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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Bicifestación en Valencia

Bicifestación is a mix of bici—short for bicicleta—or bicycle and manifestación which means protest.  I would estimate that there were about 2,000 of us today for a ride through Valencia beginning at the Palau de la Música. The purpose was to raise awareness of a need for a bike path on two major boulevards in Valencia, both of which I avoid like the plague because they are too dangerous for cyclists. Two of my bikes are in need of some repairs so I made the ride on Valenbisí.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Movie Night

In an attempt to save money—I want another computer and a trip to Paris soon—I’m staying in tonight and watching a couple of movies. I’m about an hour into The Tourist which is just about as big of a piece of shit as you get with big budget movies. Of course it has a totally comic book villain. Why does Hollywood insist on doing that? As I have said over and over again, the principal in Ferris Buhler’s Day Off is more menacing than most of the stupid twats in these movies. To show how evil they are they should have the villain smash a puppy with a coal shovel. Now that would be menacing.

The movie is certainly beautiful; I guess that’s what a budget of tens of millions of dollars can buy (I suppose the script wasn’t in the purchase price). Seeing beautiful landscapes, even more beautiful cities, and a thoroughly modernistic high-speed train I can only wonder what right-wing assholes think about Europe. According to them Europe is some sort of socialist shithole. I didn’t mean to go off on a leftist tangent but this movie totally sucks. I’m not even listening to it most of the time as I have my headphones in the TV and I take them out when I tend to the focaccia I’m making…more on the focaccia later after I find out how it turns out.

OK, the final appraisal is that the movie was completely awful. I’ve felt more tension during a commercial for athlete’s foot medicine.  The focaccia was great.  I fast-forwarded through the movie so I think I will go out tonight after all.  

Friday, January 28, 2011

Puente de la Exposición

The Exposition Bridge was designed by local boy Santiago Calatrava. It spans over Turia Gardens and the metro station of Alameda.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Arab Revolution and Television

I know that American military leaders are too stupid and too myopic to read and digest this NYT’s piece about the revolt in Tunisia and the role played by America’s fabricated nemesis, Al Jazeera.

The protests rocking the Arab world this week have one thread uniting them: Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite channel whose aggressive coverage has helped propel insurgent emotions from one capital to the next.

Think of the Tunisian revolt as sort of the reverse domino effect that our moronic generals warned about during the cold war to justify unsustainable levels of defense spending.  Think of how many ba-fucking-zillions of tax dollars have been spent to topple Saddam Hussien and the Taliban leaving in their wake a mess that will haunt America for decades to come. Now consider how the Tunisian dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was forced out of the country with a couple of grainy cell phone videos uploaded on Facebook and then rebroadcast on Al Jazeera. Now we have a similar situation in Egypt. Saudi Arabia should be next on the list.

Instead, our military elite insist that there is a military solution to all of our security and diplomacy problems around the globe. Forget about the fact that invading a sovereign nation and fighting a guerrilla war against the population has never been a great idea unless you are willing to go all the way, and by that I mean genocide (and that’s a fucking terrible idea). To me it seems that America’s military leaders have taken on a similar papal infallibility quality.  American politicians—and certainly not ordinary citizens—are not allowed to question our generals.

The protests in Tunisia were not spurred by Islamic fundamentalism. I think the Arab world is dying for an infusion of liberal ideas and those won’t be offered by Islam. If we think that our idea of humanity in the West is worth exporting the time is ripe to start that process. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


I’ve been quite aware for a number of years that there is sometimes a huge difference between my definition of liberal and that of other self-professed liberals. I saw a few minutes of the new TV series Portlandia which is a tiresomely endless mocking of the politically correct, free Tibet version of liberals. In my experience in Seattle, Portland’s bigger sibling to the north, real liberal politics rarely entered into the discussion with most of the tattooed hippies who obsess about things like whether or not a chicken was free range.  Most of the yoga-instructor vegans I met in Seattle didn’t know the first thing about economic policy and had no interest in learning. Portalndia sends up this crowd and I’m sure American conservatives love every second of it.

