Monday, November 26, 2007

104,000 words on the topic of spain

Assuming the global picture to word conversion rate remains constant… THIS LINK will provide approximately 104,000 words about Spain as I saw it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

eat at jose's

I find it odd that the first question the majority of people have asked after learning that I went to Spain was, “What did you eat?” I guess nobody is interested in bullfighting? They could care less whether or not I met any members of the Spanish Olympic baseball team? (I did not.) And not a single reader is curious about the high-speed electric trains that carry passengers to all sorts of intriguing locations?

Fine. But please remember that I am neither a food nor restaurant critic. Keep in mind also that I do not play one on NPR.

Most importantly, I was unable to locate a source of Pop-tarts while I was in the Old World. Thus, I had to rely on the ones I transported across the Atlantic in my carry on luggage.

If you are considering making the voyage to Spain yourself, don’t fret- they have plenty of food. Small markets that dot the narrow streets of Madrid are a great way for people to pick up items needed on a daily basis such as fresh produce, meat, bread, nuts and whatnot. For every one of those markets, I would venture a guess that there exists at least nine Korean-owned/operated groceries that sell canned and packaged products such as pickles, chips, cookies, soda and alcohol. Oh yeah, and etc.

As if that isn’t enough, you also have the choice of tens of thousands of small restaurants, cafés and bars where service is noticeably fast. I found it interesting that although these places do not have jukeboxes, they do consistently have two slot machines just inside the front door and usually one blaring television. It was also an interesting experience to find myself back in a land where public smoking is not only an option, but pretty much seemed to be encouraged.

Most days, my breakfast consisted of a sandwich mixto (a grilled ham and cheese sandwich) and a Coke. Sometimes I would enjoy a sandwich mixto heuvo (pretty much the same thing with egg). Also receiving my five-K seal of approval was the toastada (toast with butter and jelly).

I really enjoyed looking at the photographs of these items that were used on the menus and plastered on the walls of the cafés across the city. I suppose the idea was to make ordering for people like me as simple as pointing. What made the photos most interesting to me was the awful color in the images where whites were represented by yellow, yellows were orange, oranges tended to appear somewhere between red and brown. Not always, mind you, but definitely more often than not. Very odd!

After strolling around the streets looking at art, people and buildings for several hours, it was time to eat again. Not in the mood for a big meal, the game plan was to pick out a table in a sunny area of an outdoor café and to settle in for a Coke and a look at another menu. Pleased with each discovery that Pepsi products were not available, I usually ended up ordering another sandwich mixto.

Practically every café/bar would provide Top-ums with drinks. These ranged from bowls of nuts, to plates of olives, bread or even crackers. Although the concept sounded appealing at first, my final thoughts on the platter of slices of cured ham, wedges of stinky cheese and hunks of dry bread is that it is a meal best served to survivalists.

One item that I particularly enjoyed was croquettes. Basically, these are fried balls of mashed potatoes with small chunks of meat inside. I did not like the ones that used fish, opting instead for the ones that were made with ham. It wasn’t until I stumbled across a piece of graffiti that I began to understand the sense of national pride Spaniards take in their croquettes. I believe this painting depicts the legendary “Croquette de Jaman.” I understand that parents recall tales of this unlikely superhero to children as they tuck them in for their afternoon siesta.

I did eat pizza in Madrid.

Compared to the heaping piles of food served everywhere here in the US, I was pleased by the appropriate amount of food served in Spain. I’m not sure if that is why I saw very few overweight people there, or if it because they tend to eat everything using tiny silverware. Nevertheless, the only exception to the serving-size rule I encountered was a bizarre combination of fried potato strips and chicken parts that most closely resembled some sort of failed science experiment. I would not complain about the taste, but I guess I wasn’t completely prepared for the impromptu study of how chickens can be butchered. Either way, less of that would have been better. Intriguing as I'm sure this dish must sound, I found myself unable to take a photograph of it.

I had some of this tortilla espana. It was mostly egg and cheese, with some potatoes and other items that I did not identify.

Finally, I offer this vegetable stew. No, I didn’t try this stuff, but I did get close enough to snap a photo.

Sitting on the runway prepared for takeoff for the 10-hour flight back to the states, I overheard the following conversation that forced me to put on my noise-reduction headphones earlier than I had planned.

Lady #1: “Would you like a piece of candy so your ears don’t pop?”

Lady #2: “No thanks. I’m too hungry to eat candy.”

Saturday, November 17, 2007

three wise kards

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always preferred to make greeting cards myself as opposed to buying them in a store. It just seems more personal.

