viernes, 12 de octubre de 2007

Life is sweet when you whisper in Catalan

The first day of fall.
I like that. That would explain why I haven't felt like doing much with myself today. Or yesterday. Or actually ever since I came back from Barcelona on tuesday night. Damn holidays. Take away my sense of purpose and I'm left with my discipline (or lack off) and I'm supposed to not waste my days away but how could I when I'm generally tired, got plenty of those sweet chocolate breakfast cereals to survive a week without leaving home and, mother of all lazyness: internet. Youtube, hotmail, apple trailers, torrents, series, msn messenger, gmail, skype and blogs. And what did our parents have to offer us back then? Playing outside. A sun that rarely comes out and strangers in the street. Did they really think we would throw our nintendo's over our shoulders and run out to collect autumn leaves? Euhm, I might be losing my point here. So euh, actually I almost went for a siesta today and then decided NO, it's time to do something with my time. So I gathered my loosely scattered to-do lists, compared and scratched those items I had completed back in august (when I wrote the lists), swallowed hard at the things I was supposed to have done a month ago, and decided, in doubt, to start by cleaning my room. Then I added twice as much item on my list than I managed to scratch off today as I put laundry in the machine and wrote some e-mails. Point is, I'm creating purpose here. So, now you have the setting, let's get down to blogging:

Let's talk about Barcelona first. Our first big city trip in Spain, as we had promised ourselves to travel around at least once a month. And we have a long list, ranging from Sevilla to Madrid and Granada and well I can't remember the rest right now. But it was long. So we got together on an evening and figured out transportation and accomodation to/in Barcelona. A fast train to the big city would cost us fifty something euros and 3 nights in a hostel around the same. The 6 of us rendez-vu'd at the station on saturday morning and off we were. We = me and 5 of the girls and yeah I know how it sounds but I'd soon learn the value of a fellow man to joke around freely and talk about non-shoes topics. Still, it was cool so listen up. The train ride took four hours and everyone was quiet excited and quiet tired so we talked and slept until we arrived in Barcelona. The promised land. I had been talking about going there with my mate Raph from Belgium for a few years now. Somehow it never came to be. And here I was.

Barce-fucking-lona. The city from L'auberge Espagnole, the erasmus movie that is responsible for 80% of the french students coming to study here. The hostel was exactly the way you'd expect. With a little less atmosphere maybe. But for 20 euro's a night, I'm not the guy to complain. We practically took the whole 8-bed dorm over and Stuff (with a capital S) started spreading faster than SARS. Shoes, bags, sheets, toothbrushes... We were all over the place. Well OUR place now :) And then we hit town. It was already afternoon so we just walked around the old town. Our street lands right into Las Ramblas. You can't hear of Barcelona without someone mentioning Las Ramblas. I don't know really know why though. Of all I've seen, it's the least impressive part of Barcelona. (And yet, here I go mentioning it first...). The long and busy street is quite central and full of people. And street artists. A shit-load of street artists. As if the Guild Of Tourists and the Guild Of Artists had forged a Pact decades ago, agreeing that money shall be transfered from the former to the latter, right there on Las Ramblas.

Of all types of street-artists, the statue-people dominated the street. Not that I'm surprised, I mean the concept is 'I don't move all day, and you give me money'. Who wouldn't dedicate his life to such elevated form of art? So we walked by them all, discussing what kind we thought deserved our 15 eurocents and which didn't. Not that I cared much, I wouldn't even give myself 15 eurocents for doing nothing all day. In fact, I already am doing nothing all day. For free! Oh but I'll never forget the Charlie Chaplin imitator! He called a little kid from the crowd and offered him candy if he could guess which hand it was in. All the while doing hilarious Chaplin gestures and facial expressions of course. But then everytime the kid would pick a hand, Chaplin would manage to convince him that the candy was (secretely) in the other hand, and he better picked the other one. And the kid would end up changing his mind, only to find out there was no candy there. And that for 10 minutes, the kid never ending up picking the right hand. Whether he switched choices or not. Hilarious :) And yes, in the end the kid got candy. And Chaplin got nothing as I walked on with my cents... Walking around Barcelona was cool. Truth is, I can't remember a particularly great story on Barcelona. It was all just very cool. Some old churches, some cool shops, little streets...