The thing is, the cities that are chock full of these kinds of people, cities like Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Madison, Boulder, et cetera are the best places to live in America.  I would take a room full of hippies over one moronic teabagger any day of the week. The truth is this: any place worth living in the United States is heavily populated by liberals. Seattle decided long ago to side-step the national conservative agenda and go its own way building good public transportation and providing excellent public housing.  Give me a city that aggressively fights suburban sprawl to any place that lets builders do whatever the hell they want.

For the most part, European liberalism begins where American liberalism hits it zenith. Valencia is more progressive than Portland but without the hippies leading the fight. Here it is just expected of people to demand things like health care, public transportation, bike paths, gay rights, and clean air. There is practically no controversy over any of these things except the occasional editorial from a Catholic bishop from time to time warning of the downfall of society because people stopped going to churches filled with pedophiles years ago. The church would love to return to those halcyon days of the Franco regime when people were practically forced at gunpoint to attend church. If the Catholic Church has led the way on anything even remotely beneficial to mankind I’d love to hear about it.

Valencia is not even near the most progressive city in Europe yet it should be a model for US cities. It provides a sustainable lifestyle for its citizenry with things like great public transportation. An automobile is completely a luxury here and not at all necessary. Most of the food we eat comes from as little as one or two kilometers away. About a four minute bike ride from my front door you will run out of city and straight into agricultural land.  Suburban sprawl is almost zero. The new high-speed rail line to Madrid is predicted to increase rail traffic to five times the current rate which should save 27 lives a year from auto accidents along this corridor. How much is that worth to a society? 

The conservative model is simply to let private enterprise takes its unhindered course. Ask for an example of what kind of society they hope to build and you never get a straight answer. What conservatives seem to want is a return to the 1950's but without blacks this time. I can point you directly to what sort of place I would like America to be and it looks a lot like Valencia. Liberal hubs like Seattle and Portland aren't far behind. What's it like where you live?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Chain Letter

1. If you blog anonymously, are you happy with this? If you aren't anonymous, do you wish you started out anonymously so that you could be anonymous now?

I like having the anonymity or the façade of it anyway. I’m getting paid a bit to write somewhere else and I would rather not mix this blog with what I write for money and publication. I’m not so stupid that I don’t realize that in this day and age not only would no one pay me to write some of the slanderous and goofball political stuff I pen but it is also a liability.

2. Describe an incident that describes your stubborn side.

The fact that I will play chicken with a car just because I think the driver is being an asshole and someone needs to call him on it (I use the masculine here because it is almost always—if not ALWAYS—the case).  All I can say is that if I get hit and the jerk doesn’t kill me I am going to fuck him up and good. Cars should be outlawed.

3. What do you see when you really look at yourself in the mirror?

Either a fat tub of guts or superman; it depends on how I treated myself the day previous.

4. What is your favorite summer cold drink?

Either beer, or white wine, of maybe sangria, or a gin and tonic if I’m dressed up (anything other than surf trunks and a football jersey is dressy in the summer for me), or maybe all of these mixed together.

5. When you take time for yourself, what do you do?

Fight crime or knit.

6. Is there something that you still want to accomplish in your life?

Are you kidding me with this one? Let’s just say that there are many things I would like to accomplish and leave it at that.

7. When you attended school, were you the class clown, the class over-achiever, the shy person, or always ditching?

I was sort of the clown-bully. At least I was in high school. At university I was too busy to be anything but a broke, stressed-out, and constantly struggling student. I used to balance my checkbook down to the penny…no joke. I lived on beans and rice.

8. If you close your eyes and want to visualize a very poignant moment in your life, what do you see?

I went bowling for the first and only time when I was about 12 years old. I knocked all of the things down with one ball. I felt like Leonardo Di Caprio in Titanic. So what I see is me hanging on the ball return with my arms outstretched screaming, “I’m the king of the world!”

9. Is it easy for you to share your true self in your blog, or are you more comfortable writing posts about other people and events?

That’s none of your fucking business. You could read every word I have ever written here (and there are a lot of words) and you probably couldn’t find out much about me except that I ride a bike a lot.

10. If you had the choice to sit down and read a book or talk on the phone, which would you do and why?

How about reading a book to someone over the phone? Is that one of the choices? Why can’t “burning things” be on the list?

