Friday, December 31, 2010

The Grocery Store

Joaquim is out looking for presents to help the Wisemen out on their visit, which is only six days away. The seven year old has already cried. Apparently a thief has stolen her bicycle which was too small for her now, out of the basement so she has figured out she no longer has a bicycle. Other know that the too-small bicycle is getting refurmished for the younger sister, and a new one is coming with the Wisemen, but she does not know and so had that sad moment.

This is a small town. Not small so much in population, but as in the footprint of the city, for Joaquim and I can walk across it in a brisk 25 minute walk, which walk we took while out looking for Lego. The weather is 15 above and the humidity is 99%, so the light rain leaves umbrella users wondering if they should be putting their umbrellas up or taking them down.

Bonnie and I are going to cook for New Year´s Day. Cooking is harder when you are not in your own kitchen. On the way home from the shopping trip, Joaquim showed me a shop that sells artisan pasta. A lightbulb went on for me. Why would I cook Canadian when I can buy ravioli stuffed with shrimp and artichokes, or ravioli stuffed with spinach and fresh cheese, or ravioli stuffed with veal. I looked through the shelves of the artisan shop for sauces to add. I found a piquant tomato sauce and then an olive sauce, which through translation between the woman who came over to assist us at the freezer and me, I was to learn, just dust the ravioli with the sauce, so as not to loose its delicate taste.

Boil the water and only leave the ravioli in 3 minutes, the clerk warned me through Joaquim. He is having to do a lot of intermediary work. I do not know how his holiday is going, for he has to translate for Bonnie and for me. As well as wanting to know the name of every item in the pasta shop, I wanted to know where to buy the nativity figures that were in the window of the bakery story. Joaquim asked me to come along inside with him while he tired to find out, because for every question I ask, I have four more question that follow. He may have also been wanting to to deflect the craziness of the questions I ask along the way to me instead of people thinking he is the one wanting to know the answers.. I want to know everything about anything I see that is new to me.

I haven´t know the discreet difference between two grocery stores that are on opposite sides of the highway that cuts through the middle of town. I was wondering about the smaller of the two last night when it was closing. Huge cartoons of vegetables and fruits were being transferred into the store, a man running them on a dolly across the highway between surges of traffic

If I was willing to pick up the fruits and vegetables, Joaquim told me, then we could visit the smaller of the stores. He went right to the line up to pay for the groceries and I was to fill the basket he was holding. That is when I discovered the store only carries fruit and vegetables. I took the last of the pineapples available, I didn´t know that the sign above the cherry tomatoes said two for one, and I picked up a large head of celery that was more leaf than stalk and the bitterest celery I have ever tasted.

The mandarins are only 79 Euros a kilogram, but I left those behind, because how much weight can two people really carry in their arms. So we are going for a second trip right now, since everyone is closing up for the festivities around New Year´s Eve.

¨Why are you closing so early today?¨ one patron asked, to which the clerk who couldn´t cash out fast enough to keep the line small retorted, ¨I have a big supper to cook tonight as well as the one you need to cook.¨

The store was so small that I couldn´t get between the isles of food and the patrons so I began to count how many shoppers were there. Thirty in the store at one time, and the area of the store was no bigger than a small barbershop.

We went down to Calella´s Rambla for this is the night when there will be someone who walks the streets giving out candy – a man who has as many noses as there are days in the year. Since this is the last day of the year, he only has one nose, but that nose is something to behold. Along with the candy, he gives out one fake nose to each person who puts out their hand, young or old. Some of the noses were long like Pinocchio´s. Mine was large and Romanesque, a lovely addition to my face. I wore it proudly. Children ran behind him, in front of him and alongside him. His helpers made sure everyone had a nose and a handful of candy.


Two Rounds on the Hop-On / Off

I took the Barcelona Tourist Bus alone one and did both the red and the green route. Yesterday Bonnie and I did the same route together, but it was the red route that had interested me. Wyona has taught me the art of tourist buses:

1. Go to the top deck and make your way to the front as people leave. There is a nice wind guard behind the front panel and a wonderful view there as well

2. Take multiple layers of clothing – sweaters, scarves, light and heavy weight blankets, hats and gloves. At some point you will be putting all of these on and taking them off, as well.

3. Find the English channel on the headset and plugged in for the recorded tour

4. One circle of the tour bus is not enough. Stay for at least two rounds, even if the whole circle of the tour is over 2 hours long.

5. Bring your own food. I am good for 24 hours without food – not because I want to go without food, but because I am entranced by everything else going on and I have no interest in food or forget to eat.

My favorite line from the tour text was that in this season of the year one should try to join in with other Catelonians as they eat and drink traditional foods. ¨Look for cannelloni, wine, turones, and a wafer’like biscuit on Christmas Day.¨ Then I thought back to Christmas Day with Joaquim´´s family and could see that I had been deep in the middle of old traditions without knowing recognizing the significance of what was happening..


Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Girona, compliments of Wikipedia

I had no idea what was going on with the day, except that Joaquim had presented an idea¨-- we are going to Girona which is about as far one other way from Calella as Barcelona is the other way.

On the car ride there, he told me that Girona is known as the Invincible City, having been under seige three times and withstanding the forces assaulting it, each time. So, there it was for my enjoyment today, Girona, an attractive Medieval Catalonian City of more than 100,000 people.

There is a fountain in Barcelona, drinking from which gives you magical powers that assure you will return.

There is a similar custom in Girona that gives magical powers. You must climb a pole and kiss the backside of a lioness who is crawling up the pole. Not to be outdone by Bonnie Wyora who made the climb and deposited the appropriate kiss while getting a photograph taken, I climbed but could not manage the last stair.

I have been alarmed the rest of the day at my decreasing physical powers. It is not that I can´t climb stairs. If you get into any cathedral, you just about have to be a stair climber. I can´t climb a stair that is two feet high and has no handrails for support. Given my failure at maximizing my chances of ever getting back to Girona, I took advantage of every opportunity I had during the day to see the sights.

Bonnie and I spent the morning with 2 audioguides in the beautiful Girona Cathedral. Exquisite, with rooms full of ancient vestments, tapestries, Bibles, chalices, holy septers and many tombs.

We ate lunch on the Cathedral Plaza and looked over the lovely city.

