Tuesday, March 29, 2005



I’d drive halfway across Spain for a good calçotada. In fact, that’s exactly what I did last weekend.

The infamous Marta and her cuddly parents hosted a calçotada at their Tarragonese beach house on Saturday. And it was faaaabulous!

What? You’ve never heard of a “calçotada?!” Don’t feel bad. There are plenty of Spaniards who are equally clueless. But that’s why I’m here—to keep my readers well-educated and well-fed. So sit back, grab a glass of something purple, and start taking notes—because Calçots 101 is now in session.

A calçotada is, quite simply, a calçot barbeque. It's a phenomenon that takes place mainly in the Cataluña region of Spain’s north-east Mediterranean coast. There are four vital elements to a proper calçotada: a bunch of calçots, a hot grill, a bowl of Romesco Sauce and a bib.

Calçots (pronounced, cahl-SOATS) are thick, long, green onions that are grown in the Spanish/Catalan province of Tarragona. They look like scallions on steroids and Viagra®. Calçots are harvested each year during the first calendar quarter, when they are fat and firm. The calçots are rinsed to remove clinging dirt and dried. Now they are ready for…

…the grill! Calçots should be cooked on a wood or charcoal grill. They are charred until their exteriors are blackened and interiors are tender. After the calçots are removed from the grill, they are wrapped in several layers of newspaper—presumably to steam themselves so that the burnt skins will separate easily from the core.

Grilled calçots should be accompanied by a bowl of Romesco Sauce. This is another of Tarragona’s culinary gifts to the world. Romesco Sauce is a thick, coarse, reddish-orange sauce made (more or less) of dried red peppers, garlic, oil, salt, paprika, tomatoes, and bread crumbs or ground nuts.

When the calçots are grilled and the sauce prepared, it’s time to eat. This is the fun part—and not just for reasons of taste. Eating calçots requires a special technique that was undoubtedly inspired by frat boys eating goldfish—or vice versa. It’s clumsy, it’s messy and it looks ridiculous—but everybody in Spain does it.

Everybody, that is, except my father-in-law. He eats calçots the same way he eats bananas or chicken wings—on Lenox® china with a knife and fork.

But back to the technique. With one hand, grab the calçot’s burnt exterior at the bottom. With the other hand, grab a couple of the green stalks at the top—but only the stalks in the center; not those of the perimeter. Then—like a samaurai unsheathing his sword—give it a tug! The calçot’s tender, white core will pull out of its charred, fibrous exterior.

Dip the calçot’s core in the Romesco Sauce, tilt your head back, dangle it above your gaping mouth, drop it in and bite. Then remove your shirt and send it to the dry cleaner—unless, that is, you heeded my earlier advice about wearing a bib.

And there you have it! A brief primer on calçots, and the glories of calçotadas. As I mentioned, it’s a regional thing. If you want to try some, you’ll have to go to Cataluña. The Catalans consume pretty much all the calçots that they produce—leaving the rest of Spain (and the world) no choice but to survive on Burger King® onion rings.
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Monday, March 21, 2005


I’ve fallen asleep in plenty of churches over the years. But not in San Pedro de Cervata—a 12th century cathedral that I visited last weekend while in northern Spain’s Cantabria region. This is a church for which the confession box was invented.

San Pedro’s is famous for its erotic gargoyles. Male gargoyles. Female gargoyles. Gargoyles performing solo and in pairs. San Pedro’s has it all—except, perhaps, gargoyles observing a vow of chastity.

You’ll be relieved to know, however, that these works of erotic art are only found on the church’s exterior. There is nothing titillating within San Pedro’s walls—although I can’t vouch for the contents of the head Pastor’s gym bag.

Our tour guide for the afternoon explained that there are two competing theories as to why the décor is so darn spicy.

The first theory is that church designers wanted to show a moral contrast. The church’s inner sanctum is the embodiment of purity and holiness; whereas lust, debauchery and other sinful recreations occur outside.

The second theory is one of practicality. There was a high infant mortality rate during the era in which the church was built. As such, the gargoyles were intended to titillate the flock so that they would go forth and multiply with a bit more zeal. Kind of a limestone-based precursor to Viagra®, if you will.

Personally, I find the latter theory to be more persuasive—although my impartiality might be tainted by that gym bag-thing.

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Thursday, March 17, 2005


The British aren’t the only ones who adorn their homes with trolls. Spaniards do it, too. And here in Cabanillas del Campo, it has reached epidemic proportions.

Now, before I start receiving venomous letters from organizations like Trolls United for Respect and Dignity, let me make a disclaimer. I am not opposed to trolls, per se. When treated in the British manner—that is, artfully placed in a garden and partially (or preferably, fully) obscured by leafy vegetation—a troll nearly rises to the level of tastefulness.

