Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Kaixo, Ni Barak Naiz, Cola Lliure and Some Pix - by b

As Kristin wrote in her last post, we travelled deep into Catalan land for the long weekend. The honor-bar in the common dining room was stashed with Alter Cola, the Free Cola (Cola Lliure) of Catalunia along with a beer from the same company --- with it's logo of the Catalan flag.

Catalans and Jews sometimes remind me of each other -- small groups with rich histories and the talent, drive and resources to develop and promote their cultures. I like this and am also annoyed by it. Affinity for affinity's sake can be comforting to me ---- and also quite the opposite!

Then there was Aritz, the young professor of Basque culture and language transplanted from his village of Hondarribia near San Sebastian to Catalunya. He was not sure he'd find work when he came with his Catalan wife ... but he got a job at at university here teaching Basque language. He gave me a lesson.... the important words like smile (irribare), hello (kaixo), i am barak (ni barak naiz), beautiful (polita), thank you very much (eskerrik asko) and, of course, small beer (garagardo). He's really really proud and protective of his culture. His name means oak and the oak is central to Basque culture and history. L'Arun, their son, is named for a mountain near his village. We asked about their son's Basque name... he said (in Spanish) "somos pocos y el es uno mas"... (we are few and he is one more). I saw some my own semi-national or cultural proud in him. I liked it. And I was turned off by it too. A mix of sentiment, for sure.

Whatever... enough wordiness... here are some pictures to illustrate Kristin's last post

Some dried flowers... Kristin brought one home for our living room

Arel in a gorga (that's gorg in catalan!)

the bridge

under the bridge... water levels were LOW

the ceiling of the smoked meat museum. yes one exists.

a sculpure by local artist

candied catalan wishes in a shop. "per molts anys" (happy birthday... i think)

before riding... kristin putting a saddle on kim

dorian with his reins

while riding... a rest along the way

after riding... pardu the dog. guilem talks dutch to the horses and catalan to the dogs

in the car after horse riding.. while the kids and kristin were at a swingset, i listened to this cd i bought in germany last year... jewish liturgical music from berlin before wwii... title is "it will not go down" ... which basically is a similar sentiment to "somos pocos y el es uno mas" ... It was good to listen to... I def have a bit of Aritz in me. but not too much :-)

yummy last supper

Agur (that means bye in basque)


Sunday, September 27, 2009

la garrotxa and gorgas by k

the end of a lovely weekend is here. i just put potatoes with olive and rosemary in the oven, homework is done and things are calm. a nice end to a nice weekend.

we went to an area we have never explored in catalunya called la garrotxa. it is northwest of here. between the costa brava and the pyrennes. it is known mostly as a volcanic region with roughly 40 now-dormant volcanoes all around. it's also the foothills to the pyrenees...very green, some amazing granite, beautiful little towns. i found something like a bed and breakfast there and barak called and got us a room for three nights. vegetarian dinner optional...he signed us up for the first night.

we had a good drive...probably an hour and a half total. we were a little ahead of schedule so we decided to stop at decatlon, a french sporting goods chain (cheap!) to buy a bike pump and some tools to fix up a bike our neighbors gave to dorian. besides that stuff we found a mini tennis set with net, balls and cheap rackets to set up in our garage. we're not using it for a car, so we thought it would be good to have a place arel and dorian can move a bit. we'll probably also get a basketball hoop and ball once we find out if we're allowed to attach it to the wall.

barak hit is shopping threshold quickly and headed to the car, but arel, dorian and i checked out "mediamart," which turned out to be kind of like best buy. i wanted to buy one of those handheld blender things so we can have pureed soups this year. we got it and the kids tried out the massaging chairs, fake exercise machines...the ones that just make you jiggle, and arel oohed and ahed over the cell phones. we walked out with the blender and a bob marley cd for the car. it was a auspicious beginning for our trip.

from there we headed west and finally got to the town of st. joan de les fonts (st john of the spring) and called to get the final directions to "mas colom." mas is a farmhouse in catalan. we were greeted by the groovy young catalan women and shown to our room. they gave us the lay of the land and said that dinner was at 9:00. ah, yes, still in spain! it was about 5:30 by now and we decided to explore a nearby creek they told us about that has swimming holes. on our way through the forest on a very iffy path we all decided this was a jeanne darrah experience. jeanne is a good friend of ours who has the biggest capacity for get-up-and-go and exploration of anyone i know. it was a jeanne darrah experience both because we headed off right after arriving and because of the sort of iffy nature of the trail and destination. we found the first swimming hole and all jumped in. i lasted for maybe three seconds because that water was cold! oh yeah, and a swimming hole like that is called a gorga...i had never heard that word before. i guess i'd never been in a swimming hole in spain before!

