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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

School Teacher Diary

Day Two

I had determined yesterday that the kids’ English level was higher than I had anticipated. We had begun to read The Ugly Ducking and it seemed too easy for them. I received three more students for a total of eight—a highly manageable number. After going through introductions again we started right off with some reading. I think that reading is the best way to present the teaching of English (or any other language). Reading is the best way to reinforce vocabulary. It is also about a million times more interesting for students than plowing through grammar exercises. I teach English the same way that I have been learning Spanish: I read and take note of any grammar structure that puzzles me. The subjunctive in Spanish can be a huge pain in the ass. When I am reading I underline every use of the subjunctive that I don’t understand and review it.

In the two hour class the kids took turns reading out loud so that I could correct any pronunciation problems. As it turns out there were very few. These kids have obviously been studying English for a while. I wrote down the infinitive form of every verb that we came across in the story which totaled something like 25. Among these were a couple of phrasal verbs that I pointed out. For most of the kids there was little in the way of new vocabulary. This is going to be a lot easier than I thought. As we read I would stop and explain grammar point.

At one point we got off on a tangent and started talking about music. I showed them how much easier it is to find song lyrics with Google when you use the word “lyrics” instead of the Spanish word “letras”. I think that the internet, generally speaking, works better in English than in Spanish. For the next class I told them to find a song in English and search out the lyrics. One of the girls in the class is called “María” so as an example I found a youtube video of the West Side Story song “María.” I told the kids that they wouldn't actually have to sing their songs (unless they really want to sing, of course) and that I would sing them all. I sang along with the video which had English captions of the lyrics. One little girl sitting next to María was laughing at me so hard I thought she was going to pass out. I figure that any time I can make the class laugh must help them to stay motivated to learn. I think that motivating them is my most important task.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

School Teacher Diary

Day 1
I am teaching English to a class of kids between the ages of 11-13 this month of July, Monday through Friday.  I will be bike commuting about 13 kilometers each way. It takes me about 45 minutes. The entire route through Valencia is on the bike path through Turia Park. I love the ride and consider the commute as a fringe benefit rather than a nuisance. The school is absolutely beautiful and I’m sure it costs a fortune.  I have altered my bike a bit for the commute as well as in preparation for some bike touring possibly this August in the north of Spain.

The main reason I took this job was to be able to finance my vacation without taking money from my savings. The pay is great at the school and I have always wanted to be a teacher, and not just for adults. My dad was a teacher so maybe it’s in my blood.   I don’t just want to be a teacher, I want to be a fantastic teacher, a teacher kids will remember the rest of their lives. I had precious few of those kinds of teachers. At Indiana University I had a couple of great professors but most of them were uninspired bores. Teaching is just another phase I am going through and I will quit and move on well before I become bored with it, I promise.

The commute will allow me to sort of shake down the gear I’ll need for a bit of not-too-ambitious bike touring. I have never toured by bike and I’m not even sure I will like it. First I need to see how much I am able and/or willing to haul. I put a rack for rear panniers on my mountain bike. This is mostly to avoid wearing a pack when I commute to the school every morning. It will soon be too hot to have anything on my back.  I just used one bag today which worked out rather well. I may need to move the rack back a centimeter or two as the bag rides a bit too close to the back of my foot on the pedal stroke. I will also swap out my tires later this week in favor of narrower, faster wheels.

I took off my rear fender to put the rack on my bike and left it off. Of course this means that it would have to rain this morning. I actually avoided most of the rain but the streets were wet and I could have used the protection. It’s summer and the rain had stopped even before I set out so the streets were drying up quickly. I’m sure that is the last time I will see rain in my tenure at summer school. I stopped off at a favorite café to get a small sandwich to eat after I got settled in at the school. I usually don’t bother with breakfast but if I have a good bike ride this early in the morning I will need to eat something every day or I’ll be famished before I get another chance to eat.

We had to divide up the students and the other teacher had written an exam to determine how this was to be done. I suggested that we just divide the students boy-girl-boy-girl and not worry about mixing levels. The exam he had written was a bit tedious and even I didn’t understand what he was trying to get at with some parts—nothing like tedious mixed with cryptic.  I thought that it was best for me to sit back and bite my tongue. I was told that the kids wouldn’t be receiving evaluations so I thought that giving them a test was just going to make them hate this summer school right from the start. I think that testing and doing mind-numbingly boring exercises are things that have strangled English teaching here in Spain, at least from what I have seen thus far. Tests have little to do with learning and most don’t even give a fair evaluation of the student’s knowledge of a subject.

