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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Language, Food, and Books

I went to my second French class this morning. For preparation I read about 90 pages of Alex Garland’s La Plage this week. It was slow going but I understand almost everything and I like the story enough to want to continue. When I say slow going I mean really slow and at this rate it will take me a month to finish this 490 page novel.  I studied every day this week for at least an hour.  I think that I will be pretty diligent about my French this time around as I now know a lot more about how to learn a language than I did a few years ago when I last studied French.  I think that it could be completely passable very soon.  I also watched a bit of French TV (we get two channels here) although I didn’t understand much.

I told my French teacher that I wanted to learn how to make my way around a kitchen in French. To that aim I started looking at some French recipes. In just one recipe I came across the following new verbs (new for me):
Éplucher – peel    
Saupoudrer – sprinkle
Émincer – slice      
Écumer - skim
Verser – pour        
Foudre – melt, dissolve
Écraser – crush

It took me a while to get comfortable with kitchen Spanish so I don’t plan on making that mistake again. I figure that I can learn quite a lot of the necessary vocabulary in a few weeks. I already know most of the vocabulary for food so I’m not doing too badly. For my first dish I plan on making boeuf bourguignon which is a lot like coq au vin which I have made before (see my video).  I’ve been looking for something new to cook so tapping into the French classics should be a gold mine.

I haven’t stopped learning Spanish and to that effect I am getting on the Stieg Larsson bandwagon. Today I’ll start reading the first in his Millennium trilogy called Los Hombres que No Amaban a las Mujeres.  I saw the movie dubbed into Spanish so reading the book should be fairly easy. However, I still read rather slowly in Spanish (as compared to English) and at 665 pages this could take me a while. I also have the next two books in the trilogy on my shelf if I choose to continue with the saga. For me the important thing is reading, no matter what it is. Someone else wants to read this book after me so I’d better get cracking.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

In the Kitchen, En la Cocina, Dans la Cuisine

Summer supposedly died over a week ago but someone forgot to give it the bad news here in Valencia. I haven’t put on anything but flip-flops since May (besides my cycling cleats). I have the flip-flop tan lines on my feet to prove it. My long pants haven’t left the closet since I can’t remember when.  I woke up this morning and it was overcast and cool, not cold but cool and I thought that I at least need to put the glass back into the big picture windows in the back of the apartment. I have really enjoyed how open the place looks without the glass in the windows.  It has been like living in a beach cabana all summer.

I think that summer is a good thing and they say that all good things must end. The good news here in Spain is that this good thing ends really, really, slowly, especially this year. As much as I love the fall weather—it’s great for cycling—I am  clinging to summer like a shipwreck victim grasping a piece of driftwood.

I do hope for a little bit of rain. Granted, I am hoping that it only rains at night when I'm sleeping but we need the rain if we are going to have a successful mushroom crop this fall. Last year it was so dry that you barely noticed mushrooms in the market. I saw a few kinds of mushrooms at the market the other day and they were horribly expensive. With a few good rains we will be up to our chef knives in these delicacies. Now that the hottest weather is behind us the spores are just waiting for a bit of water to offer themselves up.

Another basic ingredient in my kitchen is sun-dried tomatoes. A friend gave me a big bunch of tomatoes his father made this summer that I have been using in everything. I find that the tomatoes now aren’t quite as amazing as they were only a couple weeks ago so sauces requiring tomatoes definitely could use a little help from the sun-dried variety. I even used a couple in the sofrito for my paella the other day. The ones I was given were salt-cured so you need to soak them in water a bit before using and then adjust the dish you are making as they will still retain a bit of their saltiness.

I have been searching for my next dish to prepare. In the meantime I have been making paella almost every Sunday for the past month—a very Valenciano thing to do I might add. I love paella but I love making it even more.  I have been using an old Valencia trick when making paella on the stove top. I place newspaper around the stove and on the floor when frying the chicken and rabbit parts so I don’t have so much grease to clean up afterwards. Probably not the smartest  thing to do as far as fire safety but once you add the water to the pan you just have to throw away the paper and your kitchen is pretty much back to the state it was in before you started. I actually have a fire extinguisher in my kitchen—not that I would think that fast if I went up in flames but still. I like to look good at least on paper. I meant that figuratively and I wasn't saying that I like to look good while going up in flames while standing on oil-soaked newspaper.

As I’ve been writing this I have been thinking about what I will work on in my French class this morning. I want to talk about cooking. As it turns out I still remember most of the vocabulary so now I need to work a bit on tying all of it together with the proper verbs and their forms.  In the area of foreign foods, maybe I'll make another video in Spanish as the last one I did was a couple of years ago and now it makes me cringe to watch it.  I’m rather embarrassed by my performance so if you want to see it you’ll have to look for yourself but I’ll give you a hint: How to Make Fabada Asturiana (I changed the title to Fabada Valenciana after a few complaints from Spanish purists). It’s not like I made a lot of mistakes but I just talk so slowly and deliberately.  So today I will work on my kitchen French. À bientôt. 