We spend the afternoon in the Calls of the prominent Jewish quarter and spent one-half hour, which turned into one hour in the Jewish Museum about the Spanish Diaspora.

We walked across the bridges on the river, bridges that mirror the spaces and length of those on the Seine or the Thames, and our walk included visits to the merchant stalls along the side of the street selling their artisan wares.

On La Rambla Jordie pointed out an old map of Paris, etched on the roof of one of the arches, and unearthed during some recent contruction. The cornerstone on the arch was dated 1791.

Joaquim´s brother Jordi works at a newspaper, El Punt, that is published in the Catalan language. Jordi gave us a tour of the newspaper office and its newly refurbished rooms, once of which is a long lecture hall dedicated to local events. The newspaper is in an old flour mill, and the owners lived in part of the mill -- so we saw the lead filled glass windows, the mahogany wall paneling, the vaulted ceilings more than 2 stories high that had been part of the owner´s personal residence. Now that was fun!

I am afraid if I don´t write about the day, I will forget what happened in it, so I am up at midnight, for Bonnie and I are going back to Barcelona tomorrow. Joaquim found us a deal -- seven different museums for 22 euros, and though we have already seen the Picasso Museum twice now, the special deal is going to save us money as we strike out to see the Miro Museum and the Gaudi Stone Quarry tomorrow.


The Cathedral and the Church

Santa,del Mar,  photo from Wikipedia

Santa del Mar

Last night Joaquim asked me which of the two buildings I liked better in the Gothic section of the city: the church or the cathedral. I was stumped. I thought I could compare them on the basis of their nativity scenes which were as charming as a person could want to see. Santa del Mar´s Pessedre was in the basement and even then in a sunken area about four times as big as a Mormon baptismal font. What caught my eye is that the creche was at the edge of the seat and there was a large fishing vessel in the water, a fisherman standing beside the boat, nets over his neck and around his arms. He was in the foreground and the viewer had to look past him, up the beach to see the Holy Family there in the stable.

The man holding the nets was a nice reference to Jesus as the fisher of men, foregrounded and took about one quarter of the space. Of course that was charming. , looking down from above on that scene.
Barcekiba Cathedral, photo from Wikipedia
A short walk away is the Cathedral which we were trying to get to but were always in a hurry, walking past. Then we walked by and it was closed. But now it was evening, the open hours and here was a chance to see the live nativity in the cloister.

It was the animals that were live: snow white ducks lifting their wings and ruffling their feathers, orange and red feathered hens clucking from their wire cages, rows of ornamental cabbages, lines of carrots in the ground and a beautiful nativity. There were two line ups for this nativity. One to get in the entrance and one to get out, since they used the same door, so there was a security guard letting us both in ... and out.

The Cathedral proper is an amazing structure with gold leafed chapels, and a crypt like the one at St. Peter´s in Rome where you enter it from stairs that lead downward, but are just below the altar.

I can see why I was stumped when Joaquim asked me for a comparison because I knew he could not be asking me about size, nor embellishment.  Bonnie says that if she were to choose which one to attend each Sunday, she would choose Santa del Mar, ... ¨more intimate, if you can say that about a Gothic stucture,¨ she said.

There have been three churches this week and maybe I could say altogether 10 hours in church, if I can count waiting in the lines outside to get in.  Sagrada Familia turned my mind to the old stories with it´s impressive Nativity and Passion facades.  Santa del Mar has been refurbished and the decorating (all of the candles flickering in a red containers) had a gentle calm atmosphere.  The Gothic Cathedral in the centre of Barcelona --the ornate gold work brought back iterations of other such buildings in France and England.  As well, we could hear ¨Oh come, all ye faithful,¨ but I was surprised not to hear it sung by a choir of monks.  It wasn´t until we were leaving that I could see a congregation at worship in one of the side chapels and that must have been where the music was coming from.

Good-bye from here in Calella were the celebrations are still going strong as we await the arrival of the three wise men.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Picasso and Beloved Dogs

The Original by Velazquez
Bonnie and I went to see the regular collection at the Picasso Museum today, but knew ahead to book the 4:30 pm English tour. Getting there early, we skimmed the museum, looking at Picasso´s Blue Period, the Red Period and Las Meninas (his response to the 1695 painting of that belongs to Velazquez).

I have seen Valazquez´s painting, Las Maninas, in London and sat through a lecture on it, so the painting was familiar to me. The artist is on the far left. He is painting a King and Queen. You can see them in a mirror to the right of his face on the back wall. Their daughter has entered the room and she is surrounded by maids who are taking care of her, offering her a beverage, or in waiting to see if she or her parents need to be entertained. The artists painting is taking up a substantial amount of the left side of the painting.

Picasso´s Las Meninas after Velazquez
I was not familiar with Picasso´s work. The tour guide told us that many artists copy the work of others. What Picasso does is a copy while maintaining his originality. He adds only one completely new element -- light coming in from a window on the far right.

Picasso takes everyone in Velazquez´s painting and does cubist work with them, making caricatures and then places them back in similar painting in his own work, an intense few months of playing with this idea. This black and white was his final version. The museum houses all the earlier versions that are unsigned.

Bonnie and I sat on the benches in the museum and looked at the unsigned iterations of Picasso´s work We had the joy of finding the same figures, cartooned in many ways – not just in back and white, but in colour as well.

Picasso - Early version of Las Meninas
We spent a long time studying a colourful version where the foreground figures and the background are inseperable.

After much searching, we could see references to the same figures.  We began seeing a figure that always seemed to be stepping on the dog. The tour guide said that the face of this figure has less detail than the others because the light from the window is creating a shadow on the face of the person. We would never have guessed that.
We also noticed that the easiest figure to notice was the dog. Picasso said the only live model for this painting was his own dog, who was in the studio with him as he worked on these paintings.

While we are on the topic of beloved dogs, here is a story Bonnie shared with me after holding our place in line.
A great crosscultural unifying event took place while you were away. A dog came trotting up beside the line-up outside the Museum. The dog deposited a large poop right in the middle of this narrow street, already more narrow because of those waiting to buy tickets to the Picasso Museum. The owner smile, laughed, and coaxed his beloved dog to move along, after stepping over his dog´s deposit. 
I did not know others had witnessed this same event, until I heard a chorus of gasps as a pedestrian accidently kicked the larger of the turds about 1 meter down the lane. We all turned to each other, suprised at the collective knowledge and turned our heads back to the lane where a man coming the opposite direction accidently shot the turd back towards the direction from which it had come.

