Sunday, September 26, 2004


The word “chapuza” in Spanish means a person (often a craftsman) who does things in a shoddy or incompetent manner. But why should I tell you what a chapuza is, when I can SHOW you.

Just look at the picture above. That, my friends, is a textbook chapuza.

Now, we could surely spend hours discussing why this person chose to use press-on numbers of a different color, shape, font and finish to alter his ceramic-tile address plaque…and whether he truly believes that it’s attractive. But I think the more interesting question is not how he altered it, but why?

Did the city hall knock on his door and say, “Ooops…we made a mistake on your deed. Your address is really 19B, not 28B.”

Or did he see this plaque in a store and think to himself, “Well…the number is wrong, but it’s on sale for 50% off. How could I possibly pass up such a bargain?!”

Sigh! Between this guy and our local alien astronaut-seducer, I’m starting to have concerns about neighborhood resale values. I don’t know whether to protest, or to start being more relaxed about keeping my lawn mowed.

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Saturday, September 25, 2004


If an alien spacecraft should land in my neighborhood, I’ll know who to blame: The guy in the house pictured above!

Just look at those antennae! What is he doing with them?

Watching “Good Morning Sri Lanka” on TV?

Making telephone calls to his mother…beyond the grave?

Enticing whales off the coast of Chile to beach themselves?

I’d love to ask him, but I’m afraid. His house is surrounded by an iron security fence, wired with surveillance cameras and alarm systems, and guarded by very buff Rottweiller. Plus, he has a plaque bolted next to his mailbox that says, “The Godfather.” If you think I’m kidding, then buy a plane ticket and come see for yourself.

In the meantime, I’ll just keep hoping that he’ll decide to move to Lichtenstein soon…and sell his house to a nice Amish family.
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Thursday, September 23, 2004


Have you ever watched an Italian TV variety show? Having spent last week in Italy, I can assure you that I have. And boy, are they are kitschy!

As if their Ed Sullivan-like format and abundance of B-list lounge crooners were not cheesy enough, they take every possible opportunity to jiggle a bikini-clad babe in front of the camera.

Does the host need a microphone? A bikini-clad babe will bring it to him.

Does special guest “Luigi and his dancing Pomeranians” need to be escorted on or off the stage? A bikini-clad babe will show them the way.

And who do you think introduces the bikini-clad babe to the audience? You guessed it…another bikini-clad babe.

I therefore should not have been surprised to stumble across this bar (pictured above) near the beach in Torre Canne (Bari). How do they entice passersby to come in for a beer and burger? With a bikini-clad babe. Made of plywood, no less!

It just confirms that classic proverb from Dr. Seuss:

From there to here
From here to there
Funny things are everywhere.
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Tuesday, September 21, 2004


For the future reference of any Italo-phile readers (and also to extract every last morsel of blog meat from my recent vacation), I list below the more memorable places where we ate during our week in Italy’s trulli region.

La Taverna del Duca
Address: Via Papatotero, 3 -- Locorotondo
Tel: 080/4313007
Good Stuff: Antipasti too numerous to remember; pureed fava beans with chichory; orrechiette with tomato sauce; arrosto misto (assortment of sausage, beef brachiole, lamb and liver cooked in a wood burning oven). Our favorite place.

Pizzeria L’Archetto
Address: Via Cavour, 19 – Locorotondo
Tel: 338-8-964-361
Good Stuff: Long list of Naples-style pizza cooked in a wood burning oven; fan-friggin’-tastic antipasti!!!; and most importantly, donkey meat brachiole in tomato sauce. Yes, I said DONKEY meat. I ate it, and I must confess…it was a good piece of ass.

Ristorante da Renzina
Address: Piazza Roma, 6 – Fasano
Tel: 080/4829075
Good Stuff: Linguini con frutti di mare.

Trullo del Conte
Address: Via Cadore, 1 – Alberobello
Tel: 080/4322124
Good Stuff: Orrechiette with tomato sauce; damn…I can’t remember what else we ate, but everything was good.

La Braceria
Address: Via Cesare Battisti, 28 – Locorotondo
Tel: 080/4317282
Good Stuff: Various meats cooked in a wood burning oven. To the dismay of our two year old, they don’t serve pasta.

