Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I just wanted to take a minute to plug some other useful and enjoyable sites about Barcelona.

Kids In Barcelona is what its name implies: a fantastic resource for anyone with children who either live here or are planning on a visit.

The Bad Rash, meanwhile, is a great blog for anyone interested in local politics, generating varied and impassioned comments from many readers.

If you're more in the mood for drinking, Drink Barcelona offers one of the more comprehensive guides to the bar and club scene here with rankings and maps.

Got visitors in town and don't feel like showing them the sights? I suggest The Barcelona Guide Bureau for some great and original tours with first rate guides.

There's also a new book about Spain called Courting the Bull, which is a collection of short stories and essays about the country written by expats.  I'm still waiting on a copy and when I get it, I'll post a review.

Finally, thanks to Where I Am - Suburbia for a list of useful topics on which to write. I'm always open to suggestions.

Poble Sec - Restaurants

As I've written a few times, in my humble opinion, I'd rank Poble Sec as one of the better neighborhoods of Barcelona.  It has a great night life with a unique collection of bars and clubs, yet without the drunken tourists that go to the Barrio Gotico, or the teenage botellons famous in Gracia.  It also has some great restaurants that cover a variety of cuisine.

Cal Penina is a traditional Catalan restaurant whose dark and wooden decor hearkens back to what I imagine Barcelona was like forty years ago.  Serving traditional dishes and tapas, it also has a raw fish bar, which means its not cheap with an average price of €24.  Meanwhile, on the flip side and a bit cheaper is Bar Seco which again offers traditional Catalan food, plus refreshing microbrews and an assortment of juices and bocadillos, which hopefully won't tear the roof of your mouth.

If you're looking to try other Spanish cuisine.  Bar Ramon on Calle Blai serves food from the Canary Islands with the potatos and ham being my favorite.  La Soleá offers a fusion of traditional recipes from Andalucia with Asian and African influences and is located in one of the great hidden squares of Barcelona: Plaza Sortido.  Finally, if you're in the mood for snails La Tomaquera is a local institution that quickly fills up on the weekends.

For those lovers of Italian you have two choices.  La Bella Napoli and El Golfo di Napoli.  The former is located further down Paral.lel towards the port and, if you ask most locals, they'll say it's the best Italian around.  Personally, I find it a bit overrated and prefer the latter, which is located at the top of Poble Sec behind Plaza Espanya and does a mean pesto risotto.  But either way, you're in for an authentic Italian meal; although not a cheap one.

Got a craving for meat?   There's a Brazilian place called Bahía Porto Mar near the Poble Sec metro, where slices of meat are carved off a slab that'd fill Henry VIII.  Restaurante Casa Colombia on the other hand offers a choice of cuts and one of the best hot sauces around.  

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

You Know You Live in Spain

When this picture makes you drool

I'll try and post something more expansive later, but I'm struggling for ideas.  Any suggestions?

Friday, September 25, 2009

What is a Catalan?

As the number of comments an article about the history of Catalunya shows, the topic of national identity in Spain is complicated and emotional, provoking intense feelings on both side of the debate.  This, of course, makes discussing it difficult and compelling because somebody's bound to get angry when passions become inflamed.  So, what better topic on which to write, right?

Like with most of the nationalistic debates taking place in Europe, this one traces its origins back to the middle ages, when the continent was a mix of small kingdoms and principalities battling it out for resources and land. The proceeding centuries saw many of these independent countries annexed by the rising European powers of the time (namely France, England and Spain) as they set out on their colonial conquest.  But, unlike say Ireland and Scotland that became part of Britain through invasion and brutal force, the King of Aragón (and Catalunya) married the Queen of Castilla, uniting the two nations under the Spanish flag, which for the times could be considered a peaceful consolidation of power.

