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.

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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!





Cahorros, Granada, and Resilience

9 02 2013

In my continued lack of ability to spend even one weekend available in Madrid, last Friday I hopped a bus to Granada to see great friend and ex-housemate David. His company in Madrid declared bankruptcy several months back, and he’s moving to Chile in a few weeks to seek his fortune as a university professor. I know he’ll find success anywhere, but damn do I wish it could have been here. Santiago’s tougher to impulsively access than Andalucía.

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It was my fourth time visiting Granada, which meant no pesky obligations to See the Sights. The highlight was a morning walk through Cahorros de Monachil, a simple route marked by the occasionally ultra-skinny paths with exaggeratedly low clearance. My miniature frame was built for Cahorros, and I found glee gnoming my way around the rock overhangs.

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I shudder in the wake of David’s impending move. It isn’t just that my current closest friend in the city is moving on, although that’s certainly a cinematically appropriate motif (see: Heather, Alexandra, Sevi, James, Sean. y’all reading? miss. <3). Like all such nagging undercurrents of melencholia, this one has multiple roots. The homestretch of wintertime is one, I know. Ditto yet another year as an English auxiliar, which I find rewarding in a few ways but terribly restricting in others.

I keep circling around the verb to invest, attempting to clarify just what it is that merits meaningful deposits, along with how that might be done. How do I act on the micro level of the present such that it supports a macro level image of the future? Because my premonitions are big (huge), I refuse to downsize, refuse to settle. However, this kind of massive payout simply doesn’t result from getting cozy.

One recent struggle has been with the idea of being alone versus acting as a lone agent. It’s not easy for me to get interpersonally vulnerable, even though I do see that there’s much value that can come out of such a state. I keep flirting with it, possibly to my own detriment. I feel swallowed up by the intensity of emotions set free, by allowing felt truth its full and natural space. The response ought not be to withdraw, I’m convinced, even though it’s admittedly my primary impulse. Rather, the aim is resilience.

Dynamicism (I don’t care that that word doesn’t seem to mean what I wish it meant. You get me.) used to be my rallying call, embracing curly-haired chaos by its golden locks, a holographic double rainbow whirling dervish, reveling in the unpredictable intensity of both the pain and the glory. That lustful seed’s always been within me, cultivated by Bangkok and imported to Madrid. I do treasure it, but I no longer identify with it, and I think that’s why it’s felt so achingly empty as of late when I overhear myself chanting refrains more hollow than hallowed.

Springiness, malleability, flexibility, adaptability. Indefatigability. Intestinal fortitude, dammit. Moxie. Guts. The truth will not swallow me, no. I will cook truth over open flame for dinner, accompany it with a bottle of Bierzo, beam it out from my glossy painted fingernails. Time and truth combined are a resource more precious than any other, and I’m lucky enough to have both in spades. These are what I will invest. Watch me take them and run.





Fall: Four Years

30 09 2012

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”
— F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

For all my mouth protesting the descent into the cold and the gray, I’ve been more than merry about the recent sharp turn towards autumn. It feels absolutely right, fitting snug, a beloved sweater half-forgotten over the course of the warm seasons. Could it be the summer, in all its glorious hither and thither resplendence, its aperol spritz sunsets and its beachtime debauchery, was wearing out its welcome?

Fall brings with it changes in appetite. Squash and eggplant and everything roasted, thyme and rosemary, oats, cinnamon. Cravings for the new, amped up derring-do. This has happened every September to date. The artificial academic year needn’t necessarily govern our annual rhythms, and yet my Septembers continue to unabashedly open themselves, blank and inviting.

Four years ago, meeting Derrida, and realizing I wasn’t studying what I might ought to have been studying. Living in a neon green room with electric blue shelves, everything shocked into existence in a dilapidated corner of Richmond, Indiana, just across from 24-hour Tim Horton’s. Collecting wine bottles around the cabinet edges, and throwing too many dinner parties, and falling in and out of love and lust with comrades and academia alike.

Three years ago, Charansanitwong, the ducks hanging by their necks in the market and the beers in the 7-11s, green slime desserts, Jodi’s dragonface window and aquarium of straws. Understanding exactly nothing, alternatively reveling and despairing in discomfort. Walking speculations on real estate, big plans, big big plans. Insult, betrayal, ejection, desolation, dancing – and a slow lorris, and Foodland, taxis and tones and finding my feet.

