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Friday, December 29, 2006

See you in 2007

The news is that Barcelona's hotels are at 90% capacity with guiris of all nationalities coming here to celebrate the New Year.

What better time to skedaddle ...

I'm in Marseille, the ancient French port town. I won't be back until early next year.

Meanwhile, you can check out my new webpage. It's a book I wrote three years ago, and after some requests for the html version (which I never actually had) here it is in its entirety. The Bedroom Revolutionary. My little roman à clef, my first stab at the novel form, my blending of fact and fiction, free for anyone to peruse.

Feliz año nuevo, Feliç any nou

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Obesity kicks ass

“Big” news lately with Burger King’s XXL hamburger ads. The Spanish Ministry of Health is throwing a fit over the American fast food chain’s aggressive, politically incorrect marketing approach. While McDonald’s is promoting its healthier side, Burger King is putting up posters with gargantuan hamburgers: the XXL burger for big boys.

I'd barely be able to eat one of these. On the other hand, I bet my cuñaooo* could eat one easily. He’s got an impressive stomach, almost shelf-like, which no doubt has grown a couple sizes after the quantity of food he scarfed down over Christmas.

I have no desire to eat an XXL burger. And I wasn’t magically hypnotized into wanting to eat an XXL burger by the advertising either.

I would expect to get fat after regularly eating these, and I wouldn’t go around blaming anyone but my fat ass self. It’s quite simple, really, if you don’t want to gain weight. Don’t stuff yourself. Move a little. If not, you’ll become a sedentary slug somewhat reminiscent of Jabba the Hut. I work all day in front of a computer, but I ride a bike, I generally eat what I want to, and I don’t gorge myself. Fish, for example, have eight second memories, and have been known to eat themselves to death. The more food you throw at them, the more they eat. That’s a fish, with absolutely no capacity for abstract thought. To relegate humans to the intellectual level of a fish is insulting and patronizing.

That’s one of the things I hate about the United States. Ridiculous litigations against fast food and tobacco companies are convincing the more impressionable element of the population that they themselves are responsible for absolutely nothing. Successful lawsuits against fast food chains for making you fat, lawsuits against tobacco companies for giving you lung cancer … hey I’m not saying your path is an easy one, but you chose it, and you shouldn’t be treated as a victim. This mentality produces babies in the bodies of men. Or rather men with michelines**.

Most of the people in Spain scoff at such stupidity, and this is why I’m shocked that such a fuss is being made over Burger King’s polemics. If anything, this is giving them more publicity. And it also might mean, ironically, more of an Americanization in terms of mentality. Let’s not take individual responsibility and blame it all on the hypnotic effects of some advertising exec’s nocturnal emission.

Like fatty foods have never existed in Spain. Bars all over the city sell patatas bravas, chocos, frankfurters, patatas fritas, salchichas. All of this, and more, swimming in oil and fat. On any given day you can walk into a bar and see a portly cigar-smoking gentleman drinking a beer and eating these tapas.

The average menu in Spain looks like this:

(click on the image for more succulent detail)

I bet you any one of these platos combinados has as much calories as Burger King’s XXL (which purportedly has 941 calories, or the equivalent of 7 fried eggs). In other words, fatty food is not an American phenomenon.

They put fried eggs in everything here. They put fried eggs on pizzas, as disgusting as that sounds. I have even grown rather fond of the legendary Hamburguesa Reloj, which consists of a hamburger patty, bacon, lettuce, onion, tomato, and a fried egg. It sounds awful, I know, but try one out at Reloj, on via Laetana. Really, not bad. My personal favorite is the Super Kentucky, which you can get at Frankfurter on carrer Urgell. This consists of diced chicken, a fried egg, jamon serrano, lettuce, and salsa rosa.

There’s so much paranoia about obesity and anorexia, and it’s always the fault of some outside entity. An evil eminencia gris. No blame is ever put on the individual. It’s always a conspiracy … I can’t find the article, but a few months ago a girl brought a lawsuit against a clothing store here in Spain that wouldn’t hire her because she was overweight. The store, I believe, was Mango, or Zara, both of which are very popular with young women. First of all, being overweight, why would you want to work in a store where your coworkers are a bunch of superficial and skinny little tarts? Are you masochistic? And second of all, why would a store which is all about image, and the “ideal look”, want to hire someone who decidedly deviates from this “ideal”? It doesn’t make sense economically. It’s not a conspiracy against obese people.

