Friday, September 29, 2006

Moving Day

It’s moving day. After Andrew finishes classes, he’ll rent us a car, and we’ll move ourselves from Montjuic to Eixample in a few packed car trips. Hopefully. As we packed our things last night, it became abundantly clear that we’ve accumulated a lot of stuff. The move won’t be as easy as we thought it would be.

Andrew hasn’t been here for that short a time—over a year—and I’ve been here, for the most part, for five months; but the amount of stuff we have is surprising considering that the rest of our stuff—indeed, most of our stuff—is still in the U.S. We’ve accumulated several boxes of books, buying them, receiving them, bringing them over en masse every chance we have; we have (okay, I have) tons of clothes, many of which I’d like to divest myself of but don’t yet know where to donate them; and we have a few boxes of kitchenware. Not to mention a few lamps, a desk, a shelf, pillows, towels, and a random assortment of iPods and hard drives and cell phones and endless wires and cords. How is it possible that we’re nearly at moving-van-stage, when I feel like we have, really, only the basics?

Anyway. Moving is almost always sad for me, leaving a place behind forever, even when the move is exciting and good, the next apartment charming and cozy. I dislike these dislocated states—at this moment, we’re between homes, not quite of either one. I’ll be glad when we’re settled in our lovely new place. But it is strange to know this is the last time I’ll sit at my desk with this particular view over the back-balconies and courtyards of the neighboring buildings; the last few washes I’ll hang out on these particular taut lines; the last evening we’ll hear the Font, and see the fanned spotlights behind the Palau, and walk past the eerie blue glow of the Caixa Forum’s entranceway on our way home from dinner.

This is the home I had in mind during all those months of buying endless plane tickets for visits and watching the clock for flights, and, eventually, the home I envisioned during those final few months when I was waiting to move to Spain. It’s the apartment I left and came back to, again and again. It’s been a good apartment. It’s served us well. Now, on to the next.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Font

This week will be the last week that we call the Font Magica our neighbor. The Font has been a loyal friend these past twelve months (the first half of which I was only a visitor to the Font rather than a true neighbor), its music thundering into our apartment at exactly 9:30pm every weekend night during the spring, summer, and fall. It shines and dances even now, when the summer crowds have thinned and fewer tour buses clog the curbs. It’s no less grand, no less elaborate, than it is during the height of tourist season. Last Thursday, I watched the Font from high up near the Palau Nacional, sitting with a glass of wine on hard cracked stones. The music is quieter there, the Font a more manageable basin of colored lights on water. But from there it looks even more a part of the city, dominating Plaza Espanya swallowing the headlights from the traffic that flows in front of and towards it.

It’s been nice living near the Font, always a happy sight as we walk to dinner or drive in a taxi home. But it struck me last week how nice it is also to walk out the front door of our apartment building and melt into an ambling, chattering crowd of tourists—to weave through them and their maps and cameras and find a quiet(er) place to sit in the dark Barcelona night. It’s pure anonymity. The only permanent faces at the Font are the workers behind the counters of the small open-air cafes; all the others will swiftly go, back to their buses and hotels. For all anyone knows, I’m part of this tour group, or that one, thinking about a long flight home. No one knows I’m here, for now, to stay, that after the Font’s show I’ll actually be home again in seconds, still hearing the Font’s music as I crawl into bed.

When we move, we’ll still visit the Font, but we won’t be neighbors anymore. Seeing the Font will be something we plan, decide, to do. And afterwards, we’ll take the metro or a taxi home. The Font’s music will follow us only so far before disappearing.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Estoy Apprendiendo Espanol

Spanish classes are not the time for introversion. I've always hated group activities of any and all kinds--group work, teams, pairs, and, of course, and kind of interactive group activity, including but not limited to "ice breakers" and other demonstrative and usually embarrassing games. However, in Spanish class, games, teams, pairs--the whole roster--are employed frequently as language-teaching strategies. During my time in classes here, I've had to sing the National Anthem; ask questions (in Spanish, claro) about what activity was written by another student on a Post-It note affixed to my forehead; and throw and catch a ball to shout out conjugated verb forms. Doing these things is helpful, usually (with the firm exception of singing the National Anthem), but still not fun. However, my preferred method of learning--reading or doing exercises quietly to myself--is obviously not the way to learn a language. So I participate without grimacing (again, the Anthem is the exception) and chalk it up to a necessary evil.

