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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Iniesta Goal from 2010 Wolrd Cup (high quality video)

I will never get tired of watching this brilliant goal that won the World Cup in 2010 for Spain. Enjoy this video while you can because it will probably be take down soon because if copyright issues. The quality is as superb as the play on the pitch. A great moment in Spanish football and something I will ever forget. OK, it would be difficult for me to forget it because I lived in Spain during the Cup and watched every game. I also have this video on my desktop and I watch it almost every day.

Monday, November 28, 2011

¿Arroz en la noche? (Rice for dinner?)

I think that I have worked very assiduously to integrate myself into Spanish life. I study the language like a conscientious undergrad. Spanish cooking comes naturally to me and I probably eat less American food than the average Spaniard. Football to me is fútbol and not the game with pads and helmets.  Despite all of my efforts to fit in, I just can’t get used to the Spanish dinner hours and their rather rigid notion of what one eats and doesn’t eat at a certain hour of the day. The biggest problem I have is the local prohibition of eating rice for dinner.

¿Arroz en la noche? “Rice for dinner?” I remember the first time someone asked me about this after telling them that I was making a risotto for dinner. For Valencianos eating rice for dinner rates right up there with rat poison. Rice is a midday meal for them, period.  If you went to a restaurant and ordered paella for dinner I think they would first laugh at you and then escort you brusquely from the premises while warning you never to return.

The Spanish eat their big meals in the afternoon.  They feel that eating a big meal in the evening is basically just asking for trouble; trouble in the form of weight gain, disturbed sleep, gout, rickets, and possibly erectile dysfunction.  You name it and eating big in the evening causes it.  From everything that I have read about nutrition there is absolutely basis for this belief because the body is basically on a 24 hour schedule and what matter is the total caloric intake during the day and not when they are consumed.  I understand that it is the tradition to eat a big afternoon meal basically everywhere in the Mediterranean basin. I respect tradition but this doesn’t mean that the tradition is based on science.

Even after all this time here in Spain I would much prefer to eat a being meal in the evening. And it’s not like Spanish people don’t eat big meals late in the evening. It’s rare to see anyone in a restaurant before 10:00 pm and it’s not like people only eat carrots and celery when they go out at night. Someone who admonishes you for eating rice at night will think nothing of eating a prodigious amount of bread with a salad for dinner. Potato dishes are quite popular for dinner as well as other recipes steeped in carbohydrates.

If I am going to eat a big meal I like to have a bit of wine with it. Having even a single glass of wine at lunch just wipes me out for the rest of the day. I can drink wine at lunch on Sundays when I have nothing to do the rest of the day put the rest of the week this just isn’t the case.  I will often eat rice for dinner (only if there are no Spanish people around to witness this heinous crime). I sleep like a baby after these meals.  You can read all about it in my upcoming book, Eat Rice at Night and Live to Tell about It!.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Chinese Community in Spain

There’s a corner café near my house staffed by an older Chinese couple who work every day, all day, from about seven in the morning until ten or eleven at night. I have lived in this neighborhood for four years and they have never had a vacation unless their vacation coincided with one of my many holidays. I doubt this is the case because I have never been by this place when they weren’t working. The woman—who appears to be somewhere between 40 and 60—is about half bat-shit crazy from spending so much time locked up in her concentration camp disguised as a corner café with a pleasant terrace. This couple isn’t any sort of an exception as the absolute minimum work week for Chinese people here is six days a week. My question is this: who is forcing these people to literally work themselves to death (the woman doesn’t look good at all)?

There is no way that any person would work this much of their own volition. I just don’t fucking believe that. What I believe is that the Chinese hierarchy here in Valencia is making these people work. It is impossible not to notice the enormous wave of Chinese immigrants here in Spain, even in some of the smallest villages. They generally work in little variety stores that sell products, most of which are manufactured in China. In the last couple of years, at least here in Valencia, the Chinese community has been buying up bars and restaurants at an alarming pace which certainly isn’t news to anyone who lives here. The Chinese community seems to be completely apart from the rest of Spanish society.  Labor, health, security, and other laws don’t seem to affect them in the least.

