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