14 December 2010

Estic Terminat*

Oh look, it's been 4 months and I'm already going home. I liked a lot, I didn't like a lot and I'm coming back.

Things I'm very very ready for

Specifically Chick-fil-a, apple cider, pumpkin anything, Hi Bombay!, peanut butter, flavor, popcorn, butter, broccoli, Mexican food, milk, and a source of protein other than pig.

+Being able to read a book from the library or a bookstore without having to think really hard whilst reading

+People I know

+Having a telephone that works

+Smoking bans in public places
I'm tired of airing out my smoky clothes from the night before since I a) forgot to bring Febreze b) don't get to do my own laundry and c) only have 2 pairs of pants.

Until Christmas and then I want that ish gone.

+Being able to express anger or excitement or really any emotion and not sounding like an idiot

+Affordable shoes

Things I'm going to miss

+Being able to walk everywhere
Because it's never colder than 50F/10C, the sidewalks are huge, and everything's close. I'm especially going to miss my walk to school.

+People being really comfortable with their bodies
Also my breasts would like a healthy tan next year.

+The metro
The metro here had countdowns to tell you when the next train is coming, runs all night on Saturdays, costs 7.95€ for 10 trips, and has escalators. This is a far cry from arcade city Philadelphia, where the sham of the subway operates on tokens and frequently forgets to stop at my station.

+The metric system

Yesterday, Noa built our pessebre/nativity which really deserves an entire post to itself for you to be able to fully appreciate the comedy value of it.

+Being able to speak three languages
This is a fun game: harto [spanish for tired] > fart [catalan for tired] > pet [catalan for fart, also a popular rock band] > mascota [spanish for pet]

+The beach

+The mountains

+The women
They have nice arms, they don't wear much makeup, they have shiny hair, they wear sensible clothes, they speak Spanish.

+Living next to a church
1/2 due to the laziness-inducing time-telling bells and 1/2 because it smells really nice and calming when I walk through it on my way home.


+Everyone having their own style
Note the stroller: actual adults dress like this.

+Dogs without leashes

There's really no idea of kids' space and adults' space here. You'd have to search really hard to find someone who says things like, "Why couldn't they just have left the kids at home" and even if you did find them, they would probably not be from Barcelona. Parents bring their kids to bars, babies don't cry [much], and no one freaks the eff out about child molesters.

+Cheap things, flights, food, drinks, and metros

+Not tipping

+My gym

I would like to take Eloi, the trainer who chats with me while I exercise, with me please. And the cute cycling instructor with a tegan piercing who sings along to the music over her microphone while she's teaching classes. And the fingerprint scanners so I don't have to carry a card around.

+Monopoly money

+People standing patiently in line
If there is a line. You know those signs at King's Island:

Those would not exist here because people just don't care. If you're in a grocery chain or clothes store, no one cares about waiting around for 10 minutes until it's their turn, and if you're in a market it's an all-out push or be pushed smilefest of nice people.

+Assorted weirdness

Coming soon: Me throwing up all over you about how much I loved Morocco. As soon as my roommate from the trip sends me our photos.

*I know it should be "estic terminada" since I'm a girl, but you can't sing that to the tune of "Feliz Navidad."

03 December 2010

On Culture and Offensive Language

If you've been to Spain or read anything I've had to say about it, you know that the Spanish have a special relationship with ham. In any predominantly Christian culture, taking the Lord's name is vain is not nice, but what happens when you have a Catholic country that is obsessed with pig products? I'll tell you what happens, you get a place where "Jesus Christ!" and "and a ham!" are equally offensive exclamations. When you look at how people insult each other, you see a lot about their values.

In Harry Potter, there's a scene where Ron calls Harry a loser and storms out. In the subtitles, he calls him inútil which is Spanish for "unhelpful." Just a few days ago, someone asked one of my teachers how to say "loser" in Spanish. She said there really isn't any translation, not because they don't have a word, but because winning and losing aren't important concepts in Spain (except when it comes to soccer). Calling a Spaniard a loser wouldn't make any sense to them; they'd just ask, "What did I lose?"

In America*, we're a capitalist society. Winning means success and losing means failure, laziness, and undesirability. Spain's socialist system means that helpfulness is more important than personal achievement.

Spain's socialism is visible on public transportation. While you have to swipe your ticket to enter the metro, the trams are set up so that it's up to you to validate your ticket once you're on board. In three months, I've never seen anyone come around to enforce the 50 Euro fine in place for unvalidated tickets, yet every single person who gets on the tram makes sure they pay for their ride. Half the signs at every stop encourage passengers to look out for the common good, saying "Valida tu título. Todos queremos un buen servicio," "Validate your ticket, we all want good service."

The other half of the signs have a more Big Brother feel.

"Validate your ticket, we're all watching you." Pros and cons to every system, right?

