Thursday, February 24, 2011

Not in the Guide-Book Barcelona: El Parque de Laberinto

After living in Barcelona for almost five months, we've only now checked off most of the major attractions Barcelona has to offer. Good luck to tourists who visit for just one week!

Fortunately for us, many more enchanting places abound, and we're on a mission to discover them.
 Last Sunday, we headed a few Metro stops of out center city and found ourselves in an urban oasis - the romantic, Parque de Laberinto de Horta. 

In 1791, artistic mathematician / aristocrat, Joan Antoni Desvalls, hired an Italian architect to turn his farm into a neoclassical garden, complete with fountains, canals, an open air theatre and the labyrinth. How posh! Since then, the park has been preserved with it's original design, and lucky for us, was opened to the public in the early 90s.

The shrub-lined, tranquil passageways were a much welcomed reprise from the chaos of Cituat Vella's manic streets.

We spent hours getting lost, 

and admiring the tall trees.
As I've mentioned before, Barcelona is seriously lacking in the tree-department.

We had a picnic,

and made horror movie inspired by the labyrinth scene in The Shining (video to be posted soon).

The similarities between our villain and the original were striking, so it was then time to head home.

You know a place is worth checking-out, when Ted gives the camera his famous sky-punch. 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Foto Del Mes: A Trashcan

My only competition in BCN Week's photo contest may just be me, myself and I, but even so, they published another one of my photos! There's nothing like seeing your name in lights (or, print).

At Least They Tried // Issabella Shields Grantham

You're probably wondering why I took a photo of a trashcan. It's true I'm in love with this city, but I'm not so enamored that I photograph every damn thing I see (well, not everything). There's a backstory to this waste receptacle.

It's the ubiquitous Barcelona trashcan that nobody uses -  I've actually heard people say, if you put trash in them, the street-cleaners will be out of a jobs. (Yes, every single job in Spain is precious!) And you just don't see the anti-littering campaigns you find in the States (example: Don't Mess with Texas!). 

But, when Spain decided to ban smoking in all indoor public places (including on stage in a production of Hairfor heaven's sake) at the beginning of 2011, the litter on the street - mainly cigarette butts - increased ten fold.  Gross, huh?

Some of us non-smokers appreciate the cleaner, smoke-free bars, but smokers obviously would rather not go outside in the cold to get their fix, and now everyone complains about the abundance of cigerette butts littering the sidewalks.

Since smokers outnumber non-smokers in Spain, restaurants and bars are now seeing a lot fewer customers. More people seem to be staying at home to eat, drink, and have their smokes. And the economic crisis (pron: "creee-sis") continues.

Who thought it was a good idea to ban smoking in the middle of a creeesis anyway? This neat pile of butts at the foot of the trashcan seemed like a collective "f-you" for placing this ban in the middle of the worst economic crisis of our time. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Ladies of Catalonia

The first Lady of Catalonia I want to introduce, though technically a foreigner (a fellow Texan no less!), is the outrageously funny comedian, Rachel Arieff, who performs a one-woman stand-up show, Planeta Catalunya. She made us laugh for an entire hour sharing her observations of the idiosyncrasies of Catalan culture. 
If you're in Spain, I highly recommend her show, and if you're not, here's a Youtube clip.

If I were funny, I would be her.

In her show, she reminded me of something I've been wanting to write about for a while: the real (old) Ladies of Catalonia. I bet a television show about these women would be far more interesting than lives of  New Jersey housewives. Check out this rockin' grandma with her push-cart and shades:

She's probably headed to the market to buy her groceries. If there's one thing Ted fears most in Barcelona, it's being in the way of a Catalan Lady and her produce at the market. These women are feisty, not in the least amused by a confused American, and absolutely unafraid to drive a push-cart directly into your ankles if you're standing in the way of her dinner.

Often you see them in pairs, always arm and arm, slowly strolling around town. It always makes me smile to see those locked-together ladies (though you don't want be stuck behind them if you're trying to get somewhere quickly):

Better yet, a trio:

And this four-banger made my day:  

The truth is, I love these ladies: fearless, united, and unconcerned with the hustle and bustle of the rest of the world. How nice would it be to take an afternoon stroll like this with a pack good friends?  I'm dying to know some of these ladies, so I can figure out where exactly they're going.

In the meantime, my camera is locked and loaded, just in case I spot five-pack. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Blossoming Street Art

Blank surfaces in this city only stay that way for a short while before someone with a spray can decides how it will be decorated, or defiled, depending on your opinions about graffiti. As I've mentioned before, street art defines the look of Barcelona. It's everywhere and always evolving. 

And it amuses me to spot new additions to our hood. Here are some of my recent favorites: 

A bird spewing tags on the side of Sant Antoni Market:

A beautifully painted boy below our apartment:

This radiator was begging for a little color:

Another interesting stencil drawing:

This poor little fellow is fed up with all the construction noise. It's loud as hell here in Gracia.

This wall, which I pass on my way to yoga, is like an ever-evolving community painting. Those cleaning it work equally as hard as those doing the coloring, and it's design changes daily.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Wine Tasting, California-Style

We finally had an opportunity to share a bottle of Filial, the wine Ted makes with his brothers-in-law,

...with our Spanish friends and they were at first, not so impressed. They were like "Oh you made it. That's cool," as if making this fine bottle of Pinot Noir were like sewing a button on your shirt. 

Spain produces a lot of wine, more than the region north of San Francisco, "the
 Wine Country" as it's calledbut wine mania hasn't taken over here like it has back home. 

In California, we sip, swirll, savor, chew, mull over, ohh and ahh over every possible flavor and then describe that taste with an unexpected phrase such as "freshly sharpened pencils". This, of course, says much more about us than it does about the wine.
But I have been shocked to discover how differently the Spanish value wine. It's what you drink with food, not something to fuss over. Sometimes you even mix it with fizzy water (gasp!) or Coca-Cola (double gasp!) 

Recipes for these non-traditional cocktails listed below.

So, our friends didn't really get what it meant to be drinking a bottle of Filial: that Ted's Dad had grown the grapes,

 that Ted and his brothers-in-law had made the wine

that Bethany and Ed had hand-delivered only four bottles from San Francisco to Barcelona and that this was one of those bottles!!!

Then our friends started drinking the Pinot and were suddenly surprised. "Ooooh, this is good!" And then, "This is really good." And then,  "So you made this?  Really? Look - his name is even on the label!" 

Finally someone, calling on their inner-Californian, yelled out, "This tastes just like Christmas!" 

I was so pleased,
 both for the spontaneous cultural exchange (they understand us!) and for the glowing international review Filial 2010 had just received.

As promised, here are the Wine Cocktail Recipes:

(popular in the Basque Country)
half red wine
half Coca-Cola

Tinto de Verano
(popular in summertime or anytime)
half red wine
half gassy water