Know something
Sunday, November 30, 2003
No one can say I haven't been filling up my art card.

Yesterday P and I visited the Museu Picasso to view the Torres-Garcia exhibit. He's a very influential Latin American painter and thinker. He's the first guy to invert the continent of S. America -- the idea that the Southern Cross, the Southern Hemisphere's "north star" is their north and subverts the idea of the "northern dominance" of the world. There were hundreds of really amazing pieces, paintings where he was dealing with the problem of resolving the issue between abstraction and exhibiting something of the natural world. Eventually he replaced abstract images with the most abstract thing of all that would represent them: words. I felt like I was actually understanding a little bit of modern art and why art is continually on the vanguard of the creative world.

Then today we headed back down the Ramblas to the Palau de la Virreina where they were Mapas Abiertos: Fotografia latinoamericana 1991-2002 was showing. It was an intense show of photography like I've never seen. The former palace was very dark, the lighting kept very low and the photography was smoldering with sexuality, struggle and death. Anyone who thinks all Latin American art is bright colors and pretty orange deserts needs to see this. I especially enjoyed the several pieces that used acetate printed with photograps overlaid on other images to get a dual effect. And the guy who did a series inspired by jars of formaldehyde now bottling him, his father, grandfather, etc. was pretty incredible.

Then tonight Guillem and I took off on his moto to the Barcelo hotel inside Estacio Sants for the final night of a huge exhibit of video art that was ending tonight, Loop'00. An entire floor of the hotel was dedicated to exhibiting the works that attracted artists from around the globe. It was a voyeuristic experience since the actual hotel rooms were transformed into individual exhibit areas. In some the beds remained, or a chair, or the dresser, others were entirely void of any furniture and had been draped in black paper or red board -- each an individual viewing experience.

I saw flat screen LCDs with images of burning refrigerators and a traditional screen with a projector portraying a "flower serial killer" which was quite humorous (systematically torturing roses and tulips is funny!). Several actually used the beds in the room, one projected an image onto a mirror that reflected onto the blank canvas of the white sheets. The film recorded stills of the dishelved sheets void of anyone in a continual loop of a bed being made, unmade, used and rumpled. But my favorite is quite hard to explain.

You walk in and the room is set up like a natural science exhibit, a big wooden case in the middle glowing with a white light. You look down and notice through the glass that little images of people are being projected from below, the same size as little bugs. Plus, the screen is pricked by needles as if they are being displayed with little strips of paper written under them giving their "scientific latin names" like butterflies or beetles. But wait, they're naked people -- moving, having sex, nursing babies, sleeping. It was really remarkable. Little couples masturbating, making love, in various states of repose, all on display in a "scientific" way. And then there was a sign stating that if you'd like to contribute to "science" you could take off your clothes, get in the bed in a couple and use the camera nearby to record your actions for posterity. I was tempted....

Overall there were more than 50 rooms with individual displays, some in bathrooms, some with multiple screens propped on toilets, in closets, on wall units. And the boys and girls were super cruisy as they traveled from room to room. Maybe it was the idea that any of us could easily find a room. Video art, ain't it sexy?

There's another exhibit at the Fundacio Miro, a retrospective of Basque sculptor Chillida's work. We're gonna try to see it sometime this week. We saw tons of his stuff while in Bilbao and San Sebastian and all the Clemson students seem to be big fans. But will there be privates rooms for viewing? And little naked sex exhibit? I don't think so.

Saturday, November 29, 2003
Across the street from the apartment is a gallery with a jacket made out of human anuses in the window. The waist-lenth garment is in a classy human skin tone of beige with a flashy collar of blonde human hair framing the neck. In another window a patchwork bodice of synthetic nipples are sown together with accompanying handbag and pumps.

The show is by Argentian artist Nicola Constantino and is titled “Human Furrier." I believe it's meant to be a commentary on human treatment of animals. You know, we make clothing out of their skins, so let's show you what it looks like to make clothing out of human skin. But it's far from displeasing or disgusting, it's actually quite beautiful.

A dress hangs inside made from small squares of latex with a dainty woman's bellybutton. There's a clothing rack with several different styles of dresses: nipples, bellybuttons and of course the clinched, hairless anus. On a higher level are molds of calves folded into a packing box and three silver balls made from the scrunched-up little piggies (I'm actually quite taken with these). Patricio was admiring a nipple corset on a wire framed bodice.

"Let's buy it," he grinned. "D'you wanna buy it?"

"Uh, what would we do with it?" I asked. It seemed like a normal enough question.

"I want to collect art and this is good," he replied, stroking the soft, synthetic nipples. "I am trying to collect Latin American art." Which is true, but this bodice had a 3,200 euro price tag (which would make a huge dent in my student loan debt), and I didn't know what we would possibly do with a flesh colored corset made of delicate nipples. Put it on the coffee table?

"OK, but let's come back later."
Last night was turkey night.

The students decided to postpone Thanksgiving one night since Thursday is a busy class day for them and they wouldn't have proper preparation time. That was fine with me since I also needed time to scare up the proper pavo for the occasion. I decided that the hassle of cooking a whole turkey was worthless since they would never see the finished product and I could only fantasize about the scene I would cause on the metro hauling a 10 kilo brown and juicy fowl for a few stops.

I did find a pavo entero. I went to El Corte Ingles which is like a big Macey's with a grocery store in the basement with lots of exoticas. It cost about 25 euros and looked like it had only recently been slaughtered and was waiting for some gullible American celebrating the great day of thanks to happen along. Patricio said that 10 years ago when he was living here it was impossible to find such a thing in the market, let alone grocery store (Chinese food was also an unfound delicacy at the time -- oh how times change). I figured people would pay big bucks for a turkey of this size and pedigree back home -- it was fresh, never having been frozen and most likely was on someone's farm until recently. Last year my friend Tik prepared a Whole Foods turkey that was touted to be free range and not a mass produced Butterball and paid a pretty penny for something that didn't taste all that different than the free one I was awarded as a holiday bonus off the back of a truck at CL.

