Saturday, March 29, 2008

Rush Hour Rainbow

Saw this rainbow on the way to the DART coming home from work last night.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Barcelona Roundup

We've yet to address all the Barcelona teaser topics we posted. I didn't expect any votes to learn more about Catalan Independence. I should have remembered about you history buffs out there. I can tell you Catalonia was once part of Spain, and now it is basically not. Bill may post more about this later.

Also, a confession: I am the annoying American that doesn't speak Spanish. Surprised? Even Bill was making fun of my weak attempts: Qwat-Tro! Of course Bill wasn't exactly chatting up the Spaniards either. But I did grow up watching Carrascolendas; I could have retained a useful phrase or two. (Further confession: I used to get annoyed with Carrascolendas because I couldn't understand the Spanish, but these were pre-cable days. You watched PBS or nothing.) But Barcelona is such a lovely city full of such lovely food, I regretted that I couldn't communicate more respectfully with its inhabitants.

The Picasso Museum in Barcelona focuses on Pablo Ruiz Picasso's formative years, leading up to the cubist works that have come to represent him. Picasso's family moved to Barcelona when he was a teenager. He studied there for a few years before moving to Madrid. Picasso continued to return to Barcelona, to visit family and occasionally work in studios there. We saw a special exhibit of paintings that Picasso had collected. Many of the paintings were by contemporaries--Renoir, Cézanne, Rousseau, Matisse, Degas--and were acquired from trades with other artists, agents and gallery owners. Picasso kept many of these canvasses stacked around his studio, amid his own work and his collection of carved African figures. I especially enjoyed his Las Meninas series, as well as seeing his artistic progression and forays into sculpture and ceramics.

We spent our last day in Spain at Barceloneta, a beach on the Mediterranean coast. We love the pace of beach life and enjoyed an afternoon of wandering along the boardwalk and eating cheese sandwiches, olives and bacalao (salt cod) on one of the many restaurant patios. (Bill is a slightly larger bacalao fan than I am.)

We touched the Mediterranean.

I'll leave our tales of Barcelona with the dish that completes many Barcelona evenings--churros con chocolate. We found ourselves on our last day having not yet indulged in this chocolatey goodness, so we vowed to stop at the first joint with a Churros con Chocolate sign in the window. It happened to be around 5:00 in a cafe near the beach. The few occupied tables appeared to be finishing up lunch, and in one instance, a bottle of whiskey. A woman brought us two mugs of think, hot, rich chocolate, almost a pudding. The churros had a slight crunch, and were of course, deadly dipped in the chocolate.

Coda: I'll post a pic of me since this post is a bit Bill-centric. This is atop Montjuïc.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Weekly Report

My goals for my first week of work were 1) survive, 2) arrive on time, 3) wear appropriate clothing, and 4) not nap at my desk. Happy to report: I succeeded at all four.

My chance of survival was buoyed by the three-day work week. Monday off for St. Paddy and today for Good Friday. We're off Easter Monday as well. I'm appreciating the opportunity to work up to the full five days. My door-to-door commute is about an hour, with Bill dropping me at the station. I'll be working 9-5:30. Bill's had to start waking up earlier to get me to the 8:12 train. I've been walking home in the evenings, but I really appreciate the lift in the mornings.

I don't know if this week was truly indicative of train crowdedness. Schools are on break, so a lot of people might have been off work. Might be worse next week. This week was fine. Actually got a seat on the way in yesterday morning. The walk is pleasant enough. It does help one wake up. I created a map for the cartographiles out there.

View Larger Map

I've been exploring during my lunch breaks. Tons of places to grab a sandwich, or even a slice. Really looking forward to spring days to eat in the park.

We had a casual day on Thursday (usually Fridays), so that made wardrobe choices that much easier. I still need another pair of comfortable, dressy-enough shoes. I think Bill and I might trek to the mall tomorrow. Bill took one pair of slacks to the dry cleaners for me--€8.95 ($13.50)! That's crazy, right? Gotta check out other cleaners.

