Wednesday, December 19, 2012
In my most extreme case of having too much time on my hands, I tried to restore American-Pakistani relations... one peanut-butter and jelly sandwich at a time .
It began when I was buying a jar of peanut butter from my uber-local bodega (that's in the NYC vernacular, not a spanish vineyard). The cashier Abdul told me that he'd never tried peanut butter and he really didn't know what it was.
That was my cue to don my ambassador hat and show Abdul a classic American meal.
The next day I whipped up a delectable pb&j sandwich (in case you're wondering: smooth, strawberry, on wheat) and brought it down to Abdul accompanied by a cold glass of mediocre Spanish milk. I was hoping Abdul would take a bite and be overjoyed with the greatness of America.
But he simply put the sandwich aside. Maybe because he wasn't hungry, perhaps because he feared I was an American agent trying to kill Pakistani immigrants one poisoned sandwich at a time in retaliation for that whole hiding Bid Laden thing.
Either way our relationship was more beer-buyer/cashier than father/son, so I wasn't about to force him to take a bite.
The next day I asked Abdul what he thought of the sandwich. He told me it was OK. I'm not sure if he ever actually ate the sandwich, but either way I'm pretty sure that the USA and Pakistan are much closer as a result.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
I spent my last morning in Barcelona sitting in the windowless upstairs cave of my of Quality Street, the art gallery/collective/hangout where I met most my BCN-based friends. I sunk into a well-worn brown leather chair and watched Corinthians play Chelsea in a cup that I didn't know about until the night before. As I sat there watching a grainy internet stream, while my friends chain smoked and ate Burger King, I realized I did it. I went to a completely foreign country with zero connections and found myself in the exact same place I'd be if I was back in the States.
After giving my Brazilian friend Carlos some congratulatory handshakes for his club's win, I started to check off the few remaining items on my Barna bucket list.
I rode up Passieg Sant Joan to visit Casa Macaya and snap a picture of the bike sculpted into the building's entry way. The bike respresents the buildings architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch, who rode his bike between projects.
Then I headed over to the Christmas market in front of the cathedral to snap photos of the caganers, because that's the best poop-related Christmas tradition outside of Mr. Hanky. Brief back story: Since the late 18th century, Catalans have placed a pooping figuring aside their nativity scene. The "shitter" is fertilizing the earth, or any of the other explanations from wikipedia. Catalans also have the Caga tió aka Shitting Log aka Christmas log, which is far better than Santa, because you don't get to beat Santa with a stick until he shits out candy. While little Catalans do get to beat Caga tió with a stick while singing a song that translates to: "Shit log, shit nougats (turrón), hazelnuts and cottage cheese, if you don't shit well, I'll hit you with a stick, shit log!"
After I'd Catalan Christmas'd myself out, I bounced over to Raval to get one final haircut from my Pakistani barber who is the first person in the world to give me a haircut that I don’t hate. The fact that his prices range from 3 to 4 euros for a cut also make it a great stop. Inside the dingy shop, three fellow Pakistanis sat in the waiting area and watched a championship game of Kabaddi being broadcast on a 13-inch oldschool TV that was hung in the corner of the shop.
I still have zero clue about how Kabaddi works. It’s one shirtless and shoeless guy against
four opposing equally disrobed athletes. After watching it for 10 minutes I could only gather that it
was a cross between Red Rover and wrestling.
Post Kabaddi/hair cut sesh, I passed through Ciutadella park one last time and tried to take in all its beauty as I have no clue when I’ll ever get back. It’s a shame that despite reading its wiki eight times over I never could remember its amazing history of being a jail or prison town or something properly.
I did snap a picture of this kid though.
When I showed Sarah the picture, she asked if the kid was alright. But at the time I never even thought to ask if he was OK. I just snapped and bopped.
This is the same logic that I used when I didn't help a young woman in the grocery store who had tripped and fell. Sarah said I was rude, but my thinking was that she was too embarrassed
and I was doing the right thing by not drawing any more attention to her.
