Friday, October 29, 2010

30 October 2010

Posted from my Kindle

As of late I have become a night owl, falling into the Spanish lifestyle despite my Minnesotan roots. Tonight I break from my recent fashion by getting into bed before 4 am. Despite my regression to earlier hours, I cannot help to appreciate Barcelona at night.

At night, the city becomes more personal by showing its intimate side without the distractions of a bustling populace. The true agony of the streets cannot be disguised as they mourn from a day of abuse. My beloved neighborhood Gracia is typically littered in feces and piles of trash by sundown. Not until the early morning garbage crews and street cleaners with high pressure hoses pass down Llibertat does the barrio lighten up and welcome the sunrise.

Night also showcases the lateros, the drug dealers, and the prostitutes, our clandestine servicers of the city that--while present during the day--take on a more desperate form at night where they more aggressively pursue the increased number of drunks, hoping to reach their daily quota. I do not mind these illegal workers. Their existence exposs the harsh reality of the city, a reality too easy to overlook on the sunny beaches and inside the art galleries of the day.

This week introduced me to a new undercover industy, Telecopas, an after hour delivery service of life's vices. On Wednesday at 3:00 am, Telecopas delivered to my door a bottle of whiskey, ice, a bottle of Coke, and a pack of smokes. I declined the Meal Deal. While the local Ayuntamiento discourages this industry, I am proud to support hard workers in an economy with the worst unemployment in the EU. If only the rest of Spain could learn how to provide such exemplary service, I doubt this economy would be so weak.

Ah, the nights have taught me so much. Perhaps more some other time. Now, I'm going to try some early sleep being that it is only 2 am.

Monday, October 25, 2010

24 October 2010 - Barcelona

For my entire life, I lived and worked in the United States, consuming, earning, and saving Dollars. I never saw a need—nor should I have—to follow the currency markets. Those were reserved for some fat cat bankers who erroneously felt they could exploit arbitrage opportunities. Their daily tradings had no effect on my life.

Then, I moved to Spain where I consequently incurred some very large expenses (Have you checked the cost of an MBA? Don’t.) due in Euros. Having all my savings denominated in Dollars, I quickly realized that the fluctuations of Dollar-Euro exchange rates could increase the price of my tuition by thousands of Dollars in just a few hours. A bad week could leave me destitute, forcing me to survive by selling knock-off handbags to tourists.

I never expected that I would constantly monitor the Greek debt levels, the Spanish unemployment rate, the US trade deficit, and the Chinese foreign investment portfolio. But all these have sent me—along with the Dollar—on a 14 month roller coaster ride. Fortunately, I have officially ended this nightmare. Aside from a $5 bill that my mom sent me in the mail, I am more or less out of Dollars thanks to my last tuition bill. My puny savings are now all in Euros.

While I no longer worry about the strength of the dollar, my focus has just switched to the Pound. I recently accepted a full time job with Amazon in the UK. My future paychecks will be in Pounds. Will England’s austerity measures make my pay worthless, making me unable to afford the extremely long British vacations? I hate this uncertainty.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

17 August 2010 - Datchet, United Kingdom

I do not run to be in shape. I do not run to look good. I do not run for my health. I run each night because I enjoy it. After a ten hour day in front of a computer screen, I love being able to cut loose and lose myself. It is just me and my thoughts and nobody can disturb me.

Actually, that isn't entirely true. For the fifteen years that I've been running, something has been able to break my solitude: the hecklers. I do not understand the universal urge to taunt runners, but I've had at LEAST 500 people yell "Run Forrest Run" at me. Normally, their shouts are followed by laughter. I don't get it. Do they think they are funny? They obviously aren't original if I've heard the same line on three continents and numerous countries spread out over more than a decade. Nevertheless, people of all ages revel in their creativity of heckling runners.

For the last two months I've been living in a small town outside of London called Datchet. Compared to the city, it is an idyllic spot on the Thames River, just down the road from Windsor Castle. The town offers plenty of routes for running, and I find myself running more than I have in the past year because of it. Despite the abundance of running destinations, the people in this community are incredibly anti-running. I have never been treated so poorly while running. Perhaps the denizens are too lazy to do any physical activity themselves so they must resort to mocking the funny looking American runner. As I said before I just don't get it. Are people jealous or do they just think running is funny (which it is)?

