Saturday, May 06, 2006

THANKS FOR THE MEME-RIES (EXPATICA EDITION)

[Note: This is an essay that was recently published in Expatica Spain. The title is the same as an earlier post, but the content is different.]

It seems that no self-respecting, twenty-first century blog can survive without posting an occasional meme.

What’s a “meme?” To be honest, I’m still not 100% sure. It seems to be the blogging-world’s equivalent of a chain letter…but with an important difference. The typical meme involves a series of personal questions, and the blogger who is “tagged” to participate is expected to contribute his own soul-searching ramblings before forwarding it to others.

I’ve been tagged with many memes in my personal blog. And to be honest...I quite like them. Memes are an easy way to produce blog content with a minimum of brain strain.

So...if it’s good enough for my personal blog, then it ought to be good enough for my Expatica blog. Right? I’ve therefore taken the liberty of tagging myself with the suspiciously topical meme below.


WHAT’S THE MOST SURREAL EXPERIENCE YOU’VE HAD WHILE LIVING IN SPAIN:
That’s an easy one. I once spent a weekend in the Mediterranean coastal town of Javea; located between the Spanish cities of Valencia and Alicante. I was there because the Madrid Hash House Harriers held an “Away Hash” that was attended by nearly one hundred participants—some of whom flew in from Germany, Switzerland and England.

Our Saturday run took place near a large orange grove in the middle of nowhere. Before the run began, we gathered ‘round for a briefing and were informed that we would—at one point—be jogging through the scenic grounds of the Fontilles Leper Colony.

“Leper Colony?” I thought to myself. “Ha ha...nice try, but I’m not buying it. It may have been a leper colony a hundred years ago, but I’m sure it’s a Parador or museum or other tourist trap now.”

And so...the run began. Forty-five minutes into it, we passed through an old stone gate and into a large, walled complex of columned buildings, intricate ceramic works and wide lawns. We ran down a tiled walkway and around a corner. And as we rounded the corner, who do you think was there to greet us?

A smiling old man in a wheelchair. Waving to us with his right hand. Which, I should mention, was missing all of its fingers.


WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOURSELF SINCE MOVING TO SPAIN:
That my talent for written languages doesn’t transfer to spoken languages. No, no, no...not in the least.


IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE THING ABOUT SPAIN, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I’d require that stores stay open on Sundays. Yes...I understand that Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest. But a day of rest seems pointless if there’s no NFL American football to watch on TV.

[Author’s note: To be honest, I can’t stand watching NFL football. But the conditions of my US citizenship require that I pretend to love it.]


WOULD YOU CHANGE ANYTHING ELSE?
Yes. I’d forbid all supermarkets from playing David Bisbal songs over the intercom. I suspect that I’m overreaching on this one.


WHAT IS YOUR MOST UNFORGETTABLE DINING EXPERIENCE IN SPAIN?
I’m afraid that it involves...paella. Yes, yes...I know that paella has become Spain’s national cliché. Whenever a tourist returns from a Spanish holiday, he’ll surely rave about the unforgettable paella that he ate there. Then, upon cross-examination, he’ll grudgingly admit that said paella was served and eaten at a Pizza Hut in Benidorm.

Cliché or not...the fact remains that a truly great, authentic paella can be a life-altering experience. And my life was altered twice at family-run a restaurant in Parcent, Alicante called “Restaurante L’Era.”

I was there for lunch. It was one of those typically-Spanish, criminally-inexpensive, three-course fixed menus. The main course was paella; which was the specialty of the house. And when the server laid the pan on the table in front of me, my entire head was enveloped in a fragrant cloud of fresh seafood and wood smoke.

Wood smoke!

I knew that authentic paellas were *supposed* to be cooked over a wood fire (ideally, one fueled with grape vine clippings), but none of the seven or eight thousand that I’d previously eaten had been prepared in this manner. This was the first, and in a single instant...those previous seven or eight thousand paellas were immediately relegated to Pizza Hut status.

After lunch, the server agreed to let me tour the kitchen. I just *had* to see where this magnificent work of art was created. I opened the kitchen door, poked my head inside and was hit full in the face with what felt like the exhaust of a steel mill’s blast furnace. Running along the length of kitchen wall was a long, open hearth. It was ablaze with wood fire after wood fire—and cooking above each fire was pan after pan of paella. It was a scene more befitting a North Carolina pig roast than a family restaurant in rural Alicante.

I’ve been ruined for paella ever since. Once you’ve had wood, nothing else tastes as good.


AFTER LIVING IN SPAIN FOR SO MANY YEARS, WHAT’S THE ONE THING THAT STILL BOGGLES YOUR MIND?
Water bottles in front of doors! Why do homeowners place water bottles in front of their front doors? I’ve posed this question to countless people, and nobody has provided a rational explanation.


IF YOU COULD GIVE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE TO SOMEONE VISITING SPAIN, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Don’t miss the opportunity to stay in a Casa Rural. These are bed and breakfast-type places located in rural areas of Spain. There are hundreds—if not thousands—of them scattered throughout the country. They are often large, rustic, centuries-old houses that have been refurbished to their past glories. I’ve stayed at many throughout the years. Quality varies, of course, but most have been very nice. Some were absolutely fantastic! And the prices tend to be incredibly reasonable—often ranging from thirty to sixty euros per night.

