Lisbon, here we come!!

Lisbon at Christmas

The main plan when we first got to Barcelona was to spend the year here for my dissertation research and then move on to Lisbon when I finished my degree to research a second project there. But then we fell in love with Barcelona and, suddenly, my second project in Lisbon didn’t sound so good anymore. I needed to find ways of staying in Barcelona. Who cares about Portugal?

Well, fate is funny and it has it that many of our good friends here have lived in Lisbon and they all LOVE it. Jackie & Sebastian lived there and they introduced us to many of their Lisbon friends who come for a visit. Naomi was there last week and loved it. Suddenly the interest to go to Portugal rekindled and we have booked our flight for a long weekend in december. We leave Dec 8th and come back on the 12th. Can’t wait!!!



People often ask me if I miss Brazil. I don’t really miss places but I do miss family and friends, and also the food. Particularly the fruits. I miss having my papaya at breakfast (I tried it in Canada and Spain and it tastes like crap in both places) and some of the more exotic fruits like acerola and jabuticaba. Jabu-what? You heard it right – jabuticaba. It sort of looks like a grape – same principle, seed in the middle wrapped by this succulent flesh – but the skin is a little tougher and it can be much sweeter. It also grows differently. Instead of coming in a bunch that hangs off a plant, jabuticabas grew right from the bark and when it’s season it can cover the whole tree. My grandmother has two trees in her backyard and every year the family has a few weeks of jabuticaba-picking bonanza. My brother sent the recent pictures of this year’s events:

Picking jabuticaba


The wisdom of a child

Alan sent me this story today from this blog. I don’t know if it’s true but it certainly brings tears to one’s eyes:

Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog’s owner, his wife, and their little boy were all very attached to Belker and they were hoping for a miracle. I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family there were no miracles left for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.

As we made arrangements, the owners told me they thought it would be good for the four-year-old boy to observe the procedure. They felt he could learn something from the experience.
The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker’s family surrounded him. The little boy seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on.
Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away. The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion.

We sat together for a while after Belker’s death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives.
The little boy, who had been listening quietly, piped up, “I know why.”
Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I’d never heard a more comforting explanation. He said, “Everybody is born so that they can learn how to live a good life – like loving everybody and being nice, right?” The four-year- old continued, “Well, animals already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.”

Catalan language and poetry

Sept 11th was an important holiday for Catalunya. While the rest of the world talked about terrorist attacks and the loss of liberties those entailed, Catalans remembered the date in 1714 when its armies surrendered to the Spanish forces led by Felipe V. Many foreigners laugh and shake their heads – “why commemorate a defeat?”, they ask. Because it wasn’t a simple defeat. The date marked the beginning of suppression of Catalan language, culture and institutions by a centralizing Spanish monarchy that wanted to punish Catalunya for picking the wrong side on the war of succession to the throne. So the date has become an important day to commemorate freedom (llibertat) and Catalan culture.

Young Catalan at Sant Cugat Flags at Saint Cugat

As Alan mentioned on his blog, when we took the train that day to go hiking nearby, we were given a little hardcover book of Catalan poetry. It is entitled Catalunya en vers: mil anys d’història a través de la poesia and it is basically a collection of poems that mention Catalunya as a nation. Since nationalism was the criteria, most of the poems hail back from the nineteenth century, that golden age of nationalism.

I have to say I was very disappointed. For a book that wants to talk about “a thousand years of history”, it completely ignores the middle ages. The oldest poem in the book is from the seventeenth century. As a medievalist, I cannot let that pass without saying something. There was no dearth of poets and writers writing in Catalan between the 13th and 15th centuries. Just think of Ramon Llull or Ausiàs March.

It always amazes people when I tell them that not only Catalan is a language in its own right (and not a dialect of Castilian as some assume), but it is also one of the oldest of the current languages spoken in Europe. Scholars hail about the early development of English citing the work of Geoffrey Chaucer and Shakespeare. Well, Ramon Llull was writing his mystical novels one hundred years before Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales just as Ausiàs March and his contemporaries were writing beautifully a hundred years before Shakespeare.

Here’s one of Ausias March love poems:
Així com cell qui en lo somni·s delita
e son delit de foll pensament ve,
ne pren a mi, que·l temps passat me té
l’imaginar, que altre bé no hi habita.
Sentint estar en aguait ma dolor,
sabent de cert que en ses mans he de jaure,
temps d’avenir en negun be’m pot caure:
aquell passat en mi és lo millor.

Del temps present no·m trobe amador,
mas del passat, que és no res e finit.
D’aquest pensar me sojorn e·m delit,
mas, quan lo perd, s’esforça ma dolor,
sí com aquell qui és jutjat a mort
e de llong temps la sap e s’aconhorta
e creure·l fan que li serà estorta
e·l fan morir sens un punt de record.

Plagués a Déu que mon pensar fos mort
e que passàs ma vida en dorment:
malament viu qui té lo pensament
per enemic, fent-li d’enuigs report,
e, com lo vol d’algun plaer servir,
li’n pren així com dona ab son infant,
que, si verí li demana plorant,
ha tan poc seny que no·l sap contradir.

Fóra millor ma dolor soferir
que no mesclar poca part de plaer
entre aquells mals, qui·m giten de saber
com del passar plaer me cové eixir.
Las! mon delit dolor se converteix,
dobla’s l’afany aprés d’un poc repòs,
sí co·l malalt qui, per un plasent mos,
tot son menjar en dolor se nodreix.

Com l’ermità qui enyorament no”l creix
d’aquells amics que tenia en lo món
e, essent llong temps que en lo poblat no fon,
per fortuit cas un d’ells li apareix
qui los passats plaers li renovella
sí que·l passat present li fa tornar;
mas, com se’n part, l’és forçat congoixar,
lo bé, com fuig, ab grans crits mal apella.

