Dear Sugar, you know what’s up

From Tiny Beautiful Things:
(emphasis my own)

Don’t do what you know on a gut level to be the wrong thing to do. Don’t stay when you know you should go or go when you know you should stay. Don’t fight when you should hold steady or hold steady when you should fight … Don’t surrender all your joy for an idea you used to have about yourself that isn’t true anymore … I know it’s hard to know what to do when you have a conflicting set of emotions and desires, but it’s not as hard as we pretend it is. Saying it’s hard is ultimately a justification to do whatever seems like the easiest thing to do – have the affair, stay at the horrible job, end a friendship over a slight, keep loving someone who treats you terribly. I don’t think there’s a single dumbass thing I’ve done in my adult life that I didn’t know was a dumbass thing to do while I was doing it. Even when I justified it to myself – as I did every damn time – the truest part of me knew I was doing the wrong thing. Always. As the years pass, I’m learning how to trust my gut and not do the wrong thing, but every so often I get a harsh reminder that I’ve still go work to do.

-Cheryl Strayed

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Living abroad: 8 things I love about Barcelona – and 3 things I don’t

Last month, I shared 8 things I miss about the U.S. – and 3 things I don’t, and now I’m flipping the script to talk about my deep love (most of the time) for Barcelona.

8 things I love about Barcelona

1. The shopping experience. I mentioned that I miss grocery staples from the U.S., but I actually enjoy the experience of shopping more here. Everything is right out my front door. I can walk across the street to the grocery store, turn the corner and meet a fruit stand, walk two blocks to a pharmacy. I have to pop into more places than I would in the states, but it’s faster overall because I don’t have to drive anywhere, and I can make a quick trip right before dinner when I realize I’m out of avocados or whatever. Also, the open-air markets in each neighborhood are the shit. I’m just up the street from the Mercat de l’Abaceria Central on Calle Verdi, where I can find fresh fruit, veggies, ham, cheese, nuts, dried fruit and more.

2. The architecture, plazas & narrow streets. So. much. dreaminess. I have to pinch myself every day that it’s a totally normal experience for me to walk past a building from the Roman era and stop for café con leche in a plaza filled with orange trees. I have time in my days to get lost in the city’s winding, narrow streets and to drink wine in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday.

3. Its walkability. I should invest in a pedometer because I’d love to know just how much I walk here. The metro and train system are super easy too, but I prefer walking when I can – and it’s safe to be out at all hours. I’ve learned my way around the city by walking from end to end, and I’ve still got much more to explore.

4. The language. I’ve written about trying to immerse myself in Castellano more and about my frustrations when I fumble, but the ups and downs are all worth it. Learning a new language is a huge challenge for me, and I love it. I also love that I can’t understand every single conversation that’s happening around me, so I’m never stuck unintentionally eavesdropping on anything bothersome. (In the states I catch myself getting really ticked off when someone is talking too loudly on a cell phone or having an inane conversation in public; here you could be talking about something wildly inappropriate at the table next to me and I likely won’t even know it.)

5. Abuelitos. Oh my word, I’m smitten for the old men and women in Barcelona. They stay out nearly as late as the younger generations here, walking the streets arm-in-arm, drinking beers at outdoor tables. They dress to the nines, and seem just as in love as the day they met. I’m a hopeless romantic, so of course it makes my heart flutter. The day my Castellano is good enough to strike up a conversation with an older couple and learn their secret is the day I’ve arrived. ;)

6. The pace of life. This is wrapped up in nearly every other thing I love about Barcelona, and I’ve said it before, but the pace of life agrees with me. It’s such a treat to linger over lunch, have wine in the afternoon, wake to sunlight and not the blaring of an alarm. I sleep more deeply here, have wildly vivid dreams and feel like I weather stress better than I did in the states.

bcnbeach

Watching the sunset & sailboats on the beach in Barcelona.

7. Cheap wine & montaditos. Speaking of wine, it’s good and cheap here. Almost too good and cheap. (It’s true that it’s the same price to buy a glass of wine as a bottle of water in many bars.) And montaditos – small open-faced sandwiches with cheese, veggies, chorizo or tortilla de patatas – are the perfect snack. Some of my favorite dinners here have been a shared spread of five or six montaditos with a couple glasses of wine – all for under $10 per person. I’m also a big fan of tapas, especially when served with a side of spicy sauce.

Tapas

Pimientos de Padron y pulpo a la gallega with my new flatmate, Eliana.

