Thursday, October 22, 2009

The past week, at a glance...

Phil, Hilliary, and I playing jenga at Le Journal.

Mercat St. Josep, the largest, most touristy market in Barcelona.

Hilliary and I shared a Magadalena and sipped down our cafe amb llets before undergoing hours of exhausting Picasso Museum carousing.

Ian and Louie pose for a muzzle shot.

Kris explains something in detail with the same arm that was used to take out a poor British woman moments earlier, after diving in for a pinxto at Sagradi.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The one who cares for others. Being a Soigneur.

I was editing my resume today and decided to google the term "soigneur" (swah-nee-ehr) to see that I was spelling it correctly, since I was a soigneur, in many respects, for a number of races this year in both Italy (for Amore & Vita) and Canada (for the Garneau team at the Tour de Beauce and for Phil at the Canadian Nationals).

When I saw this article posted today that had been published in USA Today back in 2005, entitled, The 10 Worst Jobs in Sports, I burst out laughing and had to read it top to bottom. Although I did not act as the massage therapist, as most soigneurs do, I had the task of filling 75 water bottles each evening before bed and making thirty jelly buns folded in specially-crafted aluminum paper shells - that were easy for cold fingered cyclists to open - each morning before and in a frantic rush during breakfast. I was also the one rushing with Lorek, the actual soigneur/massage therapist of Amore & Vita, from start line to feed zone in a top-heavy camper, zipping through the backroads of the Italian, Slovenian, and French countryside based on a weathered old European atlas. And after feeding the riders, we would shoot through the fields of cows and mustard to the finish lines where we'd feed again during the circuit as the intensity either faded out completely or was amplified by the finish line, depending on who stayed in the front. After each race, our job continued, just as you'll read in the article I've copied below. Needless to say, being an assistant soigneur was like nursing people whose day jobs work their muscles, lung and heart strength, and mental endurance until there's literally nothing left to give...

#9: Soigneur for a professional cycling team

Long, hard, tough ... 'and wonderful'

By Sal Ruibal, USA TODAY

Soigneur is a French word that means "one who cares for others." In the case of a soigneur who toils for a professional cycling team, caring for others includes responsibilities that would make even the most doting mother cringe.

"The worst job in sports? That sounds about right," jokes Shelley Verses, a brassy blonde who became the first female soigneur on the elite European racing circuit in 1985. "There's so much more than giving a massage after the race. We're valets, cooks, washers, drivers, wound cleaners, psychiatrists and confessors. It is long hours, hard days, tough conditions and a wonderful way of life."

Dave Bolch, who worked as a soigneur for the Saturn women's team and the U.S. Postal Service squad, likens the work to "being a roadie for a heavy-metal band."

A typical European circuit professional cycling team employs a handful of soigneurs, with each aide caring for three or four riders. Star riders may have a personal soigneur, but he or she is paid by the rider instead of the team.

"For me, it is a lot like being a road mom for the boys," says Alyssa Morahan, soigneur for the TIAA-CREF/5280 cycling team. In her case, they are boys because her team is a mostly under-23 developmental squad. "Other than the team photographer, I'm the only female they might talk to for three or more weeks."

Long, busy days

A typical soigneur's day begins before sunrise, preparing breakfast for the riders, making sure the team cars are loaded with dozens of bottles of energy drinks and water, race snacks and spare clothing.

Then comes the application of special lotions and potions called embrocations, which warm up a rider's muscles.

In cold or rainy weather, a layer of petroleum jelly is applied over exposed leg for warmth and waterproofing.

During the previous night, riders' clothing has been washed and dried. Their personal gear must be packed and readied for transfer to the next stop in a multiday stage race or for travel back to the team's home base.

Post-race sandwiches and drinks must be prepared and packed, as well as extensive emergency medical kits. The ability to perform roadside first aid is mandatory.

Dede Barry, a recently retired pro rider and wife of pro racer Michael Barry, will never forget how U.S. Postal soigneur Elvio Barcella took care of her husband after a horrific crash.

"Michael crashed in the Vuelta a Espana in 2002 and was then dragged by a motorbike which screeched to a halt and landed on his chest," she recalls.

"He was covered in road rash head to toe and was bleeding everywhere. He managed to remount his bike and pedal to the finish where Elvio began to clean his wounds. It took an hour and a half and they had to clean out road grit from every wound in his body while he was squirming in pain, sweating profusely and biting a pillow."

Before the start of the race, a few of the team soigneurs must rush to the designated "feed zones" where they are permitted to pass musettes, cloth bags filled with energy bars, cookies, fruit and drinks. It takes courage to stand inches away from zooming bikes as riders snatch the musettes from the soigneurs' outstretched arms.

Other soigneurs then drive a team van to the next hotel, where they check in and move the riders' luggage to their rooms.

At the end of the race, they meet the exhausted riders with cold drinks and clean towels to wipe away the grime. In the team bus, they break out sandwiches and snacks the soigneurs prepared that morning.

After dinner, the riders relax and get massages. It is during those intimate moments that many riders bare their souls to the soigneurs, who often know more about a riders' psyche than the team director.

And boys being naughty boys, sometimes they bare more than their souls.

"Another soigneur gave me a big ol' pair of bamboo toaster tongs," says Verses, who has soothed the sore muscles of such renowned riders as Lance Armstrong, Greg LeMond and Davis Phinney. "If they got frisky, I'd just bang those tongs on the table and things would settle down quickly."

Soigneurs also are the first line of defense against a rider's worst enemy: saddle sores.

"They're riding six, seven hours a day in the grand tours," Verses says. "A lot of damage can occur."

That means keeping tender parts clean and dry in a bacteria-laden environment of sweat, friction and pressure.

"I look at it as teaching boys how to care for their bodies," Morahan says.

Close contact

In some cases, soigneurs have also become enmeshed in the doping scandals that have plagued professional cycling.

The infamous 1998 Tour de France doping disaster began when Willy Voet, a soigneur with the French Festina team, was arrested at the Belgian border with a trunk-load of illegal doping products.

Former U.S. Postal team soigneur Emma O'Reilly made headlines last year when she alleged in the book L.A. Confidential that Armstrong used the banned drug EPO in 1998 and 1999. Armstