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I first saw the gleaming metallic skull, then the horn, then the silver headlight. A few men sat nearby on foldout chairs, not minding my presence. The bike was gorgeous, even among a row of similar-style cruisers. One of the men motioned behind him, and pointed out the bike’s owner, who then noticed me and bolted forward. His name was Juan, and he looked about 60.  Like the other men, he wore a black leather vest, decorated with scores of pins—various military insignia, Puerto Rican flags, and a seaming hodge podge of affiliations. He rummaged through his wallet to try to find a card that identified his bike club—they meet every week, and he’d been working on his bike for eight years, he said. He spoke in a mix of Spanish and English, and even though I could’ve answered in Spanish I inexplicably chickened out, and mostly nodded my acknowledgement throughout the conversation. He couldn’t find the card, but asked if I’d come tomorrow. The crew would be there again. I said I’d try.

(Further investigation revealed the club is called Dueños de Bicicletas, or Classics Bronx Bicycle Club. A bit of background (and a shot of Juan circa 2007), here.)

Juan and his Schwinn, painstakingly built over 8 years

Juan and his Schwinn, painstakingly built over 8 years

This was my second time visiting Orchard Beach, located in Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx. The first was this winter, and unsurprisingly it was empty then—sad and dirty looking. But yesterday? Yesterday was a different scene. Every few feet a group of four of five sat on foldout chairs along the promenade, listening to salsa music, with those standing moving their hips ever-so-slightly. Looking out towards the water, I spotted several girls wearing Puerto Rican flag bikinis, and paying a bit more attention, those groups on the promenade? Most had long rods attached to their chairs, flying the Puerto Rican flag. Vendors sold shirts that said—“Orchard Beach—the Riviera of the Bronx,” and “Orchard Beach—little Puerto Rico.” All of a sudden I was in a Spike Lee joint, feeling more New York than ever.

We came to Orchard beach on the recommendation of the May issue of Backpacker Magazine. Hidden behind the party atmosphere lay Pelham Bay Park.

Sample rocky coastlines, beachside boardwalks, and brackish wetlands on this five-mile dayhike in Pelham Bay, the largest park in New York City“

I’d only heard the name during traffic reports ”…bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Pelham Bay Parkway,” but nary had an idea where or what it was. Turns out the shoreline and accompanying rocks out-date the Long Island Sound by millennia; the quartz, garnet, and feldspar bedrock exposed by moving glaciers during the last ice age. It’s the largest park in the City, however only a small fraction navigable by human foot. Wildlife, however, seem to feel quite at home in the salt marshes, coves, and along the crop of islands. We walked inside the ranger booth to ask about the trail, and the enthusiastic man inside told us to go around the perimeter of Hunter Island, that it was his favorite spot in all of NYC. Animals seen en route: herons,  breeding horseshoe crabs, horses (ok, those were technically in a stable where we parked), and one very peaceful looking rabbit. Worth the trip from Brooklyn? Most definitely. Am I sorry we didn’t instead go to Bear Mountain? Nope.

Detailed trail map and GPS coordinates, here.

View from Twin Island

View from Twin Island

View from Hunter Island

View from Hunter Island

Horshoecrab mating season @Orchard Beach

Horshoecrab mating season @Orchard Beach

More pics and a vid of the crabs getting all crazy: here.

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It’s been two years since Dmitry and I returned from studying in Barcelona, and I just realized that the last entry in this blog is dated July of 2010: graduation.  Dang, has it been that long? We call NYC home now, but there are still lots of road stories left to tell so I figured I’d take this sucka out of hiatus and start scribing. Hope we can inspire a few of you to visit a place you hadn’t considered, or at least shut down your computer and get out of the house for a few hours. Better still, maybe you’ll pick up the phone to say hello, and ask to hear all the gory details.

Last weekend we clambered out of our wintry cave to observe the rebirth of the natural world. Destination: Lemon Squeeze trail in Harriman State Park,  a painless 50 mile drive north of the City.

This Spring has been unseasonably warm and we’d been itching to get out of town. The flowers and trees blossomed early in the year, and served as a reminder that nature is back on. I started monitoring the weather on Wednesday, sticking my head out on the patio each morning, marveling at how each day was lovelier than the last. Alas, Sunday’s forecast did note bode well for our outdoor plans. Weather.com warned of a 50% chance of rain, which unnervingly inched several percentage points each day leading up to Sunday, finally stopping at 70. By the time we left, it was 1:30PM under gloomy skies, threatening but not yet menacing. Abysmal late start on our part, but we figured we’d take our chances.

