Thursday, September 30, 2010

Today is the Real Spanish Fiesta

On my walk to Spanish class today, a mass of people came running from around the corner, carrying picket signs and covering their faces with scarves. The leader noticed an open restaurant and dashed towards it. The mob followed, storming the entrance, yelling and banging fists on the glass windows.

Across the street, I saw two girls launch empty glass bottles over the crowd, into the helmets of policemen who did not retaliate. Suddenly the protesters all began running towards Universitat Metro, the location of my school.  So I also ran, as not to be trampled.  Near the Metro, everyone was cheering, cameramen were scrambling to get photos and I had to stand on top of a bench to see the police car go up in flames.

Later, while observing protesters strategically arrange garbage bags and dumpsters to block the streets, I heard a man explain the situation to some French girls standing nearby.

"Today," he said, "is the real Spanish fiesta. Last weekend, all the fireworks, that was for the tourists.  This is how the Spanish really party."

Today was the Huelga General, the General Strike, across Spain. Responding to the 20% unemployment rate and massive deficit, the Spanish government recently made severe cutbacks including a 5% wage decrease for civil servants, a freeze on retirement pensions and a limit on compensation for fired employees, thus making it easier for big companies to lay off workers.

Even though 10 million people (70% of the workforce) participated in the strike, it doesn't look like anything will change. For the day at least, the nation was paralyzed and we experienced our first real Spanish party.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Luz, Fuego y Mucha Gente

I'm not sure how best to describe what we just experienced other than to say that Barceloneans know their way around a fiesta. We spent the weekend trapsing the city bumping into one spectacle after another. Here are highlights from the enchanting street party of La Merce:

Roaming narrow streets of Ciutat Vella (old city) and joining a parade of giant marching dolls.

Sampling wines from various parts of Catalonia...

  ...and listening to Ted discuss the differences between California and Catalonian grape varietals.

Then I saw the most incredible site-specific projection installation.
Get ready Great Wall of Oakland - you're next!

One night, we escaped the crowds and headed to the beach for a moonlight picnic, 
only to find an incredible fireworks show happening over the water.

And, then there was the Correfuc (fire run).  It's a Catalonian tradition where pyromaniacs dress up as little devils and dragons and spray fire into the crowd. That's all I can tell you. And it was fun.

To avoid getting burned I covered up my eyes and hair. The locals weren't as concerned about safety and even had toddlers up on their shoulders.

And finally on Sunday around 10:30PM, La Merce went out with a bang.  There was a choreographed fireworks / fountain / light / musical event which was more than spectacular.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Let the Festivities Begin! (by Ted)

Well, it appears we arrived just in time for Barcelon’a largest festival of the year, La Mercé. It is held in honor of the city’s Patron Saint, Mare de Deu la Merce, although we’ve yet to recognize religious elements in the featured events.

Yesterday, we headed down to Plaza St. Jaume in the Gothic Quarter to check out the Castellers (human towers). It’s a Mercé festival tradition that originated in the Catalonia region of Spain. Each of Barcelona’s major barrios fields a team in a competition to build the highest human tower. What a wonderful way to settle friendly rivalries between villages! 

Thousands of people were already crammed into the plaza when we arrived. Then the 80+ member teams marched in and any sense of personal space we hoped to maintain was completely lost. The team from Sants occupied a space right in front of us, so we had a close-up view of the action. Here’s how it works. A couple dozen super large, middle-aged men arrange themselves in concentric circles, leaning forward, towards the center.

Then the younger (and lighter) men, climb up on top of them, forming another smaller circle of about 10 people. As the rows get higher, the people get smaller and smaller. Teenage men and women form the higher levels, and then, just when you think, “wow, this is getting a little dangerous,” a six-year old kid scampers up the tower to the top. Sants ended up winning the competition, managing to make a tower of nine levels. (And yes, one of the towers did collapse as they were dismantling, but apparently no one was hurt!)

Issabella kept saying she was born in the wrong country and was jealous of the kids who got to climb to the top of the tower.

I was pretty happy not to be this dude at the base. 