Moncada Street - line up for tickets here
Laugher erupted this time, instead of the horrored gasp at the first ¨kick of the soccer ball¨. Others in the line turned to see what the laughter was about, and were too drawn into the matching. I felt like I was watching a horrible prank, and thereby participating in it, allbeit as a bystander. 2 points for the West team, now the East team makes a shoot for the goal, but crushes part of the ball sending the crowd into hysterics. Some individuals in the crowd appeared to be first time viewers who, after viewing but a single penalty kick, were doubled over with laughter. Others appeared to be taking on bets.

The game seemed to be barely reaching half-time when I just couldn´t take it anymore. As I scanned the trash can to the right of me for a pooper-scooper, I saw the gentleman in front of me take a long look at the bottom of his shoes, and I knew he too had joined the viewing audience. I grabed a paper and said to the women in line behind me, ¨ara vinc¨ (I´ll be right back). In my best referee impersionation, I ran out onto the feild, raised a penalty flag (the newspaper from the trash), gave an apologetic look to the crowd, and deftly tossed the turd off the playing feild.
There was some expected booing. Other fans graciously wiped the tears from their eyes, and turned back to see how far the line had moved. We had had a collective experience that transcended our language and cultural differences. The Catalan humour expressed in the Caganer and the Caga Tio at times seems to me like a unique obsession with potty humour. Given the huge audience enjoying the soccer match on Carrer Monacada, perhaps there is a little Catalan in all of us.¨

If you are a dog owner, I beg you, ¨don´t forget to scoop!¨

The Sky above Calella

I lay in bed in the morning, waiting for others to get up and as I lay there, I watched the sky.  I began to remember Wyona standing at her London flat window and watching the planes lift off in the sky, one every 90 seconds or so  out of Heathrow.  I must be seeing the same phenonmen, only this time it is about planes ready to land in Barcelona, for we are a one hour train ride away.  I see streaks of jet fume in the sky that follow each other, or sometimes criss-cross.  Sometimes there are 10 or more of those in the air.

Now that I have learned to look up, I see the same thing when I am walking along the seaside.  And I saw it yesterday as I was standing in the line-up waiting to buy a ticket for Sagrada Familia.  An hour is a long time to stand on the side, though the cue did keep moving.  I used the time to look at the ornamentation on the church.  When I had turned the corner, and passed the tree of life that towered over the Natavity Facade, I began to see lizards, snakes and gargoyles, each unique, crawling down the wall.  It wasn´t until I was inside and heard the interpretation that a big smile came on my face.  They are fleeing the holiness of the inside of the church, scattering or slithering away from the religious contents they would have to see, should they be going the other way.

I had busied myself looking for anti symetry, since my eye was so busy looking for connections where I could find none.  The first long-term English conversation I have had in 10 days was with the woman behind me.  Her two daughters were there, but not because they wanted to be.  They would rather have been walking La  Rambla.  But she was determined to go into the church.  When we finally got to the spot where we were to buy the ticket, and all of its accessories (do you want to add a walking tour, the audio guide, a trip up the escalator, etc.) she looked confused.  I told her I am only going to be here once unless another set of stars line up for me, so I am going with the audio guide.

Bonnie asked me how I was so quick to make that decision and I didn´t know why that is the best choice for me.  The tour is only an hour or two long.  The audio guide lasts all day, and you go go deeper.  ¨Listen to number 13 you will hear about the composition of the  windows.  If you like that and want to know more, then press 131 and you will hear more about Venentian glass-making,¨ for example.

Thank you, Wyona, for the trips through the local markets, the tours through the museums, the rides on the double-decker buses, the knowledge of how to slip on and off subways when in a rush.  I am useless when it comes to the language here, though I am trying.  It is something like my French.  I can think of a sentence, compose it in my mind, and say it.  But I cannot hear the answer.  Well, I can hear it but nothing makes sense. I would have to see it written. 

On the other hand, put me near the underground metro and I can run those tunnels and find the right trains.  I may be in overkill, because at some unconconscious level, I hit the pavement there and think I have to run. 

Oh, dear London, I remember you, love you, from afar as I look at beautiful Barcelona.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Sagrada Familia

My first look at the Sagrada Familia was from the top of the double decker Official Barcelona Tourist bus.  I thought that would be enough, but this morning Bonnie announced we were on our way to see the inside of the basilica.

And so my second look at the church was the one hour in the line up with circled the east, west and north faces of the basilica. Bonnie and I idled away the time in the line-up talking to a woman and her 3 girls from midwestern USA. She was using her day in town off of the luxury liner, to see the Temple of the Sacred Family. I don´t know how one makes a choice of what they should do, if they only have one day in Barcelona. For me, the Park Guell, the Picasso Museum and the Sagrada Familia are in a three way tie for first place.

Sagrada Familia
Inside the building with our audio guides around our necks and the tickets for the lift to the top of one of the towers in our pockets, we busied ourselves going from station to station, trying to pay attention to the marble structural pillars or the light coming through the windows, or to the elaborate ornamentation on the outside of the church -- on both the Nativiity and the Crucficition facades.

Gaudi is such a visiual treat – no corner the same, no symetry to be found anywhere, and surprises at every curve -- the curves of which the building has many.

I flagged at 5:30 pm, but Bonnie wanted to take one last look from inside the church at the stained glass windows on the east and west facade. As she was looking up, I was looking down at the floor. The light from the setting sun had turned the marble floor tiles a deep rose colour.  Just the colour of that floor was worth the price of admission.

If we were to do the trip again, I would take a bigger lunch, bring warmer gloves, wear one more sweater, and arrange to arrive 2 hours earlier.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Letters to Els Reis (The Three Wisemen) – Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar

This was David´s first year fully participating in the Catalan tradition of hand delivering a letter to the Three Wisemen. In preparation, he and his cousins Irina and Mariona got out a box of pencil crayons and paper last night. Irina had a single spaced list handwritten by her mother in about 12 point font that was 1.5 pages long. The prices from the toy catalogues were in a column to the right. She copied those that were of the highest priority for this year onto a single page herself. Her list included a bicycle, a DS, the doll Nancy with a baby in a carriage, the doll of a baby who is sick and needs care, and remote control cars (model number listed).