Instead I took four big, juicy looking turkey breasts and a pair of drumsticks for authenticity's sake. Since I had already decided to forgoe tradition, I also marinated the breasts in soy sauce and thyme and olive oil and lemon juice. I must say the finished product was damn tasty. I hacked it up, stuffed it in a plastic container and P and I were off on the metro to the students dorm where they had hoodwinked the people in charge for the key to common room to watch a "movie." Since no "parties" were allowed they decided a little white lie was the beginning of a thankful night. They'd scrounged up all their pots and pans and plates and spoons to share and invited a Venezuelan girl and Mallorcan guy to join us, and they didn't disappoint.

The tables were lined with green beans with serrano, corn fritters, brie, jello and canned fruit salad (well, they're still from S. Carolina), Stovetop stuffing (a nice mom's gift to her son), mashed potatoes, salad with walnuts, gorgonzola and rasberry vinaigrette and much, much more. I have to say, it was a better Thanksgiving feast than I've ever had at home, even if we were missing the broccoli casserole with ritz cracker topping and that green bean/cream of mushroom thingie with fried onions. All was going fine until a guard happened upon our revelry and informed them that no food was to be had in the "TV Room." But at least he was a good sport and let us scarf the rest of our repast down.

Later that night Guillem came over and we had a little of our Greek Islands wine before going out to some bars in the Raval. It was the second guest in the same day that we had in our apartment, and I felt like we may actually have a social life. Earlier in the day Vanessa came over to borrow a book. She's a new person I met through my slowly expanding writing group. She recently moved here from Mexico, but she's a Brit by way of New Southeast Asia, New Zealand and Australia. Soon her fiancee will be joining her to study sustainable architecture in Barcelona and we talked about her time teaching English in Oaxaca for the past five years and what she will be doing now.

Later that night at the bars we had the anise flavored pastis at the bar Pastis (I am not a big fan of anything anise flavored) and later went by a strange bar in a wax museum that is supposed to look like a fairy forest with pillars wrapped like trees and people hiding in magical grottoes. We just did a pass through and ended up at a nice little bar with our beers. We'd already tried to explain the myth of Thanksgiving to Guillem. But when you start discussing pilgrims and Indians and that "first American meal" it doesn't sound as plausible as it did in third grade when we made paper hats out of black construction paper and the girls had those little white bibs on over their jumpers. I guess the strangest thing to most Europeans is that we created this secular holiday that doesn't seem to correspond to anything remotely Christian or even pagan.

"Why do you have all these holidays in a row like this?" Guillem asked. "Halloween, Thanksgiving, Chrismas. You have the rest of the year to spread them out."

I guess he has a point.
Wednesday, November 26, 2003
The mandarins and clementines are gone, but now the golden apples are in season. Yum. I'm also on the prowl for a heck load of pavo to feed 13 or more starving Americans for Thanksgiving. Luckily I've staved off the problem for one additional day, since the Clemson students have class on Thursday we're celebrating the pilgrims and Indians and their crazy relationship on Friday of this week. I doubt I'll be able to find a big, fat butterball so I'm hoping to get some pechugas and some drumstricks (don't know the spanish for this, but I better look up before I hit the carniceria) and arrange something that resembles a turkey.

In other news, meeting with the writing group tonight in the Barri Gotic at a bar called Glacier. Hmmm, hope the reception isn't too chilly, but at least we've attracted two more interested women who I'll meet tonight.

Damn esta mazana esta buena.
Tuesday, November 25, 2003
While in Greece the British consulate was blown up by supposed terrorists in Istanbul.

My first reaction was, "I'm glad we didn't end up going to Istanbul." Patricio and I had originally discussed hopping from Athens to Istanbul since they're next-door neighbors. Or to go to Egypt (an even more unstable clime) and Istanbul. But it turned out too expensive to get a flight for either that way at our late date. We hoped to go sometime in the next year if we can get our act together.

Lari's reaction was, "Now's the time to go! It's the safest ever and so CHEEEAP." And he's the guy working for the government. In fact his colleague and peer was the man who died in the bombing. That could be him. And he's right, we don't issue warnings for travellers until after something's happened and then it's too late. And as all the tourists are leaving, the country is being monitored better than ever before. Seem ironic?

I admit, I am quite worried about the way the media spins the idea of terrorism to us bystanders. I read the other day in Adbusters an interesting comparison -- an event the size of the Sept. 11 attacks killing upwards of 3,000 people would have to happen several times a month for it to match the murders that take place in our cities or even more frequently to equal the amount of people killed in car accidents every year. Yet, we seem deathly afraid of brown people who are supposed to be blowing us up. There is this unknown fear that has been placed out there, hyped by the government and the military, to take our minds off the real danger that is right in your driveway or inside your house.

What is a terrorist exactly? From the way the word is constructed it would seem that it is someone who's profession is terror. Or perhaps we can just go with the fact that it's someone who practices terror, incites terror. When we watch the news and a poor, weak Palestinian woman straps a bomb to her body and blows up some Israelis she's a terrorist. Then when the Israelis start colonizing someone else's land, sending over some missiles and blowing up some Palestinians they're defending themselves. So terrorists must be people who are not in power and don't have a lot of ways of getting things done with money and PR.

Maybe we can take this revisionist terror idea even further. Remember all those colored folk who just wouldn't sit at home but went out in the streets and decided they were going to march for equal rights? That frightened so many people in America that they started killing anyone, black or white, that supported them. Does it mean that all those Minutemen during the American Revolution were actually terrorists against those pesky Red Coats who were trying to defend the country that belonged to them? Oh, oh, how about those Indians, I mean Native Americans, or American Indians! I mean, those people who inhabited the land before it was colonized by people from somewhere else. I mean, those white folks were just living in their log cabins and these people who used to live on the land went and hacked up a couple of them to get it back. That scared a whole lot of folks. Damn those terrorists.

Also while I was enjoying the wonders of the Greek Isles, the judicial system of Massachussets (oh, wait, we do have checks and balances and more than just a big, fat executive branch! I thought I remembered that from civics class) decided it was against their state's constitution to deny homosexuals the same rights as heterosexuals, one of those being the right to a civil marriage. And then all these people started getting really scared and saying that marriage is only between a man and a woman, it was "making them sick to their stomach" to think that they could do the same thing as them, "it scares me to think of what will happen to marriage if this is put into law," people were quoted in various newspaper articles. Now we need an amendment that states that marriage is only between a man and a woman because if gays can get married, then it will destroy our religion, our homes, our children. These radicals will start to destroy our very way of life if they get married.

