On Me and Grocery Stores 7

Well it was clear.  I wasn’t going to sidestep the dishwasher soap section and not pick up a box, mainly because I was down to my last tablet.  It was somewhere lost among my cleansing products, and the dishes are beginning to take a lot of space.  I had included with the other mental memos so thank God I went by because otherwise I would have had to face a threat of radiation leakage back in my kitchen.

          In the past, but a chemical to scrub and buff your eating utensils was a pretty straightforward process.  Before, you used to pick up a sensuous white bottle, squeeze a few squirts into the door of the appliance, slammed it shut and then got the whole thing rolling.  Now, no ordinary detergent will do.  It has become a fashionable product over the past few years, making cleaning your plates and glasses no longer a task for the simpleminded.  Companies have gone over to packaging the doses individually with all sorts of powders and liquids.  The colors are magnificently chosen and the design as sleek as you can get to ensure the gullible buyer absolute hygiene, unparalleled shine and the latest in design.   So, what you choose could say a lot about you.  If that were the case, it would say I was a thrifty cheap-o, because if there are things I am willing to splurge on, normally it’s not a detergent so fancy I could stick it on my walls next to some black and white photographs.   I will splurge on other products, but I put my faith in the store’s brand products for their friendly prices and because they too individually wrap each dosage, making me feel that I am keeping my dignity to a realistic level. 

            My friend Julia told me the other day that I also needed to more and stronger cleansers.  I told her I had a solid bottle of all-purpose which smelled of “pino”, which happens to be my favorite aroma to refreshen my house.  I say this in case you are at a loss for what to get me for my birthday.  But Julia was not convinced.  As a Spanish mother, she ascribes to heavy-duty cleansers.  No nice smells to hide the truth.  Cough medicine has to be aggressive and kitchen cleaners have to feel toxic.  They need burn the skin and all that.

           “You mean,” I said just to make sure I knew what I had to get. “The kind you need to remove all signs of a corpse?”

            “That’s right.  It’s got hurt to breath. Ammonia!”

           “Got it.”  And that’s why, now that I was thinking along the lines of making my home as aseptic as humanly possible without burning the building to the ground, I stepped over to the next shelf and confronted a series of the most boring bottles a shopper could find.  Dull, bland, no-frills.  That was what crude cleaning is all about.  The teemed with no-nonsense.  The thing was I couldn’t quite recall in the moment just what she had suggested.  Bleach or Ammonia?  The both look lethal, enough to make any vermin recoil in their presence.  And they were cheap too.  I mean cheaper than water, which told me that for some reasons that they were the real stuff. I could not decide which of the two Julia was thinking of, and since I wanted to make sure I had all the products that a Spanish mother would find essential to a proper household, I took a major chance, swore in English out loud like a real macho, and picked up both. 

           No one, I said to myself, was ever going to say my house could not take on any unforeseen disaster. 

On Me and Grocery Stores 6

Back by the chicken, my ideas really got flowing.  Boxes and bottles, cartons and cases and cans picked at my brain for some inspiration.  The ketchup.  I could see it there down at the corner just by the rice patties.  It is an intense study of rational that is required to understand who would pair those two on the same shelf, not to mention who would eat rice patties with assiduousness and I paused to give it some thought.  Then I gave up unable to come up with a satisfactory answer.  Ana had made a request a few days back.  The ketchup I had bought did not meet her standards.     “What standards are those?” I asked.

       “Heinz’s standards.  Only the best.”  I had to give her credit where it was due, for her girl her age, she knew quality when she tasted it, but still, we were talking about a vinegar-sugary tomato sauce.  Surely, they all basically tasted alike.  She shook her head decisively and I told myself I would think about it the next time I thought about it.  The memo went the way of the onions, and did not return until the stout plastic bottle appeared before my eyes, which is really the key behind good marketing. 

