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La vida en Bar-thay-lona, parte 1

October 22, 2011

So since I haven’t written in a while, there are a majority of topics I could cover. I could talk about the change of weather. But really, that’s the composition of lame, dry conversations, so I won’t go there. I could talk about what it was like to have a clash of two worlds when my parents came to visit me. But I’m not in the mood for that. I could actually cover some of my recent(ish) excursions, like when I went to Paris, Tarragona, Madrid (again), or my excursion today to Besalú and Figueras. But that just makes me sound like a tourist.

But today marks the two-month anniversary of my arrival here, and I think that deserves something more pertinent to my actual life here. Not that fun excursions or weather changes or parents coming aren’t part of my life, but they’re just fun blips. What I’m talking about here is my day-to-day, mundane (although I’d hardly call it that!), typical routine here. I love Barcelona in a way that I can’t fully explain, but I’m going to try to scratch the surface.

So, without further ado, I will commence with the rather cliche top 10 list: My top 10 favorite aspects of Barcelonian life (in no particular order).

  1. Pan con tomate. (Bread with tomato) Ok, those of you who haven’t been to Cataluña may think that it’s silly to include a simple food item like this in my top ten list, but really. It’s such a staple here. And so delicious. All you do is put spread some garlic (directly from the clove) on some baked bread, cut up a tomato and spread its juice around on the bread, drizzle some olive oil, and sprinkle some salt (and a lot of times they don’t use the garlic, but for me, that’s what makes or breaks it). Apart from this being a side dish to almost all meals, they also use the same recipe (without the garlic) to put on sandwiches made with baguettes. This moistens the bread and brings out the flavor of the meat or cheese! 🙂

    Pan con tomate. Mmmmm

  2. The independent mindset of the Catalan people. Okay, so I’m going to try to not make gross over-generalizations, but forgive me in advance if I approach this the wrong way. To state it briefly, Cataluña (an autonomous community of Spain, which used to be its own nation prior to September 11, 1714) has its own culture, its own language, its own unique gastronomy, and many other unique aspects, and a lot of people here have strong opinions about being separate from the overarching culture of Spain.  Although I myself don’t associate politically with any Catalan or Spanish party, I find it incredibly interesting to observe. There’s a strong cultural bond here.

    They write it in English so the tourists understand. And of course this is supposed to say "not".

  3. El Barrio Gótico. I said this from almost the beginning of my trip here, and it’s still true. I love the gothic area of the city. It feels like it’s the beating heart of the city. And it’s also just so beautiful and full of surprises around every corner. This weekend they’re having a food and wine festival, and there’s an open market in the plaza in front of the Cathedral. During the Mercè, there were a lot of great events there, and there is always some sort of cultural activity or at least a couple street performers hanging out in various places around the area. Apart from that, it’s a remnant of a former time–there are buildings and walls that are very old, much older than the US, and I like the atmosphere that it gives the area.

    Part of the Roman Wall from ancient Barcelona, in the Plaza de Ramon Berenguer.

  4. [θ]. Alright, so allow me to nerd out here for a minute. The dialect of Spanish here is very different from that spoken in Latin America. One of the most obvious differences, apart from the use of “vosotros” and words and phrases that are different, is the “th” sound (phonetically represented as [θ]) for the letters “z” and sometimes “c”. Since I’m taking phonetics and phonology of Spanish here, I am constantly reminded of this change of pronunciation. I know, I’m a linguistics nerd for allowing dialects of Spanish fascinate me so much, but that’s how it is.
  5. Balconies. When you walk down a street in Barcelona, if you take a minute to stop and look, you will see balconies and terraces and flower pots on all of the apartment buildings overlooking the street. That, mixed with the stone that is typical for almost all the buildings in the city, gives it a look that is very distinct from cities in the US, which are normally built with a lot less focus on aesthetic value. They have this in lots of European cities, and it always makes me happy. It feels like I’ve been transported to another world.

    See this? Isn't it pretty? Now imagine this on every street in the city. 😀

This is taking longer than expected (it always does, I suppose), so I’ll leave the list here for now. Stay tuned for the next five, hopefully coming soon!
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America in Spain?

October 10, 2011

Last night after dinner (and after my blog post, of course–for which I must apologize, since it contained far too many exclamation points and far too few insightful comments… but I was tired and out of practice with writing in English), I decided to watch Grease with my Canadian housemate. Believe it or not, before last night, I had not seen this American classic. It got me thinking. What other distinctly American things have I done since I’ve come to Spain?

American Classic. First viewing: in Spain. Something smells fishy...