The first teacher barely speaks Spanish so English was used as he explained his set of rules that he posted in the front of his classroom. I looked around at the kids and I doubt any of them understood what the hell he was talking about as he literally read them the riot act. Many of them probably didn’t even realize that he was talking about rules. He had made an extra copy of his rules for me. I’m not too big on regulations and authority. I figure that by now most kids can recognize when they are following the rules and when they aren’t. With that said I am also the type that doesn’t take any crap from anyone, especially not kids. My philosophy is anarchy meets iron fist. I just think that rules are something that for these polite kids are something best dealt with as need arises and not before. I sat back and watched the kids suffer.

Most of them were seriously agonizing over the whole process. I could only imagine how much they were dreading what was to become of their young lives inside of these walls. Tests and rules, two things I despised as a bright young student back when I was their age.  I asked the other teacher several times how long this was going to take. I told him that if he wanted to evaluate the kids that would be easy enough after 15 minutes in class. Finally after an entire hour had passed I stopped the test. “But they haven’t finished,” he told me.

I told the other teacher that the kids were relatively equal in ability with a few exceptions, so using the results of the test wouldn’t matter. Then he insisted on having the students grade their own exams which took another 20 minutes. Finally I just told him what students were coming with me and we marched off to my classroom. This will be the last time I allow anyone else access to my students.

So after the long and lengthy and completely worthless evaluation process I had a little less than 30 minutes to begin teaching.  Once in my classroom I introduced myself and told them a few things about me, mostly lies but all in proper English. Learning another language pretty much sucks so any time you are able to make a kid laugh has to work towards making the process a little more bearable. First I had to shake off the bad taste they had in their mouths from the test—something that will take more than a half an hour.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Finest World Cup Moment Thus Far: USA 1-0 Algeria

I made time to see the USA-Algeria game today but watching it was going to be another thing. At my two favorite bars in the neighborhood they were watching the England-Slovenia match and they couldn’t put both games on at once. My next option was to ride a couple of blocks down the street to the part of the neighborhood where a lot of Algerians live. There is a small café on Calle Cuba that I knew was a favorite hangout of Arab men in this area and sure enough they had the game on the television. The problem was that the place was absolutely wall-to-wall with fans. I don’t mind going deep behind enemy lines to watch a game but I at least would like a place to sit. I kept looking as the game time came and went.

I went back to my first choice, La Tasca de Russafa, where I usually go to watch football. The people who work there always assumed that I was English so when I told them my citizenship status they were sympathetic but there wasn’t much they could do. They did switch over to the USA game but only for about five minutes because of the counter-protests from the English fans. I suppose that I really didn’t mind not watching the USA game because I would be a nervous wreck and it wouldn’t have even been fun. It was 0-0 for the USA and a draw would put them out of the tournament because England was winning. As soon as the England game had finished we switched over just as Landon Donovan was running from the goal in celebration of tie-breaker in the 91st minute.

So the USA went from elimination to first in their group in the 91st minute. I can’t believe how happy this made me. I was elated along with everyone else in the bar. It’s nice being the underdog once in a while, especially when you win. I am grateful that I actually missed most of the game, especially Dempsey’s disallowed goal for offside. England missed plenty of chances to shore up their goals-scored deficiency. Rooney hit the post. At least as far as my calculations go we go through first on total goals scored with 4. Now let’s see how Spain does on Friday against Chile.


Valencia is finally getting the bike-share program off the ground this week. It’s called Valenbisi and will initially only cover one part of the city. I don’t know what the schedule is to include the rest of the city in the network. It’s not that I will even use the system but what I am waiting for are the residual effects of the program. Bike sharing has seriously increased bike riding in other cities. With increased ridership comes added safety for cyclists. Automobiles quickly learn that they need to accommodate bikes, not exactly the case yet here in Valencia. Safety in numbers, at least that’s what I hope will happen.

I have to ride very aggressively in order to survive. It would be nice just to be able to relax a bit and not worry about getting run over at every intersection. It would be nice not to shout expletives at drivers for doing incredibly stupid and dangerous things. I still almost never swear in Spanish, the words just don’t come out quickly enough. I think rude drivers understand what “Fucko” means. It has a vaguely Latin sound to it and by the look on my face they know it isn’t some exotic greeting.