From within the park, the trail was surprisingly tricky to find so I recommend you peep these directions, and pay attention to the following: from the parking area, cross the big field down the center. We accidentally ended up on a different trail because we followed a couple who crossed the field on the right side.  Once you get on the trail, turn left and walk a few paces (not right as the instructions indicate). Look out for the wooden sign with the arrow that clearly reads “Lemon Squeeze,” and then it’s all uphill for a while.

Along the way you’ll pass “Island Pond,” which is really a very beautiful lake. We made a pit stop to watch a few men fly fishing, and passing a bright red Ford truck, Dmitry stopped to explain the things hanging off the back:

Are you sick of looking at side steps and bug shields?
Want a REAL auto accessory?
Want a site that offers Hot Chicks, Bad-Ass Rides, Free stuff, and the funniest accessory in the industry?

Truck Nutz

(If you are a clueless Yankee like me, look up Truck Nutz).

Yeah, I don’t get it either.

We spotted a handful of other hikers on the trail: a group of mid 60’s Korean ladies, briskly making their way down,  holding walking sticks in each white gloved hand; several packs of teenage boy scouts joshing one another as their dads trudged behind;  and a triad of Latino youths, tugging along a happy but exhausted looking Bolognese pup. The trees were still mostly bare, but we saw bursts of  life: saplings popping out of old logs, moss that looked like it had recently re-carpeted the surrounding boulders, bright orange polyporus mushrooms that spiced up the grayish brown surroundings, probably leftover from the Fall.

Vegetation springs from every nook and cranny

And the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the Lemon Squeeze. There’s a scramble! There’s body wedging! And a fairytale forest hovering above. It started to drizzle as we approached the hike’s grand finale, but having come so far we decided to keep going. It began to pour so we took cover in a nearby cave and ransacked our bags for the hoard for the snacks we packed that morning. We hiked back in the mud, sopping with joy. Sitting in the car on the drive back to New York I couldn’t tell if it started to rain harder, or if the rain simply felt like less of a nuisance back in the woods.

The Squeeze

We came a bit too early to see the flowering trees, but no matter. The hiking season has just begun.

Check out more pics here.

As of one week ago, I walked the walk at graduation and rounded out my study time here in Barcelona. Dmitry outwitted the rather unpleasant “bouncer” to get inside the auditorium and all pictures are courtesy of him. (The University inexplicably hosts the ceremony in a space not big enough to accomodate friends & family for whom the ceremony was probably created in the first place.)

The evening started off with three heads of the university congratulating the students. Immediately after, however, the procedings took a turn for the weird. What followed was a 45 minute lecture on the value of stem cell research, complete with photos of regenerated chicken livers and covers of Time magazine to prove the the topic’s importance in modern science. A member of the faculty staff sung an aria from Handel’s “Rinalda”, confirming that this divine gift belongs to professional musicians. The Masters student class president then gave a speech wishing us luck, success, etc, etc and by the end got so confused from switching between Catalan, Spanish and English that, after stumbling on a word, completely confused, spitted out “I’m sorry” in all three. The finale was the student choir singing the University’s alma mater. I’d never heard it before, but apparently others felt quite at home belting along to “Gaudeamus igitur.” That’s Latin, by the way.

Running to get that diploma

With Jorge, my thesis advisor

Europeans are not prohibitionist when it comes to alcohol, and the Unviersity set up tables with cava and little tapas to top off the celebrations. I remember at Cornell, the administration actually wrote in block letters on the commencement program “Families, please do not bring in bottles of champagne or other alcohol beverages, as they will be confiscated.” Not only did I share a glass with my thesis advisor, but he actually accepted the invitation to have a beer with our class afterwards. So cool! We drank, we ate, we signed yearbooks. Yes, Meagan– an American girl from the Masters, created a ‘zine full of pics of our class, and between gulps of beer we scribbled sweet somethings to one another.

The end is the beginning, and after an hour of being there I realized the club patronized to shake off a year’s worth of accumulated knowledge was the first I’d ever been to in Barcelona visiting my friend Katy a decade prior. And it all comes full circle.

Meagan, 'zine editor extroadinaire

Class of 2010

Congrats my fellow UPF Masters of Political Science 2010 peeps!!! We done it yo!

Who takes out the trash?

Just when you thought it was all political mumbo jumbo…I’ve stumbled onto some papers on division of household unpaid work (aka: chores) and child caring.  Ooh juicy! And pertinent to every life! Perfect for testing out the theories on all my friends…

The main question is how couples divide up household tasks, how they’ve arrived at that proportion, and why have these things been changing over the years. You’d be surprised, but its been studied in all sorts of fields, including economics, political science, demography, gender studies, and psychology.  Theoretical models include Institutional Effect; Specialization; Time Constraints;  Social Exchange/Economic Bargaining; and Gender Ideology/Socialization.  If you’re into it, I’d be really excited to send you more info.