Oh wait, they're talking about me. I may want to get married. Does that mean that I'm gonna end up a terrorist too?
Sunday, November 23, 2003
P and I are back home in Barcelona. So much to say and explain about my last week in Greece, how am I gonna do it?

I think first I will just give a brief run-down of what took place from Sunday to Sunday and then save tomorrow's entry for more in-depth thoughts.

Patricio and I make it to the Athens airport, find our bus to take us to Syntagma Square at the center of the city and then find our way to his friend Lari's apartment. We're impressed by Lari's spread. He's in a swank pad on the sixth floor with four bedrooms and five bathrooms with a view of the Acropolis. Yeah, you read that right, we go into his living room and his back patio overlooks the big, white Parthenon lit up at night. Oh my god, I'm visiting the birthplace of Western civilization. With courtside seats. Lari's the Consul General in Athens, before that he was in Bilbao (where he helped cinch the deal between the Guggenheim people and Gehry and the Basque government -- he has original sketches of the museum), Serbia (where he helped set up the new embassy) and most recently Florence (where he became best buds with the Ferragamos). He has pictures of himself with Laura Bush at dinner parties, his guest book has the big, broad signature of Hillary Rhodam Clinton. And I'm just a poor, jobless boy crashing into his life for a few days. But he's a great host and makes us feel at home and we chat over our first of many plates of souvlaki.

We wake up early and head out to see those rocks on the hill. The Acropolis is like a big ship wrecked in the center of this sprawling city surrounded by ugly buildings that have been slapped up to house the exploding population, and we're going to exploit its treasures like millions of visitors before us. We pay our 12 euros to go up and walk by the crumbling Dionysus amphitheatre and another restored amphitheatre and notice the Parthenon peaking at us over the rim of the hill. The Temple of Athena Nike has been packed up and taken somewhere to be "restored" and now is just have some scaffolding. Cranes and scaffolding flank the Parthenon, you can't go in anymore, a rope fence separates you from history. The Caryatid reproductions of the Erechtheion Temple -- cool. The real ones housed in the poorly maintained Acropolis Museum on the hill -- crappy since they're behind glass near the exit door and the horrible reflection makes it nearly impossible to see them clearly. Then we walk down through the ancient Agora, the museum is closed there for renovations. We check out the Hephaisteion temple then find some souvlaki, fried squid, a Greek salad (they really do call Greek salad Greek salad here) in the Plaka quarter. Then it's off to see other old white stuff. Patricio and I are both tired and a little bored by the end of the day and Patricio tells me he wants to go home. I kind of feel the same. The Greece we know and love is not this strange, dead place.

The house cleaner is tidying Lari's apartment when we wake up. It's like we're in a hotel, we have our own room, our own bathroom and now the "help" is going to change our towels. We grab some souvlaki, gyros and tzatziki from the same place we went with Lari on Sunday night. I usually never visit the same restaurant twice on a vacation, but waive my rule since I'm starving and it's cheap. We still don't have our transportation to Santorini so we go to a travel agent and decide to fly both ways. Although the weather is remarkably beautiful, everyone warns us not to take the 8 hour ferry from the Port of Piraeus to the island. We finally have our tickets, we'll be back on Saturday to take in some Athens nightlife before leaving Sunday. We stop by the Roman Agora and the Tower of the Winds, then Hadrian's Arch and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Then take our bags with books and camera to Kolonaki Square which is near the apartment and the hub of social activity with coffee shops and restaurants. We notice the Greek men are continually fidgeting with these beads that we later find out are called komboloi, Greek worry beads, that they toss and catch and count and play with continually. We stay there until it gets dark (around 5:30) and then go home to pack for our trip to Santorini the following day. We've only been in Athens for two days and we're already bored. What's wrong with us?

We take the bus back to the airport and get on our Aegean Airlines propeller plane. Oh god, are we going to make it? We arrive at the tiny airport and since I failed to contact the family at the villa about how to get to where they are, we decide to rent a car and drive ourselves. There's only a few towns and one marked road. So easy. We head off and do fine until we hit a roadblock and have to find our way to another road but instead head towards the sea. Finally we arrive in Oia but can't find a sign pointing to the Chelidonia Villas where we're to stay. Eventually I get out and approach a Polish guy named Andreas who hops in the car with us and delivers us to the building. We meet Erika who is a charming Austrian woman I've been emailing for the past week and who has invited us to stay at their villa during the off-season for free. Our villa is amazing: two bedrooms, living room, kitchenette and a spacious bathroom in an original cave home carved out of the volcanic mountain. And a view of the caldera and the sea that nearly makes me leap for joy and Patricio is shocked that I did this, I booked this and WE'RE STAYING IN THIS UNBELIVABLY BEAUTIFUL PLACE for days. "Maybe we should stay longer," he says. We meet Erika's husband Triantaphyllos who is a tan, wisened man with shocking white hair and a beaming smile (his name literally translated means "thirty leaves" which is Greek for rose. "People who can't pronounce his name call him Rose," Erika tells me. We go to the market and buy honey and olive oil, olives, wine, a hunk of feta and fresh bread at the bakery. When we get back to our place we can't imagine being any happier than we are right now. We see the fabled sunset. We ask about a restaurant and visit one of the two that are open for the locals during the off-season and eat at a new Polish place where we're the only non-residents and the owner is playing backgammon and dogs beg at our table for leftovers. I see more stars than I've ever seen and shooting stars. I'm living in some beautiful, cliche that hasn't been written yet.

