Monday, October 31, 2005


It may come as a shock to people living in northern Spain's Ireland-like Asturias region, but much of Spain has been suffering a nasty drought lately. Things have been especially parched here in Guadalajara—a province whose “How I spent my Summer Vacation” essay would need only two words: “On fire!”

Local officials in my hometown of Cabanillas del Campo have spent many a disturbed coffee-break pondering drought-related issues. The first indication of a looming crisis appeared last June. That’s when City Hall distributed an urgent message advising that municipal water supplies had dropped to a lowly 38% of capacity and pleading that citizens conserve water whenever possible. Suggestions included tightening drippy faucets, running dishwashers only when full and turning off the shower while lathering and shampooing.

I took this plea to heart, and then took it a step further by making the greatest sacrifice that a male of our species can make: I stopped watering my lawn.

This was a painful decision, yet an easy one. A beautiful garden, I reasoned, is clearly less important than assuring an ample supply of drinking water for the children of Cabanillas. Besides, an unwatered lawn is a lawn that won’t grow—and I’ll admit that the prospect of locking-away my lawn mower until Spring 2006 had a certain selfish appeal.

Well…my lawn quickly turned a deep shade of straw-yellow, and took on such a texture that only a well-trained Yogi would dare attempt to cross it with bare feet.

I couldn’t help noticing, however, that the squishy feelings of civic responsibility to which I’d fallen prey had not yet infected any of my neighbors. Indeed, a quick survey of the neighborhood established that mine was the *only* house sporting yellow grass. Everyone else’s lawn fell into one of two categories: (a) lush and green, or (b) buried under six inches of concrete—this latter category being a peculiarly Spanish phenomenon that I’ve not encountered elsewhere…except, perhaps, certain dangerous sections of The Bronx.

Still, I didn’t care. My yard looked like hell, but I wore it as a badge of honor.

Besides, I was quite enjoying the drought. I had, after all, spent thirty-two years living in lousy climates before moving to Spain in 1999 and as a result, eleven months of uninterrupted sunshine ranked pretty low on my “Personal Registry of Misery & Human Hardships.”

But alas, the dry-spell ended two weeks ago and Cabanillas received its first meaningful rainfall since November 2004. And when that first raindrop fell, something odd happened. I felt…excited. For the first time in my life, I actually felt *excited* about a rainy day. It was new! It was different! It was a change of pace! I could finally pull my red, flannel, lumberjack shirt from the closet. I could finally go jogging without the threat of acute sunstroke. And best of all…the air no longer smelled like dry-roasted dog poo.

Yes my friends…I was excited!

And then, twenty minutes later, the excitement passed. The rains, however, did not. They’ve continued (on and off) for more than a week, and my grass is already showing disturbing signs that my lawn mower’s retirement will be short-lived.

Perhaps I prayed too hard for rain. The next time I have an urge to dress like a lumberjack in the midst of a drought, I’ll just hop in my car and drive to Asturias.

Saturday, October 29, 2005


And many more.


Thursday, October 27, 2005


Some photos need no commentary.

And yes, I did take this one earlier this morning while walking home from Bar Alcázar. Welcome to rural Spain!

Monday, October 24, 2005


Spanish bartenders don’t tolerate age discrimination. They’ll serve alcohol to any patron—no matter how youthful-looking—who can establish his maturity via the following quiz:

BRIGHT-EYED PATRON: Bartender! Gimme a beer.

BARTENDER (leaning forward on one elbow): Do you intend to drink it from a glass? Or from a human nipple?

PATRON: Uhhh…from a glass.

BARTENDER (slapping the countertop): OK! Here’s your beer.

Of course, I’m exaggerating a bit. Spain has a minimum drinking age which, I’m fairly certain, is somewhere in the two-digits. And I’ve no doubt that most bartenders observe it conscientiously. But I’m still taken aback each time I discover that the person on the next bar-stool and I share a special affinity for the year 1985 (i.e., I completed my last semester of high school; he completed his last trimester of fetal development).

How could I not be taken aback? I come from a country that goes to the other extreme. In the US, one’s first legal sip of beer (at age 21!) often coincides with the sprouting of one’s first gray whisker. I had forgotten about this absurdity until last month, when I returned to the US for my first visit in nearly two years.

