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Sunday, July 31, 2011

¡Hasta La Victoria...Nunca!

The bottom line is that I won’t be satisfied with my Spanish until I speak it as well as I speak English. This means with a nearly-perfect grasp of the grammar and without a discernable accent.  This means that I will never be satisfied. Lately I have been trying to work extra diligently toward this impossible goal, mainly by reading a lot and as much as possible reading out loud. I have been paying closer attention about  how to form questions properly, especially in writing. I think that my writing isn’t horrible in Spanish but it needs plenty of work. My Spanish friends always comment that mine are the only text messages they receive that carry all of the proper accents—I don’t use any shortcuts in my texts in English, French, or Spanish. The main burden, the main obstacle in my path to reaching my unattainable goal is still vocabulary. I tell everyone that the online language dictionary, www.wordreference.com,  is my best friend here in Spain.

My latest reading venture is tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities which I found in translation for 1€ at a pawn shop. La Hoguera de las Vanidades is pretty easy for me since I know it practically by heart in English. At this stage of the game most of the new words that I learn are simply other ways of saying things that I already know how to say, synonyms and synonymous expressions. As I skim through the 200 some pages of the book that I have made it through in Spanish I see that I have underlined (always in red ink) few words that I needed to look up. Some were words that I have looked up before that I sort of knew from the context but I just don’t have much occasion to use the word for mahogany in Spanish (caoba). I knew it was a type of tree.  Perhaps now that I have written it down it will stick in my memory.

How do you get all of these damn words to stick in the memory? Damned if I know. Constant repetition and constant reading are about the only answers I have come up with.  I keep threatening to write more in Spanish which I know would help my overall understanding of the language. I know lots of people here who speak the language well but can’t write it at all.  

Hacer Acopio – to muster
Deparar – bring, offer, provide
Señoría – your honor
Amilanarse – to be daunted
Enconado – heated, passionate (sus enconados discursos)

And this little word that I can never remember:

Cochambroso – filthy, squalid.  "sus cochambrosas zapatillas deportistas" and again a few pagesw later "una cochamborasa torre modernista de los años veinte"  I think that this word means other things and I’m waiting for a reply on the wordreference forum.

There were a lot more words I had to look up but that isn’t your problem.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Bit of Andalucía in Valencia

Some friends who just returned from there bought me a beautiful picture book of Andalucía (you can see it on the table). I always like how they hang plants on the walls there and thus inspired I started to add a bit of southern Spain to my sunny dining room. I dug up and potted a big aloe vera plant yesterday. You can just see the top of it above the corner of the table. I also found an enormous clay pot out by the garbage today and brought it upstairs. I'll need a big tree to make good use of it. It's all cool until the plants die. I'm hoping that I have better luck in this apartment than in others. My last place was like a plant death camp.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

How NOT to Build a City

This is Patacona, the new subdivision just north of Valencia's Malva-Rosa beach. There are no bars, restaurants, stores, pharmacies, or anything else on this strip of road for as far as you can see. Why would anyone want to live here? These are all apartment buildings. The apartments are nice but to do anything you have to drive your damn car. Drivers race down this strip of road and only grudgingly give pedestrians the right-of-way. There's plenty of free parking but absolutely no reason to be here unless you're a resident. Simply an awful urban model in almost every way. It's sad because the Spanish should know better since their cities are so excellent. About a block in the opposite direction is Valencia and the neighborhood is vibrant and pedestrian friendly. The men building the new units in Patacona can't even find a place to have lunch there and must cross back into Valencia. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

World's Classiest Cat Door?

Deep in the heart of Valencia's historic center lies one of it's most closely guarded secrets: The World's Greatest Cat Door. Near the Bellas Artes Museum in Carmen, this homage to the neighborhood cats is a work of art in itself. I don't know what's inside this feline renaissance palace but the outside is worthy of being included in any excursion of the city.

