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Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Wars in July 2010

I can’t believe I am still writing anti-war essays. I can’t believe we are still dug in so deep in both Iraq and Afghanistan that our “exit strategy” seems to be to dig our way through the center of the earth to get back home.

So the USA has spent $300 million on our war in Afghanistan according to recent reports. Whatever. Either half of that amount or double and it’s still a fucking crime against humanity to have spent this much money on absolutely nothing. I have been completely opposed to our insane military response to the September 11th attacks. The problem is finding a military leader in the U.S. armed forces who has the balls to say that there is no military solution to our terrorism problem—careerists cunts all. As I have said over and over again, it’s a war of ideas and a war we could easily win. Too bad we never tried my approach.

Our ideas are just inherently better than those of the Muslim extremists with whom we think we are at war. It’s like Real Madrid thinks they are at war with some junior league soccer club. If we had had an ounce of leadership in America after 9/11 we would have turned the other cheek (while secretly tracking down the cunts behind it and killing them). We should have reached out to the world with aid projects, perhaps building schools in the poorest countries. I seriously doubt that Al Qaeda could have gained allies to war against us after that. After Bush’s two failed wars there probably isn’t a Muslim kid anywhere who wouldn’t want to see harm done to America. Great job Georgie, you fucking brain-dead idiot, you and everyone who went along with you for the ride.

And now this is all Obama’s problem and he doesn’t have what it takes to pull the plug on the whole nightmare. That’s just the way it is. The president doesn’t run the country; it’s run by industry. It is run by Haliburton and Boeing and Ford and McDonald Douglas, and all the other war profiteers. We the people don’t have much say in the matter although they give us the right to vote. I voted to end these fucking wars. I voted for Obama. As far as the wars go I don’t see a big difference between Bush and my guy. Welcome to Democracy 2.0 brought to you by our sponsors (mentioned previously). What is a free-thinker to do? Is there a post-democracy society that we can work towards? I like the fact that I’m allowed to vote but if it doesn’t mean anything then what’s the point?

P.S. Yet another reason why we need to get the fuck out of that stinking shithole immediately.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Last Ride to School

Tomorrow will mark my 25th and last day of bike commuting to Rocafort, a town about 14 kilometers from my apartment here in Ruzafa. I have to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed each and every ride. I have found that I felt more relaxed on my rides on the days when I left a few minutes early. I always arrived early—at least 30 minutes before the kids show up. It’s just that when I leave four or five minutes earlier than usual I just feel less stress along the route—not that I really felt any stress. Every day as I mount up after carrying my bike down three flights of stairs I stow my gear in my saddle bag, put o my sun glasses, and bless my lucky stars for getting out for a beautiful bike ride. I can’t believe that I get paid (and well) for it.

Every day this week I have stopped off at a little café about ¾ of a kilometer from the school to buy a sandwich of tortilla de patatas, loganiza, con mayonesa which is basically a heart attack wrapped in fat and then dipped in cholesterol. Keep in mind that I have just ridden 14 kilometers in the summer in Spain at a fairly quick pace. I eat the sandwich when I get to my classroom as I am preparing for the day’s lesson. One of these days I am going to stop in at this café and record a video of the woman who makes the tortillas which is one of the best I’ve had…ever. This is no small feat as I order tortillas in almost every place I go.

One of my astute kids introduced me to Microsoft Powerpoint. I wish I would have known about this at the beginning of my classroom career. I have been developing my lesson plan on Powerpoint and it is really a marvel—at least when teaching kids between the ages of 11 and 13 who are bored to fucking death of learning English. I feel for them; I studied French in high school and I was totally fucking bored at every step of the journey. My two teachers didn’t know French very well so I know that we part ways in our methods. My kids at least respect the fact that I speak English better than their teachers and I also speak Spanish as well as any 13 year old in Spain. I had to explain to them the word “mutiny” (motín) in Spanish one day when they were being a bit unruly. Then I had to explain what it means to hang someone from the yardarms and to give mutinous dog 40 lashes. Discipline onboard has improved considerably since that lesson. If there is one thing that kids understand it is violence or the threat of it.