David brought me his letter. It had one word in caps: LEGO. I suggested he think about other things he might like or even need. For example, it has been two years since we last visited Catalonia and his Tiet Jordi Cusso (Uncle Jordi Cusso who works at a Sock Factory) is David chief supplier of socks. David´s socks are all now too small. He agreed that socks should go on the list. He put the letter on the floor, planted one foot on it, and traced his foot – so the Wisemen would know his foot size. He also added to the list books in Catalan, but specified that he was putting those on the list for me. What HE wants is LEGOs. He added after the word LEGO the specific item he is looking for: Clone Troopers. I also suggested he add a new shirt since his own hoodie is too short in the sleeves. He agreed, with the stipulation that it is for me. LEGO stays at the top.

One of my favorite memories of the delivery will be his rosy cheeks that flushed as he was gathered into the arms of Caspar for a photo moment with two cousins. He passed by Melchior, not knowing the tradition is to see all three and was scooped up and had his face rubbed in a loving gesture. Melchior did not let him miss another handful of candy. He was then in his stride and approached Balthazar fearless and with his hands open for receiving.

The Wise Men

Last night David got his letter ready to give to the wise men. This morning we went down to the central plaza to hand deliver the letters. At 11 am there was the sound of a police siren, and then behind the police car were three large vehicles, each carrying one of the wise men who brought with him a suitably attired helper.

The alighted and went into a mezzanine to where there were large chairs waiting for them at the top of 10 marble stairs. There was also a lot of security there. At first I wondered why, and then I could see why. No use having the wise men mobbed by children whose letters were to be pressed into their hands.

The wise men talked to each child, taking the letters and pressing hard sweets and chocolates into their hands. Lots.

And now we wait for January 6th, for the wise men to come again and deliver the presents on the list. Joaquim asked me if I think this custom is less commercial and more religious. I told him I will have to think deeply about this.


Scorcese on Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan
 In the past I have mocked people who take their scriptures on their holidays hoping they can catch up on reading they have missed during their regular lives. I have done the same thing coming to Catalunya, bringing Bob Dylan´s biography Chronicles with me on my holiday. I can´t read until I get glasses. But I couldn´t leave home without a book in my hand in case a miracle happened and I could read again.

        One of sorts, did. Joaquim´s brother, Jordi, is a Bob Dylan fan. He has all of his albums but 2, and last night he was watching Sccrcese´s Bob Dylan – which I don´t know if I should call a documentary or a biography. Never mind. It is hard to call Todd Haynes I´m Not There (2007) a biopic, either, since it is a fiction built on incidents around the life of Dylan.

Blanchett as Bob Dylan
       Jordi´s passion for Dylan includes not only Dylon´s music, but even which band members played with him during which periods. He can name them, and points out all the Canadian musicians for us.

What made me laugh last night is that I saw the real Bob Dylan, as I watched the Scorsese film with Jordi and I thought to myself, ¨Hey, Bob Dylan looks like Cate Blanchett dressed up like Bob Dylan,¨ which is how we saw the fictional Bob Dylan in the Haynes pic.

       And that was how I ended my Christmas Day adventure. I wasn´t reading a book, but it felt like I was.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Dinner in Calella

Grandpa arrived with the long tables for today´s dinner which entertained only the maternal side of Joaquim´s family, a group of 9 children and 11 adults side by side along long banquet tables. When Bonnie asked me how the canneloni was, I could only honestly answer, ¨Well worth dropping your vegetarian ways and becoming a carnivor -- beautiful bechamel sauce and cheese with the right bite on top of stuffed canneloni.¨

Stil, Bonnie was happy with a walnut / blue cheese salad, a lovely vinegrette, and a potato / cheese casserole that was to die for.

I don´t want to forget to talk about the veal in a tomato sauce. I had peaked in that pan early in the morning and seen the fluted edges of 3 inch diamtered mushrooms floating in the sauce and hadn´t known there was meat underneath all of that.


The desserts were wrapped and placed down the middle of the three banquet tables. As well Uncle Albert cut a traditional dessert for as long as people came to him, one that is similar to the largest chocolate bars we sell at home, but in variations too numerous to try. No, they are larger here, but it is hard to find something else with which to make the comparison. I have been tasting this confection over the past week, but still have not acquainted myself with every possible variation, so it was a wonderous evening for me.

There is another very odd cookie that comes wrapped. The technique of eating this cookie is to squeeze the confection very hard, then to unwrap it and eat it, otherwise it flakes all over your clothes and the tablecloth. I burst out laughing on this one – for as tightly as I can squeeze my hand, it is not tight enough to master the art of cookie eating, at least not this Catalan coookie and I add to ask for help.

The days of feasting are not over. Tomorrow we will meet at the home of another relative, though I cannot imagine what more we can consume.

La Nit de Nadal in a Vineyard

I would think I was making this up, if I were reading it. Still, I swear every word is true. I spent Christmas Even in a Catalan Vineyard in Spain. Aunt Roza´s father opens up his house in the vineyard for an extended family party every Christmas Eve. We drove down a country road, like Bernie Road, but it was a one lane road with reeds and grasses towering 5 feet above the car. The road is a true Catalan country road, dips and mounds and the driver tries to weave among them. We passed through a large cement tunnel – perhaps a culvert and there it was – a vineyard like those I have seem in magazines. Rows of strawberries are still bearing fruit on the terraces above the house. There is a waist-high fence between the house and the vineyard that has wonderful columns and water is still in the swimming pool.
The vineyard owner, the grandpa, is always spoken of with loving adjectives – especially by his daughter-in-law who lives with him. I should not say especially by his daughter-in-law, because everyone talks this way about him. No wonder.

The house was prepared when we got there. He had the large buffet tables already leaning against the wall to be put up in the large tiled front room floor as soon as the first part of the evenng was over. The creche was displayed, this time with larger figures, 12 inches high or 24 inches high if you include the height of the wise men on the camels. And no one enjoyed the party more, sitting quietly and watching the children have all of that fun. Then, this morning, after his party was over, he was at our door, bringing the wrought iron stands onto which large boards are place to make long tables for yet another day of feasting.

