Sunday, December 20, 2009

Feliz Navidad y Próspero Año Nuevo / Bon Nadal i Pròsper Any Nou

Heading down to Sevilla with the family for the holidays so little to no posting until sometime after kings' day. In the meantime, I just want to thank everyone who reads this with any type of regularity for your support, comments and e-mails and to say welcome to anyone who's stumbled upon it for the first time. One of the pleasures of having this blog is the chance to meet (virtually at least) people I wouldn't have otherwise from places both expected and not, so keep the contact coming! Also, my utmost gratidude to everone who read asked for / bought the book. I hope you liked it and look forward to hearing your thoughts good or bad. Finally, if you're planning on moving to Barcelona in the upcoming year, don't let the gloomy economic news dissuade you, it's still one heck of a city and like life itself, it is what you make of it.

Have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Be safe. Here are a couple of tunes to get you in the festive mood. Hasta el año que viene.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

La Reina del Pueblo

The woman you see above is Belén Esteban, otherwise known as the Queen of the Street and a common fixture on day time television here. Famous for being taped telling her young daughter, Andreita, cómete el pollo, coño! (Andrea, eat the chicken, cunt), she's also known to suffer from every seeming disorder from cocaine addiction to anorexia to diabetes.

She first rose to fame as the girlfriend of a bullfighter who became the father of her daughter before rumors of infidelity and tensions with his family saw the end of their relationship. In her response to the accusations, she took to the daytime airwaves where she bore her soul, her raw honesty, humor and Latin flare punctuated with colorful language winning her numerous supporters. Today, I'd ranked her just behind La Duquesa del Alba as the second most discussed celebrity on Spanish television.  The big news this week is her umpteenth operation changing her into the woman on the left from the woman on the right. When interviewed about this new look, she informed the television personality that she spends the whole time admiring it in the mirror but not so much she hasn't found the time to make love with her new boyfriend.

You can check out her official website here. The best way I can describe it is as Cutre Hollywood.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Catalan Independence

Last weekend saw a symbolic vote for Catalan independence take place in the cities surrounding Barcelona.  I'm going to stay clear of my personal opinions and offer an hypothetical which is hardly discussed when it comes to the issue.

Say Catalunya gains independence from Spain, then what? Does anyone think that the European Union would want to add another state whose finances aren't in order and whose local government has shown a propensity to be corrupt?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mix-Mash Navidad

The arrival of a baby this year has added something special to the holiday season, although she's still too young to know who Santa Claus or the Magic Kings are and prefers boxes to toys. Still, it's never too early to revive old traditions and start new ones drawing on customs from her two nationalities (Spanish and American).

As I mentioned in a previous post, the holiday season here lasts a month and the main gift-giving day has traditionally been el Dia de Los Reyes Magos in January. In general, I've found the whole approach to presents quite different between Spain and the states. I remember back home feeling an intense pressure to buy and build the pile under the tree, rushing from store to store in a packed mall in a desperate search to find something for someone who seems to have everything.

Here, the number of presents tends to be singular maxing out at three or four. They are generally lower in monetary value, but more personal in nature, speaking to the recipient's personality rather than the latest it item according to all the magazines. The Spanish call it un detalle. Meanwhile, many shops are located in the old medieval part of the city whose tiny squares are full of merchant tents selling arts, crafts and food and whose stone churches might be housing a string quartet playing Bach.  It almost makes shopping and the crowds bearable.

I am glad, though, that the kid will be able to spend every other Christmas in the states. There's something infectious about the tacky decorations, catchy carols and bright lights. The holiday season there seems to be more festive than it is here. Perhaps its because of Catholicism and the fact that Christmas is first a religious ceremony, but the Spanish seem to be more restrained and somber in their celebrations that us enthusiastic Americans.

