Catalunya

There’s a documentary on TV now on Catalunya. It’s in Chinese but it’s nice to see so many places we know. If I could re-start my history degree, I would probably study modern Spanish history and write a thesis on Catalan cultural history. Perhaps something on Catalan culture under Franco. It’s fascinating.

Busy day in Madrid

After four weeks in Spain, we began our journey home early wednesday morning (June 18th) when we left the house at 7 AM to catch the 8:30 AVE to Madrid. The plan was to stay overnight in Madrid and catch the new Air Canada flight to Toronto. Although we don’t know Madrid very well – the weather prevented us from really enjoying the place last time we were there – we had quite the day meeting friends.
We arrived at 11:15 in Madrid and after checking in at our hotel, we went off exploring. The weather was much nicer than in our previous visit (a sunny 20 C) and we wandered the narrow streets of the Huertas (aka Barrio de las Letras) and the Plaza Mayor. For lunch, we took advantage of the tradition in this part of Spain of the tapeo – which basically consists of ordering a drink to get a free tapa at local bars and cervecerias. Luckily, in Madrid one can get a free tapa by ordering a very small glass of beer (a caña), smaller than a half pint. Here are some random pictures of our wanderings:

Click here for slideshow

After a short nap, we went off to Atocha station to meet a friend from the blogosphere – Erin, the wandering woman. I was so happy to be able to meet her in Spain, a place we both like so much. Erin is a true free spirit and it was so easy to wile away the afternoon in a shady spot of Plaza Santa Ana, hearing about her exciting plans for the future and her experiences on the camino de Santiago.

After accompanying Erin back to the train station, we visited the memorial for the victims of the 2004 Madrid bombings. Hundreds died when bombs were simultaneously detonated in commuter trains arriving at Atocha station and last year a memorial was inaugurated to remember the victims. It is quite a moving site. You can see a picture of it in the slideshow above.

After resting a bit at the hotel, we met Mireia, a friend from Barcelona who is in Madrid on business, her colleague Lydia, and Yaniré, a Chilean we met in Barcelona who has since moved to Madrid after marrying her long-time madrileño boyfriend. It was great seeing Yaniré again after over a year. We had tapas and beer at a local bar until past 1 AM and it was a great end to our month in Spain. We have no idea when we will be back since I have decided not to make any travel plans until I’m finished my dissertation. But I’m finally mentally ready to get it over with so hopefully I can finish within the next 12 months.

No-Bull Barcelona

No BullOn Friday, we ran into an anti-bullfighting demonstration in front of the Generalitat (government of Catalunya). Tourists usually expect to see bullfighting everywhere in Spain and get disappointed when they get to Barcelona and find that the only bullring in town is basically a show place, geared towards the tourist market. Bullfighting is not a Catalan tradition and many Catalans feel strongly against it. The group below is trying to collect enough signatures to force the government of Catalunya to ban the practice in its territory.

Bull

bull Anti-Bullfighting

bull2

Happy birthday to me!

This weekend we celebrated my birthday at Wushu with a few of our very good friends here in Barcelona. Paul, Wushu’s talented dessert chef, even made me a special cake and we spent an amazing four hours at the restaurant, enjoying the company, the many bottles of cava, and, of course, Brad’s amazing food.

friends

I had my favourite dish – the red curry with roasted duck (on the left) and next time I’ll try the laksa (on the right):

curry laksa

cake

There are more pictures on my flickr site. It was a very busy weekend, which included dinner at Wushu on friday night with other friends, shopping in Gracia on saturday morning for a lunch on sunday that Jackie and I were organizing, then dinner at Wushu again on saturday night and finally a big lunch on sunday, when I cooked a not-so-traditional Brazilian feijoada for friends. Tomorrow we catch the high speed train to Segovia. It’s probable that I won’t be accessing internet there so stay tuned for a report on the trip to Segovia some time next weekend!

Quotation

Per nosaltres, la nació és una cosa viva, plena de sentit i de cara el futur, i la raça és una cosa morta, pobra de contingut i plasmada sobre el passat.[…] Per nosaltres els forasters que vénen a Catalunya – que sempre acollim amb els braços oberts – i pateixen amb els nostres dols i gaudeixem amb les nostres alegries, i que ens donen fills, que les nostres dones no en pareixem prou, són tan catalans, en la nostra interpretació futurista de la nació, com nosaltres mateixos. No fem absolutament cap diferència.

Rafael Campalans, 1923, founder of the Unió Socialista de Catalunya

Loose translation:

We believe that the nation  is alive, full of feeling and looking towards the future, and race is dead, a thing poor in substance and stuck in the past. For us, the foreigners that come to Catalunya – and who have always been received with open arms – and share with us our pains and our joys, and who give us children, are as Catalan, in our futuristic (progressive) interpretation of the nation, as we are ourselves. It makes absolutely not difference.

