31 August 2008

The Neighbors

The first night I was here, I was talking with Yara, and she said, “Spanish people are LOUD.” She wasn't kidding. I don't live on a quiet street. It's short, only a block long, but the whole street basically is apartments, and lots of cars come and go all day and lots of the night. People walk by my window, which opens on to the street. Thankfully, it's a little higher than head-level.

The neighbors across the street are the worst. One is like a Spanish Gladys Kravitz (the nosy neighbor from Bewitched). She literally looks in our windows, not even trying to be discreet about it. And then we can hear her talking about us! She had a grandson that appears to be her babysitting charge on weekdays, and he is LOUD. He likes to stand on the balcony, which I can see from my bed, and shout about anything and everything.

Then there's Puking Guy. Somebody, somewhere in that apartment complex pukes, several times a day, every day. It sounds like a male, and it doesn't seem to happen according to any specific time of day, so I don't think it's a daily hangover. It's pretty disgusting. It goes on and on, and just when you think it's stopped... he pukes again. Maybe he has some debilitating illness and i'm being really awful by being grossed out, but it is gross.

And there are barking dogs, and the unnecessarily loud European scooters... This is not what i'm used to!

The cool thing about the building across the street is the metal shutters. We have them too - you use a strap next to the window to raise and lower them. In France, the ones in my apartment had an electric button, like a lightswitch. I suppose it's too keep it dark in the room during the summer when the European sun rises so early and stays out so late, or during siesta time. But what's fun is that across the street, people seem to raise and lower them about the same time in every apartment. So there's this funny symphony of shutters clacking up and down, depending on what time of day it is. More noise, yes, but intensely amusing.

The good news is, i've found wireless access from the house. On the roof! And it only seems to be in one specific spot. We'll see how long it lasts... and how long I can tolerate the mosquitoes... I may have to resort to the Pringle "Cantenna".

30 August 2008

The Mediterranean, Simón, and El Corte Ingles

Today I was supposed to meet up with other students from Metafora, but I was late. This will come as a great shock to those of you who have ever had a class with me, scheduled work, or anything to which I was supposed to be on time. Anyway, we were going to go to the beach, but I underestimated how long it would take to get there on the metro.

I can't explain how much I love the ocean. When I was a little girl, I believed that I was a mermaid, and I once told my mother on a vacation at the beach that I was going to go home to my real family. The last time I saw the ocean was well over a year ago, in Hawaii. Before that, it was in Barcelona in March 2006, when the sea blue and beautiful and FAR too cold to even think about getting in. Today, the beach at Barceloneta, near the Ciudad Olímpica, was packed. I stashed my stuff where I could keep an eye on it while swimming, strategically placing it near some other folks so it looked like it was with their stuff, and gratefully got into the water. It was hot today, and by that time I already knew I was getting sunburned. The water was clear and cool, the bottom was clear of shells and other things that cut one's feet, and there weren't very many critters, just some small minnows. It was incredibly lovely. There's a beach that's closer to my house than school – tough decision.

I wasn't swimming long before I spotted a Spanish guy on a pink raft giving me the eye. Oh great, I thought, and cracked up in spite of myself. He took that as an invitation and paddled over to me, introducing himself as Simón. He was very friendly, and flirted with me in a not obnoxious way, so I talked to him for a while. He didn't speak much English, so the conversation was pretty simple. He tried very hard to persuade me to go dancing with him tonight, but I politely declined, several times, until he got the picture. When he finally realized I wasn't single, he said, “But do you have a boyfriend in Barcelona?” “No,” I replied. “Well that's me!” Yes, exactly what I was looking for my third day in Barcelona. (Is it my third day? I'm having a hard time keeping track of what day of the week it is.)

Yesterday after I went to the library, I stopped at a Vodafone store to see about getting more minutes on my phone – this has been an epic struggle. I have a prepaid British phone that my dad gave me, that came with a card that was supposed to be used to add more minutes, but apparently it doesn't work for adding minutes unless you're IN England, and it took forever to establish that. Anyway, in the store, I went round and round with this friendly woman who didn't speak a word of English to establish that she couldn't do anything with a prepaid phone like I had and I had to go to El Corte Ingles to get what I needed, which was to switch it to the Spanish Vodafone network and get more time put on the card.

