A New Year’s Visit From Spain

I should have put this on the stereo. Well, you always think of these things later.

A bit before Christmas, I got a call from someone who wanted to know if I was home to take a delivery that day. Fortunately, working from my house, I am generally home to take deliveries, although Federal Express has a stunning track record of arriving in my absence when there is a package that needs to be signed for. (I think FedEx and I are going to end up in the MMA ring eventually, after the month’s supply of cat food that someone stole off my front steps because the deliveryman couldn’t be arsed to put it inside the porch as directed; then there was the sixty pound crate of kitty litter that blocked me in when I tried to leave the house… but I digress.)

So I answered the door a bit after seven in the evening, and there was Vanessa, looking about twelve (I noticed more and more that everyone looks about twelve), holding out a beribboned gift bag containing two bottles and telling me that it was a gift from… well, from the miraculous Az.

(Click that link. You know you want to.)

See, Az is one-half the reason I am even on here still after nearly ten years. No one has heard from Stiletto, the blogger who tempted me onto WordPress, in a dog’s age, but it was Az who caught my attention on the also defunct blog of one Frontier Former Editor, a journalist and aviation fan who pun-wrestled me to a draw in a contest with a World War II Luftwaffe theme. There she was, represented by a blog icon of a black kitty — her familiar of blessed memory, Azar — kibitzing and well, a kitty, and the rest is history.

Since then I’ve gotten me a live-in Engineer who’s a culinary genius, and she’s built an astounding business leading travelers around the tapas bars of Seville, and become a dear-God certified sherry educator, meaning that when I asked what we should eat with the sleek twin bottles of Palo Cortado and Manzanilla, I got an e-mail screed that took me three days to read through at leisure. And will have to go back to.

So here is what we had for New Year’s Eve:


For the Manzanilla, Marcona almonds, spiralized vegetable bird’s nests, and marinated olives;

For the Palo Cortado, deviled eggs, mushrooms stuffed with herbed (out of my front yard) goat cheese laced with port, vermouth sec and garlic.

Everything else at random. The Brussels sprouts were best with the Palo Cortado. Yes, Brussels sprouts are edible.

We ate divinely and re-watched the hilarious and wonderful Man from U.N.C.L.E. remake and entered the New Year with, nearly, hope. Because I have had Post-Trump Stress Disorder for over a year and it has been hard to hope, this night’s experience was not small.

And not least, it convinces me that whatever anyone else says about the Internet for good or ill, the Web ranks as one of the Machineries of Joy so termed by Ray Bradbury in a short story published when I was ten; an invention of human cleverness that can connect the lonely, exalt the spirit, expand the human family and its reach into the cosmos.

I believe it is the golden Azahar’s birthday tomorrow, or where she is, today. I raise my glass. Full of Oloroso, which she taught me about last year.

Bis hundert zwanzig.

And because I can’t go for five minutes without thinking about opera, here’s Manzanilla in music:






Birthday Presents (III), or, Speechless

That’s what I’ve been, embarrassingly, since Saturday, when a nice lady knocked on my door in the cold gray December rain and gave me this:




The bag says “Unwined,” which is the last thing I am right now, thanks to the one and only Azahar-Sevilla, Queen of Tapas. You can read about how she made it happen here.

It’s been a little over six years since I met Az in the ether of the Internet. My gym friend Stiletto — long absent from the blogosphere, alas — lured me to the equally long lost blog of one Frontier Editor, and there was this person posting with the icon of a little black cat peering over a laptop, and how could I not click through?

We are so not alike. She gutsily left Canada and reinvented herself as an ex-pat in Spain; I’ve never lived more than a few miles from where I was born (unless you count college)  and since the century turned I refuse to travel at all. I’m butch

Elise Luftmann

and she is gracious and gentle,

Lady Hamilton

she loves Christmas and I’m a grinch who shrieks at the sound of jingle bells, she posts all these pictures of ham and I’m a vegetarian.

But none of that matters when you have a few important things in common: cats, a profound BS allergy, and a homing instinct for good food and wine. I still have a dozen or so recipes from her (surprisingly vegetarian-friendly) kitchen page on my to-do list. Sherry education has been promised. I humbly follow where she leads.

Love ya, Shawn. I promise — I’ve got my heat-transfer engineer on the job of accurate sherry chilling. Once he’s moved in. But that’s a story for another post…



A past holiday gift from the lady who gives me a massage, which has been languishing in the drawer for longer than I care to admit. I simply forgot how good they feel on toes that have been stubbed, broken, sprained and avulsed.  Anyone who has to call a Toe Truck as often as I do ought to have a set of these things. Spa supply shops, I think.

If we could just get rid of the carols and creches, and have an annual holiday where you give presents to people you care about — with a strong cultural injunction against Wretched Excess — this Yuletide thing would work.

The Odor Of Sanctity (Or Something)

Arnoldo seized my Ace bandage when I was about twelve minutes into my bike warmup. He is as dire as ever, though he is probably closer to fifty than forty now: hair still glossy black (there’s a little Jheri Curl or similar involved, I think), shoulders and pecs like polished gourds, grin like a candy skull. People who speak several antipodal dialects of Spanish inform me gravely that they have no feckin’ idea what he is saying half the time, either.

I think he was talking about Christmas and families. I could make out that he has a new pad and his seven brothers and sisters were coming to visit. I explained, more or less, that the Engineer (he always asks after my “friend”) was out of state seeing his family and that I have no family to see.

After I got out on the gym floor he played a cute game of body-blocking my path to the patch of mat where I lay a towel over the germs du jour and do some wrestler’s stretches and Yoga poses before grabbing any serious weights. He wanted to give me a Merry Christmas hug before leaving. I managed to pronounce Feliz Navidad more or less okay. Somehow this all got mixed up with him asking if my hair was really as long as someone had told him (he gestured at his hipbones) and saying it would be beautiful, beautiful if I let it down. I think. I can never really tell with Arnoldo. On any given day he could really be asking if I am up for white slavery or gladatorial combat.

His Merry Christmas seemed heartfelt, so I was not cheap with the return hug. I am pretty sure he killed a few people before getting Jesus, so people tell me, in a Salvadoran jail — there is a picture taken in the jungle, with machetes — and it is the least I can do for any child soldier who can still have the heart of a child, in Godzilla’s body, thirty-some years later.

That slightly asphyxiating perfume that Spanish guys like perplexed my senses at several intervals over the next hour, until I peeled for the shower and whiffed smudges of it all over my gym togs. I guess no one cares to tell him he smells like a cathouse. Would you?