Horror in Brazil

The headline says it all. During the past few days the organized crime in São Paulo launched attacks against policemen and inmates in almost 100 prisons throughout the state rebelled. Last count had 40 policemen and 71 criminals dead during the past three days. When will our politicians look beyond their own personal gains and design an effective long term public security policy? Not only do we need an overhaul of the police force and penal system but also proper social reforms that would give those at the bottom the chance to find a future outside crime. I guess things will have to get much worse before the Brazilian people will stop taking it and demand more action. Unfortunatelly the people are too accepting. The ones who get fed up leave the country rather than fight for change and the ones who stay, well, the majority don't even know what they can do to effect change. Very sad.  It really pains me to see such a beautiful country with such great people falling into such a pit. Don't know what the answers are…

La sardana

As many of you know from Alan's blog, this past weekend we made it to Park Guell for the first time. While the park itsef is very large and very nice, the greatest treat was walking into a Catalan festival and watching dozens of people, young and old, performing the sardana.

La sardana at Park Guell

 This very traditional Catalan dance is performed every week in front of the cathedral in Barcelona and in many festivals by regular people rather than professional performers. I've been wanting to see it since I got here but wasn't sure when and where to go. Watching it with the city of Barcelona as a backdrop was unforgetable!

 

the game of threes…

I know it's been a while but you'll have to fogive me. This past week I went to the archives for the first time and although the experience is kind of neat, it was also very stressful. I'm still unsure if I'm doing the right thing of even looking at the documents the right way. But nevermind that. Here's a fun game, if you want to reply with your own answers in the comments, feel free!!

20 years ago I…

1. was in 6th grade and hated my school; the next year I went to a girl's only school
2. watched the first Fifa world cup that I can remember
3. wrote my first diary

10 years ago I…

1. met my husband on the internet
2. learned French
3. lived in Recife – one of the strangest places I ever lived in – and got my dog, Tequila

5 years ago I…

1. started my undergrad in history
2. after 8 years wasting away in law school I discovered that I was finally good at something
3. learned to dragon boat3 years ago I…

1. started my PhD in history
2. moved to Toronto
3. made some good friends

1 year ago I…

1. passed the PhD Latin exam
2. turned 30 and cut my hair short
3. took my parents to Paris for the first time

So far this year I…

1. passed the dreaded comps
2. have moved to Barcelona for the year
3. travelled by train for the first time

Yesterday I…

1. spent the day at the archives reading 14th-century royal letters, or attempting to do so
2. had lunch for 3 euros near the archives
3. watched the last two episodes of Lost, after downloading them from the Internet

Today I…

1. went to the library of the Institut Millà i Fontanals
2. visited our friend N. at her last day working at Custo
3. had an amazing 2-course lunch menu for 7 euros in the old town

Tomorrow I will…

1. write a letter to my friend J.
2. go to Park Guell in the morning
3. go rollerblading in the afternoon

In the next year I will…

1. finish my research in Spain
2. become fluent in Spanish and achieve a comfortable level in Catalan
3. go for a holiday in Formentera

In the next minute I will tag…

1. Alan
2. Christian
3. Roberbel

Txacolín & Helado Italiano

In the basque language (Euskera),txacolín is a fizzy, dry white wine poured from a great height. Here in Barcelona it is also the name of a very popular (among locals) tapas bar where the order of the day is pinchos and montaditos. A pincho (pinxo) is a little tapas served on a small slice of bread. Almost like a canape. A montadito is a little something on a skewer (a toothpick or a larger skewer). 

 

Everybody sits around a very long horseshoe bar and the barman gives you a small plate. You can then take whatever you like on the counter and at the end of the night, the barman counts how many toothpicks were left and charges you accordingly. A small toothpick costs less than a larger one. 

 

Alan's class decided to meet at Txacolín one evening and I joined them. The two of us had about 15 pinxos/montaditos and 7 glasses of wine for 30 euros. The glasses of wine (txacolin) were small but the tapas were very filling. I thought it was a bargain since we sampled a mix of shrimp, salmon, bacallao, really nice beef & sausage to name a few of the things we had.

