The Great Plotnik

Friday, November 30, 2012


Plot made a quick trip down to Stiletto City yesterday to take care of some Mummy P. business. He planned to stay 'til later in the day on Friday but -- he forgot about her hair dresser appointment. So he canceled his flight, moved it up earlier, then got to Burbank Airport to discover that flight had been canceled.

He's still there, but it looks like he'll get out soon (*). Flying in the winter in rainy weather is always an iffy proposition. Never a word about why the flight was canceled. But Southwest was kind enough to keep sending him text alerts that were no longer applicable.

Yesterday he was at Oakland Airport, hungry, faced with these possibilities: Burger King fast burgers, Peony Chinese fast Food or Otero's Fast Mexican. Normally, his default would be the Chinese one, but -- when was the last time you looked closely at that steam table airport chow mein? It seemed to have "Bacterial Infection" stamped all over it.

So he settled on the Mexican.

HOW can you make a burrito taste so -- so -- well, so tasteless?

Should have had a Whopper. He knew that at the time. Dumbnacious.

(*) Oops. They just announced his new flight is oversold. They are offering $300 compensation if you'll take the next flight, except you'd have to stand-by. Think. Think.

Nope. He's staying. Hope this isn't more Dumbnaciousness.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


...appears to have found a new home with The Great BZWZ in Providence. She has been wanting a cat for a long time, but has had to worry about allergies. So far, little Ig has passed all tests. Plot and Duck will meet him in a few weeks.

There was an Iggy the Dog in this family somewhere for a long time. Cousin Brother Two? Cousin Seattle?

But we won't mention that to Ig the P-Cat. He is too cute to worry about anything right now.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Great Bolognese

It's amazing what good food you can get on Mission Street these days. The local vatos are still outside, some sleeping on the sidewalk, some selling product from an open door of a beat up old sedan, but the shops and restaurants are changing before our eyes. The Greats M-Nik and S-B took us to Mister Pollo today, which has nothing to do with chicken, but instead is a pop-up four-course prix fixe spot where the chef comes out and tells you where he got his mizuno and baby satsumas. This fetuccine bolognese was as good as Plotnik has ever tasted, including his own.

Amazing. Down the street there is now the "Fizzery," where they sell -- designer soft drinks! Soft drinks! For Mission District rent, they are selling soft drinks, and it's a big place. But you also see new Latino kitchens with linoleum tables, grandma in the kitchen and handwritten menus, and the old Irish bars don't seem to be slowing down.

Perhaps the stores are ahead of the neighborhood curve.  Personally -- Plotnik is somebody who doesn't think gentrification is all that bad -- up to a point. It will take a long, long time for the Mission to become Snowy Valley. Hopefully never. Meanwhile, the food is getting better and better.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Saturday night, Plot and Duck saw "Firewall" or "FreeFall" or whatever the new James Bond movie is called. It was entertaining and stupid, the two characteristics most necessary for contemporary films. Non-stop car chases, automatic weapons fired without cessation but no one injured, a fifteen minute opening sequence with SUVs chasing each other through the crowded Istanbul spice market, har har har oh right, one driven by the baddie, the other by the beautiful black-ish wisecracking starlet, who, at the end of the chase, picks up her high powered rifle and, well, it's hard to believe.

But we can't deny that it was fun. It's nice to actually go TO a theater once in a while instead of bringing the theater into your house all the time. Netflix is fun, as is HBO, but you don't get to see previews at high volume. We probably WILL go see The Hobbit, WILL NOT go see the two with the guns and the kids and the computer graphics, and ALREADY FORGOT the other one.

The Bond music ((Thomas Newman) is really good, but the lead song, sung by Adele Kozlowsky (the 'Kozlowsky' is silent), is mediocre, as always. She makes you remember how good Shirley Bassey was.

Can't remember a note of the song. It's bound to win an Academy Award.

Judy Dench: meh. Same role every time.

Peter O'Toole: didn't even realize it was him until somebody mentioned it afterwards.