El Corte Ingles is a huge high-end Spanish department store, it's a chain and they have them all over the country. The thought of it kind of leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth; I had a a bad experience there when I was in Sevilla last time I travelled in Spain, over spring break during my semester abroad. Somehow, I wandered off the map after getting groceries, and got horribly lost in the dark in this city with winding streets. I'm the type to navigate by landmarks, and I kept seeing this huge green sign for El Corte Ingles. Then I would walk a little bit, and see it again, so I would turn around and then see it again after a minute – it was like being in the twilight zone, and I couldn't find my way. I was exhausted, and starting to feel panicky. Finally, somehow I escaped, and the next day I realized there were like FIVE separate buildings with that same sign, which I couldn't tell in the dark.

I knew there was a branch in Plaça Catalunya, a major square in Barcelona, which is at the beginning of La Rambla, the big touristy pedestrian walkway with flower sellers and El Mercat de la Boquéria, the famous Barcelona market. Some of the fruit vendors there have more items I can't identify than ones I recognize.

So the store there is absolutely enormous. I was a little unsure if they would really have what I needed, and my doubt increased as I went up the escalators. I kept going up and nothing on any of the floors I came to had anything to do with cell phones. Finally, on the 7th (and not the top!) floor, I found the cell phones. It was so crowded you had to take a number and wait for them to call you. The first counter I waited at was the wrong thing, so I went to the right one, took a number and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally about half an hour, they called my number, and I told them what I needed. Immediately I asked if they spoke English, because I'd been in the store an hour already, and rather than educate myself I wanted to expedite the process. The woman helping me did speak English, of course, and got me a new SIM card. I was so relieved! I grabbed a charger for the phone, since I had a charger with a British plug, and a car charger, neither of which were doing me any good. I paid, and decided to put the new SIM card in right then and there. And what else but... SIM Card Not Valid. So I got another number, back in line. Instead of sitting around, I went down a couple of floors, found an adapter for my computer plug, and came back. Still 8 people in front of me, so I went down all nine floors to the basement and got a snack (a peach – lots of lush, locally grown peaches in the stores around here), and came back. I'd missed my turn, of course, so I took another number, and thank goodness, only had to wait a little bit to discover that before I could use the new card, my phone needed to be “liberated,” which she couldn't do, but I could have it done “at the Pakistani places, you know what I mean?” Luckily I did, there's one near my house. They're these places that have international phones, internet, phone cards, etc; but after catching the train back to Sant Boi, I found out that for whatever reason, they can't do it until Monday.

I'm in cell phone purgatory.

Next entry: The Puking Guy and Gladys Kravitz (both featured across the street) and soon, pictures!

29 August 2008

Settling In

Yara picked me up at the train station, walked me home and even helped me carry what had become impossibly heavy bags. She´s studying for medical exams - she´s in school for Chinese medicine - so after dropping me off at home she was back to the library for most of the rest of the day.

Their place is great. By European standards, it´s quite big. There´s a miniscule kitchen, a decent sized living room, a bathroom, and two large bedrooms and a third teeny tiny one, which i´m occupying. It´s certanly small, but it´s got a lot of light and good energy. It has a big window facing the street, with two big panes of glass that swing in and out - typical of European windows but it charms me every time. There´s a green iron grill outside the window, to keep people out and let air in (mosquitoes too, unfortunately). They have two dogs, so there´s a bit of a pet smell, but they´re very sweet animals. Generally i prefer cats, but these dogs don´t jump and push themselves on you, they wait to be invited for a cuddle. There´s a small courtyard in the back with an outdoor shower. They have roof access, and Yara says we can clean it off and do yoga up there.

Sant Boi, the town where i´m living, is less than 20 minutes by train to the center of Barcelona, and i´m glad to be living outside of the main city. It´s quieter, safer, and smells better. Mostly people don´t speak English, so it´s good for my Spanish, especially since Yara and Martín speak English at home. I´m a little disappointed about that. At the moment, i´m using the internet at the library, and i got a library card all by myself without asking the woman to slow down or repeat herself. There´s no wireless access at Yara´s house, unfortunately, but i´m pretty sure i´ll have it at school.

