Friday, October 29, 2010
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Today marks another holiday, celebrated in multiple countries but not quite like in Barcelona: la Diada de Sant Jordi or St. George’s Day. Due to the name of the holiday, I imagine that there should be some religious ties to the holiday; instead the holiday now serves as Barcelona’s equivalent to Valentine’s Day…only much cooler.
As a first time Sant Jordi celebrator, I’d describe the holiday in three words: roses, books, and Catalonia. For starters, there are literally make-shift booths selling roses on nearly every single street corner with some intersections having four competing rose stands. This high number of vendors is required to fulfill the demand—4 million roses. Unlike Valentine’s where you only need to buy flowers for your one special lady, for Sant Jordi I was advised to buy roses for just about every woman I have ever met. As a result, my evening walk was constantly interrupted by the rose vendors, profiling me as a man who needed to buy some roses.
While the men are busy buying flowers, the women are supposed to repay the favor in books. Yes, books. Isn’t that great? I never have heard of a greater holiday, a holiday where you give books. In theory, women should reciprocate by gifting books, though I know of no guy who actually received a book. Nevertheless, small card tables of books litter the city. Sales are high, accounting for half the annual sales of books; however the sales are generated by people buying books for themselves. At least that was the case for me and my friends.
Now, I’m not a big fan of holidays. In reality, I only like Thanksgiving because there is no obligation beyond eating. However, Spain wants to change my view, enticing me with holidays revolving around books. Then again, shouldn’t we always be excited to spend time with our families or to buy a book? Do we really need to celebrate the death of a guy who died 1,800 years ago? Then again, if it permits a day off, I’ll celebrate just about anything.
Wikipedia Entry (English)
Wikipedia Entry (Catalan)
Monday, April 19, 2010
A dock symbolizes summer in Minnesota. When most of the year is spent hidden indoors, trying to avoid the harsh weather conditions, Minnesotans use docks as an opportunity to flaunt the few warm months. During the summer the dock becomes a secondary residence, serving not just as a place to park your boat but also as a place to fish, dive, tan, and get drunk. I can’t fathom the number of hours I spent casting a spoon off my parent’s dock, not trying to catch a trophy walleye but instead wanting an excuse to be on the dock.
The Miller family has always been into their docks. For example, my grandparents took pride in having the longest dock on their side of the lake. When their neighbor threatened to install a longer dock, my dad and grandfather spent the entire summer building an artificial peninsula to place the dock. Apparently buying a longer dock never crossed their mind.
Anyways, I mention my dad “getting the dock out” because it was always such a special, annual event. Even since moving out of my parent’s roughly a decade ago, I have still received a message from them each year when they put in the dock. This year was extra special as it was the earliest date that my dad ever completed the task (yes, we keep track of the dates each year). As prior civilizations used the position of the stars to tell them when the new season has begun, my family has used the installation of the dock to represent the start of summer. Perhaps this year’s early installation is a sign of climate change or of the validation of the Mayan’s prophesies (Icelandic volcano?). More realistically, I think it means that summer has come early. Be happy.
Monday, April 12, 2010
Rius i Taulet: A typical Gracia plaza with plenty of good 10:20 sites
I live in a great neighborhood…ancient narrow streets, feeling more like tunnels, which occasionally emerge into vibrant plazas, full of people sipping a beer at one of the adjacent restaurants while children play soccer in the background. This is by far the best neighborhood—which harbors Barcelona’s Bohemian culture—in town, if not in Spain. I, like all my neighbors, have a strong sense of pride to live here.
The biggest failure in my life to date would be to not experience this community. Neighborhoods exist thanks to the people that contribute to its flavor. When I eventually move out of town, I want to know that I was part of Gracia. If not, I would have paid too much to just sleep in an apartment.
Unfortunately, there is a risk of this failure. I spend all day at school and could easily spend all night doing homework. A month ago, while enjoying a great Gracia lunch, some friends of mine and I discussed this risk which can potentially plague everybody. Not wanting to fall victim to it, we proposed a new concept, Gracia 10:20. Each school night we take a break from our studies and meet at a different Gracia bar (we do not plan on repeating a bar for months) at 10:20. We only meet for one drink, just needing to spend an hour away from the world of school, immersing ourselves in our barrio. We plan our bars a week in advance and invite anyone who wants to experience Gracia. Sometimes it just the three of us, but sometimes we’ll have over ten friends—some of whom we met thanks to 10:20.
In the month since the start of 10:20, I’ve visited over 20 new bars in my neighborhood. While there, I’ve heard local bands, learned some Catalan, made friends with some Gracians, and most importantly, have started to feel a part of this community. Perhaps 10:20 will go on forever, long after I move on to my next adventure. That would be my ultimate gift to Gracia.
