you leave your apartment. Cities are a constant reminder of the need for cooperation and compromise, the hallmarks of civilization. Cities teach us that we must balance liberty and order if we are to survive and prosper. The Unabomber suburban lifestyle seems to say that you can have everything your own way if you have enough land around you and are far enough away from any neighbors. Conservatives go on and on about not wanting to give up their “freedoms” but just what are these freedoms?

Most of the teabagger crowd undoubtedly thinks that Europe is less “free” than America.  If you ask conservatives to be specific about what rights Europeans have relinquished as they live under more socialist governments you are likely to hear a lot of stuttering.  I will grant you that it is a lot more difficult to purchase a firearm in Europe than in America but I just don’t see this as an essential element to my overall level of happiness.  Most of these conservatives have never been to Europe, they haven’t taken advantage of a freedom that I do feel is essential: the freedom to travel. Perhaps they would visit Europe if they could drive there from Arkansas or North Dakota.

To many people the automobile is the very symbol of personal freedom. These same people probably couldn’t even imagine a life without a car. Few of the people I know here in Valencia own a car and many have never even learned to drive. I could say the same thing about the people I knew in Seattle. It is difficult to look at the San Diego Freeway in Los Angeles at rush hour, with 18 lanes of backed-up traffic, and think about freedom. But it’s not just LA, there is horrible traffic in some of the smallest suburban areas of America and the more roads we build the more people drive (something traffic planners call “induced traffic”). If you were to gage the mood of every individual stuck in rush hour traffic I think you would probably find it to be angry, resentful, and not particularly accepting of other commuters (AKA citizens). Gage the mood of people walking, biking, or taking mass transit to work and I would wager that the mood is completely different and enormously more positive.    

Folks in suburbia spend a good deal of their day locked inside an automobile going from one activity to another. In the weeks after the passage of Obama’s health care reform we have seen outbreaks of incredibly anti-social behavior on the part of many conservatives. I would blame a lot of this anger and frustration on the fact that they probably spend too much time behind the wheel of a car. Automobiles bring out the very worst in people. Just take a look at drivers in heavy traffic, not many of them are enjoying it.  Automobiles also isolate individuals so that they don’t have to take direct responsibility for their actions. If you act like an asshole in traffic there usually are no consequences. Act like an idiot while walking down a busy sidewalk and someone will probably sort you out, one way or another.  No one would ever give someone the finger while on foot.  I would theorize that the entire modern conservative movement in America was hatched among commuters listening to insipid, political talk radio as they angrily drove to work. Pissed-off drivers are a perfect market for the bitter rhetoric of conservative talk radio. There aren’t many people listening to Rush while they take the subway to work.

The sclerotic philosophy of conservatives has been stalled in traffic for the past 30 years, if not longer. There was a time when I thought that the conservative/liberal poles in American politics were essential for balance but I have altered my position on this radically in the wake of conservative opposition to Obama. I don’t know how anyone could view the worst of the conservative behavior as anything less than anti-democratic if not fascist. Obama was elected president by a very wide margin by citizens who wanted him to reform health care. Not that he has implemented these reforms and carried out the will of the people he is being vilified by many on the Right as some sort of pariah.  Maybe all of these crazy teabaggers just need a bit of fresh air and exercise. Maybe they should walk to work once in a while.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Mi (Nuevo) Barrio

If I had to pick the best thing about my neighborhood I would have to nominate my corner bar. Bar Canadá isn’t just any corner bar. In the trivia game of my life it happens to be—strictly by chance—the first bar I entered in Valencia when I arrived over three years ago. My brother and I were making our way to the city center from the vacation apartment I rented when I first arrived and we were passing by Bar Canadá at beer thirty. It is on one of the loveliest boulevards in all of Valencia, Avinguda Regne de València (I think it's called Atiguo Regno in Spanish but don't quote me on that). Now Bar Canadá is just a few doors away from where I live.