Following the huge success of my bilingual Opus the penguin double-sided pop-up Christmas card in 1993, a number of people on my mailing list have inquired whether or not I would be interested in designing their holiday cards. Until now, I have resisted.

What follows then are three holiday-themed card designs that you can actually obtain and send to your friends, family and co-workers this year. If you DARE!

Feliz, Navidad

This card highlights my commitment to not learning a second language, while making readers wonder if I’ve even learned one. The town featured in the photo is actually Toledo, Spain.

Bah humbug

I designed this card with people who totally dislike the holiday season in mind. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I end up getting a couple of this style sent to my mailbox.

Tis the season

I actually really like this design. Simple, yet to and well beyond the point! While you don’t have to buy this card, you will have to click on the link above in order to obtain the punch line.

Of course it would be completely selfish of me to not take advantage of your attention and point you toward the cards I would probably purchase if I was going to send out cards made by other people. These Christmas Story cards are the best!

Happy shopping!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

stranger in a stranger land

I wondered what sorts of hobbies people had to keep themselves busy in Spain when it wasn’t bullfighting season. It turns out that “collecting” plays a huge part of the Spanish culture, and it is extremely popular here in the city center of Madrid.

Gathered together in patches of sunshine on Sundays, collectors show off their most recent acquisitions and barter to make deals that will make them king (or queen) for the next week.

This photo depicts rabid stamp collectors who have displaced the local pigeon population at Plaza Mayor for a few hours on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Stamps aren’t the only collectibles traded in these parts. Coins are big, as are soccer, Pokemon and Star Wars cards. Also being swapped were cigar bands, postcards, used phone cards, wine labels, old lottery tickets and comics. I didn’t notice anyone trading matchbooks, corks or bottles, but it is safe to assume that those items are collected here as well.

Not surprisingly, there was absolutely no interest in my duplicate Barry Bonds cards.

Friday, November 09, 2007

european WHERE?

Possibly you are contemplating a trip to Europe before what’s left of the dollar slides completely over the edge of the North American continental shelf? In that case, perhaps I can give you a few tips as they become known to me. I’m pretty sure that I can avoid wasting your time with material that you would find repeated in various travel books.

Lesson Number A: Things Aren’t Always as they Appear

First, this is NOT a urinal…

However, this IS an ashtray…

And THIS is a car…

2007 Arizona Fall League

Even before the final out of the 2007 season had been posted on the left field scoreboard at Isotopes Park, die-hard fans began processing possible post-season scenarios in their brains in an attempt to delay the inevitable arrival of the most fearsome of rivals- old man winter. With no post-season play on the horizon for the Albuquerque team, many fans accepted their fate of watching the reminder of the major league season from the comfort of their recliners. A few fans began using hand-held electronic data machines to consult home schedules of major league teams and accessing online banking accounts to determine whether or not they were actually going to be forced to call it a season just yet. Only the Pisceans and other dreamers rolled out star charts and began weighing their chances of obtaining major league division, league or (gulp) World Series tickets.

Another option would be to swallow a heaping spoonful of pride and travel to the cities involved in the minor league playoffs and championship. Besides proving to be a rather bitter pill to choke down, that experience would also prove rather costly.

Perhaps the best cure for minor league post-season blues is the Arizona Fall League. The AFL is the annual magical gathering of top prospects for six additional weeks of practice and organized games under the watchful eye of some of the finest coaches ever to have played the game of baseball. Six teams comprise the league- currently marking its 16th year in operation. The games are played mostly in front of a large group of scouts, former players, family members and autograph collectors. At only $6 per person for admission, you would be hard pressed to find a better bargain for your money in the sporting world.

Players from the Florida Marlins joined players associated with the Dodgers, Padres, Phillies and Tigers forming the Peoria Saguaros. In addition to practicing and playing games at the Peoria Sports Complex, the Saguaros are bussed around the Valley of the Sun to other Spring Training facilities where they take on teams including the Phoenix Desert Dogs, Scottsdale Scorpions, Mesa Solar Sox, Surprise Rafters and Peoria Rafters. Each of the AFL teams also play games against Olympic teams for the United States and China.

The 2007 Saguaros roster included three Isotopes pitchers- Craig Molldrem, Ricky Nolasco and Ross Wolf, as well as pitching coach Rich Gale. Other players from the Marlins organization participating in the Fall League include Chris Coghlan, Brett Hayes, Jai Miller and Scott Nestor.