This same system in Paris has sparked somewhat of a bike revolution or renaissance in the city. Bike shops claim that the sale of new bikes has never been better. It’s all about changing the status of bike riders. Right now many people think that bikes are for children or poor people who can’t afford a BMW. Making bikes sexy in the minds of citizens shouldn’t take long here in Valencia. I think that bikes will catch on really quickly and in five years the city will look completely different. It will be an enormous change for the better.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


I sometimes think that my insistence on reading exclusively in Spanish is stunting my intellectual growth. My reading level in my adopted language is quite high and getting better with every book I plow through but I miss reading in English. I feel like someone who has been “on the wagon” for three and a half years (Really going on the wagon scares the shit out of me. How do Mormons and Muslims do it?).  Just a couple of weeks ago I picked up a copy of The Silence of the Lambs in English thinking that I would give it to one of my friends studying English. I started reading it and couldn’t put it down until I had finished it that same day. It was definitely a better book than I expected but I think that I was just starving to read something that I understood completely. I’m almost embarrassed to include this thriller among the handful of English books I’ve read since moving to Valencia. What is an intellectual snob to do?

What I have read in Spanish covers a wide range but almost exclusively it’s been novels. I have usually tried to alternate between something originally written in Spanish with something translated into Spanish.  The translations are usually much easier to read and I think the best thing for improving my Spanish is to read A LOT. The more pages I read, the better I feel about my abilities. Reading reinforces vocabulary and grammar. When I read I feel more involved in the language, even more so than when I am speaking—although there is no substitute for speaking.

I spend a lot of time shopping for books. I regularly cruise three used book stores in my neighborhood as well as a couple of new book shops. The two titles you see in the photograph are what I picked up yesterday: Stieg Larsson’s third book in the Millennium series and a book of nonfiction by Gabriel García Márquez.

I have already read the Márquez book but I liked it so much that I thought that I would read it again. It is a brilliantly clear journalism account of kidnappings in Colombia. The Larsson books are enormously popular, at least here in Spain. I have noticed people reading them since I first arrived. I saw the movie adaptation of the first book (dubbed into Spanish from the Swedish). I realize that I should start with the first book but I’m really not that interested in the series. I just started reading this one in the used book store and found it easy. I also like the price (5€). I read about 50 pages last night and only had to look up about five words. On a related note, I have been thinking about watching the television series Lost backwards. I have seen one or two episodes on Spanish TV and they have made absolutely no sense whatsoever as they were in the fourth or fifth season. I think it would be fun to try to make sense of the show starting with the finale and going in reverse. I probably won’t but I like the idea.

What I would like to make more sense of is the Moorish influence in Spain. I have been looking for a good history on the subject but in the past I was hindered by my reading ability in Spanish. I think that I have reached a level that would allow me to make it through damn near anything in Spanish so I should step up my search for a good history. I am also woefully ignorant of the Spanish Civil War (I have heard that the best book on the subject was written in English). For the most part I have tried to keep my reading to the classics, at least the original Spanish books I have read. The translations are a bag of surprises, like this Larsson thing or Ken Follet’s Los Pilares de la Tierra. It seems that mostly what I have been reading is whatever the hell I can get my hands on.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Huevos Rancheros

I made salsa picante a few days earlier. I had also bought some corn tortillas and was deciding what to do with them so I made a Mexican favorite, huevos rancheros. A great meal that should be served with a cold beer and some music by Vicente Fernandez.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Fideua is another Valenciano favorite although I have never made a serious attempt at it. This time I did a bit of looking around and came up with this fairly standard recipe. When preparing a new dish I usually look at a couple of recipes and then look on youtube or videojug. I take a bit from every recipe I like to build my own. Cookbooks seem like such an anachronism these days. I can’t imagine cooking something from just a page in a book. Sic transit gloria mundi or whatever.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


I think we can all agree that BP really sucks but do you know who sucks at least as much as the creeps in charge of British Petroleum? How about every single one of us who have acquiesced to America’s continuing and ever-increasing reliance on petroleum products to fuel unsustainable lifestyles? Because we can just keep living like we do forever, right? And what if I really like my SUV, my two hour daily commute in aforementioned SUV, and having a big grass lawn in the middle of the Nevada desert? I’m just living the American dream. If this is true we need to rewrite the American dream, like, yesterday.