It seems like something that's culturally ingrained, but then I see people jump the turnstile to get on the metro. When I think about it, though, it's mostly at night and they're almost always drunk teenagers and young foreign tourists. People here take their three different recycling bags up to 10 blocks to put it into the right bins. 1st graders take themselves to school on the metro. Barcelona is a city without dog parks because dogs are trained so they don't need a leash. Responsibility is taken seriously so that life is easier for everyone.

In unrelated idiomatic expressions, if someone asks you on a date and you turn then down, you "give them the pumpkin."

*I know Harry Potter is a British book and movie, but if the number of advertisements I saw in the UK are any indication, competition is alive and well there too. That's nor to say that people in Spain don't compete or aren't driven, but it seems that after years of Franquimo, the culture is more willing to value diversity (meaning there's not one universally accepted continuum of success and failure) whether it's in the political structure of the autonomous communities and languages, rights for minority groups, or respect for jobs that are not as high-powered but necessary for the city to function.

29 November 2010

Cataluña: Bringing a Whole New Meaning to the Yule Log

Things I'm excited about
+Seeing my family
+Going to Bravo for Christmas Eve Dinner
+Having adequate cold-weather clothing
+Showering for longer than 30 seconds
+Playing cards
+My dog

Things I miss about home
+My grandma's Christmas party
+Our advent calendar
+Making cookies and buckeyes
+Getting a Christmas tree

But none of this [okay, some of it, but definitely not showering] compares to how in love I am with Cataluña's Christmas traditions. This is a land obsessed with 4 things: pigs, fire, olive oil, and poo. Christmas wouldn't be a real holiday without at least two of these things figuring into the celebrating somehow.

Maybe you've heard that instead of Santa Claus, the 3 Kings come on January 6th to deliver presents, but they aren't the only ones. On December 8thish, everyone pulls out their Tió de Nadal. He's a log with a face propped up on two sticks and he looks like this:

Terrifying. Every night until Christmas, kids bring him food (ham, probably) and drinks and cover him with a blanket to keep him comfy. When Christmas morning comes and he's nice and full, they sing "Caga tió!" which means "Poo, log!" and hit him with a stick so that he'll poo. According to Carme Bach, world's most adorable Catalán teacher, you can make the tió go faster if you light the sticks on fire first. When it's finally had enough abuse, the log then poos out candy and little presents for everybody.

Cute shit. Literally.

But wait, there's more! For all you skeptics out there who think that the Christmas story is just a little too good to be true, check out the Catalán nativity. It's exactly like a American nativity except for one extra guy: the caganer/pooer who's included to make the scene more realistic.

Should you choose to subscribe to Wikipedia's alternate theory that the caganer is only there for kids, you should take into consideration that in 2005 there was an outcry with the city didn't include him in the public nativity. Due to protests, he was included again in 2006.

p.s. Barcelona's not completely poo. They've got giant pasta Christmas lights all over the city which is more or less all I could ever want in a holiday decoration decoration.

p.p.s. DAD, I know you're reading this. Do not even think about telling Ian about the pooer or the log. He's getting one for Christmas, obvs.

03 November 2010

You Wish Young Eyes Could See You Grow Older

Do you remember that episode of Pete & Pete when Pete hears the best song he's ever heard but can't remember how it goes and know one knows what it is and he's worried that he's going to lose it forever? I didn't think that story was relevant anymore because all you have to do is type "lyrics" and "whatever words you remember" into google and you instantly know what it is. A few weeks ago though, I was in H&M not really paying attention to the music until I realized that I had been listening to the best song I've ever heard in my life. I tried to remember some words but they were too hard to understand and there were only 20 seconds left in the song so I hummed the part I remembered and hoped I'd figure out some way to type that into google. This, asking people if they've heard a song that sounded like a mix between Coldplay, Patrick Wolf, and Sigur Ros, and looking for an H&M playlist didn't work but spending 4 hours on this did. There's not really any moral to this story, it's just something to say about a song that I like so much that I don't have anything to say about it.

01 November 2010

Harry Potter, Adult Pleasure, and Leggings

This is a popular sign that you can see all over the city. It says something about everything fitting but not everything being worth it but I have no idea what this has to do with peeing. Also is it possible to pee with your hands on your hips like this?

My grandma used to mix up my cousin Aria and I so she would just call us "Lauria" collectively. There's a hotel in Tarragona called Hotel Lauria. Cute ish.

Wouldn't it be exciting if you got a free condom with churros? Because nothing says "I want to have sex right now" quite like eating a vat of oil dipped in a gallon of chocolate. Unfortunately, it's just sugar to add to your chocolate. I wish I know what made it special for adults.

Why are all the stop signs in English? If you taught me how to spell "nevera" last week, maybe you know and can help me out.

Clever graffiti transcends language.

Here's the part where I brag about my trip to Madrid. We took the AVE train which goes 315 miles in 2.5 hours. Suck on that, Amtrak. Four of us somehow got the VIP compartment with magic doors and without Draco Malfoy. Just to remind us that were were living the HP dream, AVE decorated the doors with little golden snitches [you can rain on my desfile if you want but I already know they're just the AVE emblem] that you can see in the upper left-hand corner.