As a kid, the picking and decorating of the tree was what I enjoyed most about Christmas (after the presents of course!) One family tradition was buying a new ornament each year from somewhere off the beaten path and when I look at the tree now, it's so full of memories. It's definitely something I'm looking forward to sharing with the kid. Of course, my wife as equally fond memories of building the belén, or nativity scene, and placing the various figurines around the manger so that will definitely be something for us to do and I can't wait to visit the Christmas markets and have our daughter pick out her first Jesus, Mary and caganer. And since we live in Catalunya, she'll also have the caga tio adding a new tradition to the season.

When I think of Christmas, the first name that comes to mind is Santa Claus but he plays second fiddle to the Three Kings in Spain. Reconciling when to give presents, Christmas or King's day, isn't much of an issue anymore, however.  More and more Spanish parents are spreading out the gift-giving so their children will have something to play with over the holiday break and I imagine we'll do the same. Still, I am looking forward to putting this growing belly and white hair to use and donning the red suit on Christams Eve, shouting ho, ho, ho. I also promise to try not to be one of those bullish parents on the night of January 5th when the Kings parade through the city who knocks over granny for that piece of candy.

The one area that's impossible to find compromise is the food. My Spanish in-laws prefer fish, lobster and jamon iberico for Christmas dinner while my family back in the states sticks to the turkey, honey glazed ham and yams. Neither are adventurous enough to add new items to their menus. So far so good, the baby's not picky when it comes to food nor are her parents. The one tradition that we are able to introduce this year here, however, is Christmas crackers which comes from neither America nor Spain but England thanks to her paternal grandfather's side of the family.

Plug - Wealthy Author

My publishers, Debbie Jenkins and Joe Gregory, are doing a special Christmas launch with over £150 of bonuses when you buy just one copy of their new book - The Wealthy Author - before Friday 18th December. You also get a 30 day membership at Publishing Academy.

The book provides invaluable insights for anyone who aspires to be a paid writer. Written mainly for non-fiction books but still useful for fiction, it offers a step by step guide that helps ensure your book's success through unconventional marketing plans and sage advice.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Favorite Albums of the Year

I know it doesn't have much to do with Barça, but it is the end of the year and I have to say 2009 hasn't been bad as far as music, both in terms of established acts as well as some new groups. In fact for all the doom and gloom and shit on the radio, it seems music is getting better than it was at the beginning of the naughties.  Here are some of my favorites in no particular order.

1. The Horrors - Primary Colors. I used to think these guys were a bit on the gimmicky side, but they've managed to separate themselves from the other groups coming out of London like Bloc Party with this record being their best. Favorite track. New Ice Age

2. Real Estate - Real Estate.  Take a little of the Beach Boys' lazy melodies, add a touch of Pavement's effortless cool, top it off with great musicians and you got this group. And to think, they're from Jersey. Favorite Track. Fake Blues

3. Between the Buried and Me - The Great Misdirect. The only thing that sucks is none of their good tracks can be put on a mix with them coming in over ten minutes. Still, the closest thing to Faith No More and Mr. Bugle currently playing. Favorite Track. Fossil Genera - A Feed From Cloud Mountain.

4. Circulatory System - Signal Morning. It's nice to see hallucinogenics making a bit of a come back in today's music. Mixing sixties psychedelic pop and nineties Dust Brothers and Beck, these guys come up with a new sound and an album with two unique sides like they used to back in the day. Favorite Track. The Spinning Continuous

5. Amesoeurs - Amesoeurs. They're French, so I don't understand the man's hardcore growling or the girl's haunting singing but I still try to sing along to both when listening to the tracks. Favorite song. La Reine Trayeuse.

6. HEALTH - Get Color. LA noise rockers start to make accessible music and still keep up the assault on the ears.  Favorite Track. Nice Girls.

7. Nirvana - Live at Reading.  A live recording where you can actually understand his lyrics, this album shows what so many of us aging x-ers still go on about this band and why I'm still kicking myself for missing out on seeing them live.  Favorite track. Lounge Act.

8. Kylesa - Static Tensions. The closest group I've heard to Fugazi in their prime. Righteous agression at its finest. Favorite Track. Unknown Awareness.

