Getting Tough On Hogging

At one of the beaches on Spain’s sun coast, police have decided to address one of the most irritating activities of our time — beach hogging.

We’ve all seen it.  You go to a beach or a nice pool at a resort and when you get there someone has placed towels on the prime spots or best lounge chairs.  Sometimes they’ve leave something small and easily replaced, like a cheap pair of sunglasses, an almost empty bottle of suntan lotion, or an old canvas bag, to better mark their territory.

The people themselves are not there, and might not be there for hours — but you know if you sat in their pristine chair or moved their empty towel and sat there instead, they would come and act all huffy and offended, as if some inviolable natural law of the universe allowed them to forever lay claim to the spot simply by placing a towel there at 6:30 a.m. even if they don’t come back to actually get some sun until 2 p.m.

The Spanish police are dealing with this unseemly behavior by confiscating the spot-reserving stuff left by the beach hoggers and making them pay a 30 Euro fine if they want to get it back.  And to make sure that everyone has plenty of notice, they are handing out leaflets to tourists to advise everyone of the anti-hogging policy.

This no doubt seems like a small thing, and some will argue that police should be spending their time focusing on more important things like catching thieves.  Of course, no one is arguing that police should ignore such crimes, but policing annoying behavior that unfairly limits the ability of others to enjoy a public space like a beach is important, too.

Hogging behavior is exasperating, and it is spreading from beach and poolside chairs to other parts of our daily lives in public places — where people try to “reserve” the prime seats at a high school graduation ceremony by leaving programs there the night before, or put orange cones on grassy patches of devil’s strip along the parade route, or block off “their” parking spots on a public street.  Such hoggish behavior threatens our social compact.  It’s about time that we followed Spain’s salutary example and stood up to such boorish overreaching and acquisitiveness.


The Mission Trail


The church at the Mission San Jose

San Antonio and its environs are home to four of the early Spanish missions — or at least, what remains of them.  From an historical preservation standpoint, the centuries have not been kind.

Yesterday I had a chance to visit two of the four missions, San Jose and Concepcion.  San Jose is the most complete mission, with its outer wall intact and the small rooms where Indian converts and visitors lived available for a look.  They are spartan, but practical — about what you would expect in a development that was intended to be an outpost of civilization in an untamed land.  Some of the outbuildings and outdoor ovens also may be found there, as well as the ruins of a convent.


The facade of the cathedral at Mission San Jose

The centerpiece of the missions, of course, was the cathedral, and the church at San Jose Mission is striking — with a beautiful facade that features statuary of the saints and renderings of hearts, shells, and other meaningful symbols.  I wasn’t able to see the interior of the cathedral, for reasons I’ll explain in a minute.  At one time the church was covered with brightly colored tile that must have presented a dazzling sight for weary travelers on the dusty Texas plains, but most of the tiles are gone and the church now stands as a stone monument.

Mission Concepcion, which is found in the middle of a neighborhood, is much less complete.  It consists of a church, a well, some ruins, and a prayer area.  The church itself is simple, and what you would expect to find at a Spanish mission, with whitewashed interior walls.  Some signs of the former frescoes in the church may be seen, but for the most part the church interior has been decorated with modern paintings and furnishings.

The two missions must be popular wedding options.  When I visited yesterday, both were busy hosting nuptial ceremonies — which is why I was unable to see the interior of the church at San Jose.  That was disappointing, but I found myself feeling good about the fact that the churches were still being used as churches.  A lot of work went into building these missions, which served as agents of colonialism but also as a testament to the power of religious faith.  It’s nice to see that, centuries later, that part of the mission is still being served.


At Mission Concepcion

The Best Restaurant In The World

If you want to go to the best restaurant in the world — at least, according to Restaurant magazine — you need to hop on a plane and fly to Spain.

The restaurant is El Celler de Can Roca, located in Catalonia.  It was started by two brothers in the 1980s, who were then joined by a third brother in 1997, with each brother being responsible for one facet of the restaurant’s operation.  (Guess UJ and I need to get started on our “best in the world” business concept!)  El Celler de Can Roca is celebrated for the pervasive family dynamic in the restaurant, its understated but passionate ambiance, and the creativity and technical innovation of the food.

Five American restaurants make the top 50 list:  Eleven Madison Park and Per Se, both in New York City, Alinea, in Chicago, Le Bernardin and Daniel, in New York City, and The French Laundry, in Yountville, California, in the Napa Valley.

How do you really decide the best restaurant in the world?  Restaurant magazine actually publishes a “manifesto” on the topic — which indicates that the best dining experience is decided by the gut instinct (pun intended) of the gourmets who did the voting, rather than in a dry set of factors to be considered.  I agree with that approach.  When I go to a restaurant to have a fine meal, I’m not weighing checklist items, I’m looking for a wonderful and memorable experience.  It sounds like El Celler de Can Roca delivers.

Saving The Trevi Fountain

If you’ve been to Rome, you’ve likely seen the Trevi Fountain.  It is a magnificent attraction, with its depiction of Neptune and sea horses and other sea creatures atop craggy rocks.  When we visited Rome during a very hot summer some years ago, the Trevi Fountain was a delightful place to sit, enjoy the spray of the cool water, and appreciate the beauty while taking a break from sightseeing.

Unfortunately, the Trevi Fountain is badly in need of repair.  Earlier this year, some pieces of the 250-year-old fountain — commissioned by one of those civic-minded Popes, Clement XII — broke off.  Fortunately, an Italian mineral water company, Acqua Claudia, has agreed to foot the $250,000 cost of the immediately needed restorations.  Whether funding will be located for the more long-term repair work on the fountain that is desperately needed is another question.

The condition of the Trevi Fountain is  symptomatic of a larger problem in countries with significant cultural sites.  Italy, Greece, and Spain, to name just a few, are terribly cash-strapped.  It’s hard to believe that such countries, which reap huge economic benefits from tourism, would neglect the sites that attract those tourists in the first place, but paying to maintain crumbling monuments, old buildings, fountains, and churches, is pushing budgets to the limit.

I hope that other companies step up, as Acqua Claudia has, to help the Italian government maintain Italy’s many irreplaceable architectural and artistic landmarks.  Generations to come should have the chance to see the Trevi Fountain in all its glory, rather than a heap of dust and rubble.

Uh Oh (Again)

The news from Europe has not been good for some time now — but today may be a turning point into even more negative territory.  As the United States enjoyed the Labor Day holiday, equity markets across Europe plunged by an average of 4 percentGermany’s DAX took the hardest hit, falling by more than 5 percent.

It’s not hard to understand why European investors are troubled.  Greece, Spain, and Portugal all are struggling with serious debt problems, and recently Italy, one of Europe’s biggest economies, also has tumbled into distressed territory.  In the meantime, the large, more solvent northern European countries — particularly Germany — have had to prop up their profligate southern European partners.  Germany’s financial support of free-spending Eurozone countries hasn’t gone down well with German voters, who delivered a stinging rebuke to the ruling party in regional elections.

Interestingly, some political leaders in Germany and elsewhere seem to see the ongoing problems as a reason for an even closer political and economic union between the nations of Europe — whereas European citizens, in contrast, appear to be yearning for more control over the destinies of their own countries.  The depths of the Eurozone debt problems are not yet fully understood, and analysts wonder how much worthless debt is held by European banks and whether the piecemeal bailout efforts will ever staunch the outflow of investor confidence.  Given all of these circumstances, it’s not hard to foresee more hard times ahead in the Eurozone.