The second day we went to Parque Guell, where Gaudi built his famous Gaudi-stuff. Need I say more? Gaudi is Gaudi, the name is the style is Barcelona. If this man lived in his own fantasy, then what an amazing world and it's just wonderful to wander through his mind's creations. Swirling benches of mosaicked ceramics and curling towers and twisting pillars... I bought postcards and never sent them, because I liked the pictures so much and my camera would never get it as beautiful on paper. Although, technically I don't even have a camera. But that's ok, everyone else around me does, and I concluded that you end up appearing on more pictures when someone else takes them :) Also, we learned that it's quite a challenge to get 6 people moving in the same direction at the same time, so that's when we started a process of dynamic splitting-and-gathering, in a way that would allow everyone to see what he wanted, with no offense. I quickly made a mocking pact with Tania that we would never leave each-other. After Parc Guell, we went to La Sagrada Familia who's elevators had already closed by 5pm so we decided to come back the next day. Meeting up with everyone else, we walked towards Gaudi's to other famous houses for visit. The first was La Pedrera, but somehow everybody else had heard of that other house, and we decided to skip it for today. (I however decided I'd come back for sure). The second house, who's name I forgot, turned out to be 13.50€, so I made a mental note to come back when I'll be earning money and we all walked along. I didn't care much, since the other house seemed cooler on pictures, and only cost 4.50. (It turned out to be the coolest Gaudi stuff I've seen that trip, but more on that later).

I can't remember how that day ended, but we basically ended up back at the hostel tired and we rested an hour or two, some of us taking naps, until it was time to hit town again for the night. Evening dinners have actually been quite good in Barcelona. The first night, however, was a crappy tapas bar. Somehow everything time we want to make it nice, we go for Tapas, but then we couldn't afford a good restaurant, and settled for tapas in a shabby café run by an older unfriendly mother and her incapable daughter. Food was tasty though the portions we got were barely filling and it ends up expensive anyway, if you want to feel full, walking out that cafe, happy to be out. Otherwise, we found very nice restaurants and it turns out that the place to be is the student-neighbourhood that happened to be north of our hostel, around the museum of contemporary art where students gathered during the day, trying out new skate-board moves and whatnot. Las Ramblas at night, is, kind of like Las Ramblas during the day, except the street artists are replaced by stand-alone-weird-guys trying to sell you a can of warm beer (their briliant market strategy is that basically other shops are closed). That, and loads of flyers being distributed to noisy groups of british teenagers on a rampage-holiday. Or worse, euro-trip. Basically there's no 'good time' to walk the Ramblas. But it's hard to avoid, being so central.

What else. Oh the Miro museum was cool. Quite an impressive artist, both for his works and his experiments in all kinds of fields, from bronze sculptures to sketching. And paintings of course. Did you notice how, whenever you go to the museum of a famous painter, it's always that one painting that you know well, that isn't there. I've had the same thing with Van Gogh's in Amsterdam. My mother has a cool replica of his hanging in our dining room, and guess which painting wasn't there in Amsterdam? Damn right... Don't ask me why, I've got no conspiracy theory on this one. For those of you who don't know Miro, just remember this (in case you need to sound smart in a conversation): his big themes were The Woman, The Bird, and The Stars. You're very likely to encounter either one or all of them in any of his paintings. But strangely, the two things that I remember most are the antennae-like sculptures/ structures made by his friend Calder, and Miro's way of abstracting a woman's vagina onto a beautiful sculpture. That's right, I said vagina. But beautiful.

Hmm, so the next day we checked out Gaudi's house, who's roof it just a world of its own. I must have taken 40 pictures, to the great annoyance of Tanya (to whom the camera belonged), but I couldn't help it. Some things, you just need as many snapshots as the times you blink your eye, staring at something bigger than yourself. Bigger, as in I was running around like a hyperactive kid, up and down the curling stairs, snapping snapshots away, yelling 'Give me passion' to random statues. Ok well maybe not that last part, but you know what I mean. Chirping and yelping and stuff. And I tried to make one of those 360 degrees series of shots with the camera. I'll stitch it up soon and we'll see how it works. Beautiful.

Also, I bought a cool sweater from Desigual, the uber-cool spanish brand. Their logo is so cool I just had to have something from them so I could walk around with their bag in town and feel like I was one step closer to being part of the Spain-Experience.

