Yeah, right! - Writings by Brian Murdock

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September 24, 2017

Our Spanish Wine of the Week: Depaula (V.T. Castilla)

Well our first and last “wine of the week” was posted two weeks ago, which means that, after just two weeks, I can already tell that our pledge for a weekly “wine of the week” series will probably not be happening at all…which, of course, is what makes this series so special.


Not that we didn’t try, mind you.  The other day we pulled out a Monastrell from D.O. Jumilla and struggled to come to terms with the fact it wasn’t meeting our expectations.  We will be kind and not mention the name of the wine or its bodega because the jury is still out on that one.  Either it was a powerful kick-in-the-butt wine that got out of hand, the way Jumillas can sometimes get, or a bottle that went awry in the shop, which can sometimes happen too.  In any event, if we give it another try, we’ll let you know.


Monastrell, by the way, is the Spanish name for the Mourvedre (a.k.a. Mataro) variety, if that means anything to you.  And if it doesn’t, don’t sweat it.  All you need to know is that it’s a heavy-duty red wine grape, and its popularity abroad has soared thanks to the versions from D.O. Jumilla, an appellation located in Murcia and the province of Albacete, but mainly associated with the former.   So synonymous have grape and D.O. become that people often think they are one in the same.


This week we went back to this variety, partly because Lorena was very disappointed with the previous choice.  It wasn’t her fault, but that didn’t matter.  When she gets that determined look on her face, it’s best to step aside and let her take care of things on her own.


She picked one out from a winery called Bodegas Ponce, which is based further north in the province of Cuenca.  This was surprising because, though Monastrell is planted in those parts, its current fame, as we now know, has mainly come from D.O. Jumilla.    No one thinks of Monastrell up there.  Just what was up with that?


The wine is called Depaula and the author here is a winemaker named Juan Antonio Ponce.  He has garnered fame on the international wine scene for taking an otherwise obscure Spanish variety known as Bobal and turning it into something classy and worthy of your dinner table.  This also gave the somewhat unnoticed D.O. Manchuela where it was made a bit of recognition out there.  La Manchuela is a zone that covers vineyards in the south of Cuenca and northern and eastern Albacete.


The thing is, Ponce clearly seems like a person who enjoys exploring.  His first incursions into Monastrell territory actually came from Jumilla, which explains why the bottles up to 2014 denote that D.O.  But more recently, the winery is reported to be getting its raw material from a few vineyards near Tobarra (Albecete), a town which is technically within the limits of Jumilla.   Apparently these particular vineyards are just outside the border, meaning that even though they are more less from Jumilla, they can’t be called Jumilla, and because they aren’t Manchuela because they are nowhere near Manchuela, they can’t go by that moniker either.


The answer?  VT Castilla.   It’s the all-encompassing appellation from Castilla-La Mancha that wineries often go to when they find themselves in these situations. This issue represents just another example of the Great Spanish Wine Region Mess, on which I will comment further when I have more time…and when I feel like it.


The fact that Depaula’s source comes from land with slightly different soil and at a higher altitude is important because it may have had a hand in why it is so distinct from the usual meaty Monastrells you get from the variety’s cousins a little further down south.


Depaula,  which is named after his first-born daughter, is noticeably softer and fruitier.   We thought it had a delicate aroma (which is no small feat for a Monastrell) and was a well-balanced and elegant wine.  Consistent.   No funky surprises going on once it reached your mouth.  Ironically, I think it’s one of the best I’ve ever tried.


On top of that, the price was incredible.  I think we purchased our bottle at one of those over-the-top shops in the fashionable Madrid neighborhood of Chueca, but it generally goes for anything between 6.50 and 10.00€, which is close to a steal for what you get.


We paired it with grilled white tuna ventresca (belly) and Spanish jamón ibérico mainly because that was what was lined up for dinner.  I had nothing to do with it.  Lorena did the honors this time and was spot on.  The meal was a success and the wine, well, I think we are going to give it a well-deserved four stars out of five.

Spanish a Wine,Spanish wine,Spanish Wine of the Week,Uncategorized

September 8, 2017

Our Spanish Wine of the Week: Dido 2015 (D.O. Montsant)

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For our first week, Lorena and I have started with a wine from a little known wine region in the Spanish region (that term should really tick the secessionists off) of Catalonia called Montsant.  Partly, because I know a thing or two about these wines, and partly because, the way things are going, we may not be able to call them Spanish long from now.


Most people people have never heard of this region because they don’t read my book and therefore don’t learn about these things.  This is not a personal thing. The 47 people who did buy my book 15 years ago learned a lot.  The rest have relied on unreliable sources.  That’s their problem.  Even today, with all that is available online, it’s shocking how little even the experts know about Spanish wine.  Shocking because I was shocked fifteen years ago. Shocking because little has changed since then. But the world has changed a lot.  Donald Trump is president of the United States, my friends. It’s something we should remind ourselves about every single day before we brush and flush. We don’t say it enough.


Anyway, Montsant is located in the province of Tarragona and it literally forms a ring around the more well known wine region of Priorat, which took the country by storm in the 1990s by launching some of Spain’s most exclusive wines.  This had to do with the high quality of the old vines, its limited production and the unique minerally characteristics of its wine.  They all translated into specialness, which really means hefty prices per single bottle.


Why are we talking about Priorat if we want to hightlight Montsant?  It’s to provide a little context.  Montsant used to be a subzone of the Tarragona wine region until it separated (that seems to be a Catalan thing) and started up as its own denominación de origen in 2002.  You get the feeling that Montsant is kind of like the poorer relations of the highly touted Priorat, that cousin who has to stay in your pool house instead of the local hotel, but we can assure you that it stands on its own just perfectly well, thank you.  Priorat’s wines are excellent, especially because they are so different, but they tend to be special occasion bottles, unless you own an island or two.