Daniel Craig, who plays Bond: very good, but -- hey -- no one is Shawn Connery.

His childhood home: Oh, come on. It was like an out-take from "Broody Moor, the Musical."

The other love interest -- what WAS she, anyway? It's like they rub all national and ethnic characteristics off someone's face, blend the color until she's kind-of brown-ish, and give her an accent designed by a Republican focus group. It took place in Macau so she was probably sort of Asian, kind-of, mixed-race-ish, a little, sort of.

All young men in movies or TV have three day beards, if they're handsome, or else they are fat and bald and short and wear baggy shorts and are clean shaven.

Dinner was fantastic. ISA, on Steiner, serves what they call "Tapas Style" sea food. It has nothing to do with tapas, the word only means they give you small portions and don't serve them all at the same time. But the food really is delicious. The sea bass wrapped in a potato jacket was superb.

The Great Ducknik has always loved James Bond. There is some kind of erotic escapism there and a lot of people have it. Aloof. Distant. Three Day Beard.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Plotnik is a Lucky Man

Mummy Plotnik was looking beautiful on Thanksgiving. As at every meal, she filled up her plate, emptied it and went back for dessert. The Great Plotnik is a lucky man to have her still, as is whoever makes Carlton cigarettes.

Of course, Thanksgiving is about family, and family is about gossip, and everybody's favorite family gossip concerns everybody else's love life, especially those people who have been deemed to be needing a man or a woman in their lives, not because they want one, because if they wanted one they'd have one, but because we, the family, have so decreed. So shut up and go talk to ______.

There is a natural order to family feasts. This year Auntie Little Bear invited 42 people. The living room was filled, like it's supposed to be, and there were 10 children. The more the merrier -- well, up to the tipping point. We came close, but stopped short of the Screech Line.

The age range was 2-98. This is also part of the plan, as is food that is very good but cannot be spectacular, because there are just too many people waiting to eat it, and the food has to sit and dry out a long time before anyone can get to it.

But that may just be Plotnik's opinion after being so recently in Spain, eating small portions many times a day instead of one meal which could last you three days. He is thinking he may be over the Thanksgiving Gorge.

Also, the stuff he remembers from the past, now long gone, is still his favorite: Little Bear's mom's Pumpkin Chiffon Pie, for example. All those retro jello molds. The turkey from his step-uncle's farm, simply roasted and basted.

On the other hand, this year we got Emilio's sister Judy's fantastic flan for dessert, to go with all the pies. We also got Eric's girl friend Diana's Kenyan black beans with coconut milk. For The Great Plotnik, a plate with some turkey dark meat, those beans, a piece of Ducknik's pecan pie and a slice of flan would be sufficiently gastronomic. Top it all with a splursh of Cousin Seattle's garlic mashed potatoes and another glass of that tequila Little Bear poured for him as he was carving the turkey.

But of course he doesn't stop there.

At least nobody made green beans with chicken soup and slivered almonds.

On the drive home Mummy P. was in an opining mood. "I'm sure glad I'm not driving," she kept saying, "especially at night." Each successive time she said that one more person in the car would stifle a chuckle. By the fifth or sixth time it was like she was Groucho Marx and she kept pulling down that duck.

Mummy Plotnik is Amazing Grace. She is blind but she can see. We passed the lines of cars waiting to get into the Citadel Mall which opened at 9pm Thanksgiving Night. "Those people are crazy," she said, looking into the darkness.

When we got downtown, she said: "I have no idea where I am. Turn right."

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Grand Old Thanksgiving Game

Four sets of brothers and one cousin.

Turkey counts but basketball rules.

The two tall men on the right were little guys only a Thanksgiving or two ago.

And so it goes.

Add to this picture perfect weather, green grass, little kids and frisbees, sun going down and a bunch of Pakistanis playing cricket on a basketball court.

What a great family we've got.

L-R: Luis, Emilio, NF, Dominant Force, Schmeckl, Plottie, Cousin Brother Two Names, Alex, David.

