Sunday, May 30, 2010

Thursday, May 27, 2010

I don't understand how your brain works a.k.a Lost Ending Sucked.

I would like to say that anyone who was satisfied with the ending of Lost is an idiot, but I will not. See, I find that my opinion is not absolute. I walked out of “Dumb and Dumber.” It is one of two movies that I have walked out of in all my long life. At that time, I thought anyone who liked that movie must be an idiot. Then I had a very intelligent, kind, good man tell me it was one of his favorite movies.

So, rather than say you are an idiot for being satisfied with the ending of Lost I will just say “I do not understand how your brain works."

They all die in the end? Uh, any good writer knows you can’t end a story that way. “And then they all died!” Immediately your reader is going to feel cheated.

You also can’t introduce a whole bunch of plot threads, call them “mysteries” and then not solve them and expect people not to care.

Except – people don’t seem to care, which baffles the hell out of me.

(Stole the following list from a person on The Ferret’s website who posted as anonymous so I cannot give him credit.)

MAJOR PLOTLINES ON LOST THAT TURNED OUT TO BE COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT!
1. "Walt is really special"
2. "Sayid kills a bunch of people for Ben"
3. "Mr. Eko"
4. "People on the island can't have babies"
5. "Faraday"
6. "Eloise Hawking"
7. "Widmore v. Ben"
8. "NOT PENNY'S BOAT"
9. "You're a candidate"
10. "Jacob brought people to the island"

You’re fine with the fact that NONE of those things mean ANYTHING?

Then, I don’t understand how your brain works.

Please don't try to explain to me that all that mattered to you was the characters. No, I am sorry, this was not a character driven show. Friends was a character driven show. So was Seinfeld. Dallas. So is Dexter, Grey's Anatomy, and Castle. This was a PLOT and MYSTERY and WHAT IS THE ISLAND driven show.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Here's an idea

Why doesn't Galactus just get the Infinity Gauntlet and the Cosmic Cube?

If I was Galactus, that's what I would do.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Horrors of National Health Care.

Wendy called our health care provider today to get something checked out.

They asked her if 9:00 a.m. TOMORROW was too early for her, or would she like something later in the day?

The Horror! The Horror! She has to wait a whole fifteen hours for an appointment!

You know what's horrible?

The misinformation spread by "news" organizations about health care in the rest of the civilized world.

Just so you know, this isn't a lone incident - it is always like this when we need help here. Which has been about 5 times now. I don't mean to offend any of my readers, but this is the reality of what health care is like in Europe. It is nothing like what is being portrayed in some media.

It is excellent.

Machinegun Fire


I have hot friends, si, no?

The weeks are just packed. We cannot believe how short time is before we travel back to Vermont. Thank God. (This is actually a wonderful pattern we have. We are both so excited to go to our hometown, and by the end of our stay there, we will be so excited to go back to Madrid.)

Every single day I think “I cannot believe how hard I am working.”

We hosted a party last week for the Madrid holiday honoring their patron saint “San Isidro” and this weekend is Wendy’s bachelorette party. I have to mention (because this is my blog and I get to spew my random thoughts whenever I wish) that the world is conspiring against us.

Wendy and I have never been in a better place. We have never been more in love or happier with ourselves, our bodies, our relationship, our life, than right now. Wendy has lost almost TWENTY POUNDS. I have not lost any weight, but I fit into my skinniest jeans and my shoulders are broader than they were in college. The worker at the gym, who I thought I was going to have to smash into tiny pieces (or, get smashed into tiny pieces because he is enormous) has turned into a good friend.

(See, maybe I'm over-sharing a little bit here, but I come from a family where the men are nice, quiet, friends with everyone, but if you push them too far - they will kill you. My father is like Bruce Banner. You do not want to see him angry. It happens about once every five years. My older brother is the same. I could give some great examples, but I don't know how they would react to me talking about their courage or things they have done on my website, so I will refrain.)

Someone once said to me, "If you're not sure if you should post something, the answer is probably no."

I have the same gene and I have over-reacted in the past, exploded when I did not expect to, and have not reacted sometimes because I am afraid it will be an over-reaction. Since I don't understand the language perfectly here in Spain, I have to rely on Wendy. I don't always know what's going on. There was one time when I thought a guy was apologizing to her and he was in fact cursing her out. (Don't worry, Wendy handled it fine, being very capable of defending herself.)

