Archive | December, 2012

The visit home – Part I

Posted on 11 December 2012 by American expat!

It’s Xmas time again, and I am on the second leg of my bi-yearly pilgrimage to the states. I’m in California after a brief visit to my brother’s place in Rhode Island, where he forgot me at the airport and already had three drinks in him when he finally answered his phone, 45 minutes after I landed. It took about 5 hours, but I made it to his place where, after a drug store shopping spree for all my brands of shampoo, makeup, vitamins, energy bars, toothpaste, eye drops and face creams that I can’t get in Spain (and for half the price of similar products), I stayed a few days before heading off to the West coast.

Here in California, it is a typical December-68 degrees under cloudless skies. I never tire of this, nor will I ever tire of the ability to purchase toilet paper, wine and ice cream at 10 o’clock on a Sunday night. I don’t tire of the customer service here either – there is no getting told off by bank tellers because you have too many questions, no getting yelled at that the supermarket is closed as you walk through 15 minutes before it actually does close, no failures to return from siesta–and of course no siesta in the middle of the afternoon to begin with–no asking for a restaurant check a second and third time before it finally is deposited, no getting hung up on by the telephone company…I could go on.

What I don’t miss–ever–are the endless hours spent isolated in the car, the daily driving to the market, bank, friends, dinner, coffee, shopping, beach, even the dog park requires a drive. I’m over it after the first day. I skip events, don’t visit friends in other cities, pass up anything that requires more than a 30 minute drive (and here, that accounts for quite a bit). I find myself constantly thinking that in Spain, I would be riding my bike, walking or taking public transportation to the same type of appointment and would likely run into someone I knew on the way back, come across some interesting event, parade or market, or at the very least see something interesting while riding the city bikes home.

I know it’s not a fair comparison – my home town is a small, agricultural community that cannot be compared to a city like Barcelona. And probably I’m reminded too much of my isolated childhood here, how when I was growing up in this town there wasn’t even a coffee shop where solitary people could gather in public. But there is now, so at 7:30 my first Saturday morning here, I drive my jet lagged body off to Starbucks for some palatable coffee. I don’t even like Starbucks, but it is better than the sickening, flavored swill that passes for coffee at my father’s house.

I’ll sit here awhile, watching one solitary aging white man after another order a small coffee and nothing else, carry it to an empty table to sit for awhile, contemplating the many ways his life could have been different…or, more likely, how many 2x4s he needs to get from Home Depot to finish the garage shelves. I’ll stare at everyone who comes in, and forget to smile when eye contact is made, becoming startled every time someone returns my gaze and then breaks into an automatic “Oops we made eye contact, it’s OK I’m harmless” smile. I’m not accustomed to doing this anymore, and I finally experience the awkwardness I heard Europeans talk about so many years ago regarding strangers smiling at you. I understand now that smiling connotes recognition, and that stranger smiling at you is not really a smile, it actually means something else. But Europeans don’t know this, so they call smiling at strangers disingenuous.

I am between cultures, not fully a part of either my native culture nor the culture I live in overseas. But I do have a community of expats where I live, a community that understands me and the world as I know it, even better than my culture of origin. So when I return to the place I now call home, they will nod while I swoon over the BBQ and Mexican food eaten, the visits to the beach a week before Xmas, and the fistfuls of people I meet with their own reality show I’ve never heard of and will never see. I’ll recount friend’s auditions, interviews and/or fund searching for such reality shows. Then I’ll complain about the hours wasted in the car along with the other hours in the car avoided and how mini malls are destroying my state.

Later, back in Europe, I’ll walk my anonymous, reality TV show-free self into a coffee bar. There, I will stare at strangers as they come in, sit down, do their thing. And when I am caught looking at them, I won’t smile apologetically–and no one will care in the slightest.


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Have a Sh*tty Xmas.

Posted on 01 December 2012 by American expat!

Editors note: Since it is Xmas time, I’ve brought back an oldie but goodie for the holidays. Enjoy.

It’s Navidad time here in Barcelona (aka Christmas or Xmas to us North Americans), and of course that means many, many days off for the Spaniards. For example, I am at the tail end of a 5 day weekend.  Which would be great if I were working and if anything was actually open. But other than quite a few street markets selling jamon, antiques, and yes, Xmas stuff, the pickings are slim.

Usually I am not one to acknowledge this time of year other than to make fun of what a scrooge I am and to let others berate me because of my generalized annoyance at all things referencing this holiday. Which I enjoy, by the way.

Take for example the Xmas tree my father made for me last year. A tumbleweed, spray painted black, with a cardboard and duct tape base. I think this is an accurate reflection of my spirit of Xmas.

That being said, there are a couple of traditions here I like because they either

a) are slightly obscene or

b) rather violent and slightly obscene. Thusly, I find them pardonable.

First we have the crapping log (El Caga Tió). This is a log with a face and hat that children beat with a stick while demanding and threatening it to shit turrons (sickeningly sweet nougat, served up in slab form), cheese and hazelnuts. For real, those three things. They even have a song in Catalan that goes like this:

Caga tío, (crap, log!)
caga turró, (crap torrons,)
avellanes i mató,( hazelnuts and cheese,)
si no cagues bé (if you don’t crap well)
et daré un cop de bastó (I’ll give you a smack with a stick.)
¡caga tió! (so crap, log!)

The log wears a blanket and is beaten by children while they sing. Then the blanket is removed to reveal the treats and shared among those present. In some versions of this event the log is then thrown into the fireplace and burned.

Here is a stack of  smiling logs awaiting their fate at a market.

The second tradition has to do with the Nativity scene, which most households build. These consist of more than the baby Jesus and a handful of holy rolling onlookers. These are a full blown affair with hills, lakes, barns with animals, farmers, and abundance of food being prepared and it is all quite realistic, for example you can buy farmers slitting the throats of pigs on tables, complete with a pool of blood on the ground. Or toothless old ladies spinning yarn. Or ironmongers hammering horseshoes. The choices are endless.

Or, you can create a more bible oriented nativity,set in the desert, complete with elephants, camels and chariots. In any nativity you’ll find devils, angles; usually a priest or two.

But in any Nativity, there is always a Caganer. This translates to “shitter” and it is exactly that: some dude taking a poo right in the nativity. Yep. And there are lots to choose from. From traditional Catalan figures to famous people to politicians to cartoon characters.

But it gets better. Not only is the Caganer squatting with pants down, he (or she) always features a pile of poo just under the naked, protruding rear. (Click here to view other celebrity caganers, or buy one for your own nativity. Or whatever.)

And sometimes, perhaps it’s a charming new trend, a nativity also features a Pixaner, which translates quite simply to “pisser”.

You can bet my mom will be receiving a Caga tio, a Caganer and a Pixner for Xmas. They will be added to her Xmas decorations, along side her Incredible Hulk snorkle that decorated her tree last year.

Because nothing says Christmas like poop.

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