*The photo shows my new sun-dried tomatoes, fresh rosemary I picked with blossoms, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. What more do you need? 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Enjoying It While It Lasts

The “it” here is the fact that Valencia CF is in first place in the Spanish Liga and first place in group C of the Champions League. Not bad considering that we sold off our two best players—David Villa to Barça and David Silva to Manchester City.

I don’t normally write about football this much, I swear, but Valencia CF is kicking ass, taking names, and, as I said, sits at the top of the Spanish Liga after game #5 in the season. Valencia managed a heroic 1-1 draw with Atlético de Madrid at home on Wednesday evening and then thoroughly trounced Sporting de Gijón 0-2 on Saturday. In other big news Real Madrid crawled away from Valencia after a 0-0 draw with recently promoted Levante UD here on Saturday. Sevilla was beaten by another promoted club as they lost 2-0 against Alicante’s Hécules. Hécules also beat Barcelona 0-2 this year.

Valencia CF fans also have a great Champions League match this week here at Mestalla against Manchester United on Wednesday at 21:00. I am predicting that Valencia will lead their group. Not only that, I think we won’t be beat in our group C which also includes Glasgow Rangers and Bursaspor.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Más Música Española

Probably my favorite Spanish group is Ojos de Brujo (Eyes of the Soccerer). There almost seems to be a Mason-Dixon line here in Spain as far as flamenco goes. It isn’t too popular here in Valencia but my last roommate was from Murcia and she turned me on to all of this great music. I suppose that Murcia is more Andulucía than Valencia as it lies between these two large and influential provinces. I think Ojos de Brujo exemplifies the best in this sort of new flamenco. Their music is technically complex (There are at least nine members playing at any given note in the song) and charged with a sort of hippie politics, although—at least from what I can discern—nothing really overtly political. The urban legend is that the band lived in a squat in Barcelona back in their early days (defying the North-South divide in flamenco). Great music for cooking.

Sultanas De Merkaillo

Agüita cristalina es lo que quiero
Fuentes de Alhambra mora pa mis adentros
Hogueras de cariño sin posesiones
ay! somos indigentes de mil amores.

Dunas y arena fina de cobre dorao
Levantan la mañana lunares y morao
Sultanas de las calles y de los montones
Fuego y metales calientes de mil canciones.

Corazones llenos, bolsillos vacíos (hearts full and pockets empty)
Tesoros de rumba y fuego, sultanas de mercaíllo
Mi casa donde me encuentro chabolillas por los caminos
"sound sistem" en las paradas, improvisando con chatitos de vino
Y es que la vida es así, la vida es así...
Cada una vive como puede o como le dejan vivir.

Pasa, pasa, tristeza pasa, pasa
Pasa por un momento y entra calor
Fuego y abrasa, pasa!

Pasa, pasa, tristeza pasa, pasa
Pasa por un momento y entra calor
Fuego y abrasa, pasa!

Siguiendo la cadencia desmesurada
Espera en compañía que llegue el alba
Viajeros de la noche y de las pasiones..
Fuego y metales calientes de mil canciones.

Pasa, pasa
Riqueza de verdad no tiene precio ni se compra, ni se vende
Rumba y entra calor
Libre, "Techarí" que no manda ni obedece "jala, jala"
Pasa, pasa, "jala, jala" "jala, jala, jala"
Rumba y entra calor, fuego y abrasa, pasa!

Pasa, pasa, tristeza pasa, pasa
Pasa por un momento y entra calor
Fuego y abrasa, pasa!

Pasa, pasa, tristeza pasa, pasa
Pasa por un momento y entra calor
Fuego y abrasa, pasa!

Hurry Up and Slow Down

I have been thinking lately that the one thing that I hate above almost all else in life is being in a hurry. I really hate being rushed. I hate not having time to linger over a cup of coffee in a café. I hate riding my bike like a maniac across town because I’m late for something (riding fast because I love riding fast is OK). I hate not having enough time to savor the moment because I think that I have to be somewhere else that is somehow more important. I always say that if you’re in a hurry it means that you just planned poorly. I try not to plan poorly.

Hurried car drivers are the bane of my existence here in Valencia. Someday I will totally lose my shit and kill a driver for nearly killing me. Just the other day some capullo on a really big motor scooter almost cut me in half as I was pedaling through a crosswalk. I detoured, humped a couple of blocks up the road, and caught him as he was stopped at a traffic light. I stopped next to him and knocked on his helmet to get his attention (sort of an asshole thing to do I’ll admit). I asked him where he was going in such a hurry. Was he delivering a transplant organ? Was he a fireman racing to save lives?

