Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Merce Photos Finally For Fans of Photography

Ok. So after a great deal of trouble, including three sumo matches with separate computers, a western shoot out with Talia's laptop, and a samurai sword battle with the ordenadors (computers) at school, I think I have finally found a way to successfully upload pictures. Some may be just links to a photobucket page where the pictures are, but we'll see as the post continues.

Well then - I'm sure you've all been waiting with bated breath for pictures from Merce, no? You will find, I think, that it was worth the wait. This festival is insane. absolutely certifiable.

As a side note, we did most of the events with our group of friends from our program including Clarissa and Carla, whom I've mentioned before, as well as Ally and Monisha, who are also wonderful people.

The events started Thursday evening, beginning with a "March of the Devils and Demons". This parade started in the Plaza Sant Jaume (the center of the city during the Roman and Renaissance periods). Each "float" walked out through the doors of the Barcelona city hall, into the crowd of thousands waiting, it moved through the crowd, cutting a swath about ten feet across, and then marched its way towards the Cathedral (about two blocks away through winding old streets).

I say "floats" because they aren't really. They are either wheeled sculptures or large shell costumes manned by two or three people. They were all lavishly painted and quite frightening. Many of them had pitchfork-like metal things sticking off of them, some of which had green flares attached to them, others left empty. The significance of these will become apparent later.

There were probably more than 30 floats, each one a different monster or animal (dragon, pig, donkey [that’s some Spanish symbol I don’t quite get] rat, griffon, etc.). Here’s an example of a dragon with green flares:

Saturday morning we went over to the Mercat Catalina, which is one of two gigantic pseudo itinerant farmer’s markets. The other is La Boqueria I think, and that one is open air and a bit seedier. Catalina is new, with a beautiful wavy gaudi-esque roof (aka broken tile work). Outside the market were two stages, and at any given point a show was going on on one, while the other was being set up for the coming act. Constant entertainment.

The first show we saw was a woman doing a modern dance piece that was really quite beautiful, according to Talia. I was being stupid and looking at maps, and I didn’t pay very close attention (shame on me).

The next performance was two guys, both dressed in all black diving suits, doing the most amazing strong-man routines I’ve seen. it was part dance, part balance, all Cirque du Soleil.

Here is one particularly stunning pose they did:


after this pose the bottom guy actually STOOD UP and walked around with the other guy on his neck like that. wow.


Then there was a clown performance which was really hilarious. Observation: public entertainment in Spain, from what little we’ve seen, seems to have a much different idea of what is “appropriate” for children. For example, the acrobatic show we saw was, due in part to its nature and impart to liberal use of hip thrusts, very homoerotic. That isn’t meant in a bad way at all, it leant an almost sensual quality to their work, which contrasted with the brute strength and complimented the grace of their movements. Additionally, the clown show we saw was overtly sexual, with the clown selecting an audience member to participate in “acro sex”, as well as her (the clown was a her) grabbing at the butts of participants as they walked away. the list goes on, but it was interesting to note how shows like these would NEVER be deemed appropriate for children in the states. Oh, and just so you know, the first 5 or so rows of audience was all children.


Kite festival. TONS of kites, from stunt kites to gigantic giraffe heads to weird circle kites and other geometric phenomena. It was right on the beach, and followed by a hot air balloon exhibition thingy.


Saturday. Woke up and went back to Plaza Sant Jaume to see the legendary Catalonian Castillas (Castles). These are towers of people, from the simple (ha) single row four tier:

Here a single row formation moves towards the balcony of the city hall and the kid on top is lifted from the formation onto the balcony, some 20-25 feet in the air. I've never seen a kid look happier than that kid did once he was on the balcony.

To the amazing multi-person multi-level full castle:


The Plaza was so full you could lift your feet up and not sink. Talia had ingenious winding skills and managed to navigate us to the very center so we were DIRECTLY beside two of the castle groups. there were 4 or 5 groups in all, interspersed among the crowd seemingly at random, though all close to the middle. Each team wore a separate color, though all shirts were collared, and all had on the black wrap around their wastes (this is wrapped VERY tightly, I think for back support). The collars are important, because each person who is not on the top tier turns the collar up and puts the corners into their mouths, biting down to reduce the teeth grinding I imagine would be inevitable from such strain.