So we have done almost nothing as a nation—at least in my lifetime—to address the problem of oil usage. In fact, we use more now than 30 years ago. You have to wonder just what it is we are waiting for when it comes to reducing our consumption. Do we need another scientific study? A child could figure out that the way we are living is contributing to our destruction. I mean, people commit suicide by running the cars inside of the garage. It doesn’t take a scientist to realize that this is pretty much what we are doing to ourselves every time we drive yet we insist on relying more than ever on private automobiles for transportation, completely abandoning the idea of mass transportation in many parts of the country. When was the last time you took the bus?

If you want an example of how NOT to build a city then take a look at a place like Las Vegas, a city that was a 20th century invention and is now a 21st century environmental disaster in the making. Not only is it a city built where there is no water, it is a city that insists on stretching out seemingly forever in every direction. 340 square kilometers makes it over twice the area of Valencia, Spain yet is has less than half of Valencia’s population. This sort of sprawl not only makes biking and walking impossible, but it makes even public transportation impractical. There is just not enough population density to support busses or trams—not that anyone living in Las Vegas would ever walk, bike, or take a bus—that’s for poor people, right?

On a personal level, over the course of my adult life I have been using less and less. I have sought out places where I can live without contributing to the forces that drive us to drill for oil in places like the Gulf of Mexico. I say this not because I want to adopt a holier-than-thou attitude, it’s just that I think I’ve learned few things about how humans can responsibly build cities so that we can reduce disasters relating to oil usage to something of a minimum. I also happen to believe that building our cities so that they are a bit more conscious of the fragile bond we have between our survival and nature can improve our overall happiness. I would suggest that your overall happiness is directly proportional to the amount of time you spend NOT driving an automobile. If you spend a lot of time in parking lots then I would venture to say that your life is a failure on one important level. I rode my bike past a parking lot that had been torn up and will soon be the home of a new apartment building. All I could think was, “Way to go!” This is sort of the opposite of “pave paradise and put up a parking lot.”

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Friday, June 18, 2010

Cheating Bastards

As a relatively recent convert to the church of football I have to say that the sport really needs to get a handle on cheating. Cheating has become a natural component of the sport. Faking injuries is rewarded game after fucking game, Champions League after fucking Champions League, and World Cup after mother fucking World Cup. Why do fans put up with this bullshit? “It’s part of the game” is something I hear quite often when I voice my opinion on the subject. So cheating is an integral part of the game? If so that says very little for the sport.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Time for Life's Pause Button

These days all you can hope to do is rearrange your schedule as much as you can in order to watch as many World Cup matches as you possibly can. It’s not that you are expecting every game you see to be fantastic, you are simply terrified of missing some incredible moment that other people will be watching on youtube videos 20 years from now (or whatever technology soccer geeks will use to view old matches). You don’t want to have to tell people 20 years from now that you missed one of the defining moments of the 2010 World Cup because you were getting the oil changed in your car, or you had to take the cat to the vet, or you had to go to your best friend’s wedding. Who would plan a wedding during the World Cup?

You don’t want to miss something as spectacular as the Argentina-England game from the quarter finals of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. The “mano de diós” and then Maradona’s spectacular goal he took in from past midfield. I watched this game on the island of Ios in Greece along with perhaps 80 other fans. We were in a lonely little square (normally lonely) in the village and one of the cafés had placed a black and white television on a table out in the square. The commentary was in Greek which left about 99.9% of the viewers in the square scratching their heads with every call. At first, everyone thought that the controversy about the “mano de diós” was an offside call until after about the third replay. There was no dispute over Maradona’s second goal which left the square absolutely stunned at first. It was as if no one could really believe what they had just seen.

The best excuse for getting out of work or any other commitment is to say that you have diarrhea. I seem to have come down with a very nasty case of dysentery these days as I am able to predict that, say, this Wednesday at 16:00 I will have a severe bout. It just so happens that this is also the time of Spain inaugural game against Switzerland in the 2010 World Cup. Diarrhea is perfect because just the word is a complete conversation stopper and I guarantee there won’t be any questions asked. Even if you try to encourage questions people will literally run from you when you go into details.

