Saturday, March 29, 2008

Los Caprichos de El Roto

Now THAT is frightening! If this face doesn't scare the crap out of you - then you must love horror movies. Look at those eyes! Holy shit!

Is it some kind of demented nightmare? Is it a courtroom sketch of some vile serial killer?

No it's just a political cartoon by El Roto from the editorial page of El Pais:

I finally figured out the drawing style of El Roto. I'm also about to pay my buddy from El Pais a huge compliment. The people he draws remind me of what Francisco de Goya was doing from Los Caprichos. I think that's it. Check out a few of these scary drawings from the famous painter, and now that I think about it, really a political cartoonist and "life commentator", from around 1796:

Alright, maybe Goya's were a little more scary.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Ode to the Peseta

How I miss the Peseta! Look at that up there. That was real money! 5,000 peseta notes, 10,000 Peseta notes, even the ever useful (and very valuable for daily use) Mil Pesetas lovely green bill. Of course, as Americanos the Euro is hurting us even more than the standard-issue Spaniard. But I bet you miss it too.

That picture was the most Pesetas I ever saw together at one time - 2 million Pesetas! They were mine for about 3o seconds, then I handed them over to the sellers of my piso. It was the infamous "dinero negro" that I had to fork over on top of the "official" selling price. This cash went under their mattress I presume. Sounds very hush, hush and clandestine doesn't it? Well, my loan officer from BBVA was with me all the time and it seemed pretty normal to her.

Back to the Peseta. Well, the Peseta was very Spanish and unique. There were pictures of the King and other Spanish Big-shots all over the place, the bills were colorful and different sizes, the coins sometimes had holes in them, there were all kinds of cool slang words to use, like "Pelas", "Pasta", "Cuartos", "Duros". You had to calculate prices of everything in Pesetas. You felt like you were in Spain when you got your hands on some Pesetas. But best of all - you could buy a lot of crap with that damn Peseta.

Well, things change and now it's your turn Spain to come to the U.S. and buy a lot of cheap stuff. The Euro is kicking ass and the Dollar is in the crapper. So come on over - everything is on sale! But remember, just like the one-time high Dollar all things must pass, so the Euro has gotta come down too ... sometime.

By the way, that two million Pesetas? I wasn't a millionaire. In 2001 dollars, that was about $11,000.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Not American - "Jewish-Canadian"

If this company is successful in Spain El Pais is not going to like it very much - unless they can spin it their way. Could it be because their name is "American Apparel?" The article (click the picture to read) does it's best to describe everything that is not American (in their opinion) about American Apparel - the company is based, and manufactures in, Los Angeles.

I had to read in El Pais that the CEO of this company is Canadian, and not only that, Jewish too. This would never come up in an American article. The CEO, Dov Charney holds a US green card, which means he can pretty much do whatever he wants in the US but vote.

The bottom line is they are saying that this guy, Dov, is an "Anti-Globalization" activist and therefore a hero because he manufactures in Los Angeles and pays his workers $12 / hr. The clothes are not made abroad in, say, Sri Lanka, presumably like every other evil US clothes maker (Hmm, does Zara make their clothes in Spain?) He also supposedly provides health insurance.

Well, good for him. I wonder how much of a humanitarian he is though. Something tells me he is a business man first. He found a business model that works for him and it just so happens that the model includes making his T-shirts in LA. Let's see, $12.00/hr. per worker, and that worker can make about 200 or so t-shirts per hour at $16.00 each - Yep! He's raking it in! When you look at it like this, it is obscene that this work is exported abroad (Spain does it too). The profit in clothes is outrageous.

I also love how they talk about the evil "Neo-Cons" and how they are supposedly against immigration. Yeah right! What a lie. The business leaders in the US (and Spain) love immigration - even illegal. It just makes them richer. And this guy Dov is no different.

What El Pais failed to mention about ol' Dov, is how his shops are completely anti-union, that his workers have insurance that is only subsidized - not free, and how he has a penchant for exposing himself in front of the employees (they call this a "rumor"). Oh well, as long as he is Jewish-Canadian and not American!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Spanish as Secret Weapon

I am the quintessential looking American white dude. So in L.A., no Latino suspects that I have a secret stealth weapon – understanding and speaking Spanish.

In Los Angeles, Spanish is everywhere. You really don’t need to speak English to get along. This makes it doubly difficult for Latino newcomers to buckle down and really learn English. Latinos also assume that there is no way that this white dude (Yo) could possibly speak Spanish, just look at him!

