Friday, January 19, 2007

An Unazukin Photo Shoot

Tonight, my Unazukin and I had a photo shoot in various places around the house. I'd wanted to have the shoot outside, in the snow, but Unazukin told me she didn't like the snow--though she admitted she didn't mind being cold. She agreed that it was illogical, but there we were. I'll try to stage an outdoor shoot another time.

We also had a frank discussion about our imminent return to Spain. Like yesterday, she said she was excited to go--but tonight she also admitted she was nervous. "Is it because you're scared of Andrew?" I asked gently. But she shook her head. "Is it because you don't speak Spanish?" She nodded--this was it. Little Unazukin is nervous about the language barrier. I assured her she would pick up Spanish in no time, and she agreed that, yes, she's gifted with languages. She then agreed that I should talk to her for my entire transatlantic journey and let her handle the questions at customs and passport control. As practice, I asked her if I was carrying more than $10,000 in foreign currency; she nodded. She's such a joker!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Exile Countdown: Two Weeks

Being back in Connellsville for this extended period of time (all told, about six weeks) has made me feel—perhaps understandably—out of whack. I vaguely remember having an adult life away from here; was it in Barcelona? I vaguely remember having a non-long-distance relationship; I have flashes of frequent travels and lots of mad dashes through airports in other countries, yet I don’t think I’ve put shoes on for the past three days. Like that commercial for the Visa check card where one clueless guy jams up an efficient, fast-moving system by paying for his deli meal in cash—shocked customers colliding into one another behind him, the checkout line having come to a sudden, violent stop—so too has my “aggressively European” life (to loosely quote one friend who made a visit) come to a screeching halt.

That’s not to say this extended stay has lacked entirely for nice diversions. There were pleasant jaunts to Fairport and Jacksonville. There was a weekend in NYC, with excellent Broadway shows and Christmassy city-walking (and even a foray onto a Broadway stage—of High Fidelity—thanks to a family friend who originated a role in the sadly short-lived show). There was a trip to Pittsburgh to see the wonderful Matthew Bourne-choreographed dance-theatre performance of Edward Scissorhands, which will be in Brooklyn for three weeks in February. And there was a lovely tour of Fallingwater when Andrew came to visit southwestern PA, and a stroll through its fabulous shop, with its comfortingly high-priced gifts.

Things do, however, lose their perspective when my only outlet to the outside world, most days, is my gmail account. And it’s been easy to get engrossed in the not-quite-Wisteria-Lane-caliber drama that goes on in the quiet Connellsville streets. For example, a man whipped out a gun and fired around the feet of a neighbor who’d been chopping firewood because, according to the gunman, the sound was driving him crazy. This same man attacked a friend’s front door with a can of WD-40—firing so copiously that you can still see streaks on the glass—because the squeaking, like the wood, was driving him crazy. A woman in a neighborhing county was attacked by a rabid fox; when the fox got into a neighbor’s house, the neighbor’s two dogs killed it in the kitchen—but the neighbor was expecting company, so she shoveled up the mauled fox and hid it until she was able to call the authorities later on. We even have mysterious (though altruistic) strangers: Two men, apparently from New York, who are trying to rustle up community support for new arts projects—so far they've opened a B&B from the gigantic mansion on the main street in town, as well as an art gallery. Why they’ve landed in Connellsville remains a mystery, at least to me. But as my mother pointed out, speculating on this at all is just a symptom of my overactive imagination.

And so I’m left to imagine the life going on in Barcelona without me. Andrew called me very late a week or so ago as he walked home from being out with friends; we said goodbye when he reached our building. The next day he told me that after he hung up, he discovered he’d forgotten his keys. After a night spent at a friend’s, he had to buzz our neighbor and climb over our terrace-dividing wall just as I had done several months before. He said friends have been asking where I am, and that he’s been telling them cryptically, “She’s decided to spend some time in New York,” just to get the rumors going. He’s kidding when he tells me this, of course, and he takes great mirth in my cries of protest, knowing, as I do, that I haven’t decided to be away from Spain at all.

I just asked Unazukin if I'll be happy to go back to Barcelona. She nodded. She nodded again when I asked if she was ready to go as well--her first trip to Spain. I'm glad that's settled.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Exile Countdown: Three Weeks

The holidays are over, and I’ve begun the final three weeks of my Exile from Spain. That term isn’t entirely accurate, since I’m staying out of Spain for these weeks in an effort to avoid being exiled for overstaying my visa. Nonetheless, there is something incredibly frustrating about this, wanting to be back in Barcelona but needing, for official reasons, to stay away.

