Saturday, April 24, 2010

23 April 2010 – La Diada de Sant Jordi

As I’ve probably mentioned multiple times in the past year, Barcelona loves holidays. Not only do they happily celebrate all the Spanish national holidays, but they revel in the Catalonia festivities (didn’t you know, Catalonia is not Spain?). They welcome any excuse that affords a day off to spend some time with their family. For example, on September 11 each year they celebrate the 1714 Siege of Barcelona…a battle they lost [According to Wikipedia, there have been 8 sieges of Barcelona. I’m surprised they don’t have holidays for all of them]!

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

19 April 2010 – Speaking of Minnesota

This past weekend my dad put out the dock. I realize that I may be thousands of miles from the site of this event, separated by an ocean and by a dense cloud of volcanic ash. By writing about this, I deviate from my typical entry style…I’ll justify this post out of sentiment.

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

10 April 2010 - Gracia

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.

12 March 2010

I often wonder what my neighbors think of me. Am I the foreign guy who lives alone and compensates by listening to music constantly? Am I the gossip of the block, the mysterious bearded man that has no history? Or do they think nothing of me, choosing instead to expend their thoughts on their own lives? I ask this because I have developed strong background stories of the people that live around me, people who I have never met.

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.