Sunday, February 27, 2005


The 475th annual Academy Awards—that globally-televised extravaganza in which an incestuous group of overpaid egomaniacs gather to heap further praise upon themselves—takes place tonight in Hollywood, California. But the ceremony poses a logistical problem for Spaniards, as it starts at 2am Central European Time.

I therefore decided to create a parallel cinematic lovefest that citizens of Spain could enjoy prior to—rather than three hours after—their normal bedtimes: The 1st annual Virtual Tapas Bar Movie Awards!

Unfortunately, the VTB Awards cannot choose its winners from the same pool of nominees as the Oscars, because I only saw three movies during 2004. But we won’t let that triviality stand in the way of our fun.

So without further ado (whatever the hell “ado” means), the winners of the 2004 Virtual Tapas Bar Movie Awards are:

BEST MOVIE: The Incredibles.


That nutty Korean chick from Sideways.

(Three-way tie!) The Incredibles, Hellboy and Sideways.

What? You say that neither The Incredibles, Hellboy nor Sideways qualify as a foreign language film? That’s odd. When I saw these films at the Guadalajara Cineplex Odeon, all of the dialogue was in Spanish.
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Thursday, February 24, 2005


Living in Spain’s central plains has made me a more generous person. And there’s nothing I love sharing more than our weather.

Quite often during the dead of winter, I’ll open my window and marvel at the blue skies, sparkling sun and balmy temperatures. Then, I start making phone calls.

“Hi Anders! What?! There’s a meter and a half of snow in Copenhagen?! Jeez! I’d need to hop on an airplane and fly two hours in order to see THAT much snow.”

“Hi Hanna! What?! It’s already dark in Helsinki…at 3pm?! Jeez! It won’t get dark here for another four hours. Good thing, too…because I’m about to go for a bike ride.”

“Hi Victor! What?! It’s -20ºC in Moscow?! Jeez! If it were that cold here, I’d be wearing my Mad Bomber Hat. But I don’t need it today, because it’s +20ºC.”
Well…the tables turned yesterday, when the Madrid-area suffered—or enjoyed, depending on one’s perspective—its heaviest snowfall in twenty-one years. A whopping two inches of snow blanketed the ground. TWO INCHES! Downtown traffic screeched to a halt, and Madrid’s Barajas Airport cancelled ninety flights.

Surely, the thought of two inches of snow grounding ninety flights—as well as that of my gloveless hand using a VISA® debit card to scrape ice from my car’s windshield—gave my Nordic friends an evil-yet-satisfying chuckle.

Which leads me to the inescapable conclusion that—insofar as generosity is concerned—it truly IS better to give, than to receive.
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Tuesday, February 22, 2005


Regular readers of this blog know that my hometown—Cabanillas del Campo—is a treasure trove of surreal humor.

From its 80 proof breakfast buffets…to its speckled streets…to its annual Butt Kebab Festival—rarely a day passes that I don’t scratch my head in amused disbelief.

Today was no exception. And I scratched mightily upon noticing this sculpture (pictured above) near my two-year-old daughter’s daycare facility.

Now, the City Hall may argue that this sculpture promotes reading as an enjoyable and educational activity for all townsfolk—but I don’t buy it! Given its conspicuous form and location, I’d argue that it—more likely—promotes potty training as an enjoyable and educational activity for my daughter and her classmates.

Just for laughs, I may place a roll of toilet paper next to his foot tomorrow morning.
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Wednesday, February 16, 2005


I reported last month that my next door neighbor acquired a handsome new rooster named “Bush.” I’ve since been surprised at the level of interest that Bush has generated.

Friends and family ask about his well-being. One gent from California even reproduced Bush’s photo on his own blog.

Given Bush’s popularity (and, more importantly, my lack of anything interesting to say this week), it seemed fitting that I should provide an update on my feathered friend.

I am therefore pleased to report that Bush continues to thrive. He is eating well, gets plenty of exercise and shows no signs of suffering from constipation.