I have said this before and I stand firmly behind this statement: the Chinese in Spain are not immigrants at all; they are economic colonists sent here by the Chinese government to sell Chinese manufactured goods and to earn hard currency for the Chinese mainland.  Think about it. If you are Chinese you can’t go to your local government and say, “You know, I think that I’d like to leave this shithole of a country and go live in Spain. Is that OK with you guys?” I doubt if an average slob can even get a passport in Spain let alone emigrate on his own accord. Therefore these “immigrants” are sent to Spain and that begs the question “Why?” I think that I answered that question in the first sentence of this paragraph.

Most of the Spanish people that I have talked to have very ambivalent feelings about the Chinese. On the one hand the Chinese cause no trouble and keep to themselves. And of course they work hard, not the most admirable trait as far as the holiday-loving Spanish are concerned. On the other hand the Chinese do not participate in any way in the quotidian life of this country other than performing their assigned tasks within their own community. Last year I was with a group of friends downtown for a fireworks display during Fallas, Valencia’s biggest and most important festival (in a country where it is impossible to exaggerate the importance of festivals). There were perhaps 120,000 people crowded into the main square. I challenged my friends to point out a single Chinese person in the crowd. Not one. Every other immigrant group was represented that day, South Americans of every stripe, black Africans, and even a few Pakistanis, but no Chinese. I have never seen a Chinese family at the beach. It’s rare to even see a Chinese person sitting in a café.

In my years here in Spain I have read only one or two articles about the Chinese community in the newspapers—and I read at least two Spanish papers every day(OK, I admit that perhaps I spent too much time in cafés).  No one seems to know anything about them or how their community functions.  I should point out that anything I put forth in this essay is purely speculation and strictly anecdotal.  From what people have told me there are very few Chinese students enrolled in the local universities and the few that you do see may very well be adopted children of Spanish families (about 100% of whom are girls—another story for another essay).  I would wager that the Chinese government does not want the children of “immigrants” to attend Spanish universities to pursue careers in this country. Their job is to continue working for the Chinese mainland, selling Chinese merchandise and earning money which is mostly sent back home.

The brilliant Canadian economist and polymath, John Ralston Saul has stated that China doesn’t believe in globalization. They aren’t interested in free trade; they only care about selling their products around the world. Spain’s Chinese population certainly backs this point.

P.S. Myth Busters: The Chinese in Spain Never Die

This is one of the first urban myths I learned upon arriving in Spain. Many people have told me that the Chinese immigrants in Spain never have funerals and that there are no Chinese cemeteries. I’ve heard a lot of bad jokes about how you should be careful about eating in a Chinese restaurant because you don’t know where the meat comes from. The whole idea seemed rather silly to me and not really important enough to give much thought to it. I doubted that the Chinese passed on their documents to others when they passed away and their bodies were unceremoniously discarded in unmarked graves or tossed in the sea as legend has it.

In Roberto Saviano’s book, Gomorra about the Mafia in Naples, Italy he addresses this issue in the first chapter. He describes a scene at the port of Naples in which a container breaks open and dumps a load of frozen Chinese corpses on the wharf. Evidently, the Chinese pay to have their bodies shipped back to China when they die so that they can be buried in their native land. The expense of the shipment is sometimes deducted from their pay. Anyway, that makes more sense than the urban myth version.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Next Big Thing?


I’m not bragging when I say that I’m just about the last person onboard the latest idea. In fact, I’m so late getting onboard current trends—and I realize that I’m using the word “current” very loosely—that many times people have already forgotten about it and moved on to something else long before I get started. I actually got my picture in the paper when I bought the last VHS player. Other people will laugh at technology portrayed in 10 year old movies—a mobile phone the size of an army boot, for example—while I’ll ask in amazement, “They actually make those?” My “cutting edge” is most people’s medieval history.  “Behind the times” would be a huge technological leap forward for me.

I’m no Luddite but to say that I’m standing on middle ground would be a bit of an exaggeration.  On a chronological/technological scale between the original members of the Luddite movement and…let’s say Steve Jobs, I’d place myself somewhere between the decline of black and white television and the advent of 8 track tapes.  My lack of tech savvy could be a huge asset—a very convenient thing for me to say about myself but still. I’ve always felt that what the hi-tech world needs is more input from stupid people.  Many new and bold ideas spring from the smartest and most talented minds but I think we are ignoring a very powerful and perhaps innovative voice in our rush towards a better future by silencing the people who move their lips when they read.  