A few days later, we went for helado near our place. At pl. de la Revolucion (Gracia) there is a little Italian ice cream shop that is reputed to be the best in Barcelona. Everything is homemade and very fresh. The old Italian lady that serves the ice cream took a shine to Alan and always gives him a wafer with his helado ;

Last time we went, we arrived at the square at around 4 pm to find out the place only opened at 5. Oh well… We went for a walk in nearby C/ Verdi, a very picturesque street running north in the middle of Gracia and were back to the square at around 4:30.

 

We noticed plenty of people sitting around near the ice cream place so Alan lined up early. He was the first one into the shop and this time I let him go on his own. He wanted me to go with him to help with the language but I said "you have to know how to order ice cream on your own!" Of course, I didn't complain when he came out with the wrong flavour for me ;)

Catedral de Santa Maria del Mar

As you may know from Alan's blog, on thursday night we went out with his class to a Basque tapas bar in the Born area of the city, near Barceloneta. Since we hadn't been to the area, we decided to leave home early and explore it a bit before meeting the others at the bar. I specifically wanted to visit the cathedral of Santa Maria del Mar.

Santa Maria del Mar

The first written reference to a church of Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona dates to the late 10th century. The basilica, as it stands today, dates to the 14th century (my period!!) and I have to confess I found it the most beautiful church I've ever been to. 

 I think the TMB (Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona) describe it best: "Designed by the architect Berenguer de Montagut in the mid-14th century, it contains three naves, all of which are of almost the same height, separated by pillars, extraordinary spatial proportions which turn it into a unique building. It was the church in which the shipowners and merchants of Romanesque & gothic Barcelona worshipped."

The first stone was laid down by Berenguer in 1329 to mark the conquest of Sardinia by Jaume the Conqueror, which completed the conquest of the Mediterranean initiated by the conquest of Mallorca 10 years prior. The domain of the House of Barcelona would extend to Greece and Sicily in the 14th century.

The sense of space in this church is unbelievable. It is one, very big, open space. All the previous gothic cathedrals I've been to were very impressive, very tall and certainly had gorgeous stained glass windows but somehow I've always felt they were a bit stuffy. Somehow, the proportions in this church give you the feeling of lightness and space so sought by medieval builders.

One of the reasons I wanted to visit the cathedral was the book La Catedral del Mar by Ildefonso Falcones. It's a historical fiction set in the fourteenth century about the building of the cathedral. It was released at the beginning of the year and it's in its 6th edition already. A huge success. I was looking for a historical fiction book set in medieval Spain and this one could not have been more appropriate. I'm sure I'll cringe at all the historically inacurate bits but hey, it's just fiction… Note about the next picture – it's a very modern stained glass window. I wonder if it is replacing some of the ones broken during the civil war… I LOVE it and hope to find out more about it.

* Remember that you can see larger version of these pictures (or download them) – and a few more – through the Flickr link on the right side of this page…

Another beautiful day…

Every wednesday the Spanish class is devoted to conversation. No need to bring books; all we do is discuss some topic and play games. Last week we talked about work and our previous experiences with job interviews. Obviously, Anika, the German MBA student, and Antonio, the Portuguese businessman, had had several complicated interview experiences and could relate. I personally found the topic mildly boring and in the end we somehow ended up in a heated argument over working mothers. But more on that later.

The teacher has said we may discuss things that annoy us in Barcelona. I've been trying to make a mental list but haven't come up with much beyond the fact that restaurants only open for dinner at 9 pm. I could deal with 8 but 9 is a bit late for dinner during the week. Oh well, I'll just have to stick with lunch. Not unwise since you can usually get a lunch menu – first plate, second plate, dessert, bread, coffee & wine – in a reasonable restaurant for about 7-8 euros. But I digress. The point of this post was to share with you that the temperature is currently 21 degrees (70 F), I'm wearing a skirt for the first time this season and this is the view from my window:

Looking left from our balcony Looking right

Looking across:

Beautiful early-20th-c buildings

At last but not least – this is what the sky looked like when I woke up:

weather forecast

Now, how can I have anything bad to say of a city that wakes me up in the morning this way and has such amazing weather forecasts??? Friday, vamos a la playa for sure!!!