9. Cashmere Agency Presents Mr. Grustle & Tha Russian's Dubstep - LA Embrace The Renaissance Vol.1. Some say hip-hop is dead. This shows a possible future thanks to the UK's grime scene with rib rattling bass lines and old school heads flipping new beats. Favorite Track. Get It (Feat. Grand Puba)

10. Mount Eerie - Wind's Poem. The man from the Microphones finds inspiration in Death Metal and the wind making an elemental album that's as haunting a nightly gale. Favorite song. Between Two Mysteries.

There are a lot of other worthy groups - Animal Collective, Atlas Sound, Dirty Projectors, Fever Ray, Katatonia, and others. Add as you wish. Finally, here are some random videos of the various groups mentioned.

Et Tu España?

Winter has arrived. The temperatures have dropped ten degrees in a twenty four hour period and it's cold and gloomy which is fitting given the economic news in Europe. The headlines last week were dominated with the status of the Greek economy and the possible default of its debt obligations. Mentioned in the third paragraph of many of these stories is Spain and its precarious position.  For anyone interested in following the Spanish economy, I recommend friending Ed Hugh on Facebook.  He's an economist who lives in Gracia and offers more expertise than I. A bit wonkish, but good read for anyone curious about what lies ahead.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Those Damn Scarves!

I have to admit there was a moment yesterday when the sun was shining and there was no shade I forgot it was winter. Then night hit with a chill and I remembered. Too bad I forgot my scarf. Speaking of which, how the hell are you supposed to wear them? Some people twist and turn them so they stick out from the neck like a thick third arm, others manage to wrap them so they blend seamlessly between the coat and whatever's underneath and there are those who seem to look casually cool. I can achieve neither because I'd never worn a scarf before I came here. So my question again is - How do you wear a scarf?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tiger Woods, Spain and the Question - Do All Athletes Cheat?

Tiger Woods. Can't avoid the story, right? Even here in Spain it's making the headlines. I should say it surprises me, but it doesn't. The genetic make-up of people who reach those lofty positions seems to include a sense of unaccountability and entitlement and if it doesn't matter if they'd ivy educated, from the streets, black, white, politician, athlete.

But as my missus pointed out, not so much with Spanish athletes. Look at Pau Gasol, Rafa Nadal, Fernando Alonso, Raul, Torres. Granted they're not at Tiger's level in terms of fame. But outside the states, they're still as big as Kobe, Alex Rodriguez, Tyson, and everyone in the NFL. And you never hear anything about them apart from some holiday snaps on a yacht with their long time girlfriend. The gossip pages here seemed to be reserved for bullfighters, reality show rejects, and sons of flamenco stars.

Perhaps, it's the famous Spanish loyalty that both the men and women here have, sometimes to a fault. Maybe, it's because contentment for life that they posses. I can picture Gasol in LA thinking, I've got a house on the beach, a beautiful girl who knew me back when, with my mom close by, why would I want some silicon inflated plastic bimbo who wouldn't eat a plate of paella, even if she could rock my world like a porn star.

Think about it. Tiger could have decided not to take that next endorsement netting him another cool many million and chose instead to just be a great golfer with a lower profile who could walk up to the tee with a hooker and each arm and still beat every body. He would have earned enough. Look at Charlie Sheen. But he didn't. He had to be the most well known, highest paid athlete in the world. He listened to his image handlers and pleased his sponsors. He got married and had two kids in the process just to be that more rich and famous. I wonder if he thinks it was worth it.

Great Bar Names in BCN

One of the joys of living in a foreign country is coming across names and words that are perfectly normal but would cause laughter at home. For example:

In addition to these, there are also bars named Can Fart, Sucs & Go, and ManGo. Know of any others?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Finding a Place to Live in the BCN

For any of you moving to Barcelona or looking for a new place to live, the one website you should bookmark is Loquo.  I'd venture to guess it's how ninety-percent of the people find a room here (Think Craig's List for Spain). It's free and updated continuously, giving you an idea of the prices and what to expect in return.

