Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

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


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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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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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A light descended from the sky and illuminated a spot hundreds of meters above Barcelona’s sea level where the holy virgin mother was sighted over 1,000 years ago. Right there monks built a monastery. Montserrat, which literally means the serrated mountain because of its jagged outline, is the epicenter of Catalan culture and history.

The Virgin of Montserrat

During the Franco dictatorship it was refuge to Catalan revolutionaries, and contains a pretty creepy wooden Virgin statue with baby Jesus on her lap that is considered Catalunya’s patron saint. Tourists and natives make pilgrimages to rub a little ball she holds in her right hand, for good luck. Why would she be holding a ball you ask? Right…no idea. The rest of her is encased in plexiglass.

The church is gorgeous, with detailed mosaics of saints and animals in bright azul, green and gold; silver sculptures of lions and monks, and cast iron candle chandeliers that seam to float down from the dome.


Flanking the abbey are huge mountains which we wasted no time in climbing. We hiked up the 1,200 meter peak of Sant Jordi (the other patron saint of Catalunya) with out labyrinth companions Dani and Yi-Hsiu, and her super cool Japanese friend visiting from Madrid. Along the way we spotted formations in the rocks that I took to be a penguin and a camel. The original plan was to go proper mountain climbing in the area with a group from Dmitry’s uni, but that’ll have to wait for another day. Can’t just waste good company. We did spot some climbers at the peak though. One very tired looking guy smoked up while eating a bag of hazelnuts, which he said helped open up his lungs a bit. Nice! The other one was completely baffled to learn that we were from New York and told me about a few other famous climbing locales in the Pyrenees, but said that for lack of funds he and his friend were staying local.

The Gang on Top of Sant Jordi

We got lost on the way down, and separated from our peeps. Fortuitously, we stumbled upon a funicular, and took it back to the monastery. It’s not cheating if it’s not a competition. Mwhahaha.

Surrounding Mountains

To balance all of this wholesome goodness on Friday we patronized several notable Barcelonese bars– the first which foolishly put out free tapas. We hung with my bud Ieva and her classmates. Students on a budget+free food=loss in profits for bar. I introduced Ieva to the bloody mary, which she added to her repertoire without much opposition. She then showed us her favorite Barcelona dive– a place in Raval that smells like cats and sports mostly torn dumpster furniture BUT also pours out cheap and tasty caipirinhas. Worth the trek across town.

I’m beginning to think of one-upping Lonely Planet and writing my own guide to the city.

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Today I got lost in a labyrinth. I stood, puzzled, at fork after fork, as children scampered underfoot, some cheating by contorting their nimble bodies between the hedges.

Finally making it to the center,  where 10 more paths were now visible, Dani, our “guide” for the day and Yi-Hsiu (‘Isho’),  his bud and Dim’s classmate waved to us from a bridge in the distance, content that they had already finished. I squealed with delight, setting out to finish the maze.

The Labyrinth

The Labyrinth

Dani and Yi-Hsiu at Parc del Laberint dHorta

Dani and Yi-Hsiu at Parc del Laberint d'Horta

Other things that have made me happy as of late:
1. Got to see the Thermals at BeCool club this Saturday, a great alternative band from Portland, and whom I  missed when they came on tour to NY.

2. Improving my tortilla skillz. Had some peeps over on Friday for dinner. This time the tortilla only slightly cracked at the critical moment of flippage, which was easily covered up by herbs. Thank god for herbs. And copious amounts of wine brought by very generous guests.

3. Dim on bike. Thought I’d never see the day. He joined the city’s bike-share program, called Bicing, and finally got to try it out today.

Dim rollin on Bici

Dim rollin' on Bici

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About two weeks ago Barcelona celebrated La Mercè, which is the largest, most important holiday for the city. I meant to write about it then, but it took me some time to recover.  Also, Katy and Paul were here for a special birthday visit from Holland  and we were somewhat busy eating tapas.

Some notable events of the festival we saw included: the correfoc, a pyromusical, and a Go Team! concert.  What is a correfoc, you ask? I was initially under the impression that its a parade with fireworks, but that’s sort of like saying that methamphetamine is like a cup of coffee. From Wikipedia:

    Correfocs are amongst the most striking of Catalonia’s festive events: “devils” play with fire and with the people. These devils are not the incarnation of evil; they are sprightly and festive, dancing to the sound of the drums and the traditional gralla, while they set off their fireworks.

Turns out it’s the day the devil comes out and scares the crap our of Nina. Imagine about 40 troupes of people, 20 per troupe, all dressed in costumes that involve devil horns, pushing 20 foot tall paper mache dragons, who spit 20 or so rounds of roman candles on the hoards of surrounding spectators. For about 5 hours. I’m hazy on the origins, but the most notable aspect of the correfoc– running under the firework sparks, started after the Franco regime was over. That year the local children decided to run into the firework sparks, instead of away from them, and so the tradition began. All the locals, who were clearly more prepared than us, came wearing hoodies, bandanas, and long sleeved clothing. Dmitry, Katy, Paul and I cowered and screamed like little girls each time a dragon approached. I’m pretty sure I singed a few hairs on my arms, and the audio sensation was what I image residents of a city under siege feel–the earth shaking, the sky lit up in a thousand places, eardrums popping, running and yelling, endorphins flowing through your body ripping your heart to pieces.

Fire breathing dragon

Fire breathing dragon

Running for my life

Running for my life

Little Damian

Little Damian

Between the madness, we made it out to the beach a few times. Turns out even the quiet bay in Barcelona gets some gnarley waves, and the surfers come out of the woodworks.

Katy & Paul vs. the wave

Katy & Paul vs. the wave

The city spared no expense at the finale fireworks ceremony. This “pyromusical” was exactly that. Music started to play– lots of American doo wop for some weird reason, and to its beat explosions of colors and stardust sprayed across the sky, illuminating the palacial looking Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya in the distance. The fountain in Placa Espanya was in on the game, and the water jumped and changed colors to the rhythm as well.

My favorite part was towards the end, when after an announcement, sparklers magically materialzed in the hands of the thousands of spectators (save us four) and everyone waved along. So beautiful!

I hate to pit my fave cities against one another, but I think Mercè wins over the NY Halloween parade.

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