Grandparents’ funerals are also a good excuse except most people here know that I don’t have family in Spain. There are a lot of games and even Elizabeth Taylor’s (married 8 times when I stopped counting) children would run out of dead grandparents pretty early on in the tournament. The thing is, you don’t want to be too creative with your excuses so as not to attract unwanted attention and scrutiny. Lou Gehrig’s Disease may sound cool, and good luck to you if you pull it off, but I think you are just asking for trouble with such a high-profile illness. Your office mates will be setting up a foundation in your name while you are watching Ghana-Australia down at the pub. The most important rules for lying are to keep things simple and then stick to your story, no matter what. Enjoy the games and always bring your own toilet paper.

Friday, June 11, 2010

World Cup 2010

Our hellish nightmare of nearly a month with no football for is almost over (unless you count the endless friendly matches we have seen). The World Cup kicks off today at 16:00 with host South Africa playing Mexico. Uruguay and France play tonight at 20:30, a game that will be televised here in Spain on 4. If you aren’t a football fan you will have to excuse the rest of us who will soon turn into complete morons for the next three weeks until the final game July 11, 2010 at 20:30. Tomorrow evening at 20:30 the USA plays England which I hope will be a terrific match.

Octavos de Final:

1˚ Group A – France vs 2˚ Group B – Greece
1˚ Group C – England vs 2˚ Group D – Australia
1˚ Group E – Holland vs 2˚ Group F – Paraguay
1˚ Group G – Brazil vz 2˚ Group H – Chile
1˚ Group D – Germany vs 2˚ Group C – USA
1˚ Group B – Argentina vs 2˚ Group A – Mexico (Uruguay but I’m rooting for Mexico)
1˚ Group F – Italy vs 2˚ Group E – Japan
1˚ Group H – Spain vs 2˚ Group G – Portugal

Cuartos de Final:

France vs England
Holland vs Brazil
USA vs Argentina
Italy vs Spain


England vs Brazil
Argentina vs Spain


Spain vs Brazil

And there you have it. Nothing too original in my picks although I do have a couple of emotional choices not based on how I think things should really pan out.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

You're Not the Boss of Me

“You’re not the Boss of Me!” Now there’s an aphorism at least as powerful as “Live Free or Die.” This is a bit of folk wisdom I picked up while babysitting one of my nieces or nephews although its essence is something deeply embedded in any independent individual. The concept of personal freedom is at the very core of the American outlook on life—at least this is what we all tell ourselves. This is what the Tea Partiers and gun nuts (I’m sure that many people have dual membership in these two clubs) harp on and on about. “Get the government off our backs” is their main rally cry. No one wants the government on their back, or a monkey and no one likes having someone else be the boss of them, especially young children, the Tea Party folks, and morons like Sarah Palin—sometimes I get them mixed up.

Most sensible adults realize that having a boss is often necessary and having a government is definitely always required unless you plan on living in some sort of Road Warrior dystopia of complete and utter freedom (along with the freedom to be maimed, killed, raped, and worse by those evil biker dudes). No, not many people want governments, monkeys, or anything else on their backs unless they happen to like monkeys or things like affordable health care, mass transit, bike paths, reasonably-priced child care, public schools, and a somewhat equitable distribution of income.

Ah yes, an equitable distribution of income. Just the mention of this drives American conservatives into fits of apoplexy. They aren’t the least bit concerned with the ever widening gap between rich and poor in America. They feel that the richest people in the country are our most valuable asset, our most precious resource, the job creators as they often call them even if most of the richest few got that way through speculation and finance schemes without creating more than a handful of jobs. Many of them were, in fact, responsible for reducing American manufacturing jobs in our decades-long outsourcing program combined with the other program of creating the wonderful service economy, if by “service” you mean low-end work with little in the way of benefits or security.

Years ago my younger brother theorized that a healthy portion of the modern conservative movement in America was spawned by dead-beat fathers who resented the government compelling them to look after their offspring. I have seen evidence of this over and over again in various internet forums, mostly lower-middle class white males who bitch and moan because the government garnishes their wages so that their children aren’t completely wards of the state. This is the “tax” they really hate. This is the “government” they hate.