The castles work according to size, obviously. The single tiered ones were mobile, i.e. the crowds built their tower and then slowly walked their way into the plaza center. The larger castles were quite stationary. However, they did shake. When you’ve got 7 tiers of people on your shoulders the strain is inevitably going to show – and you could tell the fitness of each team by how much they shook. Talia and I looked on in horror as we saw one castle shake so badly that it collapsed, people 30-40 feet in the air falling onto the crowd. But luckily these people practice a lot, and they know how to fall. They imploded in such a way that a) no one in the team got hurt and b) they didn’t even touch anyone in the crowd, which is amazing, because talia and I were inches away from the team that fell and they could have seriously injured us and others had they fallen three feet to one side (even more so because no one could have run away if they’d wanted to, the crowd was so tightly packed).

Castles…I could go on about them for hours – they are really an amazing display of cultural heritage and community teamwork (the various teams were from sections of the city as I understand it). but I’ll shut up about them for now.

So after castles we went….umm…I think im getting my days mixed up, b/c this next thing happened on Friday. Oh yes – switch this next thing and the kite festival, im too lazy to go back and change it.

walking back from something or other on our way to our apartment, we ran into a parade. but not any parade. this was known as the “march of the little devils and demons”. Sound familiar? This was a brief taste of what would turn into a much larger parade in the evening. But the small one first.

Picture this: a street lined with thousands of people, and a procession of seemingly innocent children dressed in full-body devil and demon-esque costumes. It is around 5pm or so – the sunlight fading but still bright out. You worm your way to the front of this crowd and view a gap in the procession. There is a grown man with a torch who has a group of the children getting into a line. Then you notice what the children are carrying – pitchforks. wrought iron pitchforks with these circular contraptions on top and other sticks on top of that. You are confused. Suddenly the torch man thrusts his torch towards the fork of the first child. The kid starts skipping and running around as his pitchfork bursts into flames and starts shooting sparks 8 feet in every direction as it spins on a ball joint attached to the pitchfork. This happened for all the kids – sometimes two at once. They danced around, happy as ive ever seen children, showering anyone in the center of the street with sparks.



Of course, I made my way to the center, drawn impulsively to anything bright and shiny. Luckily however, these sparks didn’t really hurt. They sort of felt like the handheld sparklers on the 4th of july – no big deal. But the procession was so interesting – children playing with fire, holding pitchforks at eye level that shoot out flames onto unprotected audience members. not exactly something you would see in the states.

Little did I know…


That night was the scary older brother of this relatively tame event. Known as Correfoc (fire run) this tradition of Merce and other Catalonian festivals is probably the most frightening thing I’ve ever seen. On the same street where the smaller version was (Via Laetana, a block away from our apartment, mind you), gathered thousands of people at 8:30 in the evening. I can not describe how many people there were. Laetana is a 3-4 lane road, fairly large for the part of the city it is in, and it was packed with people from edge to edge for probably 15-20 blocks. What were they waiting for, you ask?


We saw this in the distance as, 3 or 4 blocks away cheers and shouts erupted and we could feel our bodies vibrate with the beating of far off drums. To us it looked like a wall of fire, moving inexorably closer. Eventually, as the drum beats grew louder and the fire grew in size and brightness, we were faced with this:

What is this? Two things. People, ages 20+ I imagine, dressed like the children in full-body (read: protective) devil costumes. They hold much larger pitchforks which are armed with seriously more powerful sparkling flares that shoot up to twenty feet. Some spin very quickly, showering a circle around the devil, and some are straight, which the devil uses to aim at specific people/body parts. As the fire approaches the crowd thins, running for the sides, smashing up against each other to protect themselves. The devils then light off and run around – anyone who is not pushed to the sides of the street fair game to be showered. Then, the people who are either prepared for this night (i.e. dressed appropriately with full cotton covering, gloves, hat, face guard, etc.) or incredibly stupid (me) run towards the dancing devil and grab on to him/her, moving with them until so many people come he can’t move anymore. You then stand under the fire shooting out from the pitchfork and wait for it to stop, which it inevitably does with a huge BANG as the sparkler runs out. Then you retreat and try again.

Insane, no? The purpose of this parade is to set people on fire. I was dangerously close to complete mental depravity during this correfoc, as I was in shorts and had only a long sleeved button-up shirt to protect my head and face. But did that stop me? no. Did I get burned? twice. These sparks were not the painless kind from the children’s parade. I received two nasty battle wounds, one on my fore arm, the other on the top of my head, whicih actually burned away a section of my hair but thankfully is not noticeable.

