What have I become?

Oh my God!  What a relief!   Things are coming back into place.  The other day when I got back from the godawful trip from Simsbury, Connecticut to Madrid, seventeen draining hours from door to door, I dumped my bags on the floor with an exasperated sigh and went straight to the bathroom to take a much needed shower.  When I got out fully refreshed and recovered, I dried myself off, let the towel drop to the floor, looked at myself in the mirror and nearly screamed.  What the hell was that in the reflection? 

The question really was: what the hell had I done to myself?  I didn’t look like that when I left a month before.  I didn’t even look like that a week before.  And here I was running three miles a day in sauna-like summer conditions, thinking that all those gallons of  sweat dripping off of me as if I were a basted turkey were turning me into something fit to play a role as a Spartan in the movie 300.  You know,the kind with all the rippling abs. 

Instead, the final result was something entirely different.  Deceptively normal up top and below, the middle part, right around where my belly joins my hip expanded as if it knew no frontier.  “Jesus!” I exclaimed.  “I look like a bee.  No, I look like a beehive.” 

What had happened was that I had succumbed to the worst of the American way of life.  And I was liking it.  Here was the reason.  In the final six days: 4 trips to McDonald’s, 2 meals at Chili’s, lunch at Friendly’s, a massive burger at Cheer’s in Boston, pizza, ice cream, beer, buttered popcorn, coke, Reeses peanut butter cups, some more beer, Chimichangas and extra guacamole, spring rools and sweet-and-sour God-knows-what,  smiley fries, steak fries, hashbrowns…all gently digested amid the gentle sedentary lifestyle and plenty of driving, driving and more driving.  By then, running was of no good if, after showering up, you devoted the rest of the day to breaking the 10,000 calorie barrier.

It wasn’t intentional.  I just kind of got carried away.  At one point, as I felt things were getting out of hand, I decided to put a stop to it.   Sitting down at a booth of one restaurant, I picked up a menu and went straight to the salad section, telling  myself it was time I took control of my life and prepared myself for a great Spinach Caesar without any dressing.  Not a drop.  The young smiling tip-hungry waitress named Amy (they all seem to be called Amy now) came and asked.  “Can I take your order?”

And without batting an eye, I replied,  “Oh, yes.  I’ll have the half-pound cheddar and bacon chili angus burger.”   If I were an Angus cow these days I’d be taking prozac. 

“Great,” chirped Amy.  “Would you like a dab of sour cream on the side?”

“Two dabs, please.” 

My life of decadent gluttony was now complete.  The fact there were only a couple of days left before I returned to Spain led to two deadly reasonings. 1) I could eat as much as I want because soon it would be over; and 2) I had to make the most of it because soon I would not be able to eat these things for a long time.  I needed to eat crap food more and more often and in ever-greater quantities.   I found myself eating  my “last” burger of the trip for seven burgers in a row.  I would suggest my daughters that they skip the kiddie menu and order the adult portions just so I could help with the leftovers.  Nothing was sacred anymore. All scruples were thrown out the window, unless, of course they were edible.

All of thismade me recall Morgan Spurlock’s famous seething documentary “Super Size me!” in which the writer/director embarked on a mission to eat only at McDonald’s for one straight month.  The physical damage was shocking, almost to the point of disbelief. But after a week of nearly emulating his feat, I now realized just how crazy things could get.

The ironic thing is that Americans can be incredibly healthy and health-minded.  They do far more exercise than most people I know in Spain and have at their fingertips a ton of delicious and nourishing food.  But it is also one of the most dangerous lands to eat in if you don’t watch your step.  That prepared food is so tasty and so addictive, and in a way so damaging, that it takes but a handful of days to start adding pounds as if you had to fatten up for hibernation.  It’s effortless.  It’s delicious.  It’s hazardous.

Now in just three days, I’ve dropped 5 pounds without even trying.  I really, really miss those burgers, I tell you.  I’m just glad they are 3,000 miles away!

De vuelta….part 2

Ahora bien, lo que realmente me sorprendió al llegar a Madrid fue la decisión del parlamento catalán de abolir las corridas de toros.  Miento.  No me sorprendió nada.  Lo que pasa es que me sorprendió de todas formas, si me entendéis, como a casi todo el mundo.  Ya iban avisando desde hace tiempo que iban a hacer una cosa semejante y la votación del miércoles pasado simplemente fue la confirmación.  ¿Todo esto forma parte de la nueva España pos-campeón-mundialista?  Yo qué sé.  Lo mismo las cosas están cambiando más de prisa de lo que me esperaba.