I think that I know as well as anyone how boring it can be to study a foreign language. I have spent most of my life entrenched in the study of languages from Arabic to Modern Greek to my current struggle with the language of Cervantes. I lectured my kids today (in my finest Castilian Spanish) about the nature of studying languages. I told them that there are no short cuts, there is not easy method, you can’t learn English by playing games but there comes a moment when the work pays off. For me that moment was when I could read in Spanish. Since then it has been a real joy; I could say the same thing for my study of French. M reading level in French is quite high even though I struggle with the spoken version. I read Le Figaro almost daily.

More than anything I want to inspire my kids to really sink their young teeth into learning English. All of them speak it with very little accent. I tell them that they can speak English like a native if they keep practicing—unlike their old teacher who will always have an accent no matter how long I live here, that’s just the cruel reality of language learning. I want them to understand that English isn’t just another subject in school; it will be an important determining factor in how they live their lives. If they can master English they will feel much more comfortable in Europe outside of Spain. I also told them how much I envy the fact that they speak perfect Spanish and can travel to 22 countries in the world where their language is spoken.

Part of my Powerpoint presentation (that’s what they are called, presentations) included descriptions of parts of the USA. Seattle was featured, of course, but also New York and California. One of the kids, who comes to school on his skateboard, told me that California is la leche, or the milk literally but means “the shit.” I don’t worry much about his English. He’ll learn it well. He understands that there’s a big world waiting for him outside his familiar locale. I learned that same lesson when I was about 15 and that has made all the difference.

Monday, July 26, 2010

How to Make Chilaquiles

I really miss Mexican food. Tracking down the necessary ingredients can be a pain and they are often expensive. I made refried beans a couple of days ago and added a bit of morcilla sausage I had in the fridge. Yum. I put the beans on some tostadas with chicken and pico de gallo (I made another batch of pico).

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Dog Days

I don’t mean to be gross but it is so hot these days that I sleep on a couple of beach towels to keep my bedding from getting soaked with sweat. My house is sin aire condicionado, of course, but I have a big fan blowing directly on my sweaty carcass. I woke up this morning at about 04:00 because the air had stopped moving so the fan was just pushing around something wet, stale, and hot. I made it back to bed and when I woke up for keeps at 06:30, the morning breezes had started to pick up. It was actually pretty nice. I love these early mornings in summer and I feel quite lucky that I am forced out of the house Monday through Friday to appreciate them. I have always appreciated the summers here and I’m truly grateful during these months that I don’t live somewhere like Sevilla or Madrid, places that see temperatures around 40˚ every day.

I don’t even care that I don’t have air conditioning and even if I had it I wouldn’t use it. And it’s not like air conditioning would help me when I’m humping all over Valencia on one of my bicycles. Most people here in Valencia don’t use air conditioning much. People are just a lot more frugal with their energy usage, not because they are eco-hippies or anything like that but simply to save money as electricity is rather expensive here. In Valencia even most businesses don’t bother with air conditioning.

I went to the little cinema near my apartment last week to get away from the heat for a bit as well as improve my Spanish. The theater was air conditioned but it’s not like you needed to bring a sweater with you like I remember when I lived in Florida. Every indoor business in Miami feels like they need to create frost on the inside of their windows to attract customers. The only exception to this is the big department store El Corte Inglés. I sometimes ride by the front doors (always wide open) of the store near Las Ciencias and the frigid air mixing with the heat creates its own wind patterns. You could fly a kite.

Valencia’s climate is extremely pleasant for most of the year and requires little in the way of artificial adjustment, either hot or cold. If your apartment is well insulated (and none are) you wouldn’t need heat except for maybe two weeks in January. I really like the weather here when it is hot enough to wear shorts but you can wear a long sleeve shirt. That isn’t the case these days, however. I can’t even get away with wearing cotton shirts. The trick is to not exert yourself and stay out of the sun—kind of hard to do while riding a bike. Even riding a bike isn’t bad during the summer—it’s the stopping part that will kill you. When I stop it’s like my sweat bank comes collecting for the past 30 minutes I have been riding with a 25-30 kph breeze in my face supplied by my legs.

