Friday, September 25, 2009

Little Louie

Here's the two and a half year old boy who lives here in our Barcelona apartment. He's the cutest gosh darn little guy on the planet (that was a little Minnesotan, yes).

Monday, September 14, 2009

All hail the Spanish banking system

Last week at orientation, they said it would be fine to get my savings account set up without a visa or any European identification. Today, I tried. And failed not once, but five times. The first bank told me to go to the branch closer to my house (it was not closer, mind you) and they could help me there. I looked for it, but the nice man gave me very bad directions. While searching for it, I headed into another bank. They had me wait for about 30 minutes before saying I would have to pay 35 euro upfront. At this rate, I thought it might be a good idea to walk into any bank I see and ask, since this was already getting to be a much bigger chore than necessary.

So, the third bank had a woman behind the counter. This time in my increasingly shorter and shorter summary of what I am trying to do in Spain and why I need this account opened to transfer my Fulbright money into it, I mentioned the fact that it may only be for 3 months. Not a good idea. I got lectured about what a bank account in Spain was, and how perhaps in the States we can open them for three months, but Spain takes bank a bit more seriously. I fought back the tears in my eyes... was I a scam artist? Did this Fulbright thing really happen or am I trying to lie myself into having a bank account for some illegal business I am doing over here?? For goodness' sake! I kept having to convince myself that no matter what looks they are giving me, or how many times I have to lock up my "metal objects" - which was my keys and my camera - that restrict me from entering the little sliding door, glass pod before you get into the bank (BIZARRE), I actually am just a Fulbright researcher looking for a nice, safe little home for a couple of checks that I can use for rent and groceries.

The fourth bank was after a cup of delicious cafe amb latte (this is Catalan for coffee with milk, as you probably gathered) so I worked up a bit more courage. Now, I know I said 5 banks, but this one was actually the same as the first. I thought I'd go in there and demand to open an account. He was, I remind you, adament in my being closer to my apartment with the same bank. But I can honestly say there was no Santander bank within a stone's throw that was any closer than this one, at only three blocks away itself. Doofus. I know my area. I've lived here a whole week now... geez.

So anyway, I waltzed back in there and headed straight up to his desk where I sat down while he was on the phone, pretending to be very important on his 1990s computer with the neon green font on a black screen. As soon as he hung up, he looked over at me much less enthusiastically than our initial encounter. I said, frankly, that I wanted to open an account at this very bank. I have a check in my hand that I want to put into a savings account.

Doofus: "Listen, I may have given you false information about the location of that bank. But the closest bank to your house still isn't this one."

Me: "Thank you for that. I would like to open an account here. At this bank. It is quite convenient for me at only 3 blocks away."

Doofus: "You don't understand, I am required to send you to the closest bank. Here, go to Via Augusta and up one block, there you will find the closest branch to your house."

Me: "No thanks, here is good." I get out my passport. I am fed up with banking politics.

Doofus: "Nope. Sorry. Can't help you. Good luck."

So there I was. Pissed, and jetting to the so-called "closer branch". Upon getting there, a woman said I needed a non-resident card, called the NIE tarjeta. She gave me the address to the Delegación Gobierno de Extranjeros, thankfully, and wasn't half as difficult to deal with as the few sour apples prior.

So I worked up the energy to sail all the way across the city, near Barceloneta/ the beach, to find this office. I got out, walked to the location and looked up at the large building. Yep, #2 on Calle Marques de Argentera. It's undergoing massive renovations equipped with a massive 6 foot iron wall surrounding every square inch. Believe me, I checked the alleys, there was no door anywhere except one that had a camera and was labeled for trucks only.

Freak out session... or... sigh. I chose to sigh. As soon as I calmed myself down, I started walking toward the subway and looked up at the darkening sky. Hmm...weird, I've never seen the sky so... CRACKKKK BANGGGG (thunder)... heavy raindrops start to fall and the crowds scurry. "Perhaps Barceloneta is like San Francisco," I thought. "It probably rains around here all the time. Thank goodness I am up in Gracia where I haven't seen it rain before." I jump into the metro and make my transfers all the way back to the stop before mine, where I very stupidly decided I'd get out and walk the last 5 blocks for some fresh air.

Pouring, pouring rain. Sheets of heavy, heavy drops plopping down at super speed. I saw a couple young guys scurry into it, up the steps of the metro, and onto the street, and I decided I too didn't mind it that much. I was only wearing a t-shirt and light shorts with sandals anyway. Much to my dismay, the rain turned to hail one block out of the metro. Rivers of iced pea water swirled around my ankles at every stoplight, but I kept awalkin'. I smiled too.