with the success of the gorga and dinner still far off, we decided to venture on to find the second gorga. we had been told there were about 9 of them. not too much further on we came to an even nicer gorga because this one wasn't completely surrounded by trees and dark. again, some plunging and jumping...this one was deeper too.

having had enough excitement for the moment, we head back down to mas colom and went to the self serve refrigerator in the dining area. arel and dorian got ecologic soda and barak and i had ecologic beer. arel, dorian and i sat of the huge terrace overlooking the town and surrounding mountains and watched the moon rise. barak was up in the room working.

finally dinner time arrived and we headed down, curious what we would find. the first thing we found out was that we were surrounded by catalans! i realized that we usually rent an apartment and don't really find ourselves surrounded by catalans. but here we were. catalans are known for being brusque and private and unfriendly...a stereotype, but often true. i felt my pang of guilt for not speaking catalan, but also my annoyance at this other language that makes life more complicated here. but soon enough, between babies at our table, shared food and curiosity, we started talking. turns out one guy at our table is basque. he is married to a catalan woman. he misses his home terribly. they speak to their 10-month-old son, larun, in basque and catalan. poor little guy holding these two very limited languages for future generations! we're so lucky in a way that our native language is such a useful and widely spoken one.

breakfast: typical spanish/catalan. dorian and i had fantasized about farm fresh eggs for breakfast when we saw the chickens, but i knew that would probably not come to pass and it didn't. white bread, hard, dry and tasteless wheat bread, cheese, sausage and the requisite olive oil and tomato (for making pa amb tomaquet...bread smeared with tomato and liberally drizzled with olive oil and then salted). oh yeah, they also had butter and jam, which dorian scarfed. barak and arel went native and i enjoyed my cafe con leche and ate the wheat bread with jam.

on our last morning there, a new guy was sitting across from me and i wondered where he got the delicious looking whole grain bread on his plate. then i saw it was just a really thick slab of some sort of speckled sausage thing...gross!

after our first breakfast we headed off to the alta garrotxa (the high garrotxa) is search of more gorgas and a nice hike. it was unclear how far we could drive and so we parked and started walking. but cars kept passing, so barak ran back and got our car. then we drove up an incredibly narrow "road" up and up. now we were bold and kept driving past each parking area, but at some point we realized we had gone too far from the river and turned around. by this time the little parking areas were mostly full and barak drove back further in search of parking. we still couldn't find the gorgas...all we saw was bone dry river bed. arel and especially dorian were getting antsy. eventually we found some places to swim about a five minute walk where we had originally been when barak went back to get the car!

we sat on boulders and ate our picnic lunch, plunged into the cold water and explored a bit. the kids were fascinated by an older couple upstream from us. they were totally naked and as arel pointed out, had no tan lines...this was not their first time naked in the wilderness!

eventually started to head back. on the way down we stopped to look at an amazing stone bridge we had seen on our way up. it was from the 15th century. hopefully barak will put a picture of it up here...really amazing. turns out that was over some amazing swimming places too, so the kids decided we should go down to that part of the river and swim. it almost happened until arel and dorian saw a water snake and got freaked out.

we drove back to mas colom and dropped arel and dorian off there. barak and i headed out to the nearby town that sits on some cliffs...castellfollit de la roca. a similar feel to luxembourg, but on a much smaller scale. very charming. barak and i walked around and the sat at a cafe on the cliff's edge and drank beer and at patatas bravas...potato chunks with hot sauce.

arel and dorian wanted to explore our local 9 gorgas on the last full day in the garrotxa and after that we were going to go horseback riding in volcano territory. we followed out old route through the forest and found one gorga after another. arel and dorian wanted to go to the top one and then come down, jumping into each one. since we were really off the beaten path here, they both decided to go naked and then went down most of the way naked. really, one of the cutest sights imaginable. these two little lithe bodies, naked except crocs, navigating the terrain. barak and i jumped into one gorga, but then we dressed for the descent. (not as cute a sight if we do it!)

