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Archive for September, 2009

At the Shore in Sitges

Dmitry is in full school mode: homework readings, presentation preparations, all day lectures. I’m almost there, boning up on statistics for my 6:30PM meeting with the professor. Classes start tomorrow, and I’m amped. I’ve been so eager for tutelage that this week I crashed two of Dmitry’s language courses, and wouldn’t you know it, Spanish has, count ’em,  FOUR different past tenses. I’ve taken a shining to ESADE students: a Ukranian girl who’s lived in Kuwait, a Kuwaiti guy who’s lived in the US, an Irish dude who’s lived in Poland, and of course the Russians, who are very funny.

Someone hosted a “pre-party” this Saturday, where we were instructed to arrive no earlier than midnight in either black or white clothing.  Dmitry heard “Gloria” blasting through the speakers and seemed incredibly impressed with their musical selection. By the time the lights are out and those who are left standing are ready to head out to the club, Dim and I call it a night. It’s past 4AM.

Earlier on Saturday we took a train out to Sitges, a super cute coastal city 30 minutes away, popular with the gays and summer family renters. The sky is occasionally clouded over, but when the sun comes out the water is so inviting. Swimming in the Mediterranean feels like cheating. I think it’s the higher salt concentration that makes it easier to paddle around, to float. We nibble at the salami we bought in town, on a fresh baguette, and cleanse it down with sweet-as-can-be grapes (NOT seedless). Strolling on the promenade, we spot a bunch of teenage surfers, taking advantage of the breaks. Dmitry says they seem really good, ’cause they can ride the small waves practically to shore. Long boarding is really popular too, here and in the city, and I kind of wish I knew how to ride one.

Surfers in the Water
Iglesia de Sant Bartomeu i Santa Tecla Behind Dim

Iglesia de Sant Bartomeu i Santa Tecla Behind Dim

This guy kept biking back and forth along the shore, at least a few feet in the water. Every minute or two, he would sink, knee deep, laugh to himself, and proceed.

This guy kept biking back and forth along the shore, at least a few feet in the water. Every minute or two, he would sink, knee deep, laugh to himself, and proceed.

La Mercè Revelry

In general, it’s been quiet this past week, no school and I barely know anyone in town. Really looking forward to classes starting tomorrow.  Really really looking forward to Thursday, when Katy and Paul grace us with their presence all the way from Amsterdam– whoo! Coincidentally, the 23rd-27th  Barcelona has its biggest festival of the year, La Mercè, coming up. There’s pyrotechnics, the Go Team are playing, there’s a parade with peeps on stilts and oversized heads.  Sounds like my kind of celebration.

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I recently discovered Dan Bern, a shoe in for Bob Dylan, albeit with a better voice (hah! I said it) and more sardonic lyrics. Sitting on the train coming back from Molló, I was listening to his song “King of the World,” which reminded me of a similarly-themed poem I stole from an old Harper’s Magazine found at a coffee shop in Huaraz, Peru. Read the poem, then listen to the song, and tell me you wouldn’t want to rule the world for a day or two.

The Orange

by Benjamin Rosenbaum

An orange ruled the world.

It was an unexpected thing, the temporary abdication of Heavenly Providence, entrusting the whole matter to a simple orange.

The orange, in a grove in Florida, humbly accepted the honor. The other oranges, the birds, and the men in their tractors wept with joy; the tractors’ motors rumbled hymns of praise.

Airplane pilots passing over would circle the grove and tell their passengers, “Below us is the grove where the orange who rules the world grows on a simple branch.” And the passengers would be silent with awe.

The governor of Florida declared every day a holiday. On summer afternoons the Dalai Lama would come to the grove and sit with the orange, and talk about life.

When the time came for the orange to be picked, none of the migrant workers would do it: they went on strike. The foremen wept. The other oranges swore they would turn sour. But the orange who ruled the world said, “No, my friends; it is time.”

Finally a man from Chicago, with a heart as windy and cold as Lake Michigan in wintertime, was brought in. He put down his briefcase, climbed up on a ladder, and picked the orange. The birds were silent and the clouds had gone away. The orange thanked the man from Chicago.

They say that when the orange went through the national produce processing and distribution system, certain machines turned to gold, truck drivers had epiphanies, aging rural store managers called their estranged lesbian daughters on Wall Street and all was forgiven.

I bought the orange who ruled the world for 39 cents at Safeway three days ago, and for three days he sat in my fruit basket and was my teacher. Today, he told me, “it is time,” and I ate him.

Now we are on our own again.

[source: Benjamin Rosenbaum, Harper’s Magazine, Nov 2002. http://www.benjaminrosenbaum.com/stories/orange.html%5D

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King Of The World by Dan Bern

listen to the song here

Mr. Dan Bern

Mr. Dan Bern

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Up in the Pyranese

This weekend was pretty special thanks to an invitation we received from our friend Josep to come visit him at his home in Molló, a small town in the Pyranese mountains, about 2.5 hours north of Barcelona.