A younger woman lives alone in the apartment next to me. Our bedrooms share a wall, and we can both hear everything that goes on in each other’s rooms. Based on the events in her apartment, I originally hypothesized that I lived next to one of Barcelona’s women of the night. Over time, this theory fell apart as I consistently saw her with the same male companion, presumably her boyfriend.
My living room shares a wall with another building. For the first six months I lived here, I heard no activity coming from the adjacent building. I had quiet neighbors. Unfortunately for them, things have changed in the past few weeks. Huge verbal fights regularly break out with yelling which penetrates into my living room. The fights usually start with a younger woman yelling hysterically. It often sounds like she is yelling at herself or into a phone because I hear no response. However, her adversary just takes longer to get loud. The fights normally end with the slamming of a few doors, followed by loud weeping from the woman. Being that they live in another building, I’m not sure of the identity of my neighbors, the young childless couple on the verge of breakup.
In my bathroom, directly above my toilet is a vent which leads into the apartment above me. This apartment is occupied by a family with a teenage kid. Each time I go to the bathroom, I hear about their lives. Occasionally the mom is upset with the teen for staying out too late. Other times, the husband complains about work. Of all my neighbors, they are the most likely to have an opinion of me. At the least they have an opinion of my diet. My apologies to them.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Despite these intense winters, I had not experienced a snow day, a day where either my work or my school was cancelled due to winter weather, in well over a decade. In Minnesota, people are so used to snowy, icy conditions that a severe blizzard may just slow a commute but won’t force a snow day. We were simply too accustomed to the weather to ever benefit from it.
Today Barcelona experienced a freakish snow storm. At my school which sits atop a hill overlooking the city, nearly two inches of snow accumulated (Down in the city, I would classify the precipitation as slush, not snow). One of my teachers, a native of Barcelona, had never seen snow like this in the last twenty-five years. Traffic stood at a complete stand-still as drivers sat frightened and confused in their cars. Even though the traffic wasn’t moving, many cars still managed to end up stuck in ditches, atop sidewalks, and even caught in the middle of the road. No one could function. The metro, proving to be the only viable form of transportation in the city, was abuzz with talks of the storm. No one had encountered such a horrendous storm. How could life go on?
A storm like this would have no impact on the operations of any Minnesotan city. Actually, this would not be considered a storm; instead it’d be referred to as a dusting. Nevertheless, this dusting is giving me my first snow day in perhaps fifteen years. As I write this, the “snow” has stopped and my street is already clear (it is well above freezing). Fortunately, school was already canceled, allowing me to go to the bars tonight. Apparently, the IESE administrators hadn’t learned from Minnesotans to wait until the morning to cancel class.
Thursday, March 4, 2010
It is Sant Medir. Until fifty minutes ago, I had never heard of this holiday/celebration. My knowledge of this holiday began tonight when my evening study session was interrupted by the sound of drums, reverberating through the narrow streets of Gracia. I ventured onto my balcony and into the pouring rain to find a small drum corps eagerly marching up and down Mila i Fontanals—one of the few through streets in this old community. After a few minutes on my balcony, in my underwear, in the rain, I lost interest in the enthusiastic procession which was occurring on the street below me, and I returned into my dry apartment.
As soon as I entered my apartment, I noticed my phone was blinking, indicating that a message awaited me. Upon a brief scan of my phone messages, it became evident that I wasn’t the only person intrigued by this celebration occurring on my street; the other expats in my neighborhood had noticed this strange happening and had begun to hypothesize via messenger why some crazys would be out marching in the rain. The consensus was that we were just witnessing another idiosyncrasy of our barrio, but fortunately, I received word—over Facebook—about the Sant Medir celebrations. Who knew?
I don’t have anything deep to say tonight except for Happy Sant Medir…whatever that means.
Until today, I have never been to England. Until yesterday, I had no plans to go here. Now I find myself in some Marriott near Heathrow Airport after spending the afternoon walking aimlessly around London.
A few weeks ago I interviewed with a company that you all know. Not being big on working or on interviews, I didn’t expect much for an outcome. However, on Tuesday I received a call asking me to participate in a second round phone interview on Wednesday morning. On Wednesday evening I received a call asking me to go to London the next morning. That brings me to this point.
I don’t interview until tomorrow, yet I arrived in London this morning, allowing me to spend all of Thursday doing whatever (which equates to roaming aimlessly). Today reminded me—again—that life goes on outside of work and school. It is sad that in just six months of classes, I had started to forget about the great life that constantly lives. Just because I am stuck on an eight to five school day doesn’t mean that everyone else is. Walking the busy streets of London serves as a great reminder of the other options available. At the same time, it makes me wonder if I should be interviewing.