Montsant, on the other hand, tend to be a mighty value for your money, and they don’t compromise on quality.  Without trying to sound too much like a sponsored article, Venus La Universal’s Dido, created by Sara Pérez and Rene Barbier, is a perfect example.  These two winemakers each come from families with roots deep in Priorat and beyond (The Barbiers have been at it since the 13th Century, so I kind of feel I can trust their know-how without risking it).  All the same, their presence in Montsant seems to have given them more freedom. This red made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha, Merlot and Syrah, just blows your mind a way.  It takes a little time to get up and running,  but it once it does, there is no saying, “Let’s put the cork back and finish it tomorrow.” There is no tomorrow.


Lorena, who has far finer senses than I do, noticed the leathery aroma open up to something more like redcurrant.  It was full-bodied but silky smooth.  It evolved wonderfully throughout the meal and she enjoyed finishing it off with a bit of chocolate.  And all for little more tha twelve euros.


We’re praying Venus stays in Spain!


September 2, 2017

Cosas que Nunca Me Contaron de la Historia de España: Los Pueblos Prerromanos


Si en algún momento algún profesor espabilado nos hablaba de las impresionantes pinturas que realizó nuestro genio de Altamira, en seguida nos hizo dejar las verdes praderas de Cantabria y nos llevó al Oriente Medio para estudiar qué es lo que se cocía en las tierras de Mesopotamia.  No era para menos.  La razón era lógico.  No cabe duda de que algunos de España se mostraban bien encaminados en cuanto a sus habilidades artísticas, pero aún estaban un poco, digamos, verdes en unos cuantos áreas de lo que se puede llamar el progreso.


Por otra parte, los cachondos de Sumer, Babilonia, Asiria y Persia no tardarían (eso es mentira, tardarían mucho, pero me entendéis) en crear ni más ni menos la agricultura, la escritura, el derecho, las infraestructuras básicas de un municipio (por no mencionar el municipio en sí), la metalurgia, la irrigación, el dinero, la acuñación de monedas, las matemáticas, la astronomía, la contabilidad, la banca, la rueda, la medicina, el vino y la cerveza, además de grandes avances en la ingeniería, como presas y edificios grandes.  Sólo por mencionar algunos.  Hay unas cuantas cosas más que se han quedado en el tintero.   Vamos, lo que son los elementos esenciales para crear una civilización avanzada.  Un dibujito de un bisonte está bien, pero puedes decir a tus colegas que has inventado el arado, pues qué quieres que te diga.  De ahí se pasaba a los egipcios con sus pirámides, los fenicios con sus barcos y comercio, los griegos con su filosofía y democracia, los romanos con casi todo lo demás, y así sucesivamente.


En España, como tantas veces ha pasado, las cosas marchaban a otro ritmo, lo cual no quiere decir que no hubiera vidilla.  De hecho, la península ibérica hervía con actividad casi frenética.  A través de mis primeras conversaciones con los españoles, descubrí que había dos grupos principales: los íberos y los celtas.  Este segundo grupo me dejó atónito porque siempre se había hablado de los Celts de Irlanda y de Escocia, y como mucho el norte de Francia…pero ¿España?


“Sí.” afirmó Pepe.  “Incluso tiene su propia gaita.”


“Anda ya.”


Era verdad.  Es más, la gaita ha existido en España desde la Edad Media, como poco, y es posible que llegara a las Islas Británicas posteriormente.  Al igual que los celtas.  Resulta más curioso que ha habido estudios en los últimos años que indican que los celtas de España luego viajaron a las Islas Británicas.  Dijeron que los irlandeses de origen más antiguo poseen un mapa genético muy parecido a los del norte de España.  Llegaron a la conclusión de que la mayoría de los británicos son, de hecho, descendientes de unos pescadores españoles hace unos 6.000 años.  ¡Eso les tiene que sentar fatal!  Me parto.  Pero también podría explicar su afán por volver a la Patria a disfrutar de su sol y cervezas.


En fin. A lo que iba.   Los iberos y los celtas dominaban; y cuando había roce entre los dos, salían celtiberos.  Pero eso era solo la punta del iceberg.  A través de años de mi investigación, aprendí que había docenas de tribus diferentes.  Los vetones en Extremadura, los vacceos en Salamanca, los lusitanos en Portugal, los astures en, naturalmente, Asturias, los turdetanos en Andalucía, los carpetanos en el centro, los oretanos, en Jaén, o por ahí.  Luego tenías a los vascones (los actuales vascos) que eran un tema aparte (como siempre).   La lista es interminable y mareante.  Algunos estaban más avanzados que otros, pero los grandes cambios llegarían con la llegada de estos pueblos del otro lado del Mediterráneo.  Así que, hay que ver lo que pasa a continuación.


September 1, 2017

Things They Never Told Me About Spanish History: Atapuerca

I can be a total idiot at times, but I’m not stupid.  I know many things were going on in the world tens of thousands of years ago and that Spain wasn’t going to be outdone.  It makes a lot of sense that there would be humans meandering about the plains and hills well before Scipio and his crew showed up, but, to be honest, if you don’t spend some time in this country, most of these details slip by your average foreigner’s common knowledge of the land.  You’d think Spain didn’t exist before El Cid galloped into Valencia.  It just ain’t right.


In my first years here when I did even less than what I do now, which isn’t much, I would spend hours of my day in my apartment with my roommates whiling our youth away.  In Spain, adolescence usually lasts until about the age of 30, so that 50% unemployment data which so alarmed the world during the worst of the most recent economic crisis, was not as abnormal as it appeared, especially back then.