Triantaphyllos has invited us on his kaiki, his boat, to show us the volcano islands in the center of the caldera and the thermal waters I've heard about. He drives us to the port, picking up food and water at the market. He pile into a little red and yellow boat (a little less than 7 meters) in the harbor and put-put from the jagged coast of Oia to Pelea Kameni and he shows us where the red bay is and the thermal waters. We strip down to our bathing suits and Patricio goes in. The ground is a thick rusty mud and the water is cold so I don't go in far and Patricio gets out after a few minutes. Then we sit on the boat with Rose and he takes out the olives and a hard, white cheese from Crete called Graviera, three tomatoes and a loaf of bread. We eat the tomatoes like apples, the juice dripping down our chins and rip hunks of bread and talk about this man's life on the island and as a sailor. I'm living a short story. Or maybe a poem. Then we head to the other island and climb into the volcano craters. Then we follow the coast of Therassia where Triantaphyllos' family used to live. We spend close to 6 hours on the water and it's getting dark. "We're going to dinner together tonight," Triantaphyllos invites. He arrives at our door hours later with a pitcher of homemade wine. It's sweet and is amber-colored and tastes almost like sherry or something else earthy and alive. Then we go to a restaurant named Canavas and eat baked feta and plates and plates of garlic spaghetti and buckets of thin white wine until Erika puts the kids to bed and joins us. Then we all pile into the car and drive to the friend's home who makes the wine. We enter and see tables strewn with food: spicy sprigs of arugula, whole, fried sardine-like fish and bowls of a green paste made with garlic and other herbs, loaves of bread. A gnarled, hairy man with a denim peasant cap gets up and begins to dance, snapping his fingers. I thought only Zorba the Greek did this. Then a barrel is opened and more wine is given all around. "YAMAS!" we all toast. And we see where they crush the grapes in the corner and learn how he makes his wine, not to sell, just to share with his friends. Then a man walks into the revelry with a dead rabbit and plops it in front of me on the table. No one flinches and the owner of the house and wine cellar begins to pet it. Patricio says, "I've never felt a dead rabbit," and he pets it. And then a box of pastries is opened up next to it and baklava and other nutty sweet confections are passed around. It's late and we're drunk and happy. Erika and Triantaphyllos drive us back and decide to go to the capital city of Fira nearby to get some soup, but we beg off and go home to sleep, warm in our blanket of friendship and wine.

Our last day in Santorini we wake up late and fuzzy from the wine and decide to take the car that's been parked nearby since we arrived and see the rest of the island. We head to Fira and feel vindicated since it's not nearly as beautiful as our little village, Oia. Eat some souvlaki on the run with thick tsatsiki smothered on it, onions and French fries. On to Perissia where the sand is black from pulverized black volcano rock, then the red pebble beach near Akrotiri where the Bronze Age civilization was discovered years ago and is slowly being excavated. Then to Emporio, a village from the Middle Ages with complicated windy streets and a Baroque church perched on a hill. I'm confounded that everything is beautiful here. We want to take pictures of everything.. Every white building with blue trim. Every stone and pebble. We stop at other "traditional settlings" as the signs indicate and make it back to Oia before the sun sets. I walk out to the end of the island and watch the sun sink one last night, knowing that we have to leave the paradise first thing in the morning tomorrow. We go to say goodbye to Erika and Triantaphyllos that night and sit in their living room with their three young, handsome sons: Leandros, Paris and Apollo. We learn about the embassy bombing in Turkey, and remember that there is a world out there. I am happy that I didn't plan a trip for Istanbul in conjunction with Greece as we had originally thought. More wine and stories and then we go to bed. I don't feel like I know how to properly thank them and feel guilty for having such a good time. We promise to return when the grapes from their new wine field are ready and we'll be there to help them stomp them and make their own drink of the gods. Triantaphyllos gives us a 5 kilo jug of wine to take with us.

We wake at 5 am to catch our flight at 7 on Olympic Airlines back to Athens. Once we arrive at the apartment we decide to keep going. We make it to the Cycladic art museum and see the things found on Santorini as well as the other Cycladic islands -- those beautiful, eerie statues and figures with their arms crossed and no faces. Then head over to the Benaki museum and check out the old painted pots, Byzantine artifacts, paintings and more. Then we meet Lari and his "Velvet Mafia" at a coffee shop in Kolonaki Square. He is friends with the Peruvian and Spanish counselors (both gay) and a guy is also visiting from Chicago who used to be an economic advisor to the Clinton Administration and is now an economics professor at the University of Chicago. Did I mention I have no job and feel kind of unimportant, but still happy to be living this life? We eat an wonderful meal of paidakia (little lamp chops), stuffed calamari, dolmadoes, fried zucchini and lots more. Patricio buys an orange komboloi. Later we all gather for champagne before heading out for a dinner of pork chops and saganaki (fried cheese). Then we went to the Peruvian's apartment and had pisco and wine before ending up at the Lambda bar where more drinking and Patricio lost his wallet (now we're even).

Our last day we get up late with our hangovers. Patricio cancelled his credit cards and I began to pack. We get coffee in Kolonaki Square and souvlaki with Lari at the restaurant from the first night. We say our goodbyes to Lari, hop on the train and make it back home to Barcelona. And finally, it really does feel like home.
Saturday, November 15, 2003
My last day in my Spanish class was a free for all of generalizations and stereotypes.

We were discussing what was better, worse, the same as -- you get the point. So, of course we began comparing our respective cities. When I tried to explain Atlanta suburbs and "sprawl" they were a bit confused, when I tried to explain that we have a "forest in the city," the Europeans thought I was crazy.

"You know, when you arrive in an airplane, you see TREES."
"No, trees are outside the city, or lining streets," my teacher explained.
"No, everywhere, by all habitacions, TREES."

Well, we weren't getting very far. Then when we discussed Barcelona, the best thing, the worst thing and how to make it better. I got the smart thing to say the best thing about Barcelona was the arts and culture and transportation. The worst thing was the fact that there weren't enough green zones: zonas verdes. And then I said that the problem was that there was too much "density of population and history to transform."

Well, that set the teacher off, "Density has nothing to do with history."
"No, no, you can't transform because of too much history."

I was trying to explain that because of the length of time of building, living, and creating a space for centuries in Barcelona they couldn't just knock down stuff to make a park. I was doing a horrible job. I think I really pissed her off. "You have too much history!" I continued to reiterate.

Then we moved into the transportation thing. This guy from Philadelphia (who I know now is definitely older than my parents since he actually was in Vietnam for a couple of years con un monchilla de la radio -- a radio in his backpack) and I both explained that there was a stigma against riding buses.

"Yeah, yeah, take the train, yeah but no one takes the bus. The bus is only for poor people. There is a stigma."
The German, Italian, both Belgians and Brit, along with our Catalan teacher, all swivelled their gaze on us.
"Yeah, the autobus is different than the metro."
"NO!" they chimed in against us.
"Yes, only poor people."
"What about for students?" the Belgian girl asked.
"Well, students are poor," we offered.

