Thursday, September 29, 2005


Regular readers of this blog—and in particular, its Comments section—should be familiar with my Viking friend “Anders” from Copenhagen. Well…now you know what he looks like.

Here we see Anders on a “business trip” at Munich’s Oktoberfest earlier this week.

Anders and I are alike in one respect: we each weigh approximately 145 lbs. Yet at the time that the above photo was taken, he had inhaled four liters of German-brewed Paulaner® beer and an untold quantity of pig parts. And then, he drank ANOTHER three liters before being air-lifted to his hotel room at 4am.

Have you ever weighed seven liters of beer? Well, I have…and it weighs 144 lbs.

Some men are destined for greatness. Others for detox. Anders my friend, have a great detox!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Photo: Madrid Hash House Harriers do Asturias.

No, don’t call me Ishmail. Call me “Dura-Sal.”

This is the Hash name with which I was christened during a trip to northern Spain’s Asturias region with the Madrid Hash House Harriers last weekend.

The naming ceremony—which involved me kneeling on the ground and being covered from head to toe in flour and beer—was a brief yet touching affair.

But why the name “Dura-Sal?” Well…as with so many Hash names, the explanation is a testament to the convoluted way in which the collective brain of a group of drunkards tends to function.

The story goes as follows. During my first Hash, a woman named “Ever Ready” spent hours trying to sell me a CD of parody songs that was produced and performed by members of the group. But with a price tag of 15€, the chastity belt around my wallet held as firmly as a Burmese python. Finally, in exasperation, she cried, “Your name is Sal?! It should be Hard Sell!”

Then somebody noted that the Spanish word for “hard” is “dura.” Then somebody noticed that when you place “dura-sell” together, it sounds like the battery. Then somebody had the brilliant idea of replacing “sell” with “Sal,” and thus…“Dura-Sal” was born.

Quite honestly, I preferred the name “Pulled Pork”—which is what some members were unofficially calling me during the prior weeks. Why “Pulled Pork?” Because I brought 7 lbs. of barbequed pulled pork to a Hash picnic last month and the crowd—despite being utterly confused about what it was and how to eat it—seemed to love it.

But that’s neither here nor there. Dura-Sal is the name that I was given, and I’m not complaining.

Besides, it could’ve been much worse. There’s one member of the group named “Rat with a Sweet Snatch.” Try explaining that one to your grandmother.

Thursday, September 22, 2005


After living in Spain for nearly six years, I felt that I should make at least one friend who wasn’t a bartender. So I went to Expatica’s website, scrolled through the “Clubs & Groups” listing, and noticed an interesting entry: The Madrid Hash House Harriers.

This looked intriguing. So…I did a bit of research.

It turns out that the Hash House Harriers is a world-wide network of running/drinking/social clubs that’s largely populated with lonely expats from English-speaking countries. It was founded in 1938 by a group of British civil servants stationed in Kuala Lampur that sought to promote health and fitness via weekly organized runs…and then to sabotage those benefits by guzzling copious quantities of beer immediately thereafter. They decided to form a club around this yin-yang activity, and the rest—as they say—is history. Today, there are more than 1,200 Hash House Harrier clubs scattered throughout 160 countries—including six in Spain (i.e., Madrid, Barcelona, Rota, Mijas, Malaga and Mallorca).

By the way…the term “Hash” has nothing to do with hashish. It refers to the abysmal food that was served at Kuala Lampur’s Royal Selangor Club, where the founding members lived. My apologies to those study-abroad university students whose heart rates I may have inadvertently elevated during the prior three paragraphs.

Anyway…a few Saturdays ago, I donned my Nike® trainers, blew the dust from my much-neglected social skills and drove to a “Hash.” Promptly upon my arrival, I was greeted (in English!) by a friendly group of nuts with names like “Clutching Hand,” “Sex Mex,” “Razor” and—my personal favorite, although I still don’t have the nerve to call her this to her face—“Bird Shit.” Apparently, all members are given a Hash Name. I’ve not yet received mine, although I might propose something like “Man in Search of Book-deal.”

The Hash itself is divided into three phases: the run, the Circle, and the On-after.

The run (usually between 5-12 kilometers) takes place in a different location each week, and is modeled on the concept of hounds and hares. The “Hare” (i.e., the person organizing that week’s run) marks a trail with dots of flour that the Hashers are expected to follow. But it’s not quite so easy. The dots often wind through forests, up hills and across streams. Further complicating matters, the Hare frequently leads the runners down a series of false trails. This is done not only for the Hare’s amusement, but also to allow the walkers and slower runners to catch-up with the faster ones.