P.S. Emilio married Cousin Brother Two Names's sister Sister Two Names. Luis is Emilio's brother. Alex and David are Schmeckl and Plotnik's just-about nephews. More importantly, everyone who ever plays in the Thanksgiving basketball game is On The Team.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Another New Passover Cap

Thanks to Cousins J and J, the Great Plotnik has another new Great Deli Cap for his collection. This makes four -- Katz's and The Second Avenue (Manhattan), Langer's (L.A.) and now Corky and Lenny's (Cleveland).

The idea is to collect the dozen best delis in America. They have to be really, really good, and they should be scattered around the country, and they also have to offer baseball caps with their name on them, and they have to be picked up AT the deli by either Plotnik or his trusted Plotnikkie Cap Scrounging Elite Unit, which includes anyone reading this message.

To all of you: Happy Thanksgiving! In a few hours we are heading down to Red County, driving through Blue City to get there, stopping first of course at Zankou Chicken, a trusted Armenian family Thanksgiving tradition.

No, you don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's and you don't have to be Armenian to love Zankou Chicken.

Footnote: last night Plot and Duck went to hear NF play drums in a club on Hollywood Boulevard. So when did Hollywood get SO sleazebaggy? WHAT a dump! It was bad when Plottie was a child but not pretentious. Now it's all glitzy and way worse.

NF sounded fantastic, by the way. The boy can play.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Another New Memory

The Cantor's pastrami is still good, though the old place has gotten a little depressing and down at the heels. Later on tonight we're heading into Hollywood to hear K-Watzy play with a band at the Pig and Whistle. The Pig and Whistle? You heard me right.

Mummy P. is doing well. Her short term memory is not so hot but long-term -- wow! Brother Schmeckl was up last night and he and she remembered a story about Plotnik's father that Plottie had never heard before. It was as clear as yesterday to Mummy P. though it all happened more than sixty years ago.

Every time Plot thinks he has heard all the stories about his dad that there are to tell, another one pops out. Which is to say memory is a strange little bird. You don't know where it will land and you never know when. With Mummy P. these moments always come late at night. Plot is glad he's here.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The After

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A New Tooth: The Before

Just in time for Thanksgiving...

For After: see tomorrow.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The New Italy

BZ is going to Goa. Maybe she'll take this boat.

It was discouraging to read, in today's food section, that as far as traveling goes "Spain has become the new Italy." This means that Plot and Duck need to find somewhere else now. Maybe India.

Well, not true. All you have to do is move one street away from the masses of tourists, or avoid the weekend. Trying to walk down a narrow cobblestoned street, built in 1350, on a Saturday afternoon on a national holiday in 2012, is perhaps not the best way to visit anywhere, including Heaven.

We also read that in Lisbon yesterday the subways were shut down and garbage pickup suspended, as well as most other services, due to a national strike, like the one that shut the trains down in Faro and the buses in Barcelona while we were there. Apparently, 50% of young people in Spain are currently unemployed, and evictions have multiplied, demonstrations are becoming more and more violent, and Spain is 'way better off than Portugal.

So, tourists, spend your money and spend it recklessly. They can use every Euro and centimo.

Euros eat up dollars, though. That brings Plot and Duck back to this hemisphere, preferably where they speak Spanish. Buenos Aires is wonderful, but the food is not so great. Mexico City is wonderful and the food is too, but there is a lot of unacceptable crime, though it's not as bad as Lima or Caracas, or the Prince of Darkness Guatemala City. We have heard a lot of good things about Bogotá.

Rio or Bahia sound terrific, though language is a very small issue, because if you speak music in Brazil you can pretty much figure things out.

You can get by in L.A. with Spanish, and the food is great, but it's L.A.

English works too. We haven't been back to NOLA in a long time, and you don't get food any better than that. Capetown is a long way from here. London is fun, but crazy expensive.