So, what about the actual work? It's going to be great!

Shirking My Civic Duty

Dear Williamson County,

I have just received my jury summons dated February 27 and I am sorry to inform you that I will be unable to report to the county courthouse Monday morning at 8:30 AM. I do know how to get to the courthouse because I paid a speeding ticket there in 2000. It was my first and only ticket. By the way, did you know I haven't driven in five months? Really need to get out there and master the whole left side thing. Anyway, although my job does provide time off for jury duty, I believe the transportation costs would be prohibitive. Do you do any kind of reimbursement? I'd need around $2500 probably, plus food and lodging.

I have to ask you, justice system, why now? This is my first summons, after 20 years of responsible adulthood. All those years I wandered aimlessly looking for ways to apply my keen listening skills, capacity for compassion, and fairly logical mind to serve the better good. Recent tests have shown that I'm moving more toward a J in my Myers Briggs designation, so yeah, you're really missing out. (Can one wander with aim? Perhaps you can poll the jury pool and get back to me.)

I tried to call today but the office is closed for Good Friday. I'll try again Monday, but please please please don't revoke my citizenship! Or be mad.


A Peek at the Parade

A few sights and sounds from Dublin's St. Patrick's Day Parade.

The spectacle of the parade was more interesting than the parade itself. Tons of people, tons of green. We got to Dame street around 11:30. The parade started in Parnell Square at noon and turned onto Dame around 1:00. We stayed until nearly the end, I think. Our feet were numb from coldness and inactivity. By the way, the band in red, white and blue is Huntsville High (I think), a rival of Bill's high school alma mater. I didn't take any footage of Auburn U; the band in orange caps is from Illinois.

We ducked into a little cafe off Grafton for paninis. Very happy to eat sitting at a table and use indoor restroom facilities. We walked through St. Stephens, which was littered with folks in green amid the blooming daffodils and hyacinth. We heard a little music at the official céilí and wandered through the crowds waiting for carnival rides at Merrion Square. Sadly, there were no funnel cakes.

It was a beautiful day, especially when the sun was shining. The sun is starting to feel warm, so we know spring is near.

Every Dub we talked to said, "Yeah, you need to go to the parade. Once." And now we have!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

All Roads --> Rome

Barcelona is a place for wandering. The Gothic Quarter (El Barri Gòtic) is a net of streets, strung with shops and sidewalk cafes, and knotted into cobblestone squares or dusty playgrounds. Our first day we enjoyed a late lunch on the terrace of Bar Kasparo, watching the neighborhood life swirl around the swings and a merry-go-round, reminiscent of the teetering iron contraptions of our childhood (back when fun could be a wee bit dangerous). The street signs in the quarter were pretty good, but we did find ourselves circling round a bit, coming back to the same place from a different direction. We passed a guy several times who would yell, "Irish Pub! Ir-ish Poob! Budweiser, €1." In the same square were protests against bullfighting.

Our last evening we searched for a while for a recommended candy store, Caelum, which specializes in confections from the convents. We bought some marzipan treats and anise-spiced Alfajores. I went into a shop across the way. After we exchanged Hola and Hi, the lady behind the counter said that her English was not good, but she would try to answer any questions. "My Spanish is not good," I replied. She gestured into the air and said, "Universal language." "Yes, "I said, "Shopping," and we both laughed a good bit at that. So of course I had to buy a cute ring from her, made by an artist named Maria.

Many buildings in the Gothic Quarter date from medieval times, but Barcelona originated as a 1st Century Roman settlement. Remains of the Romans walls are visible in parts of the city.