But since that incident, I have had to tell her - "You cannot think I am a coward. I don't want to over-react and embarass you, so if you want me to wreck someone, you have to come to me and say "Him. Wreck him. He needs an ass-beating."

That way, I can know I'm doing the right thing.

So, our first week at the new gym, I knew she was inches away from saying "Him. Wreck him."

Now, we really like and respect him.

So, as I was saying, everything internally is good.

And yet, every week some other outside force seeks to ruin that happiness. A good friend disappoints us for the seventh time, a wedding dressmaker refuses to return calls, my accountant falls down on the job and I keep getting mail from the IRS blaming me for things he said he handled months ago, a volcano erupts jeopardizing our trip home, the BBQ charcoal won’t light, Lindsay Lohan goes on another bender – I mean how much more can we take?

One of the biggest stresses right now is the noise of a city rebuilding itself.

As I type this, it sounds like there is machinegun fire erupting, endlessly, outside my window. It is actually the jackhammer that we wake up to every morning.

Every

Single

Morning

They wake us up at 8:00 a.m. to the sound of machinegun fire. It has been going on for months. Are they drilling to China, because, seriously, haven’t they destroyed all of Madrid’s streets at this point? For twelve hours a day they are using a drill to destroy pavement and it goes on EVERY DAY! Pavement has to run out eventually right? Or, they could move down the street and destroy pavement there, right?

No.

When I got here, three years ago, there was work being done on the church up the street and we were awakened every morning to the insane beeping of the crane. When that finished, the woman behind us started having work done to her apartment. When that was done, our downstairs neighbors decided to knock out all their walls and redesign their apartment to look just like ours (because we love them and let them look at ours which is much better designed than theirs used to be.) Still, it was more noise. Then, one of the two old gay English guys died on the first floor and the remaining partner decided he needed to redo the apartment so he could rent it or sell it. More noise. The building next to us has just had scaffolding put up and, no shit, every single day we hear them banging away with a hammer. They could have built Noah’s Ark in this time frame and with that much banging.

Now they are outside our street every morning, making it sound like a war zone.

I am hoping Vermont will be a little quieter.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Two pictures from San Sebastian


This was posted on a bar in San Sebastian. Do I need to explain this? Look at that second beer. WTF?



I have always thought it would be clever to travel to exotic places and take pictures outside McDonalds and the Disney store. Look! See! I'm in one of the most beautiful places on Earth and I'm taking pictures at McDonalds! Isn't that funny?
Actually, having posted it once, I can see that it is not funny, just lame.
Never again.

For those not on Facebook:

http://www.metacafe.com/watch/sy-65167935001/julieta_venegas_bien_o_mal_official_music_video/

At the 1:10 mark of this video you will think "Did she just...?" And yes, yes she did. And others do too. Especially the two girls on the blanket. at 1:35. So bizarre, so bizarre. Beautiful voice, good song, nice video, just strange.

I’ve always wanted to show people where I live. Luckily, someone has done it for me. This video highlights not only where we live, but where we eat and the neighborhoods we visit. With about two minutes of changes this would have been a video I made to show you our neighborhood.

http://vodpod.com/watch/3559750-48-hours-madrid

45 seconds – Wendy’s favorite breakfast when we’re traveling.

1:04 – Puerta del Sol is a five minute walk from our apartment. We do most of our shopping at El Corte Ingles there.

1:41 – Wendy and I go jogging through here and I advertised my books to tourists in front of the palace. Also 5 minutes from where we live. Our apartment is awesome because it’s close to everything but far enough away from events to be quiet at night.

2:25 – Plaza Mayor is between our apartment and Puerta del Sol. We go through there often and it is usually filled with tourists and living statues trying to make a buck. Some of them are very inventive, others are just stupid. The other day I saw a guy in a gorilla suit sitting on a stuffed deer. What the hell is that?

3:10 – We have never had one of these because we don’t get it. While we like calamari, the last thing we want is fried, breaded calamari on bread. Bread overdose.

3:31 We have been to all these museums and I find Picasso’s Guernica amazing, but, we’re not museum people.

5:41 One of our favorite restaurants- Casa Lucas. He never says the name, but we can tell from the waiter and the tables where he is at. Three minute walk from our apartment.

6:19 The Tio Pepe sign again, which is an odd, but famous landmark in the Plaza del Sol. Tio Pepe is a very fine sherry.