Later in the evening, the music began. There are venues set up all over the city where free concerts were being held. And, as if the party wasn't fun enough, this year's organizers of the festival decided to bring in 30 music and performance groups from Senegal. We had a blast last night dancing to Daby Touré. Check him out!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


We sense from across the pond that our fans (meaning you, our dear friends) need news about the exciting nightlife here in Barcelona, which I can assure you is coming. This weekend is La Merce, Barcelona's biggest festival (see photo above) and we are heartily preparing for it by getting our sleep, doing our work and eating our vegetables.

Eating vegetables, or not so much, brings me to this posts' topic, "Spainfull." The term "Spainfull" refers to the feeling one gets after consuming delicious, greasy tapas but not having a satisfying sensation in the belly.

In addition, no one eats these mini-meals until 10PM, which is three to four hours late by my watch.

But the real question is, how does one get a daily dose vitamins by eating tapas?  It's a complete mystery maybe we'll crack in a few months. For now, until we get accustomed to just being "Spainfull," we've decided to prep for the night by consuming a salad around 8pm and then head out with the rest of the world for tapas.

P.S. Did I mention that I am insanely excited about the Human Tower Competition happening during Merce?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Domingo Paella y Playa

To continue our Sunday afternoon tradition of indulging in the national food of choice, paella, the Halfbright Crew went back to Barcelonetta, the little beach area, to see which restaurant was cooking up the good stuff.

Mostly, we found tourists and restaurants catering to them, expensive menus and small paella plates.  So, our new friend from Kansas did exactly what any nice girl from Kansas would do.  She walked into Can Chusco, a local bar, and said to the owner (in Spanish), "Listen, homey, we are locs and we aren't paying more than 10E for paella."

He said, "I'll make you a deal - how about 8E."  So we agreed.

I know I said this last week, but this was definitely the best paella I've ever had.  It was complex with flavors, filled with shellfish, and delicately spiced.  None of us spoke until it was gone.

And then, we bumbled, half drunk on paella, down the street and collapsed on a beautiful beach.  What a day.


Graffiti Art

Since we arrived, I've been intrigued by the street art that fills the city.  All the shops have a metal door that comes down at night and during siesta - I'll call them Siesta Signs - and each is painted in some fashion, maybe by the owner, maybe by hoodlums with a spray can.  Either way, it gives the city color,  character and in my opinion, beauty.  

These are my some of my favorites:

Friday, September 17, 2010

Salimos De La Casa

A new friend, trying to calm us down about having no luck with the pisos, explained an aspect of the culture which made many things clear.

"Salimos de la casa," translates to, "We leave the house." 
Well, hello - your houses are so microscopic, who wouldn't leave the house?!  

When Castallanos retreat, they go out.  They sit in a cafe to sip an espresso or go for a long walk in the streets, which is real different than what I did in Oakland: put on my cozy slippers, jump on the couch in a spacious living room to watch a bit of T.V. or read the New Yorker, all by my lonesome. 

People here don't even cook en casa.  Maybe one night of the week, they'll make a small salad (with vegetables from a can) and go to bed early.  But for us, living in the Bay for five years, it has been the reverse - eating out once per week and cooking with vegetables from our garden the other six nights.
But now, we are Barceloneans, and we will adapt.
We found a piso!

And I ran down our new street - Calle Lleo - yelling this after signing the contract:

Not only did we land un piso but we celebrated in a bar in which hangs a trapeze. It was a happy day.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Image Worth More Than A Thousand Words

This is what we did today.  How about you? 

The above was punctuated by some of the below:

And then, it was back to more of this:

If you say the word "piso" more than 499 times in one day to Issabella, she will give you this face:

Hopefully soon, we will have something more inspiring to write about other than apartment-hunting.  By the way, the above photo was taken in front of Plaza Espana.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Mobil Monday

Bright and early for Spain, 10AM, we got our "prepagos" (pre-paid phones).  Ah-yeah.

It was a very "mobil" day as we saw 5 apartments in 5 different neighborhoods.

Around 1PM, things went like so...