Back to Barcelona. Many of our friends came over for one final goodbye. We played Pictionary and I drew the word "Warsaw." Having little knowledge of Warsaw I sketched a picture of a war, which was quickly
guessed, then a picture of a saw, which everyone recognized but nobody knew the word of in
English, which ruined my turn. I joked that this is why I need to return to America, but it was actually better than any other moment in my short Pictionary career.
After our friends left I was sad that I wouldn’t be seeing many of them for a long, long while and I'd probably never see all of them together again. I stared off my balcony into a plaza that I’d spent countless hours gazing into. Then I heard the bar below come alive after a Barca goal (somehow I watched a Corinthinians game and Kabaddi game, but I couldn’t bother to care about watching my local club one last time). It was a nice year.
Monday, December 17, 2012
I went to Munich last weekend, where I drank some beer, endured the frigid, frigid cold, saw some guys surfing in the same frigid, frigid cold. On my birthday I went to the BMW Museum, a fancy spot where I'm pretty sure I was the only person wearing grocery store plastic bags in my shoes.
|A real Bavarian|
I've wrote about Pizza L'Avia here before. And there (slightly) before as well. But I still don't feel like I've done the place justice.
So here's a collection of Mario-related tidbits that I need to have documented on this blog.
• Of all of Mario's books ranging from the Voynich Manuscript, Pythagoras, Free Mason Society, as well as a collection of short stories he collected while the Barcelona metro system. I chose the surreal subway adventures figuring it would be easier to read short essays in Castilian rather than trying to decipher an analysis of the Voynich Manuscript.
Upon signing my copy, he asked me what my favorite word was. I froze for a second realizing that I didn't have a favorite word, then I looked around for inspiration and said, “Empanada.” With his massive arm already resting atop the display case, he put his hand on his forehead and began writing a poem about “empanadas” with the most serious resolve I’ve ever seen a human exhibit.
The poem reads:
Desde el Mexicolindo, las fiesteras muchachas, los guacamoles y mas al sur donde el sol cambia con las nubes, las empanadas, un mundo atrasado, que nos recuerda, que hacimos sin hogas, sin cueva, los sobrevivientes, los analfabetos, los olvidados. Luego las aspiraciones de escritor del mundo desarrollado.
Which I can roughly translate to:
Since the beautiful Mexico, the party-loving girls, the guacamole and more to the south where the sun changes with the clouds, the empanadas, a backward world, that remembers us, what we did without homes, without cave, the survivors, the illiterate, the forgotten. Then the writer’s aspirations of the developed world.
• Mario told me that during the 1992 Olympics, then Texas governor George W. Bush ate at his restaurant three days in a row. He said that W always ate a Napolitan-style pizza and would bring his plate to Mario when he was done. Despite the fact that Mario hates W's politics, he was a kind guy. I've told this story to friend who doubt that W would be wondering around the Raval neighborhood in 1992. But dammit. I want to believe.
• If I had to rate the service at Pizza L'Avia, I would give it the best .25 star ever. It's always the same waiter, a man whose name I believe is Gabbi. He's just as tall as Mario's at-least-six-foot-frame, but Gabbi is every bit as lanky as Mario is wide. Even my native-Spanish-speaking friends find it almost impossible to understand a word he says. When you ask for a bottle of cava, he'll bring it to your table, unopened, because at 4.50 a bottle, you have to open it yourself. Then once you have opened it, you're faced with the tough task of flagging down Gabbi to ask for some glasses to drink from.
• Paying the bill at Pizza L'Avia has never been done in less than 20 minutes time. The process normally goes like this:
- Ask Gabbi for the bill.
- Wait 5 minutes
- Go up to the cash register to ask Mario for the bill
- Wait at least 5 minutes
- Finally get Mario's attention
- Wait 6 minutes as he gets distracted by something else
- Tell Mario what you had
- Wait 4 minutes for Mario to confirm this with Gabbi
- Receive your bill and give Mario the money
- Look in awe as Mario pulls out a 8-inch thick wallet from his pants pocket and gives you the change.
- Thank Mario and be on your way
• Mario claims he is responsible for bringing hot dogs and American-style hamburgers to Barcelona.
• On my way out I would normally bullshit with Mario for a few minutes on politics, the neighborhood, and whatever else he wanted to discuss. At the end of each conversation he would thank me then hand me a tin-foil-wrapped alfajor.
