Archive for the ‘Barcelona’ Category

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!


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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

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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.

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Chili Time

Would you believe the Spaniards don’t eat chili in the winter? Come to think of it, they don’t eat any spicy food at all, and I have yet to find a dish containing ground meat.

I’ve been suffering a cooking mental block lately, and went on some recipe websites, where I saw the promotion of chili as a winter comfort food. Of course! How could I have forgotten? I busted out my cumin and spicy red peppers and went to work.  I used real beans, not the canned kind– they are hard to find here, and was pleasantly surprised to learn that this results in less mushy chili. Some oregano, cut up canned tomatoes, and a head of garlic later it was beginning to smell like home this time of year.  New secret ingredients: brown sugar and a touch of cinnamon. Keeps ’em guessing.

The results were dang tasty, but, as always, bummer about the cooking vs. consumption time disequilibrium.

Note to self: don't use phone camera to photograph food if you want to translate its actual appearance.

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It’s pretty boring hearing  about other people’s trips or athletic events.  The good parts are the really serious injuries, or better still, mere demonstrations of the places sans words. This is why all the snowboard videos rarely have dialogue. You mostly see dudes doing crazy tricks with loads of gorgeous snow, mountains and sunshine as a backdrop and some variation of reggae or punk music. And even still, a good third of those videos are typically the wipe outs.

Hence, I won’t ramble on about a three-day ski trip to Andorra. Simply put:

  • The serrated mountain tops make for incredible scenery. Skiing on the tippy tops of the Pyrenees, verses down a mountain’s face (aka in the Vermont), is a trip
  • Going up the lifts you can occasionally spot birds of prey, eagles I think, which is cool. Albert swears he also saw a fox, but I’m not sure I believe him.
  • It’s cold. -12C=10F. By end of day two I get frostbite on my toe, and am out of commission for our last day of skiing, which sucks, since the skies open up and its completely sunny.
  • We are puzzled to learn that in Pas de la Casa, the village where we stay, Spanish is practically useless. We are as relentless in continuing to speak Spanish to bar and restaurant owners as they are in answering in French.
  • Andorra is a real country. Or it has been since 1993, when a mere 9,000 of its eligible voters cast their ballot for independence.  Know what it was before that? A co-princedom, going back to Charlemagne. It’s not in the EU, probably because  80% of its GDP comes from selling tax-free booze, cigarettes, and luxury products; ski tourism; and anonymous account banking (where do you think all the Swiss depositors are fleeing?).

Andorra, the country

Some photos of the mountains and ESADE crew, who organized the trip.

Diarmuid and Dim

With the English board shop manager, who kept a bottle of vodka by his workbench, and lent Dmitry his personal snowboard

All smug after eating a spicy beef wrap. So hot....mmmmm

Shark's teeth peaks

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El final del semestre

Well it’s official: Ayer terminé mi curso de español (yesterday I finished my Spanish level 2 course).

I’m happy to be done. I find out if I placed into the level 3 next week. I’m going to miss my crew, our bumbling discussions of our favorite foods in Barcelona, description of our family (mine was very short), comparing everything to our ‘home city,’ the professor’s comical ineptitude in remembering many of the Chinese students’ names (one girl was bold to point out every other week of the professor’s mistake). Crossing my fingers about moving on, excited to finally figure out when to use the various past tenses, nervous about finding the time to dedicate to Spanish with a full load at Uni this semester, and on the lookout for a new language exchange partner. I semi-lost Albert to graduation, he’s back in Lleida after finishing his studies at the culinary institute.

Of the week-long final exam,  my favorite part was a listening comprehension video of a show about Spanish expats around the world. The episode was about a 30-something chick, long dark knotty hair,art-print tee, extra wide pants, describing her life in Guinea, Africa. One of the characters which we have to identify, via multiple choice, was a man whose responsibility it is to open the gate to her house. The girl points to scores of canvases of comic book style drawings of her topless native boyfriend/fiancée, who interjects when the topic turns to the baby they are expecting and the her family. We are to note that he is a bit perturbed with her Spanish family, because they are constantly trying to fatten him up. He looks about 6 foot, 140 pounds. They then talk about their obsession with watching a daily soap opera, and she shows us some of her favorite art pieces she’s collected while there, one of which is a voodoo looking doll that (I think) she says still gives her nightmares. I can’t make out much more.  They talk so fast and float about the room, pointing out one thing or another, constantly turning away from the camera. I guess I still have a long ways to go…

Here are some photos of my classmates from our end of semester trip, which took place right before the Holidays– a walk through the historic Barri Gotic and Born neighborhoods of the city. The last is with Albert. He drove up for the day to ski with Dim and me for our long weekend in Andorra  last weekend.

Mary, from Perth, looking sharp on Plaza Reial

Miro's pavement mosaic on the Ramblas

Eating pinxos at the tasca vasca

By Albert's hard core Range Rover, in Andorra

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Exiting out of Joan Miro park, a few blocks from our new place, I almost accidentally spilled out on Plaza Espana– a big landmark. Hmmm, I guess its pretty close. Excellent. I was nervous about the move and changing neighborhoods, but so far so good.  I climbed up to the top of Palau Nacional, and turned 180 degrees for a grand view of the city, soaking in the rays of the afternoon sun. Walking back, I looked up to see the state of construction on the old bull ring, which takes up a big chunk of the plaza, and noticed an enormous wraparound ad covering the building. It was for Corona. At first I thought it was a scene from a rock concert, the typical music & booze tie-in. However, upon further brain wracking over the Catalan inscription, of which I could only make out that this was taking place in New York, and the sudden realization that feathers were flying everywhere, it hit me that this was a shot of the annual pillow fight from Union Square. Of all the things to remind me of New York…

Which brings me to the current state of things: finals finished, winter in full effect, parents here and now gone. So many things have happened over the past few months, school, city exploring, nights out, Spanish learning, changing apartments. Recalling it all each week became overwhelming so I just stopped. I’m back now, and will tell you a few stories, chronology be damned.

Pillowfight atop the Arenas de Barcelona bull ring

View onto Plaza Espana

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