22 December 2008

Willow Goes to the Aquarium (picture heavy post!)

Last Friday, Angie and i took Willow to the city aquarium! We had a wonderful time. She and i both have a close relationship with him. He and his family live at Twin Oaks as well, but because his mother is Dutch, they come to Europe frequently, and they'd been staying with me for a couple of weeks in Barcelona, which i was thrilled about. Anyway, Angie and i are kind of like his crazy aunts. And we adore him.

The aquarium is near Port Vell. You walk into a atrium area where there are lots of plants growing, and walk down a ramp to get to the main aquarium.


Willow is an extremely smart child, and i say that without the bias of the "crazy aunt." He's engaged and he remembers and thinks quickly and critically.


Willow and i were both quite into the blue lobsters. I was particularly interested also in the fish in the Wrasse family, which were all very colorful.

I loved sharing this with Willow - he and i were equally excited about the animals! Okay, i might have been more excited.



The best part was the tank that was tube-like, with a moving sidewalk going through the tube. Sharks swam over your head!


It was SO COOL.


After the tanks, we came to a playground-like area.


There were tanks that you could get underneath, with manta rays in them!


There must be something very interesting up there...


Willow is an underwater explorer!


After the aquarium, we went to lunch with ice cream for dessert!


And then we headed home...



A VERY fun day!

Strange Paths

When i was three, we had an exchange student from Spain - from Sitges, to be precise, which is within Catalunya, and only about an hour's train ride from Barcelona. After thinking about it and being busy and not getting around to it and forgetting, i finally got in contact with her and we met for lunch last Wednesday!

It was a little strange, meetings like this have a high potential for awkwardness. The last time we saw each other i was maybe 7, when she surprised us with a visit at Christmas.

And twenty years later....


She took me out to a restaurant in Gracia, the artsy, high-end fashion area of Barcelona that is home to lots of Gaudi's work. The place we ate, Cerveseria Catalana, was very typically Catalan, as one might imagine from the name. We had tapas, and she introduced me to a Catalan onion dish that was delicious.

Roasted green onions, from which one peels the outer layer, then dips the soft white part into a sauce made of oil and vinegar, roasted red pepper, spices and some other ingredients. Yum!

We barely made it - she was leaving for Prague with her family the next day, and i would be gone by the time she got back, so it really was our last chance to meet, and i am really, really glad we did!

20 December 2008

Dali is Not Overrated

On Thursday, Ethan and i went to Figueres, a town almost to the French border, to see the Dali Museum. We got on the train early in the morning, and an hour and a half later i was thrilled to see the Pyrenees mountains in the distance!



There are several, of course, but this is THE Dali Museum - the one he put together himself, which is what makes it so very amazing. It's supposedly the largest surrealist object in the world, and i believe it. It's so much more than a gallery where paintings hang; the whole thing is one big installation. It's like walking through one of his images. I LOVED it. We both did.

The building that houses the museum is a theater that was damaged during the war, and when it was rebuilt, it was rebuilt specifically for this purpose, but Dali apparently loved the idea that it was a theater and so it wasn't changed much, to my understanding. There's a courtyard that houses this sculpture:


Inside, there's a stage like setup where there's a massive, massive painting, and the tiers of the theater where the seats would be have been enclosed to make gallery hallways. The wings of the stage also have galleries, and everywhere there are alcoves housing curious installations, like this sculpture which included some kind of piano and the whole thing had music playing in the background.

One of my favorites was a piece where you walked up to a hole in the wall, looked in, and discovered a magical wonderland on the other side.


One whole room was taken up by "Portrait of Mae West," and you had to climb up this small staircase to get in the right place to view it. Coming in, it looks like this, and from the staircase, you see...


I was also excited to see a lot of prints and drawings, which aren't usually featured, seems like the curators pass over them in favor of melting clocks.


I also loved this drawing of his wife, Gala, who features prominently in his work. It looked also to me like some of the signatures on the pieces said both Gala and Salvador Dali. I wondered if she assisted in his pieces or if some of them were hers and she didn't get any credit.

After the museum, we went to this restaurant i had found online the night before, the only vegetarian restaurant in Figueres, El Cafe del Barri Vell. It was AMAZING. A tiny little restaurant with a funky exposed-beam ceiling and warm red walls with creative but simple food that was clearly prepared with a lot of care.


We had this sampler of guacamole, hummus, and baba ganoush, and all three were some of the best examples of each. I also had a salad with avocado, fresh soft cheese, peanuts, and a mint-orange vinaigrette. Here's the best part - it was cheap!

Then we walked around a little while longer, and came home on the train. DEFINITELY worth the travel time.

[ Fill This Space ]

The end of semester exhibition, [ Fill This Space ], was last Friday, the 12th, and it went well. I wore the fancy velvet dress i made, and i got lots of compliments on it! I was very happy that my framily was able to come - Ethan, Angie, Pax, Hawina, Sky, Kassia, and Willow were all there, as well as some friends of Pax's that happened to be in town that day. The school looked great and there seemed to be a healthy turn out, though i left after an hour and a half.

