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Letters From Spain
Andrew Hood's Blog
Gut check in the USA
You bet your kids should be teffified. America's favorite fat guy, Santa Claus, is a prime example of excess unchecked. Back away from the cookies, big guy.
By David O. Williams 

Gut check in the USA

Ex-pat's annual holiday stateside always an expansive experience
By Andrew Hood

January 15, 2008 —  Working and living most of the year in Spain, I always experience intense reverse culture shock when I return for my annual holiday visits. Call it the ex-pat is back factor.

When friends visit me in Spain, they marvel at 1,000-year-old churches, Roman ruins and packed tapas bars. Back home, it’s immaculate lawns, triple-car garages and drive-thru Taco Bells that floor me.

The biggest shocker for this Europhile growing ever accustomed to the lithe beauties of Sevilla and Barcelona is America’s expanding girth.

I read a stunning statistic that no less than 65 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. That’s more fat people than Spain, France and Italy combined.

A recent visual survey at the local Wal-Mart confirmed this ballooning epidemic. Entire herds of flabby moms, super-sized dads and chubby kids waddled by as I counted out no less than 71 of the first 100 people were at least on the chunky side. Even the dogs had a paunch.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that most Europeans aren’t so gargantuan. Save for the occasional beer belly, most Europeans are relatively healthy. There are no triple-size happy meals. Wine is the drink of choice, not Double Big Gulps. Comfort food in Spain is olives and jamón serrano.

At Wal-Mart, people will drive around 20 minutes looking for a parking spot just so they don’t have to walk an extra 50 yards across the lot. My Spanish hometown of León was built a millennium before anyone heard of Henry Ford, so you walk everywhere.

On the opposite extreme of this excessive corpulence are the fitness freaks, a vocal minority who huff and puff their way toward physical perfection.

It seems American is dividing again, this time along its waistline. Just as the political landscape is fractured between red and blue states, there’s a growing fat gap between the obese and the super-fit.

A trip to the local gym gave me a glimpse of this wannabe Adonis elite class.

I saw more sculpted breasts than at the Rodin museum. Lost among this Mount Rushmore of chiseled abs, pumped up biceps and bulging pectorals, I looked down at my flabby arms and realized I indeed belong to the Marshmallow Majority.

I got busy hammering out some curls and realized that in America, it’s either get pumped or get fat.

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No Rox fever in Europe
The author at a Juventus match just prior to the Olympics in Torino, Italy, with members of the Colorado Cartel. From left to right, Hood, RealVail's Tom Boyd, Italian snowboarding writer GQ, and Jason Sumner of Boulder.
By David O. Williams 

No Rox fever in Europe

Passion for soccer still eludes this ex-pat
By Andrew Hood

November 17, 2007 —  It was tough watching the Rox fold like the French in World War II, but reading the local European papers last month, you would have never known that the Rox or the Sox or anyone else was playing the “World” Series.

Baseball isn’t even a blip on the radar screen over here.

In fact, no American sport has truly taken grip on the continent that still looks on the United States with a mix of horror and fascination or simply as an experiment gone horribly wrong.

The NFL’s efforts to create a European league flopped famously and the final six teams quietly folded in 2007 without anyone really noticing. Such American standards as baseball, hockey and college football all seem oddly peculiar to the Euro sport geeks, while NASCAR must sound like some EU-created agency to protect endangered black storks.

Basketball is the only U.S.-bred and born sport that’s making any serious inroads. The European leagues produce fine talent and there are no less than two dozen Euro players in the NBA for the 2007-08 season.

In Europe, there’s only one sport that truly ranks, and it doesn’t involve bats, plates or mounds.

Known as futbol, calcio, footie and le fut, or simply soccer to us gringos.

Three things matter to any good Italian or Spaniard: God, family and soccer, and I’m not sure in what order.

Imagine baseball, the NFL, NBA and the NHL all bound up into one event and you start to come close to the passion and fury of what soccer means to your average European fan.

The big clubs are huge money-making machines with rich histories like the New York Yankees but with lots of more cheese.

Real Madrid, Ajax, Manchester United, Barcelona, Chelsea, Juventus and Liverpool, which is co-owned by former Vail Associates magnate George Gillett, are just a few of these monoliths that attract one-named stars like Ronaldo, Raúl, Beckham and Zindane.

Fans lose all sense of their Euro civility during the major showdowns between these big clubs.

They clap, they sing, they chant, they wave flags, they burn flares. They throw insults, bottles, coins, batteries and stadium seats at each other. Sometimes they even kill each other. In 2000, fans of a rival club murdered two Leeds followers before a big match. Talk about passion.

Despite efforts to get into futbol over here in Spain, it just doesn’t tickle my synapses like an autumn battle between the Buffs and the Huskers.

For a gringo watching from the sidelines, it’s hard to get too excited about a sport where a 0-0 tie can be called great. Gimme a chili dog, a scorecard and a bag of peanuts any day.

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Home is where the in-laws are
RealVail welcomes former Vail Daily Editor Andrew Hood seen here standing high above Spain's mysterious waters.
Photo by Andrew Hood 

Home is where the in-laws are

By Andrew Hood

November 4, 2007 —  With the possible exception of the majority of the Vail Valley population, most people don’t select their home, their home selects them.

It’s a lucky and select minority who can say, “I am going to live here just because I damn well please.”

Most everyone else in the world just closes their eyes, throws a dart at a map and end up pretty happy if they land within a two-hour drive of a ski area.

Vail residents are the exception to this rule. They want to be in Vail, and most happily make sacrifices to live smack dab in the middle of the heart of Colorado’s ski country.

I used to be a member of that select club, but not anymore.

Back in 1996, I took a fluke offer to chase bike races across Europe for a nascent web site. It was a dream gig that took me to Provence, Tuscany and Andalusia. And getting paid for all the extensive travel wasn’t bad, either.

It was meant to be a momentary detour on a Euro-style walk-about before returning to Colorado, but flash-forward more than a decade, and I’m still here.

And this time around, here is here to stay.

Spain is home now. León, to be more specific, and believe me, León picked me, not the other way around.

Perched on the windy northwest edge of Spain’s desolate northern meseta, León isn’t one of those places ex-pats dreaming of a life of playas, toreos and tapas would choose to live.

As far as I can tell, there are about another half dozen gringos living in my fair adopted city of 150,000 souls. One owns a language school, another a bar that serves up a pretty damn good chili con carne. None of us came to León because we wanted.

We all landed here for love.

Spanish women, as a general rule, almost never leave their hometowns, so there’s not much choice for us foreign-born cupids in the choosing-my-own-destiny department.

The idea of living more than a half-hour’s walk from their parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents, friends and cousins is enough to throw any self-respecting Spanish woman (or man) into a pure panic.

I remember a few years ago, my extended Spanish family suffered a horrible crisis when the middle brother faced the choice of taking a job promotion in another town. From the amount of hysteria and collective hand wringing that wracked the family for weeks, I thought he was doomed to move to Hong Kong. No, it was to Valladolid, barely one hour away.

I still have pangs for those powder days in Vail’s Back Bowls, but when I’m stuffed with tangy Spanish chorizo and the local robust bierzo wine, I know I can’t complain too much.

After all, home is where the in-laws are.

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