I can’t tell you the number of times I have spoken to someone in Spanish and they would just stare at me, dumfounded. This is not because my Spanish sucks. It’s because they were expecting English to come out of that white-boy face of mine. Their brains do not process the Spanish words. They hear the words but think it is some kind of weird language, “What the hell kind of English is that?” they ask themselves. We finally work it out after some more staring and after I ask them if they understand Spanish.

Honestly though, most of the time it is too much trouble to deal with this so I just remain in the role of the white dude that doesn’t speak Spanish. It’s easier to be what most people expect of me. Even in say, a Salvadoran restaurant, I might just order with “white-boy accent” because it just screws them up if I order in Spanish or if I say “horchata” the correct way., etc.

But the secret weapon does come in handy many, many times. I especially like to stand around while one guy translates for another guy then I just break in and answer the first guy directly. They get a kick out of that. Sometimes they say, “Watch out he speaks Spanish.”

The secret weapon is also great as an ice-breaker in social situations. With so many Spanish speaking people here, there is always something to talk about. Maybe it’s music from their particular country, their family story, and best of all, how the hell did I learn how to speak Spanish?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Not Too Sucko

Alright! This El Roto's not too bad. I like it. But I still think he draws scary-looking people.

I have seen more newcomers as Limpieza people in Madrid - but not too many yet. It's still a very Spanish club. I remember being kind of shocked when I saw my first Black Limpieza guy maybe a few years back. How strange to be surprised over such a thing!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Poison of "Us Versus Them"

Well, the elections are over in Spain and not much really changed. What everyone thought would happen did happen. Some people are very happy - they think they “won”. Others were disappointed in their team’s performance. In the end, power is still shared pretty much evenly between the two “enemies” - one team with an edge.

A lot of people got real pissed off in the process - over the issues I guess. Sometimes I feel that people work themselves up in a frenzy over a whole lot of nothing. The PSOE people think that Rajoy and the PP are goose-stepping Nazis. The PP people think the PSOE are a bunch of free-love spouting Commies. But are they really?

To me both parties (and the people who support them) are acting in good faith – the other guy is not your evil enemy. They both genuinely feel that they are doing what is best for the people and for Spain. You just don't agree with that other guy and feel he is misguided.

I don’t understand when people get so blinded by ideological labels that in their mind the other side is just evil and cannot be listened to or even tolerated. Some are not even able to be friends with a person with differing political views (in the U.S. too) – how silly! Are people so insecure? I guess so …

I also get real irritated with those who see every issue from one political point of view. They seem to have a litmus test with a script that tells them what to think. How can ALL the issues be so black and white? Surely most of us agree, and disagree, with a little bit from both the so-called “Left” and “Right” political columns if we really think about it.

And what are the main issues that divide everyone? Where is the line in the sand that people are willing to fight over? If I were explaining it to a five year old I think I would say the following:

Conservative or “Traditional” (PP):

  • They like families with a Mom and a Dad. They want things to stay like they have always been. Just don’t mess with stuff, please! They like God and religion because it is comfortable and they think it is best for society.
  • They are scared of weird people and change.
  • They want to keep more of their tax money and spend it where they want to and not lose control because they think government will just waste it because it is not the government's money.
  • They want government to just do the basics and leave the rest to the individual.
  • They don’t want to give a bunch of money to “help” others. They think people should help themselves. They think that giving money away does not really help anybody, it just enables others to continue to make bad decisions.
  • They like business and making money and think the government should stay out of it. They think that is best for the economy.

Liberal or “Progressive” (PSOE):

  • They like families with a Mom and a Dad but they also like “different” families. They think "different" families don't hurt anyone.
  • They are not too crazy about God since it seems to them that God always says to not have fun and that God does not like them if they are not the “normal” people.
  • They think Government should, and can, take care of a lot of stuff for you. What else is it there for? They think government can help people and that it is basically good.
  • They don’t mind giving money to help others. They think their tax money can really do good if used properly.
  • They do not trust businesses because they think that businesses will screw you royally just for the money.
  • They seem to be more in touch with their feelings and they care for animals, trees, and the atmosphere.