Bonnie started out the evening of the 24th with a kind description of him. What she said is true. In this holiday there are two blessed people: the madonna and grandpa. This is a big family, mirroring our own, and if there is a hard working uncle, or an amazing aunt, someone who is right there when job is to be done, or someone who already has the food prepared and is pulling more and more goods out of cupboards and fridges, then Bonnie leans over to me and says something like, ¨there you see it, Dave or Glen or Moiya or Wyona or Janet in action again¨. ¨Greg¨ arrived late -- that is, his Catalan counterpart. He was the consumate diplomate, as soon as he got there. His name is Joaquim and he is Rosa´s brother.

So in some way the day felt as though our own loved ones were present.

Ostensibly La Nit de Nadal is about beating presents out of the wooden log, the Casa Tio. Seven large sticks were in the corner and when the time for the fun started, David joined his cousins, beating the log. He had to be told to place his stick down on the floor when the beating was over – rather than toss the stick high in the air, landing like a javelin, too close for comfort to the other grandmother.

The children run to the other room to sing sweet songs to Jesus, imploring him to help that log poop out presents for them. This took five rounds of singing, for when the adults would yell, oh, the room has the smell of a terrible fart, in they would come running – first to find pencils with glitter, fine pens with four colors and paper for each. That was followed with helicopters where you pulled the string to make the propellor spin or jeeps with trailers carrying speed boats, or a five-in-one set of games, to be unwrapped. Next came bags of Kinder eggs, gaily tied with a ribbon from which was hanging another present, Then came chocolates and turrones for everyone in the room. And the last beating brought out candy poop and coal, a strange custom to me, but not to them.

The evening extended into time eating at the buffet, singing, dancing and visiting with extended family members. The focus of the night was always on the children – it was they who beat the log, or sang or danced and then went home with armloads of gifts.

A lovely Christmas Eve.


Six Wonders of a Christmas Holiday in Spain

1. I prepare myself for a cold blast of Alberta winter. I am surprised to feel the mild moist air of a lovely autumun night that hovers around 16 degrees celcius.  This happens to me every time I step outside.

2. Related, but different, is the fact that I look for snow tipped trees, or ice on the sidewalks and find none.

3. I am starting to really like pa amb tomaquet – a crusty bun, split, with the juice of a tomato rubbed straight from the cut tomato onto the bread, then drizzled with extra virgin olive oil with a sprinkle of salt on top of it.  I have seen Joaquim do this time after time at home, but never joined in the fun.  Now I see it done by everyone in the room ... often.

4. The Mediterranean is less than a five minute walk away – all of the steps are downhill.

5. If I look up the hill, I see those little white houses stacked on the hill, just as I used to see them in pictures about Spain.

6. Thinking I had already tried every kind of olive, tonight I tasted olives preserved in anchovy oil. Like every new taste, it gets some effort to get used to this new taste. So that is the idea I put into my mind. Think about this taste and I try a number of olives, seeing if I liked the next one any better than the one I had previously tasted. I am not through with that tasting party but am a willing student.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Watching Barcelona Go By

Place de Catalunya
I was to meet Joaquim, Bonnie and the three little children after their trip to the acquarium and my trip on the Hop-On Hop-Off bus. The meeting place was Place de Cataluyna, and in particular I was to be in the department store at the corner of this square, at the place where scarves and purses are sold. This is a dangerous place for me to wait, but not in this case. The beautiful black leather purses were 200 to 300 euros or more each and the price of the scarves hovered around 60 euros. When I was topped up with that wonderful smell of new leather, and have looked at the fringing technique on all of the scarves, I began to watch the people go by.

We were to meet at 7 pm and go home. I was early, I had more than enough time to window shop, touch every bag that was of interest to me, and then to watch the crowds as they came down the 10 marble stairs and into the main area of the store. I watched singles who had also agreed to meet there, find each other and kiss as they greeted each other. Little families entered, one child in a stroller and another held by the other parent. One expensive buggy bouncing on springs was a fire truck orange colour.

¨They may loose the baby, but they will always be able to find that buggy,¨ I thought. Older couples walked down the stairs, steading each other, seemingly joined both at their clasped hands and at their shoulders.

Lucky me. I stood there and got to watch Barcelona walk by me.


Lunch with 2 Iaias (pronounced ya ya)

We were invited over to Filomena´s house for lunch, so we had 2 grandmothers at the same table and one interpreter between us, poor Joaquim missing most of his meal, translating between the two of us seventy year olds. Filomena and her son, Albert, live closer to the beach than we do, on the main floor of an apartment building half way there.

After all of the times I have walked streets of apartment buildings in Europe and London, now I sat inside of one, main floor, watching the people walk by on the narrow sidewalks outside. I was trying to imagine what this view would be like in high tourist season when body after body would go by your window, within a foot of where you were sitting.

They had a beautiful meal prepared and I tasted for the first time a thick crab sauce on top of pasta. Yum to that. Albert showed me food videos, a set of them that they tape, and I thought of my interest in America´s Test Kitchen and how I like to tape it, and then watch it each week at my leisure. Both grandmothers have that in common – a love of watching the food network, though in different languages.

David played with his uncle´s Wild West Lego, collected many years ago by Uncle Albert. When it was time for David to choose a grandmother to play legos with, he choose his Catalan grandmother, a fact that pleased Ya Ya and David.

Just one note about the language difficulties for me. Everyone in the house speaks Catalan and Spanish, except for Bonnie and me. Bonnie speaks no Spanish, only a halting Catalan, always reaching for words that are not in her lexicon. She can be understood.

No one speaks English. I reach for words and when pantomiming won´t work.  I want to talk with someone and am having excellent success retrieving my French verbs, nouns and idioms. They are now there in a flash for me.  Unfortunately, no one speaks French.

Fun for me to discover how many of the old French words I learned are still there.


Hop-On Hop-Off Bus

The first time I rode into Barcelona on the train someone asked Joaquim where he was going to sit. ¨Seaside, ¨ he said. ¨After all of these years, even after going to university every day on the train, I never tire of seeing the waves splash against the rocks or the view of the Mediterranean.¨

The high spray dashes against the rocks and then for an instant, hangs in the air, that place between continuing upward and beginnning its descent to the ground. There is that view always going on, as well as the colour of the waves as they turn, just ready to make their final press into shore –marine blue, turquoise, grey blue water carrying sand with it, all of it so beautiful.