In other Potter news, Elbow Street is decorated with a picture of a quidditch player's arm.

Museo del Jamón. Disgusting. Only Spain would have a chain of ham stores that turns into disturbingly full bars at night.

What do you do when you really want e. coli for lunch and your friend wants ebola? Go to Eboli.

I have no words for Panty Fantasia.

24 October 2010

Éis Éis Baby: Critical Vocabulary for Barcelona

[you guys, y'all, yinz]
Remember when your Spanish teacher didn't make you learn the vosotos form for verbs and said it was useless? They were lying to you. All I hear here is ¿Cómo estáis? ¿Qué haréis?

First, you should know another word, "menú del día." This is the Spanish version of a prix-fixe menu, is available at almost every restaurant for around 10€ and includes an appetizer, entrée, dessert, and drink. It's a great idea but almost all the menus here are in Catalán which is a cruel way to make someone learn a language: make them pay and then potentially starve. Yesterday, I saw "butifarras amb salsa d'all i oli" and ordered it because, I figured, what could possibly be wrong about garlic and olive oil. As it turns out, the olive oil was used to cook the giant garlic and pig sausage that landed on my plate. I was not pleased with my choice. Now I'm being haunted because I live next to this place.


Don't say "okay," "alright," "sure," "gotcha," or "yep," say "vale."

You want to know what they refrigerate here? Nothing. Try to spot the offending items below.

[i don't even know]
Allegedly this word means "lesbian" but I just looked it up and it's a type of pastry. Do what you want with that.

In Philadelphia, New York, Montreal, and probably every other city in the world, I lose money on a daily basis due to handedness discrimination. Handedness discrimination is a manually-based offense that is considered especially heinous and affects nearly 10% of the population. Luckily, you swipe your card on the left side in the metros here so I am good to go.

Since the city's on a tilt, geographically, no one here tells you that anything's north or south, it's toward the mountains or toward the sea or "arriba" or "abajo."

+Segundo Piso
[2nd floor]
Oh, you thought living on the second floor meant you only had to walk up one flight of stairs? WRONG. The first floor are shops, the second floor is "principal," the third floor is the first floor, and the fourth floor is the second floor. This is probably why everyone is skinny.

Why don't we have this in the U.S.? It's a drink that's 1/2 lemon soda and 1/2 beer and 2/2 delicious. Other drink words your should know are botellón, horchata, and cubata. Botellón is where you stand on a street corner and share a bottle/giant juice box of wine. Horchata is a weird but really nice drink made out of somekindof nuts that would be really great with a soft pretzle if they sold those here. Cubata just means a mixed drink but each part comes separately. This is good because a) you know exactly how much you have b) you get a bottle of juice or soda to share with your friend c) if your bartender is a jerk, they can't do the jerk thing where they turn around and fill up the entire glass with sour mix and charge you for a real drink. See below for two-drink excitement.

According to my Spanish teacher, the number one way to scream "I'm American" is to say "el otro" instead of just "otro." Other ways of being American include: going to La Ovella Negra, tipping, and not wearing a scarf.

10 October 2010

See I'm All About Them Words

We interrupt your regularly scheduled broadcast of excitement and happy bewilderment to bring you confusion of a different sort. Maybe I'm just feeling out of my element or maybe I'm thinking about it because of all the suicides last month but it seems like I've encountered more homophobia in the past month than ever before. When I'm at home, I'm surrounded by like-minded people who don't say stupid things and who are with me if somebody else does. At home, I took care of that problem ages ago because I'm out. Coming here is like being 17 again and having to tell everyone all over again. Of course, this time I'm a lot more comfortable with myself and so it doesn't seem like such a big deal, but I still worry that I might be stepping on someone's toes. If I comment on how a girl looks, will someone think I'm being too aggressive or obnoxious? Is it too much to be political too?

So far there have been 3 times that I've said something. I've felt the same afterward every time which makes me think that someone should create a Kübler-Ross-style model of the stages of confronting ignorance. It would go something like this:

Regret: This stage occurs immediately after something is said. It is often accompanied by thoughts such as "Why can't I keep my mouth shut?" "I don't even know this person that well, now they're going to think I'm crazy." "They weren't even being hateful, I should save my anger for when it really matters." "Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me."

Rethinking: This is the stage wherein the person tries to rationalize their initial reaction. Common sentiments include "If no one says anything, it's never going to change." "If it made me feel weird enough to have said something, think about how much it might hurt someone who isn't comfortable with herself."

Rerethinking: This stage settles in when the person can not get the incident out of their mind and are convinced that they've upset the social fabric of the entire world. Thoughts may include "What is wrong with me?" "Shit." and "I actually am the angry dyke they were talking about."

Rererethinking: This stage often occurs concurrently with the previous one. It may include feelings of empowerment or understanding such as "You're only questioning yourself because there was no one there to back you up, you didn't do anything wrong." "They've probably never thought about that word before; maybe all they needed was someone to point it out."

Rerererethinking: You get the point.