As for last night, I rained like motherfuckingcrazy and the streets started flooding and since Pascalle and Micha were at my place, I couldn't kick them out and go to bed, so we just watched Zodiac (watch out, long movie, though cool) and after that it was still raining and I still couldn't kick them out and go to bed, so we watched some episodes of How I Met Your Mother and had a great time laughing as we looked down from our terrace and cars looked like boats and my housemate's boyfriend was getting panicked about his car (though he earlier assured us that it wasn't as bad, and Valencia's known for its great weather). Kept saying 'trust me, the winter here is very warm' and 'trust me, you'll like it here' but by the time the water got knee-high in the streets, he seemed to lose his trust and borrowed my slippers before running downstairs and moving his car to a safer place. We begged my housemate to take as many pictures as possible from this incredible scene and I'll post some soon.
In fact, my next post will contain pictures. That's right, stay tuned.

PS: I ended up offering Micha a matrass and he slept in my living room. Pascalle, on the other hand, decided to give it a go (Dutch people having faced worse before) and out she went in the storm to bike home. What a woman. As for me, I just had some more chocolate cereals and then went to bed.



martes, 2 de octubre de 2007

Part time bums

23.41 and I've got my MP3 folder set on shuffle: Perfect.
It's been a good night though a long day and I'll quickly recall the rest of my week-end before jumping back to today, the day that started yesterday and counting.

Friday wasn't too exciting. I had my second class of Fundaments of Animation, actually a very interesting course on the art of drawn animation. Old school style. Before Flash made such fast-food-animations such as South Park (albeit hilarious, I'll admit). No we're talking drawing by drawing. In fact, our first homework was to make a flipbook of at least 60 drawings (good for a good 10 seconds of animation, at 6frames/sec). Since I can't draw for shit (nor money), I decided to make use of Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny, characters which I could copy from internet examples. Then again, I discovered it's fucking hard to make your drawing look like bugs bunny, and not a chinese-type imitation probably named bogs bonny and sold for 89 cent at the market. So, I came up with a little idea for my story: I'd let daffy duck do a magic trick, but of course, mess up and end up being tricked by bugs bunny. This, plus some nice changed of camera angle, I thought 'couple of hours of work'. Turns out, if I start drawing at about 5pm, I finish drawing at 5.40am. Hence, my long day, but I'll get back to this.

Coming home, me and little brother wanted to watch a movie at the cinema (still have to see the Bourne Ultimatum) but it seems most movies are dubbed in spanish here. So we styed home, rented Nacho Libre and had some home-decorated pizza's (gotta turn those frozen doughs into a nice meal) and laughed our asses of at occasions. The humour was not too bad, perhaps a tiny bit more alternative than usual, but from the maker of Napoleon Dynamite, it was to be expected. Still, a great night among brothers.

Saturday late afternoon at the beach. Not much to say. One cool thing though, is that the shore is quite flat, and you have to walk a while to reach deep water. But then again, 20 meters past the deep water, there's another sandbank where again, the water is only but waist-high. That explained why we saw a german looking dude sticking out so far out of the water, while we barely touched ground. I mean, no one is that tall :) Then tapas in the evening. Ahhh, this place called Monto Tanto, just behind the corner in my street. But let me introduce my neighbourhood first. I live near Plaza Xuquer. Plaza Xuquer, is basically like... The place to be. At least, in this neighbourhood :) No seriously, it's a really cool little plaza, with cooler cafes around, one of which is the tapas bar called Monto Tanto. Very popular, very tasty. And very busy. We arrrived there, maybe 10 people in total, and there were no tables available outside. Which was kind of bad, because inside, is not that big at all. Add a few racing waiters into the mix, and you understand why we didn't But the vibe was great and the tapas fucking delicious and mmmmmm, delicious! Cool combinations like roasted turkey and blackberry jam, all on a little slice of toasted baguette... We finally got a table outside and then we could just relax and enjoy the food, conversations flying around across tables and laughing. Then we headed up to Verena's place (I can't really remember why) but some erasmus-type-house-party was going on there. Just some friends and sangria. Then again, I couldn't stay that long, seeing as I was heading to the black market in only a few hours.