Some of my work i displayed in my studio, and my main piece was displayed as more of a "showcase" piece, with almost a whole room to itself. Those of you who have been reading know that i've been working with the theme of the body, and this was a continuation, or rather the first step in a project that is the culmination of all these thought processes. At the beginning of the year, i sent a ton of emails out to friends and acquaintances and posted on forums and facebook and myspace asking for people to send me their "body stories" - we all have them, and i'm fascinated by how they affect us and how we carry them within us. The response was completely overwhelming. I was humbled by how many people chose to share some very raw and hard things with me; as well i received poems and ecstatic tales of joy. So, naturally, i froze. I had no idea how to carry on, how to do this justice. It felt like i had been given a great responsibility.

Then we got to the "Minimalism" theme at school, and though i was quite skeptical at first, after hearing the arguments for minimalism, i decided that instead of trying to create some elaborate, showy, complicated work for the Body Stories, the best thing to do was just to let them speak for themselves. So what i decided to do was to make simple white plaster casts of bodies - no faces, just bodies, mostly torsos, in different positions. Then i put one line from each story, in black transfer letters, directly on the cast. I displayed them very simply, though i'd toyed with the idea of making like forty of them and filling the whole wall, but i wanted each individual to be able to speak for itself.


I will only post about half of the pieces as close ups, but i should let you know that most of the stories i got were about hard experiences (to put it mildly), and so it may be triggering for some folks to see this stuff.






I was very, very happy with the way this came out. Unfortunately due to cost constraints, i'm leaving these pieces behind. However, i'm proud enough of it and i think it's important enough that i intend on pitching it ruthlessly to galleries and remaking it when i get back to the states.

08 December 2008

It's Been A While...

So! It's been a while since i've updated, and there's been a lot going on. The Expressa't exhibition opened with my installation in it, and an image of it was used on one of the promotional postcards, so that was really exciting. I presented my minimalism project, which went over very, very well - some people really loved it and some people were really offended. I don't have any images of it yet, but i am cleaning it up and adding to it to hang in the exhibition. I've been working on a bunch of sewing projects, i've finished a very fancy dress and a bag using materials i salvaged from a dumpster, finally got the hems done on the first pair of pants that i made, and am planning on working on a couple more things before i lose access to the sewing machine. My classes are over now, and i have my "exit interview" tomorrow, then we set up for the exhibition which opens on Friday.

Ethan got here about ten days ago, and i am so, so glad he is finally here! We have been hanging out at home a lot but also have been to two art exhibits and the beach, and have walked around the city a bunch. We have been through the Gracia neighborhood, where much of Gaudi's work is, and to Santa Maria del Mar, a gothic cathedral that is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. We also saw a great collective street art project. Pax and Hawina and their son Willow (who's almost 7) got to Barcelona last Tuesday, followed closely by Sky and Kassia, ex-members of Twin Oaks and good friends. So, this group that we are calling "Framily" (friend-family, as opposed to biological family) is almost complete - Angie gets here on Wednesday!! We are all orbiting around Willow to some extent, though i am pulled away by school. Last night we all piled into the big bed in the room that Pax and Hawina are staying in and watched "Stardust", this great kids' movie with Robert de Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer. Loved it, and loved the feeling of all being together, much better than being on my own all the time.

However, Pax, Willow, and i all have colds. Sick again! Hopefully it is something in the air in Barcelona and it will get better once i leave... one good thing to look forward to about leaving.

Ethan and i are hoping to go to the Dali museum in Figueres, but it is a good train ride away, almost to France, so maybe we will do that this coming weekend, or sometime in the week between the exhibition and when we leave for Amsterdam, on the 21st. My time in Barcelona is winding down quickly!

Mara, a classmate of mine, took this picture of the opening of Expressa't.


Here's Ethan looking at some boats. We thought they were - or at least one of them was - battleships.


When we went to the beach, we sat by the sea for quite some time, and Ethan made this nice sand sculpture:


This is my favorite painting from the street art thing we saw, though there was lots of really amazing work out there:


Sunday we all went to Can Mas Deu, the community nearby that i've been to many times. This is where Sky and Kassia are staying:


19 November 2008

Work, work, work!

Another post about two kinds of work, art and kids.

Yesterday was my weekly gig with Alexandra and Arthur, with whom i play and speak English for two and a half hours. Alexandra and i are like two peas in a pod, and we get along famously even when we don't understand each other. Although, when i tell her i don't understand her, she often says with frustration, "Jopé!" (DARN it) with LOTS of emphasis on the "h" sounding j. She is charming. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible for me to understand her brother, with his 3-year-old's version of Spanish, but Alex "translates" (from Spanish to Spanish). Arthur is usually with his mom or at a playgroup for at least part of the time, so often it is just me with Alex, much to my relief. Arthur is a volatile child who likes to be at the center of attention all the time, and when he's not he can react quite violently, throwing things with wild abandon and biting. Luckily i have started to figure out how to handle the two of them together. Yesterday the solution was two harmonicas. I will miss these kiddos a lot when i go.

