Monday, January 26, 2009

The Monastery and Me (and Linda)

I come from Chicago, often referred to as the Windy City. One would then expect that I would be used to wind and scoff at the so called 'viento' seen here in Spain. One might think that, but one would be wrong. This weekend four Barcelonians died due to wind related incidents (i.e. roofs caving in, trees falling on them, and pieces of wall falling on them). My host mother was terrified I would get hit by a tree and die while outside, luckily I seem to have survived. A bunch of trees in the area were completely uprooted, however, which is kind of ridiculous. The wind seemed strong but seriously, it didn't seem like the tree-knocking type.

On Sunday I decided I needed to get out of the city a bit so I convinced Linda to trek out to Montserrat with me. It's about an hour train ride from the city (round trip 15 euro) and it takes you to the foot of a beautiful rocky mountainside. We got a bit lost on the way out ending up in a random suburb of Barcelona but eventually found our way to the right place. Once there you get on a cable car and ride up the mountain to the monastery on top. Obviously this would not have been possible in the winds the day before but we lucked out and enjoyed the beautiful ride to the top. The monastery is the most ornate and decked out building I have ever seen. Every surface is covered in marble or gold and the painting, carvings, sculptors, and mosaics are breathtaking. Someone played on the organ at the front of the church leaving a haunted and melancholy feeling in the air as we drifted through the many rooms.

The monastery covers a massive amount of land and has paths that wind for what seems like miles around the mountaintop with white statues dotting the hillsides. We walked along one of the many paths for a bit and then decided it was cold enough to head back. We met up with a friend of mine for dinner and then all headed home.

Something I have neglected to mention is the Spanish obsession with cleanliness. Every night BCNeta drives around and literally hoses down every single street. In theory this sounds like a nice idea (if a bit wasteful of good water) but when you live anywhere near a window it makes going to sleep rather aggravating. I appreciate that they want to keep the streets pretty and clean, really I do. But must they do this at 2 AM? Might it be possible to wait until a slightly more reasonable hour? You know, closer to 7 AM? Or how about once a week? Work with me here. I really like to sleep. And they're often talkative, so you get the nice water sounds along with loud shouts of gossiping between the cleaners. So if you ever decide to move to Barcelona, be warned and bring earplugs.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Happily Abroad but Proudly American

Getting used to the news abroad has taken some time, but I have certainly been missing the nearly constant updates on Obama's whereabouts that are so typical of American news. While he is certainly mentioned on Spanish television it is not nearly as often as I would like, and I rarely get to hear him speak since not everyone here would fully understand. I think, however, that it made the inauguration speech all the sweet not having heard his voice in weeks. I must sound like a crazed lover, but he really is the best orator I've ever heard.

I went to the hotel Le Meredian with about 300 other people to watch the inauguration coverage, eat tapas, and drink champagne (and no, I still haven't gotten over the fact that I can get alcohol legally here...). Of course, the moment after he was sworn in one of the many reporters taking pictures of the people in the room tripped on the sound chord and we missed the first 3 sentences of his speech. Panic and chaos ensued until a hotel worker could come and fix the soundboard. It was worth the wait though, and I've certainly never felt as American as I did sitting in a French hotel in Spain with an assortment of Americans and Spaniards watching the presidential inauguration. The Spaniards sitting behind me weren't quite sure what senators did though, and their discussion about it was rather amusing.

I went to an amazing concert with a few friends to celebrate that night and had my first experience with a loop machine. The singer had his guitar and this machine on-stage and would play a few chords or beatbox or sing into his special microphone and then the machine would start to play it back in a loop so that he could create a choir of himself in up to 18 parts with several instruments. It was one of the cooler things I've ever seen in the music industry (not that I've seen very much...) and I am fairly certain every woman and half the men in the club fell in love with him after his first song.

To keep this short I'll just list several of the fun and interesting things I've been up to:
1. Started classes in Spanish. Yes, it is HARD. Yes, all I need is a C to get credit. Maybe, do I think it's possible to get that C in Philosophy of Politics. Yes, I would love help.

2. Apparently Spaniards don't believe in kleenex or napkins. They most often come in a form similar to tissue paper and rarely are adequate help for my sneezes or messes. Because I don't know if you know this, but I am a messy eater.

