El Parc Natural del Delta de l’Ebre

25 10 2013
Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre
Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre

The city’s yet new, but weekend nature escapes feel just right. This time, amiga Maite invites me to el Delta del Ebro, Ebre en Catalan.

I have (very) vague memories of Histories of Spain 365 with Chris. There was some mention that the Peninsula was drier than you might expect, and I’m sure there was a quiz question about the major rivers that I missed. I do remember the name Ebro, though. The etymology of Iberian derives from it.

Where fresh meets salt, the shallowest of islands are swallowed up in seagulls. The short cruise we take doesn’t swing by close enough for a proper shot of the birds, but I’m pretty sure I note a faint “Mine? Mine?” in the humid air anyway.

Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre
Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre

Post-boat, we head to Casa de Fusta, an institution in the Delta since 1926. The whole area is covered in swampy rice fields; the grains here are so renowned they actually carry their own D.O.P. to ensure the enthusiast of quality.

We split the menú de desgustación plus a few extra special entrantes between the table. The menú is a wide amalgamation of goodies from the sea, including brandada de bacalao, cigalas y sepia con cebolla y patatas, y arroz caldoso con rape y langostinos.

I’ve been promised that one may enjoy ortiguillas rebozadas – fried anemone – in this area, and so request it. They’re the mysterious breaded gooballs pictured above. Ñam!

Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre
Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre

The terrain here is so flat that people build lookout points to be able to take a proper survey. There are 316 species of birds that make the Delta their home. Elongated necks and beaks can be seen picking about the fields from up here for kilometers.

Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre
Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre

Post-rice feast, we take a much needed long walk on Playa de la Marquesa.

Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre
Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre

Sea to one side, rice to the other, and this tiny strip of sand in between.

Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre

Weekends are just so much longer this way.





Noche Novata en la Barceloneta

16 10 2013
Noche Novata en la Barceloneta
Noche Novata en la Barceloneta Noche Novata en la Barceloneta

I’m in Barcelona now.

You know, I wouldn’t necessarily have guessed that I’d be one of the constantly wandering (the Wan-der-lust).

In fact, I wouldn’t have guessed it at all. I didn’t know any nomads growing up. Travel itself was normalized through parents hauling my impressionable young self on a variety of international adventure (see: Belize! Salt Cay! Bahamas! Puerto Peñasco! … okay, so we take our trips with a grain or two of powdery sand), but actively expatriating never occurred to me as an option.

Noche Novata en la Barceloneta Noche Novata en la Barceloneta
Noche Novata en la Barceloneta Noche Novata en la Barceloneta

Thailand was a lark – a tantalizing, beautiful bird of prey – and Madrid was a given, in ways. Barcelona has been an active decision. Argentina was on the table, San Francisco and México well within the realm of possibility…

But I’ve followed through, found a legit means of making a living. It eats up my weekdays, but I devour it right back – the skills are complex and require constant adaptation and learning, and I find my own rhythm within multilingualism. I produce at my own pace, which turns out to be madcap.

Noche Novata en la Barceloneta
Noche Novata en la Barceloneta Noche Novata en la Barceloneta

And I live alone, for the first time ever. The legit jobbery gives me means to support a kitchen populated solely by my own crumbs and science projects (currently curing my own olives). I bought an oven! Stashed the extraneous microwave away in a cupboard. I take off my pants as soon as I get home. I killed a roach that I found late at night. I go to sleep alone and I wake up alone.

There’s a wobbly something to spending so much alone time, like you might be teetering on the edge of becoming A Crazy Person. Is it acceptable to sup on hardboiled eggs and roasted eggplant? What about watching only five minutes of a movie at a time? Can I play the same song fifteen times in a row? And do push-ups whenever it occurs to me that I oughta?

Noche Novata en la Barceloneta
Noche Novata en la Barceloneta Noche Novata en la Barceloneta

There’s also something incredibly stable. I needed a mug for work (I accidentally *stole* the mug of another the second day! I didn’t realize that they pertained to specific people and just took one at random from the cabinet. I was rapidly informed: the Dunkin Donuts mug has a rightful owner). I found a heap of “I ♥ GIRLS” and “I ♥ BOYS” mugs in a Tiger store in Born, but they just didn’t sit well – until I spied an “I ♥ ME” variation hidden at the bottom. Perfect.