I was in a “gourmet” (i.e., overpriced) hamburger joint and ordered a pint of Bass® ale. The pimply-faced waitress asked to see proof of my age. Now, I’m a 38 years old. And if you’ve looked at my profile photo, it’s quite apparent. But I’m also familiar with the US’s inflexibility in these matters (and, in fact, spent most of my adolescent years finding ways around it), so I handed her my Spanish residency card—i.e., the only ID that I had in my wallet.

She held it at arm’s-length between her thumb and forefinger—in much the same way that a 7 year old from Tennessee might gawk at his first escargot in a French bistro—and said, “This isn’t an Illinois driver’s license.”

“I know. That’s because I don’t live in Illinois.”

“Ummmm...I need to, like, ask my manager. We usually don’t accept out-of-state ID’s.”

“But…but…the nipples! I won’t use nipples!”

Ten minutes later, the manager came to our table, took a brief look at the craggy, hairless relic that is my cranium, and said, “OK. We’ll get you that beer.”

Incredible, isn’t it? In this light, Spain’s relaxed attitude toward serving alcohol seems sensible. I’d imagine that there are some Spanish teens reading this essay and thinking, “Perhaps that study abroad program isn’t such a good idea, after all.”

The people I feel most sorry for, however, are US soldiers. They can be sent to war at age 18…but can’t legally drink until they’re 21. That’s not just illogical; it’s cruel! Why cruel? Because if I were being sent into a battlefield, I’d want to be as rip-snortin’ drunk as humanly possible.

Fortunately for our troops, I think I’ve found a loophole. An 18 year old soldier can’t drink a beer while stationed in the US, but what if the war was on foreign soil? Say, a country that does allow 18 year olds to drink. That would be OK, wouldn’t it?!

Of course, the existence of this loophole makes me happy that there are no US military generals under the age of 21. If there were, they might be tempted to invade Spain for this very reason.

Saturday, October 22, 2005


This post is brought to you by my new friend, Mac Mini. Cute, isn't she?

I picked it up in Madrid this morning, and...I like it. But it feels strange. Kinda like getting behind the wheel of a new car after you've traded-in your old beater that had 200,000 miles.

This is the first Apple that I've owned since the IIe that my parents gave us for Christmas in 1984. I continued using that same 64K workhorse all the way through my first year of law school in 1991 (and boy, did I get a lot of funny looks). But then I was shuffled into the corporate world and, by necessity, succumbed to its odd insistence on using Windows-based computers.

Earlier this week, however, it became apparent that I needed to buy a new computer for home use. The choice came down to the following: a fickle, temperamental, crash-prone Windows PC vs. an Apple that even a monkey could operate.

My decision, therefore, was a no-brainer...and so far, so good. I got her unpacked, configured and zipping through the Internet in less than an hour--despite my having the technical savvy of a sea otter.

But perhaps the nicest thing about being an Apple user is that I can finally stop worrying about viruses. Why? Because--as I'm told--my Mac Mini is immune to them. So I now surf the Internet in a tranquil, zen-like state. It's a feeling that, I'd imagine, is analogous to participating in a Hollywood orgy after receiving an FDA-approved AIDS vaccine.

Perhaps that's a bad analogy. We are, after all, talking about a Mini.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


Last Sunday, I decided to expand my jogging horizons beyond the goat pastures of Castilla-LaMancha and participated in the CSIC 10K race through downtown Madrid.

Five thousand people participated in the run—of which ten were actually trying to win it. My goal wasn’t to finish first; but rather, not to finish last.

I felt confident that I would achieve this goal. Here’s why.

I was wearing my iPod Shuffle MP3 player…as I always do when I run. As you probably know, the iPod Shuffle doesn’t have a screen and the songs play in a random order. You therefore don’t know which song is coming next. I hit the “Play” button as I crossed the starting line, and what do you think was the first song to hit my ears? It was The Byrds singing:

Jesus is just alright with me.
Jesus is just alright, oh yeah.
Jesus is just alright with me.
Jesus is just alright.

So I knew from the first step that Divine intervention was on my side. I finished the run in a little under 51 minutes. The last person finished much later.

The race’s winner, by the way, finished more than twenty minutes before I did. I wonder what song was playing on his iPod?