3. The beach is a beautiful place to go running and a great way to see locals and tourists of all shapes, sizes, and ages. Also, apparently, a great way to see naked old ladies. During my run on Sunday I turned my head to look at the Mediterranean only to notice several topless 70-year-old women sunning on the beach. I guess that's what all the excitement over nudist beaches was about. I still don't get the appeal.

4. There is a Chocolate Museum around the corner from my apartment. It offers several chocolate baking classes. Enough said.

5. On Friday night I went to yet another Chabad Rabbi's house for dinner and had one of the best challahs I have ever tasted. His wife, Genya, is no more than 28 at the oldest and runs the Jewish daycare center out of their apartment. When I asked if she could give me her recipe she invited me and my friend Linda over to bake with her on Thursday night. There is nothing more exciting to me than baking challah in foreign countries. Obviously I will take her up on the offer.

There is far too much going on to write about everything, and I doubt I can maintain anyone's interest for as long as it would take if I tried. But that just means I'll have things to talk about when I get back. Next weekend I'll be going to Lyon, France with Linda and her roommate Beth and I'm certain to have good stories on my return. Until then, eat, drink, enjoy the new presidency, and be very, very merry.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


So instead of a long entry I'm just going to leave you with things I have learned as well as some funny anecdotes of the past week:

1. When trying to order a cappuccino at a restaurant, the waiter thought my friend had asked to order from the Chino, meaning Chinese. The Chinese waiter came to take our order instead, looking very confused as to why we would only order from him, and my friend will never live that one down...

2. When trying to leave the house this morning I couldn't find my key and spent half an hour looking for it, missing my class in the process. My host-mom and I spent a total of 2 hours looking before I found it in my shoe from last night. I had put it there to make it easier on myself to find it in the morning. I'm not quite sure what this says about me.

3. The park near my house has two exits/entrances that are right next to each other. This means you cannot cut through the park. I tried for a good hour to find an exit on the side near my school and finally asked someone who told me in a rather haughty way that there is, in fact, only one entranceway to the park. I did find safety school though (the system of mini-roads and signs that school children use to learn about traffic).

4. The term for hook up buddy in Spanish is Rollo. The term for friends with benefits in Amigo con derecho a race. I learned these in class. I may be tested on them.

5. Apparently, lettuce sauteéd in olive oil can be considered a meal.

6. Textbooks at the university are way cheaper than at American universities. So is the food.

7. Chocolate crossiants are not only covered in chocolate, they're full of it too. They are also delicious. Especially when eaten after spending two hours looking for the key to your apartment unsuccessfully.

8. The store around the corner from me sells pasta in the shape of boobs. It also sells birthday cards for children. Hmm...

9. I finally watched High School Musical. It cannot compare to Grease. John Travolta will always be hotter than Zach Effron.

I hope you found this slightly education and humorous and feel free to call, email, or write any time.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Very Upsetting Experience

This will be short because I just blogged recently, but I had a very upsetting experience today that I feel the need to post about. I got off the Metro on my way home from a tour of the Sagrada Familia (a Church designed by Gaudí) and saw a huge protest in the street near my apartment. It took me about 10 seconds to realize it was a Palestinian protest against Israel and the street was filled with hundreds, yes hundreds in the plural, of Palestinian supporters shouting, "Down with Israel, Israel is massacring the Palestinians, down with the murderers!" There were lots of signs equating Jews with Nazis (an inherent contradiction I feel, and something only an ignorant person would argue). There were signs damning Israel for having blood on her hands and sirens. What hurt me most was the deep hatred I felt oozing from the streets.

I began to cry, tears streaming down my face for my homeland, for as much as I can consider the U.S. to be a home, Israel will always be in my head and in my heart. I wanted to argue with this people, make them see our side. I wanted them to understand that we are under attack too, our schools and homes are being bombed and torn apart, our name is being slandered and our country criticized more than they can ever appreciate.

But I also wanted to cry for them. Each person who has died, no matter his relation to Hezbolah, had parents, and some had wives and children. Losing my mother has taught me so much about pain, and seeing the pain these people felt broke my heart a thousand times over. Sometimes I look at this world we live in, the pain and sadness and hatred and anger, and I wonder if all aren't just a little crazy for continuing on with our lives this way.