And to add to this, now that I’m going on about the subject, there’s the flipside of women starving themselves to death. Models in Brazil literally dying for the catwalk look, models in Milan fainting in the streets from malnutrition ... And it’s always implicated that it’s the fault of the media, of some misogynistic conspiracy setting unrealistic standards for women. Here’s a big secret: most men don’t like waifs. They’re not sexy. Skinny runway models are not what men look for. Voluptuous, curvy, yes, maybe even with a little baby fat, but not a reed of a woman. The fashion industry is not a good barometer of men’s tastes. And, as if the pressure wasn’t on men as well. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to hear women go on about some guy's “six pack” (that’s not beer, by the way, or the Kenny Roger’s movie from the eighties). Or be subjected to a secretary's George Clooney screen saver. Or hear women gasp at the mere mention of Brad Pitt. We’re all supposed to be tall and built like firemen. How many men fall into that category (and have a job pulling in six figures a year, and are sensitive, well-coiffed and intelligent – and not gay)? I’m not gonna go around crying about it. I’m not going to get angry if I’m turned down for a job as a receptionist at DiR because I don’t have a “six pack”. I’ll deal with myself, gracias.

_

* cuñao - brother in law. Also a popular television personality in Spain.

** michelines – rolls of fat. Some people are big, naturally big, and there is nothing wrong with that. But when people are obese they tend to grow rolls of fat, sometimes called "love handles". Here they are called michelines. Not surprisingly, the name comes from the Michelin Man, the roly poly icon of the tire company.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

R.I.P. James Brown

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Oil discovered in the Eixample

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Menace to society

The sidewalk vigilantes strike again. These cowardly little men think they can take it upon themselves to rid the illustrious Ciutat Condal of the “menace”.

That’s right. “Menace to society”.

A term I’ve heard
personally - which was used to refer to us bicyclers by a long time resident, and anglophone, of this city. But his sentiment seems to reflect the general climate of anti-bicycle hysteria.

Before I get to the contingent events that lead up to the damning label of “menace” I’d like to point this out:

My bicycle tire was stabbed.

Someone maimed my bike. Not realizing the full extent of the damage, I went to a regular gas station and tried to pump the tire (I thought it was a simple flat, not a stab wound. I suspected foul play at first, but then decided I was being paranoid – until I saw the gash …).

I ended up going to Probikes on Villarroel 184, which is a great bike shop, should you ever need one, and they were kind enough to give me a second-hand tire for free, and to replace the tube for 8 euros, labor included.

Two days later, paranoid delusions overwhelming me, I have my bike sitting right in front of my apartment door, in my building, when at 1 in the morning I hear a loud hissing noise. About 2 seconds approximately. Sure enough, when I open my door, I realize my back tire, the same one that got stabbed, has blown out. Completely. The same moment that I opened my door I heard the downstairs neighbor’s door shutting. Without any solid evidence, but merely using what I thought was logical deduction, I envisioned my neighbor sneaking up the stairs and stabbing my bike tire. Maybe I almost ran into her one day. Maybe she hates guiris. Maybe she's a mal follada with a thing for bike tire stabbing.

The problem is she’s a typical 80 year old burguesa Catalana, rubia de pote* Her insane collie – I kid you not – takes her for walks. She’s so slow that the dog leads her on their strolls through the Eixample. Logically deducing, once again, I would have to say the possibility of her sneaking up 20 or so steps, stabbing a bike tire, and sneaking back down those 20 steps in time to slip back in her apartment before I opened my door are almost impossible (hissing noise-to-door opening about 20 seconds, approximately).

Crazy next door dog lady is not the culprit, after all. I went back to Probikes the next day and found out the culprit was a defective valve on the tube, which they promptly replaced.

Of course, this doesn’t solve the mystery of the stabbed bike tire.

Since the bike ordnance laws, the hostility to bikers has been palpable, as if, suddenly, we were aggressors in a city full of garullos driving scooters and two ton Seats and trendy Minis bought on credit. As if we were “menaces” to society.

Meanwhile, the sidewalk hero still roams the neighborhood, as do his minions:

The sidewalk hero. His shirt reads: BIKES on the sidewalk. NEVER AGAIN.

The bus drivers, I suspect, are also angry because I, out of sheer necessity, have to ride in their lane. I have also locked my bike to the post of their bus “counter”. This is where, at the end of their routes, they tick off a little contraption in a box, mounted to a pole (yes, my apartment is at the end of the bus line). This hadn’t been a problem before, but since the bus counter thing is probably considered a mobiliario urbano, that is urban furniture (how's that for abstract legalese), it’s illegal to lock your bike to it. And my bike was never in the way. Really. No pictures, unfortunately.

I swear I could go on. There are other people I could suspect, and more bizarre stories. But, alas, I have no concrete evidence. I carry my bike up to my apartment now.

Luckily the bike ordnance laws have eased up. I guess people are complaining.