Last night I sat down at a café at around 6 pm to read for an hour or two. The sun was behind a building and it was very pleasant. I am reading Shogun in Spanish just to give me something that I know I can sink my teeth into. I’ve read it in English a few times and I am devouring this time around in Spanish. I’m picking up a lot of new nautical vocabulary (estribor-starboard, babor-port) and reinforcing a lot of words I have seen before. As I have said before, translations into Spanish are pretty easy for me these days, no matter what the subject. A Campari and soda and a good book—what more do you need? What more do I need? That’s a good start but I’ll write down a list of what else I need right now but that will be the subject for another day.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Paella Valenciana II

I thought it was time to update my recipe for paella before the Valenciano paella Nazis came banging at my door. I think it is an arrestable offense to alter their recipe in any way. I think I'm safe with this video. I actually used video from two separate paellas as I wasn't happy with the one I made two weeks ago. I made another one today and it came out rather well, if I can say that. I used much more water initially this time to compensate for the evaporation during the cooking process. You can't really measure the water because you can't be sure how much you will lose. When you add the rice you just have to eyeball the fluid level in the pan.

Friday, July 16, 2010

¡Que calor!

I know people are just trying to be friendly but I really hate it when total strangers comment to me on how hot it is. Yes, it’s summer; it’s fucking supposed to be hot. I just rode a bike for 14 kilometers; do you think I’m somehow not aware of the temperature? I just tell people that I LOVE the heat. Love it. Talking about the weather is just too much of a maruja* thing for me so don’t even try it. Other things I don’t want to talk about: what you saw last night on “So You Think You Can Dance” (or whatever the fuck is the Spanish equivalent), how much your back/leg/kidney/neck hurts, and certainly nothing relating to your imbecilic political views. If this doesn’t leave you anything to talk about then just shut your cake hole while you wait in line at the grocery store.

If I sound a little testy it's because I'm all sweaty and sticky.

*Slang for “little old lady” from the common first name “Maruja” which is like Maude or Hazel in English, names long out of fashion.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Great Moments in Teaching

Definitely one of the more memorable moments teaching my kids occurred today when we did a music class after one of the girls said that she would sing a song from Grease. When push came to shove she chickened-out so I had to sing Summer Nights all by my lonesome, although the kids helped me out a lot with the chorus (“Tell me more, tell me more, etc.). When I finished I asked the class if anyone else cared to sing a song and to my great surprise someone took me up on my offer. An 11 year old who is just a great kid said he would sing Naïve by The Kooks. Cool by me. I know the song well and I know it’s difficult to sing so I gave him some back-up. Kids can be fun.

Monday, July 12, 2010

¡Campeones del Mundo!

I watched the game at the port along with about 10,000 other people. Sure, I would have been more comfortable at home and I could have actually seen the game better, but I’m not 100 years old yet and I don’t mind getting into the scrum once in a while for an important game and I think this one qualified. I would have never forgiven myself had I taken the easy path and stayed home or watched the match in a mellow bar somewhere.  The mob was completely crazy and I enjoyed every second of it.

I thoroughly enjoyed the day-long, day-after World Cup hangover here in Spain. I only wish that I could have been in Madrid for the victory parade as the team meandered through the city on top of a double-decker bus. It looked like millions of fans turned out to celebrate. One part of me is relieved I wasn’t in Madrid because I was exhausted after the night before (and the fact that I had to get up bright and early today).  It has been the end to a very long and enjoyable trip for all of us who are fans of the Spanish national team. Spain finally did it and I was here to see it all!

A month-long hate affair has finally ended between the vuvuzuela and me.  I hope to never hear one as long as I live.  After watching football all evening I would often go to bed am have vuvuzuelas blowing in my head hours later.  After listening to this horrible little instrument throughout the World Cup I grabbed one out of a guy’s hand last night in a bar, hyper-ventilated a bit, and then let out the longest vuvuzuela blast in recorded history.  Those things get, like, exponentially louder the longer you blow on them. I blasted it for probably over a minute. I had a circle of people around me who probably would have lynched me if they weren’t generally nice, non-violent types. Spanish people love to make noise so the vuvuzuelas caught on here during the Cup but, like fireworks during Fallas, once the party is over people have put them away until the next time around—whenever that may be.  Never is good for me, is never good for you? (Previous joke stolen from an old New Yorker cartoon)

It was a long and grueling month for fans beginning on June 11th with the opening ceremonies and first game. I need to check in to a spa or rehab center for football addicts. I can always read more. Lord knows I read precious little during World Cup, certainly not my self-mandated 50-pages-a-day minimum.  This detour comes only once every four years and it’s not like I was going to miss any of it seeing that how—from the start—I knew Spain was going to win it all. God damn it was fun.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Spain vs Holland: The Hollywood Version

Today is the big day here in Spain. I’m rooting for La Roja all the way, of course. It has been a wild ride for the Spanish national team ever since I first got off the boat here over three years ago. Today at 20:30 is the end of the ride, one way or another. I have to say that Holland worries the shit out of me. They play a much more direct style of football and their offensive potency is absolutely scorching. Take a look at this brilliant goal by Dutch defender Giovanni Van Bronckhorst. I mean, I seriously doubt that three Iker Casillas could have stopped that shot. Add to this the fact the both Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben are playing better than ever and you have trouble on your hands.