My roommates worked, or at least tried to, in the movie industry, which meant they generally had plenty of free time on their hands.  One of them, Pepe, would spend his day waiting for the phone call of a lifetime and illuminate me on a whole bunch of things I had missed out on while I studied in the United States.  He spoke with a passion that many Spaniards do when they narrate the history of their country, and he clued me in on all sorts of dates, names, places, moments and events that marked Spain’s past.  I often ended up with the feeling that something had gone awfully wrong with the American educational system.  It was also when I realized for the first time (but certainly not the last) that there was another vision of Spanish history out there.  One that most of us from abroad were missing.


Take, for example, Atapuerca.  Over a glass of pacharán, Pepe once asked: “You’ve never heard of Atapuerca?”


“No.”  A normal response from just about anyone born in Connecticut and its surroundings.  “Why should I?”


The name “Atapuerca”, if taken literally, can mean “Tie up the pig”, which could have referred to one of those odd pre-Christian traditions you come across in the remote towns of Spain during their local fiestas.  After all, this is a country where people have been known to ride a horse by a rooster which is hanging by its legs upside down and try to yank it off…the results are as gruesome as one can imagine. This is a country where young men have been known on occasion to set their farts on fire in public for fun.  It’s a land of unusual festival customs, I can assure you.  But in this case, it happens to be, rather logically, a corruption of a Basque and Spanish word for mountain pass.  At least that’s the theory.


“Because you should.” replied Pepe.  “It’s one of those most important sites in the world.  Don’t you want to hear about it?”


Every time I heard the words “in the world”, I knew I was in for a new lesson, so there was no point in trying to stop him.  “Go ahead.”


Atapuerca is a set low hills northeast of Burgos, a great medieval city in the north of Spain.  It appears that people were aware of the proof of ancient hominin activity since the middle of the 19th Century, but when a railroad was built there during the 1890s, scholars began to realize just what they had in front of them.  As a rule, this is always bad news for anyone trying to carry out major construction, but it seems the two interests managed to live together peacefully for many years, until the train line went bankrupt altogether in 1917.  Then things got a lot more peaceful.


Atapuerca is pretty much a wet dream for any archeologist, anthropologist or paleontologist.  I mean, if you like really old things and possess a spade and a brush, this is the place for you.  Remains, remnants, vestiges, leftovers from a time so distant it makes some back in the States uncomfortable.  From way before even the appearance of homo sapiens.  That makes them even more uneasy.


There you can basically the oldest and most extensive hominin excavation in Western Europe.  And it’s still not over.  Much of what has been found revolves around a relative of ours known as the homo antecessor, and another called the homo heidelbergensis.  These may not be household names, but suffice it to say that they managed to survive for far longer than we have so far.   Recently a tooth emerged from the depths which has been dated at 1.2 million years old.  Another molar was discovered in the south of Spain and apparently ekes it out by about 100,000 years.  I don’t know about you, but this must be the source of extreme silent frustration for competing field workers.


Silence is also the trademark of this undertaking.  Or at least inconspicuousness.  No Sunday evening highlights show featuring the bone chip find of the week.  Their 15 minutes of fame, however, did come in the late 90s from an item of news that naturally grabbed headlines.  Some of these peoples were cannibals.  In the very least, they dabbled in the practice.  There is also evidence that they believed in formal burials.  I guess they just enjoyed to nibble a little on their next of kin before final resting.

TRENDING SPAIN,Uncategorized

August 18, 2017

Trending Spain: Tourism, Anti-tourism and Terrorism

Just the other day I was talking to some friends about tourists in Madrid, especially the center of Madrid.  The downtown of the capital has been almost completely tranformed into something that hardly resembles el centro I knew from the early 90s.  For better and for worse.  For better because twenty-five years ago, it looked so rundown and foresaken someone once told me they need to have a torch set to it.

     Instead, the city slowly began to turn it around as a way of enticing people back and also as way of refloating the local economy.  It’s basically another example of the generalized gentrification process that is impacting many urban centers in Europe.  I call it more locally, the Chueca Effect, the gay neighborhood which got the ball rolling I’d say about fifteen years ago; the neighboring areas have followed suit ever since.  This has led to a much healthier, much more attractive district, with pretty and modern restaurants, pedestrian-friendly side-streets,  and economically viable downtown.

     It’s also led to other things.  For worse, I say, because streets like the Gran Vía, once the aorta of Madrid; once a thoroughfare that used to be lined with immensely glorious movie theaters, outdoor cafés, and fancy stores; once a road where Hemingway would race from the Hotel Florida to the Telefonica building to send off his reports on the Spanish Civil War, have now become a haven for lowcost shopping.  H&M is a somewhat upscale option, if that is any indicator. Some of those old traditonal establishments have been muscled out, removing that special atmosphere that characterized the city.  The word “tapas bar” was never used here until about ten years ago, so my suggestion is that you avoid the places that go by that description.

     The spledidly attractive Hotel Florida, designed by the proliferic Antonio Palacios but razed in 1964, was located in a square called Callao which more or less represents the mid-point of Gran Vía.  In the last couple of years massive electronic billboards have been thrown up in an attempt, as far as I can tell, to turn it into a mini Times Square.  Why?  Your guess is as good as mine. I think it looks ridiculous.

     Regardless of one’s opìnion, there is no denying that Spain’s tourism sector, while always quite competitive, is once again extremely robust.  The numbers are there, and they’re growing.  It is jockeying for position with France and the United States for the number one spot.  In 2016, it virtually tied the United States with something like 75.6 million visitors in one year.  Forecasts say it will top 80 million in 2017.  And when tourists do come, they are so glad they did, they often return.  One report claimed 8 out of 10 visitors come back.  Those are incredibly positive numbers from a business standpoint.  Almost beyond belief.