Mi opinión sobre los toros es de lo más patético.  Me gustan, me gustan mucho y cuando se hace bien (que es más bien poco) me apasionan.  Pero entiendo que en el fondo es una auténtica barbaridad y digno de una mente morbosa, como puede ser la mía.  No me convence ni un solo argumento a favor de su existencia.  Ni uno.  Ni arte, ni tradición, ni razas taurinas, ni ná.  No son suficientes para justificar la muerte lenta y dolorosa de un animal como espectáculo.  Por eso no soy defensor de las corridas de toros.  Sin embargo, me fascinan, me resultan impresionantes.  A ver cómo explicas eso.

Muchos catalanes simplemente están en contra de las corridas sin más y están en su derecho de pedir que se dejen de celebrar.  Sospecho que a otros les trae sin cuidado el tema pero ven en ello una oportunidad de oro para diferenciarse aún más del resto de España.  Pero es solamente una sospecha.  Lo que sí creo es que estamos ante el principio del fin de la fiesta nacional. Me tapo los oídos para no eschuchar los abucheos de los defensores más férreos, pero me mantengo en mis trece.  Esto, amigos, se acaba.  No será mañana ni dentro de unos años, quizá dentro de 50, pero mucho me temo que la puerta de la abolición se ha abierto y ya no se volverá a cerrar.

¿Qué se podrá hacer con esas plazas en el futuro?  Pues, por ejemplo, lo mismo que se viene haciendo desde hace años: ofrecer conciertos en verano.  Las Ventas lleva siendo un venue mítico desde que los mismísimos Beatles tocaron allí.  Anoche pude disfrutar de Mark Knopfler en esa misma plaza. ¡Ay qué maravilla! No hay nada como escuchar buena música bajo el cielo veraniego de Madrid acompañado de unos amigos y una brisa cálida.  Me encanta el ambiente. Me encanta volver a estar entre los españoles.  Mientras esperábamos el comienzo del show, comentábamos que teníamos suerte de no tener a nadie sentado delante de nosotros, porque las localidades son un tanto justitas y no dan para mucho movimiento.  Justo es ese momento pasa un desconocido alto y delgado y con cara de gracioso y nos dice con toda soltura y sin perder ni un paso de nuestra conversación, “A que me siento aquí y os hago la putada.  ¡Ja, ja ja!  No hombre. ¡Es una broma! ¡Ja, ja, ja! Ciao.”  

Eso es, amigos míos.  Así me gusta.  Ante los disgustos de la vida, no hay que tomar las cosas demasiado en serio.  Hay cosas de los españoles que no van a poder abolir nunca…y me alegro profundamente de que sea así.

No more ¡Oés!; No more ¡Olés!

I really had no idea what to expect when I got back to Spain but I was sort of hoping that the World Cup festivities would still be going on just so I could engage in the fun a little.  You know, maybe thinking that someone out there in Madrid would have paused for a moment and had the sensitivity to say, “Hey wait a second.  You know Brian’s not around.  The poor guy year in and year out misses these moments because he works his ass off to ensure that future citizens of this country learn English better, even if it means sacrificing watching Spain win the big game.  What the hell.  That’s what I call dedication.  Why don’t we wait for a few weeks for him to get back and we can really crank up the party?”  Cool, don’t you think? 

Yeah, right.  Not a soul was waiting for me.  Not a red and yellow banner waving frenetically as I passed through those sliding doors of Spanish customs.  No car service ready to pick me up and whisk me away to the nearest fiesta.  No, there wasn’t a sign to be found anywhere.  Nary a vestige of victory.  In those sparse two weeks since the world, the entire world, fixed its eyes on this suffering country, the mood had swung from euphora beyond limits to business as usual, as if this country won this tournament every other year. 

No, what real had the country riveted was the Catalan (the region where Barcelona is) parliament’s decision to abolish bullfighting in that region. 

Say what?  Bullfighting restricted in certain parts of Spain?  Wasn’t this a favorite all over the country?  I know there remains a tendency to expect to find matadors and flamenco dancers on every street corner in the land, and God knows I have done my part to erradicate that misconception, but what can I do when even Woody Allen makes us think that Spanish guitar playing is a natural part of the Catalonia and Asturias in the north. 

Yeah, right.  You try to find a show in Oviedo and see how long it takes for you to get laughed out of town.

For years now, despite bullfighting’s return to popularity over the past twenty years, in part thanks to toreros like José Tomás who have actually put their lives on the line and given the animal a fighting chance to kill its opponent, there has been a slow but stubbornly determined movement crying out for its prohibition.  And it is beginning to take effect.  In regions like Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, the Basque Country and Catalonia, apart from sporadic examples, the tradition hardly exists. 

