Wednesday, December 14, 2005


I am constantly amazed at the Spanish male’s ability—and willingness!—to drink 80-proof alcohol at times of the day when my own body wants nothing more than a large dose of caffeine.

I’ve seen this scenario repeat itself in Barcelona, Madrid, Guadalajara and nearly every other town that I’ve visited during my six years here.

There I am...sitting bleary-eyed and saggy-cheeked in a bar. It’s breakfast-time, and I’m holding a café con leche and a chocolate chip muffin. All around me, however, are beefy men in coveralls smoking cigarettes, reading “Marca” and—as God is my witness—guzzling snifters of brandy, orujo and anís.

Brandy, orujo and anís! First thing in the morning!

I’ve told this to my friends and family in the US, and they are likewise astounded. Some even doubt that I’m telling the truth. So one morning several weeks ago, I went to my favorite Sanchoville bar at 10:15am armed with a pen and Moleskine notepad. My mission: To conduct an earnest (albeit unscientific) survey of what the bar patrons were drinking at that tender hour.

There were thirteen men in the bar, and this is what they were drinking:

- Five (5) coffees.
- Five (5) mugs of beers.
- Three (3) snifters of anis dulce (i.e., a sweetened, licorice-flavored liquor).
- One (1) snifter of orujo (i.e., a grappa-like liquor).
- One (1) snifter of brandy.
- One (1) bottle of alcohol-free beer (he either had a very difficult
night, or mistakenly thought it was Lent).

And then—just like that—they finished their drinks, paid their bills and returned to their welding torches and construction scaffolding.

Quite honestly, I don’t understand how these tequila sunrisers were able to keep their eyes open (let alone, work) after such a “breakfast.” Alcohol is, after all, a depressant. And one would assume that a mug and/or snifter full of depressant so early in the morning might lead to thirteen drooling heads snoozing peacefully on the bar’s countertop. But that wasn’t the case. In fact (and ironically enough), the only person in the bar whose posture and demeanor resembled those of Abe Vigoda was...ME!

Anyway...I showed my survey results to José—the owner and bartender extraordinaire—and asked how is it possible that these people can drink so early in the morning...EVERY morning.

“It’s crazy!” he said, banging his fist onto the bar. “They’re doing a lot of damage to their bodies!” José’s moral outrage at the manner in which these men were slowly killing themselves was, perhaps, only exceeded by his delight in that they were doing so at his profit.

But I wonder...are they really killing themselves? I assumed so, until I did a little research and discovered that the life expectancy in Spain—not only for women, but also for men!—is higher than that of the US. Those thirteen men in my survey are likely to outlive the thirteen spandex-clad men who, at this very moment, are huffing and puffing in a Kickboxing Aerobics class in Van Nuys, California.

The Spanish Paradox? Could be. Just imagine if the television show “60 Minutes” should get ahold of this information. I can see it now. All throughot the US, Human Resources Departments will supply employees with morning-time glasses a brandy, orujo and anís as part of their corporate “Wellness Program.”

Dilbert won’t just live longer; he’ll live a whole lot happier.


At 5:07 PM, Blogger ironporer said...

The volume of alchohol consumed in Spain is truely amazing- though as my wife and I discussed the other day- in Spain they consume much more booze on a daily basis than we do, but it is a little at a time. A revuelto or anise in the early morning, a chato de vino tinto or a beer or two with their almuerzo, a few more beers or wines at 1:00 with a tapa or two, before with lunch, a carajillo and copa after lunch, more beer with the merienda at 5-6, then maybe a few cubatas later, followed by more wine with dinner at 10:00 pm.
Perhaps the longevity is caused by the antiseptic/antibacterial property of alchohol- if taken internally does it also kill germs??

At 11:11 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

BTW...I would like to state, with all due sincerity, that Iron Man's description above is 100% accurate.

That IS the drinking regime for many, many Spaniards. And I must say...they handle it well.

Thanks Iron Man. Now go get yourself Tom Collins.


At 12:03 AM, Blogger GC PHILO said...

My favorite is when they mix their coffee WITH the alcohol!

At 2:42 PM, Blogger ironporer said...

As one who learned to drink coffee and for that matter alchohol, I just want to express my gratitude to Spain for inventing the carajillo...expresso coffee with brandy of anise. Que lastima that here in the USA we never seemed to accept the expresso machines, and the coffee nectar they make. 100 years later with the advent of Starbucks, Americans seem to have discovered that expresso coffee beats the pants off percolator or Mr. Coffee made java. Too bad Starbucks doesn't keep a bottle of Osborne brandy close by.

At 8:44 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

GC and Iron Man:

Yes, the carajillo is a miracle of human ingenuity. It really does taste great. I've seen many drink their's with brandy, but I (like Iron Man) prefer anís.

My reasons are partially nostalgic. When I was a kid, my Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Jack used to feed the the Italo-American version at their camp in Sylvan Beach, NY. They would make espresso on a stove top espresso pot, and then spike it with a shot of anisette. That's living high on the hog for a seven year old.

I associate certain relatives with certain foods. Ev and Jack with carajillos. Aunt Mae and Uncle Angelo with pears (from the pear tree in their back yard). Nonnie with (of course) pusties. Grandma with spaghetti and calamari sauce.

With a family like that, it's amazing that I'm not clinically obese.

Anyway, Iron Man...stop by during your next trip to Z and we'll do a carajillo and talk some foundry.


At 8:00 AM, Anonymous Kick Shoe said...

Since alcohol is a depressant, would it stand to reason that it is also a relaxant and that is the reason for the longevity? Is stress killing Americans? Maybe. It sounds like the Spanish have the cure. It's also amazing that the Spanish live longer considering how much they smoke. I'm going to start drinking more.

At 6:27 PM, Blogger cave renovator said...

I love the Spanish bars, the several that are in my local village are allways full first thing in the morning, alcohol in coffee - yeah! and little and often agreed.

apparently since moving to Andalucia I can expect to live 5 years longer (according to some anylist) Hope he/she is right!

Great blog


At 7:00 AM, Anonymous Jo Rutherford said...

I've always been of the opinion that Spainiards and all things Spanish were intrinsiclly superior to everything else on the planet. ::grins wryly:: Otherwise how can you explain Turrones, ensaimadas, espresso, churros, bunelos, and paella? I envy you sir, living in Spain. Hats off to you and enjoy it to it's fullest!


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