the kids dunked in 4 or 5 gorgas, but then they got cold and had enough dunking. we kept going down, getting lost a couple times but eventually making it back to mas colom in time to rush off to buy some food and meet our horse guy. turns out he's a dutchman, guillem, who has lived in the garrotxa for over 25 years. he was serious and a little stern for the arel and dorian's taste. we helped him saddle up the horses, norwegian fjord horses, which are smaller than other horses. one of the foals had followed her mother out of the pasture when guillem was taking out the horses for our trip, so that foal, felicitat, was coming along. she was only 3 months old and her mane stuck straight up like a mohawk...very cute. barak was in love! not ironically, dorian rode on the mother of foal, who trotted along with us for almost two hours.

the beginning of the trip was a bit stressful. the kids didn't feel comfortable, guillem got annoyed when they didn't follow directions, barak dropped his cell phone and had to dismount to pick it up, arel dropped his stick to hit the horse with twice in a row. i began wondering how we would survive this journey and in my mind knew this would very likely be my last horseback ride. i'm just not a horse person. they are beautiful animals, but i don't feel that pull that some people seem to feel. i'd rather be walking on the ground and pulling my own weight. fortunately, after a while we all relaxed into it and quite enjoyed our frequent trots. i had to crack up watching the kids bumping up and down on the horses, guillem trying to tell dorian how to do it. i knew, as a mother knows, that dorian was not enjoying his proximity to guillem. guillem had dorian's horse on on a rope the whole ride, which was good, but dorian didn't like it. i was relieved, though, that dorian couldn't complain to me about it...my horse was bringing up the rear!

we got back to the pasture just as it started to rain, and i would say that overall it was a good experience. much better than most rides i've gone on in the past. guillem involved us in taking off the saddles and putting the horses back in the pasture, which i think was cool for the kids to see. as we approached the pasture, all the other horses started whinnying in greeting...it was very sweet. and then we saw how many other foals there were. they wanted their mommies too, and one stuck out to start suckling at the horse i rode on.

that night we decided to eat out and went to a place recommended by the women at mas colom. it was close to full and completely reserved when we got there just after nine. fortunately, the guy there took pity on us and let us sit in a back room that serves as a wine cellar and tasting room. it was great! the food was good, the service good...i would definitely go back there.

we got back to mas colom at 11:30 and went to sleep. after breakfast the next day, we headed back for barcelona. barak returned the car while the rest of us set up our mini tennis court and fixed up dorian's new bike. a good weekend.

wednesday evening barak, dorian and i head to venice to meet barak's parents. arel goes on his school trip from wednesday to friday and will then stay with a friend until we come back on sunday.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

50 euros and third grade by k

i found out last weekend what 50 euros can get you in barcelona: a used bike, a helmet, and lock, and a box of baking soda and can of baking powder! quite a deal.

i had put an announcement on a listserve for the barcelona women´s network saying i was looking for used bikes to buy. i got several responses and on saturday i went to one woman´s apartment to collect the bike she had shipped to spain from the u.s. only to never use it. she threw in the helmet and lock too, and then we started talking about baking. she is planning to move back to california in the next few months and realized that she won´t need all the things she or her friends have schlepped over here. so i now have arm and hammer baking soda and a container of whatever the big baking powder brand is...quite a deal!

and here i am for my second day being a third grade substitute teacher in dorian´s class. someone else was supposed to do it because they thought it would be better not to have me in dorian´s class, but then her son got sick and here i am for three days. what´s the link to 50 euros...well that is the whopping payment i get each day! a pittance for all my hard work, but i have to admit that today my load has been very light. the kids have had two spanish classes with other teachers, p.e. and they´re in art as we speak. i even managed to do a coaching session with one of my clients during p.e., so i really shouldn´t complain.

it has been good to get to know dorian´s class more and see what he´s up to all day. i think overall this school is very good, but i do see that things could be more challenging for dorian. i´m planning on speaking with his teacher when she´s back to see if we can find some ways to keep him a little more engaged.

we have another long weekend...thursday and friday off for the barcelona city festival...the merce. too many long weekends! and then we head to venice next wednesday...poor planning on our part. arel has a school trip, so unfortunately he will miss venice. it´s really too bad, but it´s not worth it for him to come for just one day. ah, the problems of living abroad!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Good thing I followed Kristin's advice - by b