Bar Canadá has a great terrace on the boulevard and I sit outside in all but the foulest weather. I like to read outside during the day because if I have sufficient ambient light I don’t need my reading glasses. This bar has become my reading room. I go there at least once a day to plow through a few pages of whatever book I happen to be reading (I am rereading Mario Vargas Llosa’s Travesuras de la Niña Mala which I cannot recommend highly enough). I will also go there to watch football (last night I killed two birds with one stone as I read and kept one eye on the Mallorca-Barça match [0-1 Barça]). The food is basic Spanish bar fare and I will grab a quick bite there from time to time. I cook so much at home that I rarely eat out.
There is another bar on my block that has pretty good food, a decent terrace, and just about everything else you would ask of a corner bar. I go there every once in a while but I prefer Bar Canadá. Just two or three doors from my apartment there is yet another bar but it seems more like a private club. An older guy owns it and he opens only when he feels like it. We went there once to watch a football game. He has a nice projection screen TV in the dark back end of the bar. We were surrounded by a group of older men and it looked like we were going to witness a Mafia hit. I like the bar but I don’t seem to be on his VIP list.

My block also has a big supermarket. Here in Valencia we have two major supermarket chains: Consum and Mercadona. I much prefer Mercadona but we have a Consum on my block. I will shop there but only grudgingly. There is also a greengrocer next door that I frequent when I am too lazy to make it to the Ruzafa Market. There is also a really good bakery on the end of the block where I buy bread. I will buy unheated bread for dinner parties that I just have to heat up in a hot over for about ten minutes. They come out crusty and fresh and better than anything I could ever bake. There is yet another café next to the bakery that has some tables outside on the broad sidewalk—another great place to read.

There are at least another dozen businesses on my extended block that I don’t have much use for, but you never know. There is a tailoring shop where I keep meaning to drop off a few items of clothing for alteration. There is a pharmacy on the corner, a toy store, a tobacco shop, a pet store, a pizza joint, and a carry-out food place that specializes in empanadas. There are a couple of furniture stores, some sort of school, an electronics shop, a travel agency, and a few other things I may or may not need at some point in my life’s trajectory.

My block is fairly typical, at least here in Spain. It’s an almost completely self-contained unit with absolutely no need for an automobile. Even a bike would be overkill as everything you need is only a few steps away. All of the apartment buildings are either five or six stories with the first floor dedicated to businesses. As far as I have seen and experienced in my life, this is the perfect way to construct a city. I don’t think that an automobile is very necessary at all if you live in a city like Valencia. I look at all of the traffic here and I wonder why people are driving.*

*I had my suspicions that a lot of driving here is pointless confirmed the other day. I was visiting a friend when he mentioned that he had to pick up his son from an activity. We went down the elevator to his garage, got in his car, drove out of the garage which can be an incredibly tight fit in spots, drove out into traffic along an unbelievably roundabout path because of the patterns of one-way streets to eventually arrive to pick up his son. As it turns out, this place is only about five blocks from his house and it would have taken less time to walk there. I can’t understand why he just doesn’t make his son walk to and from the activity.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pink Slip, Orange Hair, Dark Future

I was let go from my job last week. The rodeo clown industry—like everything else—is in sharp decline. It is sad to see that the most American of activities, tormenting livestock, is on the verge of economic collapse. I blame the Republicans. I was fired for several rodeo clown dress code violations. Things like the wrong shade of orange hair and shoes too big. They said I was too gaudy for American Rodeo Association standards. They were looking for more dignified, more conservative clowns. As I said, I blame the Republicans—and vegetarians, but I blame them for almost everything.

I took my job seriously, as seriously as one can be expected to take a job where a bike horn is considered a fashion accessory. Now I’m in the unemployment line after 25 years of taking bull horns where the sun don’t shine, 25 years of getting kicked in the face by bucking broncos. I endured a lot of pain. You can bet your happy ass that I was one of those “crying on the outside” clowns but I loved my job. Now all I have to show for the scars is my retirement gift from the clown guild: a gold carnation that squirts water—that and the student loans for clown college.

