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May 22, 2003

I mean, sure I like soft-shelled crabs

But I've sort of got my doubts about eating scorpion or drinking its nectar. Or am I just too picky an eater (and drinker)?

May 21, 2003


At least no one was hurt, but still it's unnerving to think of the hallowed halls of my alma mater under attack. A bomb exploded today in the Yale Law School.

May 19, 2003

When Atkins attack

I love Slate's shopathon/critique articles, and today's Meaty Issues - Are the new low- and no-carb breads, beers, and sweets any good? is no exception. It confirms my belief that I will not be going on the Atkins diet again any time soon.

I do, however, like the way writer Kelly Alexander ends the article: "As for me, if I wanted to Atkins-ize myself permanently (highly unlikely), I would simply eat pork-chop-wrapped duck breasts for every meal." Hear, hear.

May 15, 2003

Leaving Madrid, Paulette Style

So, I went back to Madrid for my last night in Spain. This makes sense, right? Since my flight was from Madrid, and sure, Toledo was only an hour away and I had a primo parking spot and a really nice hotel room that I could have kept for an extra night. But I thought to myself, hey, Madrid, yeah, cool city, gazillions of hotel rooms, no problem.

Parking, on the other hand...Not so much.

So, I timed things perfectly. Spent the day in Toledo going to the museums and such that had been closed on Monday, working a bit more on my tan, enjoying the city in general, and then heading back to Madrid at rush hour. Yeah. Well, the good thing about that was in stop and go traffic on the highway, changing lanes and all, I realized that I hadn't stalled once. I'm like total expert stick shift driver. Yeah, I rock in small ways.

So I get to Madrid, start looking for a hotel. Preferably one with parking. That's cheap. And comfortable. Well, I got one out of three.

Actually, genius that I am, I had gotten rid of the map of Madrid I'd had earlier. Which isn't that big a deal. There are signs pointing me toward landmarks, so I can easily get myself toward the Puerta del Sol (kind of Madrid's answer to Times Square) and that sort of thing, but forget trying to find the actual streets for hotels recommended by lousy Fodors, since the map I had been using was the one in the book that I had conveniently ripped out of the book so I could carry it around with me.

Eh, whatever. I find a parking spot on the street and walk into some hostals (which are not hostels, but sort of somewhere between a hotel and a pension) and pensions. Nope, no single rooms available at the first five. Fine, there's a pension on the 6th floor (can anyone say walk-up) in the building where the last hostal was full. I give it a try. Hey, they've got a room. Hey, it's only 11 euros. Cool. I'll take it. Oh, of course no parking. Really? I'm likely to get towed on the street there. Sure, I'll park it at the parking lot you recommend, which is only half a kilometer away. No, I won't give a thought to bringing my now extremely heavy backpack to the pension while my car is parked on the street in front of it. I'll wait until I've parked half a kilometer away to give this some thought.

Half a kilometer and six flights of stairs later, soaking with sweat and generally feeling hot and nasty, I notice the little sign at the entrance to my "Pension y hotel residencial." Hmmm....

Bathroom is busy, so I wash up a little in the sink in my room and change and go out of the evening. I know I should shower, but hey, I'm fine. A little perfume. I mean, I did shower this morning, before spending the day walking up hills in 90 degree weather in Toledo. I'm cool. Or rather, clean enough.

Hey, I'm going to eat at the world's oldest restaurant. And Hemingway's favorite. It's called Botin, right off the Plaza Mayor. Sweet! Perfect way to end the trip. Hemingway and Food all in one package. And that was essentially the theme for the trip, right? Before it became torturing rental cars, that is. Oh, and their specialty is roast suckling pig, which, as it turns out, is one of my favorite things to eat.

Now I know it's cheesy that I'm reading a Hemingway book (The Fifth Column) in his favorite restaurant, but I've gone though all the others I brought with me so I really don't have much choice at this point.

In walk some British folks who are in town for a conference. They are seated at the table next to mine. One of them asks me, somewhat incredulously, if I'm reading Hemingway translated into Spanish. I say that would be silly, since I can't read Spanish. And so begins an evening of hanging out with Brits on my last night in Madrid.

Actually, I'd already ordered my pork and while I was chatting with them, my food came. After a few minutes, the waiter came over and scolded them for keeping my attention. "Her meat is getting cold!" he told them rather sternly.

And it was quite good, really.

So after everyone's eaten, someone gets the idea that since we're in the world's oldest restaurant we should get the oldest Spanish brandy they have. So we get that. Then the oldest sherry. The waiter suggests something else that none of can figure out what it is. The little phrasebook is of no use. Oh sure, we'll take some of that too. It turned out to be a Basque liquor, kind of cherry and anise flavored and not exactly bad.

Having eaten and drunk in a manner that would have made old Earnest proud, we venture out into the Madrid nightlife.

So, like 6am, I'm back at scary residential pension, and ready for a couple of hours of sleep, but some guy is playing his radio really loud and then at like 6.30 they start tearing down the building across the way, brick by brick, with sledgehammers or something. Anyway, it's slow and repetitive and loud. I give up. I'll shower, get some coffee, and walk around the Puerta del Sol for a while before I have to take the rental car back to the airport. Hey, two out of three isn't bad, right?