Un Paseo en Bici

I was feeling a little cooped up yesterday so I took a Valenbisí bike out for a spin. Actually, I think I took four bikes out as I rode for about an hour and a half. You can only keep the bike for 30 minutes so I had to dock the bike and then take it out again at various stations around town.  I came across this nice deli over by the football stadium. Had I been driving a car I would have never even noticed this quaint little store as I was stopped at a light. Because I was on a bike it was easy for me to stop and take a picture.

After humping around the Jardin Reales I started to make my way home and noticed a new bakery on the corner of Joaquin Costa and Calle Conde de Altea where I bought a focaccia (1.90€). It wasn't too good but it inspired me to make focaccia at home.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Welcome to the Crisis: Year Three

A new gated community.
The city of Camden, New Jersey has laid off almost 50% of its police officers.  The city is one of the most crime-ridden in the nation so this “get the government off our back” action should play out just about how you would expect. I have a few question of my own here. First, I’d love to know how many of those 160 laid off policemen voted Republican or support the teabaggers. Then you have to remember that these guys have been trained in weaponry and police tactics. They aren’t going to find other police jobs elsewhere as most places are suffering from this same anti-government lunacy so you have to wonder how many will find work in the criminal sector in Camden.  It’s not like there are many decent jobs to be had for America’s middle class.  Jobs that start near the bottom and go nowhere seem to be about all this economy is producing, according to labor statistics.

Ronald Reagan’s dream is finally coming to full fruition. And Grover Norquist who once said, "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub," should now have the honors of drowning a ceremonial baby called Camden.  This is all great news if your vision for America looks like The Road Warrior and terrible news for the rest of humanity.  Camden is also shit-canning a bunch of fireman just to add a little more spice to the volatile stew they are cooking up. 

All of this fun is the result of the rich refusing to pay more taxes. This comes at a time when the wealthiest Americans are fucking cleaning up financially while the middle class has slipped quietly into the status of working poor—if they are lucky enough to be working.  Average tax savings for the richest assholes in the country is something like $350,000. This isn’t how much they will make this year but how much they will save on taxes. I’d say we were ready for another French-style revolution but I think we will probably have to pass through a new Dark Ages to become enlightened enough to even blame the rich for this mess. Meanwhile, the wealthiest Americans are using tax payer money to build up security companies like Blackwater to protect them if the poor ever get wise enough to get pissed off.

Monday, January 17, 2011

True Grit (1969)

Directed by Henry Hathaway
Staring John Wayne, Kim Darby, and Glen Campbell

Music by Elmer Bernstein Lyrics by Don Black
Sung by Glen Campbell

One day, little girl, the sadness will leave your face
As soon as you've won the fight to get justice done
Someday little girl you'll wonder what life's about
But other's have known few battles are won alone
So, you'll look around to find
Someone who's kind, someone who is fearless like you
The pain of it will ease a bit, when you find a man with true grit

One day you will rise and you won't believe your eyes
You'll wake up and see, a world that is fine and free
Though summer seems far away
You will find the sun one day

Even as a kid I was no fan of John Wayne. I’ve made one great exception in my dislike of the Duke and that is for his role in True Grit.  I first saw this movie on the big screen, and when I say “big screen” I mean a very big screen—a drive-in movie. As a kid growing up in the heart of the country I had never seen mountains and the film bursts with them. You can bet that over the course of my adult life I have taken the trouble to see some mountains up close. Seeing True Grit again recently made me homesick for the great ranges I left behind in the great state of Washington. The movie could have easily been made at a number of the places where I would regularly hike or mountain bike. I haven’t missed anything so much since I moved (except friends and family). Of course now there is a remake of the film done by the Coen brothers.  I can’t think of many films less in need of a fix or make-over.

I come here not to bury the Coen brothers’ film but to praise the original which opens with the title song and a spectacular shot of a ranch house in the mountains that hints at the coming majesty of the rest of the movie. Just like seeing the east side of the Cascades as you drive west towards Seattle, there are scenes in the movie that just take the air out of your lungs.  