If I could write a Hollywood ending for this game it would have Sneijder scoring the first goal which would give him six total in the Cup and the leading scorer (pichichi in Spanish). Then David Villa would score and tie Sneijder. Late in the game Villa scores again to take the lead in scoring and push Spain into the top slot in the World Cup 2010 bracket. Spaniards have a name for this type of fantasy, they call it americanadas, or Americanisms from the Hollywood happy endings they see in our movies. I doubt that any Spaniard would see my americanada as a bad thing.

There you have it. I wrote the script, now we just need Spain to act it out.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Alemania 0-1 España

My pre-World Cup predictions are now in shambles, all except one, my most important pick. Spain was supposed to be playing Argentina in the semi-finals instead of Germany but at least I had the correct result. I think Spain finally showed to any and all doubters that they are a fantastic team that plays the best football. It was a very clean match last night with very few fouls and none of the drama of bad officiating and players diving that have stamped too many games in this World Cup. It still drives me crazy that Spain has been unable to score more goals but in the end su majestad, el gol (his majesty, the goal) showed that it often only takes one.

I actually watched the game at home last night, alone. I was too nervous to be around anyone else so I made up an excuse for missing the first half and told people I would catch up with them for the second.  I told people that I had miscalculated a dish and that it would still be in the oven when the match began and I didn’t want to miss anything—any excuse having to do with food preparation will be accepted by anyone who knows me. I figured that Spain would score in the first half and that I could relax enough to be around other humans.  Nope. It was a scoreless, nerve-racking 45 minutes although from the first touch Spain played as well as they have ever played. They were absolutely brilliant, in fact. Every player was outstanding.

And then in the second half Spain scores on a corner kick—not exactly a Spanish strength. In my three and a half years here I’m not sure that I have ever seen the national team score on a set piece and certainly never on a corner. After watching hundreds of Valencia CF matches I have seen them score one corner in a UEFA game against Brugges two years ago. Carles Puyol was the hero last night and he ran out of the goal area last night after scoring with a look on his face like he couldn’t even process what he had just accomplished.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Rise and Shine and Run Serpentine

I’m being forced to wake up and leave the house even earlier for the next week. Today begins the festival of San Fermín which means every morning at 08:00 they televise the encierro, or the running of the bulls through the streets of Pamplona. I have been to this city before but I have never really cared to go during the festival. I have heard mixed reviews but most of my Spanish friends who have gone tell me not to bother. A lot of drunken college kids who probably never even read Hemingway and couldn’t care less.

I find it mesmerizing to watch and it’s something I haven’t missed since I moved here. The problem is that it starts promptly at 08:00 and I have to leave my house at this time so I have to hit the street 30 minutes earlier, ride part of the way to my job, and pull over to watch the encierro in a bar somewhere along the way. Today I rode past a bar and I didn’t even have to dismount to find out whether or not they would have it on. I pulled up to the coffee window and hollered at the woman inside to get her attention then I asked if she wouldn’t mind turning it on. She said sure, why not, so I ditched my bike outside and sat at the bar for a café con leche. As I said, it starts at 08:00. It’s one of the few things in Spain that is always on time and then it’s over in about five minutes. Immediately afterwards they show a replay of anything interesting that may have happened during that day’s encierro, and by “interesting” I mean did anyone get gored or generally fucked up by one of the massive bulls (some weigh over 500 kilos). It always amazes me that 20-30 people aren’t killed every day.

I think that if I ever did go to Pamplona to run in the encierro I would try to make friends with the enraged bulls. Maybe they just need someone to pet them, scratch them under the chin, or give them a treat. Either that or I would run down the street inside one of those sharks cages, although that didn’t end well in the movie Jaws if I remember correctly. That brings up an interesting point: how about a festival where you swim down one of the canals in Venice or Amsterdam just ahead of a pack of sharks? There has to be a market for that kind of action. I can't believe someone hasn't already dreamed this up. Do I have to do all of the thinking around here?

