Saturday, March 10, 2018

Italian chefs are appalled at Spanish eating habits

"We're eating pizza all wrong," says the headline. Many of the toppings used in Spain are American style, not authentically Italian, say the aggrieved Italian chefs.
Italians have food rules. Let there be no mistake. And an article in a supplement to El Pais, called Buena Vida, or Good Life, in today's paper laid out the grievances of Italian chefs about their neighbors in Spain (here is the digital version of the supplement, but the article itself was not available online.)

Among the food atrocities:
  • Never use a spoon to eat pasta. That's only for children. Adults and anyone older than 6 should use a fork, the only proper instrument for eating pasta in a civilized manner.
  • Never cut up spaghetti before cooking it. And don't put in oil while cooking pasta. "I don't know why they do it," said Ilenia Cappai, owner of an Italian restaurant in Madrid. "It doesn't add anything." 
  • Don't serve the sauce separately from the pasta; they belong together. And, please, don't serve spaghetti with salsa bolognesa--the only proper pasta for that sauce is tagliatelle, says Cappai.
  • Also, we don't like your ham and olive oil, says Enrica Barni, another chef. Italian olive oil is the green product of a cold pressing. And Italian ham, prosciutto, comes from a much larger white pig than Spaniards use for their Iberian style. 
  • Spaniards use salt and pepper on their food before even tasting it, says Davide Bonato, chef at Gioia restaurant. An uncivilized practice. "They destroy the flavor of a dish." 
  • Spaniards eat bread with everything, too much bread. "Yesterday some clients ordered bread with their pizza," Bonato said, astonished. "Of course, I gave it to them, but . . . " 
  • Soft drinks are banned at a civilized Italian table. You drink only wine or water. Drinking Coca Cola at your grandmother's dinner table would be an insult, said Luca Gatti. 
  • At formal dinners in Italy, you never sit next to your spouse. The idea is to have others get to know your partner.
  • A pizza is for one person, never for sharing.
  • And at the end of the meal, the only acceptable form of coffee to have is an espresso, never a capuccino or cafe con leche--those are for breakfast. 
You have been warned. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

My experience with the public health system in Spain

The issue of how to pay for health care is on everyone's minds these days, and there are arguments of various kinds on all sides. My aim is to describe here what it feels like to be in a public health system--one in which the government is the ultimate provider.

First, what you pay for health care

Public health care is paid out of tax income, and taxes are higher in Spain than the U.S. The U.S. is a relatively low-tax country: taxes represent 26% of GDP, while in Spain they are 34%. This includes all national and local taxes, property taxes, and sales taxes.

Since I am a full-time employee of the University of Navarra in Spain, I pay income tax and social security to the Spanish government, which comes to 24% of gross income (tax details here). My tax rate is slightly higher than normal because I am a foreigner. I pay no tax on this income in the U.S.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Bad, bad Jimmy Brown

I wrote this column when I was editor of Business First of Columbus, almost 30 years ago, and it seemed to have some relevance today in light of controversies about the NFL.

Oct. 9, 1989
    Jim Brown’s first book, “Off My Chest,” arrived under the Christmas tree 25 years ago [Note: the book was published in 1964].  For a 13-year-old fan of the Cleveland Browns, the book was a revelation.  The Jim Brown who carried the football for the Browns, and who said little in public that was controversial, suddenly showed himself to be an opinionated, angry person.
     He was angry at Paul Brown, the coach who he felt treated him like a trained beast.  He was angry at the coaching staff at Syracuse University that took so long to give him a chance to prove himself.  He was angry at the white world that treated him as an outsider and an inferior.  At the same time, Jim Brown showed himself in that book to be extremely grateful and loyal to the teachers, coaches and friends who helped shape his life and steer him toward improving himself in school.  There were almost two personalities at work.
     So it was with some anticipation that I waited to meet this boyhood hero who was in town to promote his new book, “Out of Bounds.”
     The blurb writers have pulled the most salacious and outrageous material out of the new book to hype it.  Brown’s life since retiring from football at age 29, a game in which he set records that only recently have been surpassed, offers plenty of outrageous and salacious material.  He was accused of throwing a woman off a balcony during a quarrel.  (He says she jumped).  He has hosted parties in his Hollywood home where the women pranced around naked.  He has cultivated a public persona that is arrogant and intimidating.  He has boasted of amorous conquests of the starlets who appeared with him in movies.  Was this guy who was once my hero really a jerk?