7:14 Just past the Puerta del Sol is the Gran Via. Part of which we refer to as “the prostitute street” which has done thriving business for hundreds of years. Unlike Montreal, the prostitutes don’t approach you, they just stand and wait for customers, smoking and talking amongst themselves. Prostitution, like marijuana, is semi-legal in Spain. Even my teachers can’t explain it in detail. The closest I can come to explaining it is, it’s illegal to be a dealer or a pimp. You can’t sell women, but they can sell themselves. You can’t sell marijuana, but it’s okay if you have it on you in limited quantities. There is a police station on this street and we often see them having casual conversations with the women waiting for customers.

7:19 - Chueca. A very entertaining neighborhood where we go for special events and the best seafood in Madrid.

7:34 Malasana – I don’t think we have ever been there.

8:04 Chocolateria San Gines – We walk by there every time we go to the grocery store and have eaten churros there at 5:00 a.m..

8:37 – He’s not kidding. No one sleeps in Madrid, It’s insane. I don’t know how they function. (All detailed in my book, link to the right )

8:45 – We have never been to this despite it being five minutes from our house. Wendy and I have enough stuff, we don’t need more.

9:26 – La Latina is the neighborhood right next to us. It is INSANE on Thursday and Saturday with college students, parties, and gatherings of youth in the plaza’s playing instruments and drinking beer until five a.m. Very popular neighborhood.

9:38 – Vermouth is disgusting.

10:00 We’ve been here once and I don’t know why we haven’t returned. The food was amazing and I had the featured dish, although I didn’t eat all those beans, just the meat and veggies.

10:42 – A long-ass walk, good for burning off calories and a very, very nice green space in Madrid. We love this place and love the walk down to it. One of the best parks I have ever been to.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

There's a reason I've always hated Ewoks.

The last update ended with me telling you I was going out to pimp my book.

I showered and put on some strong sun block since the weather in Madrid is clear, sunny, and hot. I took my huge ass sign and some book sample chapters up to the plaza in front of the palace and stood there, holding my sign and a chapter in my hand, ready to offer it to anyone who showed the slightest interest. Ninety minutes later the only people who talked to me were two attractive policewomen who grilled me on what I was doing. I explained it was a chapter of my new book that I was trying to promote and that it was free.

“So, you’re not selling anything?”
“No, totalmente gratis.”
“And what is this and, this?”
“That’s my email address and my website.”
“Okay, thank you, good luck.”
“Buen dia.”
“Igualmente.”


(There are two words for “free” in Spanish. One means unoccupied or with no restrictions, the other means there is no cost for it. If someone asks if they can take a chair from your table and you are not using it, you reply with ‘Si, es libre.” If you are handing out chapters of a book for no cost, it is ‘gratis.’ When I am at the gym it is important to ask if a machine is free, as in, not being used, as opposed to asking if there is a charge to use it, which gets you nothing but a strange look.)

At the ninety minute mark, having passed out exactly zero copies I headed home. I am quite sure there is a better use of my time, like making the corrections to my next book, Secret Force, that Jeopardy Champion Dave Meddish has just sent to me. Or even clipping my fingernails or rearranging my sock drawer. Luckily I have a girlfriend who is a born saleswoman. She could sell sand to a desert nomad.

“Hey, you never know when you might need some sand! Sure, you’ve got lots of sand now, but what if that goes away? As a desert nomad, you’ll have no desert! What will you do then? Economy’s not doing so well, I don’t think they’re hiring at Kinko’s or even Starbucks… You have to think of these things man, you have to plan for your future!
“I will take ten acres of sand.”
“Smart man. Smart man. Sign here.”


She offers to help me and we will be going out together next time.

I made her up a much better red deck than the one I use to teach people and she destroyed me in Magic a bunch of times and then we sat down to watch some episodes of “The Biggest Loser” since we have become addicted to it. Lorelei raves about it but we didn’t think we would like it.

As it turns out, it is very well done, one of the best competition shows we have ever seen with unexpected twists, rewards, challenges and deep delving into the personalities of the contestants and what made them get fat. The psychology of the show is amazing.