Additionally, I should mention that there WERE children here. Parents brought along kids, ages 4+ or maybe younger, which, while they usually stayed back at a safe distance, would scare the poop out of me.

Oh ya, and then there are the “floats” from before. Remember those protrusions I mentioned? Their purpose was to hold sparking flares, which they did very well. Witness:




And it all ended with fireworks every night on the beach:






So that, my friends, is Merce, in a nutshell. And we did a fraction of what there was. 500! city sponsored events, all free, were open to the public. We did do a few other things actually – we went to the Catalonian history museum since it was free, which was quite enjoyable even though our feet were killing us (we did more walking this weekend than I thought possible) – we saw various concerts by various people (though we missed the Ben lee and Saul Williams performances ☹)

We saw amazing street performances, drank sangria while listening to Spanish bands cover American 90’s hit songs, saw giant puppets twirl:





etc etc etc. I’m tired again just writing about it.

So if you were ever wondering the best and worst time to come to Barcelona, it is during Merce. When the crowds are gargantuan, everything is free, and this city parties like no other city I’ve ever heard of.

phew.

Monday, September 26, 2005

To add on

to Jaimie's "sum up" I would like to add the phrase: "We could not walk anywhere without running into a parade." This is the truth.

to sum it up

Merce was without a doubt the most ludicrous three days of our stay, and probably of most of my life.

I will sum it up in a few words now, and let the pictures i will be hopefully posting once I get to school explain the rest.

The words are:
fire fireworks castles kites giants romanian electro-gypsy devils children dragons sparks closed acrobatic clown circus lights.

I have two hours between classes at school, and I'm hoping those computers will allow me to resize my pictures and post them, as Talia's computer seems reluctant to do so. My dad is also sending me a spare 10g laptop harddrive that, if it works, will allow me to load at least windows and photoshop on so I can post pictures more regularly.

wish me luck on my first day of full classes.

cheers,
j

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Merce

Hola amigos,

This weekend is a huge festival that talia and I are gearing up for. It is called Merce, which means Mercy. Legend has it that in 1687 there was a plague of locusts that fell upon the city, and they didn't leave until the city prayed to the Virgin of Mercy, after which they took her as the cities patron saint.

So at its foundation this is a religious holiday, but in reality, it turns into a multi-day huge ass party with over 100 concerts, free museums, street performances, kite festivals, balloons, etc etc etc. It's freaking huge, and we're trying to set a schedule for ourselves so we can see as much as possible.

For those that know him (Mike and Rebecca in particular) - Ben Lee is here, and we'll be seeing him tomorrow. Also - didn't the Ravenettes play at oberlin? They're here as well.

Also, and I'm going to freak if this is actually true - Saul Williams (the slam poet) is supposedly performing, and I REALLY hope I get to see him. Plus, you know, there's a few spanish things going on.

I will report in as the weekend progresses - it should be a crazy one.

still working on the pictures - bear (bare?) with me,

:)
jaimie

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Deu

Hola chicos, que tal?
Say "Deu" (with an accent over the "e") when you're in Barcelona and you will sound super cool and in the know. Why? Adeu is the catalan word for goodbye, but if your cool like Jaimie and I and the catalonians, you just say "deu." It's sounds awesome.
We've also been learning funny things about culture here. Like- if a person offers you something, even if they are a close friend, you must say no. When they offer it again, you must say no. When they offer a third time, only then can you give your true answer. Also, you can never accept a compliment. A little modest, no?
Ummm.... lalala life is fun. I'm a little tired and VERY full from the yummy in my tummy stir fry. My stomach is a little confused because I am eating more than at home (because we excersize more) and it's saying, "What are you dOOOOing?" "Que estas haciendoOOO?"
Clearly this is a rambly post.
When we go to the beach Jaimie runs about the shore like a little boy and comes back with treasure for me: beautiful, poetry-inspiring stones and smooth sea glass that he lays on the towel near my toes. We are slowly filling are apt with his booty. Perhaps you should all visit us in December and by then our apartment will be filled with mountains and columns and towers of shining treasure that you can dance and slide through just like Ali Baba's cave...

Chocolate con Churros

Talia, Carla, and I yesterday decided we had gone long enough without experiencing one of the spanish traditions: Chocolate con Churros. In description it sounds tame - soft cinnoman/sugar lengths of fried dough (like sections of yummy rope), which you dip in a mug of hot chocolate. Sounds innocuous, no? Except...