While I currently am torn about getting a new job, I’m again excited by the randomness of life. Twenty four hours ago, I had no plans to ever visit England. Now, I’m in London and in another twenty four hours I’ll be back in Spain…after spending a few hour layover in Zurich. Now that is cool.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
All those multiple choices I answer so quickly
And got my grades back and forgot just as easily but at least I got an ‘A’
And so I don’t have them to blame
-Conor Oburst “Let’s Not Shit Ourselves”
It’s midterm week, a phenomena that I have been experiencing for most of my life. This is my second set of midterms during my graduate studies, and I have decided to take a new approach: I will not study.
I attend class with a relatively determined group of students, and their dedication becomes most evident during exam week where many will take up residence in the school’s library. In the past I would have joined them without hesitation, but I finally realized what I want out of higher education.
I did not enroll in one of the most ridiculously expensive schools in the world to spend my life cooped up inside a library. I did not quit my job to lay awake at night, stressed about grades. No, I primarily returned to school to learn. I want to learn a lot in the classroom, but I want to learn even more outside of it. To maximize both environments, I realized that it is not worth studying.
I have taken hundreds of midterms and finals and typically score quite high on them. To do so, I dedicated countless hours cramming on black holes, swaps, debits, integrals, antisense oglionucelotides, and ids. Despite this time investment, I could not carry on a conversation about most of those topics that I once earned an exceptional grade. Why? Because I didn’t truly learn those subjects; I just learned to take tests about them.
From now on, I plan on attending class, engaging in the dialogue, and completing any supplementary readings or projects. If I truly care about learning these topics, my engagement in these other activities should help me score well on any examination. If I don’t do well on a test, I will at least know that my score reflected what I truly learned, and oftentimes, I prefer learning something that isn’t tested.
Last week, for example, a teacher provided me and my classmates with practice tests and old midterms to help us to prepare for a test. I intentionally avoided the study aids. Today we had an exam in that course, and afterwards, my classmates were all excited that most of the test was just taken from an old exam. For this reason, most of my class probably scored higher than me; however, I am positive that I understand the topic and its application better than almost everyone. I do not want to learn how to score a high mark on a test. I want to learn practical knowledge that I will be able to apply in my life. Taking a test won’t help me do so. I will not study tonight (as evident through my writing of this).
Sunday, January 31, 2010
When I walk the streets of Gracia, browse the aisles of Condi’s, or ride the metro to class, I don’t speak, and no one speaks to me. I kindly acknowledge my fellow denizens, and they accept me as part of the community—albeit an unusual looking member of the community. Rarely, someone does talk to me. I don’t understand a word, but I can normally guess their intentions and respond with a nod or a shrug of the shoulders. If I have completely no idea why the person is talking to me, I just smile and look interested. This appeases my neighbors, and we all walk off with a smile.
When I first moved here, I planned on learning the language. How could I live somewhere for two years without speaking the language? I borrowed some Catalan textbooks from a friend and eagerly read the introduction, the history of the Catalan language. Once I got to the real page one, I lost all ambition and decided to let the books collect dust until my friend demanded their return. Perhaps I could have benefited from a few hours of learning the basics of the language. It could have been beneficial for when I read my utility bill, when I order a drink at the bar, or when a cute girl strikes up a conversation.
Language is insignificant in communication. We all share something more than a comprehension of some pattern sounds. Language is so irrelevant that it took me five months to fully realize that I don’t speak the language of my city, despite being fully adapted.
New Years is just some arbitrary date. We needed to have some date to start a new year, so somebody years ago picked today. I don’t see why it is so important, worthy of not just a rare day-off but of a night of debauchery. There is no significance to this date. I find it difficult to celebrate. As a matter of fact, I will be cursing it for weeks as I try to remember that we are now in 2010 and that when I sign any dates, I need to write 2010, not 2009. I’d rather celebrate just about any other night…and I do.
I suppose I could use the day as a point of reflection. It does represent one rotation around the sun. I have only experienced 25 of those in my life. It is a good unit of measurement. In this year, I have experienced a number of changes. Not only did I partake in my most influential event of my life, but I also saw myself relocating to a new continent. It was an important year. It is amazing to think how differently I thought just 365 revolutions ago. I would have never been able to predict what I am doing now. I’m not sure if 2010 will be more transformational. I plan on staying put in this country as I work on my MBA. Nevertheless, who knows what experiences will change me? Who will enter into my life? How much will I change?
Two thousand ten: be more than just some arbitrary date.