The mere fact of being in an automobile seems to make people in a hurry. Even though cars are supposed to be such a great way to get around quickly they don’t seem quick enough for most drivers. Riding a bike doesn’t turn me into a raging asshole so perhaps the lesson here is to just stay out of cars. I remember back when I had a car what really drove me crazy was looking for a parking spot—not a problem on a bike, of course. Being in a hurry really is at odds with Mediterranean life. They should make you leave your car 50 kilometers from the coast.

It may seem ironic to write about pressure cookers while raging against people being in a hurry but I like my pressure cooker for many reasons and not just because it’s fast. Among other things, the energy efficiency is remarkable. I have begun to use it more and more. Before I primarily used my pressure cooker for making beans as it cuts the cooking time down from several hours to 22-24 minutes. Now I am using it for meats. I browned a chicken in the pot the other day. I removed the browned pieces and removed the skin. In the same oil I sautéed carrots, onion, garlic, celery, and freshly grated tomatoes. Grated tomatoes are something you see in a lot of Mediterranean cooking and a process I had never seen before. You simply chop the tomato in half, squeeze out the seeds, and grate it over a cheese grater and discard the skin. They use this grated tomato, along with chopped onion and garlic, sautéing it in olive oil to make sofrito (sofregit in Valenciano), a simple sauce which forms the base of many dishes.

I added a cup of red wine to the vegetables and when this cooked down a bit I added the chicken pieces. When most of the fluid had evaporated I added about two cups of water and put the lid on the pressure cooker. For seasoning I added pimentón (Spanish paprika), bay leaves, and a bit of cumin. I cooked this at medium pressure for 12 minutes.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Chambao: Ahí Estás Tú

Besides classical, I only listen to Spanish and Latin American music. I only read in Spanish (and now in French again). I may not live in Spain the rest of my life and I feel that I have to squeeze the most I possibly can out of life here while I can. It's not like listening to Spanish music is some sort of sacrifice as you can hear from this video.

Dejate llevar, por las sensaciones
Que no ocupen en tu via, malas pasiones
Esa pregunta que te haces sin responder
Dentro de ti está la respuesta para saber
Tu eres el que decide el camino a escoger
Hay muchas cosas buenas y malas, elige bien
Que tu futuro se forma a base de decisiones
Y queremos alegrarte con estas canciones
Y ahí estás tu, tu...
Y ahí estás tu, tu...
Y es que yo canto porque a mi me gusta cantar
También tu bailas porque a ti te gusta bailar, tu...
Y es que yo canto porque a ti te gusta escuchar
Lo que yo canto porque así se puede bailar, tu ...
Y ahí estás tu...
Y a mi me gusta como bailas, tu...
Toa baila, toa baila
Y ahí estás tu...
Y a mi me gusta como te mueves, tu...
Toa baila, toa baila
Canto por el día, y en mañanas da alegría
Canta tu conmigo si quieres conmigo canta
Canto por las noches, cuando el lorenzo se esconde
Canta tu conmigo, si quieres conmigo canta
Canto pa los pobres que temprano se levantan
Canta tu conmigo, si quieres conmigo canta
Y ahí estás tu...
Y a mi me gusta como bailas, tu...
Toa baila, toa bailar
Y ahí estás tu...
Y a mi me gusta como te mueves, tu...
Toa baila, toa baila.

I love this TV ad for tourism in Andalucía that uses this song:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Je Recommence avec le Français (ou Je reprends le Français)

(starting over with French)
I am comfortable enough with my Spanish that I’ve finally taken steps to improve my French. I had my first class this morning. I had to bike over to Cabanyal (Cabañal in Spanish) which is a great neighborhood (un très beau quartier*). It only took me 20 minutes to cycle over there so I had time to sit at a nice café and have a couple cups of coffee. I never have more than one cup of coffee in a café but I left the house this morning without my usual ration of strong American brew.  I was early enough to have almost 30 minutes to study before my class.

From the moment I rang my new teacher's buzzer I spoke French. She answered and told me her floor. I was really surprised that I was able to carry on a decent conversation all in French with only the occasional lapse into Spanish. I also got less confused speaking French than I thought I would. In fact, I had more trouble switching back to Spanish at the end of our hour when I wanted to talk a bit about my schedule with her and I thought it would be clearer if we spoke Spanish. I understood absolutely everything she said during the class so I don't know why I was suddenly doubting myself in French. My French has improved greatly by the mere fact that my Spanish is so much better now.