They are going to install new bike stands. Soon, hopefully. And it is now “permissible” to “zigzaguear”, or zig-zag - i.e. swerve between obstacles. That’s what you do on a bike anyway, right? A car in front of you: you ZIG. Then ZAG. It’s as easy as that. Who the hell would stay behind a car that's spewing out smoke when you could just zig ... and then zag? Who’s the genius who tried to prohibit zigging and zagging? And for that matter, I’m sorry, I’m not two tons of steel barreling through the streets, I’m not a menace to society, and if I see a red light, and no one at the intersection, you know what? Fuck it, I’m going through it.

One day bicyclers will get fed up with this anti biking crap and do a Critical Mass. I witnessed one of the first gatherings in San Francisco. From the intersection of Kearny and Broadway, down to Market, there was nothing but cars honking and people yelling. Throughout the city bicycles had reclaimed the streets. Apocaliptico. I saw a guy jump out of his Mercedes and attack a bike messenger, because he was late. Other bikers retaliated by slamming their U locks on the hood of his 500SL. A friend of mine lead a charge to the Bay Bridge, which later backed up with miles of traffic. I only wish I was in on it. I was working, sadly enough, but could see it all.

_

* rubia de pote - Peroxide blonde. Very common here, as there are few natural blondes, and the common supposition is that "blondes have more fun". Therefore, many brunettes dye their hair in pursuance of this elusive state of "fun".

UPDATE: originally I put rubia de botella, and someone corrected me. They said, "what botella?"

Monday, December 18, 2006

Puta por una noche?

Mileurista. There's a word for it because that's what everybody earns.

It means someone who earns one thousand euros or less a month. Usually it's 1000 euros brutos a month. Or 1000 sucios ... that is 1000 before taxes, or about 850 after taxes. Try to find, mi amigo, mi amic, an apartment in Barcelona that you don't have to share with a bunch of hippie burn outs for less than 900 euros a month.

Anyway, this link was passed to me, and I thought it might be of interest to some of you. From Loquo, Spain's Craigslist (caps are his):

51 YEAR OLD EXECUTIVE FROM BILBAO SEEKS FOR TONIGHT AT 8PM AN ELEGANT AND VERY ATTRACTIVE WOMAN TO BE COMPANION IN A DINNER SHOW IN A CENTRIC HOTEL IN BARCELONA PAYMENT AROUND 1500 € THOSE INTERESTED SEND ME CONTACT INFORMATION AND A FOTO
PLEASE

EJECUTIVO DE BILBAO DE 51 AÑOS BUSCA PARA ESTA NOCHE A LAS 8H PM MUJER ELEGANTE Y MUY ATRACTIVA PARA ACOMPAÑANTE EN CENA ESPECTACULO EN UN HOTEL CENTRICO DE BARCELONA RETRIBUCIÓN ALREDEDOR DE LOS 1500 € INTERESADAS MANDARME POR FAVOR DATOS FORMA DE CONTACTO Y UNA FOTO

Uh. Right dude. First off, nice try trying to take advantage of the desperate mileurista masses, but the all caps and lack of punctuation pretty much scream PSYCHO. Anyway, if you are legit, I don't really see this as a bad thing. Joder el sueldo de más de un mes por solo una noche?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

La Moustache

(No, this won't be a post about Carod-Rovira's well-groomed mustache, so you can hold back on the angry emails, ERC fanatics.)

Yesterday I had two pleasant discoveries. The first was the Cinema Casablanca-Gràcia at Carrer de Girona 173-175. It's another V.O. cinema for anybody who's interested, and the programming is "alternative". For some that means pedantic art house fare, for others it's a welcome break from the flurry of cookie cutter mainstream movies. The last mainstream movie I saw was "The Departed" by Scorcese, which was abominal. Scorcese did the unthinkable and parodied himself. An atrocious movie by his standards, though somewhat entertaining and with a surprisingly good performance by DiCaprio. And everybody's talking about Borat, the big mainstream hit in the U.S., but I'll pass on that. I saw some clips on youtube and thought it was only slightly funny. The protag, Sasha Cohen, strikes me as a blowhard, and his gags get old after the first 30 seconds. The anti-jewish satire rubs me the wrong way, as does his blanket portrayal of Muslims as ignorant jew-haters. I like wicked jokes, I like my Lenny Bruce, my Richard Pryor, but this dude isn't really that funny. It's elitist humor and I hope this guy goes the way of the dodo.

So now that you know where I stand, I'm sure most of you would never take a movie recommendation by me seriously. But if you do, go check out La Moustache, a movie by novelist and filmmaker Emmanuel Carrère (this was my second pleasant discovery yesterday). This is dark comedy - equal parts Polanski, equal parts Kafka, maybe a little Houellebecq thrown in for good measure. La Moustache is about, well, a mustache, or the the lack of a mustache, depending on which character you side with in the movie.