As much as I want to be someone who is engaged in the culture (just see this silly pre-Spain blog post from ages ago), it’s a simple fact that I’m going to bring American-isms with me, and I’m going to do American things while I’m here. But the funny thing about me is that most of my early years were lived inside the bubble of a Christian home, so a lot of classic American music, movies, TV shows, activities, and pop culture in general are outside my knowledge or experience. And it just so happens that I’m learning about them and experiencing them for the first time with my American friends in Spain. Exhibit 1: Grease. Which is even more ridiculous because I saw it with my French Canadian housemate who had only seen the movie in French before.

A lot of my American friends really like nineties music. And sure, I’ve heard a lot of it, just from growing up in the nineties and having two older brothers. But most of it is unfamiliar to me. During the nights of the merced, when we were all kind of chill, my friends and I spent a couple hours sitting on the grass in a park, listening to American nineties music on portable speakers. So I got to know more of the music of my era in my country. While I was in a country halfway around the world. It was kind of surreal.

Also, while we’re on the topic of music, I’m going to my first real American concert (that weren’t free tickets): Red Hot Chili Peppers! They’re playing in freaking Barcelona, man! It’s gonna be awesome. I started getting into them this past summer, and a bunch of my friends like them a lot, so we’re going together.

Red Hot Chili Peppers!

I also speak English more than I wish that I did, considering I’m here to speak Spanish. Yesterday I spoke practically only Spanish all day until about 5:30 PM, and it was very difficult. I found myself missing English. I realized that I speak more English than that during a normal day, which is kind of sad.

I could go on about this subject, but I don’t have much time, so I’ll leave it there. ¡Hasta luego!

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I miss blogging!

October 9, 2011

Hello, blogging world. I have not forsaken you. I have just been up to a lot, and had little time with internet access. I don’t really like to sit in my room and use the computer, since the weather is always so nice, and there are cool places to see and interesting people to watch.

But I should blog more because I love it!

It feels like ages ago that I went to the Merced. Two weeks ago. (And so sad because now 6 weeks have passed in Barcelona, and that means I have 6 fewer weeks here!!) Since then, my classes have really started to kick in, and I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research for them, a little bit of homework, and some interacting with classmates. It’s hard to learn new things when the entire lecture is in Spanish–taking notes is so much harder when it’s not in English! But I think I’m getting the gist of what is going on. Or at least I hope so. I don’t think I will take enough tests to know how I am doing in the middle of my classes (only 1-3 tests per class!), so I’ll just have to hope that I do well on the tests, because that’s the only determiner of the grades!

So last weekend I went to Paris! I went with 5 friends, and we were only there 1 1/2 days, which was kind of a bummer, but a good thing for our wallets because I seriously spent SOO much money when I was there! We also went to Tarragona afterwards, which was beautiful and really cool! But we were so tired from walking around all of Paris that we didn’t see much. Luckily, I’m going back there in a couple days so I can see the rest of it.

And then, this past Friday, my parents arrived to visit me! We went to Montserrat together yesterday! They really enjoyed it, but they were VERY tired by the end. Afterwards, my host parents invited my real parents to dinner at their house. It was strange to see how they interacted–the intersection of my two worlds. I feel like I am made up of two different people: the person I am in Spain and the person I am in the US, and since my parents have arrived, I have a weird internal reunion of the two. It’s very strange.

But now my parents are in Paris, the city of love, being romantic and–hopefully–having fun, despite how tired they probably are, since they went right after climbing the mountains of Montserrat (perhaps that was bad planning on my part…). They come back in a couple days, and we’ll have to hit up all the touristy spots of the city. I get to be a pseudo tour guide, which is fun but somewhat humiliating because I realize that I’ve been here 6 weeks but still don’t know much of anything about the city, apart from how to get from one place that I frequently visit to another.

Today was the first Sunday that I didn’t have a big cultural event or a trip planned for the day, so I decided to go to church. It was a small CMA church close to my house, and I enjoyed it a lot. The people were very welcoming and friendly, and after church a bunch of us went to a Brazilian restaurant. It was insane. You paid one price for all-you-can-eat of Brazilian meat. The waiters came around with these giant metal sticks of meat towers that they shaved off onto your plate. It was delicious, but very filling. I was about to burst afterwards, and I was still full when I got to dinner tonight. I enjoyed getting to know some new people, and I hope I can go back a couple more Sundays before I leave Spain.

Well, that’s all I have time for right now. Maybe I will put up some pictures or make a more detailed blog entry, but I say that all the time and it usually doesn’t happen. So we’ll see.

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La Mercè in a nutshell

September 27, 2011

How to sum up an entire three day weekend full of incredible activities into a single, readable blog entry is out of my ability, so excuse my oversimplification of what I did this weekend at the Merced.