Two years ago, Madrid opening to me, and moving in with Héctor and Marta in the Palos de la Frontera grunge-chic hidey-hole. Exuberance unchained, raw words and photos, chilaquiles, Global Classrooms. Constantly losing myself to the temptation of just one more calle. Fulbright as a means. Believing in magic, still, and color, and candles.

One year ago, plunging madcap back into my city, shaking free of summer’s grime through furious commitment to reinvention. Filling up every last line in the planner. Inviting all sorts of everyone into my home, my Madrid. Opening immediately as a salve, stinging sweet on fresh wound. Making peace with the wash and with what I carry, riding it.

This year, this week, rain, at last, and so much of it. William Blake and Vida Artificial, truffle oil and foie, lentils and tuna salad. Lolita and Oscar Wao and Mary Roach and The Poisonwood Bible. Português, a língua dos sonhos. Grecian ideas. A chicken and a bottle of white and your hand in mine. Becoming a regular, plus unanticipated connections through wires and waves. Falling. Flying. Lesson planning. Missing, hard, and hauling with me this heavy heart of mine each day, and loving it despite – because of? – its weighty cargo. You, and you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and you. Spreading it much too thick, and biting in recklessly.





Coconut Cream Cake

24 09 2012

Trepidation is the word, for sure. Any writer who’s taken a breather can tell you all about that most deceitful of fears, the one that arises from time spent silent. It proceeds to take the form of can’ts and won’ts and shan’ts and nahs, and I simply have so many other things to do, so many other ways to invest my valuable time, writing can stew happy in the backseat for days with a comic book or three. I’m gathering material. It’s a think piece.

Let the happy little linguistic camper simmer too long, though, and it boils down to something accusingly burnt around its logical edges: you can’t be a writer if you don’t write.

Pull the words out by their roots like molars, one knot of nerve endings after another.

The cusp of year three in Spain is so much quieter than I could possibly have supposed when I began this blog. Or could it be a too-simple matter of severe contrast with my happily agitated summer? Dancing across beaches and cave structures, gulping wine, daily image construction on a professional level, photography overload. Chance encounter after chance encounter leaving me wondering how much chance really plays a role.

I don’t buy into destiny, fate, tarot, Miss Cleo. But serendipity, certainly; inevitability, possibly; karma, perhaps. No cosmic kismet bank upon which I might make the occasional withdrawal, but – in general – Good Output results in Good Coming Back Around. That’s Zen and the Art, that’s All-Amerikun bootstraps. Personal philosophical proof that it’s time I got back on my game.

– Pero dime, Victor, ¿la vida es juego o distracción?
– Es que el juego no es sino distracción.
– Entonces, ¿qué más da distraerse de un modo o de otro?
– Hombre, de jugar, jugar bien.
Unamuno, Niebla

Jugar bien means massive production, means involving myself with serious amounts of twists and turns. Means sticking my neck out. I’ve got the language, now, and I know the city, I navigate, and I’ve continue to cover intense and intentional ground with my base Maslow needs. I’m in an ideal state for transformation. Ready to advance a chakra or two, and to honestly put something out there.

Like I said – chickenheartedness is what’s holding me back. What if the world doesn’t dig on my sweet potato pie? What if I can’t find any sandpit deep enough to subsequently bury my head in? The truth this fear doesn’t see: I’ve been through worse. I’ve had nothing and built up something exquisitely beautiful, only to find it poisonous and to watch it crumble back into dust again. I’ve been in so many darker places than this, been asked to carry a brick or two in the raw canyon of my corpus callosum, and I’ve pulled myself whole through the deep of that winter.

This, here, now? This is coconut cream cake. Time to find a fork and dig the hell in.





Intentionality, Illusion, and Turning Down The Contrast

19 02 2012

This one’s massive, and much more personal-introspective than I tend towards on this blog. I’m happy with it, though, and I’m willing to share if you’re willing to read.

It all started when I bought myself a slick set of speakers. Here, set reading this post to the same beats I did while writing it, preferably on your own bitchin’ set of cans.

Read the rest of this entry »





Pan con Tomate at El Brillante

15 12 2011
Photo stolen, mercilessly, from about.com.

