Saturday, October 23, 2010

Adventures in Catalonian Gastronomy

Part 1:  Artwork on Bread. 
Actually, these fancy tapas are typical of the Basque Country, not Catalonia, but tapas they are and in Catalonia we devoured. 

Waiters with platters of tempting morsels, breeze by encouraging you to try one or two.....just save your toothpicks!  That's how they keep track of your tab.

Part 2: A visual tour of La Boqueria, one of the world's largest open-air markets dating back to 1217.

I saw the little sign twitching before I realized the conch shells are alive!

5.6 Euros for cow tongue - seems like a reasonable price to me.

Part 3: Churros con Chocolate (aka donuts dipped in liquid chocolate).  Ahhh-yeah.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Chinos and Pakis

What is a "Chino" you ask?
I wondered that too when I first arrived in Barcelona and asked someone where to buy a hair dryer (secador de pelo). 
They directed me to a “Chino” down the street. 
Surely, I thought, this was just one person's backwards way of identifying a store owned by persons of Asian descent. But, no. It's what everyone calls the dollar-stores that occupy most blocks (including the people who work there).

A Chino, however, as my Spanish language-exchange partner pointed out, is distinctly different from a "Paki," which is a store that features all same products but is owned by persons of South Asian descent.

Are you kidding me?!  In the year 2010, in Europe, there are still people who think it's acceptable to call a store by the ethnicity of the owner, and moreover, to lump all persons of a very broad ethnic descent into one terribly inappropriate term?!?

Since being here in Spain, I have found myself in several cringe-worthy situations where people of Spanish descent crossed my acceptability boundary.
Perhaps I’ve been overly sensitized from living in California, but
the Spaniards, it seems, don't get P.C.

Here's another example when the National Basketball Team posed before playing the Chinese Team in 2008 in Beijing:

José Calderón, point-guard for the team, told cnn"We thought it was something appropriate and that it would always be interpreted as somewhat loving. Nevertheless, some of the European media did not see it this way." 

That about sums it up. The Spanish can say and act in extremely racist ways and not realize why anyone would find it offensive. (My language partner defended himself by saying, “If someone called me an "Espani" I wouldn’t care!”)

Compare these illustrations with our experience living in the Raval. Within a 20 meter radius of our flat, you have your pick of a Philipino, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Romanian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani restaurants. It's a place where cultures from all over the world intermix peacefully to create a fascinating urban fabric. There are Spainards who live and work here too, but you are more likely to hear Urdu or Vietnamese spoken on the streets than Castellano or Catalan.

In the Spaniards defense, I haven’t witnessed any overtly hostile racist behavior since being here. Spain has also experienced an incredible influx of immigration since the late 1970's, the end of the Franco era, and before that it was not easy for foreigners to immigrate. For the old-guard, people like my friend Joro, it has probably been  somewhat shocking to go through the dramatic changes of the last 30 years. 
Maybe they don't know what to make of it all and haven't had much experience dealing with other cultures.

I definitely do not know what to make of it. My Spanish teacher says, in general, Spaniards don't travel outside of Spain often. But I don’t think the undertones of racism that persist within Spanish culture can be explained away that easily.

On a similar note, here is an outrageous video - The Name Game - which came to me via the always witty, Sang Lee.  It is worth a watch.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Meet Joro

Joro lives next-door to us. I see him all the time and it makes me so happy.  Despite his age and his walker, Joro walks the streets of our neighborhood all day. I pass him on my way to school and again on my way home, on my way to the market and again coming home with produce.

You can't imagine how slowly Joro walks.  His steps are measured in terms of inches and sometimes he is still on the same street after I've returned from my errands.
There happened to be nobody else around when Ted took this photo of "me", but imagine whizzing motos, screaming children with flying balls, large trucks sweeping the streets and groups hipsters chatting on their way to a bar.  Joro keeps it steady through all of this.

He reminds me of my Opa, my grandfather from Texas - proud, strong, determined, patient - but also of a part of Spain that I find wonderful.  There's a place in Spain for the old - old people, old architecture, old customs and traditions.  It's refreshing to see the old ways of life preserved amongst the modern reality of hustle-and-bustle, colorful and plastic.

I have a feeling Joro will be a character in more of my stories.  

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Hora de Feliz: Vermut y Patatas

How did I live this long without knowing the wonderful pleasure of vermut y patatas?  After a long week of miscommunications, misunderstandings, mucho guesswork and a bit of embarrassing charades, a cool vermouth with two olives makes it all fun and games again.