And that’s just it. Every single decision I take is wholly mine, from inception to consequence. I don’t feel spiraling out of control (BKK) or under organizational wing (MAD). I move of my own account. I need this. I didn’t realize just how strongly until I had it, here, in BCN.

Noche Novata en la Barceloneta
Noche Novata en la Barceloneta Noche Novata en la Barceloneta

I did a night walkabout a few days back, snapped characteristic yellow portraits of my new barrio. It’s key to do this early, while everything is fresh, while elements still come together in ways that innovate and surprise.

I live in la Barceloneta, the old fishermen’s barrio. I read a marvelous article about why it will never be cool (in Spanish). Folks yelling messages up to balconies, everyone’s laundry hung out to dry in the sun. The pisos are minuscule, y sin ascensor – well-nigh impossible to gentrify.

Noche Novata en la Barceloneta

The sea is two minutes from my door.





Everything is Interesting

9 06 2013

There are certain lines you hear yourself repeating again and again. Sometimes it’s because you accidentally stumbled across a bit of wit and hope to stretch it out to as wide an audience as possible. In other cases, it’s just reductive – so many people asking you the same questions, and you end up with a shortcut response (“Pero Barcelona?! Por qué?” “Porque me toca la próxima aventura“). Still other instances are wishful thinking, as though speaking something aloud with enough frequency could magic it into existence. Sometimes, it can.

And then there are the lines you hear yourself say just once, but which resonate through the room with unexpected clarity. You’re suddenly an audience to your own words, as though they were lines in the greatest and most personal play you could ever ask for. They’re the soundbytes in the trailer, they’re the italicized quotes on the book jacket.

You tend not to see them coming, but they’ll hit you with their truth like a train.

Some years back I read the first section of this piece, Los Cuatro Acuerdos. It borders on New Age without actually crossing that fatal line; I’ve meant to go back and check out the other three agreements for ages. The first one, though, has managed to stick with me: Be Impeccable With Your Word.

The idea is that your word is your power to shape reality – word here being much more than merely its spoken/written form. As such, use it for good and not for evil. Speak the truth as you understand it. Say only what you absolutely mean. Don’t speak your fears and doubts into existence, especially concerning yourself. Wield your word in the name of love.

Cheeseball for sure – the pragmatic prig in me feels obligated to include the “I know I know” disclaimer. It’s a nice one, though. Your reality is in large part constructed of the ways in which you interact with the stimuli around you, so make said action impeccable.

It isn’t always possible to pronounce each syllable so conscientiously, of course, and I generally boil the gravity of the directive down to “don’t talk shit about anything or anyone, especially if you don’t want it to be true.” The corollary is that what I do end up speaking asymptotically approaches a direct representation of my reality.

I mean – I’m aware that language is necessarily a re-presentation, a construction. But those simulacra don’t have to be chimeras, breathing heavy and menacing deep in their caves. Constructs can be constructive of something beautiful and true as well, and taking note of their intricacies are what keep us moving meaningfully through the fourth dimension.

So then when I hear myself speaking the unexpectedly weighty, I keep those words, turn them over in my hands and head and heart. A proclamation might “make more sense,” or simply different sense, further down the road.

All this preamble leading up to something I recall myself saying in the first fledgling days of 2013. I was with two people I’d met (separately) off the internet and figured would get along (hoo boy, was I right). One of them was one of the very first people I ever met from OkCupid. He was here visiting his family after extended time away in Mexico completing his studies. I’d seen him quite a bit my first year in Madrid, and then once in the interim, around Christmastime 2011.

In playing the catch-up game, we each got to experience a rather unique perspective – feeling intimate and important with the other, despite the awareness that you only experience their being in selected segments. Both of us have a sharp memory for remarks, and we recalled wisps of ideas we’d had three years prior in order to observe how these had grown, shrunken, or changed form.

2012 was a hallmark year. I spilled over with stories, buses and skele-sweaters, expunging and embracing dragons, red-light weekends overseas and just across the street. Oporto and Ljubljana and rural Germany and Priano and Barbados and Bellver de Cerdanya and Oviedo. Cracking my assumptions wide open and letting in even more new than I thought was possible. Allowing myself great swaths of time to swim within the strange.