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Summer at Last

It is now officially summer because I made my first batch of gazpacho today. I thought I had finished the process but I tasted the result and found it lacking…something. I immediately noticed that I had forgotten to add bread. I have to say that I was a little proud of myself for recognizing how gazpacho is supposed to taste. I thought mine had the right tanginess because I had added the perfect amount of vinegar. I had the salt about right,too, but it was missing body. My trick is using the great whole wheat bread from Mercadona. I had a few slices on hand and added them to the pot. I will make the final adjustments after the pot has cooled properly in the fridge.

I made quite a lot even though I consciously tried to make less than I usually make. Gazpacho will be flowing around here like beer at a Polish wedding (not that I have actually been to a Polish wedding but I would imagine that they drink a lot of beer at those things).

P.S. Holland won 3-1 with goals by former Real Madrid players Robben and Sneijder. In Spain they call Holland's team La Mecánica Naranja, the clockwork orange. Forlan also had a terrific goal.

Monday, July 05, 2010

July Schedule

I am enjoying my summer schedule so far even if it means getting up at 06:30 Monday-Friday. I don’t need to get up at that ridiculous hour but mornings have always been the best time for me to work. I really enjoy summer mornings here on the Mediterranean coast. Even at 06:30 the sun has been poking around for a while. It is astonishingly quite with barely a bird chirping and with none of the street noise that will come soon enough. I have to time to really savor my first cup of coffee of the day. I would say that coffee is my favorite drug but I don’t want the other drugs in my life to get jealous—alcohol has a really bad temper.

I still don’t eat breakfast but I have started packing a sandwich that I eat at the very Spanish hour of almuerzo, the morning snack that is a daily ritual for millions of Spaniards. After my bike ride in the morning I absolutely must put something in my stomach. I never really understood the whole almuerzo thing before. At around 10:00 weekday mornings, cafés fill to the brim with workers who sit down for a sandwich, a beer, and a coffee. This was always way too early for me to ever think about food let alone a beer or a glass of wine. Now that I am commuting by bike I really need something in my tank at around this hour. Even as much as I like to eat I have still never really adopted the Spanish custom of having a big meal at around 2 p.m. This is even true now that I am commuting about 28 kilometers and finish up in the early afternoon.

La comida, or the afternoon meal, is more like a sacrament for Spanish people than a simple meal. This is why the country practically comes to a halt every day at 2 p.m. I will have a big midday meal on weekends but during the week I don’t go too overboard. I rarely go to restaurants at this time because the daily fixed-price menus are just too much food for me during the day. I much prefer to have my bigger meal in the evening. In the sense of my inner food clock I’m afraid that I may never be very Spanish, but you never know. I am eating almuerzo after all, a very new development (although my almuerzo is sin alcohol). A beer or glass of wine during the day just knocks me out but never say never! An afternoon drink is a luxury for me and one I can seldom afford.

As far as the teaching goes the kids are a lot of fun. It is a challenge to keep them entertained while making sure they learn English. Today we talked a lot about the verb “To Be” and how we use it in English compared to Spanish. I told them they can’t leave my class without learning that in English you say “I am 97 years old” instead of “I have 97 years” as you would say in Spanish. Then we talked about things we are afraid of which also uses this verb. They went through the usual litany of fears: spiders, snakes, sharks, and bees (which prompted the discussion when one flew in the class and I swatted it back out thus gaining the admiration of the kids). One of the kids asked me what I was afraid of and I told them that I didn’t like flying monkeys like in The Wizard of Oz, and I emphasized the plural of monkeys because I’m not afraid of one little flying monkey. But that isn’t the way those little villains rolled in The Wizard of Oz. You could never go up against just one of the little runts; there were always hundreds of them. In a fair fight I could stomp even the biggest monkey but I would eventually get overwhelmed by these little hirsute thugs. I hope I got my point across about the English construction “To be afraid of something.”