For my first project in French I am going to read a translation of Alex Garland’s The Beach that I bought a few months back. Translations are always easier to read than originals.  The fact that I am now paying money for a teacher I think will give me proper motivation to work on my French on a fairly consistent basis. One thing that I have learned from studying Spanish is that dictionaries are almost completely fucking worthless, at least the old fashioned book versions. I never bother using anything but www.wordreference.com these days. If I am reading something away from home I just underline the word in red ink and look it up when I get back to my computer.  Unless the word is a simple noun, regular dictionary definitions are usually inadequate.

Another thing that I have learned from studying Spanish is that mastering another language is a long and arduous undertaking. If you are in a hurry you had better find some other hobby. I already can get by perfectly well when I travel in France; I just want to be able to read a lot better. Of course, I am always thinking that I will live in Paris one day although the longer I live in Valencia on the lovely Mediterranean the more I think that any move to Paris would be temporary—I just need to get it out of my system.  

*I had to use that word Quartier because I couldn’t think of it in class and if I don’t use it again soon I will forget it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

War Against Islam?

Before you read this and come to the conclusion that I am bigoted and prejudiced against Islam and Muslims just let me assure you that I am bigoted and prejudiced against Islam and Muslims, but no more so than I am with Christians, Jews, and every other religious sect. In a democracy I am obliged to tolerate your religious beliefs but nothing says that I have to respect them. If you want me to respect your religion you shouldn't believe in stupid shit. You wouldn't expect me to respect astrology, would you?

Whether we want to admit it or not the United States of America, and perhaps the Western world, is at war with Islam.  As is the case with almost all wars it’s a stupid, pointless, and unwinnable venture that will surely irrevocably damage both sides.  If we are going to insist about waging a war against Islam we should have the common sense to realize that there is no armed solution—something America’s military leaders are too dim-witted to understand. If there is even one member of our armed forces elite that has suggested the futility of a military solution, Obama should promote him to the top of the pyramid and then fire all of the morons who insist on re-living Viet Nam only this time in Afghanistan.  If we are going to have a war then it should be a war of ideas and our ideas are just better.

I also have my doubts about the sort of war being waged against Islam in France which has banned certain Muslim dress in certain sectors of the society. I partly agree with the idea but it’s sort of a tricky path to follow.  To the critics of the policy I will say that what people need to understand is that separating women as is done in Muslim societies goes against the secular nature of Western democracies. We find it offensive. A nation has a right and a duty to inculcate its citizens in the values it represents.  I find the burka to be completely ghoulish and creepy and it also completely violates the ideals for which we stand in the West. We don’t think anything about banning certain forms of dress or non-dress. You can’t enter a bank while wearing a motorcycle helmet and you can’t sit down in a restaurant shirtless, so why is banning the burka or the niqab so terrible? There is absolutely no way that we should allow public school teachers to wear these garments in the classroom.

But instead of waging war with these sort of defensive tactics we should be on the offensive against Islam and all forms of religious ignorance—and all religions promote ignorance.  How exactly do we do this? We do it by promoting education. Religious ignorance is quickly devouring America in the form of fundamentalist Christians. The only way to reverse this tide of stupidity is with a counter tide of education. We need an updated version of the Enlightenment in America. The Enlightenment 2.0. Once we have installed it properly in America perhaps we can export it.

I think that most countries in Europe have already ungraded to The Enlightenment 2.0. Now they need to make sure their Muslim immigrants have a copy of the new program and make sure they leave their outdated religious software back in their home countries, or at least give these people plenty of incentives to discard their medieval myths as soon as possible.  

Instead of the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq America should have sponsored and promoted liberal and moderate Muslims clerics around the world (while possibly waging a covert war against the radical imams—but we’d keep that a secret).  There certainly is a sizeable and powerful element of Islam that is at war with the West and our ideals. On a positive note the ideas put forth by radical Islamists are based on the most ignorant of superstitions and the most callous interpretations of their own faith. On the down side there seem to be a lot of ignorant people willing to follow Islam’s most hateful and violent leaders.

I’m not saying that our war of ideas will be easy or easily won but we have to start playing more offensively against the negative forces of religious extremism in all its forms. When something like 40% of British Muslims say they would like to see Sharia law implemented in Britain you realize that perhaps we have let things go too far.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Roma, Gypsies, and Payos

In the streets of Valencia, the Roma—or gypsy—scrap collectors are as ever-present as the street sweepers, mailmen, and cops…and probably more reliable. There are two versions of the Roma scrap collector: those pushing stolen supermarket shopping carts and those on beat-up mountain bikes pulling improvised trailers, usually fashioned from the little shopping trolleys Spanish households use to ferry their shopping home from the market.  It’s almost always men on the bicycles while the shopping carts are piloted by both sexes. They stop at every public trash receptacle and prod around with a length of broom handle. Scrap metal is the number one priority but anything of value is part of their swag.