I found this quotation, from 1923, in an article dedicated to the issue of immigration in Catalunya today. Salvador Cardús i Ros argues that immigration had always played a crucial role in the development of Catalunya. This phenomena can be traced as far back as we have reliable demographic information (i.e. the 17th century) as the region has always had a low birth rate. Yet, currently, the issue of immigration is seen in a negative light as a threat to national identity. Cardús i Ros proposes that this situation should be reversed by turning immigration into a place for the collective memory of Catalunya, considering it as a part of the nation. Very interesting.

Dancing egg, Vermut, and Ciutadela

What a day! We had no plans today and figured we would just have a lazy day since it was raining on and off and chilly. We all woke up late (around 10 AM), Sebastian cooked us brunch and around 2 pm Jackie, Alan and I decided to go down to do some shopping for dinner. As we went down the stairs, I mentioned to Jackie that I wanted to see the dancing egg. Known in Catalan as El Ou com balla (how the egg dances), it is a particularly Barcelonese tradition to make an empty egg dance over the jet of a public fountain during the week of Corpus Christi. This year, because of the drought, the event was restricted to only six fountains in the city, all of which use a mechanism that recycles its water. Since today was the last day and we somehow missed it during the year we lived here, I really wanted to see it. So instead of going shopping, we headed to the Plaça del Rei, to the Palau del Lloctinent, where the old Archives of the Crown of Aragon used to be located. It was actually quite neat:

egg

corpus

Sebastian met us there and we then went to a local Vermuth bar to have some traditional Catalan vermut with some tapas. We weren’t that hungry but made short work of some patatas bravas, buñuelos de bacalao, jamón de jabugo (the good stuff!), pan con tomate, and pimientos padrón. For some reason, Alan and I thought vermut was very bitter but the stuff at this local bar was quite nice. We’ll definitely check some other places.

Inside the bar:

Inside vermut bar

outside:

cala del vermut

From there we went to Parc de la Ciutadela, where there was to be a big festival today but I guess the rain scared everybody away and there wasn’t much going on.

boats

After wandering around the park a bit, we went to the Born in search of ice cream for Jackie, who had a craving. We found an open place near the Catedral del Mar, where I could have hot chocolate (the yummy Spanish version but not quite as good as the one from my favourite chocolate place in Gracia) while she had her ice cream. On our way home, we stopped at a friend’s house for a visit. She greeted us in her bathrobe – she had just got out of bed (it was 6:30 PM!), good thing we could foresee that and brought her some breakfast from a nearby bakery. We hung out for a while and made it home for a lovely couscous dinner with lamb and vegetables. Tomorrow I get up early and hit the archives…

Coffee heaven

cortadoI don’t think there are enough words to explain how great it is to be able to order coffee the way I like it without having to go through lengthy explanations of how I want it done. In France, all I had to do is ask for a café noisette and here in Spain I ask for a cortado (or tallat in Catalan). No eyebrows get raised and back they come with exactly what I wanted: a long espresso with a bit of hot milk. In Toronto I always have to explain that I want an espresso with a bit of hot milk. “You mean, a latte?” In North America, a latte is usually a short espresso with at least a cup of hot milk added to it making it more of a coffee-flavoured milk than a real coffee. So I have to say, “No, it’s not a latte. It’s an espresso, made in an espresso cup, with hot milk to the top”. In some places I can make myself understood by saying it’s a macchiato with more milk than foam. It’s always a struggle. But for the next month, I don’t have to worry about it. All I say is “un cortado, por favor/ un tallat si us plau”.

Wushu and lost pictures

After a cool train ride through French and Spanish countryside, in which a nice Frenchman on his way from Narbonne to Perpignan pointed out Cathar castles along the way and instructed us on how the Albigensian crusade had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with territorial expansion of the French monarchy, we finally arrived at Barcelona’s França station, where we were met by our friends Jackie and Sebastian. On our way out of the station we passed by… WUSHU! I knew they had moved to the street where the station is located but I hadn’t been to the new place yet. So we stopped to say hello to Paula and Brad. They were happy to see us, Brad showed us around his new kitchen and they both seemed very happy with the new place. We ordered some cava to celebrate, for which Paula didn’t let us pay at the end since they hadn’t seen us in a year. We promised to return soon enough.

And soon enough we did. We went for lunch today, our first day in Barcelona. And we were definitely not disappointed. The lunch special today was a choice of salmon or chicken in a Laksa sauce (a malaysian curry) with steamed rice and dessert was a chocolate tart/cake. Everything was to die for. I took some really amazing pictures of the place and the food but unfortunately, something went wrong when I was downloading them from my camera and all of the pictures I took from a certain point on the train trip to today are now corrupted and won’t open. I haven’t given up trying to “uncorrupt” them, but it means I don’t have any pictures. It is very disappointing and it makes me wanna cry whenever I think of all the spontaneous pictures I took today – such as the two ladies selling flowers in front of the cathedral who posed for me and all the amazing food pictures from today’s lunch. Oh well. I guess we’ll have to go back.