When it was time to go home I re-applied some SPF 50 on my face, refilled my water bottle, and shoved off for Valencia. I wasn’t really looking to break any speed records but I was sort of pressured into sprinting most of the way home just because that’s the way the traffic lights and train trestles. I would see a traffic light a kilometer ahead that I knew would be changing so I stood up and humped for all I was worth (total self worth $49.95 with coupon) to make it through. Once I began speeding up I didn’t want to slow down. So much for the mellow, reflective ride home.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Vacations and Memories

Existimos mientras alguien nos recuerda.(We are alive as long as we are remembered)
La Sombra del Viento -Carlos Ruíz Zafón

I was wasting some time in a downtown bookstore one day when I noticed a small section of books in French. Among the modest collection I came across a memoir written by my great-uncle, Marc Bernard, recipient of the 1934 Prix Interalié for his novel Anny, and also the recipient of the more prestigious Prix Goncourt for his novel Pareils à des enfants in 1942.

The book I discovered is called Vacances and was published in 1953. I have read a few of his books, none of which have been translated into English but most are still in print 25 years after his death. I was never able to meet my uncle although I made a half-hearted attempt to look him up during my first trip to France in 1979. I didn’t have much to go on at the time. I simply traveled to Nîmes where my family had lived. As I later learned, Marc Bernard had actually returned to this southern French city to live after spending most of his adult life in Paris and other places. We never got a chance to meet but I’m sure he would have been pleased to know that his nephew has become a great admirer of his work.

Vacances begins with a wonderful introduction by the French author, Roger Grenier, which describes the career of Marc Bernard from orphan at age 11, to the factory worker and self-taught intellectual who wrote his first novel during a bout of unemployment. He was holed up in a hotel and a maid noticed that he seemed to work night and day. She asked him whether or not he ever stopped writing to eat. “It’s just that I don’t have much to eat.” She made sure from then on that he ate with the others in the hotel.

He had a friend present his manuscript for his first novel, Zig-zag to a Paris publisher who immediately accepted it. Marc Bernard soon went to the office of his publisher, Jean Paulhan, to thank him. There in the office Paulhan asked my uncle if he had read anything by André Gide. Marc Bernard said that he had and that he liked his work. Paulhan then introduced him to Gide who happened to be sitting directly across from them in the office at the time. Paulhan presented my uncle to Gide saying that he was a factory worker who wrote and who had also read Gide’s work. Gide asked him if any other workers at the factory read his stuff. "Non. Je suis le seul." I’m sure that Gide was disappointed to learn that he wasn’t popular among the factory workers of France in the 1920s. They became friends after that and Gide remained an admirer and promoter of Bernard’s work.

He starts out the memoir by declaring that he is a man of vacations and that he wishes that the world were nothing more than a vacation spot, that factories and offices be closed for months throughout the year while their workers and staff enjoy the pleasures of time off. He wished that man could return to the wisdom of our primitive forefathers who dedicated themselves to nothing more than fishing, hunting, and love; activities particularly suitable for vacations.

In Vacances Marc Bernard tells stories about his life of travel, war, idleness, work, and vacations. What a cool and full life he led. He seemed to be particularly fond of Spain as he dedicated three chapters in this book to my newly adopted country. He writes about two trips he makes to the Spanish Balearic islands. His father, Juan Bernat (my namesake), was born in Soller, Majorca. I haven’t been to Majorca but I plan on making a visit to see from whence I came. I hope to be speaking a bit of Valenciano/Catalan/Majorquino (They are all very similar) dialect before I get there.

He tells a story in the book about a trip he took to Majorca in 1937. He was passing through Barcelona on his way there. He was walking along the beach, smoking a cigar that he describes as being a big as a walking stick (a fondness for puros, or Cuban cigars is another similarity between the two of us) when he was approached by an armed soldier. This was during the Spanish Civil War and my uncle, being a worker, a unionist, a communist, was obviously a Republican (they were the good guys). He was taken in for questioning on the suspicion of being a German spy for the fascist nationalists. He was asked about the stamp he had on his passport (French) for Majorca two years previous when he took another trip there to explore his roots. He was put in a car with an armed escort and driven into the countryside. After a while he realized that he probably wasn’t going to be executed because they would not have wasted so much gasoline if that was their intention. He was released when someone who spoke French verified that his accent was indeed French. He was then driven back to Barcelona’s Ramblas and bid farewell in the Spanish custom of effusive hugs and handshakes.

