Monday, July 23, 2007

Living Dangerously

Spaniards may be gradually adopting safer habits, but they're not going easily. Helmets on motorbikes: yes. Banning cellphone use while driving: yes. Giving up cigarettes: not so much. To wit: the strange behavior of cab drivers when it comes to seat belts.

I have never seen a cab driver wear a seatbelt while he is driving in the city. Maybe they think it would impede their ability to gesticulate wildly while discussing the important topics of the day (how Zapatero is flushing the country down the toilet; what went wrong with the Barça this year; ham).

Cabdrivers will, however, routinely buckle up as they pull out of the airport and onto the freeway. Probably there's a law requiring it. Sometimes they'll even check to make sure you've got yours on too. But then, as soon as they hit urban streets--that is, the very second they pull off the exit--off comes the seatbelt. As if they couldn't stand the crushing weight of restraint a moment longer. Because no one ever rammed into an oncoming car or rear-ended a parked vehicle on a city street.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Why it's the best restaurant in the world

I hope the few of you who get in to El Bulli this summer appreciate what you’re eating. I was in the kitchen at Adria’s famed restaurant on Saturday, and saw many fantastic things: cakes made without flour or eggs; mushroom broth turned into semi-solid spheres; snails escaping up the rim of the pot meant to cook them. But perhaps the most impressive sight was the first: right after the staff meeting, 25 young cooks, all in their chef’s whites, lined a center table and began peeling the tough outer shell from green pine nuts. Later, they would each go to their special tasks, but for the first hour, they slaved to free the tiny nuts—which would reappear in a pine dish as “caviar," about six to a plate.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Open Sundays

Leaving aside the convenience stores unfortunately known as "chinos," (which are roundly disparaged by Spaniards because their expanded hours tend to put the old fashioned mom-and-pops out of business. Roundly disparaged, that is, until said Spaniard needs a liter or beer or a box of cereal on Sunday. Then they're great. Viva yo.), there are only three kinds of shops open in Madrid on Sunday.

Bakeries, because no one should be expected to go a day without fresh bread. Florists, because you visit people on Sundays, and all the wine shops are closed so you can't bring them that. And book stores, because, well, I don't know why.

In the mood to spend money on a Sunday? All you can by are books, flowers, and cake. A perfect trifecta, I'd say.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Two steps forward...

After years of dispute over whether the extension of the metro to the new terminal at Barajas should be paid for by the national government or the regional government, after months of construction that indeed extended well beyond the opening of said new terminal, the new stations opened, as I learned when I recently flew back to Madrid. No longer is it necessary to take a surprisingly long busride to another terminal, and then a long hike to the metro station (from there, it still takes a long time to get home, but that is the way of airports). All for the good, except that amid all the hoopla about the new station, someone forgot to mention that it now costs an extra euro to board or disembark at the airport. And that to pay it, even if you have a metro pass, you have to stop and buy another ticket--coming and going. And that the charge applies to all the terminals, not just the old ones. Which, let´s face it, is just plain unfair.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Politically Correct in Andalusia

So I'm standing at the bar at Juan Peña in Córdoba, eating the best fried eggplant in the world and a delicious asparagus salmorejo, because all the tables are taken. And I'm surrounded by caballeros--those utterly recognizable Spanish men whose bellies stick out over the pants their wives pressed for them that morning and who are given to walking in the street with their hands clutched behind their back.

There is far too much eggplant, so I offer some to a caballero. He asks me if I'm on vacation, and when I say no, he asks what kind of work I do. When I tell him I'm a journalist, he asks if I'm a bullfight critic, a perfectly reasonable assumption since it is feria. I tell him no, but that I (truthfully we) did write a story once about a bullfighter. I couldn't remember his name. "He's French," I said, "and Muslim." The caballero turns to one of his buddies. "What's the name of that torero?" he asks. "You know, el moro."

Only in Spain is the word "Muslim" interchangeable with "Moor."

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Eating seasonally

I pulled up to the cemetery on my way back to the molino the other day, and ran into José María, our contractor, with one of his Romanian assistants. At first I thought he had come to collect the bill for the tiling, but then I saw the bulging plastic bags he and Vlad were carrying. This being spring, I had of course noticed that the cemetery walls were, well, crawling with snails. But I hadn't realized that anybody else had noticed. Nor, to be honest, did I realize that these things I tried not to crunch underfoot on my daily walk with Levon were somebody else's lunch.

José María opened his bag somewhat sheepishly to show me his haul, as if he had been caught with his hand in someone else's cookie jar. What could I say, but buen provecho?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Why I Won't Be Voting for the IU

Not that I can vote here. But if I could, the fact that crews began setting up a stage for the IU (United Left party) campaign kickoff in the plaza outside our apartment at 4am, with much pounding and hammering, would make me think twice. And the fact that they hired what can only be described as a Spanish hair band—one whose guitars were screeching well into the night—to attract the youth vote would certainly give me pause. But then, a bit after midnight, Gaspar Llamazares and other party leaders got up on stage, held hands and swayed back an forth to their anthem, which I had hoped would be the Internationale, but sounded suspiciously like a Spanish version of "We are the World."