All total, America’s richest people couldn’t fill a single monster truck rally or mega-church, and certainly not a NASCAR race, yet they seem to have quite a few people fighting for them in their corner. In a series of clever and very cynical ploys the American Right has pretended to stand behind hot button issues like re-criminalizing abortion,* gun rights, and lower taxes. This last issue is one the rich really, truly believe in as no one hates taxes more than the filthy rich. Many of the Right’s staunchest supporters make so little that the taxes they pay are hardly worth mentioning and any further reduction would be meaningless in their overall prosperity. What most of the poorer right-wingers really need is access to public transportation so they don’t have to make a $350 car payment every month. Or they need affordable health care that conservatives don’t seem willing or able to provide. Or they need good public schools so that their children are on the same footing with the rich brats when it comes time for them to look for jobs. Instead conservatives give promises of getting the government off our backs.

Recently Conservatives have begun to use Greece as an example of why we don’t want to go down the path of European-style socialism but what they don’t tell you is that most of Greece’s problems stem from their own Tea Party movement in the guise of a lot of citizens not paying their taxes and thus not contributing to the system. This has caused not a little resentment in other European countries where most people do pay their taxes and who will now be forced to bail out the Greek teabaggers. Spain is also in fairly precarious shape right now and for a lot of the same reasons as Greece. Too much of the Spanish economy operates on this black level with people not paying federal taxes. What you don’t hear in Spain is anyone suggesting that they eliminate their excellent national health care system.

“Someone making billions of dollars doesn’t take away from my ability to earn a decent living” seems to be the mission statement of conservatives. The fact that corporate officers of publicly held companies now make something like 400 times as much as the workers doesn’t concern right-wingers, nor does the fact that the middle class has been steadily shrinking since Ronald Reagan (the Right’s poster boy) lowered taxes for America’s richest citizens. The Right seems to have invented a time machine that is taking America back to the early years of the 20th century when the country was ruled by robber barons and workers took whatever pathetic pay and benefits companies offered in a “take-it-or-leave-it” world in which the rich had all of the cards.

Conservatives constantly criticize America’s “elite,” which by this they mean just about any educated person. Conservatives excoriate powerless intellectuals, artists, and other fairly harmless citizens who dare to point out the lies and inconsistencies in rightist philosophy (if you can call it philosophy). By “elite” they never mention the true elite represented by a handful of fabulously wealthy individuals who are intent upon re-establishing a monarchical state and a return to the happy days of serfdom in America. It won’t be long now; we’re almost there. You have to admire their dedication to a singular cause.

The politics of the conservatives and libertarians—whatever the fuck “libertarian” means—would be silly if it weren’t such a destructive force in America. Most Americans have absolutely no idea of how well people live in most countries in Europe. I would argue that Spain has a much stronger middle class than we do in the USA. They have universal health care and an excellent mass transit system, and Spain was basically a third world country a generation ago. If you look at countries like Germany, France, and Holland (among others) it’s like they are living like The Jetsons compared to most communities in the US. In these countries they actually sit around and think up ways to make their societies better. Conservatives just expect things to get better as business improves. Although there is definitely an advantage to higher incomes it certainly isn’t everything in determining human happiness, especially once you get past meeting basic needs. We are way past that and Americans don’t rate very high on the happiness scale. Why not?

I think that a big part of the reason why people in such a wealthy country aren’t deliriously happy is that we base way too much of how we measure people on material status. I know this makes me some sort of hippy for even saying this but it’s the damned truth. It is very difficult to avoid sizing up others and having yourself measured by others on the basis of the stuff we own. I realize that this is probably the foundation of consumerism and therefore the backbone of capitalism and thus the whole purpose of human existence—at least according to conservatives—but as a species I think we should aim a little higher than just hoarding shit and trying to make our neighbors covetous.

Just the other day I was in a store at the mall and I was looking at a pair of flip-flops. I thought to myself, “These are kind of nice.” I looked at the price tag and they were 140€ (about $170) and I just thought, “Who the fuck needs a pair of flip-flops that cost more than what a lot of people spend on groceries in a month.” Not me, that’s for sure. Just on principle I couldn’t spend that on flip-flops. The whole point of flip-flops is that they are ultra-casual and as informal as footwear gets and now we have some genius turning them into a luxury item. It’s not as if they looked really comfortable or that they were going to last the rest of your natural life. There was no apparent difference in quality. They were just expensive for the sake of being expensive and thus exclusive. The next day I bought a pair of flip-flops that cost 4€. If one of the 10 Commandments is “Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Goods” then another should read “Thou Shouldn’t Spend So Much Time and Energy Acquiring Crap Just so The Neighbors Become Covetous.”