I know this because—much like the great Diane Fossey—I have spent countless hours observing the daily rituals of this noble beast. And while my recent studies have debunked many myths about roosters, none is more important than the following:

MYTH: Roosters start each day by crowing when the sun rises.

FACT: Roosters start each day by crowing TWO HOURS before the sun rises.

Coming soon…a recipe for Coq au Vin.
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Saturday, February 12, 2005


The Spanish province of Guadalajara—just east of Madrid—has an enclave that’s famous for its arquitectura negra (i.e., “black architecture”).

The exteriors of homes, churches and municipal buildings in this area are covered with layer-upon-layer of flat, thin, black sheets of slate. Slate, of course, is the material from which chalkboards were made in the good ol’ days.

Chalkboards, of course, are the things upon which presentations were made in the good ol’ days...before the invention of PowerPoint®.

My family and I were in the town of Campillo de Ranas earlier today, and snapped the above photo of Casa Rural El Abejaruco—a bed and breakfast that is a classic example of arquitectura negra (and, coincidentally, happens to be owned by friends of ours).

But sightseeing aside, our visit to the region raised some probing anthropological questions. For example:

* If a local child misbehaves during dinner, will his parents hand him a piece of chalk and order him to write “I WILL EAT ALL OF MY VEGETABLES” one hundred times on the front of their house?

* Why was there no monument to Fred Flintstone’s boss in the town square?

* Does the entire town get goose-bumps whenever someone scratches his fingernails across the City Hall’s facade?
I said *probing* anthropological questions. Not intelligent ones.
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Thursday, February 10, 2005


My hometown, Cabanillas del Campo, is in the midst of constructing a spacious, new City Hall building. I walked past the construction site this morning, and did a double-take.

It wasn’t the site itself that grabbed my attention, but rather the sign that Sitol, S.L. (i.e., the building’s cement-work contractor) posted on the security fence. You’ll note from the photo above that Sitol’s sign features a graphic of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Perhaps I’m being overly sarcastic, but it seems odd that the contractor responsible for pouring the City Hall’s foundation should choose, as its logo, history’s most famous example of negligent building construction.

Or maybe I’m being short-sighted. After all, just think of the revenues that will be generated when busloads of foreign tourists arrive to photograph the “Leaning City Hall of Cabanillas.”
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Tuesday, February 08, 2005


I thought I could escape Bryan Adams by moving to Spain. I was wrong.

It’s nothing personal against the man. I’m sure he’s a swell guy who treats his mother like a queen and makes generous donations to his local animal shelter.

But his music! Let’s just say that I haven’t found his songs to be inspiring…or timeless…or—to be brutally honest—well-written. Let me give an example to clarify this point. This isn’t a specific Bryan Adams song; but rather, an amalgamation of all Bryan Adams songs:

Look into my eyes.
You’re the only girl for me.
You’re all I’ll ever need.

I really love you.
I really, really love you.
I really, really, really, really, really, really love you.

I’d die for you.
I’d really, really, really, really, really, really die for you.

Do you see what I mean? Not quite in the same league as Lennon's and McCartney’s All You Need Is Love. To be honest, I’m not even sure it’s in the same league as that Gary Glitter song that’s played during basketball game intermissions.

Yet even in Spain, Bryan Adams’s music won’t go away. There is a nation-wide radio franchise called KISS-FM. Its music format is a relentless gush of saccharine-sweet ‘80’s pop—punctuated with a large dollop of Bryan Adams every fifteen to twenty minutes. Honestly!

KISS-FM is extremely popular in Spain. But worse yet, it’s extremely popular with all the wrong people—such as Mrs. Virtual Tapas Bar, my neighbor Jesús (who, lamentably, has wired his back patio with outdoor loud speakers) and every taxi driver with whom I’ve ridden since 1999.

Despite KISS-FM’s troubling ubiquity, I’d remained hopeful. I kept reminding myself of one important fact—Bryan Adam had not released an album since 1999. Could it be that he had retired from the limelight? Would he soon join the likes of Boy George and Ginger Spice on the scrap-pile of music has-beens?