I didn't have the time, vocabulary or will to explain instances of when walking in Atlanta and friends or complete strangers would ask if I wanted a ride because walking was forbidden. If I told someone I took the bus, I would have been ostracized or inevitably someone would have taken pity on me as a derelict soul.

Then of course we compared the city to the country. These kids came out with the biggest generalizations. Life in the country was harder because you had to get up at 5 in the morning to work. It was easier because you only had to walk to the grocery and butcher who were near your home. The city is too crowded. The country is calm and tranquil.

"Wait a second! In the United States, you would have a car and you would drive everyone if you were in the country."

Well of course this is some sort of fantasy I'm spouting. This isn't reality. I was envisioning living in Clemson, South Carolina (which, god forbid, may happen one day), or one of the other little hamlets nearby, and the fact that this IS the country to us. No museum, no skyscraper, no metro -- yep, you're country. But also no butcher, no farm, no milking of cows at 6 in the morning. Just a Wal-Mart in the larger city nearby to buy all you need and drive back home to watch TV. But there was no way possible way that I could explain this make-believe world to these Europeans. I realized, they live a VERY different life than I'll ever understand. Where they have United Colours of Benneton in their small country villages (the Belgians asserted this emphatically) and everyone, everyone takes the bus anywhere, anytime, anyplace.

After class I coaxed them to join me for a drink and some lunch. We went to a cafe nearby, trendy "ArtKaffe," and sat around some uncomfortable modular food while we swilled our Estrella Damm (a local, watery beer) and ate our bocadillos. Things were going fine, we discussed films, my impending vacation to Greece. I discovered that the Italian girl couldn't eat pasta because of the gluten (there must be some ring of hell that Dante dreamed up for Italians allergic to pasta) and the teacher, she is lactose intolerant, so no milk or cheese for her. Then the American says, "No sugar for me." So, I show MY disbelief and tell how I used to write about food and I ate EVERYTHING."

I started trying to see myself through their eyes. Was this guy for real? He's jet setting off to Athens in a couple of days, was a food critic with his meals reimbursed, living in Barcelona indefinitely with his boyfriend, and he looks to be about 14. I started to realize that I seemed like a con, some sort of compulsive liar or something. The conversation invariably rolled around to politics and I was asked for my opinion on George W. I said simply, "Oh, he's very bad for us, for our country." Which seemed to make things alright. I didn't want to have to explain that just about any American they met in Barcelona would not be a fan of the president. They were here for a reason.

But I thought I had dug my hole far enough for the day so I ended there. I asked for the check. I paid for them all. I figured, if I'm going to be some crazy, rich, lying American -- go with it.
Friday, November 14, 2003
Last night I let the wig out of the box.

I mentioned one of my favorite movies of all time, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, to Guillem and was surprised that he'd never seen it. So a date was made. He offered to make me dinner and we could watch it on his player since all I have is Patricio's computer to watch DVDs. So, not only was I watching a favorite film for, like, the 7th or 10th time, I was getting invited to a locals house and dinner to boot.

I showed up around 9:30 and we had a wonderful meal of a spinach salad with pasas (sounds so much better than raisins) and sunflower seeds followed by arroz con setas and a big salmon steak in a soy sauce. Yum. Oh, and I picked up a nice bottle of Spanish red to get us in the mood for our rollicking good time.

Then we watched that wild rock musical that mixes a transexual from East Berlin with Platonic philosophy and killer makeup and clothes. I had to restrain myself from singing along with the songs and reciting lines by heart. I realized how difficult it might be for a non-American and non-Native speaker to get some of the references. What exactly is a "Barbie doll crotch" when you've never played with the sexless plastic woman with the big boobs and round pelvis with opposable limbs? We watched it with English subtitles for extra reinforcement and I learned some words to songs that I never quite understood. Would have been nice to see how it would have been translated into Spanish. Hmmmm.

I started wondering, why do I love this story so much? You'd think I would have asked myself this question before since I ended up attending the live show in Atlanta five times this summer, went so many times to the theater to see the film before getting it on DVD and after I was on the verge of tears in my final staff meeting at Creative Loafing that ended with a visit from Hedwig who sang to me and put on a show just for me (Thank you, Suzanne! This is still the most amazing thing anyone has ever done for me!). I realized it isn't the campiness of the event, or even the great music and artsy detail. It's the story.

I'm a romantic. Although many people would never think this about me, and I believed their assertions for years convincing me that I didn't have a romantic bone in my body, I am a sucker for a great love story. The problem is there aren't many great love stories. I don't really care for the cheese ball stuff that Hollywood tries to sell us, or the generic junk that we see on tv in sitcoms or made for TV movies. That's crap. Who cares if Ross and Rachel are getting married. But Hedwig is a real love story. Yeah, a fucked up love story, but a love story all the same. The quest for one person to find love, no matter what.

The story, adapted from Plato, that we have another half and are searching for that half to make us whole is something that I've felt from an early age. I remember thinking back in adolescence that I didn't care if it was a man or a woman, I wanted to find the person that "understood" me. That was my way, in my 13 or 14 year old mindset, to articulate the idea of a soulmate. And through the years I've tried to jam myself together with someone even when that fit wasn't there. It's an ongoing battle for us all, how do we join with our other half, and how do we know when we found that person?

I replayed the course of events that ended up with me meeting Patricio. All the strange occurrences that got me to that water fountain at 5:30 in the morning of New Year's two years ago. When I first saw him, something immediately clicked. Yeah, it was that "love at first sight" cliche. But it happened. Later, after he'd come home with me and we were naked in my bed after hours of "playing around" and we began exchanging personal information, I didn't believe me when he told me he had the same birthday. Just a strange coincidence? And the more we talked, the more we understood. Before he left he looked me directly in my eyes and said something that I'll never forget. It shook me and left me breathless.

"I've been waiting for you for a long time."

Yes, I have.
Tuesday, November 11, 2003
I did it. I met people in Barcelona. And I got damn lucky.

Tonight was the first meeting with the people that I'd somehow wrangled into meeting for a writing workshop group. I was a little sneaky with collecting the interested parties. I sent out a classified ad to the English language paper which snagged one prospective person so far, but she couldn't make it cuz she has the flu and is moving. The others I swiped from an email a woman who was organizing a paid writing workshop sent to me trolling for more prospective candidates for her course. So I conveniently copied and pasted into my own "To: " field and sent an email (someone needs to coin a phrase for this type of surreptitious way of meeting/stealing contacts).