Molló, Spain

Molló, Spain

We met Josep this past summer at a hostel in Mendoza, Argentina, and traveled on a hiking trip together in  the surrounding Andes for several days, where he proved to be an expert mountaineer.

Molló is a quaint Catalan mountain pueblo, containing a mere 300 residents, which swells on weekends and holidays with city-folk nostalgic for the casa pairal (traditional rural farmhouse) of yore.

This Saturday, coinciding with the Catalan national holiday of La Diada (which oddly celebrates the fall of Barcelona to the French in 1714), the town was host to its annual Trumfa Festival, celebrating the region’s potato growers. The main square was bursting with local produce stands, baked breads and pastries, freshly stuffed sausage, local honey, and other items. To our mild horror, we learned that the stout horses we spotted in a nearby coral, mingling with more familiar Arabian breeds, are a common food staple. Perhaps for the better, the sausage stand ran out of horse meat, so that delicacy will have to wait for another time.

A troupe of over 50 came to town to wow spectators with a quintessential Catalan torre, or human pyramid. As dark storm clouds moved closer and closer, configurations of children were hoisted on top of one another, held firm by a base of adult men and women, intertwined in human gridlock.

The day prior Josep introduced us to his friends, and organized a trip to a favored spot in the mountains, where we barbecue’d, gazed at the stars, and listened to the distant sound of cowbells. What a difference a few hundred kilometers makes. Next time, we take a side trip to nearby France. I hear they still have castles over that way.

Coca for sale (pie)

Coca for sale (pie)

Josep demonstrates his guitar skillz

Josep demonstrates his guitar skillz

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3839 Miles from Home

On Sunday I became a resident of Barcelona. It’s still weird and doesn’t quite feel like home, but then again, its only been three days.

Barca Apt, by Plaza Tetuan

Barca Apt, by Plaza Tetuan

Dmitry thankfully completed the arduous task of finding an apartment prior to my arrival and I have to say: well done sir. We’re in the l’Eixample neighborhood, a few blocks south of the Sagrada Familia, the famous Gaudi cathedral (127 years of construction, and counting…). It’s pretty much smack dab in the middle of the city. My favorite part are its two balconies. Balconies rule! The girl from whom we’re renting is a big coffee fan, evident from her three coffee makers. I now wake up to a delicious cup of espresso every morning, which, coming from a tea drinker, is sensational.

I had an orientation at UPF, my university, on Monday morning and much to my relief, I’m a registered student and will indeed start classes in a few weeks. I had this nightmare that when I’d arrive they’d say they never heard of me and send me packing. Weird but true. The other students that I saw seemed to be from around the globe– Greece, Turkey, Spain, Scotland (ok, Europe), and I’m going to hear a PhD dissertation of a fellow American in a few weeks, which should be cool.  I’m also trying to sign up for Spanish classes. The Catalunyan government sponsors a big language school for foreigners  and I find out next week if I won a lottery to participate– there’s lots of competition since its heavily subsidized. I went on Monday and Tuesday to take a placement exam there, which sucked btw, but the teachers seem great, so I have hope that some of what I learned in Argentina will come back.

Dim’s classes at ESADE already started last week, but we’ve been making time for some sight seeing around the city. We checked out the beach, walked around the Sagrada Familia, and went to Park Guelle.

Park Guelle Terrace

Park Guelle Terrace

The city is crazy beautiful. There are lots of amazing gothic architecture, tile inlays, Art Noveau hand carved huge wooden entrance doors, wrought iron gates, and oodles of little parks and plazas practically at every intersection. Walking around you hear the squawk of green parrots who make their home in the palm and evergreen trees, at least five distinct languages between the tourists, native Catalans, and local Spaniards, the soft whish of a bike rider gaining up  behind you. It smells humid. Along the Mediterranean waterfront there are whiffs of the sea, of coffee, of raw sewage (rather unfortunate, I know). There is a beach in the city. Not like the Rockaways or Brighton, but literally RIGHT in the city center.  Sometime in the last 50 years city officials just went ahead and converted the old, unused port, into a beach. Took down some old factory buildings, imported a zillion tons of sand, built a promenade, and voila! Ye congressmen of Battery Park city and Williamsburg, take heed. Fun fact of the day: Dmitry willingly demonstrated a few days ago that the Mediterranean turns out to be more buoyant than the Atlantic, which = less effort to float around.

Running out to go find a grocery store, which Dim says is in an alley a few blocks away. Right. Please don’t forget to occasional write/call/IM. Don’t make me single you out.

A few parting images:

Parc Guelle of New

Parc Guelle of new...

And old

...and old

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