Yeah, so bathroom is REALLY scary. There's something evolving in the bottom of the shower stall, and that entity apparently has an issue with allowing the water to drain. Oh, and there was actually no way to determine the relative cleanliness of any of the towels in there. Yep. Well, hey, showering is overrated, right? Just ask the French. But at least I went and had really good coffee.

And by the way, a big of fi on Fodors, who had included a little warning in their book that even if you think of yourself as a coffee afficianado, you'll likely find that the coffee in Spain is too strong. They recommend something that sounds like an Americano to make it palatable. Too strong? What? First of all, saying coffee can be too strong is like saying that a rodeo can have too many cowboys. It just doesn't work that way. Second of all, the coffee in Spain is amazing! Outstanding. I'm depresssed by the inferiority of Starbucks now. And the expense. A cafe cortado, the drink I chose to make my own, which is a double espresso with just a dab of steamed milk, generally runs about 50 to 75 cents. Yeah, Spanish coffee...

Anyway, so I manage to return my rental car without having done any visible damage to it, and luckily I had unlimited mileage, which was sort of the equivalent of letting Jason loose at an Indian buffet. I put over 28k kilometers on that thing. Poor Toro. But I didn't crash him into anything, so that's cool.

And I'm back, which is less cool. Got back last night. Tired. Dirty. Jetlagged. Just a bit hungover.

And now, having slogged through 848 unread email messages at work, I'm about ready to call it a day. My adventure over, my laundry duty just beginning. But I'm primed to take a few whacks at recreated Spanish dishes to go with all the Spanish wine I brought back.

May 12, 2003

Final dispatch, in the world's oldest giftshop

Otherwise known as Toledo. Actually, it's gorgeous here, all windy roads and old stone built on a hill and when cars pass you have to squish yourself into a doorway to not get smushed on their front bumper, or sideview mirror. And you thought it was ridiculous seeing Hummers try to park in compact parking spots? But there are more shops selling damascene and mallorca pearls than there are drive-through coffee shops in Seattle. But the town os gorgeous, it's sunny and warm, my hotel is so cool (and amazingly still only 60 euros a night, though the most expensive one I've stayed in by far) with this elaborate medieval courtyard with fountains and gardens and such, and I might buy a few trinkets, because really other than wine, Ihaven't bought much here that I could bring back in any way other than as stored fat.

Actually, that's not entirely true. I bought shoes. Sandals, actually, and I'm in love with them. They're gorgeous spanish leather embroidered with a floral pattern. If the weather in Seattle isn't warm when I get back, I'm selling my condo and moving to Southern California so I can wear them all the time. You think I'm kidding! And I bought a few clothes, not much, a couple of shirts that were really cute and I can't wait to wear.

Went to Bilbao yesterday. The city was ok, but the Guggenheim! I have a new-found respect for Frank Gehry. Whereas the EMP is so over the top with the colors and the textures, at best a novelty act, this is just the titanium plating, and blond wood or polished concrete flooring, with an emphasis on creating interesting and gorgeous spaces. I took pictures of the museum,because it really was breathtaking.

And they had a whole room of little Calder mobiles that were hung and lit so that they made gorgeous shadows. I love his stuff, because it's all about reducing art down to its most essentially elements, and making the lines the story. They also had an interesting exhibit of 20th century art from Jasper Johns to Jeff Koons, with that really cool sculture of a blue metallic dog that looks like it's made from a balloon. It was a great show, but really, the museum was gorgeous. I have some new hope that the library he is designing for Princeton U. won't be hideous. Maybe Gehry was just making fun of what's his name's ego in building a museum dedicated to his own musical taste? That's not the first time that's occurred to me.

Oh, and I finally got the hang of driving! It turns out, I should NOT start out with the clutch all the way down! Makes all the difference. I'm an expert now! Only stalled once yesterday, on a really steep hill in Toledo in one of those windy roads, when people were standing blocking the road talking and I had no choice but to stop. But I didn't roll back and crash into anything, so I feel like a rock star. I even had to do the stop and go traffic and changing lanes in it through Madrid yesterday and didn't stall. Watch, now I've jinxed mysefl and will be all stalling everywhere tomorrow going back to Madrid.

So I probably won't post again before I leave Wednesday morning, though I will try to relate at least one or two amusing anecdotes, include the missing my flight story, when I get back.

May 10, 2003

Dispatch 4, eating my way through San Sebastian

OK, first off, I'll apologize if anyone is getting tired of my constant talking (yeah, you all thought you could get rid of me for a few weeks--fat chance!), but I'm kind of getting into this travel journal thing.

So, since I've gotten to San Sebastian I've done very little other than eat, and walk to places to eat, and drink, and walk to places to drink. Today, I drove somewhere to eat.

The amazing thing, though, is that my clothes still fit. Let's hope this keeps up, but with the amount of food I've put away in the last four days (not to mention sidra, tzakolis--literally Ļ"green wine" a local product not unlike a light, fruity prosecco) I should be looking like a Macy's Day Parade balloon. But my jeans actually seem a little loose. It would appear to be some weird perversion of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, where I eat plenty of loaves and fishes, and yet there is no more of me than before. Very odd.


