Friday, May 8, 2009

Central Park

We live, as I’ve said before, on Park Avenue. We’re in an apartment facing a private hospital on one side, and central park and a bus terminal on the other.

We can see the green of the trees from our small balcony.

Our apartment is quite cold, but once we’re down stairs, in May, its warm enough, in the middle of the day, for t-shirts.

We often play soccer with Jett in the afternoons, and I practice Qigong in the mornings I don’t have English classes.

There is a small round pond at the main entrance of the park that has one small turtle and some fish. The water lilies have just started to bloom in pinks and whites.

There are some Australian Eucalypt trees at the back of the park, and I’m really happy to see them and smell them. It makes me feel at home. They thrive in this warm environment.

There are the typical old men sitting on benches, parent’s pushing prams, a few demonstrative couples, older people walking small dogs and a few groups of young men loafing about drinking out of paper bags.

It seems pretty typical. However, I haven’t seen anyone exercising. There is no running, or stretching and unless the children have escaped from school, no ball games being played. Actually, no physical exertion of any type. I feel conspicuous rolling my shoulders or touching my toes.

It’s a pretty little garden, well kept, open and has many paths to walk around. There’s a drinking fountain, some swings, a table tennis table (without accessories) and some sort of small amphitheatre. I don’t know what they use it for yet.

The park is the centre of my day. My eyes search for the green when I move on to my balcony and I like to see what’s blooming as I walk past. I like to smell the different foliage and flowers and see people out and about.

I’m happy to live so close to the park.

The Prevalence of Olive Oil

I was watching Albert’s mother grilling the vegetables this afternoon and discovered the secret to the deliciousness of her food.

Olive Oil, in abundance.

I remember watching Sevika’s mother Pixie making Indian food and gasping at the level of vegetable oil being used. However, as soon as I doubled the oil content of my Indian styled food, then it seemed I couldn’t put a roti wrong.

Of course, the basic secret of authentic Indian and Mediterranean food (and others?), is oil, butter or ghee added with passion. Coming from a fitness back ground, and with health books and media telling us to reduce oil, and lower salt and watch our cholesterol, it’s a difficult cooking lesson to learn. That is, more is more. And less tastes like there is no soul in the food.

When Albert’s mother and father went to Andorra, they bought a gift of two bottles of olive oil for us. Albert started salivating and his eyes were round with imagined future eating possibilities.

Oil, my friends, is the secret.

A Finger in the Eye

Every now and then, when Albert is telling a story and getting himself a bit carried away, he sticks his finger underneath his eye, and contorts his face to emphasis some relevant point.

I’ve always thought it a rather ridiculous and superfluous thing to do and wondered where he picked up the habit.

Yesterday, on the television, I saw an old man being interviewed about Barcelona’s victory over Madrid (in soccer/football), and he was asked ‘how did you celebrate Barca’s victory?’ The old man answered ‘My wife is from Catalonia and we celebrated in the way we know how. See if you can understand that.’ And he stuck his finger under his eye and did the same open mouth and raised eyebrow expression I’d previously associated with Albert.

So, after all of my detective work, I discover it’s a facial custom of the area equivalent to our eye brow raising in moments where we think we are being rather clever and indicating to our listeners that they will have to think for themselves because we will not explain everything at this point in the story.

Elementary, my dear Watson.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Granollers Library

You have to pay extra money if you want to borrow a book that is from another library in the area. I’ve never seen that before, but Albert says, nothing is for free here. Catalans are Catalans after all.

The English selection is very poor. When I lived in Hamar, Norway, there were three book cases full of English Books. I thought at the time that it wasn’t many, but here, in such a large mini city, the English books only fill one and half book shelves.

And when they say Spanish people can’t speak English, it seems true so far.

PS - I've since discovered another newer library in the area and I will take look at their selection.

Learning Catalan II

Yesterday we went to the library and we found another book to learn Catalan. Its called Colloquial Catalan ‘the complete course for beginners’ by Toni Ibarz and Alexander Ibarz. On first glance it’s a much better book for new beginners than the ‘Teach your self’ method.
There is obvious progress and the sentences learned are for immediate usage in real life situations.

I’ll try it out for the next few weeks and see how we go.

The Teach Yourself Catalan is better suited to someone who already has some Catalan up their sleeve. It just moved too fast for me and I felt that I wasn’t progressing or learning anything. I’ll take another look at it next year.

Being a Foreigner in Granollers

Well, its only the first week. Nobody pays any attention to us unless they hear us speaking, and then it can produce a sharp turn of the head in young people, and a rather slow and curious look from the older generation.

After being in Asia, where many of the people notice that you are a foreigner and smile at you because of it, its strange to be in a ‘civilized’ country where there is more reserve and cold curiosity. A welcoming smile there is not. People walk around with closed and withdrawn faces, barracked within themselves with designer wear and arrogant attitudes. ‘I am complete’, their walk and attitude suggests ‘I want and need nothing more.’

The good thing about being a foreigner is that you are obviously different and can do what you want to some degree. I can’t help but smile at people, and honestly, I don’t care if the people here frown at me in return. Its better than a blank stare as if I didn’t exist.

I laugh a bit to myself. Albert says ‘I’m afraid Granollers doesn’t know what its in for with you here.’ Hmm, and all of that for smiling at people I haven’t seen before.

The Faces of the People I Meet

Ahhh, its depressing. Harsh is a soft term for the faces I’m looking at. They look war torn and tragic, complaining and despondent. And yet, they have so much. There’s a real lack of joy in the air. I don’t feel spring in anyone’s step. Its all cool reserve and blocked love.

Well, I did see a woman give another woman four kisses instead of the traditional two. I thought it was a bit over the top, but it expressed affection and sincerity in the moment.

It needs a closer look. I have no idea why people look so unhappy here. Its not just unhappy, its severe, like a grey concrete wall.

I said ‘hola’ to a few people, and they give you a careful look and a tentative reply. Nothing seems spontaneous.

If there has been a people that need some waking up, some lightness in their step (and I don’t mean a pair of red stilettos – the young women have plenty of those and believe me it does nothing for their face), its these ones.

A smile is an inexpensive way to change your looks. ~ Charles Gordy

(edit: This was written after a two year trip in the east and was my initial impression about Granollers, only.)

Thursday is Market Day in Granollers

The market begins at about 7 am and closes at about 2. Stall holders sell clothing, food, shoes, chickens, snails, plants, and what ever else you might want. You hear calls of ‘1 euro’ and ‘only 5 euros.’

Albert told me that I could buy something, but I had a sudden fear of being ‘ripped off’, as is perfectly natural coming straight from Asia. I just didn’t want to start a price battle for a three pairs of socks.

‘Do they try to cheat foreigners here?’
‘Can you bargain for the items?’
‘No – well, I guess you can. I never have though.’

There was a squash of people through the narrow streets. It was quite warm, considering the past few days at 15 degrees. There’s a distinct lack of insects anywhere and hardly any birds.

The only animals we saw were small dogs on leads and some caged chickens for sale.

I’ve been told to be careful of my purse, especially on market day. I’d seen a documentary the evening before showing pick pockets in the markets.

In all the time we have been travelling, nothing has been stolen from our person. Albert says that the most dangerous place we’ll be going to is probably Barcelona, for this small thieving. Again, people don’t want to hurt you, they just want your money.

We met Albert’s mother Montse in Torres, a local bakery/café. It had a delicious array of cakes to choose from, and the coffee was hot and strong, though they only gave me one sugar.

Next week I’m going to buy something, and try out my Catalan.

Cold or Natural?

Jett asked for apple juice today in a café, and the waiter asked him if he wanted it cold, or natural.

It’s the first time I’ve heard this.

It seems that some people buy drinks at room temperature. As Albert said, ‘some people don’t like cold drinks.’

No comment.

Spain and Hot Weather

or Facing Stereotypes

Its cold here. 15 degrees top temperature, and its the 1st of May. That means, during December through to May, its varying degrees of cold. Cold being no t-shirt weather. This is not really the image of Spain that one is sold across the world of eternal beaches, sweating, fans and the clap clap of Flamenco.

So, let’s face the reality and see what’s really going on here.

Spain is a rather large country. I sympathise because I’m from Australia. Of course there is diversity. When people meet me, they always ask how the weather is in Australia. I always pause, because I’m thrown by the question, and answer, well, Australia is a big country and its weather depends on where you are and the season and so forth. Where I’m from, on the Gold Coast, its usually warm all year, and especially hot in the summer.

Spain, in it way, is the same. We live in North Eastern Spain, in an area called Catalonia. Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia and before coming here, I’d no idea of its existence. Australians are not typically big on European geography.

As in most countries, the division of one location from another is some form of political system artificially imposed upon a map, and not really much else. Spain is made up of provinces that are like little countries, some with their own language (like Catalan and Basque), and most with their own distinct cultural identity. This identity is still insisted upon in many daily conversations and used within the media as a selling and interest point.

So from now on, we’ll try to face the reality of Catalonian life, and stop comparing it to the Spain one is sold on the tourist trail.

FC Barca 2nd May 2009

We went to a bar to see the game – Bar Princessa, and after arriving ten minutes into play time, there were no seats available, and we stood, with most of the other customers.

What game? Pardon? I’m sorry, you don’t know what game? Its impossible to live in Catalonia and say ‘what game?’ Its an amazing phenomenon that I have not experienced before.

THE GAME was Barcelona SMASHING Madrid in a record breaking 6 – 2 !! and more than likely sending Barca into totally victory of the Spanish league.

Some important games are what they call ‘pay for watch’ and are not broadcast over the public TV. Thus, many people congregate in little bars with two or more large screens. They buy a beer or two, or not, and cheer each other on.

I don’t know if you saw any of the footage of the happy fans, but it was more over the top than I’ve experienced in Australia or Norway.

People took to the streets, singing, making loud noises, congratulating each other and jumping up and down like massai warriors in their joy. Then we watched it again and again on the TV, and watched every goal being replayed, every kiss of the Catalan flag, every comment made by ex-players and sports commentators.

It was, they say, a record breaking moment, and a most memorable game for barca fans. One older man said he’d been flowing Barca for fifty years and he’s never seen anything like it. So.

People really insist how important this match was. Ok then. Albert.


There are no kettles in Catalonia. I don’t know about the rest of Spain, or how far the denial of kettles pervades the surrounding areas, but here at least, they don’t have them.

I’m a traditional tea drinker and put the kettle on a minimum of three times a day and it sits, pride of place, on the kitchen bench. I will not relinquish my hold on the kettle.

Here, they drink coffee, and if they need to boil water for any reason, they put it in a saucepan. I feel like pointing out, as the word suggests, that the SAUCE pan is for sauces, but that would be juvenile and being mature as I am, I can resist petty insults that don’t bear up to much scrutiny.

My kettle came into Catalonia via Albert. After he’d travelled to Norway, he thought that a kettle would enhance his mother’s kitchen. Montse eyed the contraption suspiciously and promptly demoted it to the dark recesses of the cupboard that one can not reach. That was three years ago.
When we arrived last week, the kitchen was fitted with the kettle.

Unfortunately, the kettle is more for show than for use. It takes about five minutes to boil two cups of water. After the luxury of the one minute boil kettles I’ve been used to, this slow ‘Mañana, Mañana' kettle is forcing me to take a local pace indeed.

Long Live the Kettle!

Polly put the kettle on, kettle on, kettle on
Polly put the kettle on, let’s all have tea.
Sukie took it off again, off again, off again.
Sukie took it off again, they’ve all gone away.