The Spanish do not fuck around with their hot chocolate.

This aint no american chocolate flavored water, or even chocolate flavored milk. This is straight up melted chocolate, pure and thick. Can you picture what dipping some fried dough into American hot chocolate would do? probably absorb the liquid, right? get a little soggy? Well, the Spanish equivalent is too thick to be absorbed, it just coats the outside of the Churro in a thick dark brown sheath of delicious. The chocolate is hot and creamy, the Churro is slightly crunchy and soft on the inside, and the sugar it is dusted with crunches in between your teeth.

That is REAL hot chocolate, mother explitive.

All that said though - it's almost too much. I LIKE American hot chocolate, and this stuff is so thick my stomach gets upset just thinking of it. But it IS good - on like a once a month basis.

Other things:

Food has been fun, Talia and I have been cooking various things. We got some frozen pizza crusts, and have been making those into yummy tomato sauce and garlic pizzas. Recently I've made chicken in a white wine sauce (thanks for showing me how, mom), Challah french toast, and last night Talia and I made potato Latkes, which turned out surprisingly good for a first attempt. Our pans suck, so everything cooks more in the center than at the edges, but it's manageable.

Spanish class continues to be tough but useful. My spanish is increasing more everyday, mostly a result of vocabulary. I find, in most everyday interactions you can get by with just the present tense, so its really just the words i need (JUST the words, he says...).

Our other classes start this coming monday, and my schedule kind of blows, but not in the way you might think. My classes are too LATE, not early. As it stands right now everyday I'll have class from 3pm-5pm, and then 7pm-8:30pm. that two hours inbetween isn't really enough time to go home or do anything, so I'm stuck at the school from 3 until 8:30, which eats up the main go-out-and-do-things time of the day. At least we don't have class on fridays, so fridays/weekends will just have to be busy and burstingn with activity.

Talia and I are beginning to plan our trips for the two or three breaks we get here. most are just 4 or 5 day weekends, but we get one long trip in december, about 9 days, that I think we're going to spend in Italy (rome, florence, that area). Then Talia and I get to decide where we want to go for our really long travelling session in January.

Pictures to come, hopefully. I'm still working out how to change the size of pictures on Talia's computer, since mine is down for the count. Hopefully I'll figure it out soon.

Miss you all,
Cheers,
Jaimie

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The luck of the Irish...

...is something that I, apparently, do not have.

my computer died again - this time for real. The hard drive crapped out, in a blaze of clunking noises and inability to find windows/system32/system - which you know sounds important, even if you dont know what it is.

This is a disturbing trend I've noticed. Before I left for Barcelona the hard drive of my desktop computer started to fail - then Alex's hard drive failed, then Adrians hard drive failed, and earlier in the summer, my dad's failed as well. .................coincidence? probably. Premise for a James Bond movie? Definitely.

However - all hope is not lost. Talia brought her computer as well, and while it is (no offense to her at all) very old and slow, it does work, so I'm typing this on her system now. What I'm not sure of yet is if it can handle photo editing (specifically changing the size so that the pictures are small enough that blogger can post them). We'll see, I'm working on it now but wanted to post this since I hadn't in a while.

So, what have we done recently? More time at the beach, for sure. Slowly but surely I believe the pigment of my skin is changing. My skin is VERY stubborn though, and thanks to both my irish mother and my polish/russian father, it has absolutely no precondition to this sudden exposure to direct sunlight.

Today, saturday, we were SUPPOSED to go to Sitges, which is apparently a very cute beach town near Barcelona, but it is currently pooring, which is good for Barcelona, but bad for our trip, so it was cancelled, and while I stay up and loyally recount our adventures, Talia is back in bed. harumph.

what else....? Spanish classes are going well. I think they're a little easy for Talia (who speaks way better than she sould, having not taken Spanish since high school - she out performs many of the girls who have taken it in college). For me, however, the beginner 2 level is more than challenging enough. the whole class is in spanish, and I have remembered/learned enough that I can mostly understand her (the teacher). Her (the teacher) is named Gaby Alvarez, and she is super nice, or should I say muy sympatica? ehhhh? oh ya.

Rebecca is back safely in Paris, and as of last time we spoke enjoying herself.

