Monthly Archives: September 2006

Correfoc videos

This is part of the festival. It’s called Correfoc, which is Catalán for Run of Fire or Fire Run or something like that. These are the demons being driven back to hell the day before the actual feast day.

I, however, thought this was going to be Sunday instead of Saturday and totally missed it. But you should watch them anyway because they are crazy. Those sparks will actually burn you, so you have to get out of the way. Like I said before, this city is so awesome. I can’t believe I missed this.

–Tom



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La Mercé … Mary, mother of god

I have decided that this city is magical. There is some kind of surprise around every corner. And it’s all bizarre.
This weekend was la fiesta de la Mercé, which is another one of those Virgin Mary’s, except that this one happens to be the biggest festival of the year in Barcelona. One million visitors attended the festival this year, down from a staggering two million last year, according to El País. But, nevertheless, one million extra people in the city is out of control.
Every night was a late night, and even at 5 in the morning, the streets are filled. The first night (Friday), we tried to go to a discotec, but gave up and went to Forum, an industrial zone of the city that was supposed to have some free concerts. It ends up that free concerts means about 250.000 people. We did not get to see much before everything shut down at 5 a.m., so we headed to the beach with the intention of watching the sunrise. When we got there, there was a long line of boulders leading into the sea, and we decided it would be a good idea to walk to the end of them. Long story short, a huge wave came and knocked Tony and Hana off their feet and drenched me — all of us in our business casual attire (well, I had jeans and a button-down shirt, which is nice for me). After we realized that we had not died, we decided to leave the ocean to itself. Mediterranean water really makes your clothes smell awful, by the way.
Most of the time for the rest of the festival was just spent partying and watching concerts and seeing strange things. The festival culminated with some friends and I going wine tasting and seeing a fireworks show, during which I found myself on top of a 20-foot high concrete block that held flagpoles in the middle of a sea of thousands and thousands of people (as you can see in the photo).


The most interesting thing about this show is that the theme of the festival this year was jazz, so they kicked the show off with Scott Joplin (St. Louis), played a song by Louis Armstrong about St. Louis (though I don’t think it was the St. Louis Blues), and, of course, played some Miles (St. Louis). It really made me proud of my city to hear our influence all the way across the world in front of so many people. I am willing to bet that many of the drunken people in the crowd were drunk on Budweiser, as well.
I have been going out a lot lately, and I am going out again tonight. There is just so much to see and the city is so comfortable. The party is in the streets here. Nobody hangs out in each other’s apartments — they meet each other at a café or bar. Or in a plaça. Everything a person could want is walking around in the streets with you, and the things that are missing, people make for themselves (such as a bathroom). But that’s okay, because BCNeta, the public cleaning and trash removal service, has the workforce the size of a small army. Everywhere you turn, there is a BCNeta truck picking up trash or spraying the garbage (and … things … ) off the sidewalks and streets. Putting a ton of people to work and keeping things clean at the same time seems much more efficient to me than repaving highways and causing massive traffic while your city drowns in garbage and people are afraid to walk in the streets, but who am I to judge?
Peaches is playing a show here tomorrow night, and I think I am going to go. Yo La Tengo and Violent Femmes are also coming through while I am here. This city pulls a lot of big acts, but then again it was voted number one party city in the world last year (which the natives here hated, by the way).
The language is coming along slowly, and it really eats away at you every time someone loses patience with you or treats you like crap because I can’t really speak their language. I guess they get that here a lot more than we do in the states, or at least in Missouri, so I can understand. Plus, their preferred language is Catalán, so me speaking some butchered Castellano to them is probably not very appealing. But either way, at least I am trying. The British don’t even do that, from what I can tell, but let’s not start talking about those guys (they hate them here).
But I am getting through this. I want to see if I can get a permit to perform on the streets, but they might not let me because my student visa says I cannot work. But street performing is different, right? I’ll let you all know how that goes.
It’s nearly dinner, and there is still so much I know I have left out about this weekend. Ask me some time, I guess.

–Tom

El grupo en Parque de Güell, a park designed by famous architect Antoni Gaudi.


Katie, Jason, yo y Alicia somewhere in the streets by a bar.


More people from the location above, except with some guy who happened to be walking by. See if you can find who doesn’t belong.

Tony, Sam, Anne y yo in an Italian restaurant by my apartment on a rainy night. They have pizzas for 5€.


Tony Alicia y yo somewhere. I am pretty sure I was having fun when this was taken, though it does not look like it.

