Sunday, April 29, 2012

Reminder to the Sun

Dear Sunshine in Spain,

Before moving to this lovely country, I researched and found that the warm weather starts around Easter, gets warmer in May, still warmer in June and so on. This is a trend shown through history. This year, however, you seem to be slacking in heat-giving to this part of Spain. If you could come out and STAY out, we'd really all appreciate it. I was promised lovely warm weather by May and at the moment, I don't see that happening. Please use the next two days to readjust your behaviour.



Friday, April 27, 2012

My Favorite Team

Even though FC Barcelona won't be going to the champions league final this year, and their best coach might be announcing that he is taking some time off from coaching and football, FC Barcelona is still my favorite team.

Their teamwork on the field is an example of how we as people should work together in life. They communicate on the field as clearly as we should communicate with each other, off the field. When they can't handle something, or the obstacle in front of them is coming at them too hard, and too fast to handle it themselves, they trust in each other to be there when they need to pass the buck. And they pick up where their teammates were and run with it. They assist each other and get to the goal together- as a team. They move together with a fluidity that I have never seen on the field.

I have seen this fluidity off the field in only a few situations. My grandparents are a shining example of this teamwork. One cooks, one cleans. One sews, and one prepares and tidies while the work is being done. One drives and the other navigates. Trust. Full trust and reliability.

I think it is only with time and effort that you come to that sort of non-verbal communication and flexibility with each other. FC Barcelona has a camp that they work with in very specialized ways, bringing up footballers in order that they be able to flow into the official team with ease when it comes their time. My grandparents have been married for over 60 years- they have it down-pat by this point.

I can only hope that I will be so lucky as to have as complete teamwork as both of these teams display, someday in life.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Yeah Toast! And Other Luxuries in Spain

There are certain things in Spain that I feel that you should all know are a luxury, before you decide to come here.

The first thing I am going to mention is hot water. Everyone in  Spain is very aware of how much it costs to heat water, and for that reason, certain taps in each house are not connected to hot water sources, or you have to turn on the gas in order to have hot water. Long, hot showers are out of the question. This is unfortunate because, as my family can attest to, I enjoy the occasional long, hot shower. It's been a long time since I've had a long, hot shower. (Don't get me wrong, I still sneak them every-so-often when my roommate isn't home!)

This brings me to another thing that is not common in Spanish homes: bathtubs. Bathtubs are a rarity in Spain, I think. Of course if you visit a hotel, or someone's mansion, they will likely have bathtubs, however, in the average Spanish home, a tub is not something they have space for in their home. This is a tiny bit of an issue if you're larger than average, or claustrophobic (luckily, I am neither of those). It is also a problem if (WARNING: TMI moment) you, like me, like to shave your legs in the shower. Space being an issue, you can imagine my trouble at shaving in a space that is 1.5 feet square. Not ALL showers are quite this small, but I can tell you from seeing friend's houses, that their showers are not much bigger than mine. For those that are lucky enough to have a larger shower or even a tub, it is almost just a temptation to take a longer shower.

Another luxury in this country is a variety of breads. I have been finding that I have been dreaming about different kinds of breads for the last couple of weeks, waking up with an unquenchable craving for a bagel with cream cheese, or an English muffin. You can't imagine how badly I want one of the sandwiches that Dixie and I used to make in our apartment in Toronto. English muffin, dijon mustard, tomato, cheese, a fried egg, lettuce, red onion and salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste. Amazing. You are probably thinking: but Europe is known for bread, cheese and wine- how do you not have those?? Well, I can tell you that there is alot of bread. And alot of croissants. But as for variety, it is lacking. I can only find flatbreads in certain grocery stores, and anything in the bread family other than regular loaves of bread (be that fresh from a bakery or mass-produced sliced bread) is very difficult to come across. On that note, another thing that seems to be somewhat of a luxury is a toaster. I certainly don't have, so one of my closest friends in Barcelona has come to offer me toast almost every time I visit her house. (She is also one person who, God bless her soul, brought me peanut butter from the states!) I have discovered that another friend whose house I frequent, has at some point acquired a toaster. I bought a loaf of bread before I went over the last time, just to have some toast and honey. He thought that was weird, until he tried it.. and then he added cheese.. which I thought was weird, until I tried it.