While the tourism boom has become the talk of town, this should not really come as any surprise.  It has been a major industry in this country ever since the 1960s when Spain, still under the fairly tight grip of Franco’s regime, began to understand the enormous benefits its natural resources could provide.  That is, endless hours of sunny weather and an enviable supply of sand.  There are some 3,000 beaches that make up the 7,900kms of coast. Right now tourism constitutes officially about 12% of the GNP (I get the feeling it’s higher), and whether the Spanish like it or not, it essentially rescued the country from total mayhem during the Great Recession.

This makes some Spaniards uncomfortable because I think they’d prefer that their country run on a different kind of fuel.  “What would you prefer?” I ask. “Building two million homes no one is going to buy?”  They know the answer, but I can also share their frustration.  I would probably tire from all the constant activity if I lived in one of those neighborhoods, not to mention pay the increasing prices that have forced some tenants out of their barrios.  I would certainly be fed up with dealing with the massive unbridled partying that poisons some of those seaside towns.

So, yes, there is a price to pay for taking the country down this road, especially in places where the presence of tourism is constant, like the coast, the islands or the the middle of Madrid or Barcelona in general.  Some places are trying to do something about it.  Spain’s second largest city has already taken measures to curtail the almost unstoppable “air bnb” fad, and licenses to build new hotels have been banned temporarily.  The belief is, there are already plenty of beds available.

Some citizens have taken the matter into their own hands, as pockets of anti-tourism movements have formed to lash out at the overwhelming numbers.  They have made their presence known through graffiti messages, open-air insults and, at times, violence.  Just last month, a group of angered locals slashed the tires of a sightseeing tour bus in Barcelona, frightening the bejesus out of foreigners who thought they were under attack by some Islamic terrorist group.  It was an understandable fear given the times, but to their relief, that was the extent of the group’s intentions.   The same kind of fortune cannot be said for 13 innocent people who faced a very different kind of menace on what should have been a quiet August afternoon.

You see, by pure coincidence, I was starting my first post in months and was writing on the subject of tourism, when I got a whatsapp from my nephew back in CT asking about what was up in Barcelona.  “I dunno. I’ll check.”

Most of the world knows the story by now.  It’s been a terrible shock to many.  To me too, but only to a point.  The way things have been going in Europe the last couple of years, it made sense that Spain might be soon targeted.  Plus, there were warning signs.  The Spanish security forces and anti-terrorist forces have thwarted a number of alleged planned attacks over the years, which shows they are effective, efficient and just plain on the ball.  But it also proves the radicals were out to act, and no matter how good you are at containing the terrorists, it’s never easy to predict that on a Thursday afternoon in an ordinary day, they will decide to strike.

Yesterday, Barcelona felt the immediate effects of the latest episode of a recent wave of horrid attacks on European cities where vans are used to mow down pedestrians, in many cases, tourists.  13 were killed and a hundred injured after maybe a minute of pure terror.  The technique is brutal.  The damage, immense.  The pain, uncalculable.

The effect…well that’s a different story.  By this morning, the Ramblas, the beautiful street where the atrocity took place, appeared to be returning to normal.  There is no better message to send out to the terrorists and the world.


In Spanish,Uncategorized

March 26, 2017

Tendencias de la España XXI: La Era Bio

Pues alguien me va a tener que explicar por qué, si España es la piedra angular de la afamada, legendaria y milenaria “dieta mediterránea” de la que tanto les gusta a sus ciudadanos presumir, por qué, repito, ¿por qué es tan necesario ir rompiendo con lo que ya funciona?  “If it works, don’t fix it,” como decimos en mi idioma. Últimamente, parece que no veo otra cosa que sitios y supers obsesionados con productos Bio con la intención de superar lo que ha sido hasta ahora para mí y para casi toda la humanidad, si me permitís tomar la libertad de generalizar, insuperable.  Y me supera.

     Tantos años de adoctrinamiento en el fascinante mundo de la gastronomía española, tantas veces instruido en el indudable, el incuestionable beneficio de una fabada (hecha el día anterior por supuesto) me convirtieron en el fan número del mundo mundial de esta comida; comida que no solo se encuentra en casi cualquier lado (como es el caso en muchos países del mundo, incluyendo mi querido Estados Unidos) sino que también se compra y, ¿preparados?, se consume (como no pasa en muchos países del mundo, incluyendo mi querido Estados Unidos).

        Basta con entrar en una casa norteamericana con una bolsa de algo tan sano, pero a la vez tan normal y corriente como las lentejas y se llena el aire de unos cuantos “oohs” y “aahs” y las cejas llegan hasta el techo.  “¿Y eso?”

     “No es nada.  Solo unas lentejas.  Las tomamos casi todas las semanas.  No tienen nada de especial.”  Y es verdad.  No se da mucha importancia a todo lo bueno que comemos en este país.  Y es verdad que es mentira porque sí se da mucha importancia.  España entera es como un plato lleno de tapas.  Hasta hablar de los lugares españoles es hablar de la gastronomía española.  “Huelva…¡qué gambas tiene! ¡Y qué me dices del jamón!”, “San Sebastián…con eso pinchos…”, “¿Granada? Preciosa.  Y con las tapas que te ponen, cenas con dos rondas de cañas.”  La lista es larga y placentera y ayuda a motivar al alumno de geografía.

      Pero parece ser que la perfección no es suficiente.  Ahora la sociedad pide cada vez más que todo, absolutamente todo, lo que comemos quede “limpio” de impurezas.  Todo tiene que ser natural. Y ojalá eso fuera el único criterio.  Antes se enterraba todo en sal y ¡hala! todo bien muerto.  No hay bicho que sobreviva eso.