The protag, Marc Thirez, a succesful architect with a doting, football-loving wife, seems to have the ideal life. One day he decides to shave off his mustache, and, much to his bewilderment, no one notices. His wife, his friends, his coworkers, don't say a thing. At first he thinks it's a prank, initiated by his wife. Soon he realizes it's not, and this sets off a major identity crisis. We're sympathetic to Marc, because we know he's telling the truth, but the rest of the cast are just as sincere in their denial, and soon we're pitting one man's opinion against the the rest of his social milieu.

Add to this a hypnotic soundtrack by Philip Glass, and it's hard not to get lost in Carrére's excellently crafted tale of ordinary madness. Perception of peers, personal integrity, are just a couple of the abstract concepts tackled in this movie. It doesn't resolve as nicely as some people might want it to (at least there's no baguette spilled on the floor with a rat in the background to symbolize a rat, as in end of Scorsese's craptastic dud), but if you want thought-provoking and quality filmmaking without frills, this is something to check out.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Bad dreams

This sounds like the stuff of urban legend, but apparently two men from Leon and Oviedo have concocted a substance that puts you to sleep in order to rob you.

The incident occurred on the Barcelona-Gijon train this past November 23. Various women, who had been traveling in the sleeping cars, reported to the police that they had been “narcotized” and robbed. They woke up dizzy and vomiting, with dry mouths.

The bizarre experience upon waking up, plus the subsequent discovery of missing valuables, led them to the conclusion that they had been the victims of a most insidious robbery.

The police investigation initially focused on two men who had been using the sleeping cars. Some days later, after searching their houses, they discovered almost all of the valuables that had been stolen from the women. They also discovered yellow wrappers containing white powder, as well as two sprays, whose compositions are being analyzed. Investigators suspect the powder and the spray might be the narcotic substance and the delivery device used in the robbery.

This reminds me of what happened to Kovaks in the latest installment of Shame, shame, shame. Maybe he should investigate this before it is used on unsuspecting guiris.

1 AM, biking through Barcelona

The new utopianists

Every attained end is at the same time the beginning of a new course, and so on ad infinitum.

Arthur Shopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation.

Fidel, 80 more years

I’ve seen this graffited on at least 3 banks in the last 6 months, ever since the ailing demagogue, know-it-all, yet admittedly charismatic leader, was hospitalized. Castro apologists, stuck in their hall of mirrors, their own logic far removed from the original concept, sneezing from the dialectic dustbins of history, don’t get it at all. The new utopianists think they know something about freedom and justice. But if they get off their high horses, they might realize their concepts of negating the negation - which in simpler straight forward language means their negation of an open society’s denial of the possibility of a utopia - is in fact not a positive concept. The halos would fall from their hipster heads if they just thought about it. Just a little bit. Their concept of the positive presupposes the negative - that is, what is bad, or what is not their idea of utopia. Once their dear leader - in this case Castro, maybe in the future Chavez - has seized power, he then becomes the oppressor. The former oppressors become the oppressed, and so on and so on. The new utopianists might feel good about themselves while spray painting their pithy slogans on the façade of the great enemy, but they don’t get it. Not at all. They’re as intolerant as the next. Their idealism is spent uselessly, and in the end it will work against them.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

I believe in Marx ...

Groucho Marx.

Paraphrasing Woody Allen, who in turn was paraphrasing Groucho Marx, who in turn was paraphrasing Sigmund Freud:

“I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for member.”

Does this blog make sense now?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Ancient civic ordinance method?

This has perplexed me for six years now. The full water bottle in front of a building. Why? What could it possibly mean?

I’ve asked many locals in Barcelona and no one has a definite answer. Apparently it is a common practice in other parts of Spain as well. Many say it prevents dogs from pissing on stoops and store fronts. Somehow, the presence of water enclosed in PVC plastic, in front of a building, is supposed to stop a bloated canine from pissing …

I know what you’re thinking. That’s total bullshit. Yet, I can’t think of any reason for the water bottle phenomenon. Just walk around Barcelona (and I imagine many other Spanish cities) and you will see filled water bottles, capped-off, in front of countless buildings. Could it be a civic gesture to thirsty homeless people? The down and out, the downtrodden, in need of replenishing water? Or maybe it’s a kindly gesture to the drunks stumbling home late at night, who need to be rehydrated after shots of fake absinthe, ron Havana, and canyas? Or could it be a deterrence for madly urinating tourists? I mean, for some mysterious reason, I would avoid pissing on a water bottle. It doesn't seem right ... but could that really be the reason?

Really. It defies my capacity for logic, which isn’t much. The water bottle in front of the apartment thing. No one questions it. They just do it. I wonder how far this tradition goes back; if before the plastic water bottles they used glass, and before that clay ...

If you know why, please send an email to spanishwatermystery@gmail.com. Gracias.

§

I just did a quick search on google and found nothing except this article on SalDeTraglia's blog. This guy had about as much luck as I did.