8. Proximity to different countries & cultures. Since I’ve been here, I’ve made quick trips to Cadaques, Sitges, Tossa de Mar and Montserrat. While not quite as close (but still easily accessible), I’ve flown to Istanbul and Paris. When I studied abroad in Sevilla 10 years ago, it wasn’t so easy to get to other places in Europe, and I’m really enjoying Barcelona’s location in northern Spain. I’m not sure if my budget will allow for any more flights while I’m here, but I plan to explore La Rioja and the Basque country, and hopefully spend a weekend in Madrid.

Cadaques

Take me back to Cadaques any day.

3 things I don’t

1. The smoke & piss & spit. Ewww, right? I can’t go anywhere without seeing a frothy spitball or stream of pee in the street, and it seems that everyone smokes. (Lucky for me, Barcelona instituted a smoking ban in bars and restaurants in 2011 so I don’t return home from a night out smelling like an ashtray, but people still smoke in the streets all the damn day.) The Barcelona Reporter says that 35% of the general population over 16 years old in Spain smokes, and 24% of people in Barcelona smoke. From my experience in the streets, I say people are under-reporting their habits! In some ways I’ve become used to the smell of smoke, but the pee (and shit!) is another story. This certainly goes along with the lack of green space in Barcelona. We do have some beautiful parks, but not in the same abundance as Portland, and you can forget about grass-lined sidewalks. With no dirt or grass in sight, dogs (and dudes) pee on the cobblestones, and I’m forever dodging little rivulets of smelly liquid.

2. The economic crisis. This sort of goes without saying – and it’s not endemic to Catalonia only – but the economic crisis and job market woes are definitely putting a damper on the quality of life for locals and visitors to the city. I count myself lucky that I’ve found enough odd hours of work to get by, but I know that I’d be in a better situation if it weren’t for the scarcity of job openings here. And there would, I hope, be less conflict and consternation among locals. The mood here is still very much life-is-good, but I would like to see this city thriving even more!

3. Being “The American Girl.” Here’s a point I’d like to examine a bit further in a future post, but I do feel the mark of being a tourist/outsider. Service in restaurants is notoriously poor in BCN, but sometimes it’s downright abysmal when you can’t speak the language properly. (However, I don’t want to generalize too much because I’ve also had some holy-wow-fantastic service experiences here.) Sometimes I think people (read: men) approach me because I’m something of a novelty, someone to just practice English with or to test their knowledge of the United States.

WHAT’S MIAMI LIKE??!

Um, Miami is more than 3,000 miles from where I live … It’s sort of  like me asking you what Afghanistan is like.

Okay, that’s a stretch – and I’ve never actually answered someone that way. But, still, I’m a little tired of speaking for “all Americans” and giving token-ish answers on the state of affairs in American politics, culture, etc. Rather than being seen as a tourist here, I’d really like to integrate more. Of course I’ll never be accepted as a local, but I’d like to feel a bit more woven into the “real” fabric of life here.

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To end on a positive note(!): I’m seriously enjoying this adventure and all Barcelona is offering me. It’s good for my mind & good for my soul! It’s shaking up how I conceive of my strengths and weaknesses & how I relate to others. And it’s (fingers crossed) leading to the ever elusive bilingualism.

shelby

Shout-out and besos to Shelby, who’s been my partner in crime these last few months. She left Barcelona today, and it simply won’t be the same without her.

Happy New Year!

Feliz año, amigos! I’ve had a very busy few weeks and little time to write, but I’m hoping to get back on something of a schedule soon. I have so many things to catch you up on: Istanbul, Paris, holiday fun with a friend from Portland, moving to a new apartment (that’s 3 homes in 3 months!) and more.

For now, this post is just a preview because I’ve got some other writing assignments I need to get to first, so I’ll leave you with a picture from last night’s Three Kings parade in Barcelona.

Here’s hoping 2013 brings you much love, adventure, growth and happiness!

dia de reyes

Link love: Things to do in Barcelona

fountain

Ready to soak up some culture in Barcelona? ;)

I’ve got a whole bunch of half-written blog posts on places I’d recommend to take visitors, but since those aren’t quite ready yet, I’ll share a few resources I’ve found helpful over the last few months:

+ Le Cool: A mix of art, culture & shopping.

+ BarcelonaYellow: All sorts of info, from nightlife to apartment rentals to transportation.

+ The Spain Scoop: Travel advice & tips, especially helpful for folks making a long-term move.

+ BCN Week: A weekly newsletter on events, culture & politics.

+ Barcelona Life: Even more info on nightlife, restaurants, entertainment & more.

What am I missing? Tell me your favorite Barcelona sites & ‘zines.

podcasts, books & recommendations

I’ve been listening to more podcasts than reading lately, but finding good stuff in both places. On my current podcast playlist:

  • On Being
  • DoubleX Gabfest by Slate
  • Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin
  • Notes in Spanish
  • Coffee Break Spanish

Recently read:

  • Just After Sunset by Steven King
  • Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lamott

Books in progress:

  • A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini & Richard Lannon (re-reading it)
  • This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
  • Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness by Jessica Valenti (been slowly reading a chapter here & there for months now)

Books recommended by friends that I’ve added to my list:

  • Scent of God by Beryl Singleton Bissell
  • Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
  • Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Goal update: I’ve read 39 books in 2012.

What are you reading right now? Any recommendations?

Crappy excuses I tell myself when I don’t want to run

I woke up on the wrong side of the bed today. I’m still feeling plowed by events in America, and though I know a run usually helps my state of mind, it took every bit of will power to get my butt out the door.

It got me thinking about all of the crappy excuses I tell myself when I don’t want to run – and all of the things the devil’s advocate in me says back. (Do the rest of you have ongoing inner dialogues when it comes to exercise and responsibilities and to-do lists?)

Here’s a rundown (har har) of my most common running excuses …

Excuse: I’d rather stay snuggled up in bed with a book.
Counterargument: Vitamin D and fresh air will be invigorating!

I try to remind myself that this is the first winter in five years that I’ve been exposed to so many days of sunshine! Since I’m skipping Portland’s winter (and subsequent gray skies), I should take advantage of beautiful (mostly rain-free) winter runs in Barcelona.

run view

It was 59 degrees and sunny when I ran stairs today. This was my view.

Excuse: I feel too fat to run.
Counterargument: You’re not fat; you’re lazy. Also, discomfort is good for you.

I don’t own a scale so I don’t know what I’ve gained in Barcelona, but my body has changed a bit. I’ve indulged in more bread and wine than normal, and I’ve gotten a little soft. I don’t really mind all that much (we’ll see how I feel when summer rolls around), except I do mind when I’m running because I feel slower and out of shape. Of course, I’ll only improve the situation by getting in shape so I’m better off shutting up and getting moving.

runninginPDX

Look! Last summer, I actually had, like, sculpted arms. No such reality now.

Excuse: I’d rather go to a café and eat pan con tomate.
Counterargument: You can eat bread after you run.

It’s probably not the best idea to bribe myself with bread (see aforementioned bread-indulgence-softness issue), but I totally do it. And it totally works.

where the bread goes

At the risk of embarrassing myself … There is actually a perk to over-indulging in bread: more junk in the trunk! I may be getting softer all over, but at least I’m also getting something of a butt.* (I give you license to make fun of me for saying that.)

Excuse: I don’t have enough time.
Counterargument: Are you fucking kidding me?

This is a really rich excuse because I only work 16 hours per week here, though that doesn’t factor in travel time to work and private classes (and lesson planning). In any case, I certainly have time to fit in a 40-minute run. It simply involves spending a little less time on Twitter, lingering over coffee for a bit less time, and, you know, setting an alarm so I actually wake up at a reasonable hour in the morning.

Excuse: My IT band feels tight.
Counterargument: Well, that’s unfortunate. But that’s not a reason not to run; that’s a reason to stretch more.

I’ve gotten really good at putting off runs when my legs feel wonky. But my legs feel wonky because I’m not doing any strength training or stretching. It might also be time to replace my New Balance Minimus shoes; though they don’t have a ton of mileage on them, they break down more quickly than cushioned shoes. But, really, I don’t think this is a shoe issue. I think my IT band is tight because I’m not taking time to stretch or protect my quads and glutes. New Year’s resolution #1: make time for lunges, squats and planks.

Excuse: Running is boring.
Counterargument: So, turn around and come back when you get bored.

I actually don’t think running is boring (unless we’re talking about really long runs); it’s just getting out the door that’s the most difficult for me. Once I’m moving and listening to music, I get in a groove. So when this excuse crops up, I promise myself that I can turn around and come back whenever I’d like, and this effectively gets me to run for at least 30 minutes, if not more.

Spill: What excuses do you tell yourself? And how do you convince yourself to get out the door (or to the gym)?

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* I mean, I’ve still got a ways to go until I’ve got this kind of junk in the trunk, but I’m workin’ on it. (Don’t mistake my meaning here! I’m saying junk in the trunk is a *good* thing. Most of us ladies want some shape!)