When I made the Rosh Hashana card this year (see last post) I'd originally made it about as long as the original home movie I shot in Tel Aviv --- which, with a little adjusting of video speed, pretty much equalled the length of the song I'd chosen to play over the original movie. Kristin's feedback was that it was toooo long. The data seems to prove her right. Even in the shorter version that I eventually sent out, people drop off pretty early, on average. This is data from about 900 views so far on YouTube. It compares this video to other videos of similar length on YouTube.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Shana Tova for the Year 5770 - by b

It's almost the Jewish New Year.. starting this coming Friday night.

Greetings from prior years: 5769 | 5768 | 5767


Sunday, September 13, 2009

magic door by k

this year we have a magic door. at least magic to me! it closes and sort of breaks the apartment in 2 so i can't hear every single thing going on in every part of the apartment. last year our bedroom was right above the living/dining room, but there was no door and i could hear every single conversation that went on in there. i didn't realize how much it got to me until we were looking at apartments last spring and found one with a similar setup. i realized at that moment that i couldn't live another year without being able to shut the world (and my family) out sometimes. barak can shut it out and i think the kids can too, but i was an unwilling/passive part of every conversation/fight/discussion had in that apartment and it was too much.

but now i have a magic door!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

salud - by b

We spent nearly 3 hours in ikea tonight -- the boys really wanted to come along --- and i think, all things considered, we managed to hold it together quite well. The "immediate" delivery was supposed to show up at 10:30 PM --- latest. It showed at 2 AM. But now we have, among other perhaps more crucial items, wine glasses. So... salud. And goodnight.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

shocking by k

i am sitting here faced with a huge pile of stuff! barak went yesterday evening to pick up some of the things we left over the summer at a friend's apartment and i finally, at 1:30 p.m. today was able to face going through it. it's shocking how much we accumulated in one year! probably less than most people would/do, but still, i am in dismay.

there are some things that are great to have like cooking staples, blank paper, tampons, a larger variety of clothes, but i could have gone on happily living without most of it! part of me wants to get rid of all the unnecessary things right now, but then i think, well, it would be nice to have some books around the house, even if we've read them all. and what if we do need that X at some point? ay ay ay. i'm already dreading next june when we have to get rid of all this crap!

back to the pile and the search for a place to put it all!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

pretty fantastic, really - by b

"La Pedrera" is one of the most famous buildings in Barcelona. It's on what I think is one of the most beautiful boulevards --- Passeig de Gracia. The building is designed by Gaudi. "La Pedrera" is actually a nickname.... the formal name is La Casa MilĂ . Above is a photo (credit: tapse via creative commons/flickr).

My new office (a shared office situation just like what Rassak has in SF) is two doors down from La Pedrera on Passeig de Gracia. We almost lived down there, but opted in the end to stay up on the mountain near school.

I have spent my second day at the office today... very productive.

I'm also feeling a bit better because it seems, as of tonight, that we have a agreement on our lease for our apartment.

But what is really fantastic is that I feel happily on the same wavelength as Kristin here. How much is that worth? Over summertime in California we were very disconnected. It's not perfect or even easy here yet, but somehow I feel like her partner in all this. As I have read her last two blog posts, I just feel in sync with her. Not out of sync.

It's a mixture of things... jetlag easing, getting situated, seeing people again, finding resolution on our apartment... connecting with kristin.... it's a mix...and things are looking up.

second week, second day by k

i'm sitting in the teachers' work room at school. i was begged to be a substitute today and i finally relented. at fifty euros a day, it's not exactly a dream job. i look at it and volunteering with a little bonus at the end of the day....not really a job because that's too depressing.

they wanted me to sub two seventh grade classes, but i said i couldn't if they were arel's classes. they weren't, but he still didn't want me to have contact with his peers. how uncool is it to have your mom be a sub at your school? i think secretly (after the embarrassment) he likes it. his only request (besides not embarrassing him) was to wear something that wouldn't show sweat, so i obliged. i don't necessarily want a bunch of preteens whispering about the rings in my underarms!

first period, social studies, went fine. i always find it interesting to sub because i get a different look at the school and the kids. in this case, i could observe some of arel's friends that i already know and some that i have heard about. 12th grade english literature was also interesting. they had to analyze a sonnet in small groups. i didn't have to do anything, but i liked overhearing what they were saying, and watching the way 17 year olds behave. (the girls for the most part have their shit together...the boys are just awkward and don't say much.) i'm glad i'm not a teenager!

barak and i will both be happier when our lease agreement is finalized and the apartment is more fully furnished/supplied. we both hate dealing with this stuff and would love a personal secretary who could absorb the blows and just deal. alas, we don't have one.

back to work.