Being somewhere new is like being a sleeper agent. No one knows you're gay and so they feel free to say completely idiotic things in front of you. Let's investigate.

Incident #1
Location: Apartment party
Parties: Boy #1 (let's call him Patricio), Boy #2 (BobEsponja), me

Patricio to BobEsponja: Dude, I love you. No homo.
Me: Don't say that, you sound like an asshole.
Patricio: Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod.
Me: What?
Patricio: I just realized...you're gay. I'm so sorry! I feel like such an idiot.
Me: It's okay.
Patricio: It's not okay! Oh noooo!
Me: I mean, yeah, it's not okay. But I--
BobEsponja: It's okay, we'll just remember not to say it in front of you.
Me: What? No. No.
Patricio: Oh noooooooooooo.

Aftermath: I felt awful for calling him an asshole. There are way better ways to fight crime, superheroes. I also had to comfort him for 10 minutes afterward because he had a lot of feelings and was drunk. Actually everyone there was drunk and 10 minutes later, BobEsponja yelled "No homo" and passed out. Does it make sense to talk to people about homophobia when they're drinking? I don't know.

Incident #2
Location: Gender Studies classroom
Parties: Wet Lindsay, ADM, me

ADM: This class is going to be so full of annoying feminists.
Wet Lindsay: Yeah and the teacher said we're just going to talk about women. This is a gender studies class, I came to learn about men too.
ADM: Yeah, our teacher's a total dyke.
Me: Come on, seriously?
Wet Lindsay: Do you have a problem with us?
Me: Not with you but are you serious? "Our teacher's a total dyke?"
ADM: I didn't say that.
Me: Er, I'm sitting right here.
ADM: I didn't say that.
Wet Lindsay: Yeah you did.
ADM: Okay yeah I did. So what?
Wet Lindsay: Anyway, if you're going to be mad at anyone, you should be mad at me, I asked if she was a dyke.
Me: (angrily) I'm not angry! I'm just saying if you're straight, and I'm assuming you are, don't use that word.
Wet Lindsay: I am but you need to calm down, it doesn't even mean anything in England.
Me: But we're not in England.

Aftermath: I was eavesdropping and so felt entirely stupid injecting myself into their conversation. On the other hand, kids are killing themselves because of the homophobic messages they're hearing and the girls were definitely talking loud enough in the silent classroom for all of us around them to hear. I was irritated that she used the word "dyke" when "lesbian" would have worked fine if all she was trying to do was describe her. And that she tried to defend herself by saying that it didn't mean anything when she obviously meant it in a derogatory way. Should you call strangers out when you're listening in on their conversation? Probably not? I don't know.

Incident #3
Location: Walking to class
Parties: Sam, me

Me: So what class are you taking?
Sam: History, don't take it though, our teacher's awful. She's this completely dyke.
Me: No, no, no.
Sam: Huh?
Me: I don't know what you mean by that.
Sam: She's like really opinionated and asks us lots of questions and is really passionate.

Aftermath: I don't even know what to think about this one. She meant it in a negative way, but all the reasons she hated her sound like good things to me. Maybe it just means we don't have much in common.

Incident #4: Just for fun
Location: Overheard at the Beach
Parties: Elizabeth, Ilene, Me

Elizabeth: Remember last night we went went to that gay bar?
Ilene: Ohmygod I was so drunk I totally forgot.
Elizabeth: That Italian chick totally wanted to bang you.
Ilene: You idiot, lesbians can't have sex.
Elizabeth: Yeah but they can pretend, haven't you ever seen The L Word?
Ilene: No.
Elizabeth: They use their fingers like this (hold her hands up like she's holding a tray). The more fingers they use, the more it counts because it's closer to sex.
Ilene: Ohh.
Me: (laughing)
Elizabeth: Is she laughing at us?
Ilene: We're on a beach in Spain, I don't think she speaks English.
Elizabeth: Oh, yeah.


Anyway, this isn't Spain I'm talking about, it's people I've met in Spain from America and the U.K. Despite a tradition of machista and a giant Catholic population, gay marriage and adoption are legal here. Women can be topless anywhere men can, the morning-after pill is available without a perscription, and and Zapatero has called himself a feminist. True, they just suspended sex education in Valencia, but my language teacher reassured me that Camps, the President of Valencia who approved the suspension, is infamous for being corrupt and shouldn't be around much longer since elections are coming up. I don't know what all this legislation means for day-to-day life yet, though. I need to gather up all my language skills and step out of the bubble I've found myself in because there's got to be something out there that's better.

But before I make my way into the big city that speaks The Spanish Language, I need to get a grip on my English. Here's what I think works when talking about homophobia:

Be out. The more people realize that there are gay people who they actually know, the more unacceptable it becomes to be homophobic. Being gay is certainly not the most important thing about you, but when you let people know that it's an important part of who you are and how you see the world, if becomes harder for them to hate the sin, love the sinner or whatevs. Not to mention that stereotypes fall apart when people realize that you're gay even when you're wearing a skirt.