In sharing these segments, in hearing the story spun, I played at once narrator and audience, climbing into my friend’s head to see what I must look like from there. I told him the gloriously crazy moments, the nearly unbelievably lucky turns of events, the mad chances I’d taken that had and hadn’t paid off. What a hodgepodge it seemed, this collection of bizarre vignettes.

Life’s that way for everyone, of course – messy messy, loaded with loose ends and wholly extraneous information, false starts down twisted paths that lead nowhere. Both written and spoken storytelling are in part driven by the urge to weave together something comprehensive out of all this noise.

And I found myself relating even the nasty bits, the parts that hurt with confusion and lack or overabundance. However, the way in which I told these was with joy rather than sadness, and I was taken aback at my own felicity in the face of the various weights I carry.

“The thing is,” I heard myself say, “it’s all interesting. Every single part of it is interesting.”

It’s that simple truth that’s stuck, that’s what came back to me today. I’ve been calling it neophilia, but I’m not quite sure that’s correct – true neophiles seem to always be clamoring for the cutting-edge, and that’s not my case. I mean, have you seen my phone?

It came back to me when, after a night of wine-fueled indoor picnicking, manic kitchen dance steps, and too-symbolic broken glass, I decided to go for a walk in the rain. Instead of heading directly for the nearest metro – which would have made sense given the downpour, no? – I elected simply to see what it was like to walk in it, to give in freely.

That choice in itself is not particularly radical, but it set off a chain reaction of thought. If death is the cessation of the new, life and living can be maximized by exposing oneself to as much of the unknown as possible.

There have been times this year when I wondered why I stayed in Madrid for a third turn of the wheel. I see it now – I needed the time and space to settle in fully behind my own eyeballs. I’ve been headed towards this point for years now, throwing myself into situations where I must confront the weird and the wild (sawatdee kaa, Bangkok).

The difference, though – previously, I’ve felt carried away by said situations, affected upon, adrift at sea. This year, I’ve grown into my own skin, and have begun to orchestrate.

“I don’t know anything, but I do know that everything is interesting if you go into it deeply enough.” – Richard Feynman

The only way to go about this is deeply, is as a whole. It is with this as my guiding principle that I move away from this city, from my Madrid. It is my fascination that pulls me forward. It is the intensity of the what-if urge. It isn’t merely the next adventure, it’s the only one, the capital-A.

Take my hand, and let’s run.

I move to Barcelona at the end of the month!





city, it’s not you. it’s me.

8 06 2013

i’ve given you so many pet names,
adding determiners,
—(the city, my city)
toying with your phonemes,
—(madrizzle, the ‘driz)
wrapping tongue around the unruly curved softness of your end:
invitingly, erotically defiant
—(maDriD)

city,
remember that series of ink-soaked maps
torn to shreds in purse zippers,
in hasty folds, in klutzy wine,
dotted with apartment Xs, restaurant Os,
walking routes, scrawled numbers,
the secret chinese,
where to buy cilantro.

and what i brought to you –
city, did you ever read the List?
postcards (5)
letters (2)
glitter

origami paper
visa papers (incl. Apostille of the Hague)
garnier surf hair gel
nail polish (black, purple…… glitter)
Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
chipotle peppers, canned (3)

the times i’ve danced with you, city,
drunken, exuberant, desperate,
full of joy, chemicals, light and fear and uncertainty,
the way you whisked me up and away,
let me push myself too far,
always made me decide.

our secrets. train tracks from the hidden park.
yellowed photographic nightwalks. sambal oelek.
luchana terrace cherries. rioja antaño.
how many times i’ve painted my nails.
that time i made it all the way back home just to bust my lip wide open, blood raging, cut nerves raw to the air,
twenty-something channeling inner teenage punk.

how heavy my heart hangs, city.
we’ve always been open to plurality of loves,
dynamic organic expression! hippie-dippy-dom!
but never would i have guessed it weighed so much.
cracked myself open wide, said yes to absolutely everything,
spreading it much too thick and biting in recklessly,
gulping only the very strongest flavors,
neophilia addiction and willingness to wander leading to unexpected depth of connection.
you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and you –

but i’ve already told you, city.
it’s not you, it’s–

performed at the 10th Mad Open Mic in Libreria Fuentetaja, May 22, 2013.