So anyway, today I drove thirty minutes out of San Sebastian to eat at a place called Casa Julian in a small town named Tolosa. This was thanks to my brother and his friend (thanks Terry) because I would never have known about this little hole in the wall in a nondescript little town nowhere near anything I wanted to see. And I considered not going because, well, frankly because I was afraid of abject failure trying to get the car up the steep ramp in the parking garage here. But I decided to be brave, and anyway, I also wanted to go to Hondarribia, a little town on the coast right at the French border that is supposed to be really lovely.

Well, I am so glad I braved the whole thing. I got to Tolosa around 11.30, but most restaurants don't open until 13.30 for lunch (like France, they work on military time over here), so I had some time to kill, and decided I would check out the town. Well, Saturdays it would appear that Tolosa is a big old farmers' market. I mean, everything that could remotely be considered a square, a plaza, or just a really wide sidewalk is filled with people selling--well, anything you can eat or drink. There was a guy selling wine in those big plastic water cooler containers (you know, the ones you turn upside down), 4 euros for 5 liters. Unfortunately there was no way it was going to make it into my carryon, otherwise, you know I would have bought some. And it was actually pretty decent.

Well, I bought a bag of shelled fava beans from an old lady, who spoke some French (this close to the border, most people speak French, which is another story, one I'll get to eventually) and who convinced me to buy some of the honey that her husband makes. She's afraid of the bees. So, the thing is, which fresh spring favas you need cheese. Traditionally, at least among Italians, it's a young pecorino, or sheep cheese. So I told her I wanted cheese to go with it, and she said that was a great idea and took me to meet her friend who makes cheeses. I bought two. One a very light sheep cheese, very soft and fresh and almost like what fresh mozzarella would be if it were made with sheep milk. The other is a goat cheese, a little firmer and more aged, very complex and tasty. For good measure, I decided I should also buy some sausage, because I was seeing a picnic come of all this, and so she took me to meet the sausage maker at his stand. He's a cousin of hers, apparently, and she told me she liked this one in particular that's like a soft salami with a lot of hot paprika in it. So that was cool. If only I could bring this stuff back to the states with me. But it will do for road food over the next few days.

Anyway, time to eat. I find Casa Julian, which you enter through the storeroom. And then you basically eat in the kitchen, because there isn't really a kitchen. Just a fireplace in the dining room with a wood fire and a grill rack, where Julian cooks the steaks (chulettas). There is only one cut, and you don't get to choose how you want it done. Fortunately, Julian seems to know that not unlike putting fancy French sauces on fresh, quality ingredients, it's an unpardonable food crime to overcook a really good steak. So he takes your order, which basically consists of giving your assent to him making your steak and deciding if you want a salad and what to drink. There are roasted piquillo peppers listed on the menu, for an additional price, but Julian insists you have them, so it's sort of moot. "Is not optional, the peppers" he said. So you "order" and he goes and cuts your piece of meat, and brings it into the dining room and throws it on the grill rack, and then takes a big handful of coarse salt, the only seasoning, and covers it with that. He throws a bunch of peppers on the fire too.

When the peppers are ready, he peels them, douses them with a bit of olive oil, and brings them to your table. When the steak is ready, he wipes off the salt, and carries it across the dining room table on one of those long fork things for grilling, the name of which is escaping me at the moment, and plops it on your plate. You take a bit of pepper, which is good and hot and a little spicy and smoky tasting, with each bite of steak. It was heavenly. Hey, if you're only going to do one thing, do it really well. You also get a loaf of bread, which is good. Crusty outside, moist and doughy, with a weird hint of corn flake taste to it, but with the steak and pepper drippings, it was outstanding.

And I had wine. Only a half bottle because I was driving. But up there with overcooking steaks and drowning good food in rich French sauces, eating a good steak without red wine is another food crime I will never commit.

But I did learn a valuable lesson. Susan once told me that there was a window between half a bottle and 3/4 of one in which you are at your best driving a stick shift. And by God she was right. I managed to unparallel park (or is that parallel unpark?), do a K-turn, drive through town, get onto the highway, go through San Sebastian, get back on the highway, drive into Hondarribia, and parallel park again, all without stalling, or stripping the gears, or even jerking the car at all. So, I guess the lesson to be learned here is that so long as I stay just shy of tipsy, I can drive! Yeah, I rock in minor ways.

Hondarribia is so pretty. I took lots of pictures. I want to live there. It's on the ocean. It's dramatic. Has a nice beach and jetties where people fish for dorado. A view of France and the mountains. And cliffs. And the town itself is really pretty.

So I spent a few hours walking along the beach and such, and then decided rather than getting bck on the highway, to take the beach road back toward San Sebastian, which rises higher and higher onto these cliffs overlooking the ocean. I stopped in a few places and took pictures, and at one, pulled off to the side and had my little snack of some of the favas and cheese, and just took in the quiet and prettiness. Today was a good day.

Yesterday was a good eating day. I went to Arzak, which is considered the top restaurant in Spain (well, I guess it's tied with El Bulli in the south, but I won't have time to get there), and it was amazing. I told the waitress I couldn't decide between the lamb and the calamari steak (which was grilled and dusted with orange zest and cocoa powder--lord almight!) and she said I could have a half portion of each. Then she recommend I do the same with the appetizers and desserts.

