Sunday Funday

Today was supposed to be an exciting day in Girona at the All-Saints Festival, but instead this happened:

 

I broke the glass on the door to our laundry/balcony-like room!

Last night, I had planned to catch the 8:45 train this morning to Girona, where I was going to meet my roommate to see the Castellers at 11. The castellers are human towers built from groups of men standing on each other’s shoulders. You’ve likely seen a picture of them. After the castellers, we were going to spend the rest of the day going to whichever other events of the festival we desired. Then I was going to return to Barcelona in time for Halloween.

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A Visual Representation of Things I Do in My Free Time

#1: What takes up most of my time:

The books I brought from home

 
I’ve already made it through 5 books in the two weeks I’ve been here, and I still have 6 months worth of newspaper comics. I hope to finish most of the books before Christmas.
#2: Due to my roommate’s insistance:
 
#3: Spanish class and intercambios
 
#4: Writing – for the blog but mostly for myself
 
 
#5: Playing the guitar and listening to music
 
 
#6: Sightseeing in Barcelona and nearby
 
 
 
#7: Photographing polo
 
 
 
#8: Eating good food and hanging out with friends
 
 
 
#9: Making fiestas
 
 
#10: Doing anything else fun or interesting I come across
Categories: Barcelona, Daily life, General | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Shadow of the Wind

A few nights ago I stayed up until 5 in the morning trying to finish a book that held me enchanted. This book, part mystery, part a book of wisdom, and part a story of growing up, kept me unable to go to sleep without getting to the last page and reaching its satisfying conclusion. The book drew me into its pages in a number of ways, starting in a flash, and then building up steadily until the final burst at the end of the novel. This book, called The Shadow of the Wind, was recommended to me both because of its outstanding story and because it is set in Barcelona. There is no better time to read a book set in Barcelona than when one is actually living here. I read the novel with Google Maps open so that I could see exactly which streets the characters were traversing, but it would be just as thrilling with no knowledge of Barcelona. Though it was originally written in Spanish by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, I read it in English so that I could understand every word.

I was enthralled with the book in its first chapter. It included many things that I love in a novel, a strong beginning, mysterious places, and a love of books. It is only a few pages into the novel when I knew that I would thoroughly enjoy it. Daniel’s father takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, and describes it thus:

“Welcome to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, Daniel” … “This is a place of mystery, Daniel, a sanctuary. Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of a person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens. This place was already ancient when my father brought me here for the first time, many years ago. Perhaps as old as the city itself. Nobody knows for certain how long it has existed, or who created it. I will tell you what my father told me, though. When a library disappears, or a bookshop closes down, when a book is consigned to oblivion, those of us who know this place, its guardians, make sure that it gets here. In this place, books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting for the day when they will reach a new reader’s hands. In the shop we buy and sell them, but in truth books have no owner. Every book you see here has been somebody’s best friend. Now they have only us, Daniel. Do you think you’ll be able to keep such a secret?”

I love to read stories about people who share my passion for books, as they can understand the wonder that a good story brings. How time can disappear, and how even holding a book in your hand can bring a sense of contentment. They are people who love words for their own sake, who know the knowledge, wisdom, understanding one can glean from a well-written story. This sentence describes accurately the feeling I have when looking for a new book to read:

“I leafed through the pages, inhaling the enchanted scent of promise that comes with all new books, and stopped to read the start of a sentence that caught my eye.”

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Categories: Barcelona, Books, Interests | Leave a comment

The Best Gelato?

In my travels through Italy, I have tasted many different types of Gelato. I usually go for similar flavors at each gelateria. I often order cioccolata, strachiatella, canella, or nutella. It is because of my penchant for the same tastes that I can compare and contrast different producers of gelato. There are your basic gelaterias that are commonly found in touristy locations. These gelatos are often decorated with something related to the flavor they represent. The kinder gelato has pieces of kinder, the lemon has lemon rinds, etc. These shops even sell fancy sundaes and may offer more flavors than a Baskin Robbins. All of the flair is used to draw in tourists who are just excited at the prospect of eating any gelato. If you read tourist books closely, they will often point you to the ‘best’ gelaterias in any city. Here, the gelato is made in house, with better ingredients. It is not the mass-produced gelato you would find in the other shops. Each time that I read about a fantastic gelateria, I make it my mission to find it and taste it for myself.

In Florence, I was told that both Grom and Vivoli sold the best gelato. Grom is on a tiny street in the center of the city. Its flavors change on a regular basis and they often sell different types of chocolate depending on the percentage and where the chocolate came from. Vivoli is also on a small street, but in an area that is much less travelled. It was very close to where I lived and studied when I stayed in Florence for a month, so I had more chances to try it. I found Grom to be good, but nothing spectacular. Vivoli’s gelato wasn’t any better, but I did find their granitas to be particularly good. A friend of mine was also told about a gelateria right in the heart of the city. To me, this one looked just the same as all the others, and its flavors weren’t any better. In Rome, I heard over and over again about a mythical gelateria by the Trevi fountain. I heard about it from my first visit to Italy, during my most recent visit to Italy, and in various guidebooks. Every time I was near the Trevi, I kept an eye out for this supposed ‘best’ gelateria. Fed up with my inability to find this place, I went on to google maps and found out exactly where it was. Four years after first hearing about this place, I got my first taste. And, surprise, surprise, it was not any better than Grom or Vivoli. San Crispino, as the gelateria was called, was not as good as it was said to be.

