Tag Archive | "Barcelona"

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A late August day

Posted on 23 September 2016 by American expat!

1 PM on a late August day.

Walking through the old part of the city on a hot and still day. You can feel it will rain soon, the air has that quiet weight to it and you can smell the rain. It’s hot, but the sun is no longer beating down, the sky has just filled with clouds.

While the city is crowded with visitors, in this part of town the streets are so small and close it feels intimate. You catch snatches of conversations in doorways, rub shoulders with passersby and dogs brush past you. Finally, the heat and Mediterranean humidity give way to rain and soft thunder.

Through the ancient streets will their high, close walls you can hear each raindrop among the sounds of conversations and footsteps and rolling bike tires, squeaking brakes, the ubiquitous sound of rolling luggage through the narrow street. The walls offer balconies every meter or so, just enough cover to duck under when the rain falls faster than the heat can dry your hair.

The old stones let loose their smell of old earth and time as you pass tiny shop doorways and artist studios and micro restaurants. People speak more quietly, move more deliberately, duck into cafes with soft music. You stay out, dampened by the drops of rain that reach you.

And the beauty of the city is more evident in the slowed pace



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Barcelona – is not in Spain?

Posted on 12 October 2013 by American expat!

For those unfamiliar, here is what is happening:  The region of Catalonia (Catalunya) is generally considered to be fighting for independence from Spain, though not everyone would say that it is fighting for independence, because not everyone supports it. I won’t get into the reasons why – suffice it to say it has to do with money.

The culture in Catalunya is quite different from Central and Southern Spain, though one could say the same about most European countries that are larger than the size of, say, the state of Rhode Island. In Germany, the Bavarian culture is worlds away from northern regions like Saxony and Brandenburg, with Bavaria generally considered “old world”, with more farming and less industrialized business as sources of livelihood. Italy is similar – there are distinct two cultures, one of the North and one of the South , dividing the boot right in half. (Side note: We Americans are familiar with Italy’s Southern culture, almost exclusively, as the mass emigration out of Italy after WWII occurred in the South). So it isn’t surprising that the northernmost regions of Spain feel they are very different from the Southern and even Central areas.

There are a few more points that distinguish the Northern regions from the Southern : Catalonia, Galicia, the Basque regions have their own officially recognized languages that are spoken along with the first official language, Spanish. So do the Balearic Islands, though Catalonia claimed them for itself in the recent past and the official language is Catalan. (Though that gets messy, because if you ask any Mallorquin if he speaks Catalan and he will tell you absolutely not–he speaks Mallorquín. Ask any Menorcan- and he’ll reply he speaks Menorquí, and ask an Ibizan or Formenteran and he will tell you he speaks Eivissenc. Their debate is not so much as to whether Catalonia should secede, but whether they are Catalan or not!)

Get the picture? Its a political topic that parties use to their advantage, as political parties are wont to do. And it is a local topic that people feel passionately about, both for and against –  assuming you are not asking an Okupante, who will always be for seceding. You know, anarchy and all. (Or communism. They can’t seem to agree on that point.) There are many Catalans here who are so passionate about it that they refuse to speak Spanish. These are usually the younger, post-Franco, generation. The first to have grown up with Catalan in schools and are really the embodiment of the immediate backlash against the dictator after his death. They also tend to learn English very well, and will prefer to speak it over Spanish with you. (Or Italian, or French – anything but Spanish.)

Any which way, people will let each other know where their loyalties lie. For example: There is an old apartment complex near me that is bisected by the barrio’s main street. At the bottom of the street, standing in the main pedestrian area that goes right through the middle, there is a building on the right, and another on the left. As it happens, the right side flies the Spanish flag and the left the Catalan flag, both facing each other. One could, if one did not know, surmise that the complex flies both flags, because this place is both Spanish and Catalan. But one would be wrong. Because these are flags flown by the residents themselves, not the apartment complex.


Spanish flag in the battle of the neighbors.


And in this corner, Catalunya!

It’s easy to imagine how this might have played out: One side stuck a flag out, let’s just say it was the independence supporters began. Some neighbors across the street don’t really agree with that political agenda, so they stuck their Spanish flag on the roof in defiance, but primarily to watch for a reaction and with hope in their hearts, piss off their neighbors. Then they glower at each other’s flags all day long. Perhaps someone in the regional flag building sneaks up and takes the national flag down one day. This pisses the person off who put the national flag up, so they sneak over and steal the Catalan flag. And on it goes.

Flags are everywhere: hanging out windows, on shirts, stickers on cars and scooters, flying at events. You’ll generally see far more Catalan flags and Catalan independence flags (Catalan stripes with a blue triangle with a single star on the left side). Probably because independence supporters are underdogs in that their wish is not what is. Nationalists don’t really have anything change to push for because, well, what they agree with is already in place.

Edit: Two hours after I posted this, I went on a bike ride and passed this: 

spanish and catalan flags  Both flags being flown! First time I have seen this.

In addition to the flags, there are events and marches and demonstrations in support of seceding. (And graffiti – God, graffiti is everywhere. Sometimes with Anarchy symbols and sometimes with Communism symbols-What a dichotomy to be confused about.) It’s all around, and if you live here, early on you’ll be asked how you, as an expat, feel about Catalonia’s independence – usually by the separatists.  If you support it, you’ll be embraced by the separatists; if you oppose it, they happily engage in debates with you about it. I’ve never been asked by a nationalist what I thought, but it will still get brought up in conversation eventually, and then you hear all the reasons why it shouldn’t happen. It can be hard to be indifferent – the Spanish do love a good debate. 

As for me, I’ve heard all the reasons for and against – some are sound, some seem misinformed. But…I live in an expat world:  I don’t vote here, I’m not a citizen, my circle of close friends are from all over the world and other parts of Spain (some of whom are from regions that also want to secede from Spain). Yes I have Catalan friends, but most of them have been expat themselves and can relate.

