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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Come to Spain

This is something I wrote for an American magazine about Fallas. Why they published it in June instead of March is beyond my comprehension. I think that I have been a good ambassador for Spain in the things I have written, but most of what I write and publish is just stupid shit that makes me laugh.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

I Hate Facebook

I posted this after someone posted some lame thing about how her kid is being bullied and how if you want to stand by her sissy kid you should LIKE the post, as if all the world's problems can be fixed with LIKEs on Facebook. Why don't we just LIKE away cancer and war and genital herpes while we're at it? No one got my attempt at humor but fuck them; I thought it was funny.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Bikes: Hazardous to Your Health

Another police reign of terror to end the bicycle reign of terror, the second in as many years. In this case it’s like using a steam roller to kill an ant and begs the question of just what is the problem the city of Valencia is hoping to solve. The police actually call this an “information campaign” with the punch-line being a fine of 200€. Three marauders were cited for not having bells on their bikes. Thank god the police are protecting the citizenry from these animals.

The worst thing about this anti-cycling campaign is that most of the people in Valencia seem to be in favor of it or at least acquiescent. This is what I take from the tone of the articles appearing in Valencia’s two daily newspapers and from the television coverage on the local news. There was no shortage of people voicing their concern over the outrageous and deadly behavior of the city’s bike riders.  It’s easy enough to find footage of cyclists breezing through red lights at deserted intersections or riding down sidewalks but it’s another thing to actually find a problem with this behavior. Put a camera at any intersection of the city and you will witness some pretty brutish driving habits that seem to be accepted techniques by the police. Wait for a light to turn yellow and you will see a line of cars gunning it to screech through while cars waiting on the opposing lane roll through the light before it has even changed to green. Most drivers watch the flashing green pedestrian signal and use that as their green light. Yesterday I was almost run over by a city bus using this tactic. I pointed to the red light while scowling at the driver.

12 cyclists were fined for chaining their murderous machines to trees or lamp posts, something strictly forbidden under the new decree drafted in 2010, obviously by people who never cycle. When called on this stupid prohibition one of the PP functionaries commented that the city has generously provided 4,000 bike parking spaces throughout the city, a city of almost a million people. Do the math while you scour the city for a place to leave your bike. Once again, just what problem does the city want to solve by this law? And it’s not like chaining your bike will do any good as bike theft seems to be a perfectly legal and respected profession from the way local police ignore it completely.

There were nine infractions of cyclists dragging unauthorized loads behind their bikes which is simply code for singling out gypsies who improvise trailers for their bikes in their search for chatarra and other riches stolen from trash containers throughout the city. One man’s garbage is another man’s food for the day. It reminds me of the Anatole France quote from Le Lys Rouge: La majestueuse √©galit√© des lois, qui interdit au riche comme au pauvre de coucher sous les ponts, de mendier dans les rues et de voler du pain (in its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike from sleeping under bridges, begging in the streets and stealing loaves of bread.)

The message the city is sending to the people of Valencia could not be clearer: you shouldn’t ride a bicycle and if you do you will be held to a standard far higher than that expected of automobiles. It doesn’t matter that no one has been killed by a cyclist while cyclists and pedestrians are run down like dogs by motorists. I would be grateful if the local police would enforce a single traffic law: the maximum speed limit of 50 kph in the city.

Vehicle Speed
Odds of Pedestrian Death, Source 1
Odds of Pedestrian Death, Source 2
20 mph 32k
30 mph 48k
40 mph 64k

Saturday, June 08, 2013

In The Kitchen

On the back cover of a travel memoir of Italy it said that the author was a gourmet cook. The first thing that came to my mind was that she may have qualified as a gourmet cook somewhere in the world, but among the Italians, she probably rated in the bottom middle of household hash slingers, not exactly the sort of recommendation that would sell many books.  She may be considered a gourmet cook among people who value concepts like “delivered in 30 minutes or it’s free,” but from the recipes in her book, I didn’t get the impression that she was creating any miracles in the kitchen. This isn’t trying to take anything away from the skills of the American author, it’s just that in Mediterranean countries the bar for culinary prowess has been raised rather high. Like being a distance runner in Kenya, to be considered an above average cook in this region of the world, you have to be truly remarkable.

There are a few factors that contribute to the high level of sophistication among Mediterranean home chefs, with tradition being the first course.  Most families have a repertoire of local dishes that serve as the menu for a lifetime, a repertoire that also served as the menu of the previous generation and further back in time.  What people eat can be as iconic as the local architecture, language, and landscape.  Their food provides them with sustenance as well as an identity.  I can think of no better example of this than paella valenciana, perhaps one of the world’s most famous and recognizable dishes. The humble Greek peasant salad or horiatiki is another example of a dish that identifies and unifies both the Greek mainland as well as the islands.  You have pastas in Italy, luxurious sauces of wine and butter in France, couscous in Moroccan and Tunisian, and dozens of other foods strung up around the Mediterranean coast like a barbed wire fence separating them from the countries not blessed with fine cuisine.