The sand is contantly cleaned and replaced. When a terrible storm hits the shore, the sand is dragged back out to sea. Of course -- the stretch of sand along the Mediterranean is a tourist´s delight. I heard the commentator on the Hop on Hop Off Bus remark that the harbour we were circling in Barcelona now had as its main commercial feature, the luxury cruise liners bringing people in for their stop along the Barcelona side of the Mediterranean.

I took the bus alone. Joaquim, Bonnie, David (5 years old) and his cousins Irina (7 years old) and Mariona (4 yrs old) were going to the Aquarium. I rode this style of bus for two days in Paris, and two days in Rome, so bought another two day ticket and began my journey hidden behind the wind guard of the plastic shield in the front of the bus on the top level.

Barcelona´s Diagonal

Only the red and green routes run in the bus´s winter schedule, the first taking me around the Olympic Village, the Modernista District, along the Diagonal, through the Gothic Area, down by the Harbour, even to a football (read soccer) stadium that is the largest in Europe – seats over 100,000 fans. ¨Imagine the rush of energy, being here when a game is being played¨, said the tape and then there was music and the chanting of crowds of soccer fans.  That bit of imaginative play might have been lost on me.

 I do not go in a fashionable style on a bus like this. I have one scarf around my neck, one over my head and around my ears, and a blanket tucked across my lap and under my knees. One hand has to be free to grab the front security rail when the bus lurches around a corner, and I am constantly gasping as we miss a bicyclist with the courage to dart across the front of a moving bus. If the bus waits and is turned off at a stop, ¨to keep us on schedule¨, then the dials to the earphones have to be readjusted, finding the English channel again and pumping up the volume so as not to miss one precious word of the script, which is also in the book I am holding with my other hand, so I will know exactly what to look for.

We drove by a statue of Pablo Casals, twice, and I missed it both times. I was told he made the tune A Song of the Birds famous and then played a melody from it, I knew I had one more thing to look up and listen to when I got home.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Picasso Museum

The Frugal Repast
 It would be hard to argue that the Picasso Museum is hard to find, given that it is in a castle and just off of the main streets of Barcelona. Still, Bonnie and I missed it going one way, since we saw a sign telling us it was back toward the way we had just come from. Hundreds of thousands of non Catalyn speaking people find it every year and we did as well.

There was an special exhibit, Picasso Follows Degas. Degas picture had been loaned from galleries in New York, London, Los Angeles and Kohn to be put beside Picasso´s reworking of the same theme – sometimes done the same year, sometimes separated by decades.

Bonnie and I went slowly through every room, trying to decide which was the picture we would take home. I liked the Frugal Repast, though I had spent a lot of time with Lola, Picasso´s sister.  The text beside the picture said that the artist often used his relatives as models.  That was true.  We saw his cousin, his father, and Lola.
Picasso´s sister, Lola

I couldn´t get over the tie of her scarf and the volume of it around her neck, and finally switched scarves with Bonnie so that I could at least to Arta Follows Picasso, as far as Lola´s scarf was concerned. I came close but I could not match the curve and elegance of the master´s brush.

Four hours and we ran out of time in the special exhibit and got no further than the cafeteria in the regular museum.

Going through a museum with a loved one is more fun that going alone.  Bonnie and I knew when to laugh, mostly at ourselves, though sometimes the laughter was at the joy of the paintings.

How much fun was it to see Degas and Picasso, side by side, each doing self-portraits.
Picasso Self Portrait at age 17
 What you see here is Picasso doing a self-portrait at the age of 17. 

Don´t you love the touseled hair and the look he gives the viewer?

I always think the price of the entrance into a special exhibit at a museum is worth its weight in gold.  Seeing pictures side by side on a wall that have come from across continents to be displayed together is such a joy.

I am going back before I leave. The museum houses mostly his early works.  Those are enough for now.


Monday, December 20, 2010

Catalunya - Light-Fingers

Joaquim spent some time showing me how to take the train home alone – showing me which side of the platform to ride on, where to find the train schedule, and how to choose the correct line.  The train was fuller this time and we sat apart.  I knew the 70 minute ride would be hot and I took off my sweater, putting it in his bag and tossing my coat on the overhead rack.  And then I settled down to sleep, listening to the idle chatter of the three women next to me, only waking when I heard Joaquim´s voice speaking to them.  They had been talking to much they were worried if they had missed their stop, but he told them where they were.  The people on his side of the train had left, so I slipped over to sit by him, and we were both looking at the group behind us on the train.  ¨Such great costuming,¨ I said.  ¨Think of how many shops you would have to go to, to get those outfits in place.¨

One man was wearing an African print leotard over which he had pulled a pair of black nickers that were artfully slashed.  His head was shaved and he had on a black shirt and heavy shoes with the marks of much wear on them.  His companion had black curly hair into which had been braided dredlocks that artfully fell down his shoulders.  Gold rings were on two fingers of his left hand and his right wrist was banded with at least two inches of braided friendchip bracelets.  The third man was wearing a black shirt, open to the belt buckle, and the sides were sewn open as well, ending at his waist, so the outfit showed more skin than shirt.

Four stops from home Joaquim began to show me how to get off at the correct station, where to look at, and what to look for above the train door for destination information on the train.  At the third stop before home our fellow travellors got up to leave, a fourth joining them, a woman who had been so slouched in her chair that we hadn´t seen her there, and she staggered sleepily behind them.  The second man, the dreadlock man and Joaquim moved at the same moment, the first to bring my coat down from the rack and at the same time Joaquim´s hand grabbed the lining and said, ¨The coat is hers.¨

¨Abandoned¨, said Mr. Dredlock.

¨Hers,¨ said Joaquim.

¨I am no thief,¨ said the man.

¨The coat is hers,¨ said Joaquim, again with a quick nod in my direction.  The other man bend down, eye to eye, nose to nose with Joaquim, and growled something at him, ...the respectful translation of which I got later and would be, ¨Don´t mess with my private parts, man.¨  Then he left go of the coat and the four of them slipped out of the train.¨

¨I am not sure of everything that just happened,¨ I said to Joaquim. ¨I can tell you that all I have in the pockets is a roll of dental floss, since I have been worrying about pick pockets all day.¨

¨I just didn´t want to see you walk home in the cold without a coat,¨ said Joaquim.