Ristorante da Santudo
Address: Via San Marco (approximately 3.5 kilometers from the Via Santa Elia intersection) – near Locorotondo.
Tel: 080-438-3110
Good Stuff: Another great place for antipasti.

Happy Pizza Point
Address: Piazza Navigatori, 4 – Cisterinino.
Tel: 080/4449440
Good Stuff: Yes, I realize that the name is – shall I say – not what you’d expect from Italy. But this place is owned by our cuddly friend Domenico (pictured above), and the pizzas are very good. Plus, Domenico makes a mean Negroni! What?! You’ve never tasted a Negroni?!!! You must try one…and soon! I include the recipe below.

You might have noticed that the above list is rather heavy on the antipasti. There’s a good reason. Antipasti were the highlight of almost every meal we had.

Antipasti in Italy – this part of Italy, at least – is not a bowl of salad intermingled with chunks of veggie/cheese/pork, as you might find in so-called “Italian” restaurants in the US. No sir, antipasti in Italy is a table-cluttering orgy of goodies. Think of it as an Italian version of tapas. An endless, relentless, gut-busting flow of tapas. Plate after plate after plate of them.

For example, the antipasti at Pizzeria L’Archetto included plates of buffalo mozzarella, milky cheese curds, breaded mussels on the half shell, pureed mussels and garlic on the half shell, brachiole (beef, not donkey) in tomato sauce, zucchini, croquettes, slices of cured ham, and a couple other things that I can’t recall.

And after the antipasti, you’re supposed to eat a pasta course and a meat/fish course. I beg your pardon?

Anyway, enough about food. Let me tell you how to make a Negroni.


¾ ounce Campari
¾ ounce Sweet (red) Vermouth
¾ ounce Gin
Slice of orange

Pour Campari, vermouth and gin into an ice-filled Old Fashion glass. Stir and add orange slice. Have a damn good night!

Ciao, amici.
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Sunday, September 19, 2004


We’ve just returned – well rested and well fed – from a week’s vacation in Italy’s Trulli region.

What’s a “trulli?”

Well…if you want to know, then ask an Italian. A real Italian; not one of those crotch-scratching James Gandolfini-types that are found strutting about the US. Say the word “trulli” to a real Italian, and he will surely point his index fingers to the sky, touch the tips together so as to form an upside-down “V” and shout, “Ah! Alberobello!”

Still perplexed? Then let me clarify.

A trulli (or trullo, in its singular form) is a limestone dwelling constructed using an ancient building technique – still in use today – that was brought to Italy’s Puglia region by prehistoric tribes from the Middle East. The most prominent feature of a trullo is its cone-shaped roof. Trulli roofs are built by laying limestone blocks (found in abundance in this region) in concentric circles of diminishing diameters. The circles are stacked one on top of another until a vertical cone is formed. When the last circle of blocks has been laid, the aperture is plugged with a cylindrical stone that acts as a keystone by forcing downward pressure on the layers below and locking them into place. The cone is then “weather-proofed” by surrounding it with thin sheets of limestone stacked horizontally in fish scale fashion. Finally, the cone is capped with a pinnacle, looking very much like a huge, white chess pawn. In some cases, the owner will personalize his trullo by painting a whitewashed symbol, usually of Christian, pagan or zodiac significance, onto its side.

The trulli region is roughly bounded by the Pugliese towns of Martina-Franca, Locorotondo, Cisternino, Castellana and Alberobello; located midway between the more well-known cities of Bari and Brindisi in Italy’s heel, and an olive’s throw from the Adriatic Sea. This region is a popular destination for Italians, Japanese and German tourists, but remains largely unvisited by Americans. There are countless trulli scattered throughout this region. But the holy grail for trulli-philes is the town of Alberobello.

Alberobello is small town that is home to approximately 11,000 inhabitants and 1,400 trulli. It is also the town from which my great grandparents emigrated. Gazing upon Alberobello, with its dense and seemingly endless concentration of trulli, evokes images of a vast range of snow-capped mountain peaks. It is a bizarre and beautiful sight. The historical reasons why Alberobello sports such an amazing number and density of trulli are as surreal as its appearance.