Basically, I can narrow it down into three categories:

  • Crazy Spanish/Catalan activities, including the gegants, un desfile (parade), castellers, and, of course, the correfoc.
  • Concerts.
  • Fun times with friends.

So, first off. Spanish/Catalan specific events.

I already mentioned a bit about the gegants in my previous post, but the cool thing is that we got to see them on display (without people inside them) later, and that was cool. My camera was dead at this point, so I’ll just steal a picture from facebook.

My friend, the angry turtle.

Also, in addition to the dance of the gegants which I saw Thursday night, we also got to see a parade of them, with drums and fire and confetti and other such amazing events.

If you think this fiery creature looks dangerous, just wait til I get to talking about the correfoc!

But I think my favorite part of the weekend was the castellers, the human towers. I can’t even express how incredible it was to see. Basically people climb on top of each other and stand on each others shoulders. Up to 9 layers high. It’s ridiculous. And I was really close to the action, after I fought my way through the crowd. We were packed into a plaza like sardines, but it was all worth it, because it was so amazing to see.

Really. Words cannot express how cool this is.

But coming in close second for my favorite cultural event of the Merced is the correfoc. Meaning “run of fire” in Catalan, this is essentially a band of crazy people dressed up as demons running down one of the main streets in Barcelona, spouting sparks from giant fireworks, aimed directly at the crowd of people watching. And also, some of the gegants–for the most part the creepy ones, but also some of the non-creepy ones–were part of the correfoc, each equiped (and constantly re-equiped) with plenty of fireworks to shoot at the crowd. Pictures don’t do this justice, so I’ll include a video that I took, including the screams for help that happened when I was showered with sparks. So. much. fun.

However, I must also include a few photos from the night, for your enjoyment. Remember you can click any of them to see a bigger size.

This monstrous beast was terrifying to behold.

The pig of doom.

I love this cow! 🙂

All of the above-mentioned things just made me happy beyond reason that I am in Spain, and, more specifically, that I am in Barcelona. I can’t imagine being anywhere else! I love it here!

I will hopefully write more on the other two parts of this weekend of festivities that is the Merced, but if not, to quickly sum it up, I saw: Merengue, Jazz, Swing, Rock, Man Man (the only American band at the Merced), electronic, and many other types of bands in concert, for free! I also spent a lot of time getting to know friends, listening to nineties music, going to a circus (that was kind of a disappointment), and walking around–sometimes getting lost in–the city. It was a lot of fun, and I wish I could do this every weekend!

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¡Viva la merced!

September 23, 2011

This weekend is the festival of the Merced, here in Barcelona. Every city in Spain has it’s own patron saint, and they also each have their own official holiday in honor of their patron saint. In Barcelona, it is St. Merced. And this weekend is the festival.

La Mercè! (The Catalan name for it)

Last night was the beginning of the festivities. My friends and I got a bit lost and ended up in the wrong plaza, but in the process we saw some people dancing the Sardana, the traditional Catalan dance (but it’s mostly for old people). It was still pretty cool though, very typical of Cataluna.

Note the large quantity of old people.

Next, we went to the correct plaza, Plaza St. Jaume, where they had the dance of the “gegants” = giants. There were several giant people and also cows, dragons, turtles, and all manner of strange huge costumes that people would wear and dance around with, sometimes with fire spouting out from the animals’ mouths.

Two of the semi-normal human gegants.

Creepy/awesome dragon guy.

After that, we went back to my friend’s residencia to eat and drink, and we were planning on going to a concert afterwards, but we ended up stopping at a patch of grass and just talking and listening to/singing along with music from my friend’s portable speakers for a couple hours instead. Twas good.

Tonight is when the real party begins, though. Bring it on.

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They Don’t Speak Catalan Here.

September 21, 2011

My dear blog-reading friends,

I have not forgotten you. I am still alive. I have just been quite busy and/or without internet access for the past several days.

So, without further ado, here’s a brief summary of what I did this weekend: I went to Madrid and Toledo!

One of the covered streets in Madrid

This is Toledo, the oldest city in Spain, and the capital city, before it changed to Madrid

My program, CIEE, took us all on a weekend excursion–Friday morning to Sunday evening–to see Madrid and Toledo. We met up at the ungodly hour of 8:15 to depart on a 3 hour train ride, on which some of my friends and I were in “first class” (We had seats facing each other with tables in the middle), and we played a game of hearts which I should have won, if I hadn’t taken the queen of Spades on the last round to stop someone from shooting the moon, even though I was more than 26 points ahead of that person, but less than 13 points ahead of someone else… (not that I’m bitter or anything).

