Sunday, January 30, 2005


If you’re wondering why I haven’t published anything during the past week, it’s because we were on a skiing vacation at the Avoriaz resort in the French Alps. But my activities at Avoriaz were not limited to skiing. I seized the opportunity to try another activity—namely, fracturing my shoulder.

Yep, it’s true. For all of skiing’s positive aspects (and indeed, there are many), I’ve concluded that bone fractures rank quite highly in the negative column. They are, perhaps, surpassed only by being buried in an avalanche or devoured by a Yeti—both of which I chose to defer until our 2006 vacation.

As such, my right shoulder currently hangs limp and lifeless within the confines of a turquoise arm sling. And that’s where it will remain for, at least, the next three weeks.

I might’ve chalked this up as just a minor inconvenience (not to mention a welcome excuse to shirk my duties as head chef of our home) were it not for one minor detail: I’m right-handed. Let me propose a little experiment for my right-handed readers in order to illustrate my point. Before retiring tonight, go into the bathroom, grasp your toothbrush firmly in your *left* hand and try brushing your teeth in less than 27 minutes. Voila! You’ll quickly understand what a long, rotten three weeks await me.

I don’t want to leave the impression, however, that my injury was a wholly negative experience. To the contrary, I am delighted to report that the Avoriaz Medical Center charged me a paltry 140€ for an examination, four x-rays and the aforementioned arm sling. Now, perhaps my judgment has been tainted by the 33 years that I lived in the US, but I consider 140€ to be an exceptional bargain for the medical pampering I received. At those prices, I almost regret not breaking more bones.

By the way…if you’re wondering how I am able to type this post with an immobilized shoulder, the answer is…I’m not. This post is being dictated to—and typed by—the generous and tolerant Mrs. Virtual Tapas Bar. I fear, however, that her generosity and tolerance will pushed to the limit when dinner-time arrives. Why? Because I feel like a little Salade Niçoise and Coq au Vin tonight.
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Thursday, January 20, 2005


Since I am Chairman, CEO and Head Janitor of this blog, I am allowed to hijack it from time to time for personal use. This is one of those times.

As such, I would like to take this opportunity—on behalf of my wife (who I shall refer to as “Mrs. Virtual Tapas Bar”) and myself—to say:

Thank you Anders G. for the bottle of Wyborwa® triple distilled, pure rye grain, Polish vodka. You are correct. We’ll never drink Smirnoff® again…unless it’s mixed with Coke®.

Thank you Jesper K. for being the “mule” who carried the bottle from Denmark to Malta. Lucky for me that the customs agents in Oslo and Amsterdam (the latter being a city where your luggage spent the night…and you didn’t) failed to “confiscate” it for “further analysis.”

Thank you Maciej G. for the two packages of authentic Polish kielbasa (or, more specifically, “kabanosy”) sausages—a piece of which is tightly clenched between my teeth in the above photo. I hope they have something half as good in Hawaii.

I am your contract-writing slave for the next twelve months…except for you, Anders. That’s what you get for leaving the company.
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Wednesday, January 19, 2005


I’ve just returned from the island of Malta, where my employer—which I shall fictitiously call “Acme Low Carb Tongue-Depressors, Inc.” in order to avoid getting my ass fired—held its annual Europe/MiddleEast/Africa (EMEA) sales conference.

The conference was notable in that a clear vision and sales strategy were laid-out for all to internalize. It was also notable in that the term “value proposition” was used a whopping 497 times throughout the various presentations; followed closely by “driving revenue” (325 times), “core competencies” (234 times) and “sales cycle” (187 times). Lamentably, the term “sleep cycle” wasn’t uttered once by conference organizers.

As with other sales conferences I’ve attended, the event was as much about withstanding the rigors of sleep deprivation and liver abuse as it was about energizing the sales force. And when it comes to those two former categories, the Irish attendees proved—once again—that they are without peers.

I snapped the above photo during one of the conference’s break-out sessions. This particular group of colleagues had—the previous night—foolishly assumed that the choice of Malta as a venue meant that they should drink all the malt beverages that the hotel bar could supply.