The origins of Alberobello date back to the 15th century, when it was under the feudal domination of the Acquaviva family. The most significant period in Alberobello’s history, however, occurred while under the control of Count Gian Girolamo II Acquaviva (affectionately known as “Il Guercio”, or “man with a squint”). Il Guercio oversaw the influx of a great number of settlers and farmers to Alberobello. To his dismay, however, a law called the “Prammatica de Baronibus” was in force throughout the land.

This law required that a tax be paid to the royal court for each dwelling built in an urban area. Il Guercio, less than delighted with the prospect sharing his wealth with anyone (let alone the royal family), reacted by forbidding the use of mortar in the construction of homes and buildings in Alberobello. In the event of an impending royal inspection, he reasoned, all homes and buildings could be quickly disassembled so as to avoid imposition of the pesky tax.

The people of Alberobello, therefore, logically and overwhelmingly chose the trulli as the preferred method for building dwellings cheaply, easily and in compliance with Il Guercio’s orders. Over time, however, the people of Alberobello became fed up with such a ridiculous way of living and reputedly sought an audience with King Ferdinando IV of Bourbons. The King was sympathetic to their pleas and, on May 27, 1797, decreed that the town of Alberobello be freed from the Acquaviva family’s control. From that point on, Alberobello was free to construct its trulli with mortar.

Today, Alberobello sports two main trulli districts, both of which have been designated national monuments and UNESCO World Heritage sights. The larger district, named “Rione Monti,” is located on the southwest corner of town and has approximately 1,000 trulli. The smaller district, named “Rione Aia Piccola,” is located in the southeast corner of town and has approximately 400 trulli. Rione Aia Piccola is clearly the less touristy of the two districts, with most of its trulli still being used for residential purposes.

Alberobello may be the star of the trulli region, but there are plenty of other nearby towns that are well-worth exploring. A cursory list includes the following:

- Locorotondo: Located approximately five miles east of Alberobello, Locorotondo’s hilltop location offers a panoramic view of the Valle d’Itria. Historic sites within town include the Chiesa Madre (“Mother Church”) towering above Piazza Frá Rodio, and the Church of the Madonna della Greca, built in 1481 and located on Via Cavour. Locorotondo produces excellent white wines and hosts the Festival of the First Wine on the second Sunday of each November.

- Castellana Grotte: Located approximately nine miles northwest of Alberobello, Castellana Grotte is home to some of the world’s most celebrated and beautiful underground caves. The “grotte di Castellana,” discovered in 1938, offers both a fifty minute tour and a two-hour tour. The latter includes the site’s most famous attraction, the “grotta bianca” (“white cave”). No matter which tour you choose, heed this warning: Bring a jacket! For more information, consult

- Martina-Franca: Located approximately nine miles southeast of Alberobello, Martina-Franca is well-known for its baroque wrought iron balconies and elegant doorways. Stroll down Via Cavour, the main street of Martina-Franca’s old town, for a sampling. Visit the Basilica di San Martino (on Piazza Plebiscito), with its imposing carved façade and Palazzo Ducale (on Piazza Roma), a 17th century palace that now serves as the town hall. Martina-Franca hosts the Festival della Valle d’Itria at the end of each July.

- Cisternino: Located approximately eleven miles east Alberobello, Cisternino may not have any famous attractions but is, quite simply, a pleasant and well-kept little Italian village. A nice place to observe a slice of small-town Italian life while reflecting with a smirk on the hordes of people standing in line under Rome’s blazing sun to enter the Coliseum.

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The trulli of Alberobello, in Italy's Puglia region. For an in-depth analysis, see the above post. Posted by Hello

Friday, September 10, 2004


In my June 13, 2004 post, I wrote extensively about the Milk Dud Revolutionary Brigade. The MDRB is a flock of fluffy critters that, on a daily basis, turns the streets of Cabanillas del Campo into a giant chocolate chip cookie; albeit one that you wouldn’t want to eat.

As I made my daily sojourn to Bar Alcázar this morning, the clanging of a cow bell caught my attention. Then I heard the tell-tale “baa baa baa.” The MDRB was passing on a parallel street…and THIS time, I had my digi camera in tow.

