Category Archives: Living la vida española



Paris holds a special place in my heart. It was in Paris that I met my wife and in Paris that we were married on a sunny day beneath the red, white and blue French flag.

For three years I commuted between Madrid and Paris to be with the woman I love, and during 2010 while my wife was pregnant with our first son, I made 27 trips alone to the city to be with her. And we still travel frequently to Paris to visit friends and family.

The three cities I feel closest to are Washington, DC (my home town), Madrid (where I have called home for the past 15 years) and Paris. All three have suffered terrorist attacks since 2001. After the attack on the Pentagon in DC in 2001, my immediate sense was of doom, anticipating that my country would take drastic measures and that the world would forever be changed for the worse. I was in Madrid on the morning of March 11, 2004 during the Atocha train bombings and was (and continue to be) amazed by how the Spanish reacted calmly, without panic and without the thirst for revenge. Now today after the Paris attacks, I am left with only profound sadness. There are some many things I love about Paris, about France and its multiculturalism (which I generally see succeeding in ways it doesn’t always do in America), and my heart breaks.

No one has the right to take the lives of others, and certainly no murderous, sociopath terrorist has the right to speak on behalf of anyone other than himself or to invoke the name of a god he certainly does not share with a billion other people around the globe or with my children who are citizens of the great nation of France.

Thankfully our family and friends in Paris were unharmed, yet we know others – including friends of our friends — were not so fortunate.


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Filed under Digressions, Friends / Family, Living la vida española, Married to a Moroccan, We The People

My Experience with Offensive Speech after 15 Years in Europe

Spanish Basketball team

This will be my fifteenth year living in Europe. For many years, I was consistently shocked by the way Europeans could get away with all sorts of blatantly racist, anti-Semitic and otherwise offensive speech that we in America would consider either “politically incorrect”, socially unacceptable (though never illegal), or downright putting your job or personal safety on the line. For example, I simply couldn’t understand how the Spanish national basketball team could get away with something like this, how no one got fired over discussing Barack Obama like this (I actually sent numerous letters of complaint to Telecinco, with no response) (or like this), and generally how all things foreign are infantilized and treated as caricatures. In soccer stadiums, players and fans alike are constantly getting away with spewing racist insults at Black players. I recall a guy in Germany who I had just met telling me anti-Semitic jokes, and I had to do everything in my power not to clock him (and I am not even Jewish).

And of course, these types of behaviors are always shrugged or laughed off and thus become acceptable. Continue reading

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Filed under Essays, Living la vida española, We The People

12 Years in Chamberí


Back in late spring 2008 just as I was reaching my apartment in the Madrid neighborhood of Chamberí, I noticed a strange looking vehicle driving down my street. As it got closer I saw that it was the Google Maps car. I stopped and stared it down, hoping to be immortalized on Google Maps street view. And sure enough, a few months later, there I was. At least until very recently. Google has recently refreshed its Madrid street view and I am no longer standing at the door.


Coincidentally, just as my virtual tenure on Google Maps has come to an end, so have my 12 years in Chamberí. Tomorrow we move to a new address.

It all started back in June 2000. I had been working in Washington, DC at a small boutique law firm specializing in environmental law. I enjoyed the work and city, but quite out of the blue – and against my will – I was becoming one of the few experts on the regulation of nutrient pollution in man-made water bodies (for those who care, Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act). However that may sound – exciting or excruciating – I was in my late 20s and didn’t want to be typecast so early in my career. In other words, the time was ripe to make a change. I chose to move to Madrid where I had close friends and a plan: do an MBA at Instituto de Empresa right when European business schools were taking a giant leap in competitiveness vis-à-vis their American counterparts.

So, in the Spring of 2000, I co-published an article entitled “Politics, Pollution and TMDLs: New Directions in Point and Nonpoint Source Liability for Watershed Restoration” in a now long-defunct trade magazine that no one ever read, and by summer I had quit my job , moved to Spain and the rest was history.

While looking for an apartment in Madrid, I moved in with an old friend and his then girlfriend in Chamberí. It took me two months – during which his girlfriend didn’t know which one of us to strangle – until I finally found a nice apartment in the very pijo Salamanca neighborhood.