There is quite a difference from the native Spanish gitanos and the post-EU brand of Roma now flooding into Western Europe, mostly from Romania and Bulgaria. The Spanish gypsies no longer speak the unadulterated Romani language but a hybrid developed from centuries of living in Spain.  The Spanish gypsy children attend school, for the most part, but the new wave of Eastern European Roma immigrants seem to have fallen outside of the public safety net of education, health care, and housing.

Many of the new Roma live in squalid shacks on the edges of Valencia while the native gypsies live in apartments. Granted, some of their dwellings are pretty rundown but at least they have sewage and running water. The fact is, I don’t think that many outsiders know much about the Spanish gypsies (non-gypsies are called payos by gygpsies here in Spain).  In the three and a half years I have lived in Spain I have read less than a half dozen newspaper articles concerning the life of these strange people—they are strange to me at least. People here know next-to-nothing about the Roma people. They roam the city like ghosts, ignored by the locals. I see them pushing their shopping carts or pedaling around town and I wondered where they take it. I saw one place on the outskirts of Valencia where they stockpile their scrap so it seems that they are working in consort, at least on some level.

I have also seen an instance where they have worked together. Someone discarded an old porcelain bathtub next door to my apartment. One gypsy guy found it but it was too big and heavy for his bicycle cart. I think he communicated by cell phone with someone else in within a half hour or so he had backup and the two men carried away the tub. It reminded me of The Old Man and the Sea

I see these people humping a huge cast iron tub across town and I wonder how much money they get.   According to popular folklore gypsies are all thieving pick-pockets who will take anything that isn't nailed down. I will see the occasional beggar in front of the supermarket but mostly I see the scrap collectors. In one of the few newspaper articles that I read about Spanish gypsies the reporter asked a young man what he was going to do for a living after he dropped out of school at age 15 to get married. "Chatarra (scrap metal)," he replied to the reporter as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. Although it appears to be back-breaking work there is definitely one side of me that envies them because I love finding cool stuff in the trash. I found my turtle tank in the garbage (and I had to carry it on my bike a few kilometers). I guess that I miss going to thrift stores like we have in Seattle. 

I am going to keep researching this subject, at least as much as I am able as there seem to be few resources available to anyone who wants to know more about gypsies.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


I am not going to talk about the great weather we’re having in Valencia, at least not directly. What I am going to talk about is one of the results of this tidal wave of beautiful sunshine and warm temperatures that have been washing over us for several weeks. The weather has been causing massive over-crowding in just about every café terrace in the city, especially in the late afternoon. On many occasions I've had to search out as many as three of my favorite spots in the neighborhood before finding an empty outside table—not a problem if you are traveling by bicycle as I always do when I am alone. On more than one occasion while with bike-less friends (when are they going to get with the bike program?) we have had to settle for an inside table.  ¡Qué barbaridad!

The corner bar/café in Valencia has little in common with the elegant café terraces in Paris. Instead of a place to see and be seen the cafés in my neighborhood are more like an extension of your own kitchen or dining room. To say that dress and attitude at these places is casual is sort of a grotesque understatement—I’m surprised that people don’t wear bathrobes and slippers down to the café for their early morning coffee and cigarette. The café newspapers are the epitome of environmentally-intelligent use because they are read by dozens of people before being relegated to the next link in the recycling chain.  I remember that one of the chain coffee shops in Seattle would throw away leftover newspapers so that customers would be forced to buy their own daily.

While I am on the subject of the environment I just have to say that after all this time in Spain the idea of returning to drinking coffee from a paper cup is just vulgar to me now. You see people here walking around with a Starbucks cup in their hands and you think to yourself, “Why the hell don’t these folks sit down and enjoy their coffee?” You don’t see too many people eating and drinking on the go here. Stuffing your fat gob while walking down the street is sort of bad form.  I don’t mind drinking from a paper cup; it’s the idea of it that bothers me. A paper cup—besides the environmental questions—seems to say that the experience of having a cup of coffee isn’t worth the effort of a real cup, or that you don’t have time to sit down and enjoy it.

The people here don’t multi-task when it comes to coffee. The Spanish don’t have the custom of drinking coffee while they work; for them coffee comes at very specific breaks in the work day. For a coffee break many Spanish workers leave their work and sit at a café. With the exception of Starbucks, there isn’t much in the way of coffee to go in Spain. Why go anywhere when you have a nice table in the sun right here?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

If You Don't Like It, Burn It.