Oh! I meant to post our house number so that all of you can harass us. It is thus: +34-933-191-158. The +34 is the country code, you dont need the + symbol.

So call us! It's a 6 hour time difference from the east coast, and 9 hours for all you west coasters listening in. We would LOVE to hear from you. If we don't pick up dont leave a message (I don't even know if you can), just call back later. We're in the house sporadically, so there's no real schedule to follow.


Well, thats it for now - I'm going to go try and figure out picture editing on this computer. We miss you all - if you're reading PLEASE POST COMMENTS! I feel silly writing if I don't know people are reading. It's a selfish thing, but just humor me. I love you.

cheers,
jaimie

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

smoking man


This city is full of really amazing grafiti, and this is a particularly cool piece I pass on my way to school.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Barcelona Panorama and Park Guell

Yesterday Talia, myself, and some friends of ours (Carla, Monisha, and Clarissa) went to Park Guell, which is a utopian construction designed by Gaudi, an amazing Barcelonian architecht. Most of the park is winding pathways on top of this huge mountain in the middle-ish of the city. There are also some really amazing statue and tile works he does. At one point of the park you can go to this great spot to take pictures of the city. I took a bunch in a circle and compiled a panorama in photoshop to give you guys a sort-of idea of what the city looks like.

So here are various gaudi pictures and a panorama:


The Panorama in all of its glory.


Talia with some tile work by Gaudi in a really cool columned space with that balled ceiling.



The official sign for the park - there are tons of these, and they're about as tall as I am.



This is an amazing plaza in the park and all that windy stuff is benches, done in amazing tile work. Most of his tile work looks like he broke alot of cool stuff and then cemented it back together in random patterns.


The front entrance of the park.


The famous "gaudi lizard" with our dear friend Rebecca. The man walking down the stairs is just about to yell at Rebecca for putting her shoes on the tile work,but does it look like Rebecca cares? Pfffff, what a rebel.


Another shot of the Lizard.



And finally Rebecca, myself, Talia, and Carla (the awsome friend I mentioned earlier), hanging out in the tile benches.


So that's Park Guell, I hope you enjoyed your tour.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Ok - I just typed this whole post with captions for all of the pictures that im posting and it got freaking deleted. grr. But I'll type it all again, because I'm that devoted to supplying you all with the latest news from overseas.

So, this city is more amazing than I can say, and more huge than I can describe. We've been here all of 5 days, and so much has happened it's rediculous. where to begin? The port? the performers? How about Our Apartment.


This is our kitchen, with the table that wobbles so badly we can't fill glasses more than halfway. But it has all the appliances we need, soapstone counters, lovely tiles, and came stocked with alot of whisky (gross), and other basic ingrediants that we need. We've stocked it with our own stuff over the past few days, lots of fruit, pastas, some meat for me, cheese, cereal, etc. etc. We've gone to lovely indoor markets filled with stalls that are a european thing (huge open spaces with stalls from different vendors, kind of like an indoor farmer's market). We've also gone to small local grocery stores, Indian food shops, and even ordered food online from a store that delivers (which was really fun, and a learning experience in vocabulary). Finding all these shops is once of the fun things we've been doing, there are so many near our apartment its crazy.

Here is our main living room, with its wierd modern furniture and our friend Clarissa from our program who came over to visit. The space is larger than we were expecting, and we're slowly decorating it with posters and things we find in the city. The TV is mostly for show, b/c we never have time to watch it, and even if we do its in rapid-fire spanish that even Talia can't fully understand. The tiling, like the kitchen, is wonderful blue and white designs, and the ceiling is high, with exposed dark wooden beams and painted rectangular designs inbetween the beams. it's quite beautiful

And, well, what can I say about this except....it's our front yard? Ya, this is the Santa Maria Basilica (used to be the cathedral, but then the bishop guy moved to another church in Barcelona). This picture is from our living room. It is an amazing work of Catalonian Late Gothic architecture, with tons of ribbed vaults and gargoyle work. The inside is beautiful, those pictures will have to wait for another time. The plaza that you can't really see has resteraunts and wineries and chocolaterias, which are all amazing. It is amazing in the evening, always full of street performers (fire poi, musicians, and others). There is always music floating up from someone or other. But the best part - it closes by 1pm, and everyone leaves (more or less) so that people can sleep. More on nightlife later.

