Wednesday, October 1, 2008

fútbol, bureaucracies and school by k

i’ll start there while the memory of my trip with arel to our first european soccer match is still relatively fresh. arel has been dying to go to a professional game, but like most things since coming here, figuring out how to get tickets seemed very confusing; do you buy them online, what if you’re not a member of the club, how much are tickets, are the games sold-out, and on and on. so, a couple weeks ago, we were meeting some people near the olympic stadium, current home field of barcelona’s “other” fútbol team, espanyol. (who knew that barcelona has two top-tier teams?) i knew there was a game that night, so barak and arel went to the ticket window at the stadium to see if there were tickets. we also knew that there was a game the next saturday between the two barcelona teams. in the end, barak and arel opted for the “more exciting” game between these two rival teams...a “derby,” which is what they call it when two rival teams play each other.

we figured, yes tickets are twice as much (60 euros each!), but this way arel gets to see both local teams play at once. and he has been patient waiting for us to get our shit together to buy tickets. needless to say, arel was very excited all anticipation. he kept saying it was the longest week of his life. when would saturday arrive, etc. etc.

well, saturday finally arrived, but there was the whole day to get through. kick-off was scheduled for 22:00, a relatively normal start time here! arel and i left our apartment at 8:40 to take a bus, then the metro and then a funicular up the final hill. arel couldn’t stop smiling the whole way. as we neared the destination on the metro, more and more fans climbed aboard. happiness was pouring from arel. really, he couldn’t hold back his beaming smile and he skipped along on our way to the stadium.

as we neared the stadium (built for the 1992 olympics), more and more people headed the same direction. we could hear some chanting already from the inside. police were everywhere directing traffic. hundreds of people milling around, all in a very festive mood. i was struck by what a range of people were going to the game. more women than i’d expected, and also older couples dressed up for a night on the town. still, inside the stadium you could see that the majority of people were young men and middle-aged men. lots wearing the espanyol jersey or scarf. many holding banners. already bouncing around and singing before the game even started. there was a lot of energy in the air.

arel and i finally found the gate through which we were supposed to enter, made our way to the right section and then found seats. he told me about the different players on both teams, gave me his prediction for the game (1-1) and kept on beaming. it felt like a very rich experience for both of us, but i did look around at all the die-hard fans and wonder about the people for whom this is religion; those who go to every game, take results very seriously and have few other interests, if any. do i want my son to be one of those people? could he become one of those people? when does it go too far?

for full disclosure, i was excited for the game too. not as much as arel, but still excited. both barak and i wanted to go, but since dorian has zero interest in fútbol, or any other sport for that matter, only one of us would be able to go with arel. being the sportier of the two of us, having played soccer as a kid, having watched a lot of world cup soccer, i pulled rank and went with arel. we decided barak would go to the next game. i wondered if this would be a different experience from the major league soccer game i went to in california (not very spirited). or the one baseball game and one football game i’ve ever been to. part of me thought this would be a lot cooler and more interesting because it was happening in europe. soccer is a world sport, unlike those american games, so i expected this would be better somehow. i already felt a tinge of jealousy that barak would get to go to the next game at camp nou, home to barça.

shortly into the first half, i realized there would be no jealousy. i would not feel driven to be a regular at these games. it was an interesting experience on a sociological level (yes, i know that sounds snobby!). i watched it all from a remove, finding it interesting to observe the whole spectacle, but not on the same wave length as the others, even arel. (and that was before the shit hit the fan.) i liked the lit up stadium at ten at night, full of people. i liked the idea of fans chanting together and the total involvement. but i didn’t really like a lot of what they were saying or, ultimately, the energy there.

arel and i realized pretty quickly how big the rivalry was between these two teams. most of the spectators were for espanyol. the few barça fans were no where near us. arel and i both liked the idea of rooting for the underdog, espanyol. but i started to feel a little uncomfortable when all these thousands of people were shouting “puta barça, puta barça!” over and over and over. and just because a barça player did a good thing or even came on the field. for those of you who don’t speak spanish, “puta barça” translates literally to “barça whore.” (don’t even get me started on the misogyny here!) there were also chants of “fuera!”, or “get out.” the one chant i did quite like was after the referee made a questionable call, a chant of thousands sang, “arbitro, qué malo eres” to a familiar tune, although i can’t put my finger on it. there seemed to be a tinge of humor to that one, and not as much anger.