El Brillante is a Madrid institution, famous for its bocadillo de calamares (just ask them). I’m here writing about it never having tried the acclaimed sandwich, nor having been tempted, nor anticipating sampling said squid in any foreseeable future. The gaudy, neon-coated front is just outside Atocha metro station, a stone’s throw from la Reina Sofia, and neighbor to 100 Montaditos. It appears specifically designed to lure in the tourist crowd fresh from out the museum, eager for a Real Madrileño Experience.

All this slagging has a point. Friend Sevi, not nearly as over-the-top jaded as I am with regards to the local/tourist divide, insists several times that’s she’s located the best pan con tomate in the city. She calls it her “dirty old man bar,” in which the misplaced modifier ought to be taken as innocently as possible – less lechery, more stainless steel counters, kept sanitary through the age-old tradition of dropping used napkins directly on the tile floor.

At 11 AM, the scene is chaotic. Newcomers pause in the center clearing, uncertain of their destination, while scores of late breakfasters, folks on their merienda break, and unmistakable Old Spanish Men crowd the bar stools lining the walls. The ceiling is ringed with dated, unappetizing photos of what’s available: gray boquerones in a thin soup of vinagre, traffic-cone orange mussels pursed like wrinkly relatives’ lips, congealing brava sauce blanketing pasty potato chunks.

As soon as the aged crew behind the metal counter notices our entrance, they call out a hearty: “¡Hola, jóvenes!” Untrusting trepidation ever-so-slighty eased, I shuffle up behind Sev to just-freed barside seats. Contrary to characteristic Spanish style, we’re immediately asked what we’re having; the mood is affable but all business. The drinks – I go café con leche in lieu of my usual cortado – are made at the bar, and the chapatas con tomate order is projected vocally across the room to the kitchen, walled in by transparent plastic sheets.

The best part is almost the people-watching. The barmen are a serious spectacle in themselves, high energy just on the verge of hectic, calling out orders and greetings in between trading day-to-day remarks with what seem to be regulars, all while slinging hot coffees and keeping the rapidly moving counter clear. The crowd isn’t all tourists like I was picturing – perhaps about a 50/50 split at this mid-morning hour – and, despite ample opportunity for foreigner confusion, everyone is playing it pretty cool. Families split raciones of the patatas (which, thankfully, bear little resemblance to their unfortunate photo representation) and strollers mingle in the open central area. The ghost of cigarettes past hangs nearly palpable over the mellow regular crowd, who read newspapers and sip caffeine and/or booze (SEE: carajillos).

But the scene isn’t the best part, not to me. Not two minutes of acclimation go by when our breakfast is carted over to the bar, complete with miniature plastic salt shaker and a Trina bottle filled with olive oil. I make a move to unscrew the lid and am practically leapt upon from across the bar – “No no NO, hay ajugeros en la tapa, ¿¿ves?? ¡Si la quitas todo va a salir a la vez!” Somehow missed those ingenious little holes poked in the metal lid, yes. Not that the bread needs any more oil anyway; it’s come already inundated, yellow and toasty, crowned with a healthy smear of garlicky grated tomato.

And yes, this is the best part. The crunch and the yeast and the heat of the bread, air pockets bursting with nutty, earthy olive oil, rounded out by sweet and fragrant tomato essence, concentrated and rich, accented by salt granules and invisible garlic. The bread absorbs the oil’s potentially objectionable slickness and amplifies instead its flavorful depth of character. The textural contrast digs in its hooks and doesn’t let go. I’m normally a very light breakfaster, and these two fat slices simply vanish.

Beginning the day this way FEELS wholly Spanish, regardless of tourist presence, irrespective of arbitrary judgements of authenticity. We’re not in Cataluña, home of the original pa amb tomàquet. We’re not in some hole-in-the-wall that lay simply waiting for discovery. This is El Brillante, shiny like a quartz diamond across the way from internationally famous Atocha train station. And this is me, re-evaluating what it means to live here, how I’m seeing and interacting with Madrid, what kinds of assumptions are worth swallowing along with totally unfounded pride.

Are their famous bocadillos any good? Still couldn’t tell you. They look okay; I would try them if prompted. Hear they’re pricey, though.