The big controversy going on in America right now is because someone wants to burn a Koran…or a flag…or a Bible…or something. Someone wants to burn something and other people don’t want them to burn it. The Koran is written in Arabic so if some half-retard, hillbilly preacher wants to burn a Koran, and other people don’t want him to burn it, they should just give him a Cairo phone book and tell him it’s the Koran. I doubt that the hillbilly preacher can read Arabic. In fact, I’d wager than when he reads in English he moves his lips. He says he wants to burn the Koran because it is a book for religious extremists.  So the hillbilly preacher is too stupid to read without moving his lips and he isn’t aware when irony comes up to him and bites him on the ass.

I believe that I have come to a compromise that we can all agree on concerning this matter. I suggest that we burn the hillbilly preacher on a pyre of Muslims extremists. Or how about if we make a bonfire with copies of Eat, Pray, Love and use it to burn copies of books about vampires? Or we build a fire with food from The Olive Garden® to burn the Italian national football team? It’s what you call a win-win situation if you are prone to using that sort of vocabulary.  You can also call it multi-tasking if you want to use a really obnoxious bit of pop culture speak. Because everyone knows the best way to deal with shit you don’t like or understand is to burn it and what better way is there to burn something you don’t like with something you don’t understand?

In this same vein of religious stupidity and mutual intolerance is the story of the mosque, or whatever the fuck it is, the Muslims want to build in New York in the area of ground zero, or whatever the fuck they call it. My take on this non-issue is this: build the thing or not, it won’t mean a damn thing to all of the hillbillies going crazy opposing it. With that said, the Muslim community should have backed off on the issue a long, long time ago. The fact that this has dominated the news in America for so long is simply pathetic.  It's absurd to even discuss this when we have such drastic issues to resolve like an ever-decreasing industrial base, an ever-widening inequality in incomes, crumbling infrastructure, and boys who still walk around with their underwear showing.

In a related story here in Spain a disco in Murcia called El Mecca is being verbally attacked (verbally for now) by members of the world’s Muslim community who find the name offensive. This begs the question, what the fuck don’t Muslims find offensive? They are offended by the sight of a woman’s hair, for Pete's sake.  The night club is thinking about changing its name to avoid further conflict. Some possible name changes are “Muslims are easily-offended douche bags” and “Lighten the Fuck Up Muslims”. Seeking guidance in the matter, the club owners are in contact with the supreme religious leader in Iran, the Ayatollah Shaggy. 

Perhaps Islam is the religion of peace as they claim but when you offend Muslims there is always at least the thought of violence.  It's really creepy, at least for this non-Muslim. If I offended a Seventh Day Adventist I wouldn't feel afraid for my life. As I said before with the controversy over the Mohammed cartoons, I think it is up to all Westerners to offend Muslims constantly until they get the point that what I think of their silly religion (and I think all religions are silly) shouldn't matter to them in the least.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Football Update: Valencia CF 1-0 Racing

We are into the second game of La Liga and Valencia CF is perfect with six points after beating Racing last night at Mestalla. The next game for Valencia is this Tuesday at 20:45 against the Turkish squad, Bursapor in the first game of the Champions League group stage. The big shock yesterday was Barcelona getting their assed kicked by Hércules, a team just up from the second division. Oddly enough, the victory doesn’t show up on the Hércules web site.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Talking About the Weather and Food

When I write about the weather I don’t mean to brag; I just like to have a record of things. This has been the best September in my almost four years here and all I see I the forecast is more sun and warm temperatures. I still sleep on top of the covers and with the fan on all night although once or twice in the past week I felt a bit cold (but I was too lazy to cover up).  I took the windows out of the window next to the kitchen so the back wall is completely open. One of these days I’ll have to put them back. The room looks so big and open without the windows so it will be a little sad when I have to put them back.

How bad could your life be if you are still able to ride your bicycle shirtless to the beach on the 11th of September?  Not that any other aspects of my life are at all bad but I have absolutely nothing to complain about as far as the weather goes. It’s not even like I really want to go to the beach but with the beautiful days we are having you don’t want to miss a single opportunity. 

I went to the market and ended up buying a bunch of pork. Big surprise! I was in line at my butcher when I accidentally jumped the queue. I started to order when the man next to me said it was his turn. I apologized and said that I thought that he was with the woman who had just purchased about 80 kilos of meat. Then the man proceeded to order another ton of meat. My butcher heard the first part of my order and saved me a big rack of pork ribs. I also had him special grid some hamburger meat for me that is a lot fattier than the burgers he usually grinds. I like to have between 20-25% fat in my burgers. I bought a bunch of olives, just because, and some vegetables. The tomatoes are still incredible these days and I buy them compulsively. I usually buy the Valenciano tomatoes and another variety called raf.