I think that Western society wouldn’t come screeching to a halt if people decided we didn’t need to produce flip-flops that cost 140€ and I’m fucking positively certain that we could do without the top 1% controlling 43% of financial wealth in the country. It also seems obvious to anyone with an emotional age over anyone who no long needs a babysitter that someone has to be the boss in any society. We can either lend power to democratically elected politicians or we can relinquish all power to private enterprise as conservatives will have us do.

Good luck trying to wrestle that power back again once we hand everything over. Corporations would slit our collective throats in a New York minute if we gave them half a second and a fraction of an opportunity. I seriously doubt that BP would give two shits about this horrific oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico if they didn’t think that at some point some government somewhere was going to kick their ass over it. Imagine a group of concerned citizens along the coast trying to petition BP to do something about the spill. The board members would laugh themselves hoarse. No, I’ll take government over the private sector when it comes to making a lot of decisions about my well being. Voting may not be the strongest weapon against forces out to do me harm but it’s about we have unless you are a member to that elite 1% of earners.

*How making abortion illegal again will strengthen our nation is really a head-scratcher for me. I don’t get it. Once again we see how so much of conservative dogma seeks to get us back to a place where we were years ago and hated so much that we literally fought in the streets to change things.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Mall Wars

For only about the third time during my years here in Valencia I ventured to one of the shopping malls. This one is called Centro Comercial El Saler and is a short bike ride from where I live. I had been there maybe once before but I don’t remember why I went. This time I was out to buy a toaster as a birthday present and I figured I’d save a few euros if I bought it at Carrefour, a big discount store like Target or whatever. I rarely went to malls in the US and I had forgotten how much I hate them, if “hate” is a strong enough word for my feelings. I thought that I would be in and out in a few minutes. Hell, I can hold my breath for a few minutes so this wouldn’t be too bad.

As soon as I walked in I passed a shoe store which made me realize that I could use a decent pair of sandals for the summer instead of wearing the cheap pair of flip-flops I bought last summer at one of the local “chinos” or variety stores. I stopped in and looked around and saw a pair I liked, but I almost never buy anything without giving it at least a second look. I left the shoe store and continued on to Carrefour. Once inside Carrefour I passed the book section and I spent a few minutes looking for anything that might be interesting. From there I seem to have lost control of my consumer impulses and like a riderless horse I simply galloped through the orgy of consumerism around me, dreaming of all of the new shit I was going to buy. From these happy thoughts my mind was reaching for a solution of how I would transport these wonderful new products to my home. I had a picture of myself on my bike loaded down with bags and boxes and possibly wearing several layers of new clothing—definitely a new pair of sandals or two. I was even browsing the food section. They say you shouldn’t shop for food when you are hungry—sage advice that should be expanded to say that you shouldn’t shop for anything if you feel too much in the way of need.

After about 45 minutes of coveting I came to my senses and found the toasters. I picked one out and went to the cash register. They don’t give out plastic bags at Carrefour so you have to bring your own bags or buy a reusable bag there for .50€. These reusable shopping bags are the reason I came to Carrefour in the first place. I had seen someone else with one of these bags at my supermarket. As it turns out the bags are too big for my needs as they don’t fit in the basket of my bike. There is some sort of message in this about being disappointed in your material longings. I had spent weeks thinking how great this bag was going to be and now I realize that I don’t like it. This disappointment only cost me half a euro. The toaster isn’t my problem to worry about since it’s a gift. Someone else will have to decide if it satisfies or disappoints.

It was a pretty traumatic experience and one I’m not looking to duplicate any time soon. I just think people are better off getting their consumerism in little doses rather than binging at places created specifically to inspire greed, consumption, envy, elitism, and class-consciousness. I went in to buy a toaster and I left wanting about 50 different items that I don’t need and didn’t know existed before walking through the front door. The one thing that I did buy—the shopping bag—I don’t even want.

I guess that is what I like about my life in the neighborhood: you aren’t buried under an avalanche of choice for every stupid accessory in your life. In the US we have perfected the craft of making everything we buy something that separates us from one another. We are class-conscious down to the flip-flops we wear. After more than three years here I think that I just fall into the mold of most other Spanish people who buy their clothes on the cheap and who buy their summer footwear at the local dime store.

Speaking of mindless consumerism, I saw that they made another Sex and the City movie. I’m sure it’s playing in the mall theater. They should just play it right in the damn mall in the spirit of life imitating art, although I am being almost criminally generous with the word “art” in this context.