Bites

I feel bad that I haven’t posted for a month. So since I have a few minutes, I thought I would share with you all some of the things I have been able to cook since I moved in to my apartment.

ImageManchego and fig jam grilled cheese, balsamic roasted carrots, arugula, and Serrano ham

 

ImageVegetable Paella with onions, garlic, red pepper,and carrots. (I bought green beans, but forgot to add them).

 

ImagePlum Galette

 

 

 

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Serendipity

“I remember the strange humidity during that first September in the city. I remember the rancid smells and the constant noise as steel shutters were pulled up and down. I remember the sound of the cars and motorbikes reverberating against the old stone buildings, the footfalls and voices which echoed in the narrow streets. It was 1975, two months before the death of General Franco. I was twenty years old and had just arrived in Barcelona.”

-Colm Tóibín, Homage to Barcelona

It was this first paragraph that allowed me to indulge in buying the book. I can never resist books. As a twenty year old who just arrived to Barcelona experiencing “the strange humidity,” I knew I needed the book. Another thing I can’t resist is learning more about this city.

I left the house to eat lunch, but instead I let myself delight in a chocolate croissant and a coffee. A croissant here is worth not having a full meal. A croissant is worth the flight over here. While I ate and sipped my coffee, I was inspired to go for a walk through the city rather than focus on the work that has been hovering over me the for last couple of weeks. I am strong enough to carry the weight on my shoulders for a glimpse of the possibility of discovering something new.

What I didn’t know was that I was going to carry that weight for three and a half hours. I started walking aimlessly uphill aching for a view. I made my way through Parc Guinardó avoiding counting the steps and focusing on getting higher and higher. Each path taking me to another and another while I disregarded the time. Parc Guinardó’s winding paths brought me to a neighborhood high in the hills and I recognized that I was not far from another park that I was pretty familiar with. I followed the paths of Parc del Carmel, stopped at every vista, and meandered down to Parc Güell.

Parc Güell was originally planned to be a luxury neighborhood for the upper class of Barcelona. None of the plots sold, and Gaudí moved into one of the houses already built. The park was built from 1900 to 1914 and is a classic example of Gaudí’s playful style. His house is now a museum, and hundreds of visitors go to the park everyday. The entrance to the park was inspired by the story of Hansel and Gretel, and it stands out from the view of the city behind.

I bought a bottle of water, walked through the park, and listened to various performers and musicians before stopping in the gift shop on a whim. I discovered that there was a bookstore on the second floor and fatefully found Homage to Barcelona. It’s a book about the history of Barcelona, and a twenty year old foreigner making it his home.

When I walk out the door everyday, a new surprise awaits me in this city. Whether it be a walk through a park I didn’t know about, a panoramic view, a chocolate croissant, or a book that jumps out at me with coincidence. Barcelona defines serendipity for me.

Montsant Wine Country

After a week of being here, my friend Raquel finally got back to me. It turns out she had some tests the week of my arrival, and was busy working and studying. To make up for it she invited me to go with her family to Capçanes. Capçanes is a really small town in the Tarragona region of Catalonia. It sits in the D.O. (denomination of origin) Montsant, which surrounds the more famous Priorat (if you’ve drank red wine from Spain I’m sure you’ve had Priorat). The town is a wine town through and through and this weekend was the beginning of the harvest.

As you walk through the streets you address everyone either by saying “hola” or “adeu.” Most everybody knows everybody, and while we were walking to the pool we had to stop several times to catch up and to introduce me. Spanish is unheard of, and they were caught off-guard when they found out I only speak Castellano and not Catalan. There is one restaurant, which is also the local bar, and life seems to revolve around the “cope” or co-op. It is the one store that the town has, and it sells the wine from the wine-makers in town. We left town and walked on the dirt roads through the vineyards to where Raquel’s grandparents live.

Her grandparents’ house is on the side of a hill looking over the vines in the valley and the town perched on another hilltop. The pool used to be something that was used for wine, but they cleaned it out and painted it. Even though it was probably 20 feet deep, the water was still 75 degrees from the heat. Even now in September it’s about 85 degrees with 65% humidity. A perfect excuse to swim. This was our relaxation before the work that we were to do that afternoon.

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Lunch was a buffet of jamón, chorizo, cheese, bread, shrimp, mussels, and then a huge pan of paella. The five of us went through 3 bottles of local wine starting with the simplest and ending with the best. They’re generosity comes across aggressively and when I knew I had had enough wine, it was still flowing. I lost track of the conversation, and they noticed me trying adamantly to stay awake. Through the fog of sleepiness they told me it was time to work.

I walked off the wine and we climbed the hillside to where they were harvesting grapes. They gave me clippers and a basket and taught me which grapes were good and which were bad. I was instructed to toss the dry grapes and the ones that were still red instead of purple. My work was slow compared to the others, but we went through three lines in the vineyard in just over an hour. There were enough grapes to fill 5 small trucks. When we finished Raquel and I walked back to her apartment, and promptly began a much-needed siesta.

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Getting Here

I must be doing something right. On the flight and so far off the plane in Frankfurt I have been addressed in German. It’s fun to see their faces when I quietly respond in English, as I don’t even have the slightest idea how to tell them in German that I don’t speak the language. Other than the language barrier, the flight went well. The inside of my eyelids are as interesting as ever, especially compared to the upright, dreamless, and not-so-restful sleep that airplanes have to offer.