In Lieu of Gifts, Please Send Wine

14 04 2013

photo(7)

We fist visited Lieu precisely one year ago. Easter Sunday feels just right for a proper degust, and there’s nowhere we like to do it more than at Daniele Scelza’s place in Madrid de los Austrias.

This time we succeed in bringing along a guest, and yet fail to remember a proper camera. It’s a blow – the lunch is certain to be a visual treat – but we’re running slightly tight on time, and the iPhone will have to suffice.

photo(8) photo(9)

We’re startled to note that we’re the only ones here. Lieu’s certainly not a place for rowdy lunchtime cañas, but the absolute stillness is stark. Of course, it’s an honor to be the center of attention – like last time, we’ve specifically requested the barside chef’s table in order to maximize connection with the kitchen. However, we badly want to see this place make it big, to not only weather the crisis but to sail through in high style.

Darío and I trawl through the excellent wine list, noting many current favorites. Juan Gil makes an appearance, so we inquire as to what else among the offerings might be in the same vein. Daniele recommends a 2010 Clio, and, my god, yes. Like its murciano brethren, it seems to expand in all directions at once, licorice and smokiness, overripe red fruits and dusky vanilla. The fledgling oeonologist within is positively giddy.

photo(10) photo(11)

An amuse of breaded morcilla dotted with apricot, followed by suckling pig canelone with crumbled pork cracklings and red pepper air. Weight mediated with lightness.

photo(14)

Every single spring, I’m smacked across the face with a mad craving for asparagus. This visually stunning arrangement celebrates the stalk in both white and green incarnations, the fresh grassiness counterweighted by panna cotta and dots of creamy yolk. Spring’s stirrings, plated.

photo(28) photo(13)

Sheets of potato and bacon draped in velvety beef sauce. Oh, and a pair of juicy escargot. Yes. I love snails this way; their earthy umami is most successfully underlined for me by other robust flavor combinations. It calls for a second bottle of Clio, which keeps displaying different facets depending on its accompaniment. For sheer versatility, I think I even prefer it to my beloved Bierzos.

photo(15)
photo(16) photo(17)

The fish course is hake with herbs de provençe, resting on a bed of stoplight red tomato compote and topped by green quinoa. I ask where one acquires this variety of quinoa – because, wow! – which makes Daniele grin, and he reveals they make it in the kitchen by blending up herbs (duh).

The pork shank’s thickened juices form a yin-yang with the creamy yellow polenta, lifted with greens and a scattering of rogue raisins.

photo(21)

Daniele and the newest member of his team come out for chat re: wine, business in Madrid, the jazz classics playing in the background. He’s a consummate host and, quite frankly, my favorite professional chef in the city. Note that each and every dish on the tasting menu is completely different from those a year prior. Daniele seems to take this as a matter of course – seasons change, and so should menus. Plus, why get into the restaurant biz at all if not for the opportunity to surprise your public with something new?

photo(12)
photo(19) photo(20)

The first dessert course is exactly this – something new, a kir royale like we’ve never considered it before. Icy berries huddle in the bottom of a glass layered with cassis sorbet just this side of sour. Champagne foam floats ethereal. It’s the hidden ginger chips that shock you, though, a sudden crunch of obstreperous spice that runs parallel to the otherwise angelic concoction. We goggle.

Our final sweet is Lieu’s cold and creamy rendition of arroz con leche, complete with puffed rice grains and slices of kumquat.

photo(22)

We’ve picked Daniele’s brain regarding the world of professional oenology – I’m thinking it might make a very nice Next Step – and he emerges with a bottle of Rioja, and presents it to me. Wha! We spoke about Rioja Crianzas normally being much too woody to suit our taste, and he tells me this Viña Eizaga is anything but, and that I should give it a go.

I reel at the kindness. Can’t wait to pop the cork.

photo(26)

The rain that’s been so unrelenting all of Semana Santa refuses to abate, and we figure we’ll wait it out in nearby Café de Oriente. Espresso and a corner table and belly laughs round out the afternoon: wholly idyllic.