Today i finished my project for the Expressa't exhibition. This is an annual exhibition that Metafora participates in, in conjunction with the Ambit Dona resource centre, for World Aids Day. The title of the exhibition means express yourself, in Catalan. All of the works are a response to or a commentary on HIV/AIDS, and i'm really excited to be a part of this. Here's the piece i'm submitting, minus the installation component (yes, i, the painting snob, have made an installation piece):


And here's what i wrote about it:

I chose to focus on joy. Though my project began with a very important element of collective oppression, as my paper people came to life, they were undeniably dancing. So i decided to liberate them instead and let them wind their way freely through the space. Though i also experimented with a mulitcolored set of figures, i chose to make all the silhouettes red, to more intentionally represent the HIV/AIDS community. As i finished the piece, i worked more deliberately to let the figures dance, and i based many of the images on forms from dance around the world, as well as trying to capture casual movements that the average person makes during the day. Some of the figures are very sensitive and emotionally expressive, others are more still, and each one genuinely seems to have an individual personality! The message has become one of hope, a celebration of the resilience of humanity in the face of whatever we may face. Suspended in the air on a lightweight thread, they are always slightly moving, and always connected to each other.

My plan is to install this piece in a spiral or circular manner. I'm quite excited about it, people really respond to them, though i wonder if the response will be different in a gallery setting.

And here's a painting i finished today:


The photo doesn't represent the color very well, it's represented better in this slightly out of focus detail.

Tomorrow i am hoping to go to the nearby community to work in the garden, and then i have my second and likely final acupuncture appointment, which i am very excited about. Our next round of projects is due next week, so i need to get cracking on that, and we will be installing and opening Expressa't. All my "to-do" stuff wraps up next Friday, which is good timing, because that's the night that Ethan arrives!

14 November 2008

Deux Fourchettes, Pas de Stylo

or, what language am i speaking, anyway?

I've finally gotten connected in Barcelona. I'd been having a good time, but not really feeling a part of the city, not really meeting people i was interested in spending a lot of time with. This was partly due to the unfortunate experience i had at Yara's. However! A few weeks ago i finally went to visit Can Mas Deu, a community on the northwest side of Barcelona.

It's amazing.

There are around 25 people that live collectively in this old building, which was once a hospital and before that a hacienda of some kind, and the whole house is a massive do-it-yourself. They run their own plumbing with horizontal wells, grow their own vegetables, run a bike shop, share meals and common space, and on Sundays they open to the public and run workshops and classes and show movies. They also cook lunch and have a coffeeshop. I've been out there every Sunday since then. I love the chance to get out of the city - though it's relatively close to a metro stop, it's situated on a beautifully wooded hill - and everytime i'm there i meet wonderful people.

Last Sunday i met Juako, a Spanish guy living in Barcelona, and Meela, an exuberant Turkish nomad, as well as her British friend Charlie. They're all staying in another collective house, which is right in the centre of the city. They invited me to come over on Tuesday to have dinner and hear a talk by some French activists about their social projects in Lyon.

And so i discovered another amazing place in Barcelona. I love it because it's this funky activist centre, the whole thing is very DIY, cozy and colorful, with a wide variety of people running in and out, right on one of the poshest streets in Barcelona. I have no idea how they came to own this property.

The talk by the French people was great. It was all in Spanish, but i understood amazingly well, i suppose because they weren't native Spanish speakers either. Their projects sound wonderful, and i hope i get a chance to visit them when i'm in France. I was talking with them afterwards, and it was this beautiful melange of languages, all three of us moving in and out of French, English, and Spanish, and never missing a beat. Most of the time i was talking to them, i wasn't even aware of which language was currently coming out of my mouth. When i asked them if they had any contacts in Paris, the guy asked me for a pen, and i dug through my bag, and produced two forks (deux fourchettes), but no pen (pas de stylo).

I've unfortunately just been through a week-long bout of mysterious illness, in which i had no real symptoms, just extreme, extreme fatigue. Following advice from my favorite naturopath and a visit to an acupuncturist seem to have me back on track. Also, the charger for my laptop arrived today, so coming soon, along with stories of the acupuncturist, are pictures of Halloween and new artworks.

06 November 2008

An Exciting Week

On Saturday, my laptop charger caught on fire! I smelled smoke, looked down, moved my legs away from the cords, and momentitos afterwards, the connection between the charger and the cord burst into flames. Okay, it was one flame, but nonetheless very dramatic. According to the guy in FNAC today, Dell doesn't have a retail presence in Spain, so it will be at least a while before i get a new charger. So i am without laptop, and blogging on a public computer isn't very appealing, especially posting pictures. At the moment i am using my kind and generous Austrian flatmate's computer, so updating at least.

I said before that this is not a political blog. Nonetheless, i momentarily suspend your art/travelblog experience for reflections on the elections. I wrote this in my paper-journal last night.