Being quite disenchanted with the phrase ‘the best gelato,’ I was in doubtful when I was told that Nervi had the best gelato and that I had to try it. Always up for anything chocolate-y, I accepted my friends’ invitation. My ride parked her mini cooper illegally because there was no parking (this is Italy). We sat down to order. I was told that I should have canella and nutella, a combination I approved of heartily. I might have chosen it without being told to. This time, the gelato really was the best gelato ever. All of the others had very similar tastes, and I couldn’t distinguish a better one from a worse one. The taste of this gelato left me with no doubt that was superior. I wasn’t able to try any other flavors, but for me it didn’t matter. I would order these two flavors every time. I was tempted to order a second helping, but restrained myself. So, if you ever find yourself in the north of Italy near Genoa, make sure to visit Gelateria Priaruggia at Via Quarto, 1.

(written Fall 2009)

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Preamble to the Re-Awakened Blog

When writing this blog previously, I struggled with disclosure. What is appropriate to share in a personal blog? There are those who believe that no personal or identifying information should be shared on the internet. One could even go so far as to say that an opinion written on a blog could be sharing too much information. But what would be the entertainment and the fun in keeping all of the interesting material to oneself? I think a good rule to live by is to only share the things that you would be willing to share with a stranger. Something that you would share with a best friend might be something to be kept private. Would you care if your enemy had their hands on this information? No, then you are probably ok. Due to the rights and feelings of others, one’s personal life should not be shared on the internet when it relates to other people. It can be very difficult to tell what they would agree to share in a public arena. So, rule of thumb: only share things you are comfortable with having everyone know about you.

Now that I know what information to share or not to share, it is still difficult to decide what topics to write about and how to write them. It is one thing to write a journal to oneself, a letter to a single person, or even a blog that you know only a few close friends and family will be reading. And it seems pretty apparent the kinds of topics one should write for a very public blog, say a newspaper or other source for important information. But what about blog whose focus is on friends and family but might be read by complete strangers? How do you write to an unknown audience when sharing information about yourself? Normally, when telling stories or sharing personal information, one is able to know the audience beforehand and to gauge their reaction during the course of the telling. But how does one weave a story or address audiences that are unknown? I guess this is the struggle that a very private writer would have to make when moving into the public sphere. So, who knows, maybe this will be good for me.

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Barcelona vs. Madrid

Weekends in the fall mean Charger football games. In the last few years, the San Diego Chargers have actually put together a decent team. I say ‘decent,’ since the Chargers should have won the Super Bowl at least once, but always lose in the playoffs. Everyone has high expectations for them, but the Chargers never do as well as their hype. Most people in San Diego are apathetic about our sports teams at best. They only seem to care when one of the teams is doing well. Then people will root enthusiastically and proudly sport team jerseys. There seems to be quite a large portion of Charger fans these days; however, I think there are few die-hard fans. Many San Diegans are oblivious to the teams even when they are doing well. The Padres, unlike the Chargers, have been terrible for way too long. Very few people nowadays are proclaiming their support for the Padres. Probably most people go to games just for the fun of attending a baseball game, not because of their love for the team. I am not calling San Diegans fair-weather fans, just unconcerned.

However, things are very different in Barcelona. While there are some ‘haters’, most citizens of Barcelona root enthusiastically for their soccer team, F.C. Barcelona. I don’t think that the fans would be much less supportive of a losing team. However, Barça did very well last year. They won La Liga, the Copa del Rey, and the Champions League. The city went crazy when they beat Manchester United for the Champions League title, which cemented their treble. Everyone rushed the fountains in Plaça Catalunya. There was cheering and banner waving for hours and cars honked their horns in the time with team cheers. Even in less important games, everyone finds a place to watch the game. They go to the stadium, attend away games, watch in their house, or join friends at a local bar. The newspapers report detailed descriptions and explanations before and after each game and the players are revered. F.C. Barcelona also has the biggest stadium in Europe and can pack in almost 100,000 screaming Barça fans.

I had the pleasure of watching Barcelona play their main rival, Real Madrid, last Sunday. I am not quite sure which rivalry is more heated, F.C. Barcelona vs. Real Madrid or USC vs. UCLA. Both rivalries extend far beyond the field of play, so wins and losses have a deeper significance than just pride. Barcelona’s rivalry with Madrid extends even to economics and politics. I joined members of my club at our restaurant to cheer on Barça. The room was packed full of people who cheered and booed whenever something significant happened. We witnessed one goal and many fantastic defensive stops, as Barcelona ruled over Real Madrid 1-0. Because the club is near Camp Nou, Barça’s stadium, we were able to witness the massive number of people going to and from the game. Normally on Sundays, the streets of my neighborhood are quiet. Most people are just out for an evening stroll with their dogs. Every store is closed, so the streets are used for relaxation before the workweek begins anew. With the number of people out for the game, you would not know it was Sunday. It parallels what happens every Sunday in the United States, but with much more vibrancy. I guess I’ve just traded one type of football team for another.