Catalunya - La Rambla

With two hours left to spend in the day, we walked down LaRambla, crowded with strollers walking both ways in the beautiful night air. A street seller was sending into the heavens a spinning irridescent disk that he could launch 40 feet in the air. While the circling blue light was making its ascent and descent, he watched the crowd for the eyes that followed the disk, knowing that way, whom to approach with his sales patter.

Joaquim and I slipped down a side street, ostensibly to see the church and old town, but the Christmas market was crowded with evening shoppers, shoulder to shoulder, at least four rows of stalls, back to back which would make eight long lines, each two blocks long, of holidays wares, that I needed to check out. The major categories of jewellry, scarves, tree ornaments, berries & leaves/tied branches/ and the Caga Tio (pooping log) were on the square.

It is the extras, the additions to elaborate Nativity Scenes that dominant the scene. The layout at Jordie´s and Rosa´s is six feeet long and three feet wide. The scale of the figures is miniature, the baby pigs and lambs being so small I cannot pick them up. There are streams, bridges, pastures, castles, Roman soldiers, shepherds boiling meals in pots under a tripod, the food hanging over a fire, the three kings slowly approaching in the distant hills, a woman dancing with a tambourine at a fire, a blacksmith using his anvil, someone roasting chestnuts – and of course, in a far corner, a baby being born in a stable. I slowed down on my walk through the market for here there is something for everyone. Something every size, and something for a price that could be sustained by every pocketbook. The background decoration scenese, what is used for the ground, the mise-en-scene, is mainly flat rounded stones. The sides of the scene look like the bark I might gather in the woods at Shuswap, but it is simulated, perhaps acrylic and in as many variations as I could find in the woods.

Joaquim and I only worried about conspicuous consumption three times in our shopping. The first time was the only time I felt him nudged me to move along.

¨Are we out of time?¨

¨No, I am nervous you are going to buy the scarves you were lookiing at just now.¨

¨No worries. I saw these same scarves in Camden Town. They are beautiful silk from Nepal, but too expensive there, and probably the same here. I am just looking, not buying.¨

The second issue about money is that Joaquim wondered how all of the merchants could make money, there seemed to be so many of them and so much for sale.

I had wondered about a marginally related question earlier in the morning, but my question was about how much money it required for maintainance of the Gaudi inspired and free park. The upkeep on a park of that size just boggles the mind. Who is going to do all of that weeding and keep everything in such good repair?


Catalunya - Parc Guell

Joaquim and I left for Barcelona on the noon train, a lovely 70 minute ride alongside the blue Mediterranean, near to empty train that stopped at the villages and cities (more than 100,000 people). He chose the destination: Park Guell, named after the man who was genius enough to ask Gaudi to design a park to showcase an expensive urban development. The development did not materialize and the park was eventually gifted to the city. We walked all afternooon looking at the architectural genius. I spent my time switching between views of the overall plan and the exquisite detail of the fine work evident everywhere, running my hands along the tiles, finding benches and chairs at the bases of pillars or on small balconies of earth that projected out from the walk up to the Three Crosses. The slope must rise one foot for every three feet, and even though the temperature was mild, a mere 11 degrees, I began to peel off of scarves, then the sweater and finally my coat.

The pinnacle requires that last 25 or so steps to be taken up a tall column. I could only get the last 19 steps out of myself, for the bannister ended and I didn´t have the courage to free myself from the rail for the last 7 steps were so tiny that when I looked down, I could see the drop right by my feet.

I retraced myself to the bottom of the steps, then braced myself for another attempt. When the total walk to the top takes so much energy, there was no way I was not going to complete the last few steps. Some calming of my heart worked and I joined the crowded space at the top.

One of the many hawkers of souvenirs had set up his umbrella pinned with Gaudiesque earrings for sale at the bottom of the stairs. A musician sat there with 2 dirgeridoos and a set of percussive intruements that he worked with his hands and feet. Joaquim and I could hear the sonorous sounds of the didjeridoos all of the way back down the mountain side to the main plaza. A clean sweep of the security guards had scattered all 40 multitutde of illegal souvenir sellers we had passed among at Gaudi´s famous bench there, and we met them as singles now, all along the trails. One enterprising bubble maker would dip into glycerine and soap, a string that he held between two three foot sticks. I had seen him first beside the Catalunian Gaudi bench, but later on a mound in the forested part of the park. His pan of soap had slipped, spilling small white bubbles down the mound he was standing on, making that the end of commercial enterprise for him for the day for him.

Two other musical groups were taking advantage of the high ceiling domes that are held up by leaning columns, leaning in to the centre of the dome for structural strength. One space had been meant for a large outdoor market and two drummers were playing off of each other. The other space was a grotto like cavern, not one with a lot of depth, but the space was elliptical and showcased three African musicians, whose costuming made them seem like a jewelled in the centre of Gaudi´s architectural genius.

Joaquim´s sister let him in on the secret of the fast way the park: Bus 24, which goes uphill all of the way. The metro option is to take an entrance that requires so many steps that a person is tired before they get to the park, so many steps that along the way there are outdoor escalators to help the weary with the climb uphill. Bus 24 is the one we took to the park and away, back to Plaza Catalunya where we enjoyed a late lunch hour at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Joaquim had his eye on this place earlier in the day, but when we were one-half a block away what seemed like a tour group were gathered outside of the building and by the time we had arrived there the line-up was similar to the line-up that happens at D-Dutchman Dairy when non-locals alight.

Catalunya - The Flight

Bonnie and David had the window and aisle seats on the left hand side of the plane. I was in the middle section of seats across the isle and Joaquim was next to me. A man who spilled out of his seat and into Joaquim´s seat by the time he had sat down was one of the last people to get on the plane. Before he was settled into this seat, he peppered Joaquim with questions:

¨Vous parlez français?¨ No answer from Joaquim.

¨Snackst du Plattdüütsch.¨ A few inaudible (to me) mumbles from Joaquim.

ñТы говоришь по-русски?¨ Joaquim stares staight ahead.

¨Hablas español?¨ Still no burst of conversation from Joaquim.

