Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Hiking, Spanish Style

Last Saturday, we were invited to climb Montserrat by one of Ted's colleagues, Nuria Bonada, and some fellow biology friends. We hiked these magical mountains once before with our American pals, so we thought we knew what to expect...

 For us, going out with friends in Spain is a bit like being a kid in the backseat of your parents' car: you're pretty much along for the ride, never knowing exactly where you're going or what is going to happen next. Some of the surprises we encounter are language misunderstandings but others are definitely the product of cultural differences. 

For example:

 When we heard "climb Montserrat" we thought we were going to be hiking on trails....But in reality, "climbing" was used literally, as in using all four paws to haul your butt up the steep, rocky cliffs.

And of course, it was surprising when "water break" actually meant squirting wine down your throat: 

Reaching the top made all the hard work worth it, except for Gabriel (sad face on left), who was not looking forward to slithering back down the steep slopes:

We were all feeling a bit woozy after a long day of hiking without eating anything. But fortunately, Nuria had a made a 4pm reservation at a local restaurant. At one time this late lunch would have surprised us, but now we knew to expect the piles and piles of delicious food to come.

Since we had perfected wine-squirting during the hike, we had to show-off our skills in the restaurant:

After the meal, we figured we'd be heading back to Barcelona, but instead went over to Nuria's house, who insisted we relax our sore muscles by sipping brandy or whiskey or one of the other ten liquors she presented:

And after 12 hours of hiking, eating and drinking, what were a bunch of biology nerds to do other than dance to Spanish hits late into the night!?

It was a completely unexpected, but fabulous day. Thank you, Nuria!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Biutiful Barcelona

When the Academy Awards are announced next week, I'm expecting Biutiful starring Javier Bardem, directed by Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu (Babel, 21 Grams) and filmed near our flat to be nominated for at least two Oscar's  - Best Male Actor and Best Foreign Film. It's one of the best films I've seen in a long time. 
That said, I am hesitant to recommend it to anyone since it took me a week to recover from it. At one point I almost walked out because I couldn't take any more pain. It was such an emotional experience and the desperation I felt while watching the movie still haunts me.

The characters in the film are all illegal immigrants, people who come to Barcelona to make a better life but struggle on the fringes - the prostitutes, the factory workers, the middlemen selling whatever they can to make some cash. Inarritu used non-actors for 90% of the cast, which makes the film all the more powerful and disturbing.

It was striking to see Barcelona from this perspective because it's so often depicted as a romantic, perfect, clean city. But the Barcelona I know is much closer to city depicted in Biutiful - gritty, dark, rough, electric. There are more immigrants than people from Spain living here, intermingling and clashing, and the combined effect produces a culture that is dynamic, imperfect and alive.

Ironically, another movie also starring Javier and also partly filmed in our neighborhood, Vicky Christina Barcelona, depicts the opposite version of Barcelona. Here we find tourists sipping cava, reflecting on Gaudi's architecture and watching flamenco guitar. These scenes are also recognizable, but much of the city has been sterilized in Woody Allen's tale - a place of litter-less streets and where wealthy, good-looking people roam between urban cafes and their garden estates on the outskirts of town.

This Barcelona, while lovely to watch on film, is one I haven't encountered (although if I ran into Javier on the street and he propositioned me to get on his private jet for a weekend retreat, I'd say yes). For me, Barcelona is beautiful for its abundance of street art, not the few Gaudi buildings. And as far as I'm concerned, it's the dog shit, traffic, and intermingling of so many cultures on the noisy streets, all squeezed into a tiny amount of land with such rich history, that define Barcelona.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Foto del Mes: Photo of the Month

I awoke this morning to see my photo published in BCN Week, Barcelona's tri-lingual, cultural newspaper. I'm so excited!

So Hot! // Issabella Shields Grantham
Snowman with Mullet spotted in Vall De Nuria

While Theo and I were hiking around Vall de Nuria in the Pyrenees Mountains last Christmas, we stumbled upon this snowman with a perfectly appropriate Catalonian hairdo. 

We laughed for hours. Why are mullets so dang funny?  Here in Barcelona, it's common for dudes to push the mullet into new and incredible dimensions: 

Dreaded pony, shave everywhere else:

Buzz cut in front, clean shave in middle, extra long, extra stringy in back:

Business in front, big ole par-tay in back:

It really is too bad Theo won't allow me to photograph his new hairstyle.......!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

New Year's Travels to Tenerife

Despite the fear that this is turning into a food blog, it would be impossible to capture the essence of our trip to Tenrife without mentioning the gastronomical feats we accomplished.

But first, some fun facts:
Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands, located off the coast of Morocco. 

It's a volcanic island that dramatically juts out of the Atlantic Ocean to reach a height of 3714 m at its peak, making it the highest mountain in Spain.

Known as the "Isle of Eternal Spring," it's a popular tourist destinations in winter, particularly for guiris (us and Northern Europeans) yearning to escape the cold and snow. 

Our friends from the Balcon, Dani and Jano, invited us to join them for a week over New Year's and we were more than happy to ditch our freezing apartment in Barcelona for some solid beach time.

They picked us up at the airport and we went straight to Jano's sister's house for an amazing home-cooked meal. A typical Asturiana (from northern Spain), his Mom Menchu has a rep for feeding her guests well.

A typical Menchu Meal could include some (or all) of the following:

Gofio Canario (ground toasted cereals with pork lard) or La Cabra (delicious goat stew)...

Here Marcial explains mojo, the red-spicy and green-garlicy sauces which accompany every meal in Las Canarias. To the left is sobrasada (a sweet, spreadable pork sausage) with fresh goat cheese.

After a few courses, Menchu might pour you a sagardoa (fermented apple juice) to cleanse the palate:

Of course, every sitting must include the famous patata arrugadas (wrinkled potatoes) which are boiled in salty ocean water until all the water steams off and all that's left are salty yum-balls.

Just when I thought no more would fit in my belly, Jano and Dani helped me finish the last bits of dinner.

Then, home-made almond pastries and a divine coffee creation, the barraquito, must be had. 

We indulged so much, there was no other option than to spend the days sprawled on the sand like elephant seals.
This gave us the opportunity to make a picnic lunch and show how we 'mericans make sandwiches. In Spain, a bocadillo (sandwich) means bread, some jamon, and maybe a little tomato. We demonstrated how you need at least 10 ingredients to make a proper sandwich:

Now 10 pounds heavier (but 10 times happier) after our little vacation, we're ready to jump back into the  action of Barcelona.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

12 Uvas in 2011

Judging from the first sunset of 2011, I think we have a fabulous year ahead. Happy New Year y Feliz A├▒o from the beautiful coast of Tenerife!  

Another reason I believe 2011 will be a lucky year is that we ate our doce uvas, or twelve grapes, which according to Spanish legend, assures good luck and prosperity each month of the year.

If you're inclined, you can purchase a can of peeled grapes to make the twelve go down smoother, eating them in quick succession, one after the other in each of the last 12 seconds of the year....

 But as each bell tolled on the television, I preferred to shove mine down whole, peels and all.

Which made for an interesting Noche Vieja or New Year's Eve, but more on that and our adventures in Tenerife later...