Initially, the region was free to speak their native language and practice their traditions.  As with Castellano, Catalan was rooted in Latin, but because the Moors had failed to conquer the region, it had none of the Arabic influence, making it sound like a mix of Italian and French.  This freedom was short lived period, however; and over the course of the ensuing centuries, the ability to speak the language in public came and went with varying degrees of violent repression, depending on the king or dictator.  Today, it's the co-official language, taught in every school, and the first basis of the Catalan identity, which means it survived the times better than Gaelic, and so ends this history lesson. 

Personally, I like the sound and trying to speak it.  There's something about the words, intonation and pronunciation that brings out a real warmth, if that makes sense.  And, because the words are shorter and it has the "jay" sound, it can be easier than Spanish.  Yet, while it is undoubtedly a different language with its own grammar and vocabulary, I can't help but hear some similarities to Castellano.  I don't mean in words and sentences, but how it's spoken - loudly and abruptly with every third word a curse.  Although, given the Catalans' scatological sense of humor, they tend to be about shit and ass rather than female and male genitalia.

Aside from the language, the second biggest difference Catalans will point to is their personality.  Unlike the rest of Spain where work is a necessary evil, they embrace their jobs and put in a full day.  And, it's true - I've never met people who spend so much time at the office and are proud of it.  Whether or not they're more productive is another question entirely, and I often wonder if they've heard of the law of diminishing returns.  In fact, I sometimes tell my Catalan friends and students - if they really wanted to be different than the Spanish - they'd not work ten hour days, but be punctual and plan.  To which they respond: "But we're Latin.  We improvise."

The difference in personality extends beyond work ethic.  The Catalans, in general, take on a more serious and closed demeanor compared to their fun loving and warm Castilian neighbors.  Many visitors comment on the sour faces of the people living here and I can't argue.  They're a stressed lot given all the hours they work.  But I will say, once you've made a Catalan friend, you've got one for life, which hasn't always been the case in other places I've lived in Spain and the reason for the common expression: "Si te he visto, no me acuerdo." (If I've seen you, I don't remember).  Still, even this applies to a minuscule minority of the people I've met over my travels, making both Catalans and Castellanos some of the sincerest and most hospitable people I've ever known.

Now, if you talk to other Spaniards, you'll hear many of the stereotypes associated with Jews applied to the Catalans - that they're tight with their money and insular, which is true and makes sense since the region once had a large Jewish population before the Spanish inquisition made everyone a Catholic and a lover of ham. And, compared to the rest of Spain, where bull-fighting is still celebrated, the fact that it's shunned here and left for the odd tourist speaks less about difference than progress, I think.

But just like the Andaluces, Vascos, Gallegos and Madrileños, the Catalans share a love of eating and dancing that can be found throughout the Iberian peninsula.  The traditional meal consists of sliced blood sausages, cured cheeses and toasted bread with tomato, oil and garlic that takes three hours to eat.  The local dance is called sardanas, which is like a slow motion square dance with a brass band.  Granted, it's not as boisterous as a caseta during la feria, but sometimes a smile on a stoic face says more than a bellowing laugh in a room full of clowns.  And, just like in every other autonomy, they love their local parties and celebrations with special times reserved for family and friends.

Basically, while there are no doubt differences between Catalans and the other regions of Spain, so are there between a New Yorker and an Angeleno, a Manc and a Londoner, a Dubliner and whatever they call someone from Cork (A screw?).  The principal difference with these analogies being that the Catalans are a people who have a centuries old language and traditions, but whose long common history with Spain gives them a shared culture, boasting such artists as Picasso, Dalí and Goya to name a few, and a style of life that still attracts the romantics.  Sadly, in a media and political environment that feeds on conflict, these ties and similarities are often drowned out by the vocal few  longing for an independence lost seven hundred years ago.  And, to them I say - Go ask a Sardinian what they think it was like to be ruled by some distant king from Barcelona back then.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Dinner with the Neighbors

This picture is taken from my window and shows the little street I live on getting ready to have a neighborhood dinner.   It was a great night and a reminder of the beauty that is the Spanish sense of community and family and their shared love of food. 