There is no way to make sense of the tragedy – or to understand conservative Republicans in America

22 Dec. | Update: Please understand that I wrote this under the influence of confusion and anger, that my blog sometimes functions as a place for me to work out my feelings, and that I am far (far!) from an expert on any of the below topics. I stand by my views, but for better, wiser, stronger posts, please see these:

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Warning: Full-blown, semi-coherent RANT ahead. I am mad, and I’m not being polite or perky or appropriate today.

It’s a beautiful day in Barcelona. Sunny, in the low 60s. The city is full of holiday spirit: Christmas craft stalls, flower stands, marching bands.

But I feel thousands of miles away.

My mind keeps wandering to the shootings at Sandy Hook School in Connecticut. I can’t make sense of it, and so I read all the news stories I can find, bewildered and sickened and so sad.

Why am I gaping at story after story with the same horrific details? To try to find something that’ll settle my thoughts? To see if there are any words to express what the families are going through and how they’ll ever move forward?

I’m looking in the faces of the children in Barcelona more than ever. They are so innocent, so fresh-eyed and so, so sweet. I cannot fathom how anyone could shoot a child.

Since I heard the story on Friday night, I’ve wanted to pretend it doesn’t exist. Just days before, there was a shooting in a mall in Portland. And, a day after Connecticut, 50 shots fired at a mall in Los Angeles.

In 2011 alone, there were more than 30,000 deaths by gun violence in the United States. (source)

That means some 85 people are killed everyday in firearm-related incidents (including suicides). (source)

And let’s talk homicide. In 2009, there were nearly 11,500 homicides caused by guns in the U.S. (source) By comparison, there were 2 homicides caused by guns in Japan in 2006, and 11 in 2008. In the UK, there were 18 homicides by guns in 2009. (source)

And I know it’s not just about the guns. It’s about the people; it’s about the culture. But we come from a culture of gun violence. It’s all intertwined.

I’m so angry.

I’m so ashamed of America right now.

I hate that some people ostensibly use the constitution (freedom to fucking bear arms) as an excuse to kill. I hate that we are a nation of people who don’t support gun control. (Yes, many of us do – strongly – but my Facebook feed is rife with bullshit like, Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. Okay, but if those people couldn’t get ahold of their guns so easily, could they do so much damage so swiftly? And if those people could cry for help in other ways, could get access to mental health care cheaply and easily, would it come to this? And if our criminal justice system was one of rehabilitation, would we be able to help people actually heal?)

I want every conservative Republican who’s still not in favor of tighter gun control after Connecticut to be forced to sit in a room with the parents of the dead children and the families of the dead teachers. See the looks in those people’s eyes and then try to tell me that guns don’t kill people.

It is proven that more guns means more murder. (source)

Last I checked, there are 4 states in America where it’s legal to bring a firearm into a bar. And it’s legal to carry a gun into restaurants that serve alcohol in some 15 or more states. You will never convince me that there’s a rational reason for that.

You can tell me until the cows come home that you come from a family of hunters and that your parents taught you all about gun safety. That’s fantastic, but I don’t give shit. That’s not bringing any of these people back to life.

You can tell me that you have a right to “protect” yourself. To which I will say: What the hell are you protecting yourself against if not another fear-crazed person like you WHO ALSO HAS A GUN?! (And, as a caveat, may I also rant for a moment about the fucked up culture of fear in America? People are using senseless acts like Connecticut to start arguing in the opposite direction that we need more guns, that teachers should be armed. You have got to be kidding me. Why are we propagating a culture of fear? How about we work together to improve education and economic equality and cultural tolerance, instead of being god-damned scared shitless all of the time and saying we need guns to keep us “safe?”)

I want to be able to channel my anger toward something more productive, but I can’t bring myself to it right now.

When I first heard the news of Connecticut and saw all of the political posts on Facebook, I posted that we should give space to compassion first.

I’m lacking compassion right now.

I want to try to be compassionate toward the killer’s family, particularly his mother (whom he shot), but I’m not there yet. She didn’t deserve death, but what was happening in his life that she didn’t intervene (or did she try)? Why was he able to get his hands on so many of her weapons? Why did she flaunt her weapons to neighbors like badges of honor?

I want to try to be compassionate toward people with political views different than my own, to respect their right to their beliefs, even if I don’t understand them. But I can’t right now.

I want change in America. I want a future for our country that I can believe in. Now is the time for Obama to step in and change gun laws. We cannot continue to lose so many lives.

My heart goes out to the families of Sandy Hook School and their community. I’m so deeply sorry for your losses.