So Aidan and Patrick and I all agreed to meet at the pub in the Eixample that Guillem introduced me to, Le Gens Que J'aime. It's way too dark and moody to do any reading or writing there, but I figured this first gathering would be enough just to get to know one another. I was imagining creepy toad people, maybe gnarly Brits that could be my grandfather. Always expect the worse.

Aidan showed up first and was a young Canadian woman, not a pock-marked Scottish man. We talked a bit (she's teaching English) until Patrick showed up, a young American from Orlando. He told us that his roommate, who also wrote fiction, was also going to show up later. We went in and bought a bottle of Spanish wine and got down to business. We talked about our writing (Aidan has written five chapters of a book but has been traveling around the world for 5 years teaching English in various spots so it has curbed her time for writing) and what we wanted to get out of this group (Patrick does science writing and wants to start doing more creative stuff). Later Robby showed up, a muy tranquilo guy from Nueva York.

We chatted for nearly two hours and agreed to meet when I got back from Greece.

Oh, did I forget to mention that? Yeah, I'm leaving for Athens on Sunday and we'll be in Greece for a week. In Athens we're staying with Patricio's friend who happens to be the US Consul General in Greece. I am still trying to learn what all that means, but my friend Ann gets to the points out so that I'll understand all the double talk political speak and states he has a "really impressive job, and probably does some pretty important things." True, but can he party?

Then we're going to leave on Wednesday and take a plane to Santorini. I've lined up a beautiful villa carved out of the side of the mountain on the edge of the volcanic caldera. We hope to experience the thermal baths there and see what it's like this time of year. It's "off-season" and the family run place is going to be pretty relaxed. One of the owners, Erika, has already invited me to see how they live there and I hope to get some stories out of it so that I can write two or three (or more) things for magazines back in the states. I still have my contact with the AJC and my friend Jonathan put me in touch with a woman from the Washington Post. So we might actually break even on this trip.

It's gonna be Thanksgiving in a couple weeks. Did I mention how thankful I am for all that is in my life?
Saturday, November 08, 2003
Last night I lost my moto virginity.

Guillem (who used to be Yago, if you're just getting in on the story) picked me up at 8 p.m. to make our way to Teatre Lliure which is part of the "City of Theatre," an area on Montjuic which has several public theaters as well as a theater school. That's right, he picked me up on his scooter.

It's a cute, little silver thing, and I had a helmet and I hopped on the back, holding onto the seat as we moved out into traffic. I'm scared enough of the cars in Barcelona while I'm riding in a taxi, but the mopeds, motos, scooters and motorcycles are an entirely different beast. They don't seem to obey any rules. They hop curbs and start hurtling towards you down the middle of the sidewalk, they weave amongst cars to mark their spot at the front of the pack and they zoom by you, ignoring traffic lights while you're walking crosswalks. And now I was one of them.

The last time I was a passenger without two or four doors, I was in the eighth grade and my dad would take me to school on his big Yamaha motorcycle in the morning. It meant that in warm Okinawa I had to wear sweat pants over my shorts to protect my ankles from getting singed. I'd either grab him around the waist or cinch my fingers in his belt loops and hold-on for dear life. When I got to school, I felt totally conspicuous (which is not really wanted when you're 13) but kind of cool as I surreptitiously undressed and stored my helmet and sweats in my locker for the day.

Now here I was again, trying to remember if I'm supposed to lean in for the turn, or worried that we're going to suddenly lose control and plow through the people skipping across the street in front of us. But we made it to the theater intact and I got to bring my helmet inside with me -- my badge that I lived here, I'm not a tourist. I may be hooked. What will my dad say when I return and tell him, "I don't want another one of your hand-me-down trucks to drive. I want a hot pink scooter!"

Of course, few people would expect me of being a tourist. How many tourists would show up opening weekend to see David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross entirely translated into Catalan? The theater is beautiful, inserted into the agricultural building from the 1929 Expo and, for the purposes of this play, the stage was converted into a "black-box" viewing space.

I admit I cheated before Guillem showed-up and read a complete scene-by-scene synopsis of the play and movie so I would know what was going on. If you remember, it's about these slimy real estate salesman and the conflicts they have trying to sell bogus property in Arizona and Florida. It's originally set in Chicago (Mamet's city) but for some reason the set consisted of a Texas-like terrain with a big cactus next to the glass cube that represented Chop Suey, the Chinese restaurant where the first act's action takes place. The cube was the coolest thing as it turned slowly clockwise on a circular dais. Usually one of theater in the round's drawbacks is that one only views one side of what's going on, now we all got a 360 degree view of everything ocurring in the restaurant.

OK, so I didn't really know what they were saying except for a few joders (fucks), putas (bitch/whores) and some nicely punctuated mierdas (shits). Guillem was nervous that I was going to come out dazed and confused and leaned over several times and whispered, "Do you hate me?" apologetically. Despite the strange interlude where all the characters suddenly break out into an English language rock 'n' roll song for a major set change (I don't remember that in the script -- "This guy always has people singing in his plays," Guillem warned), I came out unscathed and appreciating the fact that cuss words really don't have any power when they are learned later in life without the swift slap of a parent scolding you for learning how to call someone an asshole (gilipolla). I did learn the "queen of all curse words", according to Guillem -- ostia. It's the name of the wafer used during communion and is supposedly the worst thing you can use to despoil someone's image in Spain. Go figure.

Later we hopped back on the bike and ended up at a cool little bodega -- The Merry Ant. We called Patricio who met us there and we talked about books, theater, movies, boyfriends, blah, blah, blah. It's the type of casual hanging out/conversation I've been craving the entire time while being in Spain, and I've finally found it. We bar hopped a bit and filled up on more wine and beer. Eventually we realized we needed to head home around 2 a.m. or so, and Guillem wasn't going anywhere on his bike.

"I don't think I could manage the balance," he confessed.

So we walked him and his bike home, avoiding the taunting neon of the gay clubs and and said farewell to him at his front door.

But now I have to stop writing this and get ready for tonight concert we're attending at the Palau de la Musica Catalana: Guia de Inferna (Guide to Hell).
Thursday, November 06, 2003
I finally have a past (tense, that is).

Today, only the fourth day of class, and we learned the past tense. And the way they teach in this school is so sneaky and great. Our profesora hands out a sheet of paper and wants us to read the story. Turns out it's a letter to a friend and it's ALL IN PAST TENSE! So we're reading and then we have to answer comprehension questions at the end. Where did she eat, what did she do, etc. So we just inexplicably read and understood the tenses without even knowing it. Then we started conjugating. And it made so much more sense somehow (although the 50 year old guy couldn't handle the fact that poder in first person past tense is puse, yeah, it really is pronounced the way you're thinking -- well close at least).

Instead of getting all these strange words on the board that meant nothing we had already seen them and now we were going to use them. I started getting kind of tingly (I'm not exagerrating). It was one of those moments when the heavens seem to open and you are being granted some sort of special knowledge. I was being given the past. I no longer am just a person of the present. It's because of moments like these that I remember why I love learning. Estuve contento.

But my future still only exists of things that are going to happen. I can't ask for too much at once.

(addendum: it's later than the original entry -- I didn't feel like cooking after attending the Gay's Abroad meeting at Sweet -- so we ordered in Chinese. I did it all by myself, placed the order, gave address and phone number (and this is with a Chinese speaking/Spanish speaker and it arrived on time hot and spicy). This is the first time we've ordered take-out, it's like we're in a real city. And, in fact, it's some of the best arroz frito con pollo that I've ever had!)
Matrix -- worldwide release.

Last night we joined Patricio's students for the Matrix. Unlike the last film, I knew nothing about this one, I hadn't read up on it in my Entertainment Weekly, wasn't bombarded by trailers on TV and marketing in convenience stores. I just wanted to see a good American movie with lots of action.

I'll admit, I've changed a lot over the years. There was a time when I would only enjoy a movie if it was subtitled into English or had some "big, important meaning." Let's call those my elitist years. College, and the years afterward actually helped erradicate them (thanks liberals arts!). I realized I could enjoy trash TV, insipid pop music and big budget movies like the rest of them without any loss in intelligent quotient.

So I also admit, I don't give a shit about the "philosophy" of the Matrix. Yes, it's a mish-mash of Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, blah, blah, blah. Best thing -- it's cool. I like the special effects and the fighting and the fetishizing of leather and neck implants and sunglasses. So that's why I went. Only now have I read that there were bad reviews of the current film, even going so far as to say that the last film (which I thought was long and boring) would be better appreciated after seeing this one because Revelations is so "dorky." Well, I guess escaping the "critical" onslaught is a good thing in this case, because I loved it. I loved the fights, the suspense and the deaths. Yum. And aren't all sci-fi/fantasy films inherently "dorky?" I mean, as much as we applaud Star Wars for... whatever ... it's a complete and total dork fest starting with Mark Hamill and working your way down.

We arrived at the cinema at 7:30 (which is an EARLY showing) and had to split up to get seats. It was the largest concentration of English speaking people (mostly Americans) that I've been around. Everyone seemed to be enjoying our "peliculabasura" (trashfilm) -- except for when the three boys came in high as kites and screamed and then heckled near us for the second hour. At the end I felt like I had actually just watched a better version of Star Wars, better since instead of a bar full of pink and green aliens with strange appendages we get a bar full of Gaultieresque leather SM outfits and nipple rings and Monica Belluci (who I think is hands-down the sexiest woman alive).

So afterward when the students complained of it being "too Christian" and "hokey" I felt they were projecting and not realizing the inherent truth of the movie. It was damn fun. (And no lines at the concession stand in Spain.)
Wednesday, November 05, 2003
I started my new intensive Spanish course on Monday. And for a day I was the only boy allowed.

The two Belgian girls, Saskia and Leen, are sweet and speak English fluently. They're both studying pedagogy in Barcelona through the Erasmus program (pedagogy? what kind of pedagogy I want to ask, but then again, I really don't want to know). Erasmus is this new program that was created with the European Union that allows members of the union to study "abroad" in host countries for a semester or a year. It's what the French film L'Auberge Espagnole -- that came out this summer in the states -- was all about (if you didn't see it, it's great and worth searching for!).

The other chick is this really cool Italiana from Verona who is a philosophy student, but she's just taking the time off from school to hang with her friends in Barcelona who are doing Erasmus to learn some Spanish. The first day we walked home from school together since she lives nearby. She has a great eyebrow piercing (but then again, everyone here does) and really funky, lesbian punk style. I think she's a lesbian, but then again, it's hard to tell from a "look" isn't it?

So we're all in our early to mid-20s I'd say. I feel old since they're all students and it's difficult to explain in Spanish what I'm doing here. Well. it's kind of difficult to explain to people in English also. But then on Tuesday we get this guy who's like 50 years old, an American from Philadelphia and a bit creepy. He says he's vacationing/working while he's here for a few months. I don't know, but he automatically wants to relate to me since I'm an American. We get into a discussion about TV (our entire lesson revolved around vocab and words related to TV and radio) and he starts telling the class how it costs 80 bucks a month for TV in the states.

Now I enjoy telling people how crazy the states is as much as the next guy, but I've never paid $80 for cable. So then everyone's interested and I tell them how we have 200-300 channels on TV. And the Belgian girls are floored. They start saying in Spanish how this is so horrible and boring and stupid (well the words that we collectively know and understand). But I say that it costs maybe $40 where I'm from, I don't know about Philadelphia. Of course, it's difficult to explain that the states are so varied that we have several people who provide TV and there can be that big a difference between locations. But then they ask me how much TV I watch in the states. I reply, "Cero, pero mis hermanos y padres, no se, quizas cinco o seis horas?" My family watches maybe 5 or 6 hours? Wow, that got them going, the Belgian girls, wielding their pedagogy firmly in hand, went off on how incredible that is, as did the professor -- who doesn't happen to own a TV.

At least we can keep those hefty American stereotypes alive.

This English boy came in late to class on Tuesday and sat next to me. So our class is now six (3 guys, 3 gals). His name is Dan (I think). He's small and pale and seems thoroughly Brit (I wasn't able to check the teeth). He has a cute little lebray piercing just below his lip and he says after class that he's studying English literature in Spain. Really? English literature? "Yeah, it's pretty easy," he replies. But he's interested in the fact that I proclaim myself a Writer. He writes, what do I do? I tell him that I'm trying to organize a writing group (in fact three people have already contacted me), would he like to join? Yep. So now I have pierced, soccer playing, British boy who I think is named Dan (he has a really thick accent and seems embarassed when he speaks -- even in English) interested.

I'm excited about Friday. The guy Yago/Guillem who I met through Book Crossing has invited me to go to a play. Turns out he's a theater critic in town and he gets free tickets to all the shows opening and there's a Catalan version of Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross. Yeah, they've really translated it into this language that only a few million people speak. I hope I can figure out what's going on. At least I know the cuss words.
Monday, November 03, 2003
I need a new name. I'm gunning for Paco.

Patricio and I have seriously discussed it. I like Paco because it rhymes with Taco. Paco the Taco. That's me! But it doesn't seem to stick.

We've been talking about it since it is so difficult for people to understand my name. Jerry. You have to roll the rrrr's which then makes it sound like something Spanish but there's nothing in Castellano that sounds like that. So people at bars kind of cock their heads and look at me strange, the way a puppy looks at its grown master when they do something stupid. I have come to realize that they are familiar with the cartoon "Tom & Jerry," so I explain, "Como 'Tom & Jerry'" which sometimes helps, sometimes makes it worse. Then I came up with a new tactic, "Como Geraldito." Little Geraldo. But that doesn't seem to make the situation any better. So Paco would be better.

I can't believe I've resorted to comparing myself to a little mouse that gave a lot of problems to a cat. I used to hate when there'd be some guy being introduced the same time as me, "Oh, Suzie, this is Tom and Jerry." And then giggling would ensue. But that's not half as bad as when that telethon would be on when I was growing up. "Jerry's kids! Jerry's kids." I was then the third grade poster boy for retards. Great.

It's not like I ever really had any affection for the name. It was my dad's, so I was always "Little Jerry." But then when his relatives came around he became "Little Jerry" since he was named after his dad. So then no one really knew what to call me. "Really Little Jerry?"

In sixth grade I decided I wanted my name to be Geoffrey. It had to be spelled like that too, even if that was also the name of the giraffe that was sporting goods for Toys 'r' Us. It seemed like a real name. I didn't know anyone else with the name and it was British (which meant smart at the time) and no one could really spell it. I was serious for about a year that I wanted my name to be Geoffrey.

I came up with Paco when we met a neighbor of Patricio's mom's in Puerto Rico. His name is Francisco but in Americanized San Juan his nickname is Frankie. "That won't work in Madrid," he told us, "So I'm going to be Paco." Which happens to be an acceptable nickname for Francisco (don't ask me why).

It amazes me that you can just change your nickname like that, or your name for that matter. I feel that the name should be inviolate when transferring from one culture to another. If you are George in English, you don't suddenly become Jorge when you go down to Mexico. The same way that French Jeanne doesn't become Jane or Joan or Jean. As difficult as it is for people to pronounce Patricio's name "What's that? Patrishyo?" He hasn't transformed into Patrick.

But maybe names should be more protean. I met this guy named Yago last night (after seeing "Crueldad Intolerable," the Coen Brothers new film with my former Spanish professor Tono, which is short for Antono, but I don't have the nya and he can't use it for his email so he spells it Tonyo). So, I met Yago who I discovered through Book Crossing. He owns many English books, including one I wanted to borrow, Anti-Gay, which is a collection of essays critiqueing this "un-gaying" of men who like to have sex with men -- your "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" a perfect case in point (I'm talking about the mainstreaming of homosexuals or maybe "queers" -- you pick the name). And he wanted to borrow a book of Tennessee Williams short stories (who was born Thomas Lanier Williams).

We met at a French cafe near my house called Les Gens que J'aime. What a great name for a club: the people that I like! And we discussed books, and writing (he's a scriptwriter for a popular Catalan soap opera) and gays and Catalans.

But then he stops me, "You know my name's not really Yago?" (which is a nickname for Santiago, I'm told by Patricio).
Oh, no I didn't know.
"My names actually Guillem."
"Oh, like Guillaume in French" (who's nickname would be Guy, or in English -- William/Bill).
"I know how hard it is for English speakers to say it so I let the BookCrossers I meet call me Yago."

Which I guess I shouldn't find so strange since people online often have screen names that are far different from their given names (I find myself rather un-creative in this department and use abbreviations of my name). But I think, how odd it must be to answer to all these different names. When someone calls for Yago on the street does he turn around?

I'm beginning my next intensive, two-week Spanish class today. It'll be my first chance to try it out. Quick, I better get used to hearing "Paco! Paco!"
Saturday, November 01, 2003
Natalie promised us a pollo, but she "chickened-out" and all we got was a fairy.

Yesterday was Halloween, and Patricio's student Natalie organized a party at Qbar just off the Ramblas to show the Spanish some American customs and spread Halloween cheer. She said she was going to create a chicken costume but then opted out.

We didn't really decide to go until about 11:30, so we didn't have time to think of a costume. So I spiked my hair with purple hair glue stuff leftover from last Halloween (I KNEW there was a reason I brought it!), donned my ripped Che shirt, some fatigues and put on my leather wrist band and black sunglasses and decided to be a rock star. Patricio was even more desperate for a costume so we put him in black turtle neck and I wrote "pseudo intellectual" on tape across his chest. He even had a book of Foucault's in hand. I don't think the students knew what to make of us. Of course Patricio still wants his pink bunny outfit (if anyone knows where to find one, that's gonna be his Christmas gift). If he'd shown up dressed like that and we DID have the chicken, then it would have been some strange Easter/Halloween combo and we'd really confuse the Catalans.

We met the group of toga-clad Clemson kids (several transformed their bed sheets into clothing to become sprites and goddesses) as they instituted "reverse trick or treating" by walking up to strangers with their bag of candy and offering them sweets that tasted more like wax than sugar (they don't seem to understand our concept of artificial flavors that well).

Nothing much more to report. I got a little drunk and turned pretty obnoxious. We came back home and I told Patricio that I wanted to go out. But then he said go to bed, and I fell asleep (with all the purple hair glue still in my hair).

And we're now out of vodka. No more Grey Goose. Gotta find a duty free store.
My daily adventures of living abroad

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Daily excursions

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