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
In my junior year of college I shared a Spanish class with Ben. At first I wasn't a big fan of Ben, because he always asked too many questions and he would get so nervous before each question that each question would take forever to get out.
The class' final project was for each student to give a 10-minute speech in front of the entire class, entirely in Spanish. I can't remember what I spoke about, but I remember being excited to see Ben fail in front of the class because I was (maybe still am?) a terrible person.
But instead of falling apart, Ben gave an incredible performance that I'll never forget. He began talking about his incredible memory, then we went around the class person to person and correctly said everyone's birthday and day of the week they were born on. (He'd got the dates from Facebook). No note cards, just a very solid memory that allowed him to shoot a perfect 30/30.
I was blown away and instantly became a fan of Ben and hated myself for ever hating him. I learned that on top of memorizing the birthday of everyone he meets he was also skilled at writing backwards as well as he could forward.
I haven't talked to Ben since I graduated from Arizona in the spring of 2008, but every year since then he's wrote a backwards birthday wish on my Facebook wall. This year I removed my birthday from my Facebook profile with the motivation being 50% I'm too cool for school, and 50% to see if Ben would remember.
December 11th came and Ben wrote: NITSUJ YADHTRIB YPPAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
This again from someone who I have not spoken to in almost five years. I was so moved that I wrote him a Facebook message thanking him and asking him a few questions:
I was curious that if he found the time to write on my wall, and he has over 1,700 friends, just how much time does he spend every day writing birthday wishes on Facebook? Unfortunately he didn't answer that question too precisely, but he did tell me the following factoids:
• He's memorized just over 5,500 birthdays
• In response to the question: "Do you store all these dates in your head or do you 'cheat' and use Facebook?" Ben wrote, "I try to store everyone's birthdays in my head as best as I can. I try to avoid Facebook whenever I can, but sometimes, it is my last resort. Texting is my priority and emails come second. I have a backup log (of recorded birthdays) that I'm constantly reconstructing due to hard drive crashes. I'm on my 6th backup log."
• Other memory-related hobbies: "I memorized all the clauses of the Constitution for one of my classes. It served me well as I got one of the highest grades in my class (paper writing a weakness). Other than that I'm working on memorizing all the stations and the history of the Paris Metro. I've mastered the London Tube and Washington Metro."
• His job: I work as a planning technician at a land use firm in the LA area.
Posted by Justin Adler at 11:03 AM
Friday, December 07, 2012
Sure there's a lot of friends and Pakistani shop owners that I'll miss when I leave Barcelona. But here's a few people that I also don't want to ever forget about.
• The old guy at the gym
A few times a week I go to the "gym" at the beach. I quarter-to-half-ass work out, almost never count how many reps I do and spend as much time stretching as I do working out. But it's all just a damn good excuse to go sit on the beach for an hour a day and take in 360 degrees of beauty.
If I go early enough there's one guy who make me look fit, the 80-year-old, pot-bellied yayo (that's catalan for grandpa, and yes I count him in the 360 degrees of beauty).
Every day he shows up wearing a speedo, un-buttoned button up, clear plastic sandals, and, if I'm lucky, a Gilligan hat. He spends most the time bullshitting with other old guys who sit around and he spends 5 minutes wildly swinging his arms around.
If I'm really, really lucky I'll get to see him play tennis with another old guy. They don't use a net or any sort of boundaries. They just hit the ball back and forth at a very, very slow speed. Each time they hit it they make the pro-tennis player UGHHGHGHGH grunt though. God bless them.
• The fake Terry Crews at the gym
He looks like Terry Crews except I'm pretty sure this guy might be more ripped. If he ever fought the real Terry Crews it would go down in history as the greatest fight since Vin Diesel v. The Rock. Unlike my routine, this guy works in hyper drive. He shows up, somehow rips his shirt off while not taking off his reflective aviator shades, and jumps from one exercise to the other. I've seen him do a weird push-up walk/worm thing for 50 meters across a scalding hot concrete then finish it with 40 push-ups before going straight to pull-ups.