       All right, all right, I muttered to myself.  It’ll be Heinz then.  I plucked it from the shelf and dropped it in the basket, ignoring the rice patties.  Then I raised my head and paused.  “What the hell had I come to “el super” for anyway?”  And, please, I’m telling you that I don’t mean like “What is “el super” for?” the way I might in about thirty years, but rather because I knew I had a purpose.  The macky-cheese.  That was it.  I had a pack of shells on the other end, so that was taken care of.  All I could do with was a little cream, some more butter and a ton of shredded cheese.  But first, I picked up a sack of carrots just in case.  I love having carrots and love the fact they are in my house.  It makes me feel so healthy.  I just have trouble remembering they are in my fridge and, as a result, trouble remembering to eat them.  They often stay at my place until see they can grow their own vegetation and then I send them off…at night…to some thugs with a big truck that mashes everything. 

       But other than that, I had nothing but cheese on my mind.  Until I got to the dishwasher detergent.  Crap.  Now what?

On Me and Grocery Stores 5

I guess I could have gotten any ordinary zucchini but the ones that came in the three-pack looked like my best choice.  These thick, elongated green pieces of produce, sources of innumerable jokes in almost culture, are ideal because they last so long.  They can sit in your fridge for weeks before you finally decide what to do with them. 

The produce section spread out before me had a great offer and I was ready to take on the challenge, but I had to contain myself, because these things are traditionally the heaviest in the store.  Four-kilo (that’s about 10lbs.) bags of potatoes.  3 kilos of oranges.  Another 7 pounds.  Before I knew it I would be toting 17 pounds of food with my shopping basket nowhere in sight. 

And that’s not to mention taking all the way back home, where using just the power of my arms threatened to leave me like a primate by the time I got home.  I don’t have one of those carts that Spanish women have been using for generations. They are magnificent inventions that are increasingly used as people opt to reduce the use of plastic bags.  In this sense, I have failed my brethren around the globe in the campaign to make the world a little less artificial.  I remember that I should get one every time I’m back in the supermarket, and occasionally at one of those places where you’d buy one, but they are surprisingly pricey for what you get.  I mean, it’s not as if they are Samsonite luggage or anything.  So, they are still on my list of unclear priorities.

 So I stuck to the original plan and picked up the pack of the zucchinis, and then raised my head and noticed the spice rack.  Over the past few visits I have slowly recuperated the grandeur of my spice selection at home.  Every kitchen should have them even if you use them sparsely.  I tend to be generous with the products.  I rambled over with nothing particularly in mind but spotted a bottle of curry.  Curry was not the menu at all.  But It occurred to me that if I didn’t have the powder readily available, my life would just not be the same.  So, I grabbed it from the rack and departed. 

I remembered to pick some onions, which was not something I was really supposed to remember.  It wasn’t on my mental list at all in fact.  I had thought about it days before while roaming around my kitchen and then stored memo deep in my brain for a future moment when I would actually lay eyes on the edible bulb again, which was just after picking up the zucchini. I gave it some thought and went it ahead.  What the heck, you only live once.  You only die once, if you think about. 

       With a light bulb, zucchini, onions and a bag of chips and bottle of curry, I decided to retreat to my basket and ump them there.  It always crosses my mind that for some reason I will no longer be able to locate it, but naturally, most people are not inclined to just swipe some bacon from another in the spur of the moment.  It could happen, mind you, but chances were slim.  To my relief, the green basket lay untouched and unscathed next to the whole chicken tray.  Life was good.

On Me and Grocery Stores 4

The first thing I got was some bacon…followed by some chicken fillets, and whole chicken and some zucchini.  The zucchini was actually on the other side of the store, but since it came to me, I left the basket right where it was and went in search of the vegetable.  On the way, I noticed that I some light bulbs and remembered that I needed one for Ana’s room so first I stopped and spent some time choosing which one was best.  Light bulbs are changing a lot these days.  They used to be a pretty much straightforward purchase, but that was no longer the case.   Now they came in all shapes and purposes.  Many touted the immense amount of energy and money I would save by using them, and also indicated that they were so resilient that basically I would not have to replace them for the rest of my life.  That was quite a long-term decision I would have to come with in aisle three.  I managed to handle it, choosing one that hinted of modernity but without overstating the issue.  Those curly-cue ones don’t fit with the nature of my home. 