ANY OTHER ADVICE TOURISTS?
Yes. Don’t...drink...the Sangría!


Well...I could go on for another fifty pages, but I think that I’ll end the meme here. It’s getting late, and I’ve been typing so much that my fingers feel like they’re going to fall off.

Wait a minute! My fingers HAVE fallen off!

Damn you, Fontilles Leper Colony!!!

16 Comments:

At 10:06 AM, Anonymous Karl said...

Sal,

I'm right with you on Sundays. It's pointless to have a day of rest without football. I was never into football when we lived in the US but that is probably one of things I miss the most now.

Karl

 
At 11:05 AM, Blogger Mike B said...

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At 11:06 AM, Blogger Mike B said...

I had a few nice paellas off the beaten path. The mose memorable thing was a t-bone steak (which has all but disapeared from Europe since the BSE scare ... you couldn't find them in Germany in any case) cooked over a wood-fired BBQ in sight of my table. Of course I am now going to obsess about having CVD.

Isn't Sangria what you do with the bad wine?

 
At 12:20 PM, Blogger CanadianSwiss said...

I agree with the Sundays. I actually find shopping very relaxing; it's just my credit card that gets stressed. BTW, I you're lucky the old man's hand (or arm) didn't fall off while waving ;-)

 
At 12:37 PM, Blogger estoypensando said...

Do you still wonder about the water bottles? . I asked once an old lady in Granadas Albaicín why she put all the water bottles around her house and this was her answer:You put them in the corner of your entrance door or tie them on the wheels of your parked car, to prevent dogs peeing on it.

 
At 4:08 PM, Blogger Cynthia Rae said...

I live in a country over run with cats. I was told that the water bottle will keep a cat from "marking" his territory on your front door. I can not think of a single reason WHY a water bottle would keep a cat from sraying his pee. The scent of cat pee in the air should really tip the Italians off that this trick doesn't work!

Old habits die hard I suppose.
Cyn

 
At 7:30 PM, Blogger Expat Traveler said...

I actually like not shopping on Sundays. But I guess I really can't talk since here in Canada we can shop on Sundays. Although we do have reduced store hours compared to the US and especially California where things seem to be open practically 24/7.

 
At 4:37 AM, Blogger Lisa said...

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At 4:40 AM, Blogger Lisa said...

Sangria...ok, now I have to know why you speak ill of the drink I had day and night while in Barcelona. I rode the metro tipsy, my head spun on the bus rides home and my hosts aunt made us up gallons of the stuff and we drank ourselves silly. So why the animosity? Oh, never mind, I think I just answered my own question.

 
At 8:47 AM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Karl: I don't know about Germany, but I predict that Spain will have shopping on Sundays within the next ten or twenty years. I just hope it's closer to ten than twenty.

Mike B: You shouldn't worry about the one T-bone that you ate since the Mad Cow scare. You should worry about the hundreds that you mindlessly ate before it. Nah...you shouldn't worry about anything.

C-Swiss: You know what? I don't even need to shop. I just need to wander around a store looking at stuff. On a Sunday. Is that asking too much?

EstoyPensando: A few days after Expatica published this essay, a received an email from a Spaniard telling me the same thing. So...I've since written a follow-up essay that deconstructs that "Doggie no pee-pee" claim. Expatica just published it this morning: http://www.expatica.com/source/site_article.asp?subchannel_id=184&story_id=29748&name=Unsolved+mysteries

C-Rae: I can think of only one reason that a water bottle would keep a cat from pee-pee'ing on the door. But you'd have to throw the bottle for it to work. [Damn! I wish I had thought about that angle before I submitting the Expatica article!]

E-Traveller: Reduced store hours? OK, I'll take it! Reduced is better than zero.

Lisa: What do I have against sangria? As with so many things in life, I've already answered that question in writing: http://www.expatica.com/source/site_article.asp?subchannel_id=184&story_id=22962&name=San+Gria%3A+Spain%27s+patron+saint+of+hangovers

Sal

 
At 3:45 PM, Blogger Angie said...

Am I the only dirty mind who almost choked on her coffee when reading the phrase, "Once you’ve had wood, nothing else tastes as good"...? Tell me I'm not alone.

About the sangria -- especially don't drink it on an empty stomach on a 100-degree (F) day! What a cheap drunk I am...

 
At 8:19 PM, Blogger estoypensando said...

water bottles in trees or clothlines? pidgeons of course.

 
At 11:25 AM, Blogger woman wandering said...

Well Angie ... I had to have it pointed it out to me but then I like to spread the illusion of Kiwi purity of mind and soul ;)

 
At 2:33 PM, Blogger christina said...

That Angie! Those angelic looks are obviously a disguise. ;-)

Interesting explanation for the water bottles in front of the door and yeah, I guess the ones hung in the back yard would keep the birds from doing their thing on your clean laundry.

 
At 7:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was told by a spanish friend that putting bottles by the front door or windows prevented flies from coming in to the house; apparently they magnified their image and scared them off..dont know if it is true or not

 
At 7:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

brilliant not to shop on a sunday; more time for the real things in life

 

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