Ok, so here is where it all gets obscene. Except that at least I had a three kilometer walk each way to get to and from the restaurant to work off some of this food. And I ordered a bottle of one of my favorite wines, a Marques de Murrietta Reserva, because, for one thing, this was a bottle that in the states would be much more expensive in a restaurant (not 18 euros for sure!) and because when you're going to have food that good, you really do need good wine to go with it, right?

So, they brought out five ameuses geules. Oh yeah. The first came on a toothpick and they handed it to me. It was a pineapple with a shrimp ceviche on top. Then there was a salmon tarte with red onion and good vinegar on a piece of potato. A tiny taro cake with a piece of seared foie gras and a black olive puree topped with a little bit of pink grapefruit. A pickled herring wrapped around a strawberry (and trust me, it was good) and a tiny cup of an onion soup, pureed, with an idiazabal cheese crisp on top.

Then they brought appetizer one. A crayfish salad in rioja and soy viniagrette on blue potatoes with watercress. That was really good, but hte next was heavenly. Little triangles of foie gras, yogurt and canteloupe puree wrapped in crepes. Sweet Jesus! The flavor was unimaginably good. Just truly, truly outstanding.

Then the calamari steak, which was actually weirdly constructed into something that kind of looks like a house that Rem Koolhaas designed in the south of france. There was a tiny bit of a savory orange marmalade on the side, but the cocoa powder and orange zest on the calarmari where incredible.

Next, the lamb, grilled in a curry powder and idiazabal cheese crust. Easily the best lamb I've ever tasted. And the wine was perfect with all of these things.

Dessert the first was a "hamburger" of chocolate ganache between two crispy buns of really good puff pastry. The second, much better than the first, was an apple and black olive tarte tatin. Wow! And then they brought out mango gelato, in a tiny cup, just a taste, a blast of mango creamy coldness.

So that was my meal, and it was truly outstanding. Though I do have to say that for pure enjoyment, today's steak and the kokotxa from the other day (which turns out to be salt cod throats) top the list for best meals. But I have had quite a few really good fried sardines here too.

Good thing I'm leaving town tomorrow. I'm pretty sure I've eaten enough for a month.

Love to all. Can't wait to see you Thursday!

May 09, 2003

Okies spared

The Nonfamous Mother of Us All, a/k/a The Judy called me last night to tell me she and the family were all unharmed before I knew what had happened. What's terrible is that this is the same area that was traumatized by an F5 storm 4 years ago this month, just a couple of weeks after I moved here. But what is really amazing is that despite 300 homes and many commercial buildings were destroyed, there were no fatalities and few major injuries. Relatively miraculous, really. And that part of OKC needs all the miracles it can get. One of the biggest areas of damage is the GM plant-- especially the paint facility, which is a big customer of my Dad's industrial hygeine business. But if that's the closest to home it hits, we're all thankful.

Airplanes as Art

There's a nice article in Salon today. It's the latest installment of my favourite Salon column, in fact: Ask the Pilot. I was sad when this column moved into Salon's premium section. Hey, I like Salon, but I don't actually want to pay for it. But the new daypass feature means everyone can read it, as long as you're willing to sit though a 30-second commercial for the Mazda 6. And you know, as much as I hate popups and the like, this type of advertising doesn't bother me for some reason. And, I can read my email while the ad plays. It's a win-win: bravo, Salon!

But I digress. Ask the Pilot is a wonderful column, written with wit and insight by an ex-Pilot. Now, for some reason I don't quite understand I have a deep-seated (and, many would say, macabre (see my book on airline crash black box transcripts for example) interest in the airline industry) so I just love the little anecdotes that Patrick comes up with. See his story about an encounter with an exploding loo at 30,000 feet for a good chuckle.

This article is about the aesthetics of the various airline liveries, rather than the usual technical or process-oriented fare. A nice comparison of the domestic carrier's paintjobs, and a rather scathing assessment of Landor's work (were you involved in any of these, Jay?). I was disappointed Qantas didn't get a mention (they've stuck with the flying kangaroo logo as long as I've been alive and almost certainly longer), and I quite liked the old British Airways "World Image" look, although I can see the point about it being more like a wallpaper catalogue. But an interesting article nonetheless, well worth a read.

May 08, 2003

Dispatch 3, The Short, Unhappy Life of Toro the Opel

Well, since leaving Madrid, I just take the opportunity when I happen upon an Internet cafe, because, well, you never know when I'll find another.

Excuse the awful typos in yesterday's post. That keyboard was weirder than most, not just oddly placed letters, but sticky keys and I was trying to type too fast.

Anyhoo, so I might as well tell you the sad saga of my rental car, a cute little Opel Corsa--a very new car but without air conditioning or a radio. The former doesn't really matter, since it's been fairly cool and overcast or raining since I left Madrid. The latter might be both a blessing and a curse. No radio means fewer distractions, and it's probably a really good thing that I pay as much attention to the driving, as I'm going largely without benefit of a map and still not that good at the whole driving thing. On the other hand, no radio leaves me a lot of time to think. And I mean a lot. Which is probably dangerous. When I picked up Toro, he had a mere 6000 kilometers on the odometer. I've managed to add another 1200 to that. Poor thing.