A la playa con Anita. I’m sure we were just asked about 50 times if we wanted either a massage or some hashish.

I do not know why this tall thing was walking down the street. I think they wanted us to follow them.

This is the restaurant in the hotel where we stayed for the first week. We ate here every night. The food was not very good.

La playa, again. I think this is the first time we went. I don’t know why I always seem to be in the background of photos.


More photos from London. Me, Olivia and tony in front of Tower Castle or something like that. It’s right by the Tower Bridge, which is way cool.

Me in front of an old thing.

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Nothing to do with Spain

Okay, this has nothing to do with Spain, but I just feel that I need to let everybody know how awesome the world is.

Read this.

That’s right. I have a new hero, and his name is Zhang Xinyan.

–Tom

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Gimmie that $500

Okay, so I found this student contest on the Skype website for the best Skype story 250 words or less, so I figured I would give it a shot. Here is what I came up with. I think it’s pretty hilarious, but I should warn you, this is not how I actually feel. It’s just a story I wrote, so don’t get freaked out by how sad the narrator is. I think it’s good for $500 in half.com spending …

There is a hint of paiea escaping the Barcelona kitchen down the hall, and my mother never cooked paiea. Seven hours of time difference, but it smells even stranger. A cold raspy “¡Cena, Tomás!” from the kitchen, and all I want is a burger. But when in Spain, I guess.
There is a difference between Spain and home, but I can’t put my finger on it. The ground in the Metro station is filthy, just like home, passers-by refuse to acknowledge your existence, just like at home, I guess the escalators only go up here, but that’s not it. The walls of the Metro walkway sing with the reverberations of a lonely man’s guitar, pulling me towards my train. As I toss a couple extra cents into his scuffed guitar case, he raises his heavily bearded face towards mine and winks. Nobody owns the blues, I guess.
Inside a phone booth in the middle of a thousands of people in Plaça Catalunya, I take out my wrinkled 20€ calling card to try to give my mother a quick ring. Just to hear her voice, right? “Esta tarjeta no tiene minutos, click.”
The rusty bed frame squeaks as I lay down, sweating because nobody uses air conditioning. I pick up my laptop — at least I can count on you — and open up Skype. Immediately, “Hello? Tom? I miss you, too. You know you are so lucky to be in Spain right now.”
Yeah, I guess she’s right.

It was so hard to get Skype into the story, so I just kind of tacked on the whole last bit for the sake of the contest. Maybe I’ll actually do something with the first part some day.

–Tom

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Fingernails and feeling at home

I just finished clipping my fingernails for the first time since I’ve been in Barcelona, and it seemed a profound moment in my trip. I guess you know you’re living somewhere once you cut your fingernails there. And my, it is so much easier to type now.
I am a little sunburned right now because I spent all day yesterday at the beach (la playa Barceloneta). I had a really good time, even though I thought I hated beaches. And either way, I needed to work on my powerful Mediterranean tan.
I have had these strange little orientation class things all week from 10 – 6 or so that are now over with. The first part was a Spanish vocab review kind of thing and the other part was an introduction to the Catalan lifestyle in which we discussed the differences between Catalunya and what we are used to, as well as studying a little Spanish political history and the Spanish constitution. I should say, though, that getting out of school at 6 is not necessarily late, as dinner is not until somewhere between 9 and 10. The sleeping and eating schedule here matches mine perfectly. Wake up around 9 or 10, eat breakfast (maybe). Then eat lunch at 2 and nap (maybe). Then eat dinner at 9 or 10. Then go to bed sometime after midnight, depending on how fun things are that night.
However, there is no snacking.
Life in the apartment is nice. I feel comfortable here now, even though it is a little embarrassing when I do not understand people. But that is the way it goes with understanding a language, I suppose.
The food is so good. They get into grilling this one pepper that I am not a fan of and fried bananas are kind of weird, but everything else tastes so good. And they give you a whole lot of it. I guess it’s a Mediterranean thing, but “nada más” somehow does not keep them from giving you more. And if you would like a little more, be careful how you word it. You may end up with another 3 pounds of food sitting in front of you.
I feel weird, though, because there are a lot of strange gender role issues that are hard at play in this society. The fascist dictator Franco ruled the country from the Spanish Civil War in the 30’s (ending with him on top in 1939) until his death in 1975. At the time of his death, Spanish civilization was somewhat preserved in 1939, at least as far as social revolutions go. While the Western world had the 60’s and all the sexual and feminist changes that came with it, Spain was stuck in a housewife system, more or less. Since then, the society has changed a whole lot in a very small period of time. In fact, it is now legal for homosexuals to get married in Spain, so in many ways, Spain has met and surpassed the United States as far as social change goes in half the time the States have had.
However, not to ignore sexism and gender role problems in the States, the gender role problems that are still persistent here seem worse. My señorita española will absolutely not let me wash my own dishes, for example. She does my laundry, cooks my food and washes my dishes. This is all part of the housing contract, so it would not be such a surprise to me if I were not living with a Swiss foreign exchange student who happens to be female. She helps set the table, wash dishes and even cook during nearly every meal. It makes me feel bad because I am not used to being removed from certain household responsibilities solely because I am male. However, this is the way it is in nearly all the households in Barcelona. Just a key difference, I suppose.
Well, it is off to the art museum, I think. Maybe I’ll be able to get some more pictures up here at some point, but I make no promises.
¡Hasta luego!