If you haven't arrived yet, you might want to post something about what you're looking for and see the responses you get. Now, you'll be dealing with a complete stranger so any monetary transactions probably wouldn't be a good idea, but as I said in a previous post, most people here aren't shady and pretty transparent so if someone's agreed to hold a room, chances are there'll be one.

Now, if your personal trust isn't that high, you can do what I did which was rent a room through the TEFL course your taking (if that's the case) or through an agency. Chances are you'll be paying quite a bit more than the going rate for the month, but there is a price for peace of mind I think.

If you're thinking of renting your own flat, be warned: it's not cheap nor easy. The deposits required can range from anywhere from three to six months, plus an agency fee and other add-ons. They'll generally want to see some proof you can pay which will mean a work contract and pay stubs from the previous year. The cost and papers is the reason why almost everyone I know shares for at least the first five years.

Which means more than likely you'll go that route. Like I said. Loquo is the main resource for finding a room, but there's also Idealista, and a few other websites, although they tend to cater to the more Spanish crowd. The process can be quite hectic arranging times to meet and going through the interview process but just remember this is your space, so don't feel rushed to pick a place just because your tired of looking.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Spanish Rock and Other Musica Española

When people think of music and Spain, the first word that comes to mind is probably flamenco. And while it's the most well-known of the traditional music from here, it's my least favorite. I'd rather listen to the more up-beat Sevillana, Rumba or Chirigota.  But beyond these centuries old musical styles, Spain has also produced some fine modern music that's well-worth a listen and some groups that are a good addition to your CD collection this holiday season.

Los Planetas are the Godfathers of the Spanish independent music scene, with big sweeping, guitar driven songs and heartfelt sung choruses, showing rainy Manchester can influence sunny Spain.

Ojos de Brujo hail from Barcelona and bring an updated, groovy mix to traditional sounds of Iberia, making it perfect for a party when there's a lull in the conversation.

Chambao from sunny Andalucia follow the fusion formula but with a breezy feel that evokes a warn summer day at the chiringuito in January.

Manu Chao is a Spaniard whose parents fled to France after the Civil War. He now calls Barcelona home where he continues to make great music, mixing forms and languages to infectious beats.

Estopa are two local kids from the suburbs of Barcelona who make feet tapping Rumba Catalan that's sure to get the locals singing along when it comes on in a bar.

My favorite Spanish song ever is Queco's el Borracho that follows the exploits of a man who has had one too many as he searches for the ingredients for a smoke (tobacco, paper and a lighter) and ends up meeting St. Peter and asking where's the bar.

There are, I'm sure more, so if any one has any recommendations, leave a comment.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Concerts in December

As is usually the case at this time of the year, music lovers have an abundance of choices for live music in the city, with some big names and some less well-known bands all arriving to spread their Xmas cheer.

In something like chronological order, the main bands to play are Mando Diao, Patrick Watson, Enter Shikari, Ismael Serrano, Marilyn Manson, The Prodigy, UFO, Chymera, Shaunna Hall, Franz Ferdinand, Arch Enemy, The Editors + The Maccabees + Wintersleep, Cass McCombs, Deertick, Devandra Banhart,  A Place to Bury Strangers, Health, The Pastels, Scout Niblett, Marillion, Paradise Lost, and Living Colour. Of the groups, I'd recommend A Place to Bury Strangers which is a combination of sludge and shoe gaze with a pop sensibility. For complete listings pop over to BarcelonaRocks.

Classical music lovers are also well catered for, with full programmes at the Palau de la Música, L’Auditori and the Gran Teatre del Liceu.

At the Palau de la Música, the visiting Belarus Philharmonic Society will be performing Mozart’s “Requiem” and “Symphony Number 40″ on the 5th of December, Handel’s “Messiah” on the 6th, Karl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” and Beethoven’s “9th Symphony” on the 7th, and a concert version of Verdi’s “La Traviata” on the 8th. On the 9th the Ensemble Aurora will entertain with an evening of music by J.S. Bach. The Strauss Festival Orchestra will perform on the 19th, 20th, 24th, and 31st. There are also 4 performances by choirs, the Alabama Gospel Choir on the 5th and 27th of December, the Soweto Gospel Choir on the 17th, and the Choir Uganda Natumayini on the 27th. Finally, a mention should be given to Russian Red who play the Palau on the 11th of the month, and the Matthew Herbert Big Band, who will entertain on the 12th. For the complete programme, please visit the Palau de la Música site.