Sometimes I think that God has a way with teaching us things when we least expect them. Only if we're paying attention can we see the beauty in this. And today, I learned all about perseverance... and the importance of obtaining an NIE card to open a Spanish bank account to go back and deal with more stupidheads.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Last night was my first night back in Barcelona after a great orientation session in Madrid. There are some folks in Spain who've got incredible research projects planned. I'm the only one on a 3 month grant, since I am the only Scholar Award winner for journalism, but I think after 6 months abroad prior to Spain both Phil and I will be content finding a place we can call home (fingers crossed). But let me also add that we both need travel and change of scenery, so we are not taking these great European opportunities for granted! Not for one minute, which is why I need to be brief, since there is a huge parade going on that I wanted to go see.

Today I decided to get back into the running routine with a bit more vigor than I have the past few weeks. I got up, planned out an all-clad running route of 7.5 miles, and tied up my sneakers. It was perfectly warm, and people are out in full force since it's the Catalunyan independence day today and all shops are closed. Needless to say, I ran down Passeig de Gracia, turned on Avenida Diagonal and then I skipped onto San Joan for a long straight stretch down past the Parque Ciutadella and onto the boardwalk. By that time I needed a stop and stretch under a nice big tree. After doing some ab stuff and stretching my sore too-much-walking-in-Madrid-and-Barcelona legs, I rolled over to do some push-ups. Just as I got up from them, I noticed something to the right side of my hand. A very large knife. A sharp one. I leaped onto my feet and grabbed my sunglasses, ipod, and keys and looked all around me. I thought maybe it was some weird tourist trap trick... but no one was there. How on earth did I not see a silver blade lying next to me on the grass??? Still feeling quite baffled by this. I didn't touch it, thinking it could be major evidence in some case going on right now - imagination is a powerful thing - and then I thought it was probably just a little kid's meat cutting knife. He probably made his 8 year old crush a bocadillo and brought his mom's best knife to impress her. Who knows, maybe that is what little Spaniards do in their free time...

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Day 1. Barcelona.

I felt ill all day yesterday, and I think Phil felt the same. We force fed ourselves and watched as the time passed slowly during the last minutes I packed my two, strictly-enforced 10 and 15 kilo suitcases according to RyanAir, and drove to the Pisa airport. On the way, we "checked in" (not the airport check in, but the relationship kind), as we had done each day over the past few weeks, making we were communicating everything, given the distance that was soon to separate us.

What's a month, right? We kept saying that. Throughout the entire check-process, the time we spent on our macchiatos before I got into the massive security line, and right up to the time when we hugged, I was totally fine. I felt strong. Then, when I saw the way his eyes tugged at me to stay, to not leave, to get back in the Amore & Vita McDonalds van we drove and pretend it was all just one big nightmare that we'd even consider this month apart, I couldn't help but let a few heavy drops slide down my face. Why is it so hard even when you both know you love one another? Why should it be at all painful? Can physical proximity come remotely close to a strong, mutual intention to make it work in the long run??

Once I got through security, the hour and ten minute flight was a breeze. So was getting my luggage and purchasing a bus ticket to Barcelona, which was located directly outside of the exit. Everything was a blur, and was easy. The entire busride to Barcelona, I felt numb but content just listening to conversations in italian and in spanish that surrounded me in the plush, coach vehicle. By 11:30pm, we got to the bus station in central Barcelona and without a hitch, I got into a nice little taxi that took me to the Calle Asturies, within the Grácia district of Barcelona, and from there, I met Jennifer, the new flatmate, and her chunky little 2 year old son, Louie. He has very volumnous hair and bright blue eyes. His nanny, a Brazilian woman named something that sounded like 'Edesmana' - though I couldn't quite catch it when she spoke in brazilian-portuguese while hugging and kissing each of my cheeks - was delightful too. The apartment is small and stylish, but very functional, with high-speed internet and nifty little lamps in two corners of my small, comfortable bedroom.

After rummaging around on the web til 2 am, I hit the sack. At about 9 am, I awoke and got back online to see if anyone in the US would be on after a Saturday night out or something. It was the perfect way to start my Sunday. Phil and I texted back and forth as he sat in the villa kitchen eating our beloved yogurt/granola combo. I, on the other hand, had not eaten anything since lunch on Saturday, so as soon as I showered up and hit the road. I found the nearest cafe and stopped for a pastry and cappuccino, which I proceeded to order in italian, without thinking twice until after I had sat down. Miraculously, the looks they gave me from the cash didn't phase me at the time. I will avoid this cafe for as long as it takes for them to forget this- as they must think I am quite the blond (since I don't even speak italian like and Italian!).

And now, after 4 hours of walking around, I am back in my precious room, online, and once again, famished. Time to finish my chatting with Phil by giving him undivided attention as he fills me in about everything that I've missed in the past 24 hours...