The expat culture tends to be its own thing, with a view of the rest of the world that is rather neutral. We are all uprooted and don’t have ties or history with the places we live. We also won’t gain anything if it happens –or if it doesn’t. We have things going on back home that we are more tied to, (i.e. my own country’s government just shut down). So even though we live here, it isn’t our place to support or oppose something as personal as this topic. 

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An open love letter to Barcelona

Posted on 26 February 2012 by American expat!


Barcelona, I really hate that you insist upon construction work dragging on every day until what most people consider to be nighttime. For example, it is now 8:30pm and there is some ridiculously loud drilling going on in the flat above mine. I suppose the hammering will follow next, as it did last night until after 9pm. Did I mention I work at night, from home?

But I am not going to turn this into a criticism session. Because for all your faults, there are so many things I really love about you.

First, let me tell you how much I appreciate your Greater Middle East area of Raval. You’re hosting some damn fine Indian, Pakistani, Afghani, Iranian and Armenian restaurants and bakeries. Fort super cheap, I might add.

I love the unexpected art I come across every day. I found these little gems when I walked out on a jetty to greet a fat puppy sniffing around at the cats who live in the jetties.

Speaking of the beach, now that Spring is here, the Chiringuitos are all out on the sand, playing music and serving up drinks. Love. Them.

chiringuitos on the beach in barcelona

And though I may not be able to find cottage cheese anywhere within your city walls (except for Carrefour Express on La Ramble, but it’s horrible UK cottage cheese), anything resembling real Mexican food, or convenient food like pre-shredded chicken in bags that I am accustomed to preparing for myself like a good American, I do love the entertaining variety of foods I can find in the larger supermarkets.

Yes, the name of those cookies translates to “Nun Nipples” and that’s an awfully hoochie looking nun pictured on the box. And you being Catholic no less.

Which brings me to the naked people. God how I love seeing your naked citizens walking around, riding bikes, or otherwise remaining undisturbed in their nudity. I especially love seeing the British tourist and their children stop in their tracks to stare open mouthed, while your Catalunyan grandmothers pass by arm in arm without a break in their conversations.

naked people in barcelona

But the thing I probably appreciate the most is your lack of airport security. I know, I know, I’ve said it before. But that fact that you don’t make me take off my sweatshirt, shoes or earrings and that you don’t blink when I put this in my carry on and pass it through security X-ray:

Barcelona airport security is lax.

It just makes my life so much easier.

Oh and also when I misspell my own name on my boarding pass. Thanks for letting that slide, too.



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Silence at last. And amor.

Posted on 20 October 2011 by American expat!


I did it! I finally moved! It felt like nearly a lifetime of waiting considering the relentless noise I had to deal with the past few months at my old place, that, coupled with how akin to WC Fields I have become with regard to children (and boy are they particularly loud here) made the summer hellacious in the pursuit of quiet. You never realize how much you need it until you don’t have it.

The new place is quiet, with plenty of light and views and no buildings facing either of my TWO giant balconies! So while my double set of sliding glass doors are on display to the world, I have more privacy than ever.

In fact, if the closest building, which is taller than mine, ever entices one of it’s residents out onto their tiny balconies, and if I see they might be looking this way (they are far enough it is hard to tell) I catch myself thinking “Hey, mind your own business, this is my space and I’ll paint these chairs in my bathrobe and towel-turbaned head while singing Journey if I want to!” and I go inside in a huff. Quite the turnaround from could-not-care-less snacking naked in my kitchen while the gay couple pretended not to notice from before.

So when I am not working I am doing all of the many things one must do when moving into a (rare) brand new building here. I had to buy an entire household of furniture, which, as fun as that sounds, is quite an ordeal. If I never see the inside of another IKEA, it will be too soon.

Ikea here is like Walmart in the US, full of out of control shrieking children and throngs of people shuffling around, albeit through much narrower isles and no regard for personal space – you just shove through grandma and her clan strolling 7 wide through the 4 foot wide aisle, go ahead! They don’t care. They don’t say sorry when they elbow you in the ribs getting by as you are pinned against the LJUSÅS YSBY lamps and NYVOLL dressing tables and you don’t have to either.

I also have been busy setting  up gas, electricity and water, getting the water heater lit, let’s not forget decorating the flat which I have done very tastefully (including a very zen fountain to go with the new silence. My clothes are still in piles on the floor, but I have a little fountain, damnit.) and finally, the challenging task of establishing a connection to that thing they call the internet, which, by the way, I still do not have – I am tethered to my iphone to connect. This is because Internet companies here are fucking ridiculously incompetent. I’ve been waiting a month for the installation people just to call to set up an installation, which of course doesn’t mean they will get it right or even do it the first time. So on that front – yay Spain.

But back to the good stuff. The neighborhood has welcomed me with lots of love, manifesting in graffiti of the same theme, which I share with you here.

Old factory wall that remains in the empty lot beside my building, soon to become a park. The wall is staying.

North side of the building next to me, will be one entrance to the park.

Same artist, a few block away

Letter slot on a storefront after hours.
amor graffiti in Barcelona

This tag was up so high I couldn't get a good photo of it. It's much cooler in person.

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A Tip for Your Next Move

Posted on 28 April 2010 by American expat!

Should you find yourself moving across town, here is a helpful tip:

Try to hire a car that is NOT the smallest in the world. Say, one that fits more than a bag and a pair of sneakers in it.

This will save much driving back and forth between residences and avoid the multiple frustrations of one way streets and incomprehensible traffic signs that flow traffic in ever tighter circles around your destination, but that never lead to your destination.

It will also save 100 bicycle trips across town for the person who does not fit in the car.

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