Have you ever noticed that we never ask stupid people to put forth ideas? The giant computer companies should have a few not-too-bright folks on the payroll just to double-check the work of the geniuses, to make sure things aren’t too complicated for the average slob.  I’m volunteering my services to Microsoft to head up their new Average Slob Research Team.  I think that my clear-headed and straight-shooting approach to problem solving is just what Microsoft needs to be a leader in the field. What’s that? They already are a leader in many fields? Whatever, I can make them even better.

I’ll start by changing the name of my new division.  Average Slob Research Team? Who came up with that? OK, I know that I did but I was just being rhetorical, wait…not rhetorical but what’s that other thing you can be when you know the answer but you want to blame someone else? I’ll have to ask one of the other, smarter employees but for now let’s brainstorm to come up with a better name for my group.  We need a cool acronym, something really catchy. How about SPIKE? That sounds cool and tough. I’ll have to let one of the brainiac dorks figure out what the letters mean; it’s called relegating or delegating—I can never keep those two straight. I did the hard part so it’s the least they can do. On to my next big idea.

I noticed that they don’t serve meatloaf in the cafeteria.  No wonder so many people here skip lunch and go running or take a yoga class instead of stuffing their faces in the chow hall.  They also don’t serve beer so I’ll use my new influence to right that little wrong.  If you have beer you may as well have a happy hour—wouldn’t want any of it to go to waste.  These pencil-necks around here need to learn how to relax and stop working themselves half to death. And how about a blackjack table? You know what they say about all work and no illegal gambling. To prove my point about how uptight people are here you should have seen all of the dirty looks I got when I was barbequing in the parking lot before work one morning. You’d think they’d never heard of tailgating.

As it turns out, it only took me and my small team three weeks to drive the entire company off a cliff. Most of the damage was caused by my diverting the corporation’s entire research staff into my project of trying to predict the outcome of NFL games.  I already had my own system but I thought that it could use a bit of fine tuning, most of the people I owed money to thought so, too. On a side note, if you want to meet a group of individuals with absolutely no sense of humor you should try sports bookies.  In the end, arrests were made, documents seized, law suits filed, but I can look back with pride because in the midst of this scandal I picked a winner in a play-off game.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Anti-Government vs Democracy: Part I

This is unregulated free enterprise
This is how people make cities.
If ever a stupid idea persisted way past its time it would have to be this entire movement of anti-government nonsense that now seems to completely define American conservatives. The notion that private enterprise, if left to its own devices, will completely meet the needs of the population is simply absurd. How do I know this? I know this because we have been there before. Just read history and look back to when the private sector basically did whatever the hell it wanted to do with either little interference from, or with the full support of government. Americans spent the better half of the last century literally fighting in the streets at times to correct the free-enterprise-at-any-cost movement.Now conservatives would have us return to those halcyon days with a few strokes of a legislative pen.

Here’s an example that most Americans can attest to simply by taking a look at their own communities. If you live in an area that is dominated by strip malls, parking lots, sprawl, drive-thru fast food joints, and an over-riding anti-pedestrian environment then you can thank private enterprise. This is what happens when the people have no say in how their own communities are built.  I find it hard to believe that private individuals would knowingly acquiesce to the suburban blight that has infected so much of the American man-made environment.

The people of Seattle decided many years ago that they needed to fix the problem that so many American cities have faced since the end of WWII: the decay of the inner-city because of the mass exodus to the suburbs. The city planners changed zoning laws so that all new buildings in the downtown area had to reserve the first level for businesses: shops, restaurants, grocery stores, bars, bakeries, etc. Before this law was in place vast swaths of Seattle's downtown were basically empty of residents. Who would want to live in an area without these basic services? I moved to Seattle in 1998 and the new downtown was just beginning. By the time I left in 2006 the city center had become a bustling area (I lived in the city center all 8 years). Residency had multiplied sharply while the suburbs saw a decrease in growth. The people and their elected government had shaped businesses to their liking and the city is much better for it. Of course these changes weren't all brought on by the government but the ideas set forth came from the people.