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The most interesting food item that I found in Malta was “Timpana.” Timpana is a block of lasagna or compressed rigatoni encased in a pastry.

I ate Timpana twice during my stay. One was remarkably good; the other had the density of depleted uranium.

Pictured above is the good one. The bottle to its right is a Maltese after-dinner liquor distilled from prickly pear, honey and herbs. Not nearly as bad as it sounds, and after a kilo or two of Timpana…a good digestif is exactly what’s needed.
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Wednesday, January 12, 2005


My recent bout of less-than-prolific blogging is due, in part, to the demands of Spain’s marathon holiday season. Sure…we don’t celebrate Halloween or Thanksgiving, but we quickly make-up lost ground in December/January. We celebrate Constitution Day on December 6, Immaculate Conception Day on December 8, Christmas, New Year and, finally, Three Wise Men’s Day on January 6. It’s the last of these holidays that puts Spanish children into a frenzy.

For those of you who slept through Sunday school (and/or Monty Python’s Life of Brian), the Three Wise Men (a.k.a., Los Reyes Magos) are the guys who followed the North Star to Jesus’s (and/or Brian’s) manger in Bethlehem. US children will be shocked to discover that they actually have names: Gaspar, Melchor and Baltasar.

Promptly after post-New Year hangovers have been quelled, Spain goes into a week-long Three Wise Men fever pitch. Children write them letters listing—in comprehensive fashion—the toys that they want to receive. Then they go to their local city hall or shopping center—where one of the Wise Men is usually holding court—to hand-deliver the letters.

The Wise Man on display sits in a big throne, and is flanked by a pimply, teenaged assistant adorned in elf-like garb. Kids sit on the Wise Man’s lap, tell outright lies about their past year’s behavior, and then deposit their letters into a special mailbox next to the throne. This scenario may change in the future, however, as a US-based consulting firm recently recommended that the Wise Men dispense with the mailbox and henceforth receive all letters via Blackberry®.

On the eve of Three Wise Men’s Day, many towns—large and small—throughout Spain hold a parade; known as the cabalgata. Cabalgatas are fun for me, because I’m always interested to see what Baltasar will look like. Baltasar, you see, is black. Yet despite the recent immigration of thousands of sub-Saharan Africans into Spain, he is often portrayed—in parades and shopping malls—by a white man in black face. Can you imagine how this would go down at a J.C. Penny’s in Little Rock, Arkansas?!

In 2004, we attended the cabalgata that took place in our hometown of Cabanillas del Campo. It wasn’t quite up to Macy’s standards.

We gathered in the town square with 200 freezing spectators. Thirty or forty minutes after the scheduled start time, a tractor pulling a barely-decorated wagon appeared…three blocks away. The crowd sprinted en masse down the street to catch a fleeting glimpse of the Three Wise Men standing on the back of the tractor’s wagon. Meanwhile, their assistants hurled handful after handful of hard candies at our eye-sockets. The tractor then puttered off into the distance; leaving my fellow townsfolk and I wondering where, exactly, our local tax revenues are being spent.

Now, I don’t consider myself a biblical scholar. Truth be told, the only churches I’ve visited in the past decade were for weddings or sightseeing. But still…I’m fairly certain that nobody drove John Deere® tractors in Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’s birth. Where would they’ve bought spark plugs?

So we decided that, this year, we would make the grueling five kilometer drive to Guadalajara and view its cabalgata instead. Guadalajara, being a city of 60,000 people, seemed unlikely to have any tractors on display—although we were a little concerned that Melchor might pass in the back seat of an Alfa Romeo convertible.

Our fears proved unfounded. Guadalajara’s cabalgata was magnificent. Gaspar rode the parade route on a real, live camel. Melchor was Alfa Romeo-free. And Baltasar (pictured above)—who, I am pleased to report, was not portrayed by Al Jolson—rode a baby elephant.

Separating each Wise Man’s entourage were elaborately-decorated floats pulled by live oxen, formations of Roman soldiers on horseback, columns of torch-wielding Egyptian maidens, and numerous marching bands (in the European sense, that is—not high school students in 20-inch high, fluffy hats blaring a brassy rendition of Eleanor Rigby).