Group activities aside, the classes are really fun, and even though four hours is a long time to sit there saying things like "Me, yet I have not ridden a camel" and "No, me I have not never ridden in a hot air balloon," and hearing the other six students declare similarly ridiculous things, I look forward to starting the day this way. I feel like I'm doing something excellent for myself, something whose purpose is simply to make my life easier, better, more interesting, more fun.

And the people who show up each week as new students are always good motivation to keep studying: almost always Europeans, they speak handfuls of languages and seem unfazed at the prospect of learning another. This week, my classmates come from Switzerland, the Netherlands, France, Australia, Germany, and Ireland. In other weeks they'd come from Sweden, South Africa, Norway. Among such a group, it's almost (almost) exotic to be an American.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Scenes from a Life in Spain

Yesterday, we went to Ikea to prepare for our impending move. A few months ago, Andrew broke our coffee table, which, like all our furniture, belongs to our landlord. It was a hideous glass-and-metal contraption, the wide top of it a single sheet of glass, the bottom layer a large sheet of mirror. Though we'd piled books on it without really considering the danger, it finally gave way under Andrew's socked feet. The glass cracked loudly in two, scaring both of us. We put the ruined table by the curb, admittedly happily for the decreased clutter in the room. However, Andrew wrote to the landlord explaining what happened, and we promised we'd buy another coffee table before we moved out.

According to the hours on the Ikea website, and the hours printed on Ikea's front door, Ikea is open every day, including Sunday and holidays, with the exception of one or two specific festivals. However, yesterday, Ikea chose to be closed. We don't know why. A few other people trickled to the door as well, staring at the sign and at the dark interior, puzzled. This is the second random closing we've fallen victim to, and it is infuriating--and more evidence that trying to get anything accomplished in Spain on a Sunday is simply pointless. We wasted an hour without being able to cross the errand off our list.

On the way home from this unsuccessful trip, our bus stopped at a stoplight. Suddenly, there were loud crashes outside on the street--strange unidentifiable crashes, as though tree branches were cracking off. People on the sidewalk stopped and looked up, and we craned our necks to look out the bus window. We saw a bag fall, spewing clothes; then a suitcase crashed down on an awning. A domestic fight had obviously reached epidemic proportions, and someone (she?) was throwing someone else's (his?) belongings to the curb. People on the bus tittered, then shrugged, and the bus moved on when the light turned green.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Rain in Spain

It’s sunny today. This usually isn’t remarkable in Spain—but after the past four gloomy days, it is. At the beginning of the week, it began raining. Then it rained harder. Thunderstorms—big ones, the really threatening kind that led us to unplug appliances—came and went. There were downpours, sheets of water, rivulets at curbs and on sidewalks. We got caught in the rain the night we saw our new apartment, taking refuge under the lip of a building but still getting splashed and wet. People in Spain are not used to such weather; there’s much stunned running, few umbrellas at hand. Spain itself is ill-equipped for it. Metro lines shut down; telephone and internet service was disrupted. In the course of one day—Tuesday—Spain got 30% as much rain as it gets in an entire year. The towels I unwisely hung on the line during a lull on Monday stayed soaked until just this afternoon. Accustomed to constant sunshine, I felt my energy slip, my spirits sag. I love gloomy fall weather but perhaps this was too much all at once.

It’s sunny today. Blue skies are back. Laundry is hanging on lines again; fingers are crossed that the weather holds, at least as long as it will take for the clothes to dry. The city has a rinsed-off feeling, clean and cool. Fall is, suddenly, here. It’s warm in the sun but there’s an edge to the warmth; the nights have been cold enough for jackets and jeans. It’s nice to be in Spain as the season changes. Soon I’ll be adding layers, repositioning sweaters from the backs of drawers, pulling on socks and boots to go outside. So much is in store for these next few fall months: A move. More classes. More travel. More lucky time.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Our New Home

We lost the apartment we wanted. It was an attic space, with high ceilings crossed with wooden beams, lots of light, and use of the large roof terrace, whose entrance was across from our own apartment’s door. It was pricy, but we wanted it. And the landlord wanted us. But when Andrew told him we might be leaving Barcelona after eight months, rather than the one-year lease the landlord wanted, the landlord stopped returning our emails and we found the apartment re-posted online.