I darted across a vacant lot, planted myself in the middle of the moving flock and – before the puzzled gaze of one of the shepherds – captured this photo. I then moved on to Bar Alcázar, where I had a café con leche and – you guessed it – a chocolate chip cookie.

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Wednesday, September 08, 2004


Most sangría is not meant for human consumption. Rather, it is intended as a means to punish British tourists for their nation’s occupation of Gibraltar. The Mexicans have Montezuma’s Revenge; the Spanish have sangría.

To understand sangría, we must look at it from two different angles: the theory, and the reality.

In theory, sangría is a fruity, moderately sweet, pleasingly alcoholic warm-weather drink. Red wine, citrus, sugar, spice and an extra boost of alcohol are artfully combined, chilled until ice-cold, and served in a goblet. A good sangría should be everything that US-style “wine coolers” promised, but never delivered: a well-balanced drink that is not too sweet, not too spicy, and certainly not watery or fizzy. When made correctly, it’s a tasty foil to Spain’s furnace-like summertime heat.

But alas, theory and reality diverge quite radically. The sangría served at many bars and restaurants in Spain and abroad is downright blasphemous. There are countless ways to ruin sangria, but some are more common than others.

For starters, many bars and restaurants use – as the base for their sangría – the cheapest wine in their inventory…and thus, the most vile. This is significant, since wine comprises at least 95% of sangría’s content. Some places go a step further, by using the remains of unfinished wine bottles retrieved from tables after the patrons have left. I’m not joking. I’ve witnessed it first-hand.

Then comes the fruit element. Often, the sangría served in bars and restaurants resembles a well-moistened fruit salad. At any given moment, I envision a bartender opening a can of DelMonte® Fruit Cocktail and simply dumping its contents into a pitcher of wine. Restraint, gentlemen! Let’s use restraint! If you need to chew it, it’s not a good sangría. If you find yourself reaching for a fork, then trust me…it’s not a good sangría.

Then comes the liquid embellishments (not that sangría needs any). I’ve seen bartenders pour champagne, sparkling water, and – most shocking of all – 7-Up® (FOR GOD’S SAKE!) into their alleged sangrías. Can you imagine?! Aside from watering it down, these additions make the sangría fizzy. Gin and tonics should be fizzy; sangría should NOT!

Finally, comes the booze-booster. Bars and restaurants may add brandy, cognac, vodka, rum or schnappes to kick-up the alcohol-content of their sangría. It’s not the use of these liquors that I’m opposed to, but rather the quality. A bartender will rarely reach for a top-shelf liquor when perking up his sangría. Instead, he’s more likely to grab a bottle with no label or – worse yet – one with a label bearing the name of his liquor distributor’s daughter. He’ll then attempt to smooth over any harshness by dumping a heaping scoop of sugar into the mix.

And that, my friends, is the reality: cheap wine, too much fruit, cheap liquor, and lots of sugar. Is it therefore surprising that typical bar/restaurant sangría is so bloody awful? Methinks not.

But here’s the irony: Tourists LOVE the stuff!

I see them sitting at outdoor tables – their sun-blistered noses peeling like iguanas beneath corporate-logo’d baseball caps – downing pitcher after pitcher of sangría as if there were no tomorrow. And they would indeed be lucky if there were no tomorrow, because the tomorrow that awaits a sangría binge-drinker usually includes a Defcon-4 hangover.

Yet despite my sarcasm, I should make one point clear: I do like sangría. Very much so, in fact. But I like it on my own terms. And “my own terms” means that I make it myself. And so should you; so let me tell you how.

The sangría recipe listed below is the one that I use at home. I don’t guarantee that you’ll be hangover-free if you abuse it, but I do promise that the hangover will be well worth it.


1 750ml bottle of inexpensive (yet drinkable!) medium-bodied red wine
2 large juice oranges, washed; one orange sliced; the other orange juiced
1 large lemon, washed and sliced
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup Triple Sec
1 cinnamon stick

Step 1: Add orange slices, lemon slices and sugar to a large pitcher. Mash gently with wooden spoon until fruit releases some juice (but is not totally crushed) and sugar dissolves (about 1 minute).
Step 2: Stir in orange juice, Triple Sec, cinnamon stick and wine.
Step 3: Refrigerate for at least two hours. Re-stir before serving.