The screenplay is by Marguerite Roberts who wrote dozens of films but this had to be one of her easier tasks at the studio as all of the heavy work had been done by the author of the novel.  Charles Portis had an uncanny ear for the language of the period and any detour from his dialogue in the book was simply an error on the part of the screenwriter. Folks just plain spoke different back then, something Portis was keen on having us hear. Take this little exchange:

“I don’t believe you have fifty dollars, baby sister, but if you are hungry I will give you supper and we will talk it over and make medicine. How does that suit you?

I said it suited me right down to the ground.

I just don’t think you could make up a line like “right down to the ground.” Portis was a newspaper reporter and it shows in his attention to details like this small one (but all details, big and small, are important, of course).  I suppose that I take more notice to Portis’ ventures in language because I am up to my own eyebrows learning Spanish and I subconsciously am translating everything I hear and read into castellano, as it is called here, mostly.  And evidently Portis was a bigger fan of the Duke than I because he wrote the character of Rooster Cogburn with him in mind. The author also had a fair ear for humor of which the novel and both movies abound.   

I found myself one pretty spring day in
Las Vegas, New Mexico, in need of a road stake and I robbed one of them
little high-interest banks there. Thought I was doing a good service. You
can't rob a thief, can you? I never robbed no citizens. I never taken a man's

"It is all stealing," said I.

"That was the position they taken in New Mexico,"

At least both sets of film makers have enough wisdom to recognize the wisdom in the book.

The original movie certainly isn’t perfect, not by a long shot. But any criticism of it would be like criticizing the way people talked back in the 1880’s. Films are different today, mostly better in my opinion. There are some problems in the 1969 version with some of the side characters and bad acting. The musical score is sometimes bombastic and annoying. The first five minutes which recount the murder of Mattie’s father are tiresome and have been wisely excluded in the Coen brothers’ remake. More than anything I think the 1969 movie is absolutely gorgeous from start to finish. This admiration for the beauty of the Colorado mountains where the movie was made may have a bit to do with the fact that it’s been over four years since I have set out into the Cascades or the Olympics or the beautiful mountains of British Columbia. I think the old movie has a better and more satisfying ending than the new one which follows the book more closely. The old movie is pure Hollywood, not always a pejorative, especially in this case.

“You’re too old and too fat to be jumping horses.”

“Well come and see a fat old man sometime.”

Trailer for the 1969 version:

Sunday, January 16, 2011

New Flash: Spain Wins World Cup in 2010

OK, I suppose that I missed my deadline but I just got around to putting my shitty pictures into a video. I watched the game at the Port of Valencia with about 10,000 other fans.

Friday, January 14, 2011

New Year's Resolution: Beat Dead Horse

We are still only in the first two weeks of January and this will be the third post about Spain’s new smoking ban, something that may seem excessive unless you happen to have lived in Spain before the ban. What was excessive before was how much people smoked here and how bad it was in the bars. I’m not even the most anti- tobacco person I know; the real anti-smokers are generally ex-smokers. I smoke a cigar once in a while so it really isn’t the smoke in the air that bothers me; it’s the smoke that clings to your clothes and follows you home at the end of the day. Many opponents of the new law say that it will keep customers away from bars and restaurants, but for me it will have the opposite effect—if it’s even possible for me to spend more time in bars here (I’m willing to give it the old college try).

Now I find that I'm much more comfortable sitting in a bar reading in the evening. One of my favorite bars in Ruzafa is Ubik Café, a bookstore café with a bit of food and good wines by the glass. Its own popularity kept me away, not because of the crowds but for the smoke generated by the hipsters. I think that it is just as full now except without the mushroom cloud of cigarette smoke looming overhead. The smoking crowd seems to be bearing the law with surprising equanimity. There have been a few well-publicized incidents of patrons not adhering to the law but all I have seen are people politely removing themselves from the premises to have a butt in the street. It’s definitely a win-win situation as smokers seem to smoke less and non-smokers are no longer bothered by the bad habit of others.