But there is a reason I've named him so. You see, in bullfighting, the poor bull is the object of a tragedy. He's tested, to see how brave he is, then basically pnished into being controlled before being killed. When he rushed the horses with the picadors atop them, he's stabbed by a 4cm blade at the end of a long stick. Then, when that's finally over, the bandilleros get their turn. They each take 2 banderillas, long frou-frou looking affairs with a pic at the end. They run at hte bull and stick him in the back near the neck. Three times this happens, and then out comes the matador with the muleta (the red cape thing the bull rushes) where he is finally slain with the steel. If he's lucky.More often that not, the matador either can't get the blade in and has to do it several times, or he gets it in but it doesn't kill the bull, who then is rushed by the banderillos with pink capes who try to disorient himuntil he collapses, and then, if necessary, one of them finishes him off with a stab to the artery in his neck.

Now imagine my poor car going through this. He's been stalled more times than I can remember at this point. I've learned first hand why people who drive stick shifts seem to prefer rolling stops to actual ones, and I think I now get what it means to strip the gears. I've had a couple (ok more than a couple) of times where at 100km an hour I could't get the damn thing into a gear, on a hill, going round a sharp curve. And he's made some really painful sounds along the way, but he keeps coming back for more.

And after yesterday, I'm feeling pretty lucky about that. You see, I literally added insult to injury. After sending Jay my post, I went outside but it was really cold, so I decided to get my sweater from the car, which,believe it or not, I had successfully parallel parked in downtown Pamplona. Except.

You guessed it. No car. Not there.

Now, I'll digress for a moment and say that I find it interesting how easy it's been to meet people on this trip. Really from the first plane ride, in all the airports, and generally along the way, it's been remarkably easy to strike up conversations with people. I wonder if t's reading too much into the situations, or being too much a romantic to think that people who put themselves on journeys are inevitably nervous and excited by the whole thing, and so want or need to share something of it with others who they perceive as going through something similar.

And it is nerve wracking and exciting. I mean, as amazing a time as I've been having, I've had to repeat to myself more than a few times the oldadage about whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger. And I guess I'm beginning to believe that it's true, because if ever there was a time when I would have expected me to fall apart, it would be standing in the rain in Pamplona, no map, unable to speak the language, with my car missing.

Actually, the police were very nice. I flagged down the first car I saw, and tried to explain to them "la coche, no esta aqui" which seemed to get the point across. They followed me to where it had been, pointed to the orange sticker on the ground indicating that it had been towed, and then proceeded to explain that the little weird machine at the end of the block was where I needed to pay for parking nad then put the ticket in the dashboard. Oops.

So they gave me a ride to where the car had been taken, and it cost me 100 euros to get it back. I harbored some vain hope that the police would explain that I was just a dumb American and shouldn't have to pay the whole fine, but they just asked me if I watched how we got there so I could ge back to downtown. Oops again.

Well, hey, it was something to make me stronger, I suppose, and, well, I got to ride in a police car. They were nice enough to let me ride shotgun, er, in the front seat, so I wouldn't feel like a criminal. And I've no doubt they least had a good story to share over donuts and amazing Spanish coffee (which is probably even good in offices and precinct houses here) later on.

So I collected my car, drove back to downtown Pamplona, in rush hour no less, and parked again, this time paying for my parking spot, apparently the right way, and heading to the Cafe Iruna for a drink.

Yep. Hey, I told you there would be misadventures to share.

But today I am in San Sebastian, which is really pretty. And on the ocean. And I had an exceptional lunch. I've finished the weirdly obsessive Hemingway pilgrimage for this trip and am embarking on the eating portion of the trip. So today, one of the top traditional Basque restaurants in town. Yummers! Really. I mean, the thing is that as much as I love cooking and eating, I'm rarely truly impressed. I always go into a restaurant and want to be wowed. I want to say Great God in Heaven, I had no idea it could be this good. And that rarely happens. I thought that the other day with the foie and pina colada dish. I can only remember one or two experiences of that in the last year in Seattle (For those interested, it was Brasa's rioja vinegar quail over chocolate polenta--yeah,chocolate polenta--and the golden beet salad at Harvest Vine).

Well, I wanted to shout that from the rafters today at Bodegan Alejandro. The place is cute,vaguely rustic, and very homey, with brownand green tile halfway up the wall, and then yellow painted walls above that, square, heavy wooden tables with no table cloths. Really good bread. A bottle of sidra, the local specialty (served in a wine bottle like French cidre) was 4 euros. Yeah! And it was good. Tart and fermenty tasting, but really nice. And the food. Amuese geule was a cream of leak soup, served in a little egg cup. Tasty. Did I mention the bread was good. So was the appetizer. White asparagus broiled with queso Roncal and served with a poached egg. Yeah. Good.

The entree, though. Yeah. Wait, I need a minute. You guessed it. More salt cod. I love that stuff. Anyway, this was called something like kokotxa. Itīs basically what happens whenyou realize that shrimp scampi could be made heavenly by substituting salt cod for the shrimp and then adding a lot more butter and wine so it's all in a soup kind of thing wiht tuny potatoes. And really good bread to sop it up.

I wouldnt have had dessert because I'm not big on wasting calories on sweets, and trust me, I need to think about this with the eating regimen that's ahead of me for the next few days, but it was included in the price of the meal (oh, yeah, the whole thing, all three course, is $25). So I asked the waiter to just tell me which was the best one. He said the pain perdu. Oh yeah. It was good. It was Great God in Heaven, who knew dessert could be this good good. Imagine if you will, a cross between bread pudding made with really good bread and a creme brulee and you've got this dessert. Oh, and thenfor good measure, top it with some lemon gelato.