Apparently not.

My hopes were dashed last week, when I learned that Bryan Adams had just released a new album. Its first single—creatively entitled, Flying—is already receiving airplay on KISS-FM. I heard it yesterday for the first time. And what did I think?

Well…I can honestly say that Mr. Adams has grown as a song-writer. He no longer relies on clichéd stanzas from high school-era, puppy-love notes as the sole content of his lyrics. To the contrary, he now infuses his lyrics with metaphorical imagery. Here is a verse from Flying:

Feels like we’re flyyyyyyyyin’.
Look into my eyes.
You’re the only girl for me.
You’re all I’ll ever need.

Feels like we’re flyyyyyyyyin’.
I really love you.
I really, really love you.
I really, really, really, really, really, really love you.

Feels like we’re flyyyyyyyyin’.
I’d die for you.
I’d really, really, really, really, really, really die for you.
How ironic life can be. I once believed that Canada’s cheesiest musical export was Gordon Lightfoot. Now I miss him. I really, really, really, really, really, really miss him.
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Thursday, February 03, 2005


Have you ever seen a Russian, Sherpa or Mongolian with frost-bitten ears? Neither have I. And now, I know why. It’s the hat. Specifically, the "Mad Bomber Hat.”

I first saw a Mad Bomber Hat in a Champaign, Illinois hiking store in 1994. My friend—the infamous “Tony Lee”—and I were buying supplies for a post-Law School trip to Alaska. Hidden in the back corner of the store was a rack of Mad Bomber Hats. We stopped dead in our tracks.

The hats were mesmerizing. The outer shell was of nylon or—for an additional $15—leather. The inside and front brim were lined with rabbit fur. Have you ever seen a rabbit with frost-bitten ears? Neither have I. And now, I know why.

Tony and I each grabbed a hat and tried it on. Although we didn’t discuss it, I’m fairly certain that we both felt a tingling in our loins—the likes of which we hadn’t experienced since that Porky’s movie came out when we were in junior high school.

We stood looking at the mirror—our skulls joyously enveloped in soft, fluffy rabbit fur—and agreed on two things. First, these were the greatest hats ever crafted by human hands. And second, there was no way we would buy them…because we looked like complete nerds. Tony’s then-girlfriend (now wife), Aiko, readily agreed. We thus proceeded to Alaska clad in wool and fleece; not fur.

Eleven years later (i.e., last week), I found myself in a ski shop in Avoriaz, France on a cold, snowy morning. And what did I see hanging on a rack next to the entrance? Mad Bomber Hats!

Now, let me say that there are a few good things about getting older. Teenagers avoid you like the plague. Coffee starts to taste good—or at least, kind of good. Shoes seem to last forever.

But I think the best thing about aging is the loss of one’s vanity. Take me, for example. My hair—which, in the days of my youth, I would fuss over for twenty minutes each morning—hasn’t been touched by mousse or a blow dryer since Bill Clinton was president. Most days, I don’t even comb it.

I was therefore pleased to discover that—eleven years on—I no longer cared if the Mad Bomber Hat made me look like a dork. I had to have one. So, I bought it without hesitation.

And it’s fortunate that I did, because the weather in Avoriaz turned brutal the next morning. Temperatures plunged to -20ºC; with ripping winds.

Which got me thinking about an interesting article that I read in the Chicago Tribune last winter. The journalist interviewed several Russian immigrants on the topic of Mad Bomber Hats; which, as we all know, are commonly worn in Russia. One of the main questions was, “At which temperature should the hat’s ear flaps be lowered?” In a stunning display of machismo (or machismo-inspired lying), nearly all the Russian men insisted that the flaps should be lowered only when the mercury hits -10ºF.

Huh? -10ºF?! That’s -23ºC! At the risk of being labeled a “sissy” by the Russian community, I intend to lower the flaps on my hat as soon as the first tree starts losing its leaves in autumn.