I have noticed that I no longer have to be so strategic in choosing a place to sit when I go to a café to read, nor do I have to view entering patrons with dread for fear they will sit next to me and chain smoke. I’m even going to buy a small laptop so that I can do a bit of writing in cafés if I choose to do so—something I would never do before because of the pollution problem.  Life was good but now it’s better!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What's in My Bookbag/Purse

I wish that I could leave the house without dragging along my purse, or pack, or book bag, or whatever the fuck you want to call it. For me this thing is practically genetically attached; just the cost of doing business if you happen to be a reader. If I didn't read, if I weren't scared half-shitless* to be caught without something to read when I have a few extra minutes to spare, then I wouldn't need to carry a damn purse. If I have a book then I need my reading glasses so I need to have them on hand. I also don't like to ever be without a pen and paper. A cell phone seems to be a modern necessity, although not by my choosing. My camera almost always comes with me when I'm out of the house, although you'd never guess that photography concerns me in the least judging by the shitty pictures I take. If you can haul all this schwag around and not have a purse then bravo to you.

In Spanish right now I am reading El Talento de Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith and in French a translation from Italian called Soie (Silk) by Alessandro Baricco. These books and the crap I mentioned in the first paragraph I carry around in my Puma bike messenger bag. I have been thinking of switching to a more adult-looking briefcase but it would still be a purse, wouldn't it? If you don't carry one it probably means that you aren't a reader.

One more thing that I carry in my pack is a reusable shopping bag. I rarely plan to go grocery shopping so always carrying a bag with me saves countless plastic bags from the supermarket (don’t get me started on plastic bags—the root of all evil). I’m saving the planet!

Bags are more necessary for city dwellers than suburbanites who spend a good part of the day in their cars. You have to be more self-contained when walking around a city whereas suburbanites are usually never too far from their automobiles—sort of an extension of their homes. I guess you could say that a bag is like a trunk for a pedestrian.

For me and most city dwellers, every trip out of the apartment is something of an expedition and for that you need a certain amount of gear. It’s not exactly Scott of the Antarctic but urban survival can be a complicated matter. If you stop for a cup of coffee how can you do the crossword puzzle without a pen? How can you (I) read the newspaper without reading glasses? Sometimes you even need to brush your teeth on the fly. My pocket Leatherman tool has literally saved my life on more than one occasion.

What are your out-of-the-house essentials?

*I'm not sure what “half-shitless” means or even if it is worse than being full shitless.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

How to Meet Women

You may have heard of me, I’m an internationally known pick-up artist with over 33,000 confirmed sexual conquests, or “kills” as we call them in the business (by “confirmed” I mean that you can see them on Youtube). I’ve written a half a dozen books on how to pick-up women and last year I was on the lead float in the New Orleans Sexually Transmitted Disease Day parade.  I am featured in the November issue of the American Journal of Medicine in an article about incurable viruses.  I’ve been on Oprah and Dr. Phil (scored with Oprah and got to third base with Dr. Phil).  I’m here today to help you to meet and have relations with women—lots of them.

Let’s face it, most of us men aren’t going to win any awards for charm these days and women can’t seem to put down the vampire books long enough to give men who don’t wear fatal levels of eye-liner a chance.  Communication between the sexes hasn’t been this bad since the invention of language. Who is to blame for this impending civil war? I blame professional sports and Sex and the City. For the most part, women don’t appreciate televised golf and the subtext behind shows like Sex and the City is more arcane to men than the rules to cricket. Men just aren’t capable of understanding why a girl would pay $500 for a pair of high heel shoes and women have much better ways to spend their time than listening to you talk about your high score on HALO.

A lot of experts will tell you that if you want to be successful with women you need to learn how to be yourself, be natural. That may be true for some but in your case nothing could be more detrimental to your chances for hooking up than you being yourself. Come on, look at you.  You just spent an entire Sunday exploring new applications on your cell phone and the day before you wasted nine hours looking at Youtube videos of sports bloopers.  You need to be completely not like you to get lucky. I’m here to help you be someone else, someone more appealing, attractive, intriguing, and interesting which will be really easy since those aren’t exactly your strong points.