Yeah, I've got to keep walking. I could walk to Italy at this point and would still not work off all those calories. But they were so worth it.

And did I mention the other thing I discovered in Madrid which might well cause my downfall one of these days--fried sardines. You know, that's what's wrong with America. No fried sardines. You know, even bad fried sardines, ones that have been sitting around all day and are reheated in the microwave when you order them, are really good. Why don't we eat them like crazy in the states? How am I going to return to a sardine-less existence?

Ok. Gotta run. Places to go. Things to see. Well, really just lunch to work off.

Love to you all.

May 07, 2003

Dispatch the 2nd, El Pais Vasco

Some technical glitch, which I'm choosing to blame on the ETA (Basque country's answer to the IRA) has left me completely unpable to access the authors' portion of nonfamous, so big thanks to Jay for posting this in my stead.

So, I'm in Pamplona. You know, the place with the running of the bulls and all that? Well, it's kind of cool. I mean, I came here for two reasons, right? Food and Hemingway. So I'm in exactly the right place for that. Except, I gotta say, Pamplona, as pretty as it is, sort of leaves me cold. The monastery where I am staying, on the other hand, is quite cool. And it's a two mile drive up a mountain to get there overlooking Navarra and the Irati river.

Now the Irati excites me. I was actually fairly thrilled to spend the morning walking around Saguesa, a town straddling the river that I am almost certain was where Hemingway had n mind when he wrote the scenes where Bill and Jake stay before heading off to the feria in Pamplona, where they fish the Irati and have the last moments of peace before Brett and Mike et al show up and begin turning the whole thing into a mess of drama and tensions. That was always my favorite part of the book, the one I came to this part of the world for, and recent history being what it has been, I guess it's no real surprise that I would connect to that part of the story, is it?

And the views from my monastery are amazing. Really, truly incredible, even though it's been raining since I got here. I've taken a ton of pictures. Alas, all the stunning photos I've taken since leaving Madrid are of Navarra and La Rioja (where, incidentally, I've developed quite the stock of good, cheap wine that is going to be more than a chore to fit in my carryon getting home). Aragon, which I drove through on Monday, was outstandingly beautiful. Really, truly, dramatic lanscape, and I wish I'd taken pictures. Whereas Navarra is green and blue and lush, Aragon is all reds and golds. And mountains. Why, don't I have any pictures of this splendor you ask? Well, there are a number of reasons.

It would appear that even Paulette's sense of adventure has its limits. I'd like to say that it had something to do with common sense or a self-preservation kicking in, but we all know that's unlikely to have been more than a small portion of it. No, there really weren't a whole lot of good places to stop and take photos, for one thing. The roads were largely two lane affairs on winding switchbacks up and down the sides of mountains, and I had some concern that pulling over, despite the lack of regular traffic, was likely to get me killed. And I had a destination in mind, which I was all that much more inclined to reach owing to the growing call of nature. And I was loathe to stop in any of the small towns I passed along the way because they all had this vaguely sinister, deserted look that reminded me of the towns where the man with no name would get himself into problems in Clint Eastwood movies. And I was in a bad mood, which admittedly was most of it.

I had taken a detour through Aragon rather than heading straight for Pamplona because my guidebook had recommended a town called Cuenca as a good day trip from Madrid to see the famed "hanging" houses in the mountain and the Moorish influence that persists to this day. Yeah, well, a pox on Fodors is what I have to say. For one thing, 100 miles into the middle of nowhere is not a day trip. For another, unless the Moors invented tagging, car stripping, and urban blight in general, I'm failing to see where this influence persists. The best thing I can say about Cuenca is that it's a lot like North Philadelphia but with a bullfighting ring. And really, I'm only trying really hard to look for the silver lining by mentioning the ring.

Needless to say, I didn't get out of the car, as I didn't want the same fate to befall it that seemed to have most of the cars that dared park on the streets. So it was that I was driving through the most beautiful country I've ever seen, appreciating it as it whizzed by knowing that by the time I reached Zaragoza, the next major town, I would have been more than 6 hours without food, water, or a bathroom, and I kind of wanted all three, badly.

Zaragoza doesn't win many points either, but it afforded me cheap lodging, cheap food, and a bathroom when I really needed them. And I got to practice driving a stick shift, which, if you want to put a fine point on it, I'm not getting a whole lot better at. But I had the best possible chance to improve in Zaragoza. Imagine the scene. Paulette, tired, pissed, wanting to, hungry, in need of a drink, in the rain, during rush hour, at night (oh, and in case everyone didn't already know, I'm terrified to drive at night in the rain in an automatic when I actually know the territory--it's a long story), with no map of the city, looking for a hotel, any hotel, and barely able to communicate with anyone so asking for directions on the street would be largel fruitless. You get the picture.

Things improved upon my leaving Aragon though. La Rioja is gorgeous, and there are bodegas all around (which here are wineries, and not overpriced corner convenience stores), and wine tastings are free, the bottles of wine averaging between $2 and $5. Yeah. So I saw this one castle way up top of a hill and decided my sense of adventure had kicked back in, so I followed the road up to it, where I found the prettiest little town (Villamayor, which I took a ton of photos of) and a winery with a restaurant, where I decided to have a late lunch.