However, the loss was meant to be, because yesterday our apartment search yielded two fabulous apartments that led to several hours of agonized debate over which one we wanted most. The first, in Eixample, we loved immediately. Unbelievably high ceilings, old, interesting moldings, beautiful mosaic floors, and a large, private terrace—a terrace that shares an interior courtyard with La Pedrera, one of the most famous Gaudi buildings in the city. Both the living room and bedroom have tall, large-windowed French doors that open onto the terrace, giving the whole apartment a sunny, airy feeling. There's a separate dining room with a half-wall that opens onto the living room. The kitchen and bathroom are less nice, old and awkwardly fitted. Still, when we walked in, we both felt instantly at home.

Certain this was it, we promised to call the broker to confirm after visiting just one more place. (“I’ll hold it for you until tomorrow,” he promised, with no money changing hands—so different from NYC!) I told Andrew that the only way I could possibly love an apartment more than that one was if it came with daily—hourly—maid service.

The next apartment was in the Barri Gothic, on a small, charming stone street like we’ve always wanted to live on. Six steep flights up, the apartment’s owner let us in—into a newly renovated, two-bedroom apartment that had never been lived in. The owner’s husband is an architect, she told us, and it showed: everything was tastefully designed and chosen, from the original dark wood beams in the ceiling to the black-slate floors to the stark glass tables and black leather couch. It had very small windows and not much light, but it was air-conditioned, with brand-new kitchen and bathroom, all glass and steel. The roof terrace was right across the hallway, dirty but with a spectacular view of the Barcelona Cathedral from one side.

The two apartments couldn’t have been more different: the first was Anthropologie; the second, Calvin Klein. The first felt like being inside an old library, with stories and ghosts in every corner; the second was like being inside a stylish hotel. The first, with its wide doors and courtyard, was cozily nestled within the city; the second, cool and modern, was a soothing escape from it. In New York terms, the first was brownstone; the second was high-rise. We faced a choice: charm or comfort. Which, really, was more us?

We chose charm. It felt like home, and we put down a deposit this afternoon. In two weeks our life in Eixample will begin.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A German Wedding

Until this weekend, neither Andrew nor I had ever been to Germany—never seen a German city, never even had a layover at a German airport. We’d tried to go in the past, but we’d always been thwarted by scheduling problems or other obstacles. So when Andrew was invited to the wedding of a friend of his from school, we were excited to finally set foot in this as-yet, for us, unexplored country.

When Andrew and I arrived at the Munich airport on Friday afternoon, we were immediately struck by the utter lack of chaos—as well as noise. The airport was bright, new-looking, and clean, and no one was talking. People left the plane quietly; families and other travelers walked through the airport corridors with their bags, quietly; we all gathered at baggage claim, quietly, watching the extremely quiet conveyor belts carry the luggage by.

We ran into more quietness later, as we headed to Herrsching, an hour outside of Munich, in our rental car with three other people we know from Barcelona who were also attending the wedding. We moved fast on the autostrade, but, sadly, we moved fast in the wrong direction; when we finally left the highway to ask directions, we found ourselves in a quiet, seemingly uninhabited village. Fortunately we found a gas station, with someone who could help.

We spent the weekend in and near Herrsching. Friday night was a dinner at our hotel, where most of the guests, including us, were staying. It was a charming, very Bavarian place, with lots of dark wood beams and rustic wooden furniture. We had some hearty German food and huge glasses of locally brewed beer. The next day, the wedding took place at a small church; the reception, later, was at a beautiful monastery/brewery, Klostergasthof Andechs, about thirty minutes away. There, too, the rooms were cozy, the food hearty; we had celery root and venison for dinner. Andrew and I were two of the only three Americans there.