Thanks to the Museu d'Història de la Ciutat, we were able to actually walk along some Roman streets, or rather, inches above them, on metal mesh and glass sidewalks. This fascinating exhibit takes you through excavation of Colonia Iulia Augusta Paterna Faventia Barcino, a city founded by Emperor Augustus around 10 BC. We entered the bell tower and saw that the Romans reused cornices and tablets in subsequent construction. We saw the mosaic floor of a impluvium, a shallow pool in the open atrium of the home used to collect rainwater. The gutters for sewage were apparent, as were the casks, pools and channels used in wine and salted fish and garum (fish goo) industries. The city's laundry facilities supported a complicated cleaning process (slaves were handy for that) that included using urine collected from vats on the street in front of the laundry. The laundry owners paid a tax to the city to collect public pee. The excavation shows the growing role of the Christian church, tracing construction of the Visigoth church to the Episcopal complex of the 7th Century. Exhibits along the way showcase implements of daily living, including 2,000 year old glass vials. We loved this exhibit. It was, as the lads in Barcino surely must have said, way cool.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Gaudí's Helicoidal Vision

When you first see the Nativity Facade of Gaudí's Temple de la Sagrada Familia you might wonder, as we did, whether Gaudí is the origin of the word gaudy. Well, he's not. The term gaudy originated in the 1500s. But Gaudi may be the origin of the term "insane genius," or at least "extremely ambitious project that may never be completed."

Construction on the temple started in 1882. When the initial architect left the project after less than a year, Antoni Gaudí i Cornet took over design and construction of this Monumental Expiatory Church, erected to the glory of the Holy Family. Gaudí continued to refine his vision for the temple until his death by streetcar accident in 1926.

Gaudí saw completion of a good part of the Nativity Facade, a dense, neo-gothic vision of biblical characters intricately surrounded by all manner of flora and fauna crawling, slithering and vining their way to a tree covered with white doves. The filigree continues into the cloister where the arches cradle patriarchs, prophets, saints and the Virgin of the Rosary with child. Ornate Gaudí is impressive and interesting, and evidences the effort and expense humans are willing to invest into places of worship. But it is Gaudi's modern interiors and Passion Facade that made us fans of the unfinished temple.

Gaudí's Nativity facade is rife with nature, but within the nave, Gaudí simplifies his vision, illuminating the geometric lines of creation. The columns evoke a forest of trees with fluted branches touching a sky of stars. The columns also exhibit perfect geometry. Comprised of vertical sections proportional to the polygonal base (meter length of first section equals the sides in the polygon, second section equals half the number of polygon sides, etc.), the columns grow into finer flutes, "combin[ing] both the lightness of helicoidal [spiral] growth and the gravity of doric columns [Corinthian columns]." * Other words you can use to describe Gaudí's design: hyperbolic, dodecahedron, chiaroscuro.

Thankfully Gaudí's geometry is as beautiful as it is rooted in calculations. The figures in the Passion Facade are sleek and strong, elementally laid bare. Compared to the Nativity Facade the passion figures are stark and minimal. There are large icicles surrounding the nativity scenes (Christmastime is in winter after all); to me these drooping stalactites make the Nativity Facade look like it is melting, and the Passion Facade is what remains. This stylistic progression is part of what makes you feel you're experiencing a genius vision, and the oscillation between the vast breadth and minuscule detail of his designs might make one slightly insane. We loved the Passion Facade, and bought a set of prints of Gaudí's Passion figure sketches.

Gaudí's design even presaged modern skylines with a huge, lighted, mosaic cross at 122 meters (one meter lower than nearby Montjuïc, so as to not exceed God's creation) and the words "Hosanna Excelsis" emblazoned on each of the twelve bell towers.

The Sagrada Familia is famous for being unfinished. Over a century after construction began, the temple is a little more than halfway complete. The construction has met with several obstacles, including a civil war, but workers were busy constructing an aboriform column the day of our tour. A museum in the basement of the temple contains Gaudí's design drawings, models and sample ironworks. Gaudí designed every element from the tubular bells in the bell towers to the iron candelabras. More of a visionary than a project manager, Gaudí would respond to inquiries about the completion date of the temple by saying, "My client is in no hurry." Bill and I have decided to coin a new PM term as an homage to Gaudí: Whenever we encounter a project that has gone a bit off the rails, no matter how brilliant, we'll say "This is turning into a Sagrada Familia." Feel free to use this term for all your scope creep needs.