    A lo largo de estos años he hecho mi parte para defender las migas con chorizo, la paella amarillada con colorante, y la panceta frita pero para demonstrar que tampoco soy un tío que se ha detenido en los tiempos del bocadillo de calamares fritos en la Plaza Mayor (contra todo pronóstico lógico, el sandwich más árido jamás inventado sigue siendo un manjar para miles de turistas todos los años), de vez en cuando me aventuro en el mundo de la alimentación súper-sana para ver qué es lo que puedo descubrir de mi lado más sensible, y así mirarme en el espejo, guiñarme un ojo, soplarme un beso y maullar, “¡Qué hombre más Eco eres, Brian!”

       Y como buen residente permanente de España con un NIE de los primeros, de gran reserva, empiezo con un par de huevos.  ¡Olé!  Cinco pares, incluso.  ¡Olé, olé!

     Digo cinco, porque veo que la primera cosa que se ve afectado por esta nueva moda es la cantidad de comida que te proporcionan frente las medidas tradicionales.  Diez en vez de doce.  Y eso me jode, con perdón.  Yo me pregunto: ¿Qué pasa con la clásica docena?  Es un número tan apostólico, tan anual, tan astral.  Las panaderías llevan siglos vendiendo sus productos según la magia de ese número, y los hueveros, que yo sepa.  ¿Es una señal que la Era Bio nos está haciendo menos machos?

     No lo sé, pero lo que sí os puedo asegurar es que me está haciendo más lelo, porque cuando me encuentro cara a cara con el embalaje de uno de esos productos se me sale un ademán que algunos que me han visto en directo han comparado con el rostro de los seres humanos más primitivos que en el pasado vagaban por las tierras en busca de frutos secos, roedores muertos, piedrecitas o Dios sabe qué cosas ingerían entonces.  O incluso a uno de “esos tíos que trabajan en una fábrica de martillos, ¿me entiendes?” observó otro.  Más o menos.

     No sé por dónde empezar pero desde luego muchas veces sé cómo acabar.  Por dejarlo de nuevo en el estante, susurrar “¡Por el amor de Dios!” y dirigirme a la zona de alimentos plenamente transgénicos para encontrar unos momentos de consolación al lado de un tubo de Pringles.

     Los huevos son otra cosa, porque se venden todos en el mismo sitio, así que voy dedicando algo de mi tiempo valioso a estudiar exactamente qué es lo que hace que un huevo sea un huevo de calidad.  Antes todas las aves las tenían literalmente “cooped up” como decimos en inglés, encajadas en unos espacios minúsculos, donde los animales pasaban una existencia infernal con el fin de servir al hombre.  Sigue pasando, pero hacemos como si no fuese así.  Como mucha gente, miro el presupuesto, hago el sueco, e intento imaginar que los dueños de las empresas que ofrecen 24 huevos a 1,49€ realmente se levantan por la mañana todos los días y masajean personalmente a cada pájaro antes de que el primero huevo se haya puesto.  Me ayuda a pasar por la caja sin remordimientos.

      No obstante, el otro día por fin piqué y me llevé una caja, pero no sin investigar un poco antes de tomar una determinación.

     En primer lugar, tuve en cuenta el número: un paquete de diez.  Pensaba que ese número automáticamente confirmaba que eran “de los buenos”, aunque realmente era una manera de hacerme creer que eran más baratos de lo que son.  Luego el color: verde.  Sugería que lo que iba a meter en mi carro no solo iba a hacerme un humano más completo sino una persona dispuesta a salvar el mundo.  También había que considerar el nombre: “Naturelle”, suena francés y, por defecto, superior en calidad.

     Todo pintaba bien, así que me fijé en los detalles para ver si lo anterior había sido un engaño o no.  La alimentación: basada en maíz y trigo con una aportación superior al 60% y soja y complementaban con otros cereales “nobles” y minerales.  Que yo supiera, todas las gallinas comen así, pero me sonaba cojonudo.

     Finalmente, tuve la oportunidad de adentrarme en la vida cotidiana de uno de esos animalitos.  En letra grande decía “gallinas en libertad”, cosa que me alegraba por una parte y desconcertaba por otra porque daba la sensación de que eran aves que habían cumplido sus condenas en la cárcel y encontrado una manera de integrarse de nuevo en la sociedad poniendo huevos.  He visto a estos seres vivos libres con mis propios ojos y os puedo asegurar que algunos son auténticos matones.  Tienen plumas que cubren hasta los garras de sus pies, como si pertenecieran a los Ángeles del Infierno. No me gustaría nada deberles dinero.

      Igual de inquietante era lo que ponía después que era “criadas en suelo y con acceso al aire libre”.  No sé qué opináis vosotros, pero a mí me suena a que antes las tenían suspendidas en el aire con una red debajo para atrapar el huevo volador y que de vez en cuando les abría la ventana para respirar, llamándolo “acceso al aire libre”.

      A pesar de todo, me lancé y realicé el pago, orgulloso de que ya era un hombre Eco.  Se lo dije a mi “significant other”, como nos gusta decir en Estados Unidos, porque ella es una auténtica experta en estos terrenos, y quería hacerle ver que sabía actualizarme.  “Muy bien,” me felicitó. “¿Pero el alimento procede de maíz transgénico?”

     “Yo qué sé.  No lo pone.  Mira.  Pone que las gallinas son felices.  ¿No vale?”

“Yes, but is the food transgenic?  That’s important.”

     “Esto no tiene fin.  Me rindo.  Voy a por un bocadillo de calamares y una caña doble.”  Mañana lo intentaré de nuevo.


