Monday, April 28, 2008

How to Eat a Toasted Bread Product in Spain

Firstly, let me be very clear on this point. I do not hate forks ...

You step into a café, bar or restaurant and order tostada, a plate of toast. And because you are in Spain - a necessary part of this narrative - and it is breakfast time, you will probably order a coffee and/or a caña of beer and/or a glass of brandy as well. Because nothing - nothing - goes better with a slice of buttered toast than a crisp lager. And yes, Señor Gato Gringo and I speak from experience.

But because you are in Spain - a necessary part of this narrative - the waiter of the café, bar or restaurant where you have ordered your toast will bring to your table a plate with either 2 slices of toasted bread or 2 halves of a large, often hard toasted bread roll. Sometimes you will be asked if you want the former, pan de molde (or mouldy bread, as Señor G.G. rather puerilely calls it), a croissant, or tostada - a toasted bread roll or a baguette or whatever bread product is on hand. If you are not asked to specify your request - which is the norm - then that is a sign that you will get whatever bread product they have on hand. (And 99.9% of the time - if you have asked for jam, or mermelada - it will be peach. Do not bother asking for any other flavour. Hopefully, you like peach.) But whether your bread looks like Wonder Bread or a smallish football, it is always served with a knife and fork.

A fork?

Yes, a fork. The knife I get - there's that troublesomely ubiquitous peach jam to contend with or, if you've gone native, olive oil and puréed tomato. But a fork? Yes, for this is how to eat a toasted bread product in Spain.

Everyone agrees that some things - namely, prepared foods - are best eaten without forks. It is commonly accepted that you may eat barbecue chicken and pizza with your fingers and, of course, if you eat finger foods with utensils you'll look like a bit of a knob. Everything else, as they don't say - but imply - can be termed as knife-and-fork foods. Which would include toast. I confess that when my breakfast is nothing but a distant memory of crumbs and globs of oily tomato, my useless-as-tits-on-a-bull fork is still untouched.

It should not come as a surprise then that ...

"... Italy and Spain led the world in the adoption of forks. Initially, the French considered forks foppish, but later they co-opted the instrument and became quite vociferous about the varying flavors that different metals could lend to fish, fruit and salads. Thomas Doryat, an Englishman, adopted the fork in 1611, at least for carving, 'seeing all men's fingers are not alike cleane,' cleanliness and consideration of others being recurring themes in the drama of table manners."

But while I'll acknowledge that Spain comes by this fork-mania honestly, I still refuse to cut my toast into little pieces, spear a square with my fork and feed myself like an invalid. It's simply not going to happen.

Yesterday, Señor G.G and I spent the afternoon in the leisurely arduous pursuit of doing absolutely nothing, and we capped off our labours by indulging in a 5-star culinary feast of cheese sandwiches and cañas of beer at one of La Linéa's gazillion nine Okay pastelerias bakeries. Lo and behold! - we didn't receive a plain-jane bocadillo de queso (cheese on a baguette) but honest-to-goodness greasy grilled cheese sandwiches. Honest-to-goodness greasy grilled cheese sandwiches like Mom used to make (although I don't know if they used the bottom of the tea kettle to flatten them out like she did). And low and behold! - we were served them with a knife and fork (see photo above).

This is what we learned: sometimes a bocadillo is not a baguette with cheese but an honest-to-goodness greasy grilled cheese sandwich (- the corollary of which is that honest-to-goodness greasy grilled cheese sandwiches actually exist in Spain). Secondly, that lunch - at least at the nine Okay pastelerias in La Linéa - are no longer safe from fork-shunners like us. If there is a fork out there - and it is - it will find you.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

An Andalucían Haiku: Requiem for a Mosquito (written at 5 a.m. this morning)

Drone, drone, drone!
Vile thing flew through our window;
Took away my sleep.

Drone, drone, drone!
I have to work tomorrow.
Don't you ever sleep?

Drone, drone, drone!
Thwack! My slipper hits the wall.
Now you're just a stain.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


There are some things - and some people - in life that defy logic. A case in point is Rodolfo Chikilicuatre, the foxy cantante you see to the left. Or more accurately, a case in point is the character of Rodolfo Chikilicuatre created by Spanish comedian David Fernández Ortiz.

Among his other talents, Ortiz is credited with the invention of the vibrator-guitar. I have no clue what that is exactly.

It is pretty much impossible to watch TV here for more than 22 minutes without seeing his smooth moves grace the screen. "Rodolfo" has become a household name in Spain after he performed a little ditty called the Baila el Chiki-Chiki (Dance the Chiki-Chiki) on a Spanish late night television show. The appeal of the song - a politically-charged parody of reggaeton, a Latin American type of urban music - is astounding on several levels. First of all, look at him. Now wait until you hear the song. The host of the late night show - so smitten with the song - nominated it for Spain's official entry for the Eurovision Song Contest 2008 which will be held in the 3rd week of May.