Last friday Talia wanted to do a full Shabbat dinner to make it feel like home for her, so Talia, myself, Carla (our best friend from the program) and a mystery guest i'll mention later all had an amazing dinner of seasoned potatos, chicken, an extravagent salad, fried artichoke hearts with melted cheese, and some Cava (champagne). the dinner was amazing.

Heh, our stairwell. We're on the "4th" floor of our building with no elevator, but the way Spain works, the "4th" floor means the 5th floor. It's a long hike, and our calf muscles are getting sharper with every day.

Here is a not-too-flattering picture of Barcelona's port area from a scenic look-out a bus tour we took stopped at. The day was the 2nd day of rain the city had had in the entire year, so the locals were all very excited, but it made our tour rather dreary. I promise you, though, the city is quite beautiful.

And here is a random street performer on Las Ramblas, which is the sort-of equivalent of 5th avenue meets Times Square. Its full of street performers and expensive shops and amazing resteraunts. Very touristy and VERY crowded. Something like 200,000 people walk the street every day. This guy was particularly cool though - he sat STOCK still, until I tried to take his picture without tipping him, and then he blocked his face with his book. After I gave him some money he became quite photo-friendly.


So that is a mini picture-tour of our life so far. Life here is amazing. We're having some trouble adjusting to the night life. For one, all the bars are disgustingly smokey. On the other, neither Talia or I have ever been the kind of person to go out late at night. That also needs explaining. Late at night in america is, what? 11? Well here, if you want to go to dinner, you can't do it until at LEAST 9pm at the earliest. Then you can go to bars and outdoor resteraunts to get tapas and relax. If you want to go dancing you can't even think of it until 2am at a minimum. It's really rediculous, spaniards stay out SOO late, and they get up at fairly similar times to americans - between 8 and 10am. i would almost be impressed if it didn't make me feel so lazy.

Other things....street vendors are everywhere here, almost always Pakistani or Indian, which is wierd. There are some very interesting racial things going on in this city, and I need to sit down with our program directors and ask them about it. There is a large Pakistani population that sell scarves on the streets, 1 euro beers, and walk the beaches all day long selling drinks. The only other street vendors are usually hippy oberlin-type students who sell jewelry later at night around where we live.

We went to the beach today and it was amazing. We spent the whole day there, swimming in the mediterranean and tanning under the Spanish sun (which is very hot when it wants to be). The water is disgustingly salty, to the point where you can float without any need to paddle or struggle (ala the dead sea), but it is very warm and wavey. There were a massive number of people there, many topless (and nude furthur down, but we didnt get that far today). The children are often naked, and the sands are littered with sea glass.

The weather here is interesting - mornings are cool, around 60-70 or so. The afternoons, until about 5 or 6pm are really hot in the sun. shade is fine, but the sun is incredibly warm. The evenings, again, are usually cool, often breezy from the sea. It makes dressing interesting - most people change a few times during the day or take layers.

I don't know if I mentioned anything about siesta in an earlier post. Well it is alive and well here in Spain. From around 2pm until around 4pm everything besides resteraunts close. Alot of things are also closed on sundays and mondays. and sometimes saturday. The spanish have an odd sense of time and business priority - but they all seem to like it. I'm told the siesta is left over from when people didn't have airconditioning, and the midday became so hot you had to nap. Spain, like it's beurocracy, is slow to change, and so the tradition continues. It makes shopping interesting, as when you go out to see places and look at the shops you're all of a sudden kicked out and find yourself stranded for 2 hours with nothing to do but eat lots of tapas.

I mentioned a mystery guest earlier - this will only be significant to those Oberlin people reading this - Rebecca is here!! It's talia's birthday today and Rebecca and I organized a surprise visit. She got in on friday, and Talia FREAKED when she saw her, screaming and crying so the whole plaza we were in was caught inbetween amusement and dialing the spanish equivalent of 911. It has been wonderful having her - we've seen lots of the city, along with the Picasso Museum. But mostly her company has been amazing and refreshing. Sadly she leaves tomorrow night, but Im sure we can coax her to come back again - not to mention that im sure we'll visit her in Paris.

Phew, I'm exhausted. I hope the pictures help you all envision our life here so far. I'll post more soon.

miss you all, hope all is well,
jaimie

pictures to come!

lo ciento, but my computer has been broken for the past few days - but pictures are coming soon, tonight hopefully.

we're doing well - more info to come.

-jaimie

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Impressions

As of yesterday, around 7:30pm our time, Talia and I have our very own apartment.