The highlight of the reception was the “program,” a staple, we were told, of German weddings, which took place after dinner and consisted of numerous skits and songs performed by friends and family of the bride and groom. According to other German guests, this was one of the most extensive programs they’d ever experienced: it lasted for almost three hours, ending around midnight, when the dancing began. Andrew and I left around 3 a.m.; the party didn’t wind down until 5. When Andrew explained that American weddings almost always end before midnight, no one could believe it—they were actually horrified.

Our flight left in the early afternoon on Sunday, so we didn’t see any of Munich; we’ll have to return to see Germany in a touristy way. This time, it was wholly a cultural immersion.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Open Doors

Last night, Andrew and I went up to the MNAC (the palatial museum on top of Montjuic, just steps from our apartment) for one of the last “Open Doors” nights of the season. A few times each summer, MNAC stays open until midnight and offers free admission along with wine, cava, beer, tapas, and live music on the plaza in front. Last night a New Orleans-style jazz band was performing—an odd but festive backdrop to the spectacular view of the Font Magica and Barcelona at our feet. They sang “The Saints Come Marching In” in English.

Inside, young, hip-looking Barcelonins wandered around the galleries. Andrew and I walked through the rooms with Catalonian art from the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. So much of the style from that time is distinctive: firmly outlined figures; lots of black, gold, ash-green, and gray; a general aura of hardness or defiance among the street scenes and portraits. Much of it is strange but compelling, like Barcelona itself.

I always like museums at night—like going to the Met on Friday evenings, when the crowds are sparser and you can find an empty chamber here and there. There’s a sense of secrecy, of trespassing, like walking through someone else’s house when the owners aren’t home. Seeing objects and paintings in their natural, unviewed state—unposed.

There weren’t many people at the MNAC—it was near closing when we left—and I had the eerie sense of how the art would remain there, even when we move from the neighborhood, even when we move from Spain; just like this, just as it always had been, with the Font Magica leaping and singing outside, the city sparkling beyond it, and the mountain of Tibidabo a distant glitter.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

September in Spain

I’m back in Barcelona, back at my desk, ready for fall in Spain. It will be an exciting time: soon we’ll have a new apartment; soon I'll be back in Spanish class; we have several exciting trips planned; and we have a few visitors lined up as well.

In the meantime, there’s jet lag to get over. My trip yesterday couldn’t have been easier: Pittsburgh—Philadelphia—Barcelona. I’ve never flown directly from the US to Barcelona; it made the trip incredibly fast. Even better, the flight was sparsely booked, so after takeoff I moved to a new seat—actually, three empty seats in a row, providing a business-class-type flat “bed.” It was hard to sleep since the flight left at 5:45pm, but at least I felt rested and uncramped when we landed.

That said, the strange hours of the flight—when we landed in Barcelona, it wasn’t so far past my regular bedtime in the US—are making me feel particularly slothlike now. To stay awake yesterday, I went across the street to the Caixa Forum for a cafĂ© con leche, then meandered through the galleries for a couple of hours. Today, we’re viewing two apartments. I’d really, really like to go back to bed right now, but I will not. I will resist! I will make another cup of coffee and I will resist.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Excavation

Letters written to me from a pen pal--a soldier in Operation Desert Storm--when I was in fourth grade. Stacks of letters from grade-school friends I haven't seen or talked to in years that were written to me when I spent summers in Fairport. Promotional materials I sent away for concerning the Pillsbury Doughboy, worry dolls, stamp collecting, Cabbage Patch Kids, New Kids on the Block. Congratulatory cards on my acceptance to college; Governor's School; graduate school. Birthday cards for my 20th, my 21st, and many more. Postcards from people whose last names I couldn't remember.

All of these, as well as stacks of mail from family and friends, have been stored in shoeboxes in the attic for years--twenty, approximately. Tonight, a swift triage whittled the letters and cards down to one large boot-box that can be slid easily under my bed. Ancient history, all of it; some well worth saving, most not. I can't come home without feeling compelled to do at least a bit of excavation; and more remains.