Be educated. Read Autostradde! Read books! Talk to people so that when you find yourself in a situation that makes you think "I should say something," you don't sputter around for the right words and give up. Know why "no homo" makes you angry and be able to explain it calmly and reasonably.

Use the right words. Despite what Sam might think, being passionate about something is great. Damn the man but for lawd sakes don't say that. Nothing is going to turn someone off what you have to say faster than words like "patriarchy." You know there was a time when you were afraid to call yourself queer or a feminist or whatever identity you claim as your own now, so give the same benefit of the doubt to anyone else who is venturing into unknown territory They're not stupid or below you, they just don't know yet that there are great people standing behind these words.

What do you do? How do you balance having friends who don't think exactly like you? Do you say what's on your mind or do you pick your battles carefully? How do you think radically without alienating everyone? Do you share any of my feelings or am I alone in my compulsive need to be gaygaygay and in everyone else's business?

03 October 2010

I Could Get Used to Unrefrigerated Eggs, I Promise

It's October 3rd and I spent the day on the beach listening to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows audio book. If I can just find pre-made hummus, reliable internet, and food with a flavor other than "olive oil" or "ham," I might have to move here permanently.

26 September 2010

"Correfoc" or "That Woman Who Sued McDonald's for Hot Coffee is the Reason The U.S. is No Fun"

This past weekend was La Mercé, my new favorite holiday. If you're on your way over to Wikiepedia to figure out what this is, don't believe the (lack of) hype. It's the festa major for Barcelona which means that the city throws a giant party for three days. I did a lot of things, but since I know the majority of people who read this blog are on it for less than 30 seconds, I won't make you wait around for the good part. On Saturday night, we went to the Correfoc/Fire Run, a giant parade of devils and dragons where people in the parade throw fireworks at the crowd.

I'd like to say that I wasn't prepared, but really I was just too cool to be schooled. On Monday, I read that it was supposed to recreate hell and thought "How lovely Spain, a hell parade." On Thursday, Noa told us that we should wear long sleeves to cover our arms so that we wouldn't get burned; I said, "Thanks, mom" and she rolled her eyes. The entire hour before we left the house, I was convinced that I could hear the smoke monster from LOST coming from somewhere down the street. When we got there, there was an entire family bundled up in scarves and chemistry goggles and I still had no idea that I was at the scariest parade on earth.

For the first half hour, everyone shrieked and hugged strangers until they got too scared or too bored and went home or decided that they weren't going to die from sparklers and ran into the parade.

(No photos allowed inside)
Museu Picasso
Free entry day at all the museums!

Parc de la Ciutadella
Please note the pied piper. This was a clown show where 20 people sat on bikes connected to the stage and watched the circus as they pedaled it around the park.

Daby Touré
One night we watched a Senegalese pop band and everyone sang along to words we didn't know. This must be why people like concerts.

Castillos humanos
This is amazing but also terrifying and then heartwarming because a tower fell and the crowd rushed up to catch the falling people.

Older people/Ancianos/Jubilados do this dance at the cathedral every Sunday, but this weekend there was a competition. On normal days, you throw your bag in the middle of the circle and join in knowing that the magic protective shield of cute old people dancing is the only thing in the city that is impenetrable pick-pocket-wise.

photos stolen from Magdalene Nutter because I was too busy trying to preserve my eyesight/because I was living in the moment and in my joie de vivre forgot to take a picture/because I left my camera on my desk.

(We danced out way down to the beach so I still didn't have my camera)
Fireworks on the beach
The kids from California didn't think this was all that great but I was oohing and awing my heart out. Plus where else can you get a beer, cerveza, agua, cola, fanta or a masaje whilst watching fireworks?

Churros con chocolate/xurros amb xocolate
This is what 5 orders of churros looks like. Oops but also yum.

We took the fun-icular train up the mountain to see a castle and a million little kids and their stylish parents.

Montjuïc Circ
...And found a circus. This is the only person I've seen in Barcelona on a fixed gear bike which gives me hope for the world and its people.

Montjuïc Circ
There was a trapeze! We had no idea what was going on since the only words any of us know in Catalán are "Adeu" and "Tanqeu la porta, si us plau" but as soon as it started, I had to eat my whiny, I've-been-in-line-for-2-hours words about it being for little kids. Eat your heart out Cirque du Soliel.

19 September 2010

Spoons and Soundwaves

Most days, I'm so at home in this apartment that it's hard to believe I've only been here for a few weeks. Outside the house has its ups and downs, but those are stories for next time.

The family I'm living with is helpful and great at cooking. Their house is like one of those tiny "this is our home" apartments that IKEA has set up in their stores, but the 5 of us never seem to be stepping on each other's toes. While other students in my program are trying to figure out how to stay out of the way when their host mom and dad fight or how to deal with families who roll their eyes at their attempts at Spanish, I somehow ended up in a house where the only thing I hear more than "No pasa nada" are the church bells next door that ring every 15 minutes.