barça totally dominated at the beginning of the game, but espanyol was the first team to score. arel and i were both relieved because we didn’t want to see the fans get angrier! then came half-time. the image that sticks out in my mind of half-time (and this is sort of bizarre) is of a bunch of young men (20s, maybe 30s) pulling out their tin-foil-covered bocadillo, or sandwich. i don’t know why this struck me so much. it just seemed so quintessentially spanish to me. one, the bocadillo. always a baguette with one thing on it; ham or cheese or salami or tortilla, but nothing else. and then i could just see these guy’s mothers making them the sandwiches and sending them off to the game. with each guy i looked at, i was convinced his mother had made the sandwich, and i bet she did! again, my critical voice. how can these people be so angry about a game played by other people when their mommy still makes their sandwiches!

okay, so now is where it really got interesting. second half starts and still no one has scored when all of a sudden, to our right, maybe 100 meters away, there are some big flashes of light and a lot of smoke. i stood up and looked over and it was clear that someone had thrown something into the crowd and it wasn’t just a small firecracker. arel asked me what was happening and i said from what i could see someone had thrown these things into the crowd and people were mad. he said, “couldn’t someone get hurt from those?” the answer, of course, was yes, but i tried to play it down.

then the game came to a halt and some chaos broke out down on the field... police running to the side with the fires. the game halted. i asked our neighbor what was going on. he said some barça fans had thrown flares onto espanyol fans, and that the crowd was pissed off and people were hurt! spectators were screaming “puta barça, puta barça!!!” in the paper the next day, i learned that some of the people who were trying to get away from the smoke and flames went onto the field, which is what triggered the chaos down there. arel thought the game was being called off. i wasn’t sure.

by this point, arel was on the verge of a panic attack. he said very clearly, “i want to leave now.” this after all the build-up to the game, all the excitement made me really sad. i told him i wanted to wait a few minutes for the whole situation to calm down a bit. i said we were safe, which i really believe we were. two minutes later we headed out of the stadium into the night.

we learned the next day that there are many angles to the rivalry between the two teams, not the least of which is that barça is associated with being catalan and espanyol is more nationalist, geared toward spain. barça has more money, better players and is known around the world. the people who threw the flares, a faction of extreme barça fans, were arrested and could face jail time. the press took it all seriously, but there was no mention of the chanting, which i guess in normal here. i just can’t imagine it not being front page news if u.s. fans chanted similar things. but maybe they do and i just don’t know it! i feel like a prude saying this. oh, those nasty spanish fans using bad words! but the anger behind them and, yes, the misogyny of the words chosen, do make me mad and i think they’re inappropriate.

i’m glad barak is going to the next game...

i had been hoping to avoid most bureaucracies when we came here, but it seems that for each thing you want to do, there is at least one other thing you have to do before you do the one you want! the first domino to fall came after i tried to open a bank account. (i think i’ve written about this, so i’ll keep it brief.) at the bank i learned that i would indeed need a n.i.e. (número de identidad de extranjero), foreigner number. getting that took two visits. one to find out exactly what we needed to bring, and also to find out that to get a n.i.e. for barak would be a totally separate process. the second visit (just me), i waited in line for about an hour before getting to the front. there, a completely passive and checked-out employee took my paperwork and slowly entered all the information into her database. fortunately, i had everything in order, except that in the place i was supposed to put my father’s name, i put w.c. wiederholt. duh! i wasn’t supposed to put his last name, just his first names. no matter that he’s dead. it still says on my certificate that i am the daughter of wigbert christian and gisela maria. fortunately that was not a problem. she gave me my paperwork and told me to go to the bank, pay the fee and come back and wait in the other line to get my actual n.i.e.