The most remarkable coincidence in all of this was discovering a chapter dedicated to Valencia in his book, a book that I discovered while living in Valencia. He was here in 1952 for La Feria, a week of bulls, which I assume was the Fallas festival which takes place every year in March. It was during this festival when I saw my first bullfight. As I mentioned, he was from Nîmes, in the southern French province of Languedoc which has bullfighting festivals in the Arènes, a first century a.d. Roman amphitheater. Marc Bernard was obviously a huge aficionado of la corrida and this chapter is one of the most eloquent descriptions of the art of bullfighting that I have read in any language. I would have loved to have attended a corrida with my uncle with the two of us smoking the biggest cigars that money can buy. I wonder if I also inherited my love of fermented grapes from this side of my family.

My detour into French came at the expense of my Spanish. I had lunch in the home of a friend of a friend while I was plowing through this book in French. I felt like my Spanish had never been worse. I was mis-conjugating verbs, speaking with an atrociously bad accent (I thought), and just thoroughly mangling the Spanish language. After lunch, when the adults went out to the patio for a cocktail and to enjoy the late afternoon sun, I chose to stay inside and improve my Spanish by watching a Sesame Street (Barrio Sésamo) video with my newest Spanish amigo, Quino (age 5). In the video a woman walks up to a group of people on the street and starts speaking French. I pointed out to Quino (short for Joaquín) that she was speaking French. He looked at me with a bit of surprise and asked, “Tu tienes ésta péli?” (you have this video?). Probably the most humorous moment thus far for me in Spain. Gracias, Quino.

 This is something I wrote a while back and recently edited.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Interesting Things about Me You May Not Know

1) I had an accident many years ago and had to have a stainless steel colon put in. This is why I can eat so much hot food. I used to be able to put my Mexican friends to shame in jalapeño-eating contests. It sounds kind of cool, right, but kids made fun of me a lot for it back when I was in school. Every silver-lined colon has a cloud.

2) My Indian name is “Swears Too Much.”

3) I don’t have any tattoos. In fact, I think they are completely trashy, retarded, and the farthest thing from cool I can possibly imagine, but if I were to get one I would do a huge depiction of the Battle of Trafalgar. I love the era of sailing ships.

4) I’m not a racist, really…but…I really hate the Italians during the World Cup. I sometimes think that I need to move to Italy to get over my revulsion of Italian football. I’m sure that I would love it there although I don’t think I could ever be a Juventus fan even if I lived there until I died of old age (which could be either next year or the year after, according to the actuarial tables).

5) I would take a plate of good French fries over lobster or caviar any day of the week. I mean, who wouldn’t rather have some really good French fries instead of lobster? You could probably deep-fry a shoe and I would eat it if you threw on enough salt.

6) In the morning I need a lot of coffee, like beer bong quantities of coffee so don’t even come near me with a puny little espresso cup. I drink a cup or two of really great American drip coffee in the morning. Later in the day I can be tamed with a cortado or café con leche. After dinner at home a while back I served my guests American coffee from my drip maker. They all commented on how good it was. When I told them it was American I swear they all looked like they wanted to spit it out and take back their praise. Too late folks, I’m going to tell your hippie friends you said something good about American cuisine (coffee falls under cuisine, right?).

7) I use a bath towel about 10 times before I wash it, maybe more. Who’s counting? All you are doing is wiping perfectly clean water off your body, right? When I am done I hang it on the clothes line (if you don’t have a clothes line then you are living like an animal). Who would have thought that being too lazy to wash stuff would help save the planet?

To be continued

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Worst Things to Tell Your Girlfriend/Boyfriend

(Based on true stories, más o menos)

“I couldn’t call you this afternoon to cancel our lunch date because the girl I brought home last night (A hooker? Maybe) stole my iPhone when she left this morning. (Can I use your phone to try to call her?)”

“I didn’t forget your birthday; I just never knew the exact date. It’s in April, right? April or May, I know it’s during baseball season because I took you to a game one year for your birthday.”

“I didn’t forget our anniversary; I just figured that you didn’t care either.”

“I couldn’t lower the toilet seat. I just got finished pissing all over it so it was too wet to touch.”

(Upon breaking up)
“It’s not you, it’s me. But if it were you it would be because you have a lousy job, you’re stupid and boring, and your penis is way too small.”

(Being interrogated while morbidly hung-over the night after a friend’s bachelor party)
“Stripper? What? Me? No way! She was already naked when I walked in the place.”