August 2, 2016

Where the hell do you think you’re going now señor Brian? 4

While Javi’s family’s vineyards spread out for miles in the province of Toledo, his family actually lives in a town over the border in Cuenca called La Fuente de Pedro Naharrro, the Fountain of Pedro Naharro, a curious and elegant name for an otherwise very ordinary town. To get there, you simply get on the 2-lane nacional, head for Corral de Almaguer, take a left, race off into the night down another straightaway towards Horcajo de Santiago, take another left and speed away to La Fuente, as they call it affectionately. 25 minutes of driving all said and told. At nighttime, when the traffic is light, it’s pretty much a breeze and it invites you to step on the accelerator a little more. The road knows few curves, the view is clear, and the driving is easy. Taking the back roads of Spain can sometimes be one of the most pleasurable and entertaining forms of getting around the country and the only true way of getting to know the nuances of the land. The nacionales, as they are called, are generally in excellent shape, but the regional and local roads can be a little more dicey. Still, I can’t think of a better way to experience the country.

               Spain’s highway system as a whole, I should point out, has surely come a long since the days I first came to live back in the early 90s. A simple look at statistics should help illustrate the point: in 1970 there were a meager 203kms of highway in the entire country. That’s about the distance between New York City and Hartford, Connecticut. By the time I had settled down here in 1991, the figure had shot up to 3,793kms, but even then not one of the six major motorways that radiated from Madrid like bicycle spokes was completed. Any long-distance trip required at least one section of knuckle-whitening circulating along a two-lane road while trying to overtake a truck full of wooden planks before getting slammed head-on by another hauling cement blocks. My premature greying, in addition to genetics, is due to this harrowing experience over the years.

               By 2014, drivers could enjoy over 15,000kms of highway to help them sail around Spain and reach most major destinations in a fraction of the time it once took. And in one piece. You see, one of the most profound consequences of this improvement in the nation’s infrastructure has been a gradual reduction in the fatalities on the road. Obviously there were several factors that have led to this decline, such as an increase in the average age of the average driver, more effective speed traps, greater awareness of the dangers of driving while under the influence, buckling up on a regular basis, and better built vehicles, but it’s hard to deny the importance of this continuous upgrade of the road network.

                As in many countries, years ago the numbers were frightening. In 1960, there were a paltry 1 million vehicles on the road, and the poor conditions led to a staggering 1,300 deaths. By 1989, the number of deceased peaked to record numbers, though a little research suggested no one really knows how many people died on the road that year. One source indicated 3,086 victims, another put the figure at an astronomical 9,344, but I am inclined to believe the DGT (the equivalent of the DMV) statistics which reported 5,940. While that might sound stunning, consider the fact the last year the United States saw those numbers was in 1914.

               Now, with more than 31 million cars purring around, a mere 1,126 people lost their lives. Yes, that’s lower than the 1960 figure when there were 30 million fewer vehicles. Still too high, say some, but the 3.6 victims per 100,000 is one of the lowest rates in Europe, and it looks impressive when compared to 10.1/100,000 in the U.S.

              Where are these lethal run-ins bound to happen? On the secondary roads. Annually, between 75-90% of all deaths by vehicle occurred in these otherwise pristine, bucolic, peaceful lanes. Such violence amid such serene scenery boggles the mind, and nobody better than Javi knew that. His father was picked off by an oncoming car at an intersection in Horcajo some twenty years before and was killed in the act.

                A grim reminder as we approached that there is never really any need to hurry home.


November 23, 2015

Snap Out of It: Don’t Know Much about Catalan History

I am a confessed Wikipedia user.  For some time it’s become taboo for people to admit this because someone out there has spread the rumor that you can’t rely on its truthfulness because the they had done something like embed that some famous person had died when it was obviously not true.  A point well made, sort of.  People go into schools and on occasion start blasting away, but that doesn’t mean you can’t trust the education system.  There is plenty to complain about with Wiki, mainly the fact that the format varies so greatly from entry to entry that you get things like, Leonardo Da Vinci competing head-to-head with, say, Jennifer Lopez, in terms of numbers of words used to cover their lives.  About 8,500 a piece.  Then there is Tom Walsh, born in Davenport, Iowa, in 1886, and played professional baseball for the Chicago Cubs in 1906.  Here are his stats:

      MLB debut: August 15, 1906, for the Chicago Cubs

      Last MLB appearance: September 26, 1906, for the Chicago Cubs

      Number of Games: 2

      Batting Average: .000

Here’s his bio as lifted verbatim from the page:

     Thomas Joseph Walsh was a Major League Baseball player. He was a catcher who played for the Chicago Cubs in the 1906 season. He was born on February 28, 1886 in Davenport, Iowa. Tom played just 2 games in his career, going 0 for 2 in just 2 plate appearances and, an average of .000. He died on March 16, 1963 in Naples, Florida.

    What is not mentioned between that late September day and the moment he passed away due to a stroke was the time he invested running a construction company that helped build such memorable structures as the Grand Coulee Dam, Yankee Stadium, The Queens Midtown Tunnel, and the United Nations Headquarters, all achievements that could have earned him a place in digital eternity…but didn’t.  Instead, people can read about his rather stunted career behind the plate and modest performance while wielding a bat.  Word had it he wanted to stay on, but when he sent his father tickets to the World Series, his old man declined saying he wanted him to drop his aspirations to excel on the diamond and return to the family business.  That wasn’t an entirely cockeyed request back then seeing that baseball wasn’t the glamorous sport we know it to be today.  It was a shame, though, because the Cubs lost that series, but went on to win in 1907 and 1908.  It is, to date, the last time they would be crowned champions.

     Who was Tom Walsh and why in hell is he there?  Why the hell is he being mentioned here?  He was my grandfather, and while I am proud to see his brief stint in professional sports recognized by some evidently very, very avid baseball buff with a lot of free time on his hands, he really has no business appearing. Not for those reasons, at least.  But what the heck.  This is Wikipedia.