       I had basket back with the whole chickens, something I did with frequency because no on likes to be chained to their food cart.  I roam more freely without them.  But it also meant that my incursions into other sections of the store would always be limited.  My daughters always slap their foreheads when they see me do this and they trail  behind me frantically saying, “Papi, stop leaving your basket around.  You’re crazy.”  But who was going to steal my food? 

       Anyway, once I had the light bulb in my hand, I had to pause and think about just what had brought me to that place in the universe.  I had reached there with something else in mind, and it was something to stick in a socket.  For a while I worried about these memory lapses feeling they were suggestive of something that would end up with me in underwear and in the middle of a vineyard with La Mancha with a pencil case and some gerbil food in my hand and not really knowing what was going on, but apparently that is not a problem.  Recalling why you are wandering in a supermarket shouldn’t concern you.  It’s when you ask yourself, “What is a supermarket for?” or even worse “What is this place?” that you should begin to run your fingers through the private medical insurance directory.  Thankfully, I hadn’t reached that point yet. 

       After a concerted mental effort, I remembered my immediate purpose in life. 

On Me and Grocery Stores 3

From a American suburbia point of view, supermarkets here are tiny, because if you can’t by a kilo of sugar, a dozen eggs, cereal, 10 ears of corn, a DVD, and a wooden table and chair set for your deck, it’s just not a supermarket.  In Spain, those exist too.  But they are also on the outskirts of town in gigantic buildings called “hipers”.  That’s a whole different ballgame, I tell you. In fact I will tell you about them some day.  Anyway, considering their size, Spanish grocery stores pack in a lot of food.  I mean, they really know how to make the most of space.   

       Once done with the visit to the cold meats section, my mind begins to run wild.  A whole universe is before me…I’ve got 5 euros I want to spend, but about 50 euros I could spend and the difference was all the difference.  

       Anyone who goes to a grocery store with me knows it requires patience.  The people who design them in theory spend a lot of time analyzing how human behavior is and how that should influence the way we purchase.  In many American supermarkets, the vegetables and fruit are often the first to be shown to us because, as I have been told, they tend t take up the most room, and no one is going to stick a twelve pound watermelon on the rest of the cart if it come at the end.  Seems reasonable to me.  The point being, there is a method behind the madness.  The problem being, I use the madness as a method.

       I don’t…let me clarify…cannot adhere to the old…let’s go up and down the supermarket, aisle by aisle, until we get everything we need.   This may be some old gene that gets activated as the sliding doors open before me, but I kind of adopt a hunter-gatherer approach and search high and low for the food I am looking for.  It all depends on what comes to mind at the time. 

       Before I took a step, I tried to focus.  I was here for macaroni and cheese.  All I needed was cheese and some cream.  Cream and some cheese.  Cream and some cheese.  It wasn’t a matter of limiting myself to those two products; it was fear  would end up buying everything but…

       Cream and cheese.

On Me and Grocery Stores 2

They always put the cold meats first and that really gets me thinking.  Maybe I could make this…what if I did that…it’s been a long time since I prepared that dish…it’s just endless.  Plus, not only do I use the freezer in my house, but I also retrieve the food I leave there and not wait until it is fossilized.  So, I say to myself, what the hell, I might as well buy some more because I don’t always get a chance to get there.  Plus, if I bought more than 10 euros worth, they give a two loaves of French bread as a gift.  It’s this month’s promotion and I have to admit I was a little surprised the first time.  Suspicious would be a better word. 

       “Why?” I asked.

       She explained the reason.  I still wasn’t convinced.

       “But why bread?”  Was there something wrong with the yeast?  Was it yesterday’s batch?  That sounded more like it.

       She repeated the offer but added.  “If you don’t want it, you don’t have to have it.”

       It was nine o’clock at night, I basically live alone, so what I was going to do with two loaves of bread which go stale before midnight was beyond me.  I also was in no position to turn down food, so I accepted it gladly and as I took the bag, noticed the bread was warm and soft, unquestionable signs of freshness. 

       With that prize in mind, I took to the streets of the supermarket…or “el super” as you colloquially call it in Spain.  You might as well learn it now.  You will sound great at your next party with Spaniards.