I mentioned earlier that bread, cheese and wine are what Europe is known for... that is true, and while there is no shortage of good bread (though the selection is limited, its still amazing) or good cheese (from what I know of cheeses, they have very good cheese. (I do not claim to be an expert on cheeses, so I won't comment further, but I would say that they at least know what they are doing when it comes to cooking with cheese). As for wine, I have yet to find my go-to wine. I haven't been drinking alot of wine because for the most part, I hang out with beer-drinkers who will occasionally go for vodka or rum if its good, but wine is not on their list of preferred alcohols, lest I have no one to drink wine with. That being said, the wine here is cheap (as cheap as 1,50 euros) so if you're looking for a cheap way to get hammered, that's it. As I am nearing my next 24th birthday (yes, next 24th birthday- I claim the age I feel) I do not think that my matured tastes in wine can handle more than a sip of 1,50 euro wine. Neither can my head as you can imagine the hang-over you would get from drinking a bottle of it! I am still in search of a good wine here, but I fear I may have to expand my price-range past 4 euros for a bottle. This may sound shocking that it's only 4 euro, but imagine the variety of wine between the 1,50 - 4 euro price range and you can imagine why I would sample 4 euro wines. Alas, on to 6-7 euro bottles!

Heating in homes is also a luxury. Not many people have the ability to heat their homes, which are built to withstand the hot, summer weather as opposed to helping people survive through the freezing cold winter. I may be Canadian, but I think that makes me appreciate heating and insulation even more so. Homes have linoleum floors and concrete walls. No insulation, no rugs, no heat kept inside them. Many homes also laugh at the idea of windows and balcony doors that seal properly. Drafts are a problem here, and I'm not talking about first drafts, editing and final drafts, if you know what I mean. I purchased a heater this past winter in order to get me through the long, cold nights. It would heat my room very well, but when I turned it off, the room would be cold again in half an hour. This meant that before any other part of my body came out from under the covers every morning, my hand would find its way to the heater and turn it on. Five minutes later, it would come out again, to check the temperature of the room. (little hot water and freezing cold rooms really didn't make me want to have long showers anyway, so maybe that's the plan in Spain- keep it cold and people will just keep covered up!)

Health is a luxury as well in Spain. There are alot of neighbourhoods that are build with buildings close together, and no way for air to get through the streets to bring fresh air from the sea. All other areas of town are long, straight streets from the sea to the mountains that wind just seems to whip down. (Think Bay street in the winter and you get my point). The mix of neighbourhoods that don't have enough air flow and those that have far too much causes the entire city to become sick through the winter. This is not just this winter. Bums sell tissues for money. Tissue. That has to say something.

That is all the luxuries I can think of for now. But as it is, even though this country seems to have less of the things we think are important in North America, Spain's life expectancy is an average of 81.2 years (Canada is 77.9 and the USA is 78.4) so they must be doing something right! Simplify, don't over-consume, and learn to live with extreme conditions!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Posts in April

You'll all be happy to know that I have a goal to post 6 blogposts this month! I already have another one planned, I just have to write it (Montserrat- the day I climbed a mountain!) It's only Friday the 13th, so I still have time.

Yes, this counts as post # 3 for April :)

Happy reading!

Bethalona's Barcelona

Barcelona is a beautiful city. Yes, it is a city of broken, poor, degraded people, but these people are also passionate. They know the value of friends, family and other loved ones. They are not afraid to kiss on the metro, canoodle in the streets or show affection in other public areas. It’s not the same as in North America. It’s not for show. It is only for the person they are making shenanigans with, it just happens to be in a public place. No one means for anyone else to see (except the 15 year old girl who is being tongued by her 17 year old boyfriend while looking directly at people on the metro- but they’re children.)

Everywhere I go I seem to see signs of affection. Another thing I see, or rather don’t see, is people eating “on the run”. Rarely do you see someone with a coffee in one hand and a croissant in the other (there are no bagels in Spain!) on their way to work or some other important event. I almost never see anyone munching a bag of chips or a sandwich while walking down the street. These are North American traits. The Spanish have a respect for eating and time shared with other people that I cannot explain. Meals are meant to be enjoyed, not scarfed down on the way to whatever else you have to do that day. They are a pleasureful thing that should not be rushed or brushed aside for tea and yoghurt at your desk while working on whatever important thing is going on at the office that day. They are also meant to be enjoyed with the company of friends or loved ones. Dinner time is important in Spain. It occurs sometime between 9-11pm and it is usually a home-cooked meal shared around a dinner table and not on the couch while watching reality T.V. This is also why the Spanish siesta. They take about 2 hours from 1-3pm to just relax and have a nice, sit-down lunch. They enjoy the taste of their food.