     Nor should Victor Cucurull, for that matter.  But he is.  Victor belongs to the ANC, which does not stand for the African National Congress in this case, but rather the Asamblea Nacional Catalana, an organization devoted to promoting Catalan independence.  That’s fair enough, as people who wish to secede from Spain are naturally going to want to do so in an orderly fashion. Victor is a professor and I get the feeling he is, unless someone can otherwise prove me wrong, an instutionalized liar.  And he probably knows it.  Either that, or he is a lunatic.  Either that, or he’s a brillant provacateur coming up with outlandish claims just to piss the rest of the Spaniards off.  A look at his Youtube videos suggests the first two to be the most likely.  In any event, here are a number of his positions on a very revised history of just about everything:

     The legendary lost civilization of Tartessos, placed by every serious scholar to be located somewhere in southern Spain, was really founded in the otherwise modest Catalan city of Tortosa.  I believe the relative similarity in the letters used constitutes definitive proof.  Other jaw-dropping assertions include Catalonia being the world’s first nation, Ancient Rome reaching its greatness thanks to the incorporation of Catalonia, Catalonia rising as the world’s most powerful nation in the 16th Century, America being discovered by Catalans, and so on.

      But wait, there’s more.  Like what? Well, famous Catalans were (but really aren’t) St. Ignatius Loyola, Christopher Columbus, Leonardo Da Vinci, Amerigo Vespucci, and Miguel de Cervantes. To name just a few.  Speaking of Cervantes, apparently Don Quijote was penned in Catalan, translated into English and finally Spanish.

     These preposterous claims certainly trigger laughter, but they also instill a deep sense of sadness and indignation.  It’s pathetic to have to lie about your past to give it prestige.  It’s dangerous that people do it.  It represents the extreme to which the nationalists will sometimes go to justify their existence.  I should add that no entry for the Catalan version of Wikipedia about this man has ever been posted, thus suggesting that not even his own people take him seriously.  And they shouldn’t.

    Nor should the person who added his bio to the global resource website.  He was obviously pro-Spain and clearly doing his best to ridicule the man.  And while Cucurull probably deserves it, using a formal fact-finding website normally devoted to truly encyclopedia-worthy individuals, as a way of networking your frustration defeats the purpose and does little for your cause.  Plus, it gives publicity and importance to someone who is about as worthy of such an honor as my poor grandfather, who essentially did little more than toss a few baseballs back to the pitcher.

Forensic Files,Uncategorized

November 22, 2015

Files, Feuds and Funerals 19

The day after Dad died I went for a jog for the first time in about ten days.  Just down the hill from where my parents live, you can zig-zag along a planked path to the Farmington Canal Trail which, when completed, will be comprised of no fewer than 84 miles of carefully laid route for cyclists and runners alike.   As the name clearly indicates, it was a canal, of the kind that was typically built in the first half of the 19th Century, and like those canals built in the first half of the 19th Century, it was quickly replaced by the railroad.  The track was literally laid where the boats once navigated.  Train travel lasted all the way up to  the 1980s, when flooding put the via beyond repair.  It was if the canal had distantly had the last laugh.  It was not long after that new potential as a recreational path became evident, and construction has been underway ever since.

       I didn’t have a bike nor was I a cyclist, but I did try to get a few k’s in to keep my body going.  The heat wasn’t too bad but the humidity was atrocious, and before I had reached a mile and a half, I humbly decided to turn around and limped back home with a quiet whimper, comforted by the thought this pathetic show of athleticism was not made too public.  During the march of tears, I did have a chance to sense that, despite the unquestionable beauty of the path, all lined with an amazing array of deep green New England summer foliage, there was also no doubt that if there ever was a place that was apt for the type of heinous crime that would eventually end up being featured on Forensic Files, that was it.  Any kind of weapon seemed suitable, and there were scores of ideal ditches for a body to be buried in.  It was unnerving.

      We then planned out the day.  There was no longer a need to go to the hospital, but the funeral home was a must.  We set up a time with the manager in the afternoon.  In the meantime, I returned to the supermarket to load up on food for the next few days.  I also took the opportunity to purchase a lottery ticket, which is something I do from time to time, just in case there is an outside chance a bit of good news will fall my way.  The chances are remote indeed.  About 1 in 176 million.  Someone told me there was a better chance of you getting struck by lightening something like 16 times than hitting the jackpot.  One study in California, because this is the kind of thing scientists in California sometimes dabble in, even spent some time, and I presume someone’s money, to analyze the success rate of winning if you bet on the most frequently called numbers, the underused numbers and the random numbers to see if any one of those  proved itself  to be a superior strategy.

     Not so surprisingly, none outdid the rest, making it clear once again that gambling is just as unpredictable as we always thought it was.  The only exception was the underused numbers which performed better than the rest but by a margin so small you would have to wait  until the Sun burned out for any noticeable results to make themselves known.  And by then, obviously, it would be too late to reap the benefits.  I have always thought it would be great to win the lottery so that we could help my parents out in these times of hardhip for them, times which have only gotten worse with the passing of more times.  I could buy them a decent condo, and set it up as such that they wouldn’t ever have to deal with this situation again.  That would provide some happiness to everyone.  People should be allowed to land the big prize just once in their lives on the condition that they use the proceeds to help someone out you is worse off than them.

    But that didn’t seemed to make a difference, according to the girl at the supermarket who sold me my potentially winning number.  She claimed, “They say winning the jackpot is said to bring you happiness for only about three months. So, you have to ask yourself if it’s worth it.”

     “I’d say it is.  ‘Cause winning $267 million is great.  But every three months to ensure my happiness.”