* from the handy dandy guide purchased at the Sagrada Familia giftshop

Booking Up

My brother now has tickets to come see us in July (9-23), Peggy will be here in May and my parents are coming Europe way next fall. Remember the Gunter B&B is first come, first served. Don't wait until it's too late!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Snapshots of Today

Heading to the bus during a sunny spell.

Bill at the Cornish Pasty counter at the Epicurean Food Hall.

Bill's lunch: Traditional Cornish Pasty (shredded beef, potato and swede), yellow split pea and celeriac* soup with brown bread.

Sharon's lunch: Combo gyro plate with some chips thrown in for the heck of it.

Bill shopping at the Asian market. A little blurry, but you get the idea.

Almost home. (Can you see the ocean?)

* sounds like a person who is crazy about celery

Friday, March 7, 2008

Working Girl

I just checked with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, and my work permit was issued on March 5! I should receive it early next week. Everything should now be in place for me to start work on March 18.

Except, shoes...

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Everything's Clear, Attack the Rear

Dear old gent passing by
Something nice takes his eye
Everything's clear, attack the rear
Get in and pick-a-pocket or two.
Those adorable miscreants scampering along the city streets grow up to be very, very creepy.

Bill had read about the prevalence and techniques of pickpockets in Barcelona and he warned me to be wary of people trying to get my attention or distract me, or trick me into revealing where I kept my money. We took the basic precautions--nothing in our back pockets, bags swung across the body and carried in front, Bill's wallet zipped in an inner jacket pocket, and our passports locked in the room safe. Still, I feared I would be a nervous jumble walking the streets, blasting "Back off!" at the first little lady who innocently bumped my elbow. But, the streets were fine. We didn't notice anything suspicious. People were pulling out wallets left and right to throw coins at the bizarre living statues that line La Rambla. Even when gathered around the bunnies and birds in the pet hawking stretch of ramble, people kept a polite distance.

Friday evening Bill and I happily board a crowded metro train. We're going just a few stops, so we take positions near the door. There's a crunch of people around us. The car is full. A man on my left bumps into me, and then catches my eye and smiles apologetically, his expression saying, Oh, these overcrowded trains, what can you do? A moment after the train starts, I feel some movement on my butt. I think maybe I've leaned against someone's hand on the bar behind me. I turn around quickly and say "Oh, I'm sorry." A man looks up at me, and then points at the metro map, saying something in Spanish. "Sorry," I say again and turn back toward the door. Best to ignore that guy, I think. So I stand there stoically ignoring him, but he turns his attention toward Bill, who is standing behind me near the middle of the car. The man points to the pole Bill is hanging on to as if to say, can I put my hand here, but then he decides he'd rather be on the other side. What a fidgety guy! After a few moments I notice my purse wriggling. I grab it and move it to the right. The guy to my left throws his hands into the air. A pickpocket! I don't look at him, resuming my stare out the window. I can't believe that guy tried to pickpocket me, I'm thinking, what a jerk...wait, what is happening to my left front jean pocket! I slap my left hand down, and again hands fly in the air. We are close to our stop; I summon the highest level of personal space awareness I am capable of. At our stop Bill and I jump off the train , duck away from the exiting crowd and exclaim simultaneously, "That guy was pickpocketing me!"

One guy had managed to unzip the small backpack Bill was carrying, and my purse was also unzipped. I'm not sure it was zipped when I boarded the train--the purse has a zipper and a velcro flap closure--but I think it was. The zipper pull was on the right side of the purse, so the guy would have had to reach all the way under the flap. When I turned around to see what was going on with my butt, perhaps? Thankfully nothing was taken, but we felt really foolish that it took so long for us to figure out we were marks.