But let’s return to the ski trip. I am pleased to report that my Mad Bomber Hat and I skied two extremely frigid days at Avoriaz in total comfort. It really was amazing. My cheeks and nose were frozen stiff, yet my ears and scalp felt like they were vacationing in Senegal. Which led me to one inescapable conclusion…

Nerdiness does not exist at -20ºC!

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Tuesday, February 01, 2005


As mentioned in my last post, I’ve recently returned from a skiing vacation at Avoriaz in the French Alps. I began that trip somewhat sheepishly, as it had been eight years since I was last on skis.

And my goodness! How the skiing world has changed since the mid-1990’s! Listed below are some observations that I noted in between trips to the Avoriaz Medical Center:

* It’s true that skiing—much like swimming or riding a bike—is a skill that you never lose. Unfortunately, the same is true of crashing and breaking bones.

* Nobody wears puffy, goose feather-stuffed ski parkas any more. Now, it seems, all skiers wear a nylon or Gore-tex® shell over a thin, fleece lining. Unbelievably, these svelte, scantily-clad people appeared toasty-warm—even at -20ºC! As such…even though I was in France, I didn’t see a single Michelin Man® on skis.

* Technological advances are not limited to outerwear. Even lift tickets have gone high-tech. When I last skied, tickets were just a sticker wrapped around a metal wire hanging from my jacket’s zipper. The man tending the chair lift simply glanced at the ticket and, if it appeared to have been issued after 1955, would let you pass. These days, however, lift tickets are bar-coded. Each chair lift is blocked by a turnstile with a bar-code reader. You must insert your ticket into the bar-code reader which, if the ticket is valid, will release the turnstile and let you pass. I’m not sure how long I stood dumbfounded at the turnstile during my first morning in Avoriaz, but I would like to thank the friendly French man behind me who grabbed my ticket and stuffed it into the reader for me.

* With regard to the turnstile that I mentioned above, I can assure you that it *IS* possible to get one leg through it and the other leg not. I would like to thank the friendly French man behind me who—after watching me struggle like a muskrat in a leg-hold trap for nearly two minutes—kindly released the binding and removed the ski from my rear leg.

* Given the technological advances in outerwear and lift tickets, I was both surprised and disappointed to find that none of the shops sold Blue Tooth®-compatible ski poles.

* Ten years ago, nobody wore backpacks while skiing. Today, most skiers do. What are they trying to hide?!

* Of the hundreds of skiers I saw last week, only one wore a turquoise jacket. Sorry. That’s an inside joke that only three of you will understand. I won’t do it again.

* All skiers now use “carving” skis. These skis are hourglass-shaped, and are supposedly much easier to turn than traditional, straight-edged skis. And in fact, they are! But what most intrigued me about carving skis was the myth that they should (and must) be used with one’s feet spread apart. This was exciting news! In the old days, the truly good skiers kept their skis locked together at all times. If you’ve ever tried skiing, then you know how difficult this skill is to acquire. Well...I can now confirm that this myth is precisely that—a myth. The good skiers continue to keep their carving skis locked together at all times; while the rest of us continue to look like snow-bound Caganers.

* Pesky, annoying and dangerous…Snowboarders are the mosquitoes of the mountains. They are the reason that most skiers now wear helmets. When I last skied in the mid-1990’s, there were very few snowboarders. In fact, many resorts expressly prohibited them. But now, they out-number skiers. The main problem with snowboarders (aside from the ridiculous outfits that they wear) is their complete lack of coordination and control. Having watched them closely for an entire week, I can confirm that the only way for a snowboarder to stop is by crashing into a skier who is looking in another direction.

* Skiing must be the world’s most expensive hobby. The second most expensive is, of course, collecting vintage Ferraris®.

* It’s impossible to make a two year old wear gloves if she doesn’t want to.
[Author’s Note: Thanks to the fleet-fingered Mrs. Virtual Tapas Bar for (again) typing this post while my shoulder mends. She is surely the most over-educated, over-qualified dictation machine in the world. Now, go get me a cup of coffee!]
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