Snap Out of It,Uncategorized

November 20, 2015

Snap Out of It: Bipolar Catalan Shopping

Here’s a not so uncommon scenario: I’m going for a walk in Madrid with a local and discussing Spanish politics, and handful of topics which essentially has not changed in the past 30 to 40 years.  These include scandals, fraud, embezzlement, money-laundering, inside trading, tax evasion, contract bidding favoritism and other forms of abuse of power, mostly related to increasing one’s personal wealth, or the general state of the economy, which hasn’t seen the best of times lately, to the role of the monarchy in modern Spain and, invariably, nationalism…a thorn so big in Spain’s back, it’s practically a spike.

     And the conversation could run along the lines of “Those bastard Catalans, who do they think they are?  They’ve never been their own nation, they have no legitimate claim to be independent.  At the very best, they could be considered to be a part of Aragon, and the Aragonese don’t won’t to leave Spain.”  And least most of them don’t.  “Catalonia is a part of Spain and that’s all there is to say about it, and there are millions who live there who want it to stay that way.

     Then we stop at a supermarket and I get told not to go in because the store is owned by a Catalan company.  Given the time and the distance to the next grocery store, I talk him into giving just this once, and then we enter.  Once inside, many of the familiar products that have produced so many moment of joy and happiness to my mind, soul and stomach, are quickly banned from immediate consumption because they are either owned or produced within the territory of Catalonia.  Oh, it goes beyond cava, sparkling wine which mostly comes from that region, or fuet, the local salamiCatalan products and international products produced in Catalonia have essentially infested your average Spanish market.  It’s been like that for years.  And here are just a few worth naming to prove my point:

  • Water: Font D’or, Font del Regas, Fuente Liviana, Malabella, Mondariz, Veri, Acquapanna, Aquarel, Badoit, Evian, Font Vella, Fontvella, Lanjarón, Perrier, S. Pellegrino, Salus, San Narciso, Viladrau, Vitell, Volvic
  • Olive Oil: Borges
  • Snack foods: Cheetos, Doritos, Fritos, Lays, Matutano, Pringles, Ruffles, Santa Ana, Tuc
  • Rice: Nomen
  • Coffee: Bonka, Nobel, Bonka, Cafitesse, Dolce Gusto, Marcilla, Nescafe, Nestle Gold, Piazza d’Oro, Pilao, Ricoré, Soley
  • Sweets: Golia, Pez(2), Smint, Solano, Chupachups, Mentos
  • Cereal: Cheerios, Chocapic, Crunch, Estrellitas, Fibre, Fitness, Golden Grahams, La lechera, Nesquik
  • Chocolate: Colacao, Ferrero rocher, Gnutella, Kinder, Lindt, Nocilla, Paladin, After eight, Bounty, Caja Roja, Choclait chips, Crunch, Dolca, Kitkat, M&M’s, Maltesers, Mars, Milkybar, Nesquik, Netsle, Quality Street, Snickers, Twix
  • Meats and sausages: Argal, Casa Tarradellas, Casademont, Embutidos Mercadona, Espetec, Fuet Espuña, La selva, Noel, Vic
  • Cookies: Artiach, Artisabores, Chiquilín, Cuetara, Dinosaurus, Filipinos, Marbú Dorada, Rio, Fontaneda, Marie Lu, Principe, Yayitas
  • Ice Cream: Camy, Carte D’Or, Cornetto, Extreme, Frigo, La lechera, Magnum, Mars, Maxibon, Miko, Nesquik, Nestle, Pirulo
  • Dairy Products: Ato, El castillo, Okey, Quesos Hotchland, Actimel, Activia, Dan’up, Danone, Flora, Ideal, La lechera, Ligeresa, Royal, Sveltesse, Vitalinea
  • Butter: Artúa, Flora, Ligeresa, Tulipan
  • Bread: Brooks American Sandwich, Panrico, Bimbo
  • Pizza and Pasta:  Buitoni, Casa Tarradellas(3), Hacendado Pizzas, La cocinera
  • Soft drinks:  Nestea, Kas, Ice tea, Tang
  • Cakes: Bollycao, Dip Dip, Donetes, Donuts, Eidetesa, Horno de Oro, Mañanitos, Qé!, Bimbo cao, Martinez, Tigretón
  • Soup: Knorr, Maggi
  • Sauces:  Solis, Calvé, Hellmans, Ligeresa, Maggi
  • Tomato paste:  Solis, Calvé, Hellmans
  • Frozen products: La Sirena, Maheso
  • Wine: Alella, Ampurdán, Bach, Conde Caralt, Costers del Segre, Ederra, Heredad Torresano, La vicalanda, Legaris, Leiras, Marraso, Nauta, Nuviana, Oroya, Penedés, René Barbier, Scala dei, Septima, Solar viejo, Terra Nova, Valdubon, Viento sur, Vionta, Viña Pomal

    And that’s just a reduced list.  We haven’t even gotten to the rest of the home.  Most of those brands are household names and half of them have found their way on to my shelves at one time or another. To leave them out would mean to exclude a substantial portion of everyday foodstuff in Spain.  And yet, radical pro-Spain supporters, sometimes known as españolistas in quarters where many people aren’t in favor of staying within the union, are willing to boycott anything that has been manufactured in that region.  Whole websites exist devoted to making the consumer aware of just what brands not to patronize and provide a Spain-friendly alternative.   They even provide insight into how to detect on the label if the product is of Catalan origin.

     The irony of this is that the majority are furious at Catalonia for wanting to become independent.  “Don’t you blame them?” I ask. “You treat them like shit.  You don’t want to support their economy, but you insist they stay in Spain.”

     Somehow, like so many things in life, they have a ready answer.  “We don’t wsnt to give them our money, because then they turn around and use it to backstab us.”

     Oh, brother.  That’s a tough knot to undo.  It’s no wonder things have reached the point they have.  Many companies are threatening with abandoning the region, while others have joined the cause.  As for the profits being used to boost the Independence movement, that most certainly is an exaggeration, and doesn’t help improve relations between the two.