You know how you can learn more about a person by exploring their home than by spending that time talking with them in another setting? Language barrier firmly intact (although I'm working on it), I'm relying on their house to tell me about my host family. The little bit of clutter is cozy and makes think that Malene, my host mom, means it when she laughs at the stories I tell her about mistakes I made speaking to a sales clerk or accidentally closing the door on a neighbor. Every room in the house is filled with snapshots, professional portraits, and polaroids of the family tucked into mirrors and light switches. One wall has been taken over by a growth chart for Noa. The marks lower on the wall are carefully written in pencil, but the more recent ones were written in blue or purple marker in Noa's own nascent handwriting. And why should everything be perfect?

Homes here seem to be a place for living, not entertaining or improving or investing in. We're all so on top of each other that it would be insane to imagine anyone trying to make their house an entirely private space. Our windows are always open and drying laundry hangs off our balconies letting our neighbor's lives drift in and out during the day. Someone near us is always watching Bollywood movies, the dad across the hall sings to his baby in the morning when he starts crying, and someone cooks dinners that smell good enough to make me want to knock on their door and ask for a bite.

In the morning, I eat breakfast in the corner and make notes to myself to get an electric kettle for my apartment, stop eating so much nutella, and remember my dictionary for class. Our kitchen is smaller than a closet, but is packed to the top with everything we need. The differences aren't that big, but the parts that are strange mean more about culture than cabinets which, by the way, we don't have. There are 4 bins that are color-coded for the Spanish recycling system: blue for paper, green for glass, yellow for plastic, and grey for trash. The washing machine and oven under the counter are both missing their mates; dryers don't seem to exist anywhere in Spain and the stove has been replaced with a hot plate. My favorite part of the kitchen is the radio with a spoon for an antenna, a trick Malene learned from her Dutch grandmother. She has it on all the time and I've kept it on this weekend to take up space in the empty house while she, Jorge, and Noa are gone visiting her family up the coast.

A playlist of familiar and new songs from the kitchen radio, tuned to station 93.9:

+The Kooks: "Naive"
+A country song in Spanish
+Ziggy Marley: "Falling in Love"
+Shakira: "Waka Waka"
+Chubby Checker: "Limbo Rock"
+Counting Crows: "Accidentally in Love"
+Coldplay: "Life in Technicolor II"
+Death Cab for Cutie: "What Sarah Said"
+Steel Pulse: "Roller Skates"
+Spoon: "Got Yr. Cherry Bomb"
+Duffy: "Mercy"
+Something by Beirut
+The Zombies: "Time of the Season"

06 September 2010

Things and Other Things

Today is September 6th which means it's day 4 in Spain. So far, I've taken two tours with my group, kind of eaten a few meals, and moved in with my host family. I have grand ideas, but right now I've still got jetlag going on so I'm sticking with something small. I don't even feel like taking pictures yet but perhaps they will appear eventually and this sentence will disappear.

Bag ladies and bag men
Everyone here has bags and no one even makes fun of men because you have to be stupid to not have a bag. This is bad new for me because I hate carrying things and would much rather stick my wallet in my pocket and pretend that I'm spontaneous and unfettered by worldly things (which is a total lie, although I did make it here with only 4 pairs of pants.) Desafortunadamente, pickpockets are a thing too. I didn't really believe the 3298754 warnings that we'd been given, but walking back to the hotel yesterday, we saw an 8-ish-year-old boy steal 200 euros from a woman as she was taking it out of the atm (aka "la caixa"). The woman and two of her friends grabbed him and pinned him up against the wall and we watched while he screamed, his brother halfheartedly punchslapped them, and they yelled for someone to call the police. I felt bad because this little boy was being pulled and pushed by three adults, but then bad for them for being robbed, but then bad for him because what if his family needs the money, but then bad for the people because, er, they were robbed. Out of three restaurants I've been to, two had boxes near the front that you could rent to put your things in so you don't have to worry about someone taking them while you eat.

Fashion for hot weather
You know what else everyone here has? Harem pants. I was going to be obnoxious and say that I totally called this 5 years ago, but the truth is that Becca had a pair and told a story about men having babies and so I made myself some.

Despite being so environmentally conscious--our house has garbage and three separate recycling cans--everyone here drinks bottled water like it's their job. Apparently Brita hasn't hit the scene here yet.

Have I mentioned I'm tired?
I know that this is the most insanely dumb/self-centered/ethnocentricifyouwantabigword idea in the world, but little kids and homeless men here speak spanish better than me (obviously) and it makes me feel stupid. Anyway, During the first 2 days, we wandered around in a giant, loud, English-speaking group of Americans so everyone automatically spoke to us in English. Today, we all moved in to our actual houses and the 3 hours I spent speaking Spanish with the couple, Jorge and Malena, and their 7-year-old daughter, Noa, were exhausting. I'm glad that I'm forced to practice speaking, but right now, the only Spanish I feel like working on is a siesta.