Unlike other countries, Spain attempted to level the playing field for Eurovision hopefuls this year by creating a MySpace page from which anyone could vote for their favourite song. The site logged in over 8 million hits and rather inexplicably Baila el Chiki-Chiki bitch-slapped the other 530 entries, winning hands down.

It's status as official Eurovision entry has caused a bit of a scandal in these parts - highbrows in the music biz are rightfully appalled that such a gimicky song could beat out presumably more worthy selections. Compared to the Macarena - and people have drawn comparisons - the Chiki-Chiki is downright cerebral. It is a veritable Bach chorale. But Spain has voted and the Chiki-Chiki it is. To make it more palatable to the Eurovision judges, some contentious and obscure allusions - to the King, for example and the Prime Minister - were removed and replaced with references to Javier Bardem, Antonio Banderas, and Pedro Almodóvar.

The Baila el Chiki-Chiki is currently the number 1 downloaded song in Spain.

Now remember when I said that some things defy logic? I invite you to experience the song here (with English subtitles and partly in English) or here (the extended official Eurovision entry). Truly you have to watch the video to get the full effect.
The greatest shame in this of course, is that I can't stop singing the freaking thing - or the few Spanish words of it I know and/or understand. Odds are that if I don't stop walking around the house singing "Baila el chikichiki, baila el chikichiki", Chris will call an attorney who specializes in divorce. Having said that, I have no doubt in my mind that you'll be doing el brikindans (breakdancing) or the maiquelyason (the Michael Jackson) in no time at all. Of course I'm just saying that so I won't feel like such a loser.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Going Apeshit

 id=I don't much like monkeys. And by monkey, I mean anything that even remotely looks like one, so that would include apes, chimps, Mandrills, gibbons, Jerry Lewis and the Olson twins. A few weeks ago I vented my spleen against the thieving little self-gratifiers in Gib and during the passing of those few weeks my opinion hasn't changed much. I still hate them.

Having said that, I don't want to see them dead either.

Dead? you ask. Indeed. Gib's government has just announced its intention to "cull" about 25 of Gibraltar's barbary apes which have made their home on the east side of the rock at Catalan Bay. Homeowners in Catalan Bay, which is seeing a flurry of building activity (namely villas in the half a million pound range) are none too pleased to see the thieving little self-gratifiers in their backyards. And on their terraces. And rummaging through their garbage cans.

Homeowners are probably thrilled to bits but others are not so happy. Conservationists, including the International Primate Protection League (IPPL), have been noticeably vocal in their condemnation of the ape-genocide. Killing the apes will not solve the problem of population mismanagement. As primatologist Robert Martin - who boycotted the last cull in 2003 - says in regard to the current situation: "It is quite disgraceful that, despite receiving sound advice in 1997, the people in charge of the macaques have taken no effective a id=ction to manage the population in a way that would benefit all concerned."

While I don't doubt that the thieving little self-gratifiers are a humongous pain in the ass - scrounging through garbage, entering & ransacking hotel rooms, and biting those who venture too close to them, and just being butt-ugly - putting the lot down seems a bit extreme. And will Gib's gunslingers stop there? Slippery slope, my friend!

An online petition has been created by the IPPL to draw the public's attention to this crise des apes. Should you want to help save the thieving little self-gratifiers, click here. They will undoubtedly thank you ... long enough to distract you from that picnic basket you're carrying.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Those "Other" Beached Whales

The other day, in a not very rare moment of snarkdom, Señor Gatito Gringo pointed out a rather flabby, flaccid and pasty individual on the beach at Catalan Bay and mumbled to me, "Look! A beached whale." After I averted my eyes from the blinding glare, I put on my sunglasses and saw that Señor G.G. was in fact correct. Flabby, flaccid and pasty, he was spread out on the sand for all to recoil in horror admire, soaking up every degree of the day's soaring temperature.

He was not a pretty sight.

Now, I have a certain amount of sympathy for the Beached Whales (BW's) we see shored up along Andalucía's coastline - although I do wish that those BW's whose body mass index exceeds 25 kg/m2 would refrain from sunbathing topless or strutting about in speedos. There is enough gratuitous evil in this world as it is. Like me, many of these BW's are escaping winter or winter-like climes and just want to experience more than 6 hours of sunlight a day and feel the sun penetrating their skins. After all, that's why I came to Spain. And after all, that's why I left Madrid for the Costa de la Luz.

But the reality is that these BW's - many of whom have snatched up relatively cheap real estate in the south - have become a bit of a
liability on the Spanish health care system. These "residential tourists", as they are now called, account for 33% of the skin cancer operations conducted in the Costa del Sol alone. Mostly Brits and Germans, they are more prone to the sun's harmful rays because of their age, lifestyle and their natural fair skins (i.e., flabby, flaccid and pasty) and a natural propensity for eating sausage. (I lied about the last one - that would be colorectal cancer).