• The weird fisher person
She/he walks around the beach year-round in nothing more than a speedo. I think it's a woman, but I'm not 100% positive. She's either anorexic, bulimic, on heroine or all three. She has a really faded tattoo on her shoulder blade and closely-trimmed hair. I'm fairly certain she sleeps on the beach. The only possessions I've ever seen her with are: a snorkel, flippers, a knife the she keeps strapped on the side of her shin, which I believe she uses to fish and/or murder mermaids.
|No picture of Mercaders exists on the internet, and I don't have one either, so here's an unrelated pic.|
I don't normally go out to bars at night because when you have seasons three through five of 30 Rock, well odds are that a night out is not going to beat that. However a few weeks ago I was... gasp... trying to find somewhere to drink at midnight on a Tuesday night.
I always assumed the Catalans who don't dare open up shop until 11am were out drinking the night before, but I couldn't find anything open. Until my friend pointed me to Mercaders, a grungey hole-in-the-wall that's open until about 4am most nights of the week. My first visit was right around Halloween, which explained the skeleton that hung from the ceiling just above a record player that spun two magnets, that interact with the magnets on the skeletons feet in a way that makes him dance.
Two months later the skeleton is still there and on the rare occasion, so am I.
Last time I was there I ran into my friend Pierre, who was deep in a sketch exchange with another patron, who was an artist/basketball player/old guy dressed in a suit three sizes too big for him. The latter gentlemen then called his friend, who was purported to be the best artist in Barcelona. Pierre (not a bad artist himself) opted to go home with his girlfriend instead of engaging in an art duel with a man who showed up looking like the most tortured soul in the universe.
For a few minutes I sipped my beer and watched as Sr. Crazy just sat there shaking refusing to talk to his friend who called him. Then grabbing a nicely drawn sketch and crumpling it up.
Then I was interrupted by a guy in a jacket with built-in backpack (imagine this but more 80s acid wash denim) searching the floor with a zippo for a black jewel that fell from his ring. I offered to help him, but instead he asked if my friends and I were indeed friends. I told him yes. He made us put our hands together and close our eyes. Then he blessed us, or something to that extent, before he walked off screaming the lyrics to Culture Club's "Do you really want to hurt me?" in a heavy Spanish accent. He sang the lyrics eight times over, trying to get others to join in. Nobody did. Eventually he stopped.
Once 2 am hit, the bartender rung a bell, which apparently signaled that everyone was allowed to smoke inside (a rule that applies only to Mercaders). Then he closed the gates that cover the window to make sure no smoke escaped and to maximise my ability to second-hand smoke three packs her minute.
Later I complimented the man's built-in backpack because I'd never seen anything like it. His natural response to offer us cocaine for 2 euros a gram (which we declined), then he yanked out a piece of paper from his backpack and made us all sniff it before walking away.
That was our cue to pay the bill and leave.
|Hiking in Pont de Suert|
A few weeks ago my friend Tom came down to Barcelona from the People's Republic of Stokes Croft, which is the wannabe autonomous region located in the wannabe autonomous region of Bristol.
He came bearing gifts.
• Two "Think Local Boycott Tesco" coffee cups made of fine Stokes Croft China. Obviously these are beautiful mugs and I'm not even showing you the beautiful blue flower on the back. But they're also great because it's very easy for Sarah and I boycott Tesco since grocery store chain doesn't exist in Spain or are future home of the San Francisco.
Interesting side note in a blog post full of unrelated side notes: Tom bakes cakes for a local Stokes Croft restaurant that is all about the "think local, boycott Tesco" movement. Pretty much all of Tom's ingredients come from Tesco. If there are any Tesco rioters who aren't in prison and who are reading this, feel free to email me and I'll give you Tom's address for future destruction.
• The kind soul by the name of Tom also gave us two Bristol pounds, which is the city's new currency backed by rather legitimate planning and a fascinating website. Currently the pounds are 1-to-1 to Sterling Pounds. But as soon as they become 1BP to 2,000USD, Tom is going to come visit me in San Francisco.
After ample time was spent sipping tea from anti-Tesco mugs and marveling at the new currency, we romped around Barcelona until continuous eating, drinking, and cycling got to be a bit stressful and we needed an escape.