But after one year in Salamanca and just as my MBA was coming to its end, my landlord – taking advantage of the end of Peseta – was in a rush to sell off the apartment, and I was left homeless. I had no idea whether I was going to stay in Madrid or move back to DC, but I needed some time. My friend who I had stayed with in Chamberí had just broken up with his girlfriend and – against what you would imagine – encouraged me to move in with her and help out with the rent until I could figure my next move. To make a long story short, she ended up taking a job in Barcelona, and I took over the management of the MBA program I had just graduated from along with her apartment.

That was 12 years ago.

In the meantime, I became a fixture in my neighborhood. I have my vegetable market, butcher, cheese guy and fish monger. I do the vast majority of my shopping locally. And when I walk down the street, everyone says hello and knows my name. It helps that my son was born at the hospital down the street, and all of the old ladies want to play with my curly-haired little boy.

While living in this house, I married, changed jobs three or four times. I have gotten good news and I have gotten bad news, and as mentioned, our son was born. I have watched as the local kids were born and grew up, and I have seen my neighbors grow old and pass away. I once even saw a neighbor begging for money in the metro.

And isn’t that what is so special about living in a city? In the U.S., we don’t really have cities. By cities I mean a place where people of all ages and classes live in the same buildings, walk the same streets and buy their groceries in the same stores. In Chamberí, I have had all of these: the old ladies, babies, teenagers, immigrants in the cheaper interior apartments and the bourgeoisie with their balconies. And of course, outside you see beggars and drunks. You are exposed to all faces of humanity.

But now after 12 years, it’s time to move on. We’re moving within walking distance to where my son will start school in September. And we are very excited to move to a bigger, more comfortable space. Nonetheless, while it is technically still within the city (and definitely a far cry from the American suburban life), we will lose my querida Chamberí barrio lifestyle.

Twelve years. That may be the longest time I have ever lived at one address. Almost as long as the house where I grew up. I don’t feel anything close the attachment I feel for my childhood home, but I will definitely cherish its place in my life.

Goodbye to 12 years in Chamberí.

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Filed under Digressions, Living la vida española, Parenthood

Living La Vida Española

plaza-de-olavideWhen I first started the original Grave Error back in 2006, my intention was to write silly little digressions relating to my every day life. I think I was fairly successful in that department, but over time, my posts got more and more political, especially as a result of the 2008 U.S. Presidential Elections. Since then I have probably spent much too much time writing about U.S. politics and foreign policy, especially for an American living in Spain. For the reader, it could have been more interesting to hear more about European politics from the American perspective.

That’s not to say that I haven’t written about life in Spain. I have, but for whatever reason, what has moved me the most over the past few years have been issues relating to my own government and society’s remarkable hypocrisy with respect to civil liberties, the economy, guns, and foreign policy. And of course, I am fully aware that my writing on these topics not only bores my family and friends, it simply doesn’t have much of an audience for those, once again, interested in reading what an American ex-pat has to say.

Now with Spain really falling apart with no end in sight, I am going to make an effort to switch gears and write more about the country I have lived in for the past 13 years. I will still write occasionally about what irks me in American political discourse, as well, as on literature, music and fútbol.

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The Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns, Habituation, and Mourinho

MouMourinho is an interesting character, to say the least. On paper, he is an amazing and talented coach, renowned for his ability to read the game and above all to motivate his players. At the same time, he has a tendency to generate unneeded controversy — often prejudicial to his team’s interests — and to commit acts of true immaturity as when he stuck is finger in Tito Vilanova’s eye during a Real Madrid vs. Barca match.

That said, egged on by the press, it is quite unique how Barca players (and even coaching staff and officials) constantly comment on Mou’s shortcomings every chance they get. So why does Piqué have to criticize Mourinho whenever he has a chance? It seems equally infantile.

But back to my story. Since joining Real Madrid over two seasons ago, Mourinho has consistently made the following two claims: Continue reading

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Filed under Football/Soccer, Living la vida española

Just How Bad is the Spanish Football Press?