And enter the dawning of new Basque cuisine. Oh. My. God. It. Was. So. Good.

First of all, the dining room was designed so that one side looked down the hill onto the valley, the other up to the town. And the wine was good. really good. The food. Oh yeah. So they brought out the amuese geule, a potato croquette and a shotglass of a rich mushroom consomme. Tasters. Then my soup, a fish soup not unlike bouillabaisse that tasted just enough of saffron and tomato and had a touch of cream to it. Then my entree. Oh lordypants. It was that good. Duck liver (not foie gras, just foie) grilled in a reduced beef broth with two sauces. One was on the of the cold foamed sauces the chefs of this region are known for. It was a foamed pina colada. And trust me, it worked. The other was a tiny flan with a hint of rosewater flavoring. Yeah. It was good. This is the whole reason I'm obsessed with food, why I want to be a chef. Who woulda thought? And then coffee, which is so good everywhere in this country and so cheap. Another pox, this one at overpriced, weak Starbucks coffee.

So I got to my monastery last night, took some photos of the view, and didn?t want much for dinner, but I did want a little something and some wine. I ordered the house wine, which, since it was priced at 3 euros, I assumed was a glass. No, it was a bottle. And I had asparagus stuffed with spinach and shrimp, one of the appetizers, which I would have loved if it hadn't been in a buerre blanc. They have such nice fresh asparagus, the white stuff, here that smothering it in French sauces designed to hide the taste of food past its prime seems a sin to me. But the 3 euro bottle of wine was pretty good. I wound up spending several hours at the table having a conversation, almost entirely in Spanish, with a middle-aged bar owner from Andulicia named Angel and the 23 year old waiter, Jose, who is from Sevilla. Hey, we've all got an invitation to visit Angel sometime. Between the three of us we finished three bottles of 3 euro wine. And my Spanish is improving. Glad I didn't waste hundred of dollars on a course to learn the language when all I really needed was get tipsy with some Spaniards.

Yeah, so I'm now at the point where I can understand about half of what people say to me in Spanish and can respond to maybe a third of that. Which is a big improvement. And I've learned that starting off a conversation by saying that I only speak a little Spanish usually gets people to talk a little slower.

I'm almost up on my hour here at the Internet cafe, so I will have to wait until next time to write about my last night in Madrid, having beer with a Portuguese fado composer who couldnt speak English but could speak Spanish and understand French. And the second bullfight I went to. Which was really amazing. And why I'm now calling my rental car Toro.

Love to you all. Can't wait to meet Dozer.

Hasta la vista.

My dads are nuts

I'm new here. Can I please just stay under the old stereo behind the ratty sofa in the corner of the living room? No, of course not. I have to paraded around town (to art store of all places, on my first afternoon off the farm), dragged out of various cozy corners to socialize, and "brought out of my shell." (Speaking of shells, did I mention I like to eat snails?)

But I get my revenge. Apparently I have big poop for a puppy, and I really despise having to do it while I'm on a leash. So Jay or David will spend an hour outside with me, idiotically babbling "go poddy! go poddy!" or something like that, but I manage to hold it until we get inside. Heh heh. And boy can I whiz!

Then there's the whole escape thing. David can run fast--but I've got twice as many legs and something to prove. I stopped, eventually. But now I'm busted and have this tetherball-type apparatus in back that keeps me in a 15-foot orbit around a giant corkscrew embedded in the ground. I will admit it is nicer than having my big dumb humans right there on those rare occasions when I do have to go in the back yard.

They're OK, I guess.

May 06, 2003

On matters of output

First of all, I'm SO sorry. Especially to Paulette, who manages to write beautiful posts even while in Europe. They have such weird keyboards there, not to mention lots of distractions to the would-be blogger.

You know who else has lots of distractions? Me! Namely, Dozer, rugby, and my real job. All three of these produce a lot of shit that I have to deal with, lately to the exclusion of my blog duties.

Dozer is, of course, the cutest puppy in the universe. I will momentarily post photographic evidence of this fact. He is also a bit high maintenance at the moment, what with his gargantuan poops (all too often on the beige grass on the inside of 843), his dinnertime escape artistry, and a shyness that is criminally vulgar (to quote Moz). David can tell you exactly how fast this pup can run, while I can tell you exactly how quickly he can hide behind the sofa. But we've had a quiet night here tonight and a good walk and he seems to be adjusting quite well.

Rugby is another story altogether. It has been high drama with a board member quitting after I pissed him off, a website relaunch, and our upcoming West Coast Gay Rugby Tournament May 10. Oh, and somewhere in there I ghostwrote an article for a drag queen and helped her get three of my teammates to strip, shower, and towel off on stage at the Timberline. And people wonder why I am ready to get back to the pitch!

Work is enjoyably insane right now. I am doing seven positioning projects at the moment--four was previously my limit, and I am afraid my head might explode. But it's all fun work, and far better than my final year of boredom spiked with terror at Landor. But I will be in full dog-paddle mode until mid-June, so please forgive any authorial lapses.

That's the news and I am outta here.