...Which by the way are real
I just tried to go to the grocery store, my favorite place, and was deeenied because it was 3. It's so hot here right now that it makes sense to go home or to work and do things until it cools down at night, but shopping is not going to be easy until I figure out how this works.

A break for feelings
A couple people in our group apparently came here for a semester-long spring break. I know I should have expected this but I did not because I came here to have a nerdy good time. On the bright side, this means I won't be stuck in an American bubble and will either spend a lot of time alone or meet Actual Spanish People. It wasn't like I was expecting to come here and find everything to be perfect, but the thing is I was. I like being alone, A LOT, but there's a difference between choosing to be alone--although I guess I did that when I decided to come here--and not having anyone to call when I want someone to talk to, eat lunch with, or meet for a walk. I've decided that time zones are more divisive than actual distance.

Big A, little a, what begins with a?
The apartment (which begins with a) is small, my key is big. Really, my house key is colossal and magnetic and costs $30 to get duplicates made. The plugs here are about twice the size of U.S. ones and look like someone from IKEA designed them. The streets in the area where I live are tiny but the buildings are pretty tall which makes walking around anywhere feel like being in the maze from the final competition of the Triwizard Tournament.

Nuria, the housing coordinator, said that "coexistance" is a hard word to say, but, on the roads at least, everyone here seems to have it down. The streets here change from actual road to cobblestone to brick all the time and cars (although way fewer than I've ever seen), bikes, motorcycles, and walkers are on all of them. The sidewalk isn't always very well differentiated from the street but when cars get stuck behind people walking, they don't honk at them! Bikes actually pay attention to stoplights, motorcycles go down the tiny winding streets in the Gothic Quarter, and people generally don't seem in a big hurry to get anywhere.

Wooley mammoth
Yesterday, we took a bike tour of Barcelona with our group. When we stopped in the Parque de la Ciutadella, someone pointed out that there was a lifesize(?) statue of a woolly mammoth across the pond. Today, we were walking to get groceries and Noa kept talking about something that's really fun and something something mammoths something something and then pointed to her right and HELLO there's a Mammoth Museum 2 minutes from my house. I don't know why they're obsessed with Mammoths, but I'm going to make up for this whole bookish post with and entire blog of photos from my upcoming visit to the museum.

More things
+The toilet has a chain that hangs from the ceiling to flush.
+When I search in Google, the default language is Spanish.
+There is poutine here.
+I brought Noa Sillybandz as a present and she is in love with them. I think Sillybandz should pay me for being a brand ambassador.
+I can hear Bollywood music and the church bell from Santa Maria del Mar coming through my window.

03 September 2010

Crafts in the Bathtub

Water + Baking Soda + Dish Soap + Food Coloring + Paper = Marbleized Paper

18 August 2010

Comfort Food (Shopping) and New Places

I've been living in Philadelphia for the past three years and I'm ready for a break.

I moved here for school and was excited to be in a new place with people I didn't know. The disappointment came slowly; I realized that, while I wanted to try something new, not everyone else did. Friends were hard to find because everyone at Temple seemed to be from around the area and came to college with their friends and groups from high school intact. My classes weren't what I had expected and as the first year ended, I was no closer to finding a major. I missed my family and the familiarity of my life in Ohio. At home, I knew the streets I drove on and who to call when I needed to get out of my house.

It's gotten easier, though. I've made friends, gotten a bike, called my mum a lot, and found places that feel comfortable. Like my grandma, I like visiting grocery stores when I go somewhere but finding places to shop for food in the city has been more difficult that I would've thought. Growing up in suburban Cincinnati, there was a Kroger a mile away so I didn't have to hunt down stores to buy fresh produce or bread. The urban grocery shortage wasn't something I'd been forced to consider before, though I know I didn't feel any of its effects seriously during the semester I ate grilled cheese after grilled cheese in my dorm's kitchen.

Freshman year, the only place I knew how to get to was city hall, but now I can find my way almost anywhere. I've been to every grocery I've heard of and been disappointed with their selection, paid too much, and gotten there to find it's been demolished. Hopefully the little bit of knowledge that I have can help someone else moving here because regardless of how lonely, overwhelmed, or upset you are, you need to eat so that you can get past it.

+Rittenhouse Market
18th and Spruce
This one's just not worth visiting. It may be convenient for the people who live in Rittenhouse Square, but if you go there, you'll be paying way more than you have to for a very small selection of items. I suspect that this is because people who live in Rittenhouse can afford to go out to eat a lot or get their groceries shipped to them but I don't/can't/won't.

+Food and Friends
20th and Spruce

This guy, on the other hand, is completely lovely. It's got a great name and it's probably one of the prettiest grocery store I've ever visited. Despite Pennsylvania's asinine liquor laws, Food and Friends somehow managed to squeeze in an entire aisle of beer by the bottle so that you can create your own six pack or just buy a single bottle on your way home at night.