After the cabalgata, we returned home to prepare for the Three Wise Men’s “visit” to come later that night as we slept. We put a bowl of water on the floor. Why? Because their camels are apt to be thirsty by the time they reach our house. Next year, I will suggest to my wife that—in the interest of fairness—we also leave three glasses of Cardhu® scotch whisky for the wise guys. If they’re not thirsty, then I might know someone who is.

Then we each put a shoe under the Christmas tree. Why? So they’d know where to lay our respective gifts. Good children get gifts. Bad children get carbón (i.e., coal). It isn’t really coal, but rather a black, sugar and egg-white candy that looks disturbingly similar to those chunks of filthy ice that grow from the quarter-panels of cars during late winter in Chicago.

Our prep-work done, we all went to bed.

At 7am the next morning (although it felt more like 3am), our two year old daughter bounded into the bedroom shouting, “Magos…magos!” Tellingly, there was no such enthusiasm on Christmas morning. Flying reindeers, apparently, can’t hold a candle to camels and elephants in the world of a two year old.

We went downstairs. There was no water in the bowl. There was no carbón next to the shoes. There certainly were no glasses of Cardhu® scotch whisky—full, empty or otherwise. But there were gifts; and that made the two year old very happy.

After gifts are opened, the final Three Wise Men’s Day tradition takes place: a breakfast of hot chocolate and roscón.

When I say “hot chocolate,” I am not talking about the insipid, Swiss Miss®-type chocolate that is popular in the US. Spanish hot chocolate has as much in common with Swiss Miss® as does Guiness® stout with Pabst Blue Ribbon®. Rather, the hot chocolate served in Spain resembles a dark, gooey mass of molten pudding. It’s an intense, face-puckering drink that you’d be tempted to eat with a fork and knife.

Roscón, on the other hand, is a fluffy, ring-shaped pastry topped with those candied fruits that only the British seem to like. Baked into each roscón is a prize; typically a little ceramic figurine or a dried fava bean. The person whose piece of roscón contains the prize will have good luck—provided, of course, that he didn’t break a molar on it.

And that, my friends, is everything you need to know about Three Wise Men’s Day. Now that TMD ‘05 has come and gone, Spain will be devoid of major holidays until Easter. But Easter just doesn’t have the same panache. The Easter Bunny doesn’t visit Spain. Not even on the back of a tractor.
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Breakfast with the Wise Guys: Roscón and Spanish hot chocolate. Posted by Hello

Monday, January 10, 2005


During my parents’ visit to Spain last November, my mother looked out the window and said, “Sal…did you know that your neighbor Jesús has a rooster?” In fact, I didn’t. And in fact, he did!

Jesús named his rooster “Bush”—which, I assume, the rooster finds insulting.

I came face-to-beak with Bush last night, and snapped the above photo. Bush (the one next door, that is) has much in common with his more famous namesake. For example:

- Both have been grounded from flying.

- Both take orders solely and directly from Jesús.

- Both leave a lot of shit behind, then expect others to clean it up.

- Neither have lips.

So much for my earlier promise to keep this blog a politics-free zone.
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Sunday, January 02, 2005


Hangover the side of a mountain, that is.

True to my word, I behaved myself admirably on New Year’s Eve. And to celebrate, my wife, brother-in-law, another couple and I went on an excruciatingly long (yet excruciatingly picturesque) hike through the mountains of La Pedriza near Madrid.

The photo above is just a bit a showing-off. I wasn’t in any danger—provided that my left hand didn’t cramp.
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…I’ve finally found a good Chinese restaurant in Madrid. A very good one, in fact. Here are its details:

Pº Santa María de la Cabeza, 60
28045 Madrid
Tel: 915-30-50-62

As if this were not reason enough to rejoice, I also found ANOTHER fantabulous Indian restaurant in Madrid. Aside from its strategic location (i.e., one block from my in-law’s place), it serves a Chicken Vindaloo that set me adrift on waves of eye-watering, nose-dribbling, tongue-throbbing ecstasy. Here are its details:

José Ortega y Gasset, 89
Tel: 91 401 22 28

Now, if only I could find a good Ethiopian restaurant…
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