P.S. The bike in the photo was my first bike here in Valencia before it was stolen. Tear. I freaking loved that bike so much. I rode it half-to-death in the two and a half years we were together. I'd hate to think that it is sitting in someone's storeroom now not being used.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Buzz Words that Send Conservatives into Fits of Apoplexy

American conservatives have been programed to react—almost violently at times—to certain buzzwords.  It’s a simple strategy for the feeble-minded to trigger a common reaction from the ranks, to squelch opposition, or to help counter any criticism of their agenda. Once the buzzword is mentioned then they have a list of well-rehearsed phrases that follow. I think it’s best to explain this through examples.

I’ll begin with the far-right conservative’s favorite buzz word.  Once American extreme-right conservatives hook into an issue it’s like an abusive Catholic marriage: no matter how pathetic and wrong they may be, they refuse to divorce themselves from their insane position.  Grover Norquist’s “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” that so many Republicans have taken is one of the most idiotic vows ever imagined, but to most American conservatives it seems entirely reasonable. Once you have taken this pledge to never raise taxes you have relinquished any hope of being a rational human being.

It’s difficult to understand the conservatives’ hatred of anything having to do with Europe.  I suppose that it is based on many factors but primarily it has to do with the fact that many European social democracies have proven that the main tenets of American conservative politics are simply wrong.  These countries are doing better than America in almost every category. I’ll get into the specifics of this when I address other buzz words.

Conservatives seem to have an especially deep hatred for the French, or cheese-eating surrender monkeys as they call them. This is a bit ironic since many of the conservatives who invented this vitriol did everything dress up in women’s clothes to avoid being drafted during Viet Nam and few of the younger fire-breathing assholes on the Right have bothered serving in the military. I am guessing that conservatives’ hatred of France and anything Europe may also have something to do with an inferiority complex as they perceive many Europeans as being educated, well-traveled, and sophisticated.  To the stupid, any display of sophistication is the polar opposite of what they consider to be masculine. In the 2004 presidential election John Kerry practically had to deny that he speaks fluent French. Note to stupid hillbillies: if you are a stupid hillbilly this doesn't mean that you are best served by having a stupid hillbilly as your president.

The people controlling the American conservative movement couldn’t give a shit about abortion. The rich in this country have always had access to safe abortions and always will. What most hillbillies don’t realize is that all that Roe v. Wade did was to provide this same access to people who aren’t millionaires.  If you are stridently anti-abortion while at the same time anti-birth control, then you are simply a medievalist. Period.  As far as this matter goes, we have already been where conservatives are trying to take us and we didn’t much like it. Look at modern day Latin America which almost universally outlaws abortion. Do we really want to be like them? The answer is NO!

Trains and Public Transportation
I suppose that conservatives’ hatred of public transportation is related to their hatred of Europe and anything European.  Like so many other stances taken by the Right their opposition to investing in the infrastructure necessary for good public transportation lacks even a modicum of common sense. They will fly into a rage at the mention of the government supporting AMTRAK (America’s rail service) yet don’t seem to mind when the same government builds roads and airports. While many countries in Western Europe are practically falling over each other to extend their networks of high-speed rail, America lags a half a century behind in this area and continues to perpetuate the destructive culture of automobiles.

Don't even mention guns around these mouth-breathers. They act as if gun ownership is the most sacred privilege of any human being. Absolutely any limit to a private individual's right to fire arms is blasphemy to them.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You (But Probably Not)

“Don’t call us, we’ll call you” isn’t just a catch-phrase I hear from time to time, it’s more like the story of my life. I’ve been waiting for the phone to ring ever since I’ve had a phone. Today could be my lucky day…or maybe tomorrow!  Yesterday definitely wasn’t my lucky day or the day before yesterday, and so on back to when I first cradled the receiver of my first phone. I have a good feeling about today, though. Today it’s going to ring! 