Over at the L’Auditori, there are so many concerts that it would take a day to go through them all. The highlights we’ve selected begin with choral performances: the Angel’s in Harlem Gospel Choir play on the 9th, the Alabama Gospel Choir on the 12th, and the Bridget Bazile Singers on the 23rd. On the 26th and the 29th the Szeged Philharmonic of Hungary present their Gran Gala Strauss, performing a selection of the best waltzes composed by the Strauss family. Keeping the Strauss theme going, the Strauss Festival Orchestra perform their New Year Concert on the 28th of December, and on the 1st of January 2010. For details on these, and many, many more concerts visit the L’Auditori site.

Finally, opera lovers can catch Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” which runs from the 2nd of December until the 30th at El Gran Teatre del Liceu. There will be performances on December 2, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 22, 23, 27, 29, and 30. You can book your tickets in advance at Liceu Barcelona.

For anyone looking for short term rentals, At-Home-Barcelona has a good selection of places for couples and groups alike and the same post thanks to Tony!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Christmas in Catalunya

The first cold snap has arrived requiring jackets to come out of the closet and heaters to be turned on for the first time this winter. Many of streets throughout the city are being strung with lights for the upcoming holiday season, but they won't come on for another week or so. Just like in the states, Christmas here kicks off after a long weekend, but its not Thanksgiving, rather it's Constitution day (Dec 6th) followed by the Day of the Immaculate Conception (Dec 8th) with December 7th being un puente or bridge.

The main Christmas fair in Barcelona is La Fira de Santa Llùcia (Lucia) located outside the Gothic Cathedral. Inaugurated in 1786, hundreds of small wooden stands sell Christmas decorations, ornaments, reefs and trees to the many, many people strolling around checking out the scene.

I remember as a kid back in the states, getting and decorating the tree was the center of attention, but in Spain it seems to be the nativity scene with hand crafted figurines and well built mangers also being prominently displayed throughout the market. The local addition to the picture of Mary holding the baby Jesus with Joseph, the Angel and the Three Kings looking on between an ox sheep and a mule is el caganer, or the shitter.  As the picture shows, the traditional one is a peasant, who with the aid of a pipe and a paper, is planting a pine. But this pose is also given to certain celebrities and political figures each year with past honorees being Obama, the Pope, and Messi.

December 22nd sees El Gordo, or the fat one, the biggest lottery in Spain while Christmas Eve is known as la noche buena or the good night. Kids in Catalunya gather around a cagatió (a small wooden log with a smiley face paint on one end and sometimes smoking a pipe) feed it and then lightly tap it with a stick as they sing a song so it can literally crap out candies and small presents similar to what we call stocking stuffers. The most common is a turrón, which is a large bar of almond nugget.

Traditionally Christmas day hasn't been the main moment to exchange gifts, with the day reserved for a big meal with family and friends.  The typical dish in Catalunya is escudella, which is a slowly cooked soup that uses the various blood sausages or butifarra found in the region and a base of broth and la pilota (egg, pepper, ground cinnamon, chickpeas and bread crumbs), plus other ingredients depending on a family's recipe. Canelones using left over meats, ham and if you want chicken covered in a tomato sauce are then consumed on St. Steven the 26th.

The 28th of December is the Day of the Innocence, or Spain's April 1st and a time for pranks while the gift exchange waits until after the New Year and specifically, Los Reyes Magos (The Magic Kings) or January 5th. There's an elaborate  parade that's well worth going to. Full of beating drums and flashing sparklers, it follows the Three kings from the port to Montjuic mountain as they toss out fruit flavored candy to the waiting kids and eager grandparents, making it like a little person's Mardi Gras that marks the end of the Christmas season in Spain and all public holidays until Easter!