After the run, all members proceed to The Circle. The Circle—which can last from ten minutes to the half-life of uranium—is a mechanism designed to punish those Hashers who committed grievous offenses during the run. Offenses include racing, wearing new shoes, taking shortcuts, and (as you might’ve guessed) being a first-time Hasher. The punishment for these (and other real, imagined, written and unwritten offenses) is known as a Down-Down—i.e., being handed a cup of beer which must be poured down the hatch or over the head.

After The Circle, Hashers proceed to the On-After…which is either a picnic (in summer) or lunch at a nearby restaurant.

It’s all great fun, and an effective tonic for quelling the occasional pang of homesickness. If running isn’t your cup of tea, then there are plenty of other expat clubs throughout Spain that cater to an array of interests; whether popular or esoteric. You’d be amazed at the variety once you start looking.

But I’m no longer looking, because I’ve found mine. The only problem is…how do I tell my parents back home that I’ve become addicted to Hash?

Saturday, September 17, 2005


My eleven year-old nephew from the US is dying to come visit me in Spain. But it’s not because he misses his uncle. Or has a passion for paella. Or feels a burning desire to view of works of Velazquez before becoming a teenager. No…he wants to come to Spain for one thing and one thing only: Nudity!

Spain is a waking, walking, wet dream for an American kid on the cusp (or in the depths!) of puberty. If you don’t believe me, then go to any street-corner newspaper stand and see for yourself. Today’s issue of El Pais will likely be flanked by a bevy of DVD’s displaying supple young maidens wearing nothing but eye-liner.

Need more proof? Watch any commercial for shampoo or baby-products on Spanish television, and you’ll be assured a gratuitous breast…or two.

Then there are the beaches. Q: What’s the difference between a Spanish beach and a nude beach? A: Three square centimeters of Lycra®.

Now…you might not have noticed Spain’s delicious smorgasbord of flesh-on-display if you moved here from another European country. The British, I assume, have been desensitized after a lifetime of exposure to page 3 of The Sun and adverts from leather-corseted entrepreneurs plastered onto those charming red phone booths. And for reasons that I need not mention, my Dutch readers are even more likely to be wondering what the fuss is about.

But remember that both my nephew and I come from this US—and to an American, Spain’s liberal (and, dare I say, healthy) attitude toward the human body amounts to culture shock of the highest order. Our homeland is, after all, a place where the television broadcast of sumo wrestling is apt to trigger an avalanche of letters demanding that future bashos implement a “mandatory Bermuda shorts” policy.

And boy-oh-boy…don’t *even* get me started on Janet Jackson’s 2004 Superbowl controversy. Socially-conservative US politicians and commentators wailed that this two-nanosecond flash of a thirty-five year-old woman’s partially-obscured nipple would traumatize America’s youth for at least four generations. Indeed, it was deemed an event more psychologically damaging than that of a young Bruce Wayne watching his parents gunned-down by The Joker.

But I’ve often imagined how this event (or non-event, depending on your point-of-view) might have been discussed between a Spanish mother and her eight year-old son. It would probably go as follows:

Spanish son: Mamá! Why are those American people yelling and holding big

Spanish Mother: They’re upset, cariño, because Janet Jackson showed her booby on TV.

Son: But why are they upset? We see lots of boobies on TV here? In fact, I saw yours in Benidorm last August.

Mother: I know, hijo…I know. But they’re also angry because that naughty Justin Timberlake touched it.

Son: But, Mamá…Justin Timberlake is only one man. There were five men touching a woman’s booby on that DVD for sale at the newspaper shop. You know…the one next to the Mars Bars®.

Indeed! It’s all much ado about nothing, and I’m hoping that my eleven year-old nephew realizes the same when he finally comes to visit. But if he ultimately fails to adopt Spain’s ho-hum attitude toward the human body, then at least he’ll have a lot interesting digital photos to show his friends back home.

Man! Is HE going to be a popular kid on the school playground.


Our good friend Harsh—the tech-crazy, food-crazy, world-traveling management consultant—was recently dragged from his posh assignments in London and Rome to work on a project in Dallas. He summarized his observations on life in the Lone Star State in his blog earlier today; which included this golden nugget:

Texas is all about beef barbequeue, so pulled pork and pork ribs just aren't as popular. Hell, out here people use beef as a condiment (for their beef)[.]

Saturday, September 10, 2005


I’ve often suspected that Spaniards are part-vampire. Why? Because they go out of their ways to avoid sunshine. And nowhere is this more true than in the home.