I mean, they said, “we’ll call you.” How would you interpret that? We will call you. It’s in the future tense which implies that it is something that is going to take place, that it’s definitely on. But when, dammit, when? When will they call me? I have a life, too, you know. I have things to do. I can’t be waiting around forever for them to call.  But what if they do call and I’m not home? Maybe I’d better just stick around this weekend just in case. While I’m at it I’ll clear my schedule for next week. Better safe than sorry.
Even telemarketers politely hang up on me, promising to call back.  They usually tell me they have something burning on the stove. Just yesterday a guy called selling aluminum siding. I don’t have a house to put it on but I told him that I could find a place to store it just in case my housing situation changes radically.  He promised to call back soon. “Soon,” he said. You can bet that I’ve got my fingers crossed.  

Even when I’ve tried to call the emergency services I’ve been told not to telephone and that they would call me if I have a future emergency.  I suppose that I should be reassured to know that the next time I almost chop off one of my digits in the kitchen someone will actually call me before coming to my rescue. The last time I called 911 no one answered and I ended up putting my thumb back on with duct tape (based on a true story, at least the part about the tape holding a chunk of my finger from falling on the floor).

Sometimes people will give me a shorter version of this cliché. They’ll say, “Don’t call us.” Some folks have taken this even further with the rather abrupt but completely unambiguous, “Don’t.  Just don’t, man.”

Thursday, July 21, 2011

How Do You Say "BB Gun" in Spanish?

No kidding, I don’t know how to say it and it isn’t in the dictionary. Maybe they don’t have them here. I just spent 45 minutes on Google trying to come up with a way to get rid of the pigeons in the back area of my new building. The other methods didn't seem to be particularly effective so I thought to myself, "What would Clint Eastwood do?" And then I thought, "What would an adolescent Clint Eastwood do?"

Violence or non-violence? I could go either way if I don’t have to be raised from my sleep at 06:30 by the mad cooing of a half dozen of this species of flying rat. I know someone who had a pigeon trapped in her apartment for a weekend while she was away and it did more damaged than a party hosted by a rock drummer, so don’t tell me that they are harmless.  I’m not looking for a wholesale slaughter of these flying pests, but they don’t seem to respond to any reasonable requests to vacate the area. It’s not like I’m opposed to a mass killing of these horrible city dwellers, but I just don’t want to get personally involved.

It’s hard to pin down what I dislike the most about these foul creatures, but the noises they make rate high on my list. First, there is that awful cooing, and then there is that even more vulgar squawky thing they do which sounds like the aforementioned rock drummer drowning on his own vomit.


No rock drummers were killed in the making of this essay.  Since it took me over 15 minutes to write this, I’m sure that a rock drummer or two died as the result of some very unnatural cause, but I had nothing to do with it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Feria de Julio

I went to the first night of the Feria de Julio at Valencia's beautiful Plaza de Toros. I have been to see quite a few corrida's (horribly translated as bullfights). I can't say that I am a huge fan but I enjoy the pomp and spectacle. It's a good excuse to smoke a fine cigar and have some Spanish brandy on a summer evening. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Tour de Valencia: Read It and Weep.

18/07/2011 35_C/ DUQUE DE CALABRIA -> 171_CALLE GRAN CANARIA 0h 20min

This is from my Valenbisi account and it means that I went from the station near my house, Duque de Calabria, to the station on the other end of Valencia on Calle Gran Canaria and I did it in 20 freaking minutes. A new personal best and I doubt that even Lance Armstrong or Alberto Contador could do it in much less. Granted, I know the streets of Valencia as well as any cyclist and I also made a total mockery of any existing traffic laws, but still.

I think that there should be a web site where people can post their station-to-station times for Valenbisi.  Since the bike share system is already tracking everyone’s time we may as well do something with this information.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Democracy Through Technology: Men and Women of Letters

I don’t know how old I was when I read a biography of Thomas Jefferson, perhaps I was 20 or thereabouts. I do remember being positively flabbergasted when I learned that he had written somewhere between 25,000 to 50,000 letters in his lifetime. I read this well before I owned my first computer, back when I either wrote freehand or on a typewriter. The physical act of writing with pen and paper has always proven difficult for me, perhaps because I grip the pen too hard. As I get older, writing by hand is actually painful for anything more than a paragraph or two. If Jefferson had similar problems with arthritic hands I never read about it in his letters.