I made homemade barbeque sauce for the first time in my life with tomatoes, onions, garlic, hot peppers, cider vinegar, brown sugar, olive oil, salt, pepper, pimentón, cumin, and red pepper flakes. I couldn’t find molasses (melaza) so I used a couple table spoons of this great cherry jam someone made for me. I cooked the beautiful ribs in my pressure cooker—the world’s most kickass kitchen device. I browned them well first then removed them from the pot. I sautéed onions, garlic, hot peppers, and some red pepper I had leftover. I added a cup of wine to this and simmered it for a bit before I added a couple cups of water along with the ribs and about a cup of the barbeque sauce. I cooked this under pressure for 22 minutes.  I’ll make a video the next time I make this dish that I totally adlibbed.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Of Nobel Laureates and Trailer Trash

Learning Spanish takes me in many directions. At the moment I am reading a book of journalism by Gabriel Garcia Marquez called Noticia de un Secuestro (News of a Kidnapping) about the plague of kidnappings in the era of Pablo Escobar. Marquez is always a difficult read for anyone but the most literate Spanish speakers so my dictionary is getting a workout. He must have been a remarkable journalist back when he dedicated himself to reporting. The book has an astonishing clarity you find in few works of nonfiction. Besides a Nobel Prize winner in literature I have been exploring other venues to improve my Spanish.

I’ve said before that one of the greatest things about learning Spanish is that I can justify anything if it helps me learn. I think that Me Llamo Earl falls under most people’s definition of slumming. I had never seen the show before but I’ve had several people tell me that it’s funny (it’s funny). Granted, the vocabulary I’m learning isn’t of the elevated nature that you find in a work of nonfiction by a highly-celebrated author, and most of the low-rent words from the show I already knew, but I can still classify the show as a learning aid. It’s like what Malcolm X said about “by any means necessary.”

Vocabulary I learned from a couple episodes of Me Llamo Earl:
Tachar – to cross out.
Enmendar – to rectify. Earl has a list of bad things he’s done and as he rectifies them he crosses them off his list.
Chamuscar – to scorch or singe. Earl is trying to quit smoking and someone told him that carrots help so he tries to smoke one.
Mangar – to swipe, steal, nick, pinch
Amañar – to fix a game.
Timo – cheat, scam
Potar – puke
Abogado de oficio – court-appointed lawyer
Tacaño – cheap
Don – talent, gift
Puñetero/a – damn.  El puñetero equipo - the damn team. A friend told me the the word comes from the lace on the cuff of a shirt or dress. They are difficult to make so puñetero is sort of like "pain in the ass."

Best joke from the show in the style of Groucho Marx:

¿Por qué quieres suicidarte? (Why do you want to kill yourself?)
Porque no tengo trabajo, no tengo amigos, vivo en una caravana sin calefacción, he fracasado, y me duelen los pies. (Because I don’t have a job or friends, I live in a trailer with no  heat, I’ve failed, and my feet hurt)
¿Has probado otros zapatos?  (Have you tried different shoes?)

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Another Close Brush with Consumerism

With a fancy new flat screen TV in the house that accepts USB drives to play videos and things I thought I would buy a bigger pen drive. I already have a 2 gig drive that works fine for just about anything you need but I was thinking a bigger one would be nice for the TV. I don’t really need a new drive but I’m a big shot so why not? I humped over to Carrefour which is only a few blocks from my apartment. Riding my bike over there I started thinking about other things I could pick up while I was there—they have everything at Carrefour. I was making a list of all of the aisles I would chick out: pots and pans, food, wine, along with the computer crap where you find the flash drives. I had a wallet full of Euros and my own shopping bag (Carrefour was the first store to stop giving out plastic bags—good for them).

What I forgot was that I am the world’s worst consumer, especially when you gage me up inside of one of these superstores. The more choices you give me the better likelihood I have of running out through an alarmed door just so that I can start breathing again. I looked at the flash drives and everything was too small or too expensive. I moved on to kitchenware. A couple things I really need they didn’t have. The grocery department surely could provide something to put into my personal shopping bag. I wanted some really good olive oil but nothing they had measured up to my expectations. By this time I started thinking about the check-out lines and how much I hate them at this place. Of course in the end I just said “Fuck it” and got the hell out of there without spending a cent.

If there is a lesson in all of this then I’m too stupid to have learned it by now as I have done this more than once.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Slow Start to Summer

Summer hasn’t given up yet here in Valencia. It may linger on until quitting time when it’s officially over.  I often think that life can’t be that bad when you have an easy bike ride to a really nice beach on the Mediterranean.  I’ve been to the beach the last three days just because I know that summer won’t last forever.  I’ll probably go every day this week since I’m not really working a full schedule. Whether I want to accept it or not summer’s days are numbered.  I started very late this year but summer is always a good time to get into the best shape of the year. Where I am now in my fitness is where I should have been at the beginning of summer.  I’m hoping this late summer heat will keep me motivated.