The same weekend I also had my own personal Barcelona vs. Madrid experience. My team travelled to Madrid to play C.N. Moscardo. We took about an hour long flight to Madrid in the morning and were bused to the club. We had a long and relaxing lunch there and played our game at 4:30. We knew going into the game that the referees would not be unbiased. It is similar to a Los Angeles team travelling to San Diego or vice versa, but with a greater dislike. We found the referees were as we expected. I swear that I saw one of the referees smirking at some of the calls he made. I don’t believe that they were purposefully trying to hamper the game, but they did not make our lives easy. Luckily we won 22-12, but we should have let fewer goals in. I was glad to leave and head back to Barcelona after the game. The pool was indoors, with a warm air temperature and a much too warm pool temperature. I felt like I was burning up during the game. The outside was colder than Barcelona, so I was glad to head back home. A few of my teammates and I sampled the Barcelona nightlife afterwards to celebrate our win. All-in-all, it was a fun and victorious weekend for Barcelona.

Força Barça!

Categories: Barcelona, Water Polo | Leave a comment

My First Thanksgiving as an Expat…

…was just like another day in Barcelona. Of course, I waited until the last minute to decide how to celebrate. I couldn’t make it to the Thanksgiving dinner held by the Hotel Arts, as it was during practice. Since the only way I commemorated Thanksgiving was by wearing new clothes for dinner, I will relate my day as an example of a typical day in Spain.

 

10:00 (or maybe 9): My alarm goes off and I hit snooze.

11:00: I actually wake up, get ready and eat breakfast.

12:00 I meet the other girls at the store across the street. We hang out for 5-10 minutes, before going to the locker rooms to change.

12:15 or 12:20, sometimes 12:30 (this is Spain): We actually start practice, usually in the gym. Today we lifted at 80%.

Between 1 and 1:30: We get into the pool and swim some before doing water polo drills.

2:30: Practice ends, we change, and my roommate and I go to lunch. Spanish tortilla was on the menu today. It is the best meal at the restaurant.

4:30: I am home from lunch. Today I went and bought shampoo during my free time. Wooo!

7:30: I head to the gym for extra cardio, if I feel like it. Today I used the stationary bike for a half an hour.

8:30: Again we meet at the store. This time we are usually quicker to get to practice.

8:40: We do more water polo drills or scrimmage. We played terribly against the younger boys’ team this evening.

10:00: Practice ends. My roommate and I go to dinner. New shirt, new pants, new shoes for tonight! I had to acknowledge Thanksgiving, somehow, since I am missing my favorites: turkey and mashed potatoes. And cheesecake. But, most importantly, monkey bread! At least there is Christmas.

1 AM or maybe 2: I am hopefully asleep.

 

Such an exciting life! The trick will be to use my free time for more interesting purposes than buying shampoo. Some examples so far: the Aquarium, shopping, dealing with my broken computer. But those are for another time.

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Resonating in the Shape of Things to Come

This is my first blog post ever and yet I have more questions than I do solutions. What is a first blog post supposed to be, anyway? Does anyone actually read them? I imagine that unless a friend of yours sends you a link to a blog he or she has just started, you probably start reading long after the first post was written. If you are like me, you find new blogs through other blogs. Someone has to be reading that blog before you find it, it seems impossible that you would catch it while the first post is still on the homepage. After the blog has been running for a while, is there anyone that is dedicated enough to read that far back?

I can’t imagine that first blog posts are all that interesting anyway. Do most people give a short biography of information that seems relevant? Or do they outline what their blog may be about? Or do they just write something so they can say they have taken that clichéd first step? Or do they write that they hope they can find enough interesting material to write daily? Three-times weekly? Weekly? Monthly? Just occasionally? Or whatever their goal may be? There must be millions of bloggers out there. How many of those only ever put up a first post? Did it end before it began like a new years resolution to lose weight? Or is it like the xkcd comic where every post is an apology for not having anything to say?

And say someone does make it. He or she writes consistently for years. Writing skills have been honed and a ‘voice’ has been found. I can only imagine how uninteresting and undeveloped this first blog post must be in comparison and how many rules and conventions of blogging were unknowingly broken. So is a first blog post just a throw-away post? Just something to get out of the way before the real work can be done? Is losing your blog virginity always destined to be bad just like real life?

I know the answers to none of these things. But I can say, I will write about myself. I will write when I feel like it. I may write about the past and I may write about the present. And I may never have more readers than just my close friends. So, if you are reading this first blog post after the fact, how does it look from the future?

A special thanks goes to my friend Professor Chaos for inventing the blog name.

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