Monday, May 30, 2005


Photo Credit: © by SeeiMages, 2005.

When I lived in the US, I’d visit the dentist every six months for a check-up and cleaning. Each visit was startling in its consistency.

The dentist would bounce into the office holding a dozen dental hooks in each hand. He’d thrust them into my mouth—probing, prodding and tapping like a jazz xylophonist on his fourth can of Dr. Pepper®. When every square millimeter had been poked for soft spots, he’d snap his fingers and an assistant would appear carrying lead-lined blankets. They’d mummify me from toes to scalp in 97 kilos of lead, then take several hundred x-rays of my mouth.

We’d then rush into an IMAX® theater where images of my teeth—dwarfing those of King Kong—projected onto the screen. The dentist would inevitably whip-out a laser pointer and say something like, “Here on the upper-right incisor, we see a slight discoloration two microns in diameter. This could be the pre-pre-beginning stage of plaque formation. Brush and floss this area carefully, or it might develop into a small cavity seven to nine years from now.”

This was the level of dental care to which I’d grown accustomed in the US. And my experience was by no means unique. If you don’t believe me, then buy a Carly Simon CD and look closely at the cover photo.

My first visit to a dentist in Spain, however, was a different story. The dentist entered the room and demanded, “Tell me where hurts!”

“Nothing hurts,” I answered. “I’m just here for a check-up and cleaning.”

Looking puzzled, he grabbed a dental hook and tapped the nearest bicuspid—not so much to probe for soft spots, but rather to confirm that this calciferous object rising from my gum-line was indeed a tooth, and not the hallucinogenic by-product of a morning’s worth of second-hand nitrous oxide.

He then leaned forward, put his hands on his knees, and—from a distance of approximately two meters—gazed into my mouth like a truck mechanic pondering the source of a strange rattle in a diesel engine. Finally, he stood upright and confidently announced, “I see no cavities.”

I was taken aback by this relaxed approach to dentistry. And I started to wonder whether, as a result, the average Spaniard has problems with his teeth—or indeed, has teeth at all.

I thus embarked on an earnest—albeit unscientific—survey. For weeks thereafter, I carefully observed the teeth of every Spaniard with whom I conversed or had close contact. This was an endeavor that undoubtedly caused many Spanish women to wonder, “Why is this strange man *not* looking at my breasts?”

In the end, however, my survey yielded a startling conclusion: Most Spaniards have very nice teeth. Certainly better than the specimens one is likely to find in places like rural Arkansas or Windsor Castle.

How could this be? Well…I have some theories.

Perhaps US dentistry is unnecessarily conservative.

Perhaps the Mediterranean diet—with its abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables—is nature’s recipe for keeping one’s choppers in good health and working order.

Or perhaps the secret is the Spanish grappa known as orujo. Orujo does, after all, look, smell and taste like Listerine®. And based on a different survey that I’ve recently conducted, an awful lot of people gargle with it several times per day.
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Sunday, May 29, 2005


Adding another instalment to this egotistical and self-serving series, I’m proud to announce that my mother-in-law’s new book, English Through Movies: The Wizard of Oz (published by Dykinson Press), came hot off the presses this week.

The book is intended to help students improve their English through the history, story and script of the famous MGM movie and the L. Frank Baum book upon which it was based.

I didn’t write the book, but I edited it and wrote the Foreword. Sure, I had the easy job. Sure, my contribution was 1/1000th that of my mother-in-law’s. But hey…I still feel entitled to a MOMENT OF SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION!!!


Don't I?
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Tuesday, May 24, 2005


Well…I guess that I’ve teased enough.

Why haven’t I published much on this blog lately? Because I’ve been chosen to be the “Expat Blogger” for the Expatica Spain website.

It’s an exciting opportunity. Expatica is a news website for English-speaking foreigners living in Spain. It has a readership of 30,000+. Expatica has sister sites for Germany and France—each with its own “official” in-country blogger.

My Expatica blog is located at the following URL:

Please check it out. The style and content of my Expatica posts will be the same as those to which you’ve grown accustomed—i.e., silly essays about life in Spain.

So…what does it mean for THIS (the original VTB) blog? Well…I’m certainly not going to retire this site. I’ve grown fond of this blog, and (I promise) will continue to publish on it. However…I’ll likely publish with a bit less frequency. And the stuff that I do publish may be more “out there” (i.e., stuff that would likely cause Expatica’s editors to scratch their heads).