As I thought about it, I got really creeped out that these men were crowded against me feeling my pockets and rifling around in my purse. I couldn't believe that the guy went after my pocket seconds after I caught him groping my bag. I did think it was cunning the way he made eye contact with me, so he would not seem like a threat. We vowed to tell the next pickpockets to F Off at the first finger wiggle.
When I see someone rich,
Both my thumbs start to itch
Only to find some peace of mind
We have to pick-a-pocket or two.
Creepy! Creepy! Creepy!

Monday, March 3, 2008

First, the Food

Our dining proclivities should be evident by now. So we were understandably excited about a visit to Barcelona, an eating town, in the land of tapas and paella. And while paella never landed on our plate, we did consume many tasty bites of tapas, and also the Basque version, pintxos. Tapas and pintxos are both bar food, meant to be enjoyed throughout a night of socializing and imbibing, and are constructed out of similar ingredients: olives, anchovies, cheese, red peppers, shrimp, squid, pickled veggies. Pintxos are usually on a piece of bread and are speared by a toothpick--pintxos is the Basque word for thorn. After full days of sightseeing, we didn't have energy for hopping, but we did make a dinner of pintxos our last evening. We sat on the patio at Bilbao-Berria. The waiter brought us glasses of Cava, a sparkling wine frequently consumed alongside a red pepper stuffed with tuna, or peppers and anchovies atop pickled onions, or anchovy wrapped olives. Dos Mas, two more, are two happy words! We were so enchanted that we forgot to take pictures. At the end of the meal, the waiter counts up your picks (prices were indicated by the length of the pick). Our pinxtos meal with two glasses of cava each was €36.00. Yes, dining in Barcelona was wonderfully affordable, especially compared to Dublin.

Tapas is available in many restaurants, but at places it's the speciality. We made a stop at a tiny, standing-only bar called Quimet y Quimet. We ordered three plates: seafood, cheese and bread. The cheese plate had tiny pears and wine jelly.

Our favorite meals were at Bar Central. Yes, we ate there twice. This little spot in Barcelona's Boqueria Market consists of about twenty stools, a beer spigot, a glass case of seafood and a grill. Thursday we shared a truly amazing seafood platter of razor clams, squid, salmon, mussels, other things de mar and a plate of fried potatoes drizzled with garlic and olive oil. On our second visit on Saturday Bill had sausage and potatoes while I had a plate of my new favorite food--grilled squid. I know there are a lot of squid squeamish out there, and I understand--you have to chomp a lot of rubber calamari to find the exquisite delight of this fork tender, sweet offering from the sea. I was tempted to go directly to the nearest tatoo shop to have "Squid is my life!" indelibly marked on my skin. As it was, Bill had to talk me onto the plane, claiming that 12 years of marriage is more important and rewarding than unfettered access to grilled squid. We'll see.

The object of my affections, along with some little clams.

We also snapped a pic of our neighbor's sardines. I thought they looked lovely. We were a little intimidated to order them, but now we know how to eat them, and they'll be on our plate at the next opportunity.

Other moments of gustatory merit: Bill's grilled rabbit at a Catalan restaurant called Can Culleretes, several stops for pastries, many cups of café con leche, a welcome first meal of avocado and brie bocadillo (sandwich) and quiche, and a blindingly pink drink of dragonfruit juice. We also were enticed by a taqueria where we had pretty darn good enchiladas, tacos and guacamole.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Possible Blog Topics about Barcelona

  • Tapas vs. Pintxos
  • Three ways to know you're being pickpocketed
  • Gaudi: Insane genius or just insane?
  • How many streets must a man walk down until he finds a specific candy store?
  • Annoying Americans who can't speak Spanish
  • Five Tenets of Catalan Independence
  • Picasso's blue period: How blue was it?
Please identify in the comments the three topics for which you have an insatiable curiosity.