Lamentably, however, the Spanish are not quite so demure. The residents of my town typically perch trolls atop the wall columns surrounding their homes. That is to say, if you are walking down a Cabanillas del Campo sidewalk and look up, you’ll likely find Dopey, Sneezy or Bashful cheerfully gazing down upon your scalp.

The above photo is a prime example.

This particular troll has an interesting biography. He stands guard over a house up the street from mine. And I must say that his master is an ambitious sort. He wasn’t content to own just any ol’ troll. No…his troll needed accessories.

But that’s not all.

The pictured troll is not an only child. Rather, he is just one soldier in an army of FIVE windmill-bearing trolls—each perched on its own column of a fifteen-meter stretch of wall on the south-west side of my neighbor’s house.

But that’s not all.

Prowling within the confines of my neighbor’s troll-laden walls is the biggest, buffest, twitchiest Mastiff ever to sprout four paws and a tail. In this respect, my neighbor’s trolls are a siren’s song to local burglars.

Imagine the scenario. A burglar is prowling my neighborhood in search of a cushy-looking house from which to snatch a Philips® Plasma-screen TV. He notices five smiling trolls seducing him to come closer—their colorful windmills gently spinning in the warm, Iberian breeze. The burglar can’t believe his luck. A cream-puff lives in this house! A cream-puff who NEEDS to be robbed! The burglar hoists himself over the wall like a well-trained gymnast. Then—the minute his feet touch earth on the other side—his left Achilles tendon is liberated from its foreleg by the hydraulic mandibles of a sight-unseen Mastiff.

Hmmm…perhaps my initial sarcasm was unwarranted. When viewed in this light, Spain’s trend toward trollification doesn’t seem quite so Dopey.
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Monday, March 14, 2005


Spanish homes have three common traits: (a) terra cotta roofing tiles; (b) plastered stucco walls; and (c) a water-filled Evian® bottle strategically-placed before the front door.

This latter point has perplexed me for years.

I’ve observed this bizarre sociological phenomenon in dozens—perhaps hundreds—of Spanish homes. I’ve seen it in Barcelona. I’ve seen it in Alicante. And as the photo above attests, I saw it this morning in Cabanillas del Campo. Some folk take it a step further, and place a bottle in front of each basement window.

But, why?! I’ve analyzed it from every conceivable angle…yet still cannot rationalize it.

* Are these bottles a humanitarian offering to thirsty Bedouins that pass in the night? I doubt it. One rarely sees camels roaming the streets of Spain, except during Three Wise Men’s Day parades—and even then, I’m fairly certain that those men on camels have had plenty to drink already.

* Do they function as an early warning system for seismic activity? Perhaps slight ripples in the bottles’ water means that tectonic plates are shifting. Nah. Spaniards aren’t concerned about the forces of nature, unless a soccer game is at stake.

* Could it be voodoo? Perhaps these bottles threaten door-to-door salesmen with a frightening curse. If your knuckles so much as touch that door, you WILL retain water.

None of these hypotheses satisfied, so I asked Mrs. Virtual Tapas Bar. It seemed like a good idea. After all, her pedigree clearly states that she is Spanish. It also states that she hasn’t been declawed; which is not relevant to the water-bottle question—but is extremely relevant if you are a door-to-door salesman. Her answer was insightful: “I have no idea.”

So…I am forced to ask you—the readers—to help me crack this case. Does anybody know why Spaniards put bottles of water before the front doors of their homes?




Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?
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Friday, March 11, 2005


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At 10:23 this morning in Bar Alcázar, all heads turned when a strange man reading a local newspaper suddenly gasped.

That strange man was me. The newspaper was the March 11, 2005 edition of Henares al Día. And the reason I was gasping? See the advertisement in the lower portion of the above photo.

Translated into English, the ad reads as follows:

The Nuclear Power Plant of Trillo.

Promoting the culture, the festivals and the traditions of its surrounding communities.
In other words, this ad—complete with its photo of two steaming, nuclear cooling towers at the far right—is saying, “You’ll die a horrible death if our plant suffers a meltdown, but in the meantime…LET’S PARTY!!! We’ll even buy the drinks!”

I look forward to attending Trillo’s annual festival this summer. I understand that the highlights will be an asbestos-filled balloon toss, followed by a demolition derby comprised solely of Ford Pintos®.

Monday, March 07, 2005


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An uninspired blogger is a dangerous beast. There’s no telling what nonsense he’ll publish—out of sheer desperation—when his well of creativity has temporarily run dry. Just think back to November 2004. I published a damn post about my left foot!

Well…it seems that November 2005 has come early. After a low-key weekend in the plains of Castilla-LaMancha, I remain uninspired—and hence, dangerous. So dangerous, in fact, that I’ve been sniffing around my computer’s archives for ideas. And what did I find? My “I Had a Dream” file.