I am watching the 2008 presidential elections from a swanky, smoky bar in El Raval in Barcelona. This will possibly be the most pivotal election i will ever witness and the outcome is so unclear. The polls have only just started to close, and we're watching CNN on a cinema sized screen. They're posting the results little by little.

In a way i wish i was in the country, but this is a remarkable experience. This bar is packed with Americans, but also people from all over the world - Finland, New Zealand, Great Britain, Poland and more. I was talking with this Polish woman sitting next to me and she said in perfect English, "We're just here for support," and cheered wildly when the first numbers for Florida popped up with Obama in the lead.

I don't really believe in politics as such. I basicallz gave up direct political activism after getting burnt out in college, and decided that living well and in line with my principles was the more important. Living in community, radical intimacy and communication, herbal medicine, becoming a doula, teaching yoga, and my new healthy beauty project are all forms of social activism that sustain me, rather than burn me out.

All that being said, it is an incredibly heartening experience to be in this room full of excited, engaged people. And if John McCain wins this election, i'll be job-hunting in Barcelona.

Obama is a politician, like anyone who could conceivably win an election. And i'm skeptical and waiting to see if he sticks to his guns througout his term. Even if he does, there is still plenty i don't agree with. Also, i think it's quite a potentially dangerous trap to see his election as proof that racism no longer exists, which i've heard a lot of hinting around at. There's also that the whole thing is kind of culty, what with the chanting and all. But seriously? If i had to pick something for so many people to chant, "Yes we can" is not at the bottom of the list.

In more radical circles, it's considered passé to some extent to be interested in the elections and sometimes even to vote, but i just have to be excited about this. Despite my reservations, i'm excited about Obama. I think he's great. I think what he stands for culturally is incredibly important, and i'm excited to be around to see how it unfolds.

Though, what will i read about on the internet if not Sarah Palin? (Okay, so it's lowbrow, but booing her, along with the whole room, when she was on the screen last night was really fun.)

Also, my adrenaline from staying up nearly all night and excitement at the results fueled a painting that's going really nicely. Pictures of it someday...

29 October 2008

Images from My Project

So i heard complaints that the images on the .pdf weren't visible enough, and that the .pdf was inaccessible. So here is a .jpg of the statement, and here are the three images discussed therein.




25 October 2008

First Critique at Metafora

Yesterday i gave my first presentation for critique at Metafora. It was a little nerve-wracking! We were given the theme of "The Tower of Babel (Culture and Identity)" as the basis for these projects.

My statement, with images included, is here (the link is to download a .pdf file). I got decent responses, there wasn't lavish praise, but nobody trashed me either or asked what the heck i was thinking. I wasn't totally happy with my project - what i said in my presentation was that the anger piece was particularly hard for me to work on, because i'm not angry much these days and it's hard for me to access that emotional place, not to mention that i don't really want to. I feel like in a way i've been there, done that, and to force myself back to it now, without a genuine impetus, would be artificial. I'm happy with the sculpture, which is shown in my statement in full, and the painting, also in the statement, but the collage piece (only a section is shown), i could toss. I like the approach i've taken with the painting, which is the same as a couple of other pieces i've done this semester. Using organic matter to "stamp" onto the page, using cutouts to work with negative space, etc. I really want to keep working with that type of imagery.

However, the next theme coming up is minimalism, and while usually, minimalism does not interest me in the least, i think it will be an excellent vehicle for a certain project that i started conceptually in August. I plan on working with the body casting technique - maybe some projection, too.

I got some very plush corduroy fabric yesterday, to make another pair of pants, and my plan was to cut and pin this weekend so i could jump straight to sewing on Monday, but i brought the wrong pattern home. Boo! I'm so very into the clothes designing at the moment, i hope i continue to have success and inspiration. There is a very upscale fabric store here in Barcelona and going in there is so exciting. They have so much beautiful, lush fabric - i want to pull everything off the shelves and roll around in it. The sequins! The silk! The lace! The pants i already made, while the hem needs to be let down, fit me perfectly and are exactly what i wanted, which i can never find in stores. Very pleased.

Aaaand tomorrow i think i'm going to Segur de Calafell, south of the city, to nanny for a few hours. Yay euros!

22 October 2008

Leading A Charmed Life

My mother and i often talk about how we lead charmed lives. Here's the latest example of mine.

I love Ani DiFranco, a folk singer who is politically outspoken, eloquent, and funny in addition to being an excellent musician. I've often said her music is like a portable therapist in the CD player. I saw her live for the first time the spring semester of my senior year of high school, and at least once a year since then. Though, i've listened to her less and less these days, as i've started listening to more dance music, trip-hop, and kirtan. I still always go see her when she's nearby, because she puts on an incredible (there's that word again) show. Last time, it was in Richmond, in July.