The official reason was the local festival that ended yesterday.  As you can see, the eating and meeting wasn't only just on my street, but on each and everyone both large and small.

While a common main dish was either a plate of paella or fideua, which is like paella but with noodles and a garlic mayonnaise.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Thinking Outside the Box in Barcelona

Ed left an interesting comment on one of my earlier posts about working in Spain that got me thinking.  As I've mentioned before, work for newbies is rather limited here, and if you're planning on getting a job in the corporate world once you've learned Spanish, or even better Catalan, don't expect a great salary, but do plan on spending ten hours a day at the office.

Still, when I walk around Barcelona, there seems to be a boutique business popping up every week: bike tours, custom jewelry, party organizers.  I guess it's why Barcelona's ranked as the top expat destination.  So, for anyone with a little bit of spunk, imagination and time, they are options.  Best of all: most only require a website and setting up a Paypal account to get started, which is both cheap and easy.

A few examples are:, which offers hard to find expàt food, especially breakfasts.  To save on the costs of opening a restaurant, they instead found a locale willing to host them once a week.  Then there's DJ Roger, a long time deejay whose pushing the funk and soul, when hearing it is as rare as seeing someone spin vinyl, and budding photographer Peter Crosby. All three offer examples of people trying to earn a living doing something that they enjoy.

As the Guardian pointed out, there's also a growing demand for personalized tours that cater to a niche interest.  In the case of the woman interviewed, it was little off the wall clothes shops and trendy restaurants.  But you could expand this to include authentic Barcelona, or seedy Barcelona or hidden Barcelona.  Whatever Barcelona, you're living, you know?

Likewise, for those of you who've been teaching either here or elsewhere for a while, instead of working for an academy, why not print some fliers or send some letters?  Work for yourself, earn more, have greater control and avoid the question of papers.  If you've got an interest or a hobby - like photography, painting or cooking - you could target companies or people specialized in these areas, pitching your expert knowledge against some normal teacher who hasn't a clue.  Meanwhile, those of you who've worked at restaurants or bars, as most visitors can confirm, there are many establishments here which could use a crash course. 

In fact, if there's a group of you with ad sales or magazine experience, a monthly about learning English is possibility to earn some decent money.  Sure there's Speak-Up.  But if you add a little Spanish or Catalan for the local market, there are enough English bars, acadamies, schools and businesses to sell ad-space and fund it.  Plus, the Spanish have a near Quixote-esque obsession with improving their English and the same chances of success slaying that dragon, meaning there's definitely a market for it.

Got a taste of the nightlife, art or music? Barcelona has hundreds of little venues, bars and spaces where you can indulge in your passion, whether it be playing, displaying or promoting.  As an article in the Metropolitan explains, it's not like it was, but there's still plenty of places out there and as Ed said: a supportive audience.  Maybe, it's because the Spanish and Catalans are generally risk-adverse and conservative, but they sure do seem to have an affinity for us crazy guiris who've come here and tried to start up a life.  I guess in pop psychology terms, it'd be living vicariously through others.

Of course, none of these will make you Bill Gates rich, but they do offer the potential to earn a living, blending what you like to do with work.  And, maybe at first, you'll need to keep a day job, but at least you'll be stimulating that creative bent that probably brought you out here.

So feel free to use any of these ideas and I hope it works out for you.  Let me know if it does, and I promise not to ask for a cut of the profits.  But, like the lead character in the cult eighties show, Stingray, I might one day ask a favor, which Karma and my Ak-47 dictate you must honor.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Symbols of Thieves

Below is a warning posted in a friend's apartment building entrance that explains the following symbols should they appear by the door.

It's a bit blurry, I know.  Camera phone.  Now, if I recall correctly - the triangle means the house has been robbed, don't remember the next, the X signifies on vacation, the squiggles "muy buena," the complete ladder means there's a dog, and the semi-complete one that there are only women, while the three circles signify that they're willing to be robbed, and the interconnecting cees points to a disabled tenant.  Classic.  And seven out of eight five hours later ain't bad for the ol' short term memory either.

So you wanna live in Spain, huh?

Thanks to all of you who've written and asked about moving to Barcelona.  This is a reprint of one of the first posts I wrote back when the blog averaged one visit a day and will hopefully answer some of your questions.


Many people have asked me what it takes to live in Spain. And, while it has been the best decision I have made, I wouldn't recommend it for everyone. This, I have found is especially true of Americans.

As an American, the first thing you have to accept is that in Spain and the rest of Europe, you are the same as the African, Moroccan, and South American -- Namely, you are an illegal immigrant, and it makes little difference if you're from the greatest country in the world. That does not mean you can't find work, but it does mean you have no rights and that it will be more difficult with less pay -- at first.

Secondly, asked yourself: "What do you hope to accomplish?" Do you plan to stay for a year or two to learn the language? Why are you moving, and what is important to you? Is it a professional career or to live in a foreign land?

Regarding the language issue: Come to Spain and learn Spanish, right? Well, it depends. Many students come to Barcelona and complain because Spanish isn't the official language -- Catalan is. Of course it is, you're in Catalunya and the Catalans are proud of their language and culture. They don't mind speaking to you in Castillano, but it's not their mother tongue, so to expect them to is a little like going to East L.A. and hoping to improve your English.

The second point is probably the most important. As an American, I understand how important your job and career is to who you are -- In many respects it defines you. I'll leave whether or not I think this is a positive or not for another time, but I will say: to come to a foreign country and expect the same position and salary that you had in the states is delusional, and talking about how much you earned in the past will only lead to depression. Again, it is possible to climb the corporate ladder or have a career, but even when English is required, you will need to be able to speak Spanish or Catalan. Also, like in the states, networking is the key, this is especially true in Spain, Greece, and Eastern Europe, where many jobs go to people with connections and not the most qualified.

So what does that mean? It means: until you can gain a decent level in the native language and build up a network of connections, you will have to work in either a bar/restaurant, as an English teacher, or in a call center to live. If you're willing to do that, hustle, and go out and make a life for yourself -- then chances are your move will be a success. If either of these jobs is beneath you, feels like a step back, or doesn't match what you believe your self-worth is -- then save yourself the time and the trouble and come for a vacation, but not to live. That way you won't return home six or nine months later to the smug looks on people's faces saying: "I knew you'd be back."

Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11th

For most people this date represents the recent past and conjures up images of planes flying into the World Trade Center and terrible memories of people dying.  Here in Catalunya, it is the region's national day where they celebrate their defeat at the hands of the Spanish kings following the War of Spanish Succession in 1714.

If you're in Barcelona today, you can expect to see the red and yellow stripes of the Catalan flag hanging from balconies and rallies being held clamoring for independence.  It's a touchy subject in Spain as the comments for an article I wrote for Expatica will show.   And while I have my thoughts and opinions on it, I'm not really in the mood to discuss them today.  But I'm sure I will soon.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Batman in Barcelona

June saw the release of a one-off Batman special where the Dark Knight comes to Barcelona and battles the Croc.  Basically it's a play on San Jordi with Batman the valiant knight and croc the dragon. Personally I found the cover the best part with the story and artwork lacking given the potential.  But then again, I'm a comic book geek from the golden age of the 1980's when people like Frank Miller and Alan Moore ruled.  Still, it's a nice collectible for anyone who likes comics and Barcelona.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Barcelona in the News

There seems to be an uptick on articles about Barcelona in the international press this week.  In the Times of London, an article called La Rambla: from Spain's tourist haven to street of shame discusses the problems of prostitution, while has pictures.  Not the most flattering image of the city, and it's a real problem as I've discussed (here, here, and here)  Still, it's not indicative of the city as a whole and the best advice I can give is to be like the locals and avoid it.  There are plenty of cooler and safer barrios to go out at night.