On the bright side, the news here in Barcelona seems fairly unbiased. Watching the coverage of the event I noticed they interviews Palestinians and Israelis with differing perspectives as well as presenting the different leaders' arguments. More than any news station in the states, the programs here seem to recognize the enormity and depth of the fighting.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

In Which our Heroine finds Jews, Food, a Program, and a Home (warning: this will be long, feel free to skim, laugh, complain, or completely ignore)

Hello to all of you faithful readers, friends and family. And by faithful I mean still interested after a whole week of my journey. Trek. Travels. What have you.

I last left you hanging on the edge of your seats in suspense as to whether or not I would indeed find my way to Chabad for Friday night services and dinner. Well, I am pleased to announce that I did indeed find my way without getting lost even once. It was really a miracle worth celebrating with prayer.

Though I had heard the Jewish life in Barcelona was fairly small, I was pleasantly surprised to find a fairly active Chabad. The Chabad is a tiny room in the basement of an apartment building located in a ridiculously hidden street that is nearly impossible to find. I walked by it several times at first (which doesn’t count as being lost, or at least I’m not counting it…) because it really doesn’t look like more than a doorway. The services started out small, but by the end of Kabbalat Shabbat the room was quite full and there were certainly no more seats in either the men or women’s section. The Chabad rabbi is fairly young and therefore only has five children right now, to whom he speaks only in Hebrew. His five-year-old daughter Chavi spent much of services talking very loudly to me in perfect Hebrew about her preschool’s bathrooms. I went to the rabbi’s house for dinner and met several visiting Israelis, a Brazilian, a Frenchmen, and two University of Colorado students who (of course) had several friends in common with me. On Saturday I returned to shul for more services (and lots more Jews, especially adorable Spanish children) as well as a hearty Kiddush followed by a poorly played game of chess with the Frenchmen. I did get an offer to go visit him in Paris though, so perhaps not so poorly played…

When I got back to the hotel I went to the lobby where I met my program leaders (six Barcelonian women studying tourism at universities in the area, all of them incredibly nice and all of them incredibly beautiful, a seeming trend here in Barcelona). I also met four of the five other students on my program. Minna arrived a few days late because of a plane misshap. Better late than never at least.

We spent the first few days touring the city by foot, learning the transportation system (which is amazing and makes me wish we had a whole lot more money to replace the el’s in Chicago…), going out for Spanish food, and tasting lots of great wine. On Monday morning we were shipped off to our respective homes to unpack and then met at the program office for more orientation programs.

Heather and I are staying with a little old lady named Ana fairly close to Las Ramblas in a cute, if very cold, apartment. Ana has lived here for approximately 40 years and has hosted study abroad students for a long time so she’s pretty accustomed to Americans. Ana is Catholic and there are pictures of Jesus on almost every wall in the house. It’s not that I mind as a Jew, but more that pictures of Jesus always freak me out a little just because he looks scary and in a lot of pain.

Spaniards have a special holiday called Día de los Reyes which means Day of the Kings and is their equivalent of Santa Clause. The three Kings who have something to do with the three wise men (perhaps are the three wisemen?) come to give gifts to all the good little boys and girls on January 6. This means all decorations are up until the 7th including the complete nativity scene in our dining room. Everyone in my group has been sticking together and we were planning to go to the parade on the 5th a night but never really got around to it. No worries though, Spaniards love festivals so there will be many more opportunities.

Okay, to anyone who is still reading, you deserve a nice anecdote for your patience. This morning I decided to go running by the beach (just a few minutes from the apartment, and really incredibly beautiful) but I needed to be able to get back in the apartment. Ana made us copies of the key to her place but they’re not of great quality so she wanted to see me open the door before I left. Heather got in the shower as I was about to go out and Ana took the key to show me how the door works. This was the basic conversation, translated into English of course:
Ana: Turn it like this (turns to the right, then the left)
Me: Okay, like this? (turn to the right, then left, door doesn’t open)
Ana: No, to the left
Me: Okay, like this? (turn to the left, door doesn’t open)
Ana: No, to the right (opens door with some difficulty by turning to the right, then left), and remember that she’s lived here for 40 years.)
Me: (more aggravated) Like this? (turn to the left, door doesn’t open)
Ana: No, like this (turns to the right, then left, door opens after several tries)
Me: (really aggravated) So like this (turn to the right, then left, door doesn’t open)

This went on for the entirety of Heather’s shower, she had time to dress and put on makeup before Ana gave up and gave me her original key to use, which opened the door with much less difficulty, though it’s still a pain in the butt. Basically I’m trapped inside or outside, but I can’t leave without Ana. If this was a test of my patience, I failed miserably.