Screaming obscenities from a construction site isn’t the only way to attract women.  There are other time-honored, never-fail techniques for getting babes.  How about grabbing your crotch and making grinding motions?  Have you tried honking your horn at a woman walking down the street? OK, if that doesn’t work have you tried peeling out after you honk at her? The problem with this is you’ll be a half a block down the street by the time your wheels stop spinning.  Very often the thrill you feel will make you forget why you peeled out in the first place, so you do it again.  If none of these techniques are working for you then you may have a serious problem.  I can’t believe those don’t work; maybe you are doing them wrong.

We’ll start from scratch in your case. You will be like a mound of clay to be shaped into a new form. Actually, you do look like a lump of clay wearing really bad clothes.  First we need to improve your conversation skills. I’ll assume that English is your native language although you don’t give much evidence of that in normal situations where you get by mostly with a series of grunts and monosyllables. We’ll begin by prepping you on a few ideas you can use for talking to women.  Every Pick-Up artist will tell you that women appreciate good grooming so here are a few topics for conversation in that area:

     1) Things you dug out of your ear with a Q-Tip.
     2) Diseases not easily cured with the “miracle drug” penicillin.
     3) Mole hairs: Should you shave or pluck?

The key ingredient to being a great pick-up artist is speed. If you are looking to have multiple sex partners every single day you can’t waste time with things like getting completely undressed. This is why you should just drop your pants around your ankles while making love so there is no need to remove your shoes. There is another school of thought that advises you to always wear sweat pants and slip-on shoes but that’s too casual for my style.  The sex act itself must also be lightening fast so that you can move on to your next conquest. No more than two or three thrusts and you’re out of there. If possible, just leave your car running down on the street with the caution lights on.

You also don’t want to waste a lot of time with small talk that may lead nowhere. Just move in and get her phone number.  For extracting vital information in subjects I take my pointers directly from the CIA manual on military interrogations. Remember; always keep the subject on the defensive. Do this by keeping up a heavy barrage of questions, pointing your finger in her face, and using sleep deprivation techniques. Waterboarding is a very effective manner to get information but requires a lot of hardware that may be difficult to install at a nightclub VIP lounge.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Sunny and Warm

If I had made a New Year’s resolution to ride my bike more—and I didn’t—I would be off to a flying start. I don’t need to tell myself to ride more; I just need the right weather. It’s been sunny and as high as 22˚ the past few days so bike riding is pretty much a given. Yesterday I rode a total of about four hours out in the villages around Valencia. Today I just did my usual hour and a half beach circuit and either I’m in shitty shape, or I was tired from yesterday’s ultra-marathon, or I rode my ass off, because I was thoroughly beat by the end of the ride.  The beach bike trail is getting more and more popular which means lots of domingueros, or Sunday  drivers that you have to watch out for. There is still lots of room to put the hammer down, which is what I did on most of the return ride.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Another Day, Another Spanish Holiday

I would say that today is the culmination of a solid month of Spanish holidays except that it doesn't end today; you'll have to wait until Monday to really get back on track for a normal work week. Today is Día de los Reyes Magos, or the day of the Magic kings. Everything official is closed. Tomorrow, January 7th, is another holiday except no one seems to know why. I have heard it called San Bricolaje (Saint Do-it-yourself or Saint Fix-it) because people use the time off to do repairs around the house. The Spanish love their holidays, no matter what purpose they serve as long as it means a day off work.

After doing a lap around the historic center on Valenbisí I'm at home making a Cocido Madrileño, or chick pea stew. I can't say that I'm a huge fan of cocido but it's a nice dish during the winter, although right now it's 19 degrees in Valencia. They call this dish puchero in Valencia.  I make it maybe once or twice every winter. Kind of like with gazpacho in the summer, it just doesn’t seem like winter in Spain without cocido.