Second baseman Chris Coghlan hit for an average of .287 over 115 games combined with the Greensboro Grasshoppers (A) and Jupiter Hammerheads (A) this past season. Coghlan swatted a dozen round-trippers, scoring 77 times and driving in 82 runs. Collecting 31 doubles as part of his 125 hits on the season, Chris also ended up swiping 24 bases out of 29 attempts.

Thru 13 games during the 2007 AFL season, Coghlan has accumulated 15 hits and maintained a .313 batting average. Yet to homer in Arizona, Chris has hit three doubles. He also has been caught steeling in each of his three attempts.

Catcher Brett Hayes played in 91 games in 2007 with the Jupiter Hammerheads (A) and the Carolina Mudcats (AA). Hayes compiled .254 batting average, scored 32 runs and drove in 42. More than one-quarter of his hits fell for extra bases.

Hayes’ Fall League average thru 14 games has dipped to .224, with 6 runs scored and only 2 driven in. However, Brett appears to work very hard behind the plate, and isn’t shy when it comes to flashing the leather, or keeping base runners honest. I have no doubt that Brett will soon be winning over the hearts of many Isotopes fans.

Outfielder Jai Miller’s first name is Randall, but this article might be one of the few places you’ll ever see it used. The right-hand hitting outfielder finished the 2007 season batting .261 over 129 games with the Carolina Mudcats (AA). Miller’s 106 hits included 26 doubles, 2 triples and 14 homers. Jai nearly drew as many walks (55) as RBIs (58). Miller stole a dozen bases while getting caught five times.

Thru 18 Fall League games, Miller’s average has hovered right around .264 while collecting 19 hits including 3 doubles, a triple, and one round-tripper. His 24 strikeouts in 72 at bats are obviously something to keep an eye on. Barring some blockbuster moves by Florida during the winter, I expect to see Miller playing right field in Albuquerque in 2008, with Brett Carroll in left, and Alejandro De Aza patrolling center.

Unless De Aza has another outstanding spring, it seems unlikely that his 2007 production of a .261 average, 14 runs scored, and 8 batted in will prove enough to land him a starting position in Florida’s outfield. De Aza’s 2 stolen bases in 2007 compared to 27 steals in 2006 while batting .278 for the Carolina Mudcats suggests that the Marlins need to figure out a way for the youngster to get some at bats on a consistent basis. Albuquerque seems as good as any place for that to happen- perhaps the best.

Due to his veteran status, the Marlins had to obtain special permission from MLB in order for Ricky Nolasco to participate in the Arizona Fall League. After missing the majority of the 2007 season following elbow problems, Nolasco did toss 33.2 innings in the minors- compiling a record of 1-4 with a 7.49 ERA, and 21.1 innings for the Marlins where he went 1-2 with a 5.48 ERA.

Possibly beginning to turn the corner in his recovery, Nolasco has a 3.78 ERA over 16.2 innings pitched in 5 AFL games what is generally considered to be a hitter’s league. I would be surprised to see Ricky in an Isotopes uniform in 2008.

Also pitching for the Peoria Saguaros this fall is right-handed reliever Craig Molldrem. Having spent the majority of his season with the Carolina Mudcats (AA), Molldrem finished the 2007 season with a record of 5-4 and a 4.61 ERA.

In seven Fall League appearances, Molldrem has been saddled with a 15.75 ERA. The five long balls Craig has allowed in only 8 innings are just two shy of his total allowed over 70.1 innings during the regular season. Hopefully, his work with Rich Gale during the Fall League will pay dividends in 2008.

I had never seen right-handed reliever Scott Nestor pitch before since he spent the entire 2007 season with the Carolina Mudcats. Due to the way things worked out while I was in Phoenix, I still haven’t. The fact that the Marlins selected Nestor for the Fall League suggests that they believe he will only improve on this season’s numbers; 2-4 with a 4.44 ERA, and 86 strikeouts vs. 41 walks in 75.0 innings.

Thru 8.1 innings over 7 games this fall, Nestor’s ERA is at 4.32 with 10 strikeouts and 4 bases on balls. I would anticipate seeing Nestor on the Isotopes team when they break from Spring Training.

Right-handed reliever Ross Wolf spent a couple of weeks in the Fall League following his second call up to the parent club during 2007. However, Wolf only pitched a single inning, and yielded two runs (one earned) on two hits before the Marlins made the decision to shut him down for the winter. I talked to Ross briefly before he headed to Florida for an MRI on his shoulder that he described as a precautionary measure. Wolf did log a total of 59.2 innings over 59 games for Albuquerque and Florida during the regular season, so some time off probably wasn’t unwarranted.