A long time ago I went through a phase of reading the letters of famous people, mostly writers. In a collection of the letters of, let’s say Ernest Hemingway, many of the letters were simply business correspondence between the author and his editor. A lot of the other letters weren’t the least bit interesting, even to fans of Papa. I could say the same of the letters of a lot of famous people I have read.  Boring or not, I was usually impressed with the prolific nature of their correspondence back in my pre-computer days of pen and paper and typewriters.

Since I began using computer word processing programs I think that my writing output has been quite prolific by any standard. Just the letters I have exchanged with my two brothers would represent hundreds of thousands of words. I think that computers have made much better writers out of millions of people. I wouldn’t care to comment on the quality of a lot of this output, especially what I write, but there is no denying that computers have allowed a much greater percentage of the populace to achieve prolific status as writers. Where even as little as 20 years ago only a very limited elite of the world’s population wrote much more than a few letters home while vacationing, with the advent of the computer age a vast swath of people find it very easy to put their thoughts into words. Blogs have only been around for about ten years, at least to any wide degree, and there are perhaps millions of them now in existence. 

Without this technological advantage most of these people probably wouldn’t bother to write nearly as much—I know this is true in my case. As it is I think that over the last ten years of blogging, emails, and other stuff I have written on a computer I think I may be giving Thomas Jefferson a run for his money as far as sheer output is concerned.  So chapeau to computers for providing such a painless way to get words down in print and also to blogging sites that permit so many of us to publish whatever the hell it is we decide to write.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Shocking Confession: I Like Boobs!

I like boobs! There it is. I said it. I know that I’ll probably be crucified in the press for it but I thought that it needed to be out there in the open. I understand that in modern American society the female form is sort of a taboo subject, something we tip-toe around and pretend to ignore. Why, just writing about this in a magazine is almost as unthinkably vulgar as posting a huge set of bazzongas on a billboard to promote the sale of…oh, I don’t know, let’s say light beer or paper towels. Could you imagine that?  The mere thought practically makes one swoon. Someone hand me the smelling salts. I think I need to sit down.

I don’t mean to pat myself on the back but I think that it takes a brave soul to admit to liking breasts simply for their own sake, but I’ve never been one to run with the crowd or follow fleeting fancies. I realize that from an early age we are taught that this female body part has no significance in our lives.  We are told over and over that appearances are not important.  "Only the mind matters" is something we are practically beat to death with again and agian. Let’s just say that I have something similar to x-ray vision that allows me to look through the book by a Nobel Prize winning author that a woman is reading to notice other things on her horizon, if you know what I mean. Most of you probably don’t know what I mean so I’ll say that I’m talking about breasts.   

Here’s another outrageous confession: Unlike most members of my gender, I’m not repulsed by large breasts. Whether they be delightful little handfuls or…how should I put this…more ambitious undertakings, all varieties are fine by me. I have no idea how I became the beast that I am. My peculiarities fly in the face of all societal norms, but then I have never courted popularity. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sunday Afternoon Ritual

It may seem like a cliché to make a paella almost once a week if you live in Valencia, Spain but I’m just following everyone else’s lead. It’s what people do, especially on Sundays.  I had some extra embutidos (various kinds of sausages) from yesterday’s party so I made what I call an arroz de sobras or leftover paella. If I haven’t learned anything else since I arrived here at least I can cook the hell out of rice. Since we didn’t make a paella yesterday for the birthday parties I have been craving rice.