If I publish my video you will see that I made a ridiculously huge amount. The level is almost even with the brim of my huge stock pot; I think we need a bigger boat. I love beans in every way, shape, and form. It's probably what I do best in the kitchen. Beans are poor people food and something that I learned to make back when I was the poorest I've ever been in my life: my university days. There was no meat in the pot back then, just beans and a few vegetables. I put enough dead animal in today's cocido to send a vegetarian into a fit of apoplexy. I’ll try to remember to put my shoe in the vegetarian’s mouth so they don’t bite off their tongue. I’m considerate like that.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Public Trough

This is what passes for a public drinking fountain in Valencia. From the looks of it you'd think it was what Ponce de Leon was looking for all those years. Most of the public drinking fountains in Valencia are incredibly ornate although few are this downright gorgeous. You notice the same eye towards fine craftsmanship with most of the street lights. This sort of public spending is what drives the Teabag retards crazy (and yes, they are all retards). Fuck it, let's just live in tents and not build anything for the public good. It worked for Attila. It looked like fun with no government in The Road Warrior.O r we could build beautiful cities that dare us all to be better citizens and inspire awe in visitors.  Or America could go the way of Detroit as is chronicled in these haunting photographs. American conservatives always insist that we need to get the government off our backs. These beautiful sculptures are the government. We are the government, at least we were when we were more of a democracy.  The whole conservative argument is just so fucking silly but sad at the same time because so many people have bought into it.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Best of 2011

It’s that time of year again when we rate the best and the worst of the New Year. We’ve had three full days to size up everything new for the year: movies, products, celebrities, fads, what’s in and what’s out, and how much underwear we should reveal above our pants.

I thought that might be a funny idea but perhaps not. I normally hate the end-of-year list-making about “the best of” crap although I’m still surprised that Newsweek magazine ranked Un Prophète number one on their movie list for the year. I think I stopped reading Time and Newsweek when I was about 17 and graduated to The Atlantic and Harper’s so I was surprised to see something insightful from that rag. I still think Newsweek sucks but chapeau* to them for this call.

So since this “Best of 2011” idea isn’t really working as a gag I will change course and venture another idea. I will write my “Best of 2011” as the year progresses. I have such a terrible memory that I can barely remember my postal code so trying to recall anything important that happened during the course of a year is difficult at best. This way when the end of the year rolls around I’ll already have my list finished.

I already have one entry in the “Best of 2011” list.

1) The Anti-Smoking Law in Spain

Sorry, fuckos. Head outside if you want to smoke because you can’t do it in here. I would move to the back of an almost-empty café to avoid the smoke yet some old man would invariably sit down right next to me and chain smoke. RIP old man because I now have a restraining order against you and your kind. 

*Chapeau is "hat" in French and in this context means "hats off." A very useful little expression and used by lots of people around Europe who know a little or a lot of French.

Monday, January 03, 2011

No Smoking

Spain became smoke-free as of January 2, 2011. I didn't think that I would see this day after last year’s false start but it happened and now it’s the law: no smoking in any public building including cafés, bars, restaurants, and anywhere else you can think of, even outside if there are children around like parks and school yards. I think I read somewhere that this law is actually based on Seattle’s strict anti-smoking policy enacted while I lived there in 2005, if I remember the year correctly.

It’s not that I am bothered much by smoke but I hate bringing all of that soot back with me on my clothes after going out. On some nights I will strip naked and hang all of my clothes out on the line because I can’t stand the smell in my house. Those days are over now that Spain has joined the ranks of most other Western European countries that have banned public smoking. Christ, even Italy and France beat Spain to the no smoking finish line. Better late that n never and now I may even bring my laptop to my corner café in the morning; something I would never do before because of the smog.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Notes from the Underground in Spain

I live on the third floor and I hang my clothes on some lines outside the window in our courtyard (or patio as they call it here). I occasionally drop a clothespin or two and it lands on a little canopy above the apartment beneath mine. I figure that the people on the bottom floor must have about a million clothespins from everyone dropping them. I remember a time not too long ago when I didn't have enough confidence in my Spanish to walk downstairs and ask the old woman who lives in apartment #1 that I have dropped 393 clothespins over the past nine months and can I please have them back. Those days are behind me. I'll be back in ten minutes.

I was on my bike the other day when I was witness to yet another moronic traffic episode. Some guy on a motorcycle was cut off by another jackass and it all happened right in front of me.  The motorcyclist looked over at me at the red light seeming to plead for support in his near mishap. All I said to him was, “Peor que Hitler” ("worse than Hitler" which I think sounds funny in Spanish "Pay or kay eat lair"). Of course I wasn’t feeling any fellowship with the motorcyclist, none at all. He would run over me in half-a-heartbeat if it meant he could get a split-second lead in his race to go wherever the fuck he is going. The problem is that he probably didn’t understand that I was taking the piss out of him.