She came to Barcelona on Sunday, and i was a little sad, because tickets were outrageously priced, and i'd decided to pass. A friend of mine from London was coming in for the show. When he called me, i said i wasn't going because i didn't want to spend the money on a ticket. "Well, we can't have that!" he said, did a little string pulling, and somehow got me on the guest list! So i got to see my 11th Ani DiFranco show for free, in orchestra seats. And, it was... incredible. Of course. No matter how much i see her, she still makes me laugh and cry. She's recently had a baby, and her songs about her daughter are so sweet and poignant.

Also, the woman who opened for her, Anais Mitchell, was also pretty awesome. She didn't play long enough for my taste, and i usually find opening acts annoying. The only other exception i can think of is the guy who opened for Ani in DC, a slam poet. He was great too.

Anyway, yes. Charmed life.

Friday i give my presentation/defense for my project. The theme was the Tower of Babel, and afterwards i'll post my statement here.

20 October 2008

Rome 3: Sistine Chapel and The Colosseum

The last day in Rome, which i need to post about so i can move on to the exciting happenings of yesterday, began with Katrin waking me up at 11, with some nonsense about the Sistine Chapel. Oh! Right, that. Yes, i do want to go see that. Okay, i'm up, i'm up.

We took a bus from where we'd been staying with our host, Matteo, to the center of Rome. This took a long time, though we weren't actually that far away. And what they say about Italian drivers extends to both bus drivers and METRO drivers. We finally got there and took a train from there to the Vatican, which is on the far west side of the city. From the train station we walked and walked until we finally saw the city walls, and soon we were standing in front of St. Peter's! I'm not Catholic, but i've studied this stuff so much, it was very cool to finally see it.


We followed a long train of signs pointing the way to the Sistine Chapel, which is inside the Vatican Museum. Katrin and i both used our outdated student IDs to get the discounted entrance, and followed yet another long train of signs to get to the chapel itself. The palace of the Vatican is like a rat maze, it's quite impressive. We tried very hard not to get distracted on the way there, and were pretty successful except for when we encountered the old maps, which both of us were very into.

We finally made it to the Sistine Chapel, which was just as amazing as it's reputed to be. It was also absolutely PACKED. I'm sure you've all seen it, so i won't go overboard with the pictures (which i wasn't even supposed to take...), and just post this one of my favorite panel, The Expulsion from Eden:


After we'd made it to our destination, we were free to get distracted in the rest of the museum, though hunger kept us from tarrying overlong. I was impressed by the papal jewelry, which was too gaudy even for me, and Katrin and i were both amused by this hysterical "artwork," entitled, i am not making this up, The Mute Swans of Peace.


A gift to the pope from, who else? The United States. Sigh.

Our hunger drove us from the Vatican back into Italy (we did not need our passports), in search of pizza. We succeeded, though i was being needy Nancy - the Italian ATMs refused my card repeatedly. Apparently i needed some kind of special chip in my card, and they couldn't do anything without it, so i had no access to cash. I'll take Katrin out for dinner in Paris or something when i'm there. Anyway, this was our post-Vatican snack:


Incredible. You know, French food is supposed to be so wonderful, and it's pretty good for the most part, but nothing really outstanding generally speaking. I think they get a little too focused on being fancy. Italy is a different story. The pizza lives up to its reputation as well as the ice cream and the pasta.

My time in Rome was drawing to a close, and so Katrin and i parted ways. She wanted to relax and i wanted to see some other things, so i headed on and saw this thing - you might know it:


I didn't go in, seeing as it was quite costly and i was short on the paper kind of money. I'm a little sad about that, actually. Next to the Colosseum is the Foro Romano - less talked about, more impressive.


Again, you had to pay to get up close, so i skipped that, but i walked around the perimeter of it and ooh-ed and ahh-ed. The roads going around between the Forum and the Colosseum have ruts in them that are track marks from chariots. Chariots! Rome is really old.

At that point it was time to head for the airport, so i grabbed one last gelato (of course), and that was that.

You know, i almost didn't go. I was on the phone with Matteo only hours before my flight was scheduled to depart telling him i was probably not going to come. And for whatever reason, i changed my mind, and i can't even express how glad i am that i went. Though i suppose my effusive blog entries speak for themselves.

17 October 2008

Rome Part 2

The next day i slept quite late to recover from my early flight and a couple of little-sleep nights in a row. I awoke to a kitchen full of tasteless Italian bread (they don't use any salt!) and Nutella, jam, and orange juice. Italian Nutella is the best i've ever had, and it really is different in every country (the US is the only one that has high fructose corn syrup).

Many more folks had arrived at the house, the DJ was already going, and the yard was covered with Burners draped about in the sunshine. I happily joined them, and we talked and ate and i met new people all day.


Food appeared at random intervals, with no lack of vegetarian options after the fit we'd pitched the night before. Pesto pasta, cheese toast (again with the flavorless bread), fruit, potatoes... Katrin set up the lino cut table, and lots of people made prints. A station for making tomato sauce was set up out back, and everyone was gifted a bottle of homemade tomato sauce to take home (which the airline took away from me, tragically). The day was very pleasant and relaxing, and as night fell, things got more exciting, with the DJs picking up the pace and a heck of a dance party.