Archive of the Crown of Aragon

 

I was looking for the directions on how to get to the archives this morning and found a picture of the old building. Isn't it nice? I wish the archives were still there…
Apparently, it's one of the few renassaince  buildings in Barcelona. A shame it's closed. The local newspaper says of the restoration work that "hay obras que 'duran más que las de la Sagrada Família.'" For those of you who don't know  building of the Sagrada Familia has been going on for decades and it's supposed to take at least another 40 years.

April 23rd – Sant Jordi

As many of you may or may not know (I didn't!), St George is the patron saint of Catalonia. In fact, the little community of Montblac, near Tarragona, claims to be the spot where the famous saint killed the dragon. See more info here.

As UNESCO's Day of the Book and the day Cervantes died (and Shakespeare for all that matter), here in Barcelona, Sant Jordi is also known as Dia del llibre i la rosa (day of the book and the rose). Traditionally, Barcelonins give each other a book and rose today and every major street of the city was packed with book and flower stalls. Actually, men would get a book and women a rose but in today's society everybody gets both.
Stall near home Books galore

All the books were 10% off – not enough of a discount in my opinion to warrant braving through the mass of people to get one – and it was fun walking around and seeing the people and the colours.

Crowds everywhere Roses...

[For more photos of Sant Jordi and other trips, click on the Flickr image on right hand corner of this page and you'll be brought to my photo page – you'll also be able to see larger versions of the images I put here]

After walking all the way down Passeig de Gracia and up Rambla Catalunya, we made our way to the little Pl. de Rius i Taulet in the lovely Gracia neighbourhood. We sat down in an outside terrace, had some wine, beer, tapas, and watched the kids play in the square and the people walk by.

These two were too cute. They kept running around and making the pigeons fly. They got along so well, I thought they were related. But in the end of the afternoon, the little guy said goodbye to his little girlfriend and she blew him a kiss. Too funny.

Cool guitar shop on the way home

All in all, another great weekend. I took a lot of neat (I think) pictures at the old town yesterday but I used my film camera, so it will take a few days before I can have them up here. Stay tuned.

Finally a decent paella

It's Friday night and after a succesful week in terms of working out we decided to go out for dinner. Right next door to our building, on number 264-266 (we live on 268) of C/ Rosselló is Can Pere, a family restaurant with a good reputation for paellas and Catalan cuisine. Since we were tired and didn't want to stray far, we decided to give it a try. We went downstairs at 8:30 pm but that was too early – restaurant only opened at 9 pm. We tried again at 9:15 and got a table. We had a Amanida Catalana (Catalan salad) to start – a fresh mix of lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, slices of Catalan sausages, olives and cheese. We then had the paella, which was only served for two. 

Let me open a parenthesis here to add that Alan had already experienced paella here and was very disappointed. During our first trip to the old city we found ourselves hungry and in a little square filled with restaurants aimed at the tourist crowd. They all offered the same menu of pasta, pizza and paellas. It looked pretty artificial to me so I told Alan it was best to avoid the paella there. He didn't listen and had what we now call a "tourist-trap paella". It was indeed pretty bad and he decided he didn't care much for the dish. We've since seen the exact same sign for the paella he had in that restaurant in several other touristy spots and we've decided that it must be some sort of mass-produced paella sold to restaurants across town. Maybe frozen paella??

Tonight he decided to give it one last shot in a place that looked legitimate enough – the lack of english menus was a good sign – and we were not disappointed. The seafood (different kinds of shrimps, baby lobster, mussels, oysters, etc) was very fresh and the rice al-dente and well seasoned. We followed it with a flan de la casa and a cortado and more or less rolled home. Alan's bad impression of paellas was succesfully erased. 

Next week we are going for tapas with his class. I'll let you know how that goes.