Something that always cracks me up is the impatience of Spanish old ladies in the supermarket line. These Marujas (slang for old lady which comes from an old lady name, Maruja, which is like Hazel or Ethel) are always jockeying for position like drivers at the start of a Formula 1 race.  They also have this compulsive need to start putting their shit up on the conveyor belt as soon as possible or even before. If they open up another cash register line there is practically a rugby scrum to jump lines. Even if you were in line before them they think that a new line opening up is first-come-first-serve all over again. That’s OK with me because I never change lines for any fucking reason. When someone politely asks me if I would like to switch lines I always tell them that jumping queues is considered bad luck in my country. I explain that if I switched lines and then that line goes really slowly I will feel like a douche bag (gilipollas). And forget about going to the market on busy days like Saturdays or holidays: the place is a bloodbath. I have literally had an old gal run over my foot before with her loaded shopping cart. 

These same Golden Girls will leave their shopping trolleys in the line and then venture back out into the store to get some forgotten item. I told a guy next to me the other day that from now on I'll just put my basket in line, go do my shopping, and then reclaim my rightful place in the queue. The law of the jungle and Darwinian survival techniques are always on display. Kill or be killed (mata o muere in Spanish)...or just stand back and have a laugh. Why would I be in a hurry when there is so much entertainment on hand?

*The photo was taken with my new 12 megapixel camera and weighs in at 4.76 megs. Ouch! Great detail but way too big for normal photos so I switched to the 8mp mode.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Un Prophète

With time on my hands and no inclination to do all of the stupid shit you are supposed to do during the holidays I thought that I would catch up on what was going on in the world of movies.  I can’t remember the last time that I saw a movie that I thought was good, let alone great. I waded through a couple of “Best of 2010” lists until I clicked on Newsweek ‘s picks and found A Prophet at the top. I read the short paragraph about it and they had me with “prison movie.” For some strange, inexplicable reason I love prison movies. I suppose that it has something to do with prison being some sort of ultimate challenge for a man. It just happens that I was also looking for something to watch in French, not that I understand film French all that much. Movies are always very difficult for the student.

Malik al Djebena (Tahar Rahim) enters the prison for what we learn will be a six year sentence. He looks as frightened and alone as anyone could possibly be in this impossible environment but his tattered body testifies that he’s not really new to hardship and crime. I like how the director doesn’t insult us by interfering with the beginning of the film by showing scenes from Mali’s tragic childhood. Instead we just see the result of his youth, a body covered in scars and a 19 year old boy who knows he needs to learn fast to survive inside. His first opportunity to prove himself—to make his bones, as they say in gangster movies—comes all too soon.

In the prison yard we see two uneven sides of prisoner affiliation.  The Muslims on one side represent the majority, albeit unorganized and directionless.  On the other side are the heavily-outnumbered Corsicans who are organized, violent, and well-connected with the prison administration. Malik is singled out by the Corsican boss, César Luciani (Niels Arestrup) to perform a rather tricky assassination for them.  Their first meeting together isn’t a job interview; it’s a threat of kill or be killed.  

If you get one thing from this film it’s that movie stars are not only unnecessary to make a great film, but that they are often a huge impediment. I couldn’t imagine this movie with the usual Hollywood assholes in the leading roles. Think about what a complete piece of shit The Departed was mainly because of the ridiculous cast of superstars.  For all I fucking know this actor playing Malik is a Franco-Arab criminal and I sure as hell believe that the Corsican boss is the thug he portrays in the film.  The realism in this movie is unparalleled, unmatched in any movie I have ever seen depicting prison life. It’s more life-like than any documentary could be, if that makes sense.

Scorsese has nothing on Jacques Audiard and he had better be studying this guy because the stakes have been raised in the crime film genre. Save your money on Jack Nicholson and other has-been assholes, forget about chase scenes and explosions, and try to keep your story as close to the truth as possible.