I totally cut off all of my hair a couple day ago after sporting a really buzzed head for the past month. I should say that my barber shaved my head. I haven’t had hair this short since Air Force basic training. I look like a complete dip shit but whatever. It’s not like I look that great with hair. The new buzz cut goes well with the really warm weather we are having and also with my new work-out routine.

After many months of slacking I am finally back into my ridiculous push-up routine, but this time with some variations. Before I would just do something like a thousand push-ups in sets of 100 every other day, a routine taken from Hershel Walker (at least a part of his routine, he also did 2,500 sit-ups...and played pro football). Now I am doing a lot of changing up with things like doing some with my hands touching (this really kills me) and elevating my feet for a few sets. I also incorporate a bit of yoga and stretching into this routine. I’m just trying to get as strong, flexible, and fast as I can. I worked out at home today and then did a bit more yoga and stretching at the beach since I was the only person around for hundred of meters.

I did a hell of a lot of cycling in July but August was pretty much a bust for working out. To add to my laziness I drank a lot of beer and ate like a pig. I was as fat as a tick for a while and I didn’t feel too great and I always feel great. After a couple of days of focus I’m a lot better. When I wake up tomorrow morning I’ll be my old self again—especially after today’s work-out.  I never talk about exercise…ever, but it’s a pretty integral part of my life and something I just do automatically. I would hate to be someone my age who has never been in great shape or someone who just doesn’t feel great every day. It doesn’t take much coaxing to get me back into my exercise groove. I would really like to get back into jujitsu this fall if I can find the right place to train. I’m not looking to take classes; I just want a facility where I can go and train with other people around my level. I really miss my days at Niseido.

Back when jujitsu was my main form of exercise (besides cycling, of course) I felt a lot more well-rounded in my fitness, at least when I wasn’t nursing some sort of injury—and I was almost always sore from something.  We worked a lot on flexibility and balance. The thing is, I haven’t been actively involved in jujitsu in 12 years or so yet I still feel that I haven’t lost a lot of my fighting skills. I wish that I could say this about my abilities on the piano or speaking Arabic.  When you learn jujitsu it’s like learning a new instinct. I’m sure that a lot of my techniques are a bit rusty but my basic grappling skills are still there. I still remember choke holds, leg and arm locks, and most of the most effective techniques of ground fighting. It’s nice to know that I still maintain a decent level at this sport after dedicating a good portion of my life pursuing it. Like I said, I wish that I could say the same thing about the piano. I'd be lucky to plink out a Bach minuet.

So I’ll be sprinting to the finish line of summer.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Lie to Me: No Problem

“Learn this recipe to trick her into thinking that you know how to cook.”
-Feature article in a men’s magazine.

I have a confession to make. I’m not a movie producer. I don’t drive a Ferrari. My 85 foot yacht isn’t in dry dock for the winter. In fact, I don’t have a boat.  I can’t even spell “yacht.” I had to look it up…both times I used it in this paragraph.  It’s just that if I’m going to trick a woman into believing something about me that I made up I want it to be more impressive than chicken cacciatore. I want to bulldoze her with stories that would make Navy SEALs gasp in respectful fear. Like the time I killed a guard and escaped from a Guatemalan gulag while being held as a political prisoner, or the time I landed an airliner after the pilot had a heart attack.

I actually feel sorry for guys who have shot their way out of a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan because I’ve used that story so often that any real war heroes run the risk of boring women half-to-death with tales of their true exploits. They say the truth is stranger than fiction but when you make stuff up you have the advantage of using spell and grammar check. I can look up technical details on my iPhone while I excuse myself to go to the bathroom (I told you I was calling my CIA case officer).

To be completely honest, absolutely everything that I told you at the bar last night was bullshit and now that we’ve had sex I feel slightly guilty about how I presented myself. You have to admit, it was a pretty good story. I’m sure that if I were young and impressionable like you I would have done me last night. The flip side to that is that I would also beat the crap out of me right now for lying—and just about anyone could beat me up. I’m actually a total wimp.

I guess that I shouldn’t be too proud of my effort. It’s not like I adlibbed that whole persona. I’ve been working on a version of that story most of my adult life. If I had put 1/100 of the effort into actually improving myself instead of creating the phony me you met last night I’d probably be a remotely interesting person. Trust me; I’m not an even remotely interesting person. My fake identities are the moral and psychological equivalent of a young girl padding her bra. My phony personality is the 40D cup version of the padded bra.

Women tend to mask, enhance, and falsify their appearances while men make up crap. A girl wears a Wonder Bra while a man will walk with a fake limp from getting knee-capped by the IRA while on patrol in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  Collagen lip injections for the ladies, stories of battling Somali pirates for the boys. The final progression in this relationship will be a blow-up doll sitting next to someone who isn’t even there.