In a more positive piece, the Guardian details the explosion in personalized tours where people hook up with locals to get a different taste of the city and uses Barcelona as an example.  Not a bad idea for any budding entrepreneur out there and the article offers a list of shops and bars to visit.  The New York Times, meanwhile, has an interesting piece on a local company that's developed a bag to fight against computer theft. 

Finally Carlos Ruiz Zafón's latest opus set in 1920's Barcelona is number fourteen on the LA Times best seller list, which means fiction about Barcelona sells.  And why's this a good thing?  Because I'll be releasing a collection of short stories set in the city this winter, so let the hype and shameless self-promotion begin!

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Third Happiest City in the World

Forbes had an article last week ranking the happiest cities in the world and Barcelona came in third behind Rio and Sydney and ahead of Amsterdam.  So why are people so happy? 

Well, as the article states, it's more a reflection of perception than reality, and quotes Michelle Finkelstein, a vice president at a travel agency "The beauty of the city and its environs, along with affordable housing and business opportunities, is the fantastic lifestyle" to prove its point [Italics mine].

But seriously why Barcelona?  The weather's good, but no better than Malaga.  It's got man made beaches, but nothing like further down south where they're real like Cadiz.  And it's certainly not the cheapest place in Spain as any one who has been here can attest.

Still, like a rose is a rose, a beach is a beach.  And, compared to Los Angeles, where it can take anywhere from an hour to three just to see the ocean, having somewhere to go for a dip that's not more than 30 minutes by metro does have its advantages.  Summer days and nights can be spent down at chirringuitos, drinking and dancing with the faint surf of the Mediterranean in the background, while in the winter they're the perfect place to take a stroll on those sunny but crisp January days and wonder how ten surfers are going to catch a foot high wave.

The old city center is like most throughout Europe: dark windy streets lined with bars, shops and restaurants that's easy to get lost in and it has a gothic cathedral with big spires.  But there's this slight quirkiness that makes each place a little bit kitsch and eccentric, giving it a buzz and a vibe like the cooler parts of San Francsisco and London, but without the pretension.

And, while both Paris or Prague are stunning to name a two, Barcelona has the beauty and the intimacy of a small city, where going from one end to to other is forty-five minutes and one zone on the metro.  Best of all, it's far from provincial and probably the most cosmopolitan place in Spain. 

Add all that up and it makes the idea of living there obviously appealing.  The reality as the cliché goes is in the details of actually doing it.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Neighborhood Festivals - Poblenou

Ver mapa más grande

One of the joys of summer in Barcelona are the neighborhood festivals.  Each barrio has one and they usually last a week with live music, food and local traditions.

The most popular and famous is in Gracia when the entire neighborhood is decorated with paper mache figurines and floats, making it feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland if it had been set in a city.  More infamous and - let's say twisted - is la festa major of Poble Sec where you might catch a DJ dressed in his underwear or see a tranny on a piano showing off the latest surgery at night, while gigantic paper mache statues of people or human castles can been seen during the day.   And, while both of these have come and gone - there's still on left for those of you who have just arrived in Barcelona - la festa major de Poblenou. (thx Linda for the link)

Starting on Sept 12h and running until the 20th, it offers a little bit of everything from games for kids to concerts featuring different styles from ska to Catalan Rumba while the final night ends literally with a bang thanks to fireworks at the beach.  At the top of this post if a map, showing where it is for anyone interested in visiting.  And if I have time, I'll translate the official page of events into English to give you some of the highlights.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Twittering Barcelona

Twitter.  It seems everyone is doing it: politicians, sports figures and normal joes.  Pick up an English paper or visit a website, and your bound to find some article about the new Facebook as it's been called, or a link to the corresponding twitter account. At least it seems everywhere except Spain.