Another factor that weighs heavily in favor of the Mediterranean diet is the high quality of the ingredients, many of which are native to the region. It’s almost impossible to overestimate the roll wine and olives have played in the kitchens here over the past few thousand years, things which have only caught on in the past 30-40 years in the rest of the western world. These are things we all take for granted today but couldn’t be found to far away from the shores of the Middle White Sea as the Arabs call it.

They also have a heavy reliance on seasonal products unique to the region.  Throughout most of the Mediterranean basin, you eat what is in season, and if it is not in season you eat something else.  Different varieties of fruits and vegetables ripen at different times of the year and this is when you incorporate them greedily into your cooking.

When Americans are asked what we eat it’s like a pop quiz that we haven’t studied for in a class we didn’t even know we were taking.  Few of us have been inculcated into a heritage of a local cuisine. We’ve recently come out of a generation or two in which home cooking was actually looked down upon as something not suitable for men and demeaning to women. That’s a tough situation to navigate when you consider that we all must eat every day.  We were told that we didn’t have time to cook. We should remember never to listen to people selling toaster waffles and microwave pizza rolls.  Cooking around the Mediterranean is like hockey is for Canadians or NASCAR is to southerners so the rest of us have a lot of catching up to do in the kitchen.

I think that with the explosion of cooking shows on television and YouTube recipes we—American men and women—have finally started to embrace the kitchen.  If anything we’ve swung too far in the other direction becoming a bunch of insufferable food snobs haughtily insisting on balsamic vinegar, organic produce, Kalamata olives, and Rioja wine, things we hardly knew existed only a few short years ago. Eating well shouldn’t be a luxury or something one group of people holds over the head of another; it should be the goal of all of us.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

An Invented Old Hag Walks into a Liquor Store

I’m sure you’ve heard this one many times before, a fiction that has racked up some serious mileage on the internet about some old gal who goes into a liquor store and is rebuked by a fabricated “young cashier” for not using recyclable bags when she makes her weekly purchase of 22 bottles of cheap gin. Then the figment of someone’s imagination older woman goes on to lecture the young socialist about how green she was a million years ago when she was young and what a solipsistic ass-wipe the young cashier is and how she should mind her own business and go back to Cuba.

But who created the world in which this haughty young cashier lives? Who built the world where you need a car to effect every necessity away from your home, where public transportation is looked upon as a socialist plot? Who created a disposable culture in which we use about a zillion paper coffee cups a day and single-serve plastic bottles of water? The alcoholic granny had more to do with making that world than a minimum wage liquor store clerk —or at least acquiescing to its implementation, and sorry grandma, the Nuremberg defense won't work.  Her generation also gave away American manufacturing jobs so that about the only work this kid can hope for are shitty and demeaning jobs without benefits where you have to bite your tongue when some sanctimonious cow goes on about how her generation was so much better than the snot-nosed little shits of today.

The subtext here is that anyone who talks about the environment is an over-privileged, know-nothing wiseass who deserves a smack across the face after you set them straight about the way the world really is according to Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, and other high priests of simplemindedness, people for whom “environmental wacko” and eco-terrorist” are synonyms for anyone who even hints at actually doing something to clean up our planet because some nut who chains himself to an old-growth redwood is a lot more dangerous than the logging company bent on chopping down every last one of them to make patio furniture.

I would imagine that the people this phony little anecdote appeals to are those who support political candidates who wouldn’t back a single environmental initiative, even something as basic as the protected species act. This is basic conservative propaganda whose sole purpose is to make people feel good about themselves for holding on to their narrow-minded and often dangerous world view when it flies in the face of reality.

Had this really happened I would have applauded the old drunk had she told the clerk to go take a flying fuck but it isn't a true story, of course it isn't.  So granny, the next time you visit the liquor bargain warehouse shut your fat cake hole and bring a reusable bag.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Pedaling to Extremes

El Saler beach, Valencia

As I pedal my way out of a winter in which I gained a few kilos and into a summer where I’m trying to reach a level of fitness like never before, I’m using all of the weapons in my arsenal. I have recently dusted off my heart rate monitor which I haven’t used in a long time. I never really used it seriously in the past. I would simply wear it from time to time; it was more of a fashion accessory than a tool for training.  I have strung together a few weeks of spectacular training rides during which I’ve only missed three days of riding and on those off days I was still riding the Valenbisi bikes around town like I was being chased by the police. I’ve also been watching what I eat. Notice that I didn’t say “dieting” as I’m simply trying to eat less of whatever it is I feel like eating. To complete my fitness tower I have decided to do something drastic, even if it’s just temporary.

I am beginning Operation Zero Tolerance in which I will give up drinking beer (and by beer I mean alcohol). Gulp. There, I said it. As I said in the previous paragraph, I don’t know how long this beer-less state of being will endure but it has begun. It’s not like I have seen god but more like I would like to see myself looking better at the beach in a couple of weeks.

I don’t own a scale and don’t really believe much in them but I have definitely trimmed down quite a bit. A scale wouldn’t tell me much as I have also put on a bit of upper-body muscle mass with my routine of pull-ups and push-ups. I'm sure that this isn't news to anyone but as you get older you put on weight like a school bus picking up the kids but getting the little shits off the bus becomes more and more of a problem.

A fringe benefit of so much time spent cycling is that I have gone through more than a dozen audio books in the past month.