Arroz de Sobras

Chorizo, Loganiza, Morcilla de cebolla
Onion, Tomato, and Garlic for the sofrito
Garafón, green beans
(the beans and garafón come in a frozen medley here)
1.5 cups of Rice
3 cups of Chicken Stock
Safron, Pimentón, and Salt

Cook the chorizo and loganiza in a bit of olive oil. When this has browned add the onion and garlic. Cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze out the seeds. Then grate the tomatoes and toss the skin and then add this the the cooked onion and garlic. After this cooks a bit add the saffron and pimentón. Add the chicken stock and the vegetable medley. When the stock begins to boil add the rice and reduce the heat. The rice should cook about 18 minutes but just eyeball it. Taste it for salt after you add the rice.

Monday, July 04, 2011

My Block, My Island, My Walden Pond

Traditional statue of old famous guy covered in bird shit.
While Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862) endured his whim at Walden Pond for a brief two years, the inner city block is meant to last at least a lifetime. My praise for urban life isn’t some romantic delusion but has been a lifelong personal inquiry into what is the most sensible and satisfying manner of living. To me, one of the most important things in life is living in the perfect environment. For me, this has meant a self-contained city block or small urban area where you are within easy walking distance of life's essentials.

Once again I’m in awe of the convenience and diversity to be found on a single city block here in Spain after my recent move (my old apartment was only a half a block away but it seems like a different city almost). My new block is incredibly convenient and diverse but not extraordinarily so, at least not as far as standards here in Valencia go. As I have mentioned before, I can’t believe some of the new housing units I've seen being built in Valencia that seem to forget this model of city living. There are a lot of new apartment buildings and multi-building complexes that don't have businesses on the ground flood, making these areas antiseptic, not to mention hugely boring and soulless. My new block is anything but soulless and boring.

Within 100 meters of the front door of my building there are dozens of businesses. After moving yesterday I was completely exhausted. I had to go out one last time to pick up a few grocery items (beer being the most important on the list). I was headed to the one supermarket that I like which is two whole blocks away when I detoured in favor of another supermarket that is right around the corner from my flat. It’s great to have that choice and as beat as I was yesterday I was so grateful I could have wept—lack of beer makes me emotional. Out of the three supermarket chains here in Valencia—Mercadona, Consum, and Día—the one on my block is my third choice but has moved way up on the scale due to its close proximity (the other two are less than two blocks away).

If you're looking for a place to get a cup of coffee, or a beer you have some decision-making to do. If you walk around my block you have the choice of about six cafés. There’s a tobacco shop, a kid’s clothing store, a couple of banks, a Chinese restaurant, an insurance salesman, a printing shop, a very high-end bike shop, an even higher-end Italian food store, an English language school, and on one end of the block there is a square with a fountain and a little playground. Two of the cafés open into this square so there are dozens of sunny tables to choose from.

I can get to all of these businesses without even crossing the damn street.  If I venture across the street there are dozens of more choices.  There is the bargain movie theater Cinestudio D’Or which plays a double feature of recent films, usually dubbed into Spanish if they are foreign. My old stand-by café, Bar Canadá is directly across the street from me. Next to Bar Canadá is a Japanese specialty shop called Japon.es. I have a Valenbisi station right on the corner about 40 meters from my front door. Five steps from my door is a bus stop for the #19 and the #40.

Anyone who says that city life is impersonal and cold has probably never lived in a city. I find the lifestyle to be warm and comforting. I greet many people in the street with whom I have never exchanged a single word simply because we live in such close proximity. Yesterday in the entryway to my new building I met an old woman who lives on the ground floor. She commented that she didn’t know me so I introduced myself. One down, nine neighbors left to meet.

From my balcony.
I am writing this in the middle of the boulevard terrace of Bar Canada while I drink a glass of wine. I could probably catch my Wi-Fi signal from home but since the bar has free Wi-Fi there’s no need.  I guess that what I am trying to say is that city life can be so easy. I wish that everyone could live this experience for at least a little while. Thoreau should have tried it and maybe he would have lived longer.

I actually made this video before I moved to this street. I can't say which is more beautiful: the street or the song in the video.