We know where this is heading: Havana. That has got to be next. Thank you USA for keeping Cuba easy to get to for everyone else in the world except us. Stay stupid another year or two, please, until we get our Rumba-Salchichón-Ropa Vieja-Mambo tour organized.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Back on the Bike Seat

Plot was feeling a little bummed out the last few days, but he has righted his ship. A big pot of red beans and rice with andouille smoked sausage is on the stove and a haircut has restored his natural good spirits.

The new neighbor across the street, Steve, is a fireman and a bicyclist. Perhaps Plottie will get some company on his jaunts across town. This morning's run down to the Civic Center farmer's market was in the best of all biking weather -- a little chilly but clear.

No point in talking about the Lakers -- they have one weapon, and one weapon can seldom beat two or three.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A RARE Opportunity

The Plotzers have paid $25 million to a baseball team in Korea for the RIGHTS to negotiate a contract with a pitcher named Ryu. The Plotzers don't get their money back if they can't come to a deal. So that would be $25 million and they wouldn't even get lunch.

Accordingly, Great Plotnik World Headquarters spokesman Sly Chump-Change (SEEN ABOVE) announces:

* * * * *

Competitive bidding for the rights to eat lunch at Great Plotnik World Headquarters is now open!
This does not mean you will get to EAT lunch, nor that there will be any food on the table. But you might.

Bidding commences at $250,000.

This is a once-in-the-lifetime-of-a-fruit-fly opportunity to bid on a really nice sandwich, beverage of your choice included (iced tea add $100,000).

Submit all bids, in complete confidence, right here on the blog. Our Bosnian web designer (SEEN BELOW) assures us that blog content is as safe as e-mail.

* * * * *

Monday, November 12, 2012

Friends Make a Beautiful Place More Beautiful. And Conversely.

It's a good life up here in Saint Plotniko, but what makes it all worth it is friends. Plot and Duck are basically snobs and recluses, so they don't have a lot of good friends, but the few they do have are very special.

Saturday night Plot and Duck took the shishito peppers he'd found at the Strolling Baby Farmer's Market that morning, plus Castelveltrano olives and a bottle of rosé next door to sit on Carlo and Athena's deck and watch the sun settling in over the juke box downtown.

Athena made pizza on the outdoor bbq and the four adults and three kids (with the benefit of an outdoor heat lamp) sat around feeling like we had all won a Groupon to go hang out in a little corner of paradise. Carlo managed to stay awake despite having just gotten home that afternoon from a ten hour flight from London.

Once the sun was safely down, everyone walked next door where Plotnik had been barbecuing and basting a Thai BBQ chicken on the grill. Earlier in the afternoon seven year old Avanna had helped him pick salad fixings out of the garden, which had, of course, thrived in his absence.

They drank some more wine and ate chicken and salad and dessert while Athena periodically nursed the baby and everyone gave thanks that nobody had to walk more than fifty feet to get home.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Five Taco Trucks

Five Taco Trucks in Stiletto City

With apologies to all Northern Shmal followers of the Great Plotnik, the above link from Stiletto City's Brother Bandini says it all. If these pictures don't make you hungry, you're just not hungry.

Several are in the hood of Plotnikkies we will not call out here. The Great Plotnik would truly love personal reviews from his fellow taco truckies.

He's got his tickets for Thanksgiving, so there should be time for some exploring. Anyone who wants in will have to reserve their spot in the car.

Upon reflection, it is obvious that any taco trucking will have to take place BEFORE Thanksgiving. Paula is up to 42 people.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Spain and Portugal: The Food Post

Nine o'clock am, been up since four. That's the way it goes after long flights. Time changes take awhile to readjust to. Digestion makes you lumpy and bug bites make you jumpy. But it's worth it all, as long as you don't get Montezuma's Revenge, which the worldwide availability of bottled water has made less likely, in the first or second world anyway.

Plottie had been afraid of the food in Spain. At first, Maria la Vírgin de Jamon (the Virgin of Ham) was a little overwhelming, but once he got used to her showing up in everything (eggs with ham, white beans with ham, shrimp with ham, artichokes with ham, cathedral with ham, tour bus with ham), he got very comfortable with the hours and the concept of eating less but more often. He misses that now.