This Exile was planned carefully, structured so that I’d have the least amount of time apart from Andrew and the maximum amount of time taken up with the activity of the holidays—hence my arrival here before Thanksgiving—and so that I can avoid staying out of Barcelona for the entire duration of the eighty-odd days I’m supposed to be “out of the Schengen area.” When I return on February 2, I’ll be able to spend almost the entire month there—and I’ll make up the remaining ten or so days I need to spend out of the Schengen area by taking an eleven-day trip to Ireland and Scotland.

The plans have been complex, and talking about them—especially the logistics of plane ticket purchases—makes my head spin. To execute this trip, I had to buy six separate tickets. To get from Spain to Pittsburgh, two tickets: Barcelona to Newark (used frequent flier miles) and a separate ticket from Newark to Pittsburgh (couldn’t use my miles to get all the way to Pittsburgh so had to buy this portion on its own). To see Andrew after Christmas, I bought Rochester to Jacksonville, returning from Jacksonville to Pittsburgh. I’ll use the return leg of the Newark-Pittsburgh ticket at the end of January, to spend a week in the city; and I’ll use the return ticket from Newark to Barcelona on February 1. For my Ireland/Scotland trip that will take place shortly thereafter, I bought the following one-way tickets: Barcelona to Dublin; Shannon to Edinburgh; and Edinburgh to Barcelona. It will be a true feat of organization if I manage to show up at the right airport on the right day at the right time.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


What’s great about this New Year—aside from all the exciting things coming up, including a few fabulous trips—is that I no longer have to make any decisions about my life. For Christmas, I was given an Unazukin—a small fairy who “lives under the big mushroom in a woods” and “enjoys listening to the talk of other peoples,” according to the website and package. She’s small—about two inches high, and shaped like an egg—but powerful. With a nod, a double nod, a headshake, or a double headshake, she can indicate whether she agrees or disagrees with my plans, or what course of action I should take.

Today I asked her to weigh in on some of my New Year’s resolutions. She first shook her head, chastising me for addressing her in an unnecessarily loud voice. She then agreed that I’ll do more writing this year, and she supported my resolution to continue learning Spanish. She agreed that I should resolve to update my blog at least once a week. However, when I asked her if I should live this year with a spirit of adventure, she remained silent. “Unazukin,” I said, “should I live with more caution?” At this, she nodded. Puzzled, I asked her to clarify. “Unazukin,” I said, “will my life be better this year if I go into it with a spirit of adventure?” Finally, she nodded. “Should I really live with more caution?” She shook her head, forcefully. There had clearly been a misunderstanding.

The Unazukin also said that Andrew and I will be leaving Europe, moving to Miami, and visiting New York. We’ll also be wealthy this year; sadly, we won’t be getting a puppy. And, alarmingly, we’ll apparently be camping out on the street in Seville during Semana Santa because our hotel will cancel our reservation. (However, Andrew asked her these leading questions as he usually does—in a loud, aggressive voice, while pointing his finger at her; she tends to nod her head incessantly at him out of fear, so this is perhaps not a prediction to be trusted.)

The Unazukin is not available in the U.S. or Europe; she came to me by special order from Hong Kong. She is hugely popular in Asia—on the Unazukin website are hundreds of pictures that people have sent in of their Unazukin(s) posed in various places, such as the armrest of an airplane and among pieces of sushi on a plate. “Today I went out to lunch,” one person writes. “Of course, I took my Unazukin with me.” Of course. I, too, shall be taking my Unazukin with me wherever I go in this New Year.

A New Year, A New New Year's Leaf

For the first time in many, many years, I had fun on New Year’s Eve. This is a landmark event; normally, NYE is a time of dread and anxiety. It still is—there’s something about the ten-second countdown at midnight that makes me feel like a sinister black shroud has gotten tangled up in my gut—but, barring that admittedly short span of time, this year proved enjoyable. I’m in Jacksonville right now, and Andrew and I spent the Eve helping prepare a dinner party at his sister Katherine’s apartment for a few of her friends. Around ten, we went to a local bar with a nominal cover charge and manageable crowds. No line for the ladies’ room, a short wait for a drink—aside from just staying home with a DVD, this was a good place to spend the Eve even by my NYE-hating standards. I may have even worn a gold NYE-style tiara and gold beads...but there are no pictures to prove it.