Thursday, March 09, 2006


[Note: Prolonging my current streak of abject laziness, here is yet another essay that I’ve recently had published in Expatica Spain.]

The conversation is always the same.

Madrileño: Hi! I’m Juan.
Sal: Hi, Juan. I’m Sal.
Madrileño: Where do you live, Sal?
Sal: Guadalajara.
[Perplexed, indignant silence.]
Madrileño: Why?

I have this conversation with non-Madrileños, too. The only difference is that the “Why?” is replaced with “Where?”

Well...I can no longer tolerate such flippancy toward my adopted province. In this week’s essay, I shall unsheath Excalibur and defend the honor of Guadalajara....or fall asleep trying.

Let’s start with the basics. Where is Guadalajara?

The objective answer is that it’s a province within the Automous Community of Castilla-LaMancha—located approximately fifty kilometers (i.e., thirty miles) east of Madrid. The subjective answer, however, varies widely depending on who you ask.

If you ask a Madrileño—a creature that habitually calculates distances in the same manner that he calculates dog years—he’ll burst into hysterics. Guadalajara is “a far-flung outpost—practically a gulag!—precariously plunked-down in the middle of a frozen, desolate tundra.”

If you ask me, I’ll tell you that Guadalajara is “a suburb of Madrid.”

And I’m right, of course. The trek from Guadaljara to Madrid is less than the daily commute to work for many Chicagoans or New Yorkers. Indeed, we enlightened Guadalajara dwellers have the best of both worlds. On the one hand, we have peace, quiet and plenty of free parking. On the other hand, I can walk out my front door and—thirty to forty minutes later—be sitting in a downtown Madrid curry house stuffing my face full of vindaloo.

Oddly, Guadalajara’s office of tourism has done little to promote the area’s curry-friendly attributes. But I digress.

Whenever I offer this proximity argument to skeptics, their response is predicatable. “If Guadalajara is so close to Madrid,” they sputter, “then why not just live in Madrid?”

The answer is simple. Economics! I could live in a sixty square meter condo in Madrid. Or, for the same price, I could live in a house in Guadalajara province that’s three to four times larger. That’s right...a house! With a basement that can accomodate a beer can collection, and a yard that can accomodate a big ol’ smoky barbecue pit.

Beer cans and barbecues may seem trivial to some, but I can assure you that they are sacred cows to an American.

Yet even when faced with these arguments, some naysayers continue to resist. And they’ll invetiable turn to that most squishy of topics...quality of life. “How,” they bluster, “can you live in a place without museums? Or opera houses? Theaters?”

To which I respond, “When was the last time you went to a museum or an opera house or a theater during the workweek?”

But lest you think I’m skirting the issue, let me be clear. We may not have Frank Gehry buildings or Velasquez collections here in Guadalajara, but we *do* have other cultural gems.

We have, for instance, world-class cuisine! In my earlier essay entitled “The Celebrity Roast, I discussed at length the soul-satisfying pleasures of our wood-fired meats—especially Guadalajara’s famed cabrito asado. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We also have Sopa Castellana—a big, heavy bowl of egg-topped, porky goodness that flaunts the convention that soup is light, healthy fare. We have Pisto Manchego—central Spain’s version of ratatouille. We have Queso Manchego—arguably the most famous of Spain’s cheeses. And for dessert, we have Bizcocho Borracho—a syrup-soaked, belly bomb of a pastry that’s tooth-achingly sweet and as dense as depleted uranium. is if it’s made correctly.

And we have nature! Enough plains, mountains, rivers, valleys and trails to please the most demanding hiker or Hasher.

And we have architecture! Unique architecture! Constructed not from undulating waves of glistening titanium, but from...chalkboards? That’s right! Guadalajara province is famous for its arquitectura negra (i.e., black architecture). The exterior of homes, churches and municipal buildings in some parts of this area are covered with layer-upon-layer of flat, thin, black sheets of slate.

Slate—for those of you born after 1985—is the material from which chalkboards were made in the good ol’ days before the invention of PowerPoint.

And let’s not forget that this region was the stomping ground of the most famous character in Spanish literature—Don Quixote. That’s Don Quixote *de LaMancha*...get it? Jeez!!! That fact alone makes me wonder why this essay is even necessary. Castilla-LaMancha, including Guadalajara province, ought to be Spain’s most popular region simply by riding on the Don’s coattails.

Unless...that same masterpiece is, in fact, the source of the region’s woes. Could it be that most Spaniards—and Madrileños in particular—poo-poo Guadalajara because they suffer an irrational fear of being attacked by windmills?