He doesn't want to sit down to dinner at six or seven, he wants to take a nap at four, wake up at six, go out at eight or nine for a beer, some soccer game on TV (Chicos, the World Series is on! The World Series? You know, beisbol?), eat a few tapas and engage other humans in conversation, everyone wondering if Obama will win or that other guy who will declare war on the rest of the world.

"Booosh, so stupeeed, what wrong wit America? Obama save you country and us too. What happens to you happens to us later! Now you want another Booosh Stupeeed?"

Didn't happen. Many thanks to the Virgin of Common Sense.

 And the food got better and better. Everything cooked in olive oil, fresh fish, fabulous beef and pork, olives, padron peppers and setas (mushrooms), small glasses of tap beer or cheap copas of red wine. What is not to like here?

One Through Five.

The Spanish make really bad pastry. The pastries in Spain are mainly very plain.

But the Portuguese make unbelievably tasty pastry. The best things we ate in either country were the queiijadas at Pasteles de Belém in Belém, Lisbon.

There was a line out the door. What you did was get in the line, ask no questions, when you got to the front you told the girl behind the cash register how many. Not what, just how many: 2? 4? 6? They would sell you as many as 110 dozen.

You paid, 1 euro five centimos per. She gave you a ticket. You stood around, wondering what to do next. Eventually, the line surged you to the left. After awhile your surge would stop in front of a guy behind the counter who would take your ticket, look at it, stamp it, stick it on a nail, then go to the tables behind him, grab as many queijadas as you'd asked for, put them in a box and shove you out the door.

There were a lot of pastries and cookies in that bakery case but you didn't get a choice. All you could buy were the queijadas. And why?

Because you NEVER tasted anything that good.

In Seville, especially in the old town, which was the old Jewish Quarter, where there hadn't been any Jews for 700 years, except for the conversos, who were probably now brokering all that ham, you ate pulpo (octopus). Mmmmmm, dang!  Number two on the list is the pulpo tapa at Las Teresas in Barrio Santa Cruz, Seville. No picture of the that lovely tapa, but we do have one we took of Jesus' autographed photo which hung on the wall next to old bottles of wine and soccer stars.

Close behind, the cocido and ropa vieja tapas at La Daniela, Madrid. Ropa vieja was basically garbanzo beans in a meaty sauce. Cocido had cooked all day to make the famous Cocido Madrileño, the specialty of the house, a beef and vegetable stew. They'd dish you out a tapa sized portion and put it 
 on toast.

In Barcelona it was all about fish (The calamari and roast vegetables at La Boqueria, Fishy fresh for Dougy Fresh)...

...but the Solomillo (loin of...not sure, beef or pork) in black pepper sauce at (name to be supplied later) Restaurant in the Gracia section of Barcelona, was exceptionally good, perhaps even more so because we expected so little. The waiter was a nice young Pakistani, with shall we say profound odeur des armpits, who insisted on speaking English to us that we couldn't understand. We wanted paella. He said they were out of paella. So we ordered the solomillo. When he brought it, he wondered why we hadn't ordered paella. We said because he had told us they were out of paella. He asked us if we liked music. When I sang "O Solo Mio" to him, which is the obvious accompaniment, wouldn't you think, for a dish called solomillo?, he didn't get it. It was the best meat, whatever it was, that we had in Spain.

This sign is from Lisbon but you can see how easy it is to make the meat mistake. And we had great paella in Girona.

There is another world out there, amigos. You realize it when you come home and settle back into your same old routine, which you recognize right away you are doing by rote, on automatic pilot.

But you can't travel forever either. 

Tomorrow we'll show you the list of the places we loved best on that peninsula. Hay muchos. Á muitos.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Beautifully Done, Barack

Thanks to the Mushniks for inviting us over last night to share the TV on election night. We'd been expecting to be in Brooklyn, so it was a great boost to hang out with friends.