Tonight was particularly frustrating. Being a rare, hot summer night in England, I quickly began to sweat through my shirt. In an effort to cool off, I removed my shirt for the final stretch of my run. The people of Datchet switched from mocking me as a runner to harassing me as a shirtless guy. I admit that I'm not the most attractive person (unless you like white and hairy), but I didn't realize I was being so offensive for removing my t-shirt on a sparsely populated road. Apparently so.

I brushed off the first few epithets, but I was unable ignore it when a van pulled besides me, rolled down the window, and spit on me. Seriously?

I don't understand people's aversion towards runners and towards unattractive shirtless guys minding their own business. I am proud that I am not apprehensive about either. For my last few weeks in this country, I will be taking off my shirt each night--rain or shine--and running the streets of Datchet.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

19 July 2010 – Barcelona

My Chilean friend is concerned that she will be deported from Spain. She has lived here legally for the past few years but now is realizing that her papers will not be renewed. Last night, I shared a drink with her and two other immigrants. We could have spent days discussing all the pain we have endured in trying to remain legal, but I had to call it a night in order to rest up for another marathon day of immigration bureaucracy. I left the conversation greatly saddened for my friends, yet immensely grateful that I had the backing of Spain’s most influential school and a multi-billion dollar corporation, greatly reducing the difficulty of renewing my papers.

Even with these heavy hitting supporters, I have spent countless days standing in queues, trying to obtain some miscellaneous stamp or initial which prevents my deportation. On Saturday I flew in from London especially to obtain my Regreso, a document for residents with expiring residency cards. I arrived unusually early for my 9:45 appointment and found two lines stretching around the block; apparently I wasn’t the only person with an early morning appointment. The line eked forwarded until 11:00 when an overweight security guard came outside, lit a cigarette, and told the other line to go home and return mañana. I don’t know why he sent away the other line, but my line rejoiced, as many had been advised multiple times to return mañana.

Despite my elation for being admitted entrance, I felt horrible for the hundreds of people sent away from the government office. Many of these people with their children in tow took a day off work, a day they couldn’t afford. Many of these people will face deportation if they do not get accepted to enter the building one of these days. Even if it happens, it is probable that they will not have gathered the correct stamps and signatures and will be told to return mañana.

I am lucky with the support of IESE and Amazon. I am lucky that if I get deported, I get sent to the United States. I imagine that the burka clad women crying on Paseig St. Joan aren’t this lucky and will continue standing in line each day until they get past security. It is tough to be an immigrant.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

20 June 2010 - London

I've never really understood royalty. For centuries people were oppressed by monarchies. This royalty stood in the way of progress. Yet many of today's most free democracies treat their royal families as divine leaders. Perhaps it is my American upbringing, but I will bow down to no person, especially if that person is in his or her position due to ancestry.

I have tried to understand the importance of royalty and have primarily heard two arguments. First, there is the rational, capitalistic reason that royal families bring in lots of tourist money. Next, there is the purely emotional argument--which I don't understand--that as my British friend so eloquently states, "I love the queen because she is my queen."

Today I tried to better understand this phenomenon by taking to the streets of London. I started with a walk to Buckingham Palace where thousands of tourists and some locals fought for the best spot to see the palace and the official band which was playing Abba's Dancing Queen. I wasn't as excited as the average onlooker. Perhaps I'm cynical, but I saw an obscenely large and gaudy house, flanked by old royal grounds financed by the sweat and the resources of serfs and colonies from around the world. It sure was great to oppress India so this family could have some gold cutlery and some more hunting ground.

After Buckingham, I headed towards 10 Downing Street, the home of the Prime Minister. I was excited to see this, but I firs passed by it, expecting more of a crowd. Instead, I proceeded on to a cavalry museum where hoards of tourists clamored to get their picture taken with a real live horse and soldier. Only after I realized my mistake did I notice the five or six people standing by the gate of Downing Street. Of this handful, only about three of us were tourists while the others were protesters. At least it showed some evidence of democracy. What happens if you protest about the queen?