okay. i walked to a bank a few doors down. the tellers looked at me and said, hurry, at 10:00 we stop! stop what, i thought. but i hurried and paid my 6,40 euros. a minute later, people who had been just behind me in the other line walked in and were told, no, we’re not taking payments anymore. just like that. i asked the guard at the police station what the bank tellers were talking about, and from what he told me, i gather that banks simply decide when they will and won’t take payments.

back to the other line. at this point i was feeling quite cheery because there weren’t many people ahead of me. i was still in the outside line, but after only about ten minutes i was brought inside where there were two lines. the guard told me to go into the one on the right. the person working there finished a couple people and i was next. he didn’t look up, but just walked out of the room. hum, i thought. wonder where he’s going. probably just to the bathroom. so i waited. the people in the other line were getting their n.i.e.s one after another and i contemplated switching lines. but surely this guy would come back. i asked the other clerk if the señor was coming back soon. she said, what señor? i pointed to the empty stop next to her. she said, oh my compañero, yes, he’ll be back. señor, compañero, who else would i be talking about? but did the compañero return? NO! i finally gave up and switched lines. i was a little surprised that none of the people in the other line said, you go ahead, you’ve been here much longer than i have. no, there was a sort of smugness about being ahead of me. there was one last hold-out in my line, but then the guard came and told her to switch lines because mr. compañero had gone out to get a bite to eat.

n.i.e. in hand, i went back to the bank the next day, proud of being official. ah yes, you can open an account. la la la. let’s just fill this in. hummmmm, why does your n.i.e. start with a y? they usually start with x. after many calls, they said they’d need to send the paperwork to madrid. bbva’s it systems couldn’t accept a y. it should be ready in a few days. a few days later they told me i couldn’t open an account until they redo their system. i went to a bank down the block and opened my account!

next bureaucracy, barak’s status. go to the office for foreigners across the city only to be told we need to have an appointment. can we make an appointment here? no, you need to call or send an email. can you tell us what documentation we’ll need for the appointment? no. can you tell us about barak’s status if we can’t get an appointment quickly? no.

got home and sent the email requesting an appointment. that felt as useful as putting the request in a bottle and throwing it into the mediterranean. needless to say, haven’t heard back on the email. but barak managed to get through on the phone after constant redialing, only to be told we’ll need one more thing, and if we don’t have it yet, they won’t make the appointment. we need to have our marriage license “legalized” by germany, since that is my citizenship. we already had it apostilled in san francisco...we’ll also need an “offical” translation to spanish, 70 euros, thank you very much.

one thing at a time. i went to the german consulate today to ask about getting our license legalized. i gave the clerk what she needed and then she asked for the “other” thing! that illusive “other” thing. first we have to register with the local (our neighborhood) governing body to say we’re living here. with that, i’ll be able to get the marriage license legalized on the spot for 20 euros. so, tomorrow it’s to the local government office to try to register both of us. i have checked what we need to bring, and i think we have it all, but i wouldn’t be surprised to find out there’s something else. then we wait eight days to get our certificate in the mail. then back to the german consulate and then maybe, oh, maybe we’ll be able to finalize this process! painful!

tidbits from school
heard what i thought was a very funny, “we’re not in the u.s. anymore” story today. the whole high school left for madrid today for two nights on a cultural fieldtrip. i spoke with some parents after dropoff and they told me that when the initial information about the madrid trip was sent out, they and their daughter had to sign a sheet saying there would be no drinking or smoking on the trip. apparently, there was a sort of rebellion (i’m guessing by locals and people who have been here a long time) and only about a third of the kids signed up for the trip. last week, a new sheet went home saying that parents understand that alcohol will be allowed on the trip! in moderation, of course. the parents also told me their daughter got a call from some classmates at 11:00 last night (before a 6:00 departure from the train station) asking her to go out. it is truly a different world over here in some ways.

the whole middle school left today too on their own cultural fieldtrip. a couple nights on the costa brava and fortunately, drinking was not an issue. arel was very excited and dreading and looking forward to a dance tomorrow night!

dorian is starting to talk about some kids he has played with, so that’s a good sign. as always, he’s happy while in class. it’s playground life that is a bit more tricky.

overall, we’re slowly but surely settling in here. i’m more happy than not to be away from the chaos, political and economic, going on in the u.s. right now!