Thanks to Ohio, Florida and Wisconsin for waking up. Thanks to Jerry and Judy for delivering Ohio. Thanks to The Chief for watching over the whole process on Election Night, as he always did.

But very special thanks to Todd Akin, and Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum and Donald Trump and all the other right wing large-mouthed asses who let America know the true heart of the GOP. Without them, none of this would have been possible.

Thanks to Mitt for being decent. The truth is, in his real heart, he would be a terrific Democrat, sensible and solid. But he had to act Republican, which these days just means saying no to anything decent or sensible.

And thanks to Barack Obama, who proved that being Muslim, born in Africa (or was it Indonesia?), hating America and working for Al Queda will never stop a man from achieving his goal.

His acceptance speech was inspirational. We'll get new shirts, now that we know the old ones still work.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Election Day

"Que será será
Whatever will be, will be
The future's not ours to see
Que será será
What will be, will be."

But I'm nervous.

We sat around the table at Monty's Steak House in 1960 when John Kennedy was running against Richard Nixon. We had just met The Chief - he wasn't even in the family yet. He bought us dinner and we all talked about the election, and when we went home and went to bed, Nixon was winning. But Mayor Daley mobilized all the dead Democrats to vote in Chicago and JFK pulled it out.

Hope someone can help us the same way tonight. Chiefie, we're thinking about you.

Monday, November 05, 2012

11-5 Spain: Home Early

Well, it's probably just an allergy. Plotnik had been feeling something mildly coming on for a week. It hit him on Saturday morning in Lisbon. He woke up with what felt like a hundred tiny bites all over his hands and feet. He took some Advil but much of that day, as he and Ducknik were touring in Sintra, above Lisbon, it felt a little...weird.

When they got back to the hotel Saturday afternoon they switched hotel rooms. But the next morning the rash just continued, and now it looked a lot like flea bites. Plotnik is very allergic to fleas -- each bite eventually turns into a kind of clear little three mile Island dome. The bites and domes aren't itchy, like bed bug bites, but they are pretty danged uncomfortable, and damn! This happened the last time P and D came to NY, when Plottie had gotten mauled by a gang of sand flies on St. John.

But there weren't any sand flies this time. There was go to bed with nothing and wake up with something. The hotel, however, on reflection -- well you can't trust what internet reviews say or don't say. The room and the Chiado neighborhood of Lisbon are great, and it's cheap. But in this hotel, fleas are not out of the question.

And of course the real worry is the b-word. The b-bug word.

Plotnik got some pills from a pharmacist, who said he was having an allergic reaction. Great. To what?

It's Sunday. You're booked to fly from Lisbon into NYC the next day. It is not likely but are bringing an unwanted infestation with you, into a city where bedbugs really, really frighten people.

And you're supposed to stay one night with Dance-nik, and then two nights with The Great PD, but how can you? And there's Isabella and Plus One and Karen and Chloe to think about.

Well, says Ducknik, we'll just get a hotel somewhere in Brooklyn for one night, de-bug our stuff and then -- wait. In the hotel sink? ANOTHER hotel?

Plus, there's no gasoline in New York. There are no cabs running in Brooklyn. PD is stockpiling rice. The local subway, the G Train, is inoperable. How do you get from the hotel to the house, and when you get there, how will they really, honestly, feel about having you?

In addition, you feel like crap that this has happened again. It itches. It hurts. And it's ugly. You feel a little toxic.

But you missed Belly's birthday LAST year! And you got her all those presents in Spain!

NOBODY agonizes like Plotnik. This was a hard call. In the end, Plot and Duck felt like they couldn't risk it, and they knew the others felt the same way in their hearts. Still, he hoped he'd get the usual runaround from United Airlines.

But because of Sandy, United was offering customers who were booked into New York a no-charge alternative to fly into and immediately out of NY, at no extra charge, as long as you did it on the same day. Curse you, United Airlines!