The Virtual Tapas Bar will not only continue, but has multiplied.
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Tuesday, May 17, 2005


A few weeks ago, this blog broke the disturbing story of a water bottle lynching that occurred here in Cabanillas del Campo. Then—earlier this afternoon—I stumbled upon the gruesome scene pictured above.

Ya know…it’s one thing to string-up a filth-encrusted Evian® bottle. But when people commit random acts of savagery against Pookie…that’s taking it too far!

Somebody call the A-Team! I hear that Mr. T comes cheaply these days.

In all seriousness (or, at least, as serious as I’m capable of being in print), this photo is of a vegetable garden located around the block from my house. The owner—an energetic man in his ‘70’s—surely intended this teddy bear to serve as a make-shift scarecrow.

I don’t know if it has scared any crows, but one thing’s for sure—it has definitely scared all the three-year old kids in the neighborhood.
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Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t published much during the past couple of weeks. Yes, I do have an explanation—and it has nothing to do with writer’s block, mononucleosis, Trojan horse viruses or fractured shoulders. It’s actually very good news.

What is the explanation?

I’ll tell you within the next week or so. Stay tuned…

Friday, May 06, 2005


Photo credit: The cardiologist in the next booth.

My sister, Nina—concerned that I might be starved for American culture—sent me this photo of two men (undoubtedly tax partners from a large law firm) preparing to enjoy their Last Supper.

They are at a bar called Denny’s Beer Barrel Pub in Clearfield, Pennsylvania. For $30, Denny’s will serve you THIS—a 15-pound hamburger.

I’m not sure why anyone would want a 15-pound hamburger, but have long-suspected that if such a person did exist—he’d likely be living in Pennsylvania. This is, after all, a place where the first day of buck season is designated a state holiday.

What? You think I’m kidding?!

Certain people might cite this as a prime example of why the US has such a high rate of obesity; but I disagree.

A 15-pound hamburger is not responsible for the Airbus®-sized girth of Americans. More likely, it’s the 15-quart mug of beer that comes with it.
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Monday, May 02, 2005


Theoretically-speaking, there are two kinds of barbers in Spain—those that talk a lot, and those that don’t. The reason that I say “theoretically” is because there are, in fact, no barbers in Spain that fall into the latter category.

But it gets more complicated still. Within the former category, there are two subgroups—those barbers that actually cut hair while talking, and those that don’t.

Sonia—who is my barber—don’t.

I go to Sonia for a hairtalk—I mean, a haircut—every four to six weeks, and each lasts at least thirty minutes. Now, this may not seem like an excessive amount of time for a haircut—until you realize that I only have about four hairs on my head.

Mind you, I certainly wouldn’t mind a little chit-chat in the barber’s chair—and in fact, it would be most beneficial for my abysmal language skills—if each sentence were punctuated by the sound of snip, snip, snip. But alas, punctuation isn’t her strong suit. And no matter how fidgety, dour or fatalistic I try to appear, it makes no difference. If Sal won’t talk to Sonia, then the lady on the left will. And the lady on the right. And the lady who just walked in the door. And the lady who has just called on the telephone. And the lady who has not just called on the telephone, because Sonia took the initiative to call her first.

I had my hair cut this morning, and arrived at Sonia’s ready for research. Tucked stealthily under my shirt were a pad, pencil and calculator—and yes, that *was* a slide-rule in my pants. I took diligent notes and, having just finished analyzing the data, hereby report that this morning’s haircut yielded one snip of the scissors for every 27 verbs, 14 predicates and 6.7 reflexive pronouns. If that’s not statistically significant, then I don’t know what is.

My wife says that I’m being an ass, and that I shouldn’t let any of this bother me. It is, after all, a “cultural thing.” We Americans put a high value on time, and are loathe to waste it. In this respect, we are like the Germans—except with much better taste in eyeglasses. But the Spanish, true to the stereotype, are a mañana, mañana, mañana culture—and no amount of pleading on behalf of an asymmetrical set of sideburns is likely to change that.

But after spending far too much time thinking about this (and on a vacation day, no less!), I’ve concluded that—perhaps for the first time ever—my wife may be wrong. Perhaps the reason behind the endless Spanish haircut is not a cultural one, but rather a business one. And a brilliant business one, at that!

Just think about it. By the time Sonia finishes my haircut, I’m in need of another.
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