I ended the day with no better idea on royalty than when I started. Fortunately, I have three months in this country to better understand. Britain, please be patient with me.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

1 June 2010

Roughly three years ago, my employer at the time sent a company wide email about the approaching summer. The company utilized the first half of the email to remind my fellow co-workers and I of the company dress policy which typically was abused in the summer. The second half of the email also served as a reminder, a reminder of the dangers of summer sports. I specifically remember one line which read, "...while soccer can be fun, it must always be played with caution and with a mouth guard."

This email made me livid as it represented what I hate about American culture: fear which causes people to become more and more closed to anyone or anything not certain. I quickly started to voice my displeasure with this email, but I was surprised to encounter much resistance. Apparently, most of my co-workers agreed with and appreciated the corporate communication. At that moment, I realized the prevalence of a disturbing new segment of the population, the 21st century parent.

The phenomena of the 21st century parent is highly correlated with the phenomena of a "soccer mom" except the 21CP is more extreme. While the soccer mom spends her days driving her kids from school to soccer practice and to all points in between, the 21CP will only permit her child to participate in these organized activities which she can control. Perhaps my childhood was a bit out-of-control, but I freely went hunting on private property, exploring in abandoned mines, and playing "unorganized" sports with whatever kid was at the park. The experience forced ingenuity and made me much more open to and comfortable with the world. Aligned with the thoughts of FDR, my only fear is that today's kids will grow up fearful of any activity not supervised by their parents.

Partly do to my aversion towards organized sports, I have not participated in any organized athletic activity (asides from being a spectator) since 2006. Just recently, however, I have decided to break this streak. No, I still hold a cavalier disregard towards marathons and will never run one again, but I have organized a soccer team which is playing its first game tomorrow.

My school is full of people from countries where soccer is king. After one year in the school, I realized it was more important to engage in the Spanish cultural phenomenon of football than to hold a grudge against sports. For this reason, I have composed a team of the worst futbolers in my school (sorry team). We have little or no experience and will be competing against the conditioned girls squad from my school. While I may be playing an organized game, you can be sure that I won't be wearing a mouth guard.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

16 May 2010 – Rambla de Caneletes

Before tonight, I have never lived anywhere that won a major sporting championship. True, the Twins did win a World Series nearly twenty years ago, but I was living 200 miles from the stadium...not to mention I fell asleep hours before the termination of Game 7. Even after living for eight years in Minneapolis—a city with four major professional sports teams—I can’t say I experienced much more than seeing some drunken college students burn a garbage can after some hockey games. I like college hockey, but outside of Minnesota, not many people care.

Tonight FC Barcelona won La Liga, Spain’s premiere soccer league. As a result of Barça winning with the most successful record in the league’s eighty year history, the citizens took to the streets by the thousands, ultimately converging at la Rambla de Caneletes to climb lamp posts, launch fireworks, and sing Cant del Barça. I, too, ventured out into the streets of my adopted city, following the crowds of revelers which stopped traffic at each intersection. None of these stalled drivers seemed to mind as they also partook in the excitement by enthusiastically waving Catalan flags from their windows and sunroofs while adding to the party’s clamor with incessant horn honking.

While the celebration was large in terms of people and noise, I was let down with my first major sporting celebration. First off, the party was not spontaneous. Apparently every major soccer city has a point where fans congregate after a big win; people know to go to Rambla de Caneletes. Not only is this hike to las Ramblas not spontaneous, but it also is not that unique. Last season, Barcelona won six different titles, all meriting street celebrations. How emotional can a party be if it can happen every other month, especially when everyone assumes beforehand that the team will win?

In other words, tonight’s party sucked. The people of Barcelona are fortunate to currently have one of the greatest sports teams of all time. Any win is expected, as is any celebration. If these people ever want to experience true elation after winning a championship, I would recommend that they move to Chicago, become die-hard Cubs fans, and hope they Cubbies win the Series sometime in the next lifetime. Perhaps this is why I wasn’t too sad to see the Vikings lose the NFC Championship this year…I didn’t want to miss a truly good party.

Bad photo from my phone of people waving their Blaugrana.