Yesterday evening, Ted and I met up at a local bar that makes their own vermouth. It's not like the cheap stuff you find in the states to splash in with your martinis or mahattans. This is a wonderfully sweet, herbal drink that tastes great when you add a slice of orange, a couple olives and a splash of soda water. Match that with a plate of crispy, salty potato chips and you are really in business.

Vermut y patatas: our new favorite way to start the weekend!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Weekend Get-Away: Tarragona

Two years ago, we got hitched at the Marin Headlands!

Two years later, we ventured south to Tarragona, a quaint coastal town, to celebrate the occasion.  

In Terragona, there are incredible Roman ruins. This amphitheatre by the sea dates from the 2nd century AD.  

Gladiators and wild animals fought here in front of 14,000 spectators (a precursor to the Spanish bullfight). Executions were also held here, thus the entrance sign reads, "Many innocent lives were taken in this amphitheatre." A few centuries later, the brilliant Christians decided to build a church on top.  

While the weekend in Tarragona was fantastic and relaxing, we couldn't help but think of California...

In Ukiah, Rowan Surya and Flora Chandra entered the world to proud parents, Will and Hannah.  The babies are "magical" says Grandpa Marty. 

And in Walnut Creek, our fellow Humboldt-Houston buddies, Aren and Sharon, were married (finally!)

Congratulations to everyone!  And send us photos asap!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Recipe: Pisto

Being in Spain reminds me of the time I walked the Camino de Santiago, a 600 mile / 30 day pilgrimage across northern Spain with my sister and childhood pal Matthew. We walked through vineyards, across farms, through cities with festivals, along highways and on small, picturesque paths all the way from southern France to Santiago de Compostela in western Spain. It was a fantastic and life-changing experience.

This is me upon reaching the cathedral in Santiago.

And this is us a few moments later...

By the way, I'm getting to the recipe part of this entry.....

At night, we stayed in alburgues, public dormitories run by either churches or local governments. Alburgues cost 1 or 2 Euros / night and only allow pilgrims with a pilgrim passport to stay.

When luck would strike, the person running the alburgue would cook a traditional dinner. So being in Barcelona has given me a major hankering for Pisto, a healthy and easy-to-prepare dish that we ate often on the Camino.  I found a recipe here and made it for Ted:


1. Dice 8 tomatoes.  If you have the time / energy, peel and deseed.

2. Dice one red pepper, green pepper, large onion, zucchini and two carrots.

3. Using low heat and a fair amount of olive oil, saute the onion and peppers until the onions are transluscent.

4. Next, add the carrots and zucchini.

5.  Once all vegetables are tender, add the tomatoes and a bay leaf, if you have one.  Throw in a pinch of sugar to reduce the acidity of the tomatoes.  Adjust with salt and pepper.

6.  Reduce heat and cook for an hour or more, depending on how much water the tomatoes have.

7.  Serve pisto over pasta or rice and if you like, put a fried egg on top.  Enjoy!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Ah, Home at Last!

After a month of vagabonding (it's already been a month?!), we finally moved into our permanent piso.  I won't bore you with interior photos but I have a newfound respect for IKEA. Hooray for bright colors and small furniture.

Most exciting is living around the corner from the Museum of Contemporary Art:

If you've seen the movie, Vicky, Christina Barcelona, you might recognize this scene from down the street:

I love our Raval neighborhood. It's both old-world Barcelona with narrow, cobblestone streets and electric, hip Barcelona with trendy bars and upstart art spaces.

We were also reminded of our Oakland home this weekend. Two friends, Steve Lucky and Miss Carmen Getit, stopped in Barcelona during their musical tour of Spain.

Thursday night, they rocked the Apolo Sala with 1930's American Swing. The crowd went wild for Carmen's guitar solos:

And, we got to see some pretty awesome Burlesque too:

Saturday eve, Steve and Carmen headlined an outdoor festival with a big ole back up band. We're wondering if these amazing outdoor festivals are going to continue every weekend throughout the year....

It seems like every time we go outside, there's a festival or party or special event happening.  For instance today: as if playing beach volleyball near the Mediterranean wasn't enough... 

...there was an entertaining flight show going on above the water:

To wrap up the weekend, we gave Barceloneta a third chance to please us with delicious paella.  Casa Salamanca, the largest restaurant at the beach, did not disapoint. It received 4 out of 5 stars - the flavors weren't as complex as Can Chusco but fresh seafood was abundant:

Poor Kam who doesn't like ham was stuck sitting under all these hambones:

And next to this lovely friend:

Poco a poco, we're settling in and are happy to call this place home.