Friday, October 14, 2005


I know, I know…you’re all sick of the BBQ topic. But this, I promise, is the last beating of that dead horse—until 2006, at least.

Expatica Spain published my essay entitled “My Quixotic Quest for Q” last week. It’s kind of a synopsis of all the BBQ-related rants that you, my dear readers, have so patiently tolerated during the past three months.

Check it out by clicking here.

BTW…what’s the significance of 2006? Heh, heh, heh…I’ll let you know in two and a half months.

Saturday, October 08, 2005


A UPS truck rolled up to my house on Thursday. I opened the front door, and a guy in a brown jumpsuit handed me an enormous box marked “FRAGILE.” The return address was Copenhagen, Denmark.

I ran inside, tore open the box, and dug my way through thirty square meters of bubble-wrap, crumpled newspaper and packing peanuts. And what did I find buried in the middle?

Two bottles (half-liter each) of Paulaner® Oktoberfest Beer! Plus, a note that read as follows:

Hi Sal,

Now you can have your own private Oktoberfest!

BR from Denmark

The source of this prized booty was, of course, my Viking friend Anders—the man who put the “Great” in “Great Dane.”

Well…I certainly couldn’t let such Nordic hospitality go to waste, so I did indeed have my own private Oktoberfest last night.

And as I finished the second bottle, I had a “sobering” thought: In order for my Oktoberfest to equal the one that Anders had last week, I’d need to drink ANOTHER TWELVE BOTTLES before going to bed!

Fortunately, I didn’t have that option. Otherwise, a guy in a brown jumpsuit might’ve handed Anders an enormous box marked "DEAD BODY."
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I was leafing through my electronic photo archive tonight and stumbled upon this photo. It’s of a fully-haired, tackily-dressed, 19 year old Sal hanging out in the kitchen with his grandmother (whom I shall refer to as “Nonnie”…because that’s what I’ve called her since 1967).

I’ve mentioned Nonnie several times in the past (here and here). She is one of Italian-America’s great cooks, and here we see her putting the knife to a slab of fucazzo (i.e.,sort of a tomatoey onion pie with anchovies that all-but-guarantees that the person eating it will enjoy no romance during the following 24 hours).

Hey! If you can’t publish of photo of your grandmother for no particular reason, then what’s the point of having a damn blog?!

Monday, October 03, 2005


You can drink from a flower pot.

You can wash in a flower pot.

You can even sleep in a flower pot. you know what you *can’t* do in a flower pot? Do you? I’ll tell you. Come closer. Are you listening? Good.


Yes, believe it or not…the stupid man writing this blog wasted ANOTHER Saturday of his life trying to make barbeque in a friggin’ flower pot.

Somewhere in heaven, a rib-less pig is looking down on Spain and saying: “A flower pot?! I sacrificed my thorax so that this idiot could ruin it in a flower pot?!”

Why did I try this experiment again, after failing so miserably (and publicly) the first time? Well…it’s because I honestly believed that I had worked the bugs out. Recall that my first attempt failed because the electric hotplate inserted into the pot wouldn’t heat sufficiently to smoke the woodchips and sustain an internal temperature of 210ºF. So…I went to a hardware store and bought a 20cm-diameter burner that was designed for cooking paella. I shit-canned the hotplate, inserted the burner into the flower pot, connected it to a butane gas tank and fired it up. And you know what?

It worked! IT WORKED!!!

The wood chips smoked! The pot’s internal temperature shot-up to 210ºF! I tossed in two enormous slabs of spice-rubbed pork ribs and they wallowed in a heavenly veil of fragrant smoke! And then, after three hours…it died.

IT DIED! After only three hours, the burner died! A box of matches and a fresh butane tank later, it was STILL DEAD!

Q: What do you get when you smoke pork ribs for only three hours?
A: Rubber!

I don’t know how long I sat on the ground staring at my ice-cold, terra cotta torture chamber before regaining my senses, but a calmness eventually overcame me and I started thinking in philosophical tones.

I thought to myself, “When life hands you fertilizer, plant flowers.”

So that’s what I did. I removed the ribs, removed the burner, filled the pots with fertilizer, and planted flowers.

And when those flowers grow big and beautiful, I’m going to pick them, cover them with BBQ sauce, and eat the filthy bastards.
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