As is BadIn Spain, you have a number of daily newspapers that are dedicated to sports alone, and as expected, mainly focusing on football and generally of very poor quality. One of my pet peeves about Spanish football journalism is how these papers will use quotes in headlines that, plain and simple, are not exact quotes, and thus, by definition, not quotes.

As anyone with a minimal level of education should have learned, when words are placed within quotation marks and attributed to a person, those words must be the exact words of the person they are being attributed to, and they should not merely reflect or summarize the meaning of what was said or written. Continue reading

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Filed under Football/Soccer, Living la vida española

What was El Corte Ingles Thinking?

On the subject of racism, a few weeks ago at El Corte Ingles — not only Spain’s biggest and most important department store chain but also one of its most influential companies — I came across the above items on sale.

What was El Corte Ingles thinking? Spaniards need to decorate their homes with slavery nostalgia?

One a similar note, last year while walking down the street I snuck a shot of this idiot’s jean jacket vest. Forget for a second how stupid he looks, but Elvis and the Confederate Flag? Does this guy have any idea what the Confederate Flag symbolizes (and a Southerner can tell me otherwise all he wants; I’ll buy it when Germans can legitimately use the swastika as a symbol of national pride). And how does Elvis and nostalgia for the old slave-dependent glory days of the South go hand in hand on denim?

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Book Vending Machines


These book vending machines are a nice alternative to the ones that just sell junk food. I have no idea whether they actually make many sales. This one is at the Principe Pio train station in Madrid. There are also a bunch of small libraries in a few of the Madrid metro stations where people can check out books for the commute.

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Filed under Literature, Living la vida española

Sí a la Guerra

During the first two years of the war in Iraq, my neighbor sported a large banner on his balcony that read “No a la Guerra” or “No to War”. Then last January he hung a flag of the pro-Sahrawi (Algerian and Libyan backed) Polisario, in favor of Western Sahara’s independence from Morocco. And over the past few days following the recent disturbances in the region between the Polisario and the Moroccan government, he has decided to once again hang the Polisario flag.

What I find interesting is that a person — not to mention the whole gang of self-righteous Spanish actors — who was so vehemently against one war in an Arab country when the American right claimed to be toppling a human rights abusing dictatorship is now so eager to favor another war in an Arab country, but this time with the difference that it is the Spanish left who gets to denounce a human rights abusing dictatorship. I suppose in retrospect the original slogan should have read “No a Esta Guerra” instead of the moral condemnation of war of in general.

If anything, what we learned from Iraq is that the world becomes a very wicked place when people so confidently and self-righteously believe that they have the truth on their side.


Filed under Essays, Living la vida española

Laayoune Iniya

On November 6, 1975 in what is known as the Green March, 350,00 Moroccans peacefully protested in southern Morocco to demand that the Spanish government handover the Spanish Sahara to Morocco – reinforcing the notion that peaceful resistance is more effective than other alternatives.

Thirty-five years later this week and some sectors of the Spanish press and mainly left-leaning activists still have a strange passion for intervening in the region. As I have mentioned in previous posts – regardless of where one may stand on the independence of Western Sahara – it is strange that the Spanish left would take such an active position in favor of the Algerian and Libyan financed Frente Polisario considering that Spanish intrigue continues to have strong imperialistic overtones for the Moroccan people.

For an example of how the Moroccans see the liberation from Spanish colonialism – done through peaceful protest – as a proud and heroic moment of the triumph of the People against the Imperialists, check out the above video of the song “Laayoune Iniya” from the early 70s by Jil Jilala, a group that pioneered a new generation of grass roots folk musicians widely popular at the time amongst European and American granola hipsters. The song, meaning “Laayoune, my eyes” (a play on words as the city name “Laayoune” is derived from the same root as the word “eyes” and “springs”) became the anthem for the Green March and the liberation of the last remaining vestiges of European colonialism in Morocco.

And yet here they are, the Spanish granola hipsters of today, thirty-five years later, coming off as the Spanish imperialists redux.

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Filed under Essays, Living la vida española