Ted:  Ok, so the apartment we're looking for is number 9 on this street.
Issabella:  Wow!  Look at all these cute skirts.  It must be the new summer trend in Spain.
Ted:  Um, this could be dangerous.
Issabella:  Oh, you know I'm cheap. I won't spend a lot on skirts....
Ted:  Uh-oh.  I think someone played a joke on us.
Issabella:  I know, we look like slobs. Someone definitely should have told us to dress up when coming to Raval.
Ted: Dude.  Let's get out of here.
Issabella: When did you start caring so much about your appearance? I think number 9 is right here.
Ted:  Issabella.  These are prostitutes.  All of them.
Issabella:  Nooooo. Really?

At 3PM....

Issabella:  Where do you think the sink is in this place?
Ted:  It's right here, behind this curtain.
Issabella:  Dude. That's the shower.
Ted: Oh.
Issabella:  Would you fit in there?
Ted: Nope.

And, at the very end of day....

Ted: (very exasperated) Where are we going to live?
Issabella:  In our suitcases.
Ted:  That's about the same size as the last piso we saw.
Issabella:  True.  But at least we could stop looking for pisos.
Ted:  That would be nice.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Domingo Paella: Bar Leo

I've decided it's a tradition from now until we leave Espana: on Sunday's we're getting paella.  Each week, I'll write a review of the place we go so when you come to visit, you can lead the way:)

Our first stop was Bar Leo in Barcelonetta.  "Leonora", the owner and cutest bartender you ever met (age 70+), seems to have had a major crush on an old flaminco dancer named "Bambino" as the walls are covered in photos and newspaper clippings of his accomplishments: 

As you can see, we're pretty excited to start the tradition:

Leonora's paella was amazing (note:  it's the only paella I've ever had but I can't imagine anything more rico).

Delicioso (and for everyone who thinks I am allergic to seafood, it's not true anymore!)

Afterwards, Leonora gave us shots of liquor de cafe on the house.  Sitting with us are other "Halfbrighters" - Maria from Kansas City and Nikki from San Francisco / Hamburg, Germany.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

No Phone, No Home

I can safely say that the Spanish do not do email, which is a problem since we have no phones.  After emailing over 50 landlords about pisos, we received one response from Roberta. !Gracias por Dios!  

So, we took an apartment-hunting break to go on a phone-purchasing mission. But-cept we forgot about the whole Spanish siesta thing and showed up at the Phone House at 3PM, which is smack in the middle of nap time.  

Not to be deterred, we took lovely two hour walk to see some new neighborhoods. 

At 5PM, we arrived back at the Phone House, along with many other people in need of phones, and waited in line for over an hour. Phone stores in Spain are just as inefficient and infuriating as they are in America. When it was finally our turn, the lady promptly told us that "prepagos" or pre-paid phones are only sold on "Lunes" or Monday.  What?  Why?  Are you kidding me? All she could say (or all we understood) is to return on Monday and find out.

The good news today is Catalans celebrate Diada Nacional de Catalunya, which I hope means "party" later tonight. So far, it means everyone wears, carries and hangs the national flag, the senyera, which I've read is coincidentally the oldest flag in the world.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mad Dash: Para Alquilar Un Piso

We're here!  Life is great.  It's just that (I can't speak Spanish and) we have only a few days to find a permanent place so we're a bit busy scouring the city. Our current piso is cute (if tiny) and we may end up staying here, but Barceloneta, the neighborhood, is a beach zone and we're thinking it might be lonely come wintertime.

Also, it's nice to tour the various neighborhoods and get a sense of the city, as well as, practice our Castellano with the landlords.  Tomorrow, we're off to Gracia, the village within the city with narrow streets, hip attitudes and home to Sagrada Familia.

We made it!

Ted says if I post an embarrassing photo of him leaving the country, then I have to post one of myself too.  We made it to Espana!  More to come....
PS  I lied about the small bags.  Actually, we brought so much gear, it doesn't all fit in this European apartment.

Friday, September 3, 2010

And, He's Off!

It's 6AM PST on September 3, 2010.  That's all the stuff we're taking to Barcelona for a year (minus one more bag of clothes).  If he looks stressed, it's because in the past week, Ted finished his dissertation, got signatures from his advisors, did all the stuff you have to do in order to leave the country (including the selling of two cars) and still found time to take our nephews to to see one last American blockbuster, The Other Guys.  Eva Mendes - we all agreed - was definitely the best part.