Plena de seny, quan amor és molt vella,
absença és lo verme que la guasta,
si fermetat durament no contrasta
e creure poc, si l’envejós consella.

Some restaurants off the beaten path in Barcelona

If there’s one thing you need to know about me, is that I am a foodie. Food is very important to me and it is usually what I remember most about any trip or place. While I was determined to enjoy Spanish and Catalan food – and I do! – I was surprised to discover many amazing ethnic restaurants in Barcelona. Some of my current favourites are:

If you want to try something different and a little bit off the beaten path, here are some of my current favourites in Barcelona:

In the Born:
WushuC/ Colomines 2 (right behind mercat Sta Caterina)
Kitchen open from 12 am- 12 pm; closed mondays.
Tel. 933 107 313

Now moved to Avda. Marqués d’Argentera 1, metro Barceloneta, near Estacio de Franca (Jan, 2008)

It’s the new kid on the block. It’s been open for about 3 weeks and it already has a following. It serves asian food, the menu is short and everything is super fresh. Last time we went we had spring rolls with duck meat, organic chicken laksa with vermicelli noodles (dish from Mongolia) and my husband had Tuna steak with eggplant and miso sauce (Japan). The chef is Australian and quite original. Starters are 4.90; mains 8.90 and desserts 3-4.50. Service is superb.

Update: The laksa is now served with Jasmine rice and they also have some amazing curry dishes. If you like salmon and they happen to have that as the special of the day, don’t hesitate. It melts in your mouth. We go at least once a week.
Cardamon – C/ Carders 31
Indian curries & also some Catalan dishes. I always go there for the curry – they have the usual ones (chicken, lamb, etc) but they also have tiburon (shark!) and it’s amazing!! A small curry is about 6-7 euros, a large one goes for about 11 euros.

In Gracia/Eixample

Kibuka – C/ Goya, 9 (near plaça Rius i Taulet, which is also worth a visit for some tapas and just hanging out in a nice terrasse)
For sushi and some basic Japanese with a Brazilian flair. Ultra fresh, very nice. It opens at 8:30 pm and they don’t take reservations. By 9, it’s packed and there’s a line up. Prices are really good – I don’t think we ever spent more than 15-16 euros/person for lots of sushi, tempura and drinks.

For a nicer meal out, try:
C/ Paris, 162 (near Muntaner)
Fusion of saigon, new orleans and barcelona
If I remember correctly the mains were around 10-17 euros. Book ahead at 934.194.933.
The service can be spotty – some of my friends complained – but everybody agrees that the chef is just a genius. Really amazing food. The sushi appetizer is the best.

Newfie accent

Newfoundland is a province on eastern Canada, known for the friendliness of its people. Newfies are supposed to be the nicest Canadians around. They are also known for their accent, not that noticeable in the big cities but as you move inland and to smaller communities it becomes more pronounced. I had heard about it but never actually head a newfie speak until the movers came to move our stuff from our apartment in Toronto into storage. There was a young guy among the movers who was very pleasant but whenever he would ask me something or talk to the other guys I would just stare at him and think “that sounds vaguely like English but I don’t understand any of it!”. It was then that Alan told me that he was from Newfoundland. Anyways, Nissan has released a commercial in Canada featuring a Newfie carsalesman and I decided to post it here for those among our non-Canadian friends who are curious to hear for themselves:

Chatting at the archives

Today I had an interesting chat with Quino, one of the young archivists at the ACA. It started with my innocent question on when school starts again and ended up in a big discussion on job opportunities (or lack thereof) for young academics in Spain and the fierce rivalry between Valencia and Catalunya.

While Alan would no doubt love it if I got a job here, Quino has confirmed my impressions on the possibilities. Catalan universities had its boom – in terms of enrolment – in the 1970s and 1980s and this led to the hiring of many professors. Now, the number of university students are declining and most of the faculty hired in the boom years are now in their 40s, with lots of years left at work. No new faculty will be needed for the next ten years at least. Plus, academics here tend to be overworked and underpaid. As a friend recently suggested, the best deal is to get a job in North America and spend half the year in Spain doing research.

As for the rivalry between Valencia and Catalunya – Quino is from Valencia – it stems from a certain inferiority complex felt by the former in relation to the latter. This has led some Valencians to adopt an alternative view of its history and culture. One example is the creation of a Valencian language. Some people, in their effort to stress the difference between their homeland and Catalunya, maintain that the language they speak is “valenciano”, which has nothing to do with Catalan. This is like suggesting that the language spoken in Brazil has nothing to do with Portuguese. Or that the Castilian spoken in Chile and Spain are intrinsically different. It all reminded me a lot of the feelings of hostility I encountered in the north-east of Brazil (Recife) for the wealthier south (Rio, Sao Paulo, etc).

It seems to me that the more you travel the world, the more you realize how similar we all are…

10 things I would like to do before I die

Inspired by the book Unforgettable things to do before you die by Steve Watkins and Clare Jones, I came up with my own list of 10 things I would like to do before I die. What about you? What would you like to do?

1. Learn Hebrew, German, Arabic, and an Asian language (possibly Korean) – in that order

2. Spend 1 year in Paris

3. Volunteer in an orphanage or pre-school in Africa

4. Write a book

5. Walk the Camino de Santiago

6. Take a cooking course at Le Cordon Bleu, Paris

7. Take a trip around the world

8. Learn to meditate

9. Widen my niece and nephews’ horizons by taking them to different parts of the world
10. Look back and feel that I have made a positive impact on at least one person’s life

Of course, there are at least a million other things I would like to do, but those were the first 10 things that came to mind.