Monday, September 7, 2009

2nd week, 2nd year by k

i write blog posts in my head at night when i can't sleep. they're always brilliant and then when i sit down to write in the light of day the brilliance seems a distant memory. but i'm going to write anyway.

it's monday. the second week of school. we got dorian there on time for the first time since the first day. we can do it! they moved the start time for elementary school ten minutes earlier and that ten minutes has felt like a huge obstacle. dorian hates getting woken up, but he also hates being late to school, so mornings have been painful. now we're on our way.

year two. why are we here? back in june when karen visited us, she observed how slowly things seem to move here, so we joked that it takes two years of living in spain to do one year abroad. that's one reason. another: both arel and dorian are really happy at their school. there is something to be said for a very small school with an outgoing community. all the coming and going of families seems to bring people closer rather than push them apart. still waiting for the other reasons...

i try to imagine what it would have been like if we had stayed in the same apartment this year. not that apartment exactly because we didn't want to stay there, but rather having the experience of not needing to move and get reestablished and negotiate a lease and figure out groceries, etc. i think the return would have been easier. and yet, we are so far ahead of where we were this time last year.

i told people all summer that we were moving because we like to make things as hard as possible. it was a joke, but part of me has felt a bit stupid for putting us through this again. and yet i am trying to embrace the perspective that we are trying to improve our situation (a good and brave thing) and that a little more pain at the beginning will make our overall experience better. i actually believe that will be the case, but during the transition, it's hard not to wonder why we couldn't just stay where we were because, obviously, nothing is perfect. our new place has some things that we really wanted, but it's not perfect.

we can now walk to school in just over ten minutes. amazing! no more relying on unreliable buses. we get to walk on the mountain and look over the entire city of barcelona every morning! we are also right next to a metro station. and it's the "right" metro; the one that goes to the center of town in ten minutes and the one that goes out to the suburbs where we know many families. this is a great improvement, and i am thankful for it every day.

on the downside ( i have yet to truly grasp whether these are downsides or just states of mind), the apartment is small...only two bedrooms. it would be nice to have that third bedroom to be able to spread out a little, but last year we had five bedrooms and really only used two (except when we had guests). so maybe now we actually have what we need and not more.

another thing that is getting to me is the wealth we are surrounded by. last year we were in a more middle class neighborhood. now we are surrounded by wealth (or apparent wealth...i don't know anyone's financial situation). we are in one of the two small apartments in this complex. the rest are large homes with yards and pools. honestly, i wouldn't even want one of those places, but being next to them brings me a certain feeling of inadequacy. it's my own stuff and i'm trying to remind myself that i'm living my values and don't need to compare myself to others.

maybe part of the problem is that i don't feel like our place is representative of us or who we are. it's almost like we don't have an identity. our house in san francisco feels like an expression of who we are and this feels more like a hotel. which is a choice we made for a lot of different reasons, so really it does say things about us. maybe that's what i'm trying to figure out. what do i want it to say? i want it to say that we are not attached to things, we are adventurous and flexible, we care about the environment (taking public transportation and walking). what are we not saying? our love of art and creating a comfortable, warm space and having people in our home.

okay, i'm starting to ramble, but i have to write about one more thing. i love walking to school...truly. but when other families drive by in their big luxury cars i feel like a pauper. i know this is only a small segment of society here. most people in barcelona walk and take public transportation, but we are surrounded by those who don't. what is this tug in my stomach? why does it bug me? if we had a car, i would still walk to school.

i guess i'm just having a big attack of insecurity. this too shall pass.

now off to figure out grocery deliveries!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

back in bcn by k

so much to write about and yet no way to say it all.  instead, here's what i'm thinking about these days.

what is home?
how much space does one need?
how much sleep do i need to survive?
what makes a life rich?
how do i step fully into my new career?
how many times can i play scrabble on my ipod touch before i am declared an addict?