The circus would be a big step down at this stage of my career, too minor league, too humiliating—if the word “humiliating” even exists in my vocabulary. Besides, circus clowns wear way too much make-up for my tastes. They look like transvestite hookers.

They won’t let me do children’s parties any more after the...I can’t believe the newspaper called it a “massacre.” I don’t see what the big deal was. I mean, can we all just take a deep breath and put this thing into perspective? It only involved five kids, three of whom have made almost complete recoveries. Lots of things can be dangerous for children: crossing the street, cleaning products under the sink, and riding their bikes. Is setting off a controlled explosion at a birthday party for eight year olds any worse? OK, obviously I’m being a little generous with the word “controlled” here but you know what I’m trying to say.

There aren’t a lot of job opportunities for a laid-off and disgraced rodeo clown. I wanted to work in the automobile safety industry but they said they only use dummies for crash testing. I guess they didn’t bother to look at the SAT scores on my resume. Three words I thoroughly understand are “dumb it down.”

They say that it’s never too late for a career change. In my line of work I’d say it’s never too soon to start looking for a new job.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Bike Ride Out of Valencia

Not a very good video of a bike ride from my neighborhood of Ruzafa to the outlying villages of Bujassot and Godella. This ride only takes about 40 minutes or so. First I go to the bike Trail at Turia park. I can actually pick up the bike trail about a half a block from my apartment but I take the street to Turia because it is quicker and faster than the bike trail Once I drop down into the park at the Palau de la Música I follow the trail until Avenida dels Corts de Valencia. I think you can see El Corte Inglés from down in the park. From here the bike trail follows Avenida dels Corts de Valencia past the new stadium currently under construction (but no work has been done on it for something like a year) and then on to the metro station at Emplame. From here you cross the tracks and follow the street through Burjassot and Godella. I love this ride.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Sepia a la Plancha

I am always looking for new ways to make sepia (cuttlefish). This recipe is about as easy as it gets and it is incredible. I order this as a tapa in bars all the time and I never get tired of eating it. It is also great on a sandwich. My hand mixer is just too moody to use so I had to mix the garlic, olive oil, and parsley with a mortar and pestle (I'm living like and animal for not having a good hand mixer). The trick with things like sepia and squid is that you either cook them very little or for a long time, otherwise they get rubbery. This one came out perfectly tender after cooking it for only about a minute and a half each side. The sauce just needs to heat and not cook or it will burn. Serve with some good bread and white wine--and olives, don't forget the olives.*

Î just bought some amazing olives at the Rocafort Saturday country market which are the best I have had so far in Spain and that is saying a lot.

¡Buen provecho!

Monday, March 01, 2010

Happiness Is a Warm Bike Ride

I had my first bike ride of the year in short pants last Thursday (25FEB10). I followed up again the next two days. Yesterday I took a break from cycling but I will be back out again today in shorts. The spring in this part of Spain is a cycling paradise and I plan to take full advantage with my new stable of bikes. I hope to have my racing bike fixed and ready for the road by the weekend. We’ve had temperatures up to 20 degrees (68°f). I think we can officially declare that winter is dead. I can’t say that it was nice knowing you, winter.

Not only is it warm but finally everything is dry. The Turia Park bike trail has been such a quagmire in places that I even opted on a few occasions to ride up on the street—that’s like choosing to run with the bulls instead of watching the spectacle from behind iron bars. Now all of the puddles have dried up and riding through Valencia’s best place is once again one of the best things about living here. I think it is worth it to visit Valencia just to take a bike ride through this park that stretches from one side of the city almost all the way to the beach.

Today is the beginning of the beginning of Fallas here in Valencia. The true craziness begins March 15th but there is a lot going on before the official start. Another great reason to ride a bike is that you can get around the city to see all of the different Fallas. The is also the daily Mascletá downtown but if you ride a bike there don’t expect to get too near the Plaza de Ayuntamiento as there are a hell of a lot of spectators every day. Lock your bike up a couple blocks away. When it is over you can head back to your bike and beat the crowds to the best restaurants for a big comida.

*The video is a promotion for Hungarians to ride their bikes to work.