+Trader Joe's
22nd and Commerce (between Market and JFK)
Trader Joe's is like that friend you forget about because you've both moved and now you live so far apart but when you finally do see each other, you're suddenly reminded why you were such good friend in the first place and promise to see each other more often. I went here the other day and was amazed at how cheap everything was. I got 8 ounces of goat cheese for $3.50 (4 ounces is $5.99 at Acme, $4.99 at Whole Foods, and $4.50 at Reading Terminal) and organic, vegetarian-fed, free range chicken for $4.98 (the same amount at Acme runs around $8.95 and isn't special hippy chicken.) They keep prices low by only carrying their own store brand so this might not be your thing if you're particular about a certain type of yogurt or rice but usually their version is excellent.

+DiBruno Brothers
19th and Chestnut
The only reason to visit this store is to marvel at the outrages prices people are paying for really boring things. You might initially being excited by the panache, but there's nothing here you can't find anywhere else. I peeked in their pastry case and their cakes looked like they were covered in whipped icing. Whipped icing is cheap and gross and lackluster baked goods are bad news for everyone.

+Reading Terminal Market
12th between Filbert and Arch
If I can find a market half a good as this in the cities I move to, I'll be lucky. Reading Terminal is all about variety. I come here to buy most of my produce (Iovine's near the back right corner has everything plus granola, dried fruit, and nuts and gives a student discount on Wednesdays and Sundays) but they've got at least two cheese shops, a spice store, bakeries, honey, jewelry, ice cream, handmade soaps, bookstores, and dozen of little restaurants that serve Indian, Middle Eastern, Japanese, as well as local food.

6th and Berks
I did most of my emergency shopping trips here last summer only because it was close to my apartment. It's not convenient--you have lug your groceries back up a hill to get back to Temple--they make you check your bag when they get there, and there are birds flying up and down the aisles. It's not without it's charms, though; in the city of brotherly love with bars named things like "Sisters," "Uncles," and "Sugar Mom's" it's good to know that other family members aren't being forgotten. And while most grocery stores have aisles for baking needs and cereal, Cousin's has two entire aisles labeled "Goya."

+That New Temple Grocery
Broad between Oxford and Jefferson
I would have killed for a grocery store during my first two years at college when I lived on Temple's campus. Compared to other options in the city, this one's not so special but it beats biking two and a half miles to get to the nearest grocery.

+The Foodery
10th and Pine
Like Food and Friends, The Foodery sells beer by the bottle. I mentioned Pennsylvania liquor laws before but my excitement about beer in corner stores might make more sense if I spelled it out for you. You can't sell beer in the same store that wine and liquor are sold. You can't sell any of the three in grocery stores. Liquor stores close at 9 and all day on Sunday. You can buy beer at beer distributors but you can't buy any less than a case or you can carry out at bars but they raise the price and you have to tip the bartender.

+Whole Foods
10th and South
Meh. Whole Foods is alright if you're looking for free samples or a DivaCup, but you can get anything here, including organic items, somewhere else. I've heard that they sell bulk flours (Essene, a natural food store near 4th and South, does too) which is something I'm into, but I'm holding out for finding a wholesale bulk store in the city.

10th and South
SuperFresh is great if you're just looking for a regular grocery store and it's in a pretty convenient location. It might be slightly pricey but if you're just looking for orange juice or a box of pasta, this is just fine.

+The Italian Market
9th between Fitzwater and Wharton
If you're looking for some obscure fish, meat, fruit, or vegetable and can't find it anywhere else, it's probably hiding somewhere in The Italian Market. Since it runs up and down one street, it's a easy to check everything out before going back and buying what you want since you might have instant buyer's remorse when you realize that the tomatoes half a block away are fresher and cost half as much. Two of Philadelphia's cheesesteak places are at the south end, if you're into that sort of thing, but think about not visiting Geno's because Joe Vento is not a nice man.

Passyunk between 10th and Dickinson
The proximity of a grocery store was one of the main reasons I moved into the neighborhood I've been living in for the past year. It was great to only have to walk a block to get food during the winter and if I'm cooking and realize I've forgotten something, I don't have to go far to get it.

+Amish Farmer's Market
Passyunk between Cross and Tasker

Every Wednesday afternoon in the summer, all the Amish come to the square outside my house to sell vegetables and sunflowers and honey. The kids who run the stands are so nice and polite even when people are pushy about buying things. For a fun recycling adventure, buy a single beer on Tuesday night to have with dinner and then use the bottle as a vase for flowers that you buy on Wednesday.

A Biking Trail

View Food in Philadelphia in a larger map

I haven't been everywhere in Philadelphia, but I know it's not my home. I'm ready to get lost in a bigger city with a culture that's not quite so cold. I'm leaving to study abroad in Barcelona on September 3rd and I'm apprehensive but excited.

This time, I already know what it's like to be alone and I'm okay with it.

I'm taking my helmet and signing up for Bicing, so that I can explore the city when it gets a little too lonley or loud to take. I'm not expecting it to be perfect, but the challenges seem less unexpected this time--languages, school, my new family, managing money, missing home, traveling. Right now, though, all I can think about is visiting the Boqueria.