May 04, 2003

Dispatch the first from espana

Ok, first of all. I'm in a bloody foreign country (I mean that it in the British way, not the literal one) and yet Iīm the only one to post to this site since I last posted like a year ago. Y'all are a bunch of slackers!

That said, hey from Madrid. I hate postcards, so consider this a mass one. Wish you were here. Actually, I do. And then we would stay. Whoever said this was an ugly city (you know you are) was smoking crack (and you should really give that up) because itīs anything but. Actually, itīs much prettier than Paris in its own way. Much less of that fussy ornate architecture, more interesting and, well, Spanish style buildings. Itīs more beautiful in the way that New York is beautiful, except, again, with Spanish style. And the blue and white tile thing thatīs all over the place, a holdover from Moorish times, is really working for me.

So, in case anyone was wondering, I did get here. Despite Peteīs valiant efforts at an hour no one should ask their friends to see, I missed my plane. What at that point ensued actually makes a good story, but you need the dialog (which I wrote down before I forgot it), and I'll post it sooner or later here. But suffice it to say I made it, eventually, and checked into my hotel, which has a glorious Ballard-style Silkwood shower, so I washed off way too many airports and hours in airplanes, (Oh, and Dana would approve of the hotel room. You can close the wooden shutters and it's completely pitch black. You can't begin to tell if it's day or night) and set out to explore, determined to get myself onto the whole Madrid time zone quickly.

Unfortunately, since the average Madrileno apparently considers three am or later to be an appropriate bedtime, I didnīt quite make it. But I came within an hour or so of it.

So far the two best experiences have been the flamenco bar and the bullfight. The flamenco bar was not the sort place where they have dancers and musicians (I did that the following night and it was cool, but expensive and less of an experience), but a bar that happens to attract a flamenco-loving crowd. The place I went, La Solea, is two rooms, one kind of a normal square room and the other a long narrow one. Both are lined with wooden benches and the occasional small table. There is the ubiquitous blue and white tile on the walls, and cheap wine (two glasses and the bill came to 1.50 euros). Anyway, so a young guy is playing guitar in the back room, and men in the bar are taking turns singing while other people clap along and occasionally shout "ole!" The place was packed, and the music was amazing.

The bullfight was perfect. I had intended to go Sunday, but Friday I was walking after deciding not to stand in the half mile long line to get into the Prado, and I happened upon the Plaza des Toros. Which is gorgeous. Really, truly gorgeous. The prettiest arena I can imagine. Anyway, it being the 2nd of May it was the opening day of the Feria de San Isidro, and the bullfight was sold out, but I bought a ticket from scalper for $5. Nosebleeds to be sure, but that was what Hemingway recommended for the first one. (Yeah, I admit it. Iīve been reading Death in the Afternoon in preparation, and Iīm glad I did.) Actually, the whole thing was exactly how Hemingway said your first one should be. A hot, sunny day in May. He said go to your first one in Madrid. And have an afficianado there to let you know if itīs a good fight, and if itīs not, if its a malo toro or a malo matador. So this old guy, who reminded me a bit of my grandpa, was smoking a cigar, was in the seat next to me and decided to start explaining to me, in Spanish, what was going on. My Spanish being next to nonexistent this was something of a challenge, but with the help of hand gestures, pointing, facial expressions, and my little phrase bookīs dictionary (hey, thanks Peter!) we managed to have a conversation, more or less, about the whole thing.

So my impression of bullfighting. Well, part of the reason Hemingway recommended sitting up in the cheap seats was so that you could take in the whole thing without being too close to the brutality. That makes sense. Iīm actually still toying with the idea of going to tonightīs fight and trying to sit closer. I have to say, I was really moved by the whole thing. Itīs sort of a strange thing somehow like opera and rodeo at the same time (and we all know Paulette loves her opera). Itīs not so much a sport. We all know the bull is going to lose, though there is also room for the matador or the banderillos to get gored as well. Nor is it a spectacle like a gladiator contest. The bull isnīt an object of ridicule. I'm not sure of the best way to describe it. It's about death and man's desire to try to control something larger than himself. A good bullfight is one in which the bull dies bravely and the bullfighter kills him quickly and neatly after bringing him under his control. It's actually very poignant, and the people take it seriously. As the matador is about to kill the bull, the entire stadium becomes very quiet. There are no waves or announcements. Nothing to distract from what's going on in the ring. Oh, and the place was completely full.

There were six bulls, two bullfighters, three bulls apiece. If a bullfighter is gored, the other one kills his bulls. The man next to me explained that the older of the two (who was born in 1978--God do I feel old) is one of the best matadors today. The other one is more up and coming, but he was the better fighter of the two, the only one to get an ear cut off the bull. I won't go into the progression of the fight just yet, but it's essentially broken into three phases: testing the bull, controlling the bull, and killing the bull. There are a lot of people involved in each fight. In addition to the matador, there are several bandilleros, who wave pink capes to test the bull, and two picadors, who ride blindfolded horses and use long sticks to subdue the bull. I can see why Hemingway, a man so fascinated by death and man's need to exert control over it, would have been so drawn to the corrida. I have a feeling I'll write about it, hopefully more eloquently and at greater length, someday.

Tomorrow I pick up my rental car. Everyone keep your fingers crossed that my ability to drive a stick shift outweighs my ability to speak Spanish.