One of the funniest things all night was the scene in the kitchen. Apparently the cooks decided there were too many people going in and out, so they barricaded the doorway with a table and if you needed something you had to place an order. They were making homemade tagliatelli, so we weren't complaining. The effect was very theatrical, the dining room was packed with shouting, wildly gesticulating Italians, and the kitchen was occupied by shouting, cooking Italians. It was quite the scene.

Well, i finally went to bed around sunrise after an amazing night, slept until 3 PM and then 3 hours later hit the road to Rome with Katrin, her boyfriend, and 2 London-based ladies. We stopped to visit some new friends in Calvi d'Umbria, who are starting an art community and run an "agriturismo," which is like a bed-and-breakfast, but with olive trees. We had an adventure trying to find the out-of-the-way place in rural Italy in the dark, but we stopped and walked around the village, population 900, and had gelato, which i deemed the best ice cream i'd ever had. I'm partial to nocciola (hazelnut), and it tasted more like frozen nut butter than ice cream. The town was utterly charming, the agriturismo ideal, and the wine plentiful! It grew late as we talked Burning Man, art, and voodoo, so we left in search of dinner. Italians eat late, as is common in Europe, but not as late as Spaniards, so we counted ourselves lucky to find a pizza place open at 11 PM. And this was no drive-thru - we had a full meal, from bruschetta to (even more!) wine and sparkling water, pizza, dessert, coffee, and lemoncello. We were the last customers of the night, but they were not about to expect us to have anything less than a fabulous meal. Oh, darn!

We eventually made it to Rome, where we were staying with one of the people who had hosted the party in Alviano. I hit the hay immediately, for the next day was to be filled with sightseeing in a busy city...

15 October 2008

Rome is Really Old

So, i got well enough to put myself on a plane and fly to Italy! I was there for four days, and there's so much to tell i may have to split this into two entries. But i'll start from the beginning. Also, i took 150 pictures, so i'll link to most of them instead of posting them all here.

The impetus for going to Rome was for a "Burning Weekend," a weekend long party out in the country near the city for European Burner types. I arrived in Rome early on Friday, and was to meet up with two women from the group who would hang out with me and then go with me on the train to Alviano, a nearby town closest to the party site. They were just getting on the bus when i arrived, so i figured i would look around some while i waited, and then meet them in an hour. I took myself to get a sandwich, see a Baroque/Romanesque cathedral (Santa Maria Maggiore), and have some gelato. No chance of avoiding gluten in this country! I got totally distracted and when i finally looked at my phone, it had been an hour and a half and i was late. But just then i recieved a text message from them saying they were also late... ah, Europeans! They fit my attitudes towards time perfectly.

We finally rendezvous'ed at the Spanish Steps. Helen (English/Irish) and Aurelie (French) were emissaries from the party organizers, and we also met Katrin (German). The four of us bonded quite quickly, and were pretty inseparable for the whole weekend. I was delighted to find that both Aurelie and Katrin live in Paris, so now i've got some friends there!

Our first project was to go to art stores to find supplies for making linoleum cuts, which was Katrin's project for the weekend. We strolled leisurely around Rome, popping in and out of art stores, stopping for a panini and wine, until we found a place that had what we needed. They also had this incredible counter where they would custom blend oil paints! I just about keeled over. Just look at those pigments!!


I also spotted some very funny and well done street art.

After our art store expeditions, Katrin went in search of flip-flops, as it was quite warm and she was wearing tights and boots, and the other three of us headed for the Trevi Fountain, which somehow i'd never heard of. It was incredible!


It's "good luck" to throw a coin in, but i don't know about that guy next to me, who was pulling money OUT of the fountain!

We headed to the train station after that, and had a really fun train ride to Alviano, where we waited for Massimo to pick us up in his tiny European car. No one was at the house yet, so we dropped our things off, and then went to another little tiny town nearby to get food and wine. Katrin and i walked around looking at things - she loves these little cars, which are like enclosed scooters, and they're everywhere in Italy. After groceries, to get wine we went to a winery! It was the first time i'd been to one, and they actually opened it after hours for us, so we got a private tour. I was such a total tourist, everywhere with my camera, but it was SO COOL.

We tasted wine (Aleatico, Merlot/Sangiovese, Grechetto, and Malvasia) and and took back six very large bottles. I thought the wine was amazing. I could really taste the difference between the wines, and they even had a white wine that i really really liked. I thought it was some of the best wine i'd ever had, and we paid less than 2 euro/liter! After we got back in the car, the Europeans were all like, "Yes, well, it is not so good, this wine, but it will do." Ha!