Yesterday, Yara took me to get keys made for their door, and to get sheets for the bed at the "Chinese stores" - they have a little bit of everything, for cheap. I still need to get a lamp for my room, adaptors for the outlets, switch my cell phone to the Spanish network and put more minutes on it. Then i went into the center of Barcelona, walked around and found my school (though like everything in Spain, they´re closed 90% of the time in August), and ate some falafel. My body is still adjusting, and hasn´t wanted very much food so far while i´ve been here. Very strange.

I am happy to be living with Yara. She is kind and generous and sweet and tough. Her boyfriend works most of the time, he´s a pizza boy, so i have only seen him once. Also i´ve been sleeping a LOT since i arrived, going to bed between 11 PM and midnight, and sleeping until noon or 1 PM. Today i will try to work out the rest of the little things i need to be settled and then tomorrow i´ll go to the beach to meet up with my new classmates, and then in the afternoon maybe go to Can Mas Deu, the community on the northeast side of the city.

New York to Barcelona

Flying to Iceland: I didn´t sleep. At all. I read a book and wrote in my paper journal. Watching the sunrise from the airplane was incredible, and it reminded me of the last time i went to Barcelona, being on a train from Seville and unable to sleep. I was very annoyed about it, but the train tracks went right along the Mediterranean and i saw a most incredible sunrise - it was worth it, as was this one. I regretted that the battery in my camera was dead and i couldn´t take a photo! Landing, i saw the landscape of Iceland, which is about the size of Kentucky. The area around Rekyavik was very, very flat for the most part, but then out of nowhere there would be a huge, rocky mountain. The flat areas looked like what i imagine moors to look like. Lots of long grass. Then, the flat areas would drop very suddenly into the ocean. It was beautiful, and stark. The language, Isklenska, is very interesting and impossible to decipher. I read that their language is so pure that most Icleanders can read ancient Viking texts. Wow! So i was there for about an hour, and spent the rest of my American money buying fruit. The plane from there to Paris was packed with French teenagers. They must have been on a school trip to the US or something. They were very loud and the girl behind me was very put out when i leaned my chair back, being so exhausted at that point that i really was ready to sleep.

Paris: I took the metro from Charles de Gaulle (where it had taken forever to get my bags) to the Gare d´Austerlitz, the train station for all southbound trains. There, i changed my ticket to an earlier, direct, and less expensive train to Barcelona. And i did it entirely in French - not having spoken regularly since i graduated, it felt like quite the accomplishment. Unfortunately, after the sleepless flight, i wasn´t up for much exploring of Paris, so i sat in the train station and watched people and read my book and listened to people. The Gare d´Austerlitz is quite beautiful.

RENFE to Barcelona: The RENFE is the Spanish train network. My train left Paris at 8:30, and i was in a sleeper car with two other American girls who were travelling before starting internships in Italy. They were very amusing. The conductor was the only one who could put down the beds, which were folded up into the wall. He couldn´t get there fast enough! I was so excited to get into a real(ish) bed and have a full night´s sleep. He finally arrived, and i crawled into bed, put my earplugs in, and the next thing i knew, the door was flying open, and the conductor was shouting, Media hora a Barcelona! (Half an hour to Barcelona)

Barcelona to Sant Boi: I´d assumed i´d have wireless in the train station in Paris. That hadn´t been the case, so i arrived in Barcelona without the phone number and address of my hostess. Oops! So i had to schlep all my stuff around until i found a wireless hot spot. The first challenge, however, was finding the metro. The tourist map i´d gotten at the train station had big blue M symbols all over it. Obviously that meant metro; so i headed for the nearest one on the map and searched and searched and found nothing. Only after asking someone where the nearest metro was did i realize that the big blue Ms indicated museums, and the metro was marked with tiny little black and white Ms inside diamonds. Of course, how silly of me. By then i was hot and tired and dehydrated, so i searched fruitlessly for water, finding only vending machines and having only a 50€ note - the smallest i´d been able to get from the ATM. I wished for a sherpa. Eventually i got to the central train station (Sants Estació), many metro stops away from the one i´d arrived at. There, i found wireless, called Yara, and was soon on my way to Sant Boi. I got on the wrong train at first, and had to retrace my steps back to Sants. But then i got on the right one, and soon Yara was picking me up at the train station in Sant Boi, and we were on our way to her house with her dog.