Anyway. Steering away from my overly competitive nature when it comes to card games.

So we got to Madrid and on our way to the hotel, we ran into a creepy street performer who was dressed up like a baby and was super creepy.

Photo courtesy of Aaron, since I didn't get a chance to take a photo myself.

After that, we checked into the hotel, had some free time, and then went on a very long walking tour of Madrid, and afterwords a guided tour of the Museo de Prado, which was really cool, but also very tiring. It was a long day.

The next day, we had to get up early again, this time to get on a bus, which took us to Toledo. Everyone just wanted to sleep, but we had a guide for the day who kept talking. But eventually he let us sleep, so that was good. We arrived in Toledo, and followed our guide for a walking tour of the city. Let me tell you, this city is absolutely gorgeous. Some of the buildings are thousands of years old, and it’s all just like a remnant from a former time. I loved it. But at the same time, it didn’t have a whole lot of interesting things to do other than admire the architecture, so by the end of our free time after the walking tour, we were all ready to go. Besides the fact that we were tired.

When we got back to Madrid, we had some time to sleep/freshen up/eat before heading out to the theater. We saw a play called “El Nacional”, by Albert Boadella, performed by the Joglars theater group–which are a Catalan group, but they perform all around Spain. I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on, but what I do know is that it was VERY weird. But it was interesting for sure, and entertaining for the most part.

The next day, we could sleep in a bit longer (yay!). We headed out to go see the Museo Reina Sofia, which was beautiful, and it had a lot of really famous art pieces from Picasso and Dalí (such as “Guernica” and “Muchacha en la ventana“). My friend and I were going to go to El Parque del Retiro, but we didn’t have time because we stayed at the museum too long. So we returned, ate pizza, had some girl talk, and then got back on the train, where everyone slept for almost the entire journey. And then, we were back in Barcelona!

You’ll notice I mentioned nothing about what the nightlife in Madrid. I’m leaving that to your imagination.

Even though I enjoyed Madrid, I am definitely glad that I chose to study in Barcelona. Barcelona has an irresistible charm to it, with its forests and trees, its mountains, the Mediterranean, and, of course, the Catalan culture! You just can’t get that anywhere else in Spain.

 

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First Impressions

September 14, 2011

I’ve had all my classes by now, and, so far, I’m really excited! I know, leave it to the nerd that I am to be excited for classes, but it’s how it is.

1. Semántica de Español (Spanish Semantics) – This was my first class, and it scared me a little bit, honestly. The professor talked really quickly, apart from the fact that he just sat there reading his notes almost the whole time. But the topic was sufficiently interesting that I was able to overlook that. We talked a lot about diachronic and synchronic studies in a lexicon and the open nature of the lexicon of any language, which I’ve definitely gone over in Linguistics classes already. But it was good!

2. Teatro Contemporáneo Español (Contemporary Spanish Theater) – After the fast-talking semantics professor, this was a welcome change. This professor talks at a snail’s pace. And it sounds like it will also be very interesting. He talked some about the differences between a written play and any other form of literature. But, like the semantics class, he didn’t give us a syllabus or anything, so I hope that tomorrow I will get more information so that I can plan travel stuff accordingly.

3. Introducción a la lengua Catalán y su contexto social (Introduction to the Catalan language and it’s social context) – The title itself should be enough to indicate that I’m gonna love this class. But, apart from the topic itself, the professor is really nice, and it’s a CIEE class so it’s a lot less intimidating than the other classes I’m taking.

4. Fonética y Fonología de Español (Phonetics and Phonology of Spanish) – The professor of this class is definitely a lot more friendly than the other two UB professors, and she talks at a good pace. Besides the fact that I’m super interested in this kind of stuff. So it’s gonna be good.

So, yes, I am a nerd, and I am very excited for my classes. I’m kind of sad, actually, that I don’t have any homework to work on. Isn’t that just sickening? But it’s true. I kind of miss learning interesting academically-related things, albeit in a form that turns hellish after a few weeks.

Apart from classes, in the last couple days I’ve been spending a lot of time chilling out, resting, and getting to know people and places. For example, yesterday, I ran into my housemate, who’s from Canada, and his classmate from Germany, and the three of us hung out with one of my friends, just walking around the city. It was pretty fun. And today, I finally went to a supermarket to buy some bulk food, which is WAY cheaper than buying lunch from a restaurant or something. I got snacks and sandwich stuff to last almost two weeks for only €7.70, which is such a good deal! And I still have plenty of peanut butter and crackers to last for snacks for a while. Food here is actually pretty darn cheap if you know where to go and how to do it right.

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