So basically, I love Barcelona minus today’s hail and the obnoxious door to our apartment. Also minus the cold water for the shower, to which I have to ignite the flame for the water heater by had. Even with all these problems the city is amazing and I’m exciting (though terribly nervous) for classes to begin tomorrow. Still don’t know what classes I’m taking, but if it’s horrible I can always participate in the glory that is add/drop.

Also, I finally got a cell phone here so if you for some reason have money lying around and want to call Spain to talk to me feel free to email and ask for the number. Of I may just call you since it’s really not that expensive for me. Or I can stick to facebook stalking everyone I love. Really it’s all the same to me.

Much amor a todos y Feliz Dia de los Reyes!

Friday, January 2, 2009

A New Beginning

If you know me at all you know I love to get lost the moment I arrive in a new place. It's kind of a tradition at this point so I don't know why I thought it would be different this time. Accordingly, I got off the Aerobus in Barcelona and walked in the exact opposite direction of my hotel. To be fair, I had gotten on a plane about 12 hours earlier and hadn't slept in about 24 hours nor had I ever been to this city before. I wrote down google directions from the general area of the bus stop to the hotel and people helpfully pointed me towards Las Ramblas (the equivalent of Broadway in New York, at least that many people/tourists) where I wandered around for an hour before giving in and getting a taxi.

You can imagine my humor when he drove me right back to where I had gotten off the bus, went up the street about 35 yards, and pulled up in front of my hotel. But once I got inside everyone was incredibly friendly and helpful and I quickly returned to Las Ramblas to find food and people watch. Being the nice Jewish girl that I am, I of course ended up at the vegetarian chain Maoz which sells falafel. Pretty good falafel in fact. Then I returned to the hotel, watched some Spanish TV, and fell asleep at 6 PM local time. Got to love the jet lag.

I woke up today and went to the Corte Ingles (a local department store) to buy an adapter for my computer plug. Then I went back to Las Ramblas, because it really is a fun street to wander. I walked down to the waterfront and then turned around ambling down side streets that looked interesting. In addition to a beautiful courtyard with a large fountain, I came across the Sex Museum, the Sex Shop, and The Sex Cabaret. After the third one I stopped noticing. They seem to really like sex on that street...

I'm sure I will quickly acclimate to my surroundings, but for now I can't help but notice all the differences between European and American society. First of all, I finally understand why Europeans think everything in America is huge. It's because it's true. The stores here are tiny in comparison. I could probably fit 5 of the clothing stores here into one GAP store at home. There are jewelry stores about the size of a closet and food vendors not much larger. The streets here are also all very narrow and impossible for me to navigate. I really feel lucky to live in a country that caters to my inability to find my way out of a box. Perhaps living here will help my directional skills.

Eventually I stumbled across the covered outdoor market called La Boquería. There are hundreds of food vendors selling everything you could ever want to eat. It felt a lot like walking through the market in Jerusalem only with more treif. Lots and lots of treif. I have never seen so much meat in my life. There were whole pigs and rabbits and pieces of lamb hanging from the sides of vendor's stalls. Seriously, I saw Babe, and he was having a bad day.

In the back corner I found a nice organic vegetarian stand where I bought an amazing mushroom tortilla (omlette) for lunch. So to all of you who doubted my ability to be a vegetarian in Spain- take that! Granted, I've only been here two days, but still, two days and two vegetarian restaurants. Not bad if you ask me.

Okay, I'm going to go attempt to find the Chabad for Kabalat Shabbat services tonight. If you don't here back from me again that just means I got lost on the way there. A likely possibility.

I send much love to everyone and I hope you all have a happy, healthy, and sweet New Year (I had 3 of them on the plane, one for every time zone we flew through. I generally don't like this holiday, so having to go through it 3 times was rather annoying, but maybe that means I'm in for a tripley good one).
Hasta Luego!