At 6:00 PM, Blogger Angie said...

Being quite the active supporter of abject laziness myself, I forgive you.

I never realized that the Madrilenos (excuse my missing "~") had such an attitude toward Guadalajara. I never fail to learn when I drink from the keg of wisdom at the VTB. (Even though I AM old enough to remember slate chalkboards!) :)

At 6:30 PM, Anonymous sp said...

Oh Sal...

It is the suburbs. Or, as we would say here in San Francisco, "the bridge and tunnel crowd". ;-)

(Though, I do admit to longing for the free parking in the suburbs.)

Nice post.

At 9:14 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Hey! Look what the tail-less cat dragged in. It's Ang!

I'm not surprized that you're unaware of the Madrileño attitude. I'll betcha none of the Madrileños that you hung-out with so much as mentioned G-town. I've met many who've never even visited Guadalajara. We're only a half-hour away, for God's sake. And we have goat!

Hey! Look who's back. It's Hollywood director, Sidney Pollack!

No bridges or tunnels in my neck of the woods. I guess we'd be the "shepherd and olive tree crowd." We do have traffic jams here. But the sheep and goats jamming the traffic.

Still feeling lazy, everyone. Sorry. I'm searching for a muse.


At 10:25 PM, Blogger christina said...

Still feeling lazy, everyone. Sorry. I'm searching for a muse.

Check your fridge. Then do a post on "Weird Spanish Food - Part 17"

Funny, we have Manchego cheese and windmills too, but I think the similarities stop there, except maybe for everyone saying "You left there to live HERE? What in the world were you thinking?"

At 12:08 AM, Blogger Angie said...

Yes, I'm alive! And similarly muse-less, at least on the blogging front. (Although a while back I started a post on my new MOLESKINE -- even before you demanded it -- but I just haven't finished it yet.)

The good news is I have actually worked a bit on my future New York Times-bestselling novel, set in Spain. Get this -- I wanted an expat character, so I decided on a Spanish man and his American wife living in Madrid (because who lives ANYWHERE but Madrid?). I have the hardest time coming up with names, so I called the woman "Christina" (obviously inspired by Mrs. M) for the time being and the man "Raul," because it is short, easy to spell, and because I once kissed a cute art student in Madrid named Raul. :)

And after writing about six pages, I remembered that Raoul and Christine are the main characters in "Phantom of the Opera."

New name suggestions appreciated!

At 9:52 AM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...


I won't comment on the US girl names. Just don't use "Heather."

As for men's names, here are some possibilities:
- Carlos
- Ezequiel
- Ángel
- Adrián
- Daniel
- Román
- Gonzalo
- Hugo
- Armando
[All of the above are boys in my daughter's class]
- Luis (my favorite Spanish director)
- Juan Carlos...Juan Manuel (Juanma)...Juan José (Juanjo)
- Federico (Fede)...Juan Luis...Juan Antonio
- Pablo...Pedro (both of which are too common, if you ask me)
- Paco
- Jesús
- Chema
- Alvaro
- Alejandro
- Lorenzo
- Blas
- Eppi
- Julian
- Jorge
- Mario
- Mariano
- Salvador (Salva)...never "Sal" because it causes great confusion with Spaniards.
- Manuel
- Victor

There's a start, for ya. If you want the dude to be of Catalan, Basque or Galician descent, then that opens a whole ´nuther set of doors.

Bonus: If your main characters have friends who are a Spanish couple, their names could be José María (the man) and María José (the woman). That set-up offers a lot of comic potential. Especially if "Heather" doesn't like them ("Oh shit! We're having dinner with the Palindromes tonight?!")


At 9:53 AM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

PS: I think I spelled "Eppi" wrong above. It should probably be "Epi." But you shouldn't choose it, since that is the name of Ernie on Sesame Street.

At 6:12 PM, Blogger GC PHILO said...

I think I passed by your neck of the woods once on a bus-ride from Sevilla to Madrid and, sorry to say, I didn't even think of getting off. Those windmills really are damn intimidating, and, besides, I don't even have any magic elixir to help me out in case things get ugly.

At 4:27 PM, Anonymous JRPfeff said...

SAT Revisited.

Guadalajara is to Madrid, as ________ is to Chicago.

At 6:31 PM, Blogger Expat Traveler said...

Hey Sal - I love that photo of the building. Ok - I check back in, no new post. I get busy and check back in and I'm swamped with new posts... What's up with that.... :)


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