The Spanish also take time to be with each other over holidays. Where North Americans might schedule time off to go away somewhere, Spaniards schedule time off (or just have holidays) and go see family. It is a beautiful thing, really.

That's all for now.. time for bed. 

Buenos noches mis familia y amigos.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I Will Give You...

A few weeks ago I went with a friend to the highest point in Barcelona. A mountain called Tibidabo. It is the mountain to the northwest of the city, though everyone refers to it as the north. (Essentially, it is directly inland from the beach, which is sort of the southeast of the city, but again, that is referred to as south).

This mountain is a landmark in this city, as much as the CN Tower is in Toronto. Everyone knows where it is in relation to everything else. For this reason, everyone in Barcelona must venture to this mountain to see for themselves what is on top.

So, away I went with Miss Virginia on a trek to never be forgotten. We took the metro to the bottom of the mountain and proceeded to walk up it. This mountain, in comparison to others around the world, is hardly a mountain, however, it did take us 1.5 hours to walk up it, and we're both healthy, young women. We had fruit and water along the way because of course, we were crazy enough to go to the gym that morning as well (cause we needed more than just walking up a mountain to do that day!)

We only had to walk on this for a portion of the trek up, but it was fun while it lasted! 

Me and Virginia

The lazy man's way up

A view of Tibidabo

Just as from the streets of Barcelona, you can see Tibidabo, you can see Barcelona from Tibidabo (and the entire walk up there!)

The green mound in the distance is Montjuic. I live just below that hill.

At the top, we stopped in a cafe for sandwiches which were overpriced but delicious, and coffee. Then it was time to walk into the huge church that sits atop this hill and looks down over Barcelona and the surrounding cities.

For those wondering, "Benvinguts" is Catalan (the language of Catalonia where Barcelona is) and it is very similar to French, but don't tell the Catalonians, they'll get mad. 

Side view, as we approached

Temple de Sagrat Cor




We went into both the Crypt and Sanctuary of the church and took photos (no flash allowed so they're not the greatest quality) and we were just on our way out when a little old man stopped us. He asked us, in Spanish, if we would like to know the history of Tibidabo. Virginia, who knows Spanish quite fluently, and I agreed that that would be lovely. He took us into the Sancturary and we sat on a back pew. This church is much smaller in the seating area than you would imagine from the pictures, so we were actually quite close to the front of the room. He told us what "Tibidabo" means. It is Latin and it means: "I will give you." The mountain is so named because the people of Barcelona relate this mountain, from which you can see many cities, landscapes, the ocean and many other things, to the same mountain on which Jesus stood with the Devil. The Devil's offer was indeed: "I will give you all that you can see if you bow down and worship me." I will give you. Tibidabo. This reminder of the strength of Jesus in that moment is an important one for the people of Barcelona (I believe even more so since the 2008 crisis hit, because this country has not recovered). 

Stained glass of Jesus and the Devil


From what I could understand of the rest of the history lesson, there used to be a casino on top of this mountain at one point. This casino had a special room with a pistol, in case anyone had lost all their money and felt the need to end their life. Some men in Barcelona felt that this was not okay. There should not be a casino, let alone an opportunity to take one's life in such a simple way. These men purchased the land on the mountain and tore down the casino. It sat empty for years, until Saint John Bosco, coming from Italy on the train (20 hours), came to the city. He said the entire way here, all he could here with the sound of the wheels was "Tibidabo, tibidabo, tibidabo..." When he got to Barcelona and discovered that there was a mountain so named Tibidabo, he ventured to the mountain. Somewhere along the way it was decided that a church should be built on the hill, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. A Spanish architect by the name Enric Sagnier was contracted to design the church and so it was done. This was all in the early 1900's. The Spanish civil war in the 1930's saw that parts of the church were destroyed by machine guns and fire, but the people of Barcelona dedicated themselves to reconstructing and fixing the church. They gave time, food, and resources to the effort. Essentially, it was requested that people not bring money, but that instead, the come help. The church was completed in 1961. Since those days, there has always been someone in the church praying. They have schedules for volunteers to come in and pray all through the days and nights, every day of the year. The building has not been left empty since the Spanish civil war, and there is also security at the church as well.

Ontop of the church there is a replica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus which looks down on Barcelona. It stands a mere 7 feet tall, but can be seen from all over the city.

Inside the Crypt

Inside the Sanctuary

I know this one is blurry, but it relates to another post I will be posting soon. 

I really liked their pulpit. 


Going to church!