In about 1992 the city of Amsterdam had a plebiscite and the people decided to vastly restrict automobile traffic in the historic center. Parking spaces were systematically removed from the center while sidewalks and bike paths were improved. At first local businesses complained that this change would destroy commerce and turn Amsterdam into a museum instead of a vital metropolis. Any observer who has seen the city before and after this citizen initiative can say without a doubt that Amsterdam is much better now. It's called democracy in action.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Too Many People; To Few Chimps

There are supposedly seven billion people in the world. By way of comparison, there are only five billion monkeys on the planet which means there aren’t enough to go around for everybody. In a bold and selfless act I hereby relinquish my God-given right to own my own chimp. Do the math, people. There are only three options: either we can kill off two billion people, force apes to procreate more rapidly, or ask for volunteers to go without a simian sidekick.

It's sad to think how far we have declined as a species from the days of Walt Disney films featuring chimps in suits and how we have abandoned that promise of monkey friends for one and all.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Córdoba, Vida y Genio

If this video doesn't inspire you to grab your passport and buy a ticket to Spain, nothing will. Valencia needs to produce a video of this caliber to attract visitors. Valencia has countless attraction to capture on film. Put these images to great music and you have a great advertisement for Valencia, a Mediterranean jewel. Because I am a writer I would prefer a video with writing, with dialog. Go out and talk to the people of Valencia and ask them about their city. People here are incredibly passionate about this place, as well they should be. A lot of that passion has rubbed off on me and everyone else who has made Valencia their home. ¡Amunt!

Friday, November 04, 2011

Sayings Coined from the Outrage du Jour

I have a new hobby where I like to invent little sayings borrowing from the media’s outrage du jour, those nasty little bits of non-journalism that create such a furor with the nightly-news viewing audience.  I suppose that I shouldn’t call what they present on television as news but that’s what they call it and I don’t want to confuse anyone. Television news has more in common with America’s Funniest Home Videos than anything remotely resembling reporting. These loathsome reports aren’t minor asides in television news; they represent the raison d’être of popular news. Tabloid journalism is the basis of these broadcasts.

After all, if we can’t wax axiomatic about some profane disregard for humanity—no matter how few people it really affects—then where’s the fun in even bothering with television news? Before the advent of television I’m sure they aired the same intelligence-insulting features on the radio. I regret that the Lindbergh baby kidnapping is a little too distant for me to come up with a snappy quip.  I’ll stick with more recent fodder.

I hear about these outrages du jour secondhand. I don’t watch television news and I don’t live in the USA.  The news in Spain is equally crap but for reasons I’ll have to explain in another post.  If you think my little sayings are contemptibly callous, just remember to blame yourself for watching the “news” in the first place. You won’t read about these non-stories on the front page of The New York Times. Whatever you think of that newspaper I can say that it properly insulates readers from the sewage of modern TV journalism.

The problem is that in the era of the 24 hour news cycle, my references have the shelf life of ripe bananas.  I’ll list these in chronological order going backwards from the present.Only two so far but I can't remember what was in the news two weeks ago. What were we mad at back then?

1)      Beaten like a sadistic judge’s daughter.

2)      Ignored like a dead Chinese baby lying in the middle of the street.

The Mushroom Season that Wasn't

A favored mushroom in Valencia: Rovelló

I was awakened at around 05:30 this morning by a very unfamiliar noise: the sound of rain of the rooftops. We’ve had precious little rain these past several months and not nearly enough.  This morning’s steady rain seems like an attempt to play catch-up in this dry autumn.  I’m afraid that it’s probably too little and too late to salvage this autumn’s mushroom season.  I think we probably needed the rains a few weeks ago to really have a successful year. You can find some species of mushrooms in the market but they are REALLY expensive and only a few select merchants have them for sale. I imagine that they have come from another area of Spain. 
We have had a bit of rain this past week. I’ll make my way over to the market this morning to see what they have to offer. I've been drooling over the thought of a mushroom risotto.

Some good tips on making risotto.

And now to ensure authenticity, another video in Italian:

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Living the Dream: The Home Office

a rewrite of one of my first essays here on leftbanker

“I work at home.” I’ve always liked the way that sounds; it’s so casual, so nonchalant. High tech people call it the virtual office, virtual work. After thinking that over I realize I don’t know what that word means so I look it up in the dictionary. Virtual: being so in effect but not in fact. I still don’t know what it means but it sounds easy. I’ll start tomorrow—tomorrow or the day after. I’m not looking to work myself to death here.

08:16 Exactly sixteen minutes late on this first day of working at home. On the bright side I woke up at 08:05—try doing that if you have to drive to the office. I tried it all the time. I promised myself I’d dress as if going to work every day just to be more professional about this whole experiment. I’ll put on something besides a pair of boxers when it’s time for my first break away from the computer. Now I’m just going to concentrate and let the inspiration overwhelm my senses.