So we're coming home three days early. We're flying Lis-Ewr and then Ewr-Sfo a few hours later. We'll probably be home before you read this, which will be great, but the worst thing is we won't be able to watch the election with the Brook Plots, and Belly and Papa won't get to do the Elevator Dance, and we won't be able to tie them down and make them look at our pictures, and all that pizza, and, as he sits here somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, where, not so long ago, if you got sick you just got better, or they threw you overboard, The Great Plotnik's arms have stopped itching and the welts are clearly going to be gone in a few days.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

11-3 Lisbon

Lisbon is just plain, flat-out beautiful. It is supposed to remind people of San Francisco, in that it is hilly, is on the west coast of its country, suffered a catastrophic earthquake that required the city to be completely rebuilt (1755 versus 1906), is diverse and romantic, has old fashioned trolleys that look like cable cars, loves its poets and musicians and artists, and just happens to have a Golden Gate Bridge (built in 1962).

It also reminds Plotnik a lot of Valparaiso, Chile. Both Valpo and Lisbon have impossibly windy, cobblestoned lanes and stairways masquerading as streets, snaking up hills, shops and restaurants and bars tucked into the corners, and old fishermen and dockworkers still hanging around the taverns. All three cities were the most important ports for thousands of miles in their heydays and got filthy rich. All three looked west across what was once endless ocean. Now, everybody is fishing for tourists.

You see homeless people sleeping in the huge plazas in Lisbon. You don't see that in Spain. You see black and brown faces in Lisbon. You don't see that in Spain either.

We walk and walk, up those stairways, around those hills. We cram onto the trolleys, feel limited in Portuguese but joyous to run into Spanish speakers. We speak as little English as possible in public, but certain things come out automatically, like when you bump into someone: "Sorry! Excuse me!"

Our hotel has a kitchen! So we found a local supermarket, bought cereal, fruit, milk. Now, finally, we can eat breakfast in the room, to go with the Martha Brothers Coffee we've been schlepping around for weeks without ever being able to find hot water to brew it.

Our hotel, also, maybe, possibly, has bed bugs. We changed rooms just now. Fingers crossed.

Fado, the Portuguese blues, is everywhere, but it's not exciting flamenco or kickass American rock and roll. Rock and roll is about stickin' it to the man, and flamenco is about that handsome gypsy boy I loved and now he's gone and will he ever see the baby?

Fado is the melancholiest, mournfulest, bittersweetest music on God's green earth. Fado says I miss my homeland. I miss my village. Everything was green but now it Is beige. The things I cherish are gone and will never return. I am a prisoner of love. I will emphasize this by singing in a minor key in a female alto rich like butterscotch that makes everyone in the bar weep with understanding.

There is a fado museum. An hour in there, listening to recordings of Portugal's most renowned fado-istas, and you need to go out and take a train somewhere fast.

We took the train to the Pena Palace in Sintra today. Like San Francisco, the place was completely socked in with fog. The audio guide said "see the brilliant blue Atlantic in the distance and the radiant shimmer of the nearby offshore islands."

It should have said "See the hand in front of your face. No?"

Plotnik has many unanswered questions about Portugal. But they probably come down to language. If you can't communicate, you can't absorb anything important.

Like Lisbon's churches. There's the one-towered church. The second tower kept falling down and killing worshipers. So they decided to make do with one.

There's the baroque church where a golden Mary seems to be hawking a golden t-shirt with Jesus's face on it.

There's a church whose roof fell in in the 1755 quake. The church is still there, with no roof. People rent it out ( on sunny days) for weddings.

There's another church on a square where they murdered 5,000 Jews in 1506. Centuries later the church caught on fire and the inside was burned. But the people remembered what had happened in that square hundreds of years before, so they left the church black and twisted inside, as a sign of respect. They still use it, every day. There is something redeeming about all of this.

It''s time to come home, you know? One more full day.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

11-1 Faro


They stop the bus at the Portuguese border to look at passports. The guards look like all border guards - no nonsense types. Plot asks if he can take a picture of the building with the three flags and the guard laughs and says "ha ha, nao." No.