One of the trainers is relentlessly pushing one of the contestants working out and starts asking her – “Why are you fat?”
“Because I eat too much.”
“No. Why are you fat?”
“Because I don’t exercise enough.”
No! Why are you fat?!”
“To protect myself!!!”
“Protect yourself from what?”
“People keep leaving me. And if I’m fat then I can say they left me because I was fat not, because of who I am.” And collapses in tears and the trainer hugs her.

Moments like that stun me. And they are frequent.

The other thing is they have put a lot of thought into the challenges and the way they do weigh-ins and everything. “Whoever wins this challenge gets letters from home!”

Or, it is the night before weigh-ins. The two couples who have lost the least amount of weight can be voted off the show by the other contestants. The show offers everyone time alone in the temptation room, a place filled with donuts, fried chicken, candy bars, etc. This season (number five) is couples. Some are married. Two are just best friends. Two others are former football teammates. One team is a mother and daughter, another a mother and son. One at a time, they get to go into the temptation room.

The person who consumes the most calories gets five thousand dollars.

And weigh-ins are tomorrow.

We pack and get ready for the morning flight. We fly into San Sebastian on Friday afternoon with just enough time to drop off bags at the Hotel Niza and make our two o’clock reservation at Arzak. We are very excited. Budding foodies, the last time we were in San Sebastian we ate at Akelarre and it was one of the best meals of our life. Basque country has more concentrated Michelin stars than any other area in the world. The meal at Akelarre was heaven. It was like nothing else we have ever eaten before or since. Arzak is even more famous and we have seen his restaurant on Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” and “On the Road Again: Spain” with Mario Batali and Gwyneth Paltrow. We are both expecting an experience similar, possibly even more incredible, than Akelarre.

What we received was something quite different. The restaurant was very nice and quiet, the staff well trained and friendly upon greeting us. And then things got weird. Wendy has already described it on Facebook so I’m saving myself some work and putting her words here.

“Hmm... well, first of all, the tasting menu was disappointing. Compared to Akelarre, where every dish was a delight, this was not! And I REALLY wanted to love Arzak more (despite what www.Chowhound.com says!) But, the awfulness was with the first course-it was four bites of grilled apple & foie-I took a bite and it just wasn't my taste. I took one more to be sure and then decided to just leave the other two bites on my plate. Jamie had only taken one bite of his, didn't like it either, and, as he has said multiple times-why eat something you don't like? Just to impress the waiter? So I decided not to eat anymore. After all, we had at least five more courses coming. I did not complain, I did not send it back but the waiter came over and looked horrified. I simply said it was wonderful, I was sure, but not to my own personal taste and that I wanted to save room for all the rest.I smiled, thinking that this would be the end.

No. He called over the hostess, who also looked horrified. I explained again, blaming my own lack of good taste, and said we had so much more food coming. She grilled me on exactly what was wrong with the dish. Again, I tried to articulate that foie prepared that way was just not to my taste-I never order it, but thought I would try it as it came with the tasting menu (with no alternative). I blamed myself again and tried to smile it away. She insisted on replacing the dish with another. While I really felt made to feel bad at this point, the lobster dish she brought me was so good, I thought, maybe she was right. Instead of remembering the foie dish she didn't like, the customer will remember the lobster dish she did. And, how well she was cared for.

That's what I thought. I spent the next five courses practically licking my plate, and making a show of it too. I thought we were good.

Then, as he always does, Juan Mari Arzak came around to visit all the tables. I was all psyched to meet this famous Ewok like chef who seems so friendly from everything I have seen. I was all prepared to say how much we liked everything, how much we loved San Sebastian, etc. Unlike the table next to us, I was NOT going to mention that we were there solely because of Mario Batali & Gweneth Paltrow showing it on their program. But, as he got closer, I saw the hostess talking in his ear, and, could hear her saying "this is the one, this is the one that didn't like the foie!" Horroroso! Now I really felt awful. Again, I said, "it's just my taste, I am clearly wrong-everything else was so wonderful." He mumbled something dismissive, and told me I was very pretty. I babbled that it was a pleasure meeting him, and he said it was all his. When he came out again later and I raved about the basil ice cream, he barely acknowledged me.

So, that was my experience. Really disappointing-from several dishes being unpleasant to being made to feel like an idiot. But Akelarre, THAT was a delight and worth every penny!”

I will agree that it felt really uncomfortable for the hostess to come over and tell the chef we didn’t like his foie dish. How unprofessional and unnecessary! From that point on the meal became an eating competition me. I was going to make sure everything on both our plates was eaten whether I liked it or not, regardless of how full I was, so we wouldn’t have a repeat of the situation.