Now come on! There is a little bit of both sides in you right? There is some sense in each column. Forget the labels “Conservative” and “Liberal”, or “PP” and “PSOE” or “Democrat” and “Republican”. These people are not to be hated for their views, are they? They are your parents, your children, your neighbors. They are basically good. And the only way you're going to get them on your side, is to understand - just a little bit - their side.

In the U.S., we take politics seriously too. Both the Republicans and the Democrats think they know what is best for the country. Sometimes Democrats are in control of the country and sometimes Republicans are in control. It can get nasty - but we usually understand "It's just politics".

However it seems the whole “Us Versus Them” attitude is particularly dangerous in Spain. Parents and Grandparents of a lot of these same guys were killing each other over this stuff not too long ago. It’s time to realize it's just politics.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

An L.A. Story - Area Code Snobbery

Since L.A. is my hometown I tend to ignore writing about it. Los Angeles seems normal and common to me. Of course, to most of the world it is an interesting place due to it’s standing as the media-creating center of the world. L.A. is also a very big city with a lot of people spread out all over. We are not on top of each other like some other major cities – density is pretty low but there are a lot of us.

To get an idea of how many, take our dialing prefixes, or area codes. There is a shit-load of them. Since so many people have land-line telephones, faxes, cell phones, dedicated DSL lines, and god knows what else – we have run out of telephone numbers. So, we have to continually add new area codes.

In contrast, Madrid has – as far as I know – only one or two dialing prefixes. In Madrid, all land lines or “fijos” use the dialing code “91” or "90". Mobile phones start with other numbers that are easily recognizable as a mobile phone. In L.A., the mobile phones are given an area code just like land lines so you can’t tell them apart from the “fijos”.

Area codes in Los Angeles are assigned according to location. Because of this people can tell where you live, where you work, a little bit about you – solely based on your area code. So, some conclusions are drawn – even before they know you.

Here’s the quick round-up of the area codes from the point of view of an Area Code snob (not me) – click on the area code for a Google Map location:

  • Area Code 310 - Top of the line; Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades, Malibu, Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles – this is where the big money is, where the best weather and views are, the expensive houses, or interesting city life, etc. This is the coveted area code, and because of this – there are no more to give out.
  • Area Code 424 - Since there are no more “310” codes to give, if you move to this part of town they give you the new dreaded “overlay” area code. You are a late-comer, not a true West-sider, and obviously not cool enough to have a “310”.
  • Area Code 323 - Mid-city Los Angeles, Hollywood. This is not bad, kinda cool and funky, sort of the poor part of town but interesting. Good bars and museums – L.A.’s Lavapies. You may be cool – but you are poorer than “310”.
  • Area Code 213 - The granddaddy of all Los Angeles area codes. All of L.A. was "213" at one time. This is right, smack downtown, in the old city center. Up until recently downtown was not doing very well. People only went there to work during the day then go home promptly at 6:00 pm leaving the place a ghost-town at night. It actually is pretty happening now.
  • Area Code 818 – This is the San Fernando Valley, “the Valley” to the locals. To many Westside snobs (area “310”) the Valley is a cultural wasteland, they say it’s hot, and boring. You have to drive to the Westside for fun and maybe to work. That means a long commute. But the Valley pops up in movies all the time. I remember hearing Frank Zappa’s “Valley Girl” on Madrid radio in 1983 – that blew my mind.
  • Area Code 626 – Pasadena, East of downtown. Still an acceptable area code because of Pasadena. Pasadena is an old town part of L.A. You can get to downtown Los Angeles pretty easily – lots of nice old houses and old money.
  • Area Code 661 – Where? This is WAY out there past the Valley. This is like Mars to “310” people. You go there if you are ready to raise a family – and then die.
  • Area Code 562 – I don’t even know where this is. It must be new…
  • Area Code 714 – Orange county, Anaheim and Disneyland. This area is commonly referred to as “behind the Orange curtain” due to it’s fame as being strait laced, conservative, Republican, organized and clean.. Nothing wrong with that if you’re into that kind of thing… Lot’s of cookie cutter tract houses.
  • Area Code 805 – Ventura, the Coast, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo. Nice places to go for a drive and taste wine. Far to live. You gotta have bucks because there are no jobs – or you are a low-bagger, living poor.
  • Area Codes 949, 951, 760 – Who cares? I have no idea!

That’s the roundup on the area codes. By the way, I’m no snob. But if I see any area code on my caller ID other than 310, 323, 213, and maybe 818 … I’m not answering.