Truth be told, I am a wee bit jealous. I don't wish myself skin cancer of course (because I don't)but I often wonder what it would be like to enjoy the BW-lifestyle: owning a fabulous townhouse or villa unaffordable back home, being able to draw on your pensions far removed from any snowblowers or salt trucks, lying on the beach or on one's private terrace all day until you have to meet other BW-expats at the club for drinks, a few rounds of golf, having jars of marmite flown into Spain, never having to learn the native language ...

Of course the downside includes looking like a veritable beached whale until one develops that orangey-yellow crusty hide that passes for a "healthy" tan among BW-expats. And incurring the resentment of the locals who can't possibly afford the homes they're building at break-neck speed. And incurring the resentment of the locals because the extent of one's Spanish is hola and gracias. And incurring the resentment of the locals for having driven up the cost of health care because you have developed skin cancer.

Perhaps there's a happy medium in all of this. If I promise not to microwave myself so that I look like a desiccated tangerine, promise to work on my Spanish (I already have a vocabulary of plus 2 words), and forego the membership at the marina, can I have the townhouse?

Monday, April 7, 2008

A Beer by Any Other Name ...

Imagine you have a brewery (I now have Señor Gato Gringo's attention) and your master brewer has just developed a new beer. Maybe it's a lager, maybe it's an ale. And arguably the only thing better than drinking your new beer - assuming it isn't totally crap - is christening it. For surely naming a beer is tantamount to naming your child - although arguably, if you give your child a crap name (like Enid or Troy), s/he can change it later on. But for weal or woe, your beer is stuck with it.

The Beerosphere is awash with fabulously bizarre beer names. Dead Guy Ale, Alimony Ale, Mort Subite (Sudden Death), Snowblower Ale, Seriously Bad Elf, Moose Drool and Arrogant Bastard all promise to quench the seeker's thirst with varying degrees of success (and good taste).

My favourite beer name is Mezquita - mezquita being Spanish for mosque - brewed by the Grupo Cervezas Alhambra. The unofficial official story is that the brewery, based in Granada, came up with the name in homage to its neighbouring city of Córdoba. At least that's one version.

One can't help but wonder if it was an agent provocateur of sorts to Spain's Muslim community. A community that has strong historical ties to Andalucía in so much as Moors from North Africa had invaded the region and ruled here on again/off again (although mainly on) for almost 800 years. And Córdoba was its jewel in the crown. Surpassing those
poseurs Cairo and Baghdad in its scientific innovations, education, arts, and culture, Córdoba was the first city in the world to boast indoor plumbing and street lights.

In 997, Moorish ruler Mohammed ibn Abu-Amir al-Mansur led a raiding party as far north as Santiago de Compostela. After his horse drank holy water from the church fountain, al-Mansur ordered that the church's bells be strapped to the backs of those Christians unlucky enough to be standing around with their thumbs up their asses and carry them back to Córdoba - a bracing 800 kilometre walk. Then he had the bells melted down to make lamps for the city's grand mosque.

A bit of a slap in the face.

But in 1236, Ferdinand III and his Christian forces retook the city. F-3 ordered that the mosque's lamps be strapped to the backs of those Muslims unlucky enough to be standing around with their thumbs up their asses and carry them back to Santiago de Compostela - a bracing 800 kilometre walk. Then he had the lamps melted down to make bells for the church.

A bit of a slap in the face.

So "Mosque" Beer ... a bit of a slap in the face? Hard not to think so. Naming a beer - even an amber beauty like Mezquita - after Islam's primary place of worship is a bit ...well ... cheeky. You can get away with stuff like that with the Catholic church. After all, monks were history's first master brewers and brewed the world's best beer. In one of Señor G.G.'s previous incarnations he was undoubtedly a Trappist Monk. A very happy one.

I don't know what Islam's response - official or unofficial - was to the brewing - or more accurately, the naming of Mezquita. I can't imagine that they were overly thrilled. But perhaps the best revenge is knowing that Islam has finally ousted Roman Catholicism as the largest religion in the world. Revenge, as they say, is a dish best served cold. And a glass of Mezquita is best served at 4-7 ºC.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Frosty Thoughts

I have to remind myself that I need to cultivate tolerance. Yes, tolerance. Perhaps even some understanding ... dare I say compassion too? Tolerance and understanding and compassion. Tolerance and understanding and compassion for the poor souls whom I watched on their way to work this morning, all bundled up in their parkas, hats and scarves. They did look cold.

At 10:30 this morning, it was 21◦ C and will probably climb to about 26. Where I come from, that's not exactly winter outerwear weather and the Old Me - the one who has yet to begin cultivating tolerance and understanding and compassion - would probably make some snarky comment at the expense of those poor souls. Something along the lines of "cold enough for ya?" But not the New Me.

Because I know that if I were to spend next winter at home, all of my friends and family would delight in mocking me as I shiver through wind chills and snow storms and plummeting temperatures.

Oh. Except that it's not winter. It's spring. And it's 21 freaking degrees today and will probably climb to about 26. So much for the New Me.