25 August 2008

Enough Airports

I'm still at JFK airport, where i've been since about 10 PM last night; but i've gotten placed on a flight! I'm flying out at 8:35, i have a one hour layover in Iceland, and then i fly on to Paris, where i'll land at about 1 PM tomorrow. I'll have half a day in Paris, and i take an overnight train to Barcelona, where i'll arrive on Wednesday morning. So almost four full days of travel! Wow. I'm hoping i'll feel rested and energetic while i'm in Paris so i can walk around and see some stuff, walk through some of my favorite areas like St Chappelle and Passy, find a good place to have dinner, maybe find a small art exhibit, half a day is no time to try to even go inside the Louvre. The Musee d'Orsay, on the other hand...

And while i'm quite glad that my flight over costs less than $350, i have certainly earned it, sleeping on the cold marble floor. If i'd had the energy, i would have gotten out my yoga mat to sleep on, but it was too deep in my luggage for me to deal with it after a couple of hours of running from terminal to terminal, searching for a (comparatively) comfortable place to rest and hunting wireless internet access.

But now i know when and where i'm flying, i'm simply waiting to check in, though there is this small matter of having to have your e-ticket printed... though i'm sure i can overcome that one. I have a confirmation number and a passport.

Iceland! Cool! Maybe i'll run into Bjork.

24 August 2008

On My Way

On Wednesday, i left Twin Oaks, where i've lived since May of last year, to go to Cleveland with my boyfriend Ethan to meet his family. After three lovely days there, i'm currently on the train to New York City, where i'll languish in JFK International Airport for hopefully not more than a couple of days while i'm waiting to get a standby flight to somewhere in Europe. I'm embarking on this endeavor on a shoestring, so i'm stretching my money as far as I can – and a standby ticket, roundtrip, is only $550! This girl can sit in an airport. I'm good at amusing myself. Just another part of the adventure...

When I get to Barcelona, i'll be living with an ex-member of Twin Oaks. I'm so grateful for the world-wide network that community creates; all I have to do is ask a few people, “Hey, who do we know in... Barcelona? New Zealand? Germany? Africa?” and i'll get answers! She technically lives in Sant Boi, which is somewhat outside the city, about 6.5 miles (time to start thinking in kilometers!) from Metafora. I'm hoping to get a bike or figure out how to jump the turnstiles, because Barcelona's metro system, while very clean, safe, and efficient, is quite expensive.

I'll be in Barcelona for the fall semester, which ends on December 11th. I'll spend the rest of that month in Barcelona with some friends from Twin Oaks (members of my “framily” - Angie, Paxus, Hawina, Willow, maybe Sky and Kassia, hopefully Ethan). Angie and I will spend Christmas with one of her dearest friends, either in Belfast or in Morocco if we're lucky. After that, i'll go to France to stay near Paris with some family friends, doing English tutoring to replenish my funds and increase my fluency in French.

In March, my brilliant and amazing yoga teacher, Shiva Rea, will be teaching classes on yoga and Ayurveda in India, and further yoga and philosophy classes in Bali at this amazing sustainable Waldorf/Steiner school, the Green School, so if I can stretch my cash far enough, i'll be joining her there. The Green School has a volunteer program, so if I like it there I may stay for a month or so.

I'm nervous and excited. I'm sad to be leaving Ethan and Angie, other friends and a beloved and stable home at Twin Oaks. I'm excited to live in a city, and meet new people and get back in touch with my spontaneous creativity, which i nearly lost all sight of in the midst of the more formal art education of Centre (which i value tremendously). I'm thrilled at the idea of experiencing India and a whole 'nother continent that i've only dreamed about.

My goals are to be as open as i can to the experience as a whole, the people i'll encounter and the new opportunities that will arise, while at the same time honoring and holding space in my heart for what's already there. This semester is like test-driving graduate school, to find out if it's something I want to pursue more seriously, and to find my own rhythm as an artist. I'm looking down other paths and places and seeing if there are other directions that fit me better. After i come back to the US, i'm hoping to explore the West Coast and see what's there. Hey, if i get to Bali, i might as well just come on around the whole thing, right?

Let the adventure begin!