I thought ahead and bought dinner and breakfast in Boston so that I wouldn’t have to choose between “chicken” and “pasta” for dinner or eat a “buttery croissant” brick for breakfast. I noticed too late that the passengers who were awake the whole flight were enjoying a free drink-fest on board. By the time I caught on it was breakfast and probably unacceptable to ask for a drink since the local time was 5am instead of the 11pm my iPod suggested. Before then I could have had my choice of red wine, white wine, cognac, Baileys, or beer the entire flight.

Although I missed out on the drinks, I was excited because it was my first time on a plane with a second floor. It made me wish that I was obscenely rich and could afford a transatlantic first-class flight on the upper floor of the plane. I pictured it having huge comfortable seats complete with real pillows, blankets, and an open bar that served food instead of “food.”

Now, sitting at the gate I still feel relatively calm considering my next flight boards in less than an hour and I have no apartment. Maybe it will hit me on the taxi. Or when I go to the beach later and think about the apartment search I should be doing instead of lounging on Mediterranean sand. Oh, and Spanish? Catalan? Ha! They speak English here! I have plenty of time to get used to Spanish again before classes start.

If there’s one thing I didn’t learn through this whole process of moving abroad, it was to stop procrastinating. Or, maybe what I learned was about the Mediterranean timing of things.

That was before my flight got cancelled. Here’s the rest.

Lufthansa went on strike from 5am until 1pm. Most flights did not have a crew and therefore most flights were grounded. Thousands of people were in multiple lines trying to rebook flights. I waited in one line for over an hour when a Lufthansa employee directed me to a “shorter, faster” line. I waited in that line, the longest line I have ever seen, for over three hours when a Lufthansa employee referred me to the automated check-in kiosk. The kiosk would have a boarding pass for me already set up for a later flight.

One hyphenated word explains the rest of the day: stand-by. Oh, I stood by. I stood by 55th on the waiting list that had everyone from the earlier flight to Barcelona on it. Over a hundred of us stood by.

There is a sort of camaraderie that comes out of being in a situation like that. I would not use the term friend because that suggests a different kind of bond of doing things for each other that didn’t exist. Everyone was patient with my Spanish; they gave me suggestions for how to find an apartment. One lady even gave me her number because her mother-in-law is looking for a renter. The bond that did exist was a nice, but competitive bond. If someone found out information about possible spots on a flight, they were reluctant to tell you. Waiting in line to talk to Lufthansa to ask about the waiting list? Chaos, there was no line. Every man for himself. But, even competitively, we were all in the chaos together.

The chaos finally cleared on the flight to Barcelona when I fell asleep again. The German man next to me woke me up when the attendant came by with drinks and this time I didn’t miss out on the free beer. We drank beer and talked Barcelona as we looked at it through the plane window.

Pre-Trip Prep

Paperwork.

The most time consuming and important task I have been working on before my move has been paperwork. Applying to school involved sending information back and forth between UVM and Barcelona; then, when I was accepted, I was sending even more information to Barcelona. Transcripts, signatures, legal forms, tuition bills. The visa application process involved insurance forms, medical forms, school forms, translation services, notary publics, and apostilles. Now, I am mostly done with my paperwork, but once I get back to Barcelona I will have to get an apartment, open a bank account, get ready for my classes, turn in my visa for a residency card, and apply for jobs and internships. The paperwork seems like it will never end.

It sounds like awful grudge-work, but there is some fun stuff too. Getting my own apartment means I get to design it. Pinterest and Houzz and other design centric websites have been fun to look through. Keeping up with the restaurants and food, exploring my options for a cooking internship, deciding to take German as my foreign language class. I have so much to look forward to, as long as I take a moment to look up from the paperwork on my desk and daydream.

Lost in Translation

One of the reasons I chose to live in Barcelona was that they speak Catalan here. It is an amazing Latin language that is hard to explain. If I say that it’s a mix of Spanish and French, people here get a little upset, because it is it’s own language. But as a Romance language it is related to these two languages, and I connect them because of studying Spanish and French. But there are just as many connections with Portuguese or Italian, etc.

Since I have been here, I have been trying to pick up some Catalan. I learn through a free online program (http://www.parla.cat/pres_catalaenlinia/AppPHP/login/index.php) and also from my host family, my friends, signs, billboards, menus, the language is everywhere. Catalans really appreciate it when you show them that you acknowledge their language and try to speak it, no matter how badly you butcher it.

There are many sounds in Catalan that we don’t have in English, that are also different from Spanish or French. As such, when I speak and can’t make the sounds correctly, I find myself in some humorous situations.

When I told some of my friends that I was applying to a university here, I first got some judgmental looks and then they burst into laughter. The word for apply in Catalan is Sol.licitar (in English this would be solicit). What they had understood from me was that I was soliciting myself at the university. Far from the truth.

This weekend I went to a cafe to have a sandwich. I was planning on going to a different cafe for coffee, because I like the coffee at the other one better and the sandwiches at the first more. I thought I had ordered a large ham sandwich with cheese, and was given a small ham sandwich without cheese and large a coffee. Not terrible, but after when I went to my favorite cafe for coffee and had already had a large cup, I left quite shaky and excited.

But, the best way to learn, especially with languages, is to make mistakes. Especially embarrassing ones like telling people you solicit yourself at the university. One of my Spanish teachers in middle school learned that however similar words might sound between Spanish and English, sometimes they don’t mean the same. She learned that embarazada does not mean embarrassed. It in fact means pregnant. After her friends congratulated her she was even more avergonzada. One you make a mistake like this, you never make it again, and the real word sticks in your head better.