When I talk to my Spanish friends or students and ask them about the twitter revolution, most offer a blank stare and shrug their shoulders.  They haven't a clue what it is.  When I tell them, it's a site where people inform the world what they're doing in 140 words or less, their expressions change to a bemused curiosity.  "People sit in front of a computer all day and tell strangers what they're doing?  Why not go to a bar and chat with someone who cares?" they'll say, which is tough logic to argue with.

In many ways the whole concept of social networking and e-commerce is as foreign to a Spaniard as automatic cars.  They know it exists and they might know a few people who do it, but in general, it's not something that's common.  Now, before I get a deluge of comments saying I'm depicting Spain as a backwards country from the twentieth century, that's not the point I'm trying to make.  I have Spanish friends on Facebook and they update their profiles, but not nearly with the frequency or proficiency of my English and American friends, who can put up five to six posts a day.  As for Twitter, I know not one person.

Most of the reason is cultural, rather than lack of Internet savvy, I think.  Spanish people are a sociable lot who like face-to-face interaction and spending days outside.  Sitting at home in front of a computer and typing away to some stranger is like an Englishman going to a pub and drinking non-alcoholic beer - it goes against who they are as a people.  Same thing goes for online shopping, where the purpose isn't just to buy something, but see it, feel it, ask 100 questions about it, and then get together with friends and/or family and have a coffee or lunch.  As for summarizing something in 140 words or less, Spaniards would have trouble with a 500 word limit given their propensity to talk and explain, which isn't a criticism, just an observation.  And if you don't believe me: ask a Spaniard how their day was and time how long it takes them to finish - you'll be lucky if it's under five minutes.

Personally, I find getting out and talking to people on the street refreshing, and this is from someone with borderline antisocial disorder.  Perhaps it's the romantic in me, but we seem to be losing the sense of community that we once had when we know someone in another country better than our neighbor.  As for anyone with twitter.  You can follow this blog: @frombarcelona1

Moving to Barcelona - When, where and how

So you wanna live in Barcelona?  That's great.  It's a fantastic city with lots to offer for almost all tastes. 

Usually the best months to come are in September and January.  It's when companies are hiring and there's not a big holiday coming up.  That said, don't expect anything to be done the first half of these months.  With most people just back from vacation, they'll be busy getting back to work, so wait a week or two before sending out CVs.  Also, as I wrote in a previous post your options will probably be limited to teaching or restaurant work.  And, while neither are what would be called professions, from conversations with people who do the hiring, it's still best to treat the interview as if it were.  This means dress appropriately,  no jeans and take it seriously.  Remember there are many people who come here looking to live, so you have to break out all the stops if you want a job.

Finding a place to live isn't difficult, but it can be time-consuming  The most popular websites to look for rooms are and  You can search postings and see what the going rates are, or you can post an ad looking for a room. Finding a place is just the first step, however. You'll then have to meet your potential flatmates and basically interview with them.  They may pick you or they may not, so make sure you have a few places you like.   And of course, it helps to speak Spanish.

For anyone hoping to rent their own place and not share, while not impossible, it's close.  First of all you'll have to go through an agency who'll request a work contract and up to six months deposit, plus an agency fee, which can bring the total cost close to a down payment on a house.  

Finally, best of luck with your move and remember: this is Spain.  Things move a little more slowly here, so give yourself time and don't panic if you don't find work or a place right away.  You will eventually!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I'm back

September means the end of summer and for most of us in Spain it's time to go back to work.  It's been a strange summer here weatherwise with hot sunny days and hot, humid rainy days.  Personally, I can't wait till the chill of Autumn and putting on a sweater.  Of course once May rolls around, I'll be begging for summer.

Anyway, the following months promise to be jam packed with La Merce festival coming up, concert season and a holiday or two every month until Christmas, so I have no excuse not to keep you all informed.  I'll also be checking my e-mail and responding to all those who were nice enough to write, and once again thans for the comments!