And now….two questions for you:

[I’m still not sure how I feel about this polling methodology, so write-in responses via the comments section are most welcome!]

Blankets of Rain

Friends frequently ask what crazy, exciting things I’m up to in Barcelona.  So, here is a short response I recently wrote a friend:

Winter here has been really rainy and I’ve officially gone and come back from being stir crazy.  Our apartment, like the majority here, aren’t centrally heated, so even though it never really dips below 40F, its chilly and I find myself hiding under a blanket quite a bit, which, as you can imagine, is not particularly conducive to studying. I returned from my madness yesterday, because the sun came out, and Dmitry and I took the first train out of the city to visit Sant Cugat, a medieval town lying beyond the Barcelona hills, famous for a 13th century monastery. We saw an old man sketching a beastly form within the cloister.  He’d apparently painted nearly all of the 100 columns, according to his friend, also an elderly gentleman standing next to him, seemingly busy distracting our painter with off-color jokes. It made me wonder how my own parents will be spending their retirement years…

Last weekend the city celebrated Carnaval. Its nothing crazy like Brazil, but there is a small gay-friendly sea-side town about 30 minutes away called Sitges that throws a killer parade each year, so we went out to take a peak. Let me tell you, you CAN combine glitter, with faux leather chaps, and velvet. It was pretty awesome. But now, its back to being rainy, so under the blanket I go.

Within Sant Cugat Cloister

Park in Sant Cugat- those support beams have been there since 1970!

Dim gives the Sant Cugat Merce Dolls a Squeeze

Carnaval in Sitges

Drinking mate with our guest Josep at home at 3AM, post dinner paaarte

How Americans Commute to Work

Take a peek at how people across the major US cities commute to work: via car, bike, foot, or public transit.
I think the # for public transit/foot/bike is quite higher in Barcelona, but would be interested to know the actual figure for comparison…

How Urbanites Commute to Work

via Good blog

Respect

I hope to live a long, productive and happy life– to be able to contribute to society, do great things at my job, raise a family, etc, etc.  While I eat pretty well and exercise (ok, ok, I walk about 5 blocks a day and occasionally ride a bike to Uni, but that counts), there is a good chance that after the age of 65 or 70, I’ll have some aches and pains, back problems, a bad hip, arthritis.  When that day comes, and I need to use the public transportation system to get somewhere, I pray to god that out of respect and kindness, some younger person will give up his seat for me.

While riding the metro home today, a man of about 75 got on a few stops after me. He was skinny and frail, leaning on a long umbrella for support. He was wearing walking shoes, a well worn sweater, and some khakis– someone who seemed he got about. Upon embarking, his eyes quickly darted from seat to seat, and he walked half the train car to confirm they were all occupied, he discontentedly leaned against a side railing for support, and turned away from the other passengers to face the closed doors.  I was standing opposite him, my back leaning on the other double doors. Seeing his desire for a seat, I started to glare at the guy sitting to my right, about  30, who was chatting on his cell phone (there is mobile service on the metro in Barcelona). As I was contemplated to tell him to please free his seat for the old man, my stop came up, and I couldn’t form the words in Spanish nor the courage to actually say it out loud. What had silently transpired was a generational indignation of this old man, who only wanted a seat.

Sure you could say that the other passengers didn’t notice him, or themselves were tired or sick, but this sounds like a lame cop-out.

Please give up your seat to someone elderly on the subway or bus. Most senior citizens have too much pride to make such a request, but trust me, they won’t turn you down if you offer. They’ll think better of us “youth.” Better still, if you’re a tourist in another country, they might even think better of Americans. How about that?! And you, of course, will get a surprising warm and fuzzy for the rest of the day.

If you are confused, some rules of thumb:

  1. Stay in your seat if you are pregnant, a senior citizen, a little kid, or just pooped your pants.
  2. If you offer, and they say no thanks, persist a few more times. Old people are so damn polite.
  3. Not noticing senior citizens in need of a seat is not an excuse. Be on the lookout. Maybe you’ll even spot a hot guy/chick in your quest for doing good.
  4. You are off the hook if you’re between 45-65 and have your own aches and pains, are going through a nasty divorce, or currently working in the financial sector;  had a super crappy day; are a “tween” or “teen” who lives in his own self-centered world
  5. After standing up to give them your seat, do NOT look at the other passengers for “props.” You did good, now keep your head down.

As Ali G would say: ressssssssssspect.