We drove back to the house - and by way, what they say about Italian drivers is VERY true - and other people had started to arrive. The sound system was getting set up and dinner was cooking. We opened the bottles of wine, and i started meeting lots of really amazing people, including a group of Americans who are starting an art community between Alviano and Rome. The DJs got going and people were dressing up and dancing, and the kitchen was full of Italians shouting and cooking. Dinner took forever to cook, and though i and another vegetarian had reminded them continuosly that we needed food too, and they'd assured us there would be something for us, when they finally spread out the polenta, just dumped it on the table, the meat sauce was dumped all over the top of it, and their answer to our indignation was to scrape off the sauce and call it vegetarian. No thanks! So we made some pesto pasta ourselves, and it was quite delicious.

I have to say, the pasta was incredible. Okay, obviously, it's Italy. The bag i opened was Barilla, the same thing i can buy at Food Lion in Virginia. But it is NOT the same stuff inside! I couldn't even believe how good it was.

This is already long, so i'll stop here, and write more in the next couple of days.

(In reading back over this, i realized how may times i've said something or other was "incredible." I don't mean to be hyperbolic, but it was all very awesome. Maybe i need a thesaurus.)

08 October 2008

I'm Sick!

I have a horrible cold. I almost never get sick, and so it really throws me for a loop when i do. My nostrils are taking turns being totally stopped up, my head feels like it's full of bubbles, and every time i swallow my ears pop. I have no energy, no appetite, and i'm all achy too. Yuck! I'm taking care of myself the best i can but there's just not much you can do for colds.

I hope it clears up soon, i'm supposed to go to Italy day after tomorrow!

04 October 2008

Markets and Bakeries

Though i don't have a gigantic budget here in Spain, my nannying jobs are keeping my life comfortable, and provide me with cash to spend at the markets. I *love* the vegetable markets, the small bakeries, and, oh my goodness, the recently discovered flea-market.

Most weeks i go to the large central market on La Rambla, La Mercat de la Boqueria. It's incredibly famous, and the first ten feet across the whole front of it is always crammed full of tourists, taking pictures of the unusual fruits and the amazing spreads of nuts and candies. The vendors there at the entrance sell cups of squeezed juices, all combinations, for 1 euro, and not-tiny packs of sliced fruit for 1 euro as well. Well, the ones in the very front are sometimes 2.50, but if you go on back a stand or two, you find the cheaper stuff. Most of the produce, even the fruit, comes from Spain, elsewhere in the Iberian peninsula, or somewhere in Northern Africa. I usually buy enough vegetables for at least a week for under 3 euros! It's not a market for haggling, but i love shouting in Spanish over the noise to the vendors. I love the whole experience.


Today i went to the market at Gloriès, which is a massive flea market. It's not as big as El Rastro in Madrid, which seems to go on for miles, but it's a pretty good size. There's everything there, from chandeliers to sunglasses, piles of old clothes to new boots that probably came from the black market. I'm not interested in the vendors there who have stuff that's wrapped in plastic, made in China, and bulk ordered. But oh, the junk vendors! I didn't buy anything, because i don't have a home to decorate, but if i did... The stuff there was just amazing. One of my favorite things was the boxes and bags of old coins. Rubbed flat pence, pesos, the old European currencies, probably things older and more foreign. Lots of stuff salvaged from old buildings. I just love the sense of all the stories laid out there on the tables. One man had a massive pile of old silverware for sale, and he stepped right in the middle of it to get to the other side of his booth! At one point, i wandered out of the "official" market area and into the street market, where there were lots of people selling things from blankets on the sidewalks. Definitely a more eclectic range of things, but just as interesting. The most interesting and hilarious part was at one point, someone at the end of the row shouted "Agua!" and there was a sudden scramble as all the sellers scooped up their things into their blankets, tossed them over their shoulders, and shouted, "Agua!" to each other. The cops had shown up. I was amazed at how fast they'd moved! I suppose you have to have a permit of some kind to sell things that they didn't have.

Now, the bakeries. This is something i never really experienced growing up in small town USA. We had a local bakery, but they were, in my memory, mostly donuts and cakes and sweets. The bakeries here are every ten feet and they have baguettes, croissants, magdalenas (kind of like cupcakes), meringues, and depending on the place, different varieties of sandwiches, pastries, pizzas, and so on. Palmeras are one particular kind of pastry that seems to be "native" to Spain, they're everywhere and probably my favorite. Same kind of flaky dough as a croissant, but shaped into a heart and crunchy/chewy with some kind of glaze on. The one closest to school, Forns Enrich, is the one i've visited most often. Forn is Catalan for oven, and pa is bread, so most bakeries are called some variant on one or both of those words. Anyway, Enrich has incredible stuff, including whole wheat bread, which isn't always easy to find. They also have a house specialty pastry called a Tarragonina. The dough is like a cross between a palmera and a croissant, in a braid or a twist, and both ends dipped in chocolate. It is incredible.