The bus, heading west and a little south, is going much slower now. It's as if the exuberance of the Andalucians (southern Spanish) has given way to the sombreness of the Algarvans (southern Portuguese) and the bus feels it too. The gears grind, there are more roundabouts, the roads are bumpier, each town where the bus throttles to a stop is poorer and more disheveled.

We reach Faro and it looks pretty good. The bus station w.c. doesn't smell, for one thing. But there are few people on the streets. Also, nobody really gets off the bus but us. And they speak Portuguese in Portugal, in which Plotnik took a minor in college, but while it is easy to read, unlike Catalan was in the north, it is more difficult to understand than he had expected.

"Doozentsh metsh," for example, which is what the old man with the plaid shirt and the plastic bag of garbage slung over his shoulder, says to Plotnik with a nod of his head to the right.

He means 200 meters. "Doscientos metros," in Spanish, becomes "doozentsh metsh" in Portuguese, plus there's the issue of not knowing how much 200 meters actually IS, and there are new little alleyways to turn into every fifteen feet, and how many metsh was that?

The Hotel Santa Maria is perfectly fine, cheap (56 euros including a big breakfast) and kind of in the center of town. Dinner is feijoada instead of tapas and that's very nice. Plot and Duck make plans to tour the old city in the morning after going to the train station to buy tickets for Lisbon in the afternoon.

See, you can't take a train from Seville to Lisbon without going all the way back through Madrid. You can't rent a car and take it across international borders and the cost of flying is astronomical. That leaves the bus, but you can't take one bus, you have to take two, the first to Faro, then get off and pick up another to Lisbon.

So why not spend the night? Break up the trip? Plus, there's a TRAIN to Lisbon from Faro! Hurrah! No more buses!

Wrongy Dongy. There is a train, but there isn't a train. What there is is a Greve Geral!! General Strike Today!! No Trains!! Viva Solidarity!! All you bloated plutocrat capitalist swine can just walk to Lisbon. Or stay in depressed Faro where everything is closed.

Why is everything closed? Because what there also is is a Catholic SuperHoliday: All Saints Day. Maybe that's what those Klan guys in the gift shop window in Seville were all about. Result: everything in Faro is closed. Everything. Except the bus station, which is jammed because the trains are on strike.

Your option is to get your fat, puffy, hotel-breakfast asses back on the bus.

Ah, mierda ("merda" in Portuguese). (Plotnik is back on the bus to Lisbon. He's got plenty of time. We can have a conversation about how "mierda" (shit) and "muerta" (dead) seem to share some kind of linguistic and philosophical root.)(OK, no.)

Ah, Faro. The high season is over. The tourists have gone back to Germany, England and France. Graffiti and broken window glass are everywhere. The old man with the bag of garbage is actually part of the garbage pickup system here. Lots of old men, and from what Plotnik can see, they miss a lot.

The old town -- well, nice place to put a castle but you wouldn't want to live there. And Plot and Duck just came from Seville, and Granada, and Toledo. Don't Old Town ME, Faro.

The harbor is lovely, of course, but, you know...we think about all those boats washed up in Staten Island that we saw on the news last night. We're wondering if flying into NY next Monday will work out? The Great PD, 5H, BB and +One are fine, but no one can go to work or school. Dance-nik says her local Brooklyn bar is packed.

Thank the Lord they don't live in Manhattan. Lower Manhattan - Plot and Duck's old turf -- smashed. It's unbelievable to think about. But, at least -- P-Town and Brooklyn are suffering only inconvenience.

Plotnik thinks he could tell his kids, who are going a little stir crazy being home with their bored child, as are all their friends with kids, whose schools have been canceled for at least one week, to remember no more mumps, no more measles, no more chicken pox. We stayed home with our kids a lot, and they were sick, and then we got sick. PD still owes his dad for the chicken pox.

And this really is nothing to joke about. So many people hurting. How does any government manage to pull so many strings, fix so many holes, put so many people back into their old lives? The problems are monumental.

Plot is glad he's going back. Maybe there's something he can do?