If you don’t believe me, then take a midday stroll down any residential street in Madrid or Barcelona and look up. You’ll notice that the windows of most people’s homes and apartments are hermetically-sealed with heavy curtains or aluminum persiana blinds. God forbid that a sliver of sunlight should be permitted foreplay with the long-suffering ficus in that fourth floor apartment on Calle Goya!

I must admit that this practice of compulsive sun-avoidance has puzzled me since the moment I arrived in Spain. After all, if you loathe the sun, then why live in a country that averages 364.67 cloudless days per year? I’m sure that an enthusiastic partner to a house-swap could be found by selecting any name at random from the Seattle or Edinburgh phone books.

But I don’t just find this behavior puzzling. It strikes me as a bit cheeky, as well. There is—you might be interested to know—a psychological illness called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that strikes many people who live in countries with good beer. People suffering from SAD experience mild to severe depression during times of the year when the weather is especially dreary. The most common treatment for SAD is to sit in front of a “Lightbox”—i.e., a box emitting a bright light that boosts the spirits by acting as a surrogate sun.

How ironic, then, that Spain—a country that, for all intents and purposes, is a 1,000 kilometer-long Lightbox—has a population that maintains their living rooms under conditions suitable for film development. It’s a bit like the Wall Street business executive who rakes in millions, then moans about the amount of income taxes that he must pay. SAD. Very SAD indeed.

Anyway…after nearly six years of bewilderment, I couldn’t contain my curiosity any longer. I thus decided to seek answers by undertaking a scientifically-rigorous survey of every Spaniard I know—or, at least, those who were still speaking to me at the time.

And after grilling those two Spaniards, a startling trend emerged. Their responses were nearly identical—and presumably not just because they were married. Here is the transcript of our interview:

Sal: “Why do keep your curtains closed during the day?”

Spaniard: “So that the house doesn’t get hot.”

Sal: “Why don’t you just open a window?”

Spaniard: “Because the curtains are closed.”
There you have it! The greatest puzzle since Fermat’s Last Theorem has been solved! Sure, I might’ve preferred a more scholarly conclusion—like, for example, that living in light-deprived dwellings is a carry-over from Spain’s agricultural era when midday siestas were a necessity rather than a luxury—but facts are facts. Besides, the simplest answers are often the most incisive…and such is the enormity of my finding that I’ve personally spoken with well-placed people in Oslo—but, regrettably, they inform that nobody has ever won a Nobel Prize through the use of circular reasoning.

Then what, you may ask, has become of my vampire theory? Well, I’ve discarded it due to a fundamental flaw that I discovered during last night’s dinner: Vampires can’t exist in country that uses so much garlic in its cooking.
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I DON'T MEAN TO SCARE YOU, BUT... a heavily outclassed prizefighter, I am lifting myself—battered and bloodied—from the canvas.

My epic battle with those blasted flower pots WILL go another round.

And this's personal!


Thursday, September 08, 2005


Hi folks. Remember me?

I’ve just returned from two weeks’ vacation. Sorry for not providing advance notice, but—given that I’ve long-since disclosed my true name and home-town—it didn’t seem prudent to tell the Internet’s three zillion users that the material possessions in my vacant house would be available for an unobstructed fourteen day harvest.

Anyway…it was a good trip back to the new world. Best of all was the flight there. Admittedly, I had some concerns about taking a three year old on a nine-hour trans-Atlantic flight, but they quickly dissolved when the ticket agent uttered my three favorite words: “We’re upgrading you.”

But this wasn’t a mere upgrade to Business Class. No, no, no. Those bloody fools sent us all the way to First Class. First Class, dammit! That’s something I *never* thought I’d experience, because (amongst other reasons) I’m a first-class cheapskate.

My daughter, in particular, appreciated the experience. The photo above—which I’d be pleased to license to Iberia Airlines for a mutually-agreeable royalty—shows her enjoying an episode of Sesame Street at forty thousand feet on her own private video monitor. But her favorite perq was that little button that reclined her ample, well-cushioned seat into a fully-horizontal bed…thirty or forty times within a span of nine-hours.

My apologies to the infinitely patient woman sitting across the aisle. A nomination for her beatification has been sent to Pope Benedict in this morning’s post.

If there was a downside to receiving this upgrade, however, it was that we *didn’t* get one during the trip back to Spain. Of course, I didn’t expect that we would. Lightning rarely strikes twice in these matters.

But try explaining that to a three year old. Especially one who believes that airplanes can’t fly until all passengers have been given a glass of champagne and a steamed linen washcloth.