Now here's the problem. I seem to have some kind of intolerance or allergy to gluten, the protein found in wheat. I had stopped eating it for seven months before i left the states in order to get a skin problem under control, and when i would eat it, the skin problem would flare up AND i would get feeling bad, with particular problems of heartburn. Ick. Since i've been here, i've been ignoring those two things, eating gluten in moderation, a few times a week if that. Unfortunately, the other day it got so bad i couldn't ignore it, so i'm going to have to lay off for a while. I did find some gluten-free stuff in El Corte Ingles, but it's expensive and not very good. Sad. Maybe once a week would be a reasonable amount to have a sweet pastry. Ironically, it seems to be the whole grain stuff that results in the worst reaction! Fortunately, there's a sandwich shop right around the corner from my house that sells gluten-free bread with their entrepans - the best Catalan word ever. It literally means "between bread."

Now, if you'll excuse me, it's Saturday night and i have some serious dancing to attend to!

29 September 2008

Work: Art and Otherwise

(Sigh, this should have been two entries. I'm verbose - where on earth did i get *that* from??)

So, i have a strong desire to not spend *all* of my money in Spain. I'd like to have enough to go to India and Bali and then a little to get set up in Charlottesville for a few months. Jette is the funky way cool director of the art school i'm attending, and after meeting her children i offered her my babysitting services. She immediately said she could send my information to a list of "mummies" that she's connected to in the area, and shortly after she did that, i was flooded with job offers. Hooray! I've taken two; i need time to work in the studio and do yoga and enjoy the city, and with two i'm making 60+ euro a week, which makes my life much more comfortable.

One family lives on the edge of the city. They have two children, and i work with their daughter, Alexandra, primarily. She's five, and precocious and adorable. Her favorite movie is the Little Mermaid. We get along famously. Their mother is very insistent that i only and always speak English. The first day i was working with Alex, she was tenaciously trying to teach me Spanish, asking me to say names of colors and animals - the same approach i was using in English! It's hard, using only English when she doesn't always understand (sometimes i cheat and whisper to her in Spanish if i really need to). Her little brother, Arthur, is terribly rambunctious and i can't possibly teach Alex any English if i'm having to wrangle him too, so he stays with his mom while i'm there, mercifully. The first day i was there, she did have me with both of them, and afterwards i thought, "What have i gotten myself into?!?"

The second family i only started with yesterday. They live in Segur de Calafell, which is a 45-minute train ride out of the city. It's kind of a long way, but i like the train, and the air is cleaner there. They also have a daughter and a son, 4 years and 20 months respectively. It was a huge hassle to get there yesterday, with confusion on my part due to omission of detail on the mother's part. Whoops. But i did arrive, and went from the train station to pick up the daughter at a friend's house, where we lingered and lingered while the girls played. The friend's house was up on a hill with an incredible view of sea in the distance - the town is smallish, and tucked in around mountains on the shore, like Barcelona, but without the large valley that Barcelona occupies. At their house, the mother and i sat at the kitchen table and got to know each other. She spoke to me in rapid fire Spanish, and after a while i realized i'd spent the entire day speaking Spanish and that i was understanding and responding well. In other words, having real, adult conversations in Spanish about things other than, how much does this cost? and where is the train station? She's more interested in straight forward childcare than formal teaching English. She said she wants someone with fresh energy and a different cultural background to spend time with her kids, and "if you want to speak some English, great." The town where they live, curiously, is five minutes from Sitges, which is where the Spanish foreign exchange student we had when i was five (i think?) is from.

Here's what i've been working on in the studio. More cutouts, more collage, but evolving. Metafora students are invited every year to participate in an AIDS exhibition in the city. Initially i was not planning on submitting a piece, but i've since had an idea (inspired by my chicken-wire collage!) and so i'm currently researching and sketching. I've got a pretty good visual brainstorm going. I think.

Here's the final (ha) version of the dancing ladies:


This piece directly inspired by my yoga teacher, likely not the final version. I was so excited about the yellow paper and now i'm that i'm using i'm less than enthused about the results.


Same deal with this one, the yellow paper cut-outs, i believe, have got to go. I've pulled them off since this picture:


Oh yeah, ick. Those should not come back. Anyway, moving on...


No idea what will go between the trees.

I'm quite excited about this painting below. I used a hand-printing technique that didn't go quite as i'd planned, but i liked the way it turned out anyway. I used the sheela-na-gig pattern from the other piece to create negative space, as well as leaves and organic material collected from a nearby park. After the printing part, i used the leaves as a stamp. To take care of my aversion to white paper these days, i brushed over the whole thing with a tint when i was finished.


This one i made with a similar hand-printing technique, but i used a jar, and then more leaf-stamps afterwards. I am soooo rebelling against what i learned in painting class at Centre. Or maybe i'm building on it. Yeah, that's it, evolving... Whatever, i like it quite a lot, maybe even enough to let the paper around it stay white.


I'm floating the idea of the sheela cut out on this one, too. I just love her! Though maybe the dancing lady would be better on that one...


And here's my latest effort. The leaves i used to "stamp" onto the pages with looked so pretty i couldn't just toss them, so they became this:


I'm still figuring out how to get the wire to stay. Sew it to the paper, probably.

Don't worry, i can still draw people.