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Big honkin' trucks. America's got 'em

PAMPLONA, Spain -- We just returned to Spain after two months in the U.S., and nothing impressed me more than the size of the popular pickup trucks, like this one, the Ford F-150.

The Ford F-150 is the most popular vehicle sold in the U.S.

This is one big truck for tough guys who like to work hard. It has "military-grade aluminum alloy", according to the ads. But don't let anyone kid you.  

This truck is also for soccer dads and soccer moms, because right after telling you how tough it is, the ads tell you that it's the safest ever. Chevrolet's competing model the Colorado is advertised as "tough" for the dads and "refined" for the moms. Brilliant marketing.

The Ford F-150 has been the top selling vehicle in the U.S. for more than 30 years.

In my unscientific, completely random, totally unreliable survey of what I thought I was seeing in the states of Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and (mostly) Ohio and Michigan was that folks use these crew-cab pickups to commute to work, run errands, shuttle kids, and haul big toys like all-terrain vehicles (3,270-pound payload for the F-150).

All the manufacturers make their biggest profit margins on trucks and SUVs. This is because buyers' emotions take over. Ford reported that its record profits earlier this year were due to aggressively pricing their trucks.    

When logic goes out the window, salespeople can charge more. Mr. Money Moustache, the original cheapskate, has a very funny take on the whole business of Americans buying trucks. 

Sunday, June 05, 2016

The giants of Pamplona's Basque culture

Giants are a part of the festival of San Fermin, which takes place July 6-14.

The community center where I swim had a couple of 13-foot giants on display last week, and a sign said they would be "dancing" as part of a neighborhood Basque culture festival. Cindy and I decided to go check it out (50-second video below).

Pamplona is politically outside the Basque Autonomous Region (we're in Navarra), but the northern part of the city is culturally very Basque. We live in Etxacaboiz (etch-a-ka-BOYTZ), on the border with Barañáin, a couple of good Basque place names. 

Thursday, June 02, 2016

It's “less than three weeks”, not “fewer than”

The stylebooks are wrong on the rule about less/fewer.

Here is an excerpt from a Reuters story about the Egypt Air crash that made me cringe:
The recorders are designed to emit acoustic signals for 30 days after a crash, giving search teams fewer than three weeks to spot them in waters up to 9,840-feet (3,000 meters) deep, which is on the edge of their range.
It should read “less than three weeks”.

The stylebooks say that you should use “fewer” for things that you can count and “less” for things you don’t count. You can count one, two, three weeks.

But I am with Grammar Girl on this one. She says,
Time, money, distance, and weight are often listed as exceptions to the traditional “can you count it” rule because they take less, but when you use the “singular or plural” rule, time, money, distance, and weight all fall in line.
She has a couple of excellent examples to make the case that you should use “less” rather than “fewer” in those cases.
  • We had less than $1,000 dollars in the bank.
  • We’re less than 50 miles away.
  • I can fix the roof in less than 12 hours.
The number of dollars is one amount of money. The number of miles is one distance. The number of hours is one period.

And I’ll add this one: All the wrestlers in that class have to weigh less than 140 pounds. “Fewer” would sound absurd in that case and is, of course, wrong.


Sunday, April 03, 2016

Roman holiday in western Spain

Cindy inside the Moorish fortress in Mérida. The Visigoths built on top of the Roman fort, and the Moors built on top of that. Then came the Catholic kings . . . .
From the northeast of Spain where we live, Pamplona, to the wilds of Extremadura in the southwest is about eight hours by train or by car. We wanted to visit Mérida, which was an important Roman city 2,000 years ago and has many of the best preserved buildings from that era anywhere.

Extremadura is also famous for its hams, which come from pigs that run free and feed on acorns (bellotas). In the supermarket, Iberian ham runs for about $20 a pound. But the special purebred black pigs raised on certain farms produce hams that fetch $500 a pound or so in Japan and England.

Think Ben Hur

During Roman times, people in what is now western Spain were crazy for horse racing -- cuadrigas, or four-horse chariots, were the Formula 1 of the time -- and the horses from that part of Spain were famous throughout the empire for their speed and endurance. Many of the best charioteers to compete in the Roman Colosseum came from this region.

The Circus Maximus in Mérida was not excavated until the 19th century. It's about a half mile long, so it is comparable in length to a harness racing track. It could seat about 30,000 people.