Alright, so the black market is kind of hard to grasp at first. Although the principle is quite easy: strange people selling strange stuff at strange hours. The people, don't ask, I have no idea. But everyone knows the hours: between 4.30 and sunrise, behind the football station. Apparently, everyone gets the fuck away by the time the sun shines down on the various lost-and-found-or-stolen goods which are laid out on old blankets on the floor. So, what was I planning to do there? The answer is: getting a bike. And I wasn't the only one. Early scholar year, every one is looking for a bike... At least, the erasmus students. Somehow, the spanish people either don't care for one, or already have one. But bikes aren't too popular here, it seems. So imagine this: a big parking lot behind a football stadium. All around, strange people sellling what-ever. Then, lots of students, walking around like junkies in need, searching for a bike. The bike market is both easy and tough.

Whatever the hour your arrive at, there will be some bikes. But those are expensive, say 50 euro's. Obviously, the sellers know that one moment or another, a erasmus student desperate enough will pay the price. But that's not what the mass of ambulant students has in mind. No we're looking for a bike between 20 and 30 euro's, that's just as good as the expensive ones. Most are mountain bikes, but sometimes also old classic ones. Thing is, to get your hand on one of these, you need a lot of luck, and keeping your eyes open. Because as the mass of students walks around the merry-go-round, once in a while a strange guy will arrive on a bike, that he's willing to sell cheaply, if you negotiate. As soon as you spot one, don't think just walk fast and ask how much. Of course, whatever he asks for the bike, you say 30. 25 maybe. 20, if you can, but there's also the factor time. Obviously, you're not the only one who noticed the newcomer. Therefor, you better agree on a price fast, before someone else (more desperate, always these damn desperates) will take the bike for a higher price than the one you were negotiating. And voila, you just lost your first opportunity. Happened to me once, not twice. By some miracle, I spotted this dude on a nice racing bike and rushed to him before anybody else.

Now, everyone I had spoken to so far, had had some kind of cool story to tell about how he negotiated and got his bike. Since mine wasn't that great, I decided to come up with a better one. The following part is loosely based on blurry memories of real events.
So, I asked this guy (part bum-part thief) how much for the bike. I was looking at an original Peugeot racing bike, complete with old school gear switches on the main frame, lightweight wheels and a sleek race seat that makes your ass so sore, taking steroids is almost justified, if only to stop the pain. So, I looked down at this beauty, then back up at the ugly dude, and asked: Cuanto cuesta? (how much?). He looks at me and says: 5 euros. This guy can't be serious. A pearl of a bike like this, for 5 euro's, that's really sketchy. So I say: 15 euro's. He curls his upper lip as he ponders on my offer, and says 'Listen, if I'd give it to you for as much, that would just be an insult to the peugeot engineering wizzards. To honour this bike like we should, I'm gonna ask you 20 euro's. I looked him in the eyes and said: Fact is, you don't have much credibility as a part-time bum-part-time-thief, how can I know that this is a good bike you're selling me? I need some kind of guarantee. So how about this: I'll give you 25 euro's, but I want you to look me in the eyes, maybe put your dirty hand on my shoulder, and say 'Hombre, this is a good bike'. The bum looked up and told me: Hombre, I haven't eaten in a few days, right now I'd sell my left leg for 25 euro's. If you wanna look into my soul and hear me say those words, you're gonna have to lay down another 5 euro's. And so it was. I gave him 30, and he whispered his promise to me (afraid the other bums would hear him and call him a bum-wuss), before handing me the beauty over. And this is the story of how I got myself a two-wheeled prestige for 30 euro's.

Having arrived at the market at 5.30 am, and finally bought a bike an hour later, I drove home happy but tired. And getting lost on the way. But all ended well. And now I bought 4 kilo's of solid metal to lock my bike with, protected even from hammers, steel bars and other barbaric tools used by bike thieves. Oh well, if it ever gets stolen, I'll just go back to the black market and buy my bike back. But this time, I'll only pay 5 euro's for it, since I know it's a good bike. It's a damn good bike :) Hmm, maybe I should buy one more lock :)



editors note:
- All similarities to existing bums are purely coincidental.
- No bum was hurt during the transaction of the aforementionned Peugot bike.
- Peugeot filed a judiciary complaint concerning its suggested link to bums.