I had forgotten about this file. For a short period in 2001, I would fire-up my computer immediately upon waking each morning and document—in excruciating detail—the dreams that I had the night before.

It was an interesting experiment. Dreams seem to reside in one’s short-term memory banks. If you don’t exercise those memories shortly after waking, they’ll disappear forever. If, on the other hand, you make the effort to remember them, you’ll often be rewarded with a tale of amusing—or disturbing, depending on your point of view—surreality.

Which brings me to today’s post. I have—for lack of any better ideas—randomly chosen one of those dreams and reprinted it below. As you read it, please keep one important fact in mind: It’s not me...it’s my subconscious! Really, it is! Really!!!


I am standing on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in North Carolina looking at a large, light-colored, wooden house on stilts. I walk through the front door and enter a large room whose walls are covered in Scandinavian-style, light teak wood. To the left is a wooden staircase leading to the second floor. To the right is an ice rink.

There is a hockey game in progress. The team is called the “North Carolina Jets.” They wear black uniforms with red letters. The game is almost over. The Jets are losing. A spectator comments that, “The Jets have the worst record in hockey; which is a shame since they were a good team before moving from Winnipeg.”

One of the Jets’ players suddenly scores a goal seconds before the closing buzzer. He is middle aged and playing without a helmet. The spectator comments that, “That player is one of the legends of the game.” He says, “I am happy that he scored, because this is his last game before he retires.”

At the right-hand corner of the rink is a concession stand. The man working behind the stand picks up the hockey puck. It is broken into two horizontal pieces. The concession man comments that he has invented a substance that would have protected the puck. He pulls out a sheet of one-inch thick black rubber. It has the color and texture of a car tire’s tread.

He cuts off a strip with scissors and wraps it around a new puck. He puts the puck into a machine, which fires the puck at 40 miles per hour against a brick wall. The puck is unscathed.

The man says that this substance will also protect humans, and that he needs to do one more experiment before marketing it. He asks if I would participate in the experiment. I agree.

I put on a crash helmet and walk to the center of the ice rink. There is a car seat, dashboard and windshield in the center of the ice. In front of (and facing) the seat/dashboard/windshield is a large green hydraulic machine with the front-end of a green 1970’s-era car mounted onto it. I sit in the car seat and fasten my seatbelt. The man cuts off a one inch wide strip of the black rubber substance and wraps it around my shoulders. He steps away, and pushes a button on the hydraulic machine.

The machine crashes the green car front-end into me at 40 miles per hour. I crash into the windshield and fall onto the ice on my right side. I feel no pain and am completely uninjured. We all laugh. Everybody is happy that the experiment has been successful.

I remove the crash helmet and walk up the stairs on the left. I enter a bedroom, also done in teak. I hear noises in the walk-in closet. I open the door and look in. A tall, thin, young Asian woman with long hair is wearing black leather shoes with stiletto high heels. She is marching in place; alternately lifting one foot, driving the stiletto heel into a hole in the floor and then doing the same with the other foot. She continues methodically driving each heel into the hole….right, left, right, left, right…

I ask what she is doing. She says that there is a man under the floor and that she is driving her heels into his head to, “Teach him some respect.”

She stops and exits the closet. I accompany her to a dresser. She opens the drawer and pulls out a pair of white leather shoes with silver studs. These shoes have longer, thinner stiletto heels that are tipped with steel and sharpened to a point. She says, “I am really going to teach him a lesson with these.”

We walk back into the closet and stop in our tracks. The man who was trapped under the floor has escaped. He is standing in the closet, his head is bleeding and he is holding a shoe with stiletto heels. He is looking very angry. The Asian woman gasps.

At this point, I woke up—and probably, for the better.

So…what does all this mean?

Well…for one, it means that I’ll never be able to run for public office now that I’ve foolishly published these details on the Internet.

It also means that my in-laws are—as we speak—likely removing all of the steak knives from their kitchen and hiding them in a shoe box in their front hallway closet.

Closet? I wonder if there’s a hole in the floor of that closet?

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


We’ve had a “busy news week” here on planet earth. A huge bomb exploded in Iraq. Lebanon is in the midst of a (hopefully) velvet revolution. The US Supreme Court has banned executions for crimes committed by non-adults.

But does anybody care?

Not really.


Because a certain, much-anticipated celebrity trial started two days ago, and much of the world—Spain included—is enthralled.

The trial is expected to last six months; which means that we’ll all grow tired of it soon enough. At this early stage, however, it’s still a novelty. So let me seize this fleeting opportunity, and offer a Virtual Tapas Bar editorial in the form of…a limerick.

There once was a man from Neverland.
With sequined glove on his left hand.
Though he’ll risk a deflowering.
Whilst the inmates are showering.
One good turn, does another demand.
Sorry. That was a bit childish. Such juvenile indulgences should be forgiven.

Indulgence in juveniles, however, should not.

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