–Tom

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En España …

I arrived in Barcelona on the 6th and stayed in the Hotel Rialto with the rest of the members of the program. The Hotel Rialto is pretty much in the center of the city in a very old, very touristy area. There are some Roman (!) buildings around and some really fantastic cathedrals. The roman buildings date back to around the year 0 AD, which is kind of cool, pienso.
This is a view from my hotel (sorry, no Roman buildings here):




Jealous, eh?

This morning, however, I left that hotel and the 23 students studying in the program with me to move in with my host family … and they have wi-fi. I was feeling very awkward about the whole thing, since my Spanish is not the best, especially under pressure, but los dos Manueles (father y son) made me feel right at home. La Señora is not feeling very well, so she has been in bed all day. We’ll meet later, I’m sure.
Barcelona is crazy. People all over the streets at all times. The city certainly does not sleep … well, except for during siesta (which is right now). It’s certainly a party town, but people do not get drunk. The Irish get drunk and the Americans get drunk, but to most other people here, being borracho is not attractive. I guess that makes sense. I went to a crazy sangría bar last night where we could hardly stand, let alone sit. Not really my thing to be that crammed, but it was an intersting experience.
We also went to the beach, which was very dirty, but a good time. Beaches are not really my thing, but it was fun. Some people got stung by jellyfish, but I got out unscathed. And I didn’t see any stingrays, which is good luck for them (poor Steve).
I have some left-over photos from the London trip here (again from Tony’s camera) so I will just throw these at the end of the rant.

(Left to right) Olivia, yo, Tony and Hana in front of Tower Bridge.


And this is me, Hana and Olivia in the London underground.


¡Adios!

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Leaving London

I’ll be leaving London at 14:30 to head to Barcelona, so let’s get a few more details about this city out there before I get distracted.
If you have ever seen Babe: Pig In the City, then you can picture what “the big city” looked like in that movie. It was kind of a mash-up of big cities from around the world. That’s kind of what I think London is like. There are so many times when you will just be walking along and see some kind of important-looking square and think, “Oh, this must be like London’s time square.” Then you realize there are a ton of them. I was blown away when I went to see the tower of London and Tower Bridge because A: Tower bridge is way taller than I thought it was going to be, and B: You can stand in one spot and see everything from a medieval castle to a wonder of a bridge to a very modern egg-like building (I think it was city hall) to a modern battleship. It’s this bizarre timeless feeling that London has had fairly consistently throughout this trip.
Also, the tube is great, but it closes at 00:30 or so. Keep that in mind. Trust me.
But even if you miss your last train, the bus system is pretty good, so you will make it home.
Yesterday, Olivia arrived in London on her way to India. She booked her room in the same hotel we did so we could hang out. She’s a trooper. She battled right through jet lag, though I think Strongbow may have helped with that.
London is very comfortable, which is the strangest part about the city. I have never once felt threatened or in proximity to danger at any time. I cannot even say that about my own St. Louis. The poverty in the city is just not even close to the way it is in American cities. There are poor people, but no bombed out north St. Louis-like poor people. I saw a fight, but they were just drunk. Nobody honks. I have heard maybe seven car horns the entire time I’ve been here. It’s so quiet.
And people here cannot dance. I realize, since being here, that Americans are really good at dancing. And music. The music here is awful. It’s almost like they are not interested in character or attitude when they make music. It’s very cold. And their dance music is really hard to dance to.
Buckingham Palace was really stupid. St. Paul’s cathedral was fairly sweet. There was a choir singing while we were there, so we got to hear the amazing acoustics.
It’s about time to check out, so I am going to hit it. Next time I write, I will be in Barcelona.

–Tom

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