Posted by Hello

Tuesday, September 07, 2004


Posted by Hello

¡Besos de Inés!

Sunday, September 05, 2004


Dear Sirs:

I'm sure that I speak for all aluminum garden shed consumers when I request that future shed models should require somewhat less than 497 bolts and screws in the assembly process.

I assume that the barrier to a more user-friendly garden shed is not technological. The technology needed to produce pre-fab houses and pre-assembled automobile components has existed for decades. Surely then, you should be able to develop and market an aluminum garden shed that homeowners can assemble in less than 15 hours.

I estimate that my current garden shed - which, by the way, required this entire weekend to assemble - will need to be replaced in the year 2010. If by such time your product line does not reflect the improvements detailed above, then I shall be forced to make my displeasure known by going out and buying a much larger house.

Fat Sal

[Dictated, due to severe forearm cramps.]

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Friday, September 03, 2004


You think I'm kidding? See for yourself. Our neighborhood grocery store is selling 68 cent bottles of wine. That's less than one-third the price of Two Buck Chuck. Even a bottle of Night Train seems a luxury item in comparison.

I haven't tried this stuff - nor do I intend to - but it makes you wonder: What does one do with a 68 cent bottle of wine? You can't serve it to guests. I wouldn't fill a bota with it. And its probably not even fit for cooking.

Aha! I've got it! The perfect use for such a wine: TOURIST SANGRIA!

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Thursday, September 02, 2004


Are you in Spain? Is a 1 Euro coin burning a hole in your pocket? Does your pulse quicken at the thought of owning a wicker napkin holder? Or a nylon, mini-backpack embossed with a Japanese cartoon character whose sex or species you can’t quite decipher? If so, then I have just the place for you: a 100 Peseta Store!

100 Peseta Stores are Spain’s equivalent of the US’s anything-for-a-buck shops. They are little mom and pop establishments that stock a wide assortment of items, the majority of which cost – not surprizingly – 100 pesetas; or 60 cents when converted to Euros. Merchandise ranges from essentials like mop heads and batteries, to “luxury” goods like wine glasses and decorative candle holders, to kitschy delights like incense burners and penis-shaped plastic key chains.

I’m not joking about the latter item. The 100 Peseta Store here in Cabanillas del Campo has two such key chains dangling proudly next to its cash register. They’ve been dangling there for months. I don’t know the reason for their low turnover. It could be that there’s no demand for key chains of this sort; at least, not for those that don’t vibrate. Or it could be that the woman behind the register simply refuses to part with them. Retail can, after all, be a lonely business. But let’s get back to the point.

I’m a big fan of 100 Peseta Stores. I can’t pass one without popping in for a gander. And apparently I’m not alone, because you’ll find one in nearly every town in Spain that has a population greater than 7, and in nearly every neighborhood in larger cities. Sure, much of what they sell are low-quality, off-brand, knick-knacks, but let’s not be snobbish. Browsing through a 100 Peseta Store is a great way to kill fifteen minutes; and a liver-friendly one at that. At the same time, it’s a painless way to scratch that compulsive buying itch that so frequently strikes.

Think of it this way. If you are hungry, you can satisfy the need just as effectively by spending 1€ at McDonald’s as you would by dropping 100€ at Arzak . Admittedly, your choice in this regard says a lot about whether you’re likely to ever see the inside of Buckingham Palace, but that’s beside the point.

The same logic applies to 100 Peseta Stores. If you are suddenly stricken with a compulsion to buy something – anything! – while walking down the street one afternoon, then wouldn’t it be better to blow 1€ on a smiling Buddha paper weight than 100€ on a pair of red, spaghetti-string sandals? My wife doesn’t think so, but I do.

If any of this sounds appealing, then start probing between the couch cushions for loose change because I’m going to tell you where to find the Holy Grail of 100 Peseta Stores. Ready? It is called “HIPERQIU” and is located at calle Fernán González, 31 in Madrid. This store is run by a Chinese family, and is densely packed with just about every item produced since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

Every item, that is, except red, spaghetti-string sandals.