08:17 I need a little light in here. I’ll open up the blinds. What are those workmen doing down there? It looks like one of them has climbed down into a hole in the street. I’ve heard stories about people flushing baby pet alligators down the toilet only to have them grow to Amazonian lengths. They stalk the nether worlds of the sewers. But never mind all of that, I have work to do, important ideas to express.

08:31 The workmen are just fixing a water main. It only took a couple minutes out of my hectic day to clear that up—plus it forced me to get dressed. The guys said they had never seen a giant alligator in their years of working beneath the city, but they didn’t rule out the possibility. One of them said he saw a rat building a nest out of car tires. As soon as I get back upstairs I close the lid to the toilet and put a stack of heavy books on top of it. A four iron leans against the sink. Lock and load.

09:21 I can’t get over all of the benefits of working at home. No commute, no distractions from coworkers, no silly Machiavellian games, and if I get drunk and make an ass out of myself at my employee Christmas party, I’ll be the only one to know. On the down side it isn’t much fun stealing office supplies from myself. One more thing that may become a problem: I don’t get paid.

10:11 I had to walk over to the office supply store to buy a new printer cartridge just in case I finish the piece I’m working on. I picked up a few other things for the home office—or for the ‘old Home-O’ as I told the girl at the store. She smiled at me. I’m sure she’s had her fair share of fantasies about freelance writers. What woman hasn’t? I also bought a refrigerator magnet of Mussolini hanging from the gallows. It’s a promotional thing for a new TV show, World’s Funniest Public Executions (airs this fall).

11:24 Time to break for lunch. I like taking lunch early because then I can dedicate the entire afternoon to work, absolutely no distractions, a tabula rasa, which is Latin for “my bootleg cable is out.” I order carry-out from the Thai restaurant next door. I get something healthy. I need to keep my body and senses honed like a razor to make it as a freelance. I also remember that I no longer have health insurance.

11:57 The Thai food was delicious although I did augment it with a little something from my refrigerator. Have you ever noticed that most foods taste better when you add bacon? Even tofu. Especially tofu.

11:58 Now it’s time for a little routine I have developed through years of martial arts training and the study of Eastern thought. I take ten minutes to put myself into a meditative trance, much like sleep but infinitely more beneficial and rewarding. Afterwards I feel refreshed and alert. In the words of my Sensei, “Napping is a tool of the lazy.” I’ll be right back.

3:12 I need to hit Starbucks.

3:33 I must have hit my head on something while in my transcendental state to knock me out cold for over three hours. No more procrastinating, time to buckle down and get some work done. I’ll listen to my favorite radio call-in show while I work.

3:56 I can’t believe they’ve had me on hold for twenty minutes. Don’t they know how valuable my time is?

4:25 I’m a little behind today so I’ll just have to stay past quitting time. It’s not like I’m any stranger to hard work. I wonder how much money I’ll make being a freelance writer. Speaking of money, let me take a second to call my broker.

4:35 Surely he is speaking hyperbolically when he says that if my stock portfolio drops any further two big guys in bowling shirts will show up at my apartment to rough me up. I’m not worried because by putting pen to paper my money concerns will soon be far behind me. But I’m an artist and I really don’t care about all of the money I will make. Money is the concern of merchants and businessmen. The artist is above all material concerns.

4:48 Just took a few minutes to call some jewelry stores to find out who has the best deal on Rolex watches. Is it still uncool to wear fur coats? OK, back to work. I’ll work into the small hours of the morning if necessary. I guess you could say I’m a workaholic.

5:12 I was just taking a brief look at the newspaper. I read all the box scores, did 1/16 of the crossword (I could have finished it, I’m just too busy), read the comics (man are they stupid), my horoscope (only for losers but it’s fun to read), any and all articles with the word “sex” in the headline, and finally the movie section. Got to wrap it up for the day; there’s a bargain matinee playing Sunset Boulevard. I’ll finish up the writing thing tomorrow. Tomorrow is Friday and I'm supposed to go skiing. After tomorrow is the weekend, so make that on Monday. Wait, Monday is Arbor Day. Anyone who works on Arbor Day should just go back to Russia or whatever country we’re mad at these days. So make it the day after.