The Arizona Fall League… where some of the questions about next season are answered today!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

never been to spain

You may now safely add that song to the list of Three Dog Night tunes that you’ll probably never again catch me whistling with any authority. You may thank Iberian Airlines for that favor.

There is no need to refresh your computer in disbelief- I’m actually in Europe. The deal is that my wife lived here once for a year after college, and has since wanted to return on vacation before she turned 35. Thus, here we are. Since I honestly don’t deserve a vacation after spending the entire summer “working” at the ballpark, catching a week of fall ball in Phoenix, then popping up to Denver to catch a World Series game, this trip is intended to serve as a “Cultural Unit” in my continued home schooling experience.

What was my honest first impression upon landing at the airport here in Madrid? Jesus, am I ever thankful to be off that airplane!

The next thing that stuck in my mind was a children’s “ride”/photo booth on the airport concourse in the shape of a tiny fiberglass biplane. I was intrigued by the fact that the ride had buttons that could be pushed to create simulated sounds of machine gun fire and dropping bombs… in an AIRPORT! For crying outloud… am I the only person who remembers “three-one-one?”

My third impression as we rode into the city center was how eerily beautiful this enormous cemetery was laid out along a hillside, before being peppered with headstones and aboveground crypts. I don’t know if we will have time to visit that place before we leave. Even if we did, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have “enough” time to offer it the thorough inspection it deserves.

My already odd sleep pattern has been completely thrown out of whack by the traveling. For instance, I just woke up at 5:00 am local time. Like, huh?

I’d been having one of the strangest dreams, so I’ll probably be better off awake for a while. In the dream I was sitting in a small café minding my own business when Weird Al Yankovic approached me and asked if I wanted to help him write a spoof song. Actually, he called it a parody, but I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

He mentioned that he was feeling down, and that he could only find joy by collaborating on a song with a random Spaniard. I offered that I was not a Spaniard, but instead from Albuquerque. Pausing for a moment to sniff the air and taste it with what appeared to be a slightly forked tongue, Weird replied, “That explains the smell of root beer.” Following a moment of silence punctuated by an accordion rim shot, he added, “Old Spain, New Spain… what’s the difference?” In the real world, I could have listed at least seven, but unsure whether he was in my dream or I was in his, my mind drew a blank.

Given Al’s great depression, I recommended that we retool Yip Harburg’s 1931 classic “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” Either he though it a great idea, or he didn’t care enough to argue. For the title, we settled on, “”Buddy Can You Spare a Euro?”

Now that I’m awake, I find that I am unable to recall the majority of the lyrics that we had hashed out. I assure you that we had a fantastic time, and Weird was all smiles- even when the bartender would carve off slices of Al’s hair and serve it to customers as top’ums with their beer. These are the only lyrics that I remember:

Once I wrote a blog. I wrote it well, constructed it with rhymes.
Once I wrote a blog, it was swell. Buddy can you spare eighteen dimes?

Overall, I would not hesitate to rate the dream at least an 8. After all, at least I didn’t dream about standing at the baggage claim carousel counting suitcases.

Monday, November 05, 2007

writer's strike

Fear not! The ongoing Writers Guild of America's strike will not impact the frequency of entries on this here blog.

Friday, November 02, 2007

New Mexico Highways

Raise your hand if you’ve never had the pleasure of having been driving home from a World Series Game 3 in Denver and opted to take my patented “Eastern Santa Fe Bypass” (ie., NM Route 84 from Romeroville, New Mexico to Interstate 40- a shortish distance east of Clines Corners). Those of you with your hand up do not realize what you’ve been missing.

When you do finally get around to exploring this little segment of the desert Southwest, I highly recommend doing so just prior to the sun begins to call it a day. Also, do yourself a huge favor and pop Supertramp’s “Breakfast In America” into your handy mp3 gadget, cd changer, cassette player, 8-track stereo, or whatever have you right as you begin heading southward along this sparsely populated, yet entertaining travel corridor. Crank it up and enjoy!

Sure, the album is pushing 30 years old, but it is still quite space age music for the seldom-traveled, pre-1937 alignment of Route 66. The only other suggestions I have to offer is that if you hear any part of the saxy Logical Song before you reach the tiny village of Apache Springs, you really need to ease off on the gas pedal- not because of cops, but in order to fully enjoy what you are otherwise going to miss.

Hey, put your hand down already! Geeesh.

Similarly, you don’t want to drive so slowly that you can’t take advantage of the energy of Child of Vision as you ramp back up and engage with the flow of traffic on I-40. Obviously you should be musically prepared in the event that you decide to stray off and explore a few of the back roads that crisscross the southern foothills of the Santa Fe Mountains.