Then the man said in English, ¨Well, if you want to get up during the flight don´t try to come out this side. I´m not moving. Go over her.¨ And he points at me and gestures toward my seat and my isle, in case Joaquim doesn´t get it. And then he says to Joaquim again, ¨Don´t try to come this way. I am not getting up for the whole flight. The whole flight.¨

I was in stunned silence.

A minute or two later, a steward was by the man´s side, genially squatting in the isle of the man at Joaquim´s side, smiling at him, saying, ¨You are having a good time? Drinking in the bar before the flight? Feeling good?¨ The man nodded a bit. ¨We won´t be serving you any alcohol on the flight. If that is not alright with you, you will have to get off now Do you understand me. No alcohol during the flight. Nor with your meals. This time it was our travelling companion who was stunned.

Then the steward was gone.

A sigh of relief from me and a whisper to Joaquim, ¨Ï have no idea why I suddenly want to get out of my side by climbing past the two of you to go to the bathroom.¨ Joaquim just raised his eyebrows.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Testing from Calella on the Mediterranean sea


I am leaving now for Barcelona with Joaquim. so far Joaquim has only been lost once. David and I went into a store that sells wax candles to look at the large wax alligator and while we were there, Joaquim left his place at the bank window and got lost. He left me there with no money, no information about that last name of the lovely sister in law with whom we are staying, no phone number and no Catalyn phrases memorized yet, like i´m lost.

David and i stayed still and we found him. Hard now for me to type on a typewriter that has many cedilla´s, won´t capitalize letters for me and gives me pointy brackets, when I don´t want them. By the time I send the next message i will have all of that under control, even being able to say t´ me perduit, should Joaquim get lost on us again.



Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Caernarfon Castle and Wales

Today we are going from Cardiff to Dover. We have to change trains in London plus take a tube ride from Paddington station to St. Pancreas. I just want to hop off, and go to a matinee while in London but I will have to pass.

Below one can find a few pictures of the Caernarfon Castle in Wales.

Greg is in there. Can you see him?

I started out going to the top turret, but began to think of the trip down and never went any higher than half way up. Greg went to the top and took pictures from up there.

We stayed in Caernarfon and visited the Castle while we were there. Climbing up the turrets was fun, but only a rope to hang on to. The stairs were built so people had to hang on to the rope with the right hand, most people being right-handed. That way, the owners and defenders of the castle could push the invaders down the stairwell as they were attacking. It is hard to defend with a weapon in the right hand when one has to hold onto the rope with the right hand.

Trip in Cumbria, Scotland

A coastline picture as one travels through the country in Cumbria, Wales. This coast is full of industry and it is where it all began in the industrial revolution.

Greg in all his wisdom says, “I just can’t believe I am doing this . It is so nice to not be worrying about a meeting the next day or what am I going to say at the meeting and then what is useful at the meeting that I must report on and then I was away from the office for a day so will I ever catch up. I’m in heaven.” He is reading his Economist now while riding the train and I am blogging. Wind turbines are seen along the coast of Cumbria and in the center of Wales.

Here are the snowy hills wellgroomed from the coast of Aberyswyth to Cardiff. Farm life below is the same everywhere. Sheep everywhere.
Just a a view of the Christmas lights in Cardiff. Greg took a train trip on 'The Heart of Wales Line', from Cardiff one day while I stayed in Cardiff and walked my feet off. I always thought I was going back to the hotel, but three times I ended up back at Cardiff Castle. The beautiful side streets and markets there go on forever, turning when you don't know you are turning.

This is just one of the many castles that flash by as the train moves along the track. Sometimes you get a picture and then other times you don't.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Final Days in Europe

Above you can see one of the side streets off Oxford Street. Many of you have been to London at Christmas. It is magical, but the same is true when you are with any people that you love. Bus 94 is the new buss that we take whenever we head to the hotel.

There is one stop, Minford where the steam train crosses the regular line. So on the return trip we got off the Ffestiniog Train to catch the regular train to Aberyswyth, the end of the line on the coast. This is Greg and I waiting 1-¾ hours for the next train. You see it all. There is nothing there except a phone connected to the National Rail Line, which tells you when the next train is coming. It was reassuring to just pick up the phone and hear a recording. One has to flag the train down as it rounds the bend in the line.

Since Greg and I decided to take this trip, I made a point of getting on a steam-engine train. Arta and I went up to the top of Mt. Snowdon on a cog wheel train. It was an amazing journey. Here you can see Mt. Snowdon from the castle at Caernarfon, Wales. We have gone from the luxurious first class trains with food service to the one car train which one guard told Arta and I, it was just one step above a horse and cart. Below is the Ffestiniog Welsh Train that we took through the country for 50 miles.

Greg is watchhing out the window of the Ffestiniog train while the guard is having a chat with the neighbor. I was afraid at one point that I was imposing my wants on Greg, until he said, “I love trains, any train!” There are many revived steam engine trains trips in Scotland and Wales. However, the trains shut down during the winter months. The only one left open this winter is the Welsh Blaneau Ffestiniog - Porthmadog, roundtrip.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

CP Rail Holiday Train

The CP Rail Holiday Train came through Calgary on Dec 11. We had 4 people going mid-day, and by 5pm when we headed out for a Wendy's dinner and then to the Macleod/Heritage train stop, we had 8. Christmas is more fun with more people.

The train pulled up just before 7pm when we arrived. We found pretty decent parking, although a crowd was already waiting. It seemed to me the train was even more decorated this year. More lights, more intricate designs, just better all-around. There was a table for food bank collections as well as a CD (new this year) of train "tracks" for only $10, proceeds going to the food bank.

A crowd of about 100 crowded around the car that had doors waiting to see who the musical group was. At about 7:15 the doors opened up and it was The Odds, with Santa doing one song before he handed over the mike. We stayed for Santa's rap and 2 songs from The Odds.

During the second song, we noticed rodents in the snow. Charise let one crawl around her feet (I have tried 3 times to upload a picture of the mouse around her feet, but was unsuccessful). When they ran over to the group beside us, a little toddler girl screamed a high-pitched scream. I think we were all treading on snow drifts that are never walked on. We were disturbing their home.

It was a fun evening, but too cold to see the end of it. Thanks for the Christmas fun everyone.

The train goes through Cochrane and Banff tomorrow, Golden and area on Monday, and then further west. Search on CP Rail Holiday train and you will see the schedule.