Do they think everyone is going to love everything on the TASTING menu? That doesn’t even make sense.

Their progression of food was weird as well. We had three dishes in a row that tasted heavily of animal fat. Now, we love fat, but by the time the third dish came, we were pretty sick of the taste. Then they served us three desert courses in a row! Two of them were part of the tasting menu and then when they brought the check, they brought a huge plate of chocolates as well!

You know what? One of those courses would have been enough. Here, let me eat all this chocolate, so you, the Michelin star chef who has been on TV multiple times can feel good about yourself.

And unlike Akelarre, the food wasn’t even that good. I’ve had a better piece of steak at a dozen places. Hell, we had a better cooked piece of steak at a bar in San Sebastian the next day!

Bitter? Yeah I am. You would be too if you were expecting something similar to Akelarre and got embarrassed and served poor food. Anyway, let’s move on to the good stuff -

As I type this, it is Saturday morning and we are in San Sebastian, a place where we plan to retire. Like, tomorrow. It is our second trip here and it is amazing. Our room has a view of the ocean and this morning it is teeming with kayaks and 8 man rowing crews. Kids, three to a team, are pulling blue squares and long poles with them up the beach. There must be a race today. The beach is two kilometers long and is a huge half circle. There is an island in the center of the bay, making this one of the most beautiful views of the ocean we have ever seen. It is drizzling rain and is slightly cold out, but we don’t mind.

We got up this morning and went across the street to the Café de la Concha and had coffee and pinxos. I have been looking forward to this moment since the last time we were here. The café has a wonderful scenic view and excellent food. We start off with a small piece of bread topped with jamon, a quails egg, and 5-8 little dried potato fries sprinkled on. It is my favorite breakfast in the entire world and is a whole two bites. We sit for a while then I get myself another and two more coffees for us. Ten minutes later Wendy decides she would like another as well, and I get that and a small piece of bread with surimi (that fake crabmeat stuff made out of Pollock) mixed with mayo on top. It is delicious and I have Wendy taste its ocean-y goodness.

We sit and read the news and check email on our iPhones so Wendy can digest before her run.

Twenty minutes later, I am here, back in the room, writing, looking out at the beach, the runners, the swimmers, the dogs chasing balls on the beach. Wendy has gone for a run and I should be doing push-ups since they don’t have a gm here. I should be writing too, so I guess I’ll just keep doing that.

Wendy explained to me that people who live in San Sebastian see the beach and ocean as their second living room, and it shows. Despite the rain and the cold weather (12 degrees Celsius / 53 degrees Fahrenheit) there are people in bathing suits walking along the beach and even swimming. I handle cold very well, but to be comfortable today, I am wearing jeans, a heavy shirt and a light jacket. There is a woman in a bikini walking towards the ocean and without hesitation dives in.

I’m not in Russia! This is Spain! Sure, it’s the north of Spain but it’s still Spain! In Madrid they pull out their puffy winter coats when it dips below seventy degrees.

Outside my window it turns out the triangles and poles the kids were dragging were for soccer goals. The beach has been turned into ten soccer fields, lines drawn in the sand and goals at each end of ten fields. Young kids from all over the region in different uniforms are competing. The bay is still filled with kayaks and crews and sailboats.

Life is good.

Everything about San Sebastian is amazing. Café de la Conche is above the beach. It is not across the street from the beach, but on the beach, looking out over the ocean. There is a two mile walkway above the beach and at high tide the waves crash against the walls of the city and you can look down on them as if from a very carefully constructed cliff. The food in the pintxo bars is amazing, with rare steak on bread, perfectly cooked shrimp on bread, wooden skewers of pork and chicken and beef.

The beach itself is a wonder because it is so flat. This has the effect of high tide coming in rapidly and low tide leaving rapidly. At high tide, the waves lap against the walls. At low tide there is a hundred yards of beach before you get to the water. It’s hard to imagine until you see it, but it is special. For every inch the water drops at low tide, six more feet of beach is revealed because it is so flat. At high tide you can walk fifty yards into the water before you need to swim.

We have three wonderful days of rest and relaxation, playing Magic, eating pintxos, reading, walking along the beach and exploring. On the third and coldest, windiest, rainiest day I went for a swim while Wendy went for her run.

Life is great.