On Me and Spanish Grocery Stores 1

Well, it was almost eight o’clock and I realized I had to get to the grocery store before it closed.  Things here aren’t like the states, and the supermarket shuts its doors by around nine.  There’s a new one up the road, recently inaugurated beneath the neighborhood market.  For a while there, hardly anybody knew about it and I could shop leisurely as if they had built it entirely for me.  But lately the crowds have gotten bigger and sometimes have to wait at the cashier for my turn to pay for my things and it’s just not right.  I was one of the first customers there.  But word has somehow spread and now the place is plagued with life forms trying to get at my food.  I’ll just have to accept them being the democratic guy that I am. 

       As usual, I had just three things to get and ended up buying three bags of things and forgot to buy one of the three original items.  My daughters had requested Macaroni and cheese, the real stuff, they said.  The kind I make.  Of course, they don’t realize that no one has made the real stuff in generations in the United States, ever since Kraft has been able to successfully supply us with the necessary provisions.  But my daughters didn’t have to know that and, what was worse, they didn’t want to.  They felt the homemade recipe the way Mama Murdock used to make it would suffice. 

       So…I descended into the depths of the new grocery store to pick up the goods.  I grabbed my plastic basket, flung it on my arm, took two steps and looked right.  “Salami!”  I said.  “That would be good for and appetizer!”… I’ll tell more…

Monday…and not Sunday

Well Monday is pretty much tucked in and out of the way.  What an exhausting way to start the week, but as my daughter Ana says, it is Monday and not Sunday evening.  I like her philosophy.    I slept well, just get enough of it.  But I was glad to wake up and notice my body wasn’t covered with welts from that bloodaholic mosquito.  In fact, I never heard from it again and now I don’t have to walk around the streets fearing someone is going to scream I am carrying some heinous tropical virus.  

             I did get some wirting done, which is not so bad and I also like the fact I can get home and still see the daylight.  Today is the first day of spring.  And yesterday I successfully performed the experiment on my place as a future home for Sunday aperitivos, but I’ll have to tell you all about that some other time.   

             I think I’ll just plant my two guinea pigs on my belly and mull over some ideas before hitting the sack.  See you.        

Plenty of Bugs

I didn’t need a ton of fireworks to keep me up most of the night.  Just the first mosquito of the season.  The little guy buzzed around my ear everyone once in a while just to let me know he was there and then he spent the rest of the night going to work on my head and hands.  My body was on fire by four a.m.  I don’y know how many liters he drained from me but I honestly hope the little bug is is throwing up in some back alley corner.  I especially hope he doesn’t come back, ’cause I’ve got better things to do tonight like sleep. 

San José, Father’s Day and a Bunch of Explosions II

Here in Madrid, life is a great deal calmer.  It’s Father’s Day, you know.  Why March 19th?  Very simple.  Today is the Feast of Saint Joseph, and Joe, as the father of Jesus, seems the obvious choice.  The thing is, if you go by the gospel, Joseph is not the actual sire. The Holy Ghost got in the way.  But Joseph being the understanding soul that he was, accepted his role as custodial guardian, which considering the kid would grow up to be the Messiah, was probably all right by him.  In fact, if you where ever wondering where the name Pepe came from, and you probably weren’t, it’s José.  And if you were ever wondering why Pepe is a nickname for Jose,  which you probably weren’t but by this time are a little intrigued, it’s from the initials P.P. standing for “Padre Putativo”, in other words, “reputed father”.  Honest to God.  So, after further thought, maybe celebrating Father’s Day after a man who clearly had been stripped of this honor is a little questionable, but then again, this is the same country that picked December 28th, which honors the innocent children slaughtered by King Herod, as their day for playing practical jokes.  Just another one of those twists you find here. 

     By the way, Spain’s first consititution was passed on this day in 1812, which is why it was popularly known as “La Pepa”.  It was one of the most progressive documents of its day, but it didn’t last long. Two yars later, the new king, Fernando VII, immediately had it revoked and returned the country to the good old days of absolute monarchy…it was a decision that would have disastrous effects on Spain.   Next year will mark the 200th anniversary of its creation.