We then headed to the visit Tom's friends in Pont de Suert a tiny town in northern Catalunya, where continued to eat, drink, be merry, but we swapped out cycling for hiking.
We stayed with Tom's friends, Maria and Eric, who live in a breath-taking house on top of a mountain that overlooks a picturesque valley.
Every room in Maria and Eric's house had insanely stunning views that made me wonder why I'm not living in the mountains. They both work at a bank 8-3 five days a week and spend the rest of their time relaxing with their 4-year-old daughter who babbles in French, Catalan, and Spanish. They pretty much live the dream.
Eric also plays the accordion, which I was hoping to get a chance to try out, but I never worked up the courage to ask him. Once the bustling town of Pont de Suert and it's population of 2,000 got to be too stressful we headed to a tinier town (whose name I forgot) to attend a horse festival. Tragically we just missed the brunch and our opportunity to eat horse for the first time in our lives.
No accordion playing, no horse eating. I know. I know. Why did I even go on this trip?
On the way back to Barcelona we visited Tom's friend in Lleida (Tom has a lot of Catalan friends), where we ate at a restaurant that was so old-school that the menu was in euros and pesetas (Spain's currency before they switched to the euro in 2002).
|el coche y fall colors|
|cows on the trail|
Thursday, December 06, 2012
I always wanted to write for the Tucson Weekly, I never wanted to be a paperboy in Barcelona. Somehow I made the two work together. Go read my guest commentary for Tucson's most-esteemed alt-weekly.
Thanks to the editor Jimmy Boegle for letting me write in his newspaper, even though I turned down his internship after my sophomore year. Thanks to BCN Mes for giving me a paperboy job. And thanks for TXJesse for the article's lone comment.
Wednesday, December 05, 2012
Just like the Indians taught the pilgrims about growing corn and constructing giant Mr. Potatohead floats, we showed 10 European friends the greatness of Thanksgiving. We picked up a 8.6 kilo turkey from la Boqueria, then I struggled to find something to brine it in, then we struggled to squeeze it into our tiny oven, but eventually everything was perfect.
The turkey was delicious. The gravy was bonkers. We had stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, three pies, the works, really. The most heart-felt moment was not when we got everyone to go around the table and say what they were thankful for, or when I made my mother happy by making everyone make turkey hands, but when our French friend Pierre, looked at Sarah and sincerely said, "This is the first American food I've had that's not shit."
Also, thanks... I think, to Pierre for the nice sketch.
Tuesday, December 04, 2012
Barca won 3-1. Honestly our seats were so high that we couldn't tell any players apart when they were on the far end of the field, so it really didn't matter that it was Jordi Alba putting the ball in the net instead of Messi.
Sarah and I pretended to really understand the game while were more intrigued by the silly teenagers sitting next to us who were super-chalantly looking every which way for security guards as they smoked throughout the entire game.
Sarah was enthralled the whole game.
|Mes que un Kindle|
Monday, December 03, 2012
I bike to Badalona at least once a week, not just because I like paying homage to Ricky Rubio’s hometown, but because it’s the best bike route in the city... and also because that whole narrative of a middle-class Catalan making to the NBA is so inspirational. Timberwolves shenanigans aside, it's the only ride in the city that has no stoplights and an endles stunning view of the Mediterranean shore.
Some times I push myself and ride the 35k out to Mataro, but most the time I’ll just be lazy and slowly bike through Badalona’s tiny streets discovering eccentricities in the Barcelona suburb that’s rich in basketball heritage.
It’s the only place in Europe that I know of that has a basketball-themed mall.
There’s also this monkey guy who sits outside the Anis del Mono factory. The other day I sat next to him, ate a tasty jamon y queso sandwich and spent some quality time thinking about the monkey sitting in the pose of the company’s logo, while looking at a bottle of anis with a label of a monkey looking at a bottle and how great it is that it repeats infinitely.
Since that last line barely made any sense, here’s a photo of a cute mini favela.
Badalona is also home to the greatest outdoor court in Catalunya. The elevated viewing area makes up for the fact that the court bends 90 degrees and that one hoop is three feet lower than the other.
My favorite art in the city: