Friday, June 26, 2009

Bilbao a Bordeaux

Today´s word of the day is "eskerrik asko" : thank you

Due to the massive nature of this post, I have divided it into sections for your reading pleasure.

I. Journey Bordeaux: Bus and Train through Green Hills and Fields

Well, last week was mainly spent getting ready for my weekend trip to Bordeaux. This time a week ago I was in transit. First I took a bus to Irún, the Spanish border town. As I got down I asked the driver where to catch a taxi to Hendaye, the French border town, and he told me to just climb back up and he would take me. I was ready for at least a little bit of red tape that comes with crossing boarders. At least a terse French soldier to ask for my passport. But no, I don´t even know when exactly I entered my second ever foreign country. There wasn´t even a “Welcome to France!” sign.

I had a little bit of time before my train left so I walked around Hendaye. I saw a war monument there. Not sure which war, probably WWI. It is a pretty lazy little town. I got the 4:00pm train to Bordeaux. The train hugged the coast so I could see the ocean now and again. The country side is very green and there seems to be a bit of logging. All the houses are white washed with red roofs.

II. Weekend in Bordeaux: Churches, Wine, Music, and Fireworks

I met up in Bordeaux with Ben Freed who came down from Paris. We spent most of the weekend dopily smiling at each other due to our extraordinary glee at seeing each other. We´ve both been kind of on our own in Europe, so it was treat to meet up. The first night we went to a corner café and then walked along the quai and through the center of restaurants in the old city.

We did a lot in the time we had there. Mainly because neither of us where able to sleep past 7:00am both days. Saturday we took a guided tour of the city. Good thing we left early to find the tourism office because we got all turned around. Then we went to the Museum of Modern Art which was redeemed by the Keith Haring painting on the wall of the elevator shaft. We walked along rue St. Catherine, the longest shopping street in France, and maybe Europe. That night we had the classiest meal ever, a particular treat since both of us have not eaten out much since being in Europe. The night ended with the dance festival and fireworks along the river. The closest thing I´ll get to the 4th of July.

Sunday we were the first to climb the 231 steps of bell tower of St. André to look out at the 8 churches that stick above Bordeaux’s sky line. Next we went to the Museum of Beaux Artes. After we went walking through the different gardens and plazas on our way to see the Roman ruins of the city. We wound up the trip by the quai listening to French children sing at the festival.

III. This Week: Portugalete, San Sebastian, and Oviedo

Tuesday, I met up with a the cousin of a friend and we walked across this world heritage suspension bridge that connects the town of Potugalete with the other bank. On my way back to Bilbao I got to see all a flood of teenagers streaming out of the subway heading to beach to celebrate midsummer or what is called the Bonfires of St. John. It’s one giant party on the beach that coincides with the end of the school year.

Wednesday, I went with a woman from my work to conference in San Sebastian. Very pretty beach. Can´t wait to go back with the family when they arrive in a week.

Tonight there is something at the Guggenheim and tomorrow I am going to Oviedo. Oviedo is about 3 hours to the West and the capital of the Spanish region of Asturias.

IV. The End: Boy, Emily writes too much.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bailando y Burbujas

Today´s word of the day is "zubi" : bridge

Friday night I went to the symphony. It was Mahler´s 5th. The director was an astonishingly short man from Japan. His arms moved like a nutcrackers--stiff and in unison as if he had lost the ability to use his elbows. He was also a loud breather, an increasingly growing disease among conductors. Its hard enough following the music when you are having thoughts like: "what should I do after this?" and "I wonder how many of the old people are here because they really want to be or just because its what old people are supposed to do?" and "why did I knock down that kid´s tower of blocks in pre-school?" Then I get to feeling so guilty because I know I am not paying attention. The movements come and go and I don´t pick up on re-occuring themes. I close my eyes and I listen better, but then I remember that I came to watch the symphony. I look at the musicians and wonder "do they have day jobs?" and "does the last row of violins feel lesser than the first?" and "coat tails are silly."

After the concert I walked along la ria starting at the Guggenheim. Along the way I saw preperations for Bilbao´s 709th birthday party. On the opposit bank were sculptures that looked plants and had lights. Then there was a film projected on the ayunatmiento. I think I met the artist, she told me to come back tomorrow for the real show. I walked on past another light sculpture and then two painted hot air baloons. I sat down outside the opera where I stage was set up and got to see the practice for Saturday´s show. It was like cir du soleil, but better. There were girls flying and two did gymnastics in bowls of water.

Saturday I had a bit of a mad dash to reach the noon tour of Biblao out by the Guggenheim. I met a girl from Belgium and another from Australia. We ended up sitting and talking for awhile and then Megan, the one from Australia, and I went to the beach. She has traveled a lot, all over Asia and Latin America. It was really nifty to sit on a beach in Spain with an Australian and hear stories about traveling. I asked her about "Flight of the Conchords" and apparently, her brother was roomates with Brett´s first cousin. Yeah, she´s met them. She told me that the women in Brett´s family are very accomplished ballet instructors, so that whenever there is a dancing show on TV, the boys all love to critique. Also, apparently Brett´s family is mixed New Zeland and Australian, so that´s why Australians have accepted the group´s humor.

Met up with the Henagers for the evening of festivities. Basque a cappella included. Yeah, I know. Walking back to my dorm there was also a crowd of people dancing in a giant circle . . . the band included. It was an upbeat traditional sounding music, heavy on the tuba and drum.

Doing laundry for the first time. So far so good. The only hard thing was trying to get enough .50€ coins. Tried buying fruit to get some change, but no luck. Asked a girl in the dorm and then finally a guy was able to make change for me.

Ever get the feeling you are wasting time? I just had an overwhelming sense of that. Maybe its because it is kind of grey and rainy. I am going to go read some of "The Sun Also Rises" and worry about when I need to check my dryer full of clothes.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Dos Decadas

Today´s word of the day is "zorionak" : happy birthday

Along with going to the bank and looking up information on Bordeaux I need to practice my lines. Ah, and don´t forget this show will be staged in two languages so your script also includes "Soy veinte." I´m twenty. I´m twenty. I´m twenty . . . Then the cameras are rolling and there´s a momentary pause while our hero forgets to take the safety off. Dead at high noon.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Sirimiri y Miss Sellers

Today´s word of the day is "euri": rain

Bilbao gets a lot of rain, especially in the winter, which is why it is so green here. Well, had I not known this I would have used my Nancy Drew skills by noting this little machines at the entrances of many buildings, including my bank. These contraptions allow you to slip a plastic sleeve on your umbrella so you don´t go getting everyone´s knees wet. In addtion to the sleeves, you get to put everything though a metal detector, through which an umbrella look like the fossil of a prehistoric bird-dinossaur. Another sign of all the rain is that most of the baby strollers also have a clear plastic cover that pulls down to protect little Fulanita or Fulanito.

I hear it is torrential in KC today. I spent some quality time yesterday standing under a number of awnining as it just came down. I had an umbrella, but I liked just watching and waiting and avoiding the possibilty of my eye being poked by another umbrella coming at me down the narrow streets. It was actually very fun because standing right next to me would be three other people plus a stroller with backs to the wall of a men´s clothing store. awnings. If I lived here I bet I would have an alternate route to work that would allow me to go under the widest. On my way back to my dorm, after the rain, I saw my first rainbow in about a year. I just stopped and watched it, I wanted to point it out to people because no one seemed to care, but maybe they are common here. I don´t know though, I don´t think they would ever stop noticing them.

Speaking of rainbows . . . the color maroon is quite popular for hair here. Closely followed by electric pumpkin, and finally various shades of purple. These are not the usual suspects, not punks or people who ran out of dye. They are usually fully put together people who made a choice to do that to do that. And the thing is, with the exception of the traffic cone orange, it doesn´t look all that bad. But, I still imagine these women looking in ther mirror and having the thought "ah, yes, I think I want to look like I am out of an cartoon."

Igual Internacional

Today´s word of the day is "kaixo aspaldiko!": long time no see

Any time I tell some here where I am from they imagine the wide open prarie. I try to explain that there is some of that, but that I live in a city. But there are lots of cows, no? Why, yes, but there are a lot of cows in your country, too, it is sort of like that. At least some mayors of the region, who I met at a meeting, now know that people from Missouri draw the line at being considered from Kansas.

It is a comfort to know that politics is politics. Whether in Spain or the U.S. it comes down to votes and money. I sat in on a meeting on the topic of innovation in the municipalities in the region. Some of these towns still do stuff by hand, which is quaint and not bad in and of itself, but has economic consequences. The first thing that one of the mayors said, a mayor of a big city and is highly in favor of innovation, was "how does this get me re-elected and does it cost me anything?"

Saturday I spent time with a professor from Rhodes and his family. We went up to hill to look at Bilbao and it was very cool because rain was passing over part of the city and not others. I went to the Guggenheim on Sunday. There´s a room with these huge rust-red steele sculptures. Some of them are huge sheets on end and rolled up into curls so you walk in and around and around til you get to a big open center. I did a little dancing in one of them. That was my favorite room.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Apetito Atrapado

Today´s word of the day is bai : "yes"

So it has been exactly one week since I´ve been in Bilbao. Usually, this is where someone would say "gosh, it´s just flown by" well, in my case it has crawled along like walrus out of water. Oh, that is a species of giant lumbering adjustment, oh, and please, do not feed the animals, it only encourages them. So, my week circled around the one simple goal of feeding myself. Imagine an episode of Nature or the cable equivalent. It´s shocking how much of my life was spent worrying about my next meal.

First attempt. Our subject timidly enters and with apparent focus stares at the items listed on back board. Our friend continues to stare long past neccesary just to avoid having to make eye contact with anyone. Finally she makes the ever so dificult request for a salad only to be thwarted by the two and a half hours until normal Spaniards even think about eating.

Second attempt. Later that night, our now downtrodden and hungry friend goes out on the prowl again. She paces by a corner bar with lots of people and music. Backward and forward. In an attempt to approach by stealth, our subject pulls out her cell phone and slides it open and close for effect. Finally subject makes her move. A beer and a pintxo (a finger food that pretends to be more). Good. Subject breathes a sigh of relief and then discovers the ham on her food. Trying to pace herself, our hungry and nervous little friend eats her food quickly. But, one crucial mistake, as she tries to pay for her meal she uses the international symbol for "fill ´er up" by lifting the empty bottle and finds herself with another beer.

Our friend tried to cheat the system by grocery shopping, but that can only do so much.

The third attempt. Chocolate shop.

Fourth attempt. El Corte Ingles, the end-all, be-all department store of Spain. Decent success, though jaded by the fact that this a relatively tame environment and not really part of the wild.

Fifth attempt. Worst salad ever. See below for more

Sixth attempt. Pacing past 4 restaurants. Entering, exiting, cursing. Return to El Corte Ingles to eat lunch at 3:45pm.

Seventh attempt. Tonight. Falafel sandwich. There´s a donor kebab place on the street which is pretty sketch. It was brightly colored, which attracted our young friend. Sucessful falafel sandwich with a lot of veggies overflowing from two pieces of bread.

I don´t know, but I guess I don´t pass for Spanish. They guy at the kebab place knew I was English-speaking. When I was finished he asked in Spanish if I liked my meal and I responded in Spanish that yes, very much. Then, he, in english with a british accent said "It was lovely, no?" I said "what?" and he repeated himself and said "isn´t that what you say?" and I said "oh, umhum, yes." He asked if I was from England and then I had to explain that I was from the US, from Missouri, and he asked if it was big. He was from Morroco.

Well, good news is I think I am over the hump of finding food. There are a couple places I know I can go and I afew that look promising. So, hopefully this will be the last post dedicated only to food.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

¿Ensalada Española?

Today´s word of the day is zaldi : ¨horse¨

I had long known that the Spanish do not know how to make a salad. But for some unknown reason I decided to go the salad route today. What a bland waste of euros. Note to self: make my own salads.