Catalans have been actually split down the middle on the issue because this has been a strong and deeply-rooted tradition in this region for decades; a tradition that extends even into southern France.  Still many feel that this is an custom imported from other parts of Spain and that the Catalans should have nothing to do with it.  And the street consensus is that today’s vote has represented yet another chance for the region with a healthy independence movement to further separate itself from Spain.

“How could they do that?”  Many of you have just asked.  Spain has just won the World Cup!  Everyone should be united and happy forever and ever.  That’s what soccer does, for the love of God.

Yeah, right.  Weeks after Iniesta pumped the ball past the keeper and into the net and lifted this country into a state of immortality so deeply sought after for decades, the bliss of reunion has worn off, the renewed nuptial vows taken back, and the honeymoon has been canceled early.  It’s back to business.

De vuelta…part 1

Pues ya estoy de vuelta y vaya si hay novedades.  Parece que todo es nuevo y, a la vez, no ha cambiado nada.

No sé si ha quedado restos o vestigios de las celebraciones…una resaca de la victoria de la Copa del Mundo… pero desde luego la sensación que tengo es que fue ya hace mucho y apenas nadie se acuerda del momento en que Iniesta enchufó un derechazo y mandó el balón dentro de la portería de la selección Karate-Kid de Holanda.  Eso ya pasó.  Llegué con la felicidad de un perro en la playa para comentar todos los detalles y la gente ya tiene poco más que contar que “Sí, sí.  Estuvo impresionante.”  Sí, sí, les digo.  En Simsbury, Connecticut, donde lo presencié, fue impresionante también.  ¡Vaya festorro!  Abuelos tocando las vuvezelas sin cesar, mujeres en ropa interior de Tommy regalando besos por las calles, vacas pintadas de la bandera española…no veas. 

“¿En serio?” me preguntan incrédulos, pero no tan incrédulo como yo al escuchar su respuesta.

Ya solo se habla de otros temas.  Uno es la presentación de Raúl a la aficción de Shalke 04, que lo ha recibido con el calor de una chuleta recién salida del frigorífico.  Y como siempre, con la discreción tan habitual de él, lo ha aceptado como un auténtico caballero.  

El final de la etapa de Raúl en el Real Madrid me ha desconcertado mucho porque con el se acaba una etapa de mi vida.  Yo, siendo casi 10 años mayor que él, me crié de su fútbol de pequeño, desde pequeño, como un pequeño.  Y yo de pequeño, siendo casi 10 años mayor, quería ser como él, jugar como él, triunfar como él.    Era para mí un hermano mayor en este deporte, y a través de su talento, su esfuerzo, su garra y dedicación, ganó mi admiración incondicional. 

Yo no quería dejar que Raúl se fuera.  No podía imaginármelo con otra camiseta.  Además, Raúl no podía irse porque en cuanto lo hizo el tiempo atemporal de mi juventud iba a llegar a su fin y de pronto sería yo un hombre mayor otra vez, con otra edad y en otro momento.  Y eso no me lo esperaba por mucho que supiera que tenía que llegar.

OK. Let’s Get Started

España ha ganado el mundial.  In all my years of living in Spain, never has there been a headline so drenched with meaning, history and significance than this simple stating of a basic fact: Spain has won the World Cup.

To say that this feat is loaded with meaning and wonder does not even hint at the depth with which it moved the country.  TV ratings claimed that the golden came with the goal when as many as 17 million people in Spain were watching.  A record in viewing audience that some found astonishing. 

But I say, hogwash.  In a country of some 45 million people, they mean to tell us in that in the singlemost important moment in its sporting history, and, to be honest, contemporary history, 60% of population was doing something else?  Reading a book.  Drinking coffee.  Going for a walk.  Having sex.  Writing a blog.  Please.  Some may have been, but not 28 million I can assure you. 

Well, so much for technical measurement systems.  The point is, Spain had done it.  It had  proved to the world, and more importantly, it proved to itself it could prove to the world, that it could and would live up to its expectations, despite 20% unemployment and struggling credit ratings.   It started two years ago in the European Cup tournament and was confirmed this month.  A new brash and daring attitude imbued with confidence has taken over the new generations.  Had, after all these years of my being here, Spain changed that much?

One of my missions here, but only one mind you, will be to take a look at this new Spain and rediscover what I discovered for the first time nearly twenty years ago.

Now, I have got a flight to Madrid waiting for me down at JFK.  I’ll catch later and let you know.