Barcelona is very large, but it can't grow any more. It is bounded by mountains in the north, the Mediteranean in the south, and two rivers on either side east and west. So most of the city is made up of blocks like New York (called manzanas here), but there is one section of the city that is older, called Ciudad Viejo (old city) or in Catalan Ciutat Vella. That's another thing to mention - Barcelona is the capitol of the region known as Catalonia. Spain is made up of many regions, and most citizens pay allegiance to their region, not the country as a whole. Other regions are Andalucia, Basque, and others. In Catalonia, there is a unique language, sort of a mix of spanish and french, and all the street names and city sections are in catalan. Also, all residents speak Catalan, but they all speak spanish as well, so its not a problem for us.

But back to the city layout. In the old city, there are alot of districts, the up and coming artsy, bohemian, trendy one is known as El Borne. We live there, right in front of this gorgeous gothic cathedral from the 1300s. Its stone and gothic and wonderful, and it is right outside our windows. In front of it there is a small plaza with some resteraunts, a winery, a patissere, and some shops. At night the resteraunts have musicians play guitar and accordian (at least they did last night). Its very romantic.

The apartment itself is amazing. small, 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a full kitchen, a living room, and two small balconies (one in the kitchen, one from the living room). Washer, dryer, the works. The floors are all tiled in very european looking blue and oatmeal white. The walls are a plastered stone, and the ceilings are very high, 10 feet maybe, with exposed dark wood beams and painted patterns between them. The paint is chipped on the corners of doors and windows, adding a rustic charm (or a dilapadated one, but throw us a bone here). The furnishings are cute and modern, if a little cheap, but the landlord (who is very nice and young) did a good job blending colors and whatnot. We have TV, which I doubt we'll use, and internet and phone, yada yada.

Here are some first impressions of spain as a whole:
1) The waiters are mean. No one in spain tips - it's just not done. the normal gratuity is in the tax, so the waiters get nothing extra from being nice. So forget prompt service, forget smiles, and all of that - they ignore you, especially if you're american it seems, and god forbid you ask for some ketchup, it'll take hours.
*The food at resteraunts has been dissapointing so far. During our time in Madrid and Toledo we had to eat out. There is TONS of bread served with every meal, but it hasn't been very good bread - mostly hard on the outside and plain. The sandwiches (bocadillos) are large and plain (no mayo or butter, just bland ham and cheese).
*HAM! if I see more ham i'm going to scream. it's on everything. jamon con queso, jamon serrano, jamon con hueves, jamon jamon jamon!! it's not bad ham, but its just plain. there's not much chicken in the resteraunts.
*More resteraunt info to come - Barcelona looks like it has alot more options, and some better ones. we'll see how the tapas bars work out.

2) People are way more stylish - fashion is in here.

3) On the main streets it often seems like New York, says Talia, but if you move one street over you're in a tiny curving road with 6 tapas bars and you know you're in spain.

4) The people touch you alot more than seems comfertable at first. tour guides put their hands on your shoulders, women kiss you on the cheeks (if they know you), basically they have less of a sense of personal space.

5) The soda is more carbinated. Also yummier, I think. I've been drinking alot of lemon fanta, and another brand called Kaz, which is really good. we dont really have lemon sodas in the states, only the fancy italian stuff from Trader Joe's.



Talia wishes me to add that our washing machine is frightening. And she's right - it makes monster noises and I think it puked on one of Talia's sock, but this is being investigated.

Talia also wishes to add that it is sleepy time. I don't disagree with her, so I will go.

More info to come - leave comments with questions and we'll answer them. Can't wait to hear from you all,

cheers,
Jaimie
withe some comments from Talia

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Hola!

Ladies and gentlemen, Talia and I have arrived safely and soundly. We got into Madrid on Wednsday, met one of our group members who also arrived early, and saw Mama Mia all within 30 hours of getting off the plane.

There is so much to tell already -the culture shock is pretty huge - smaller soda cans, smoking everywhere, this new drink called Horchata (rice milk?), the small cars, the fashion (in madrid at least), and the sights, and etc etc.

However, I am writing from an internet cafe in Madrid, and I have no time left on my pass, so suffice to say that Talia and I are both safe and happy (if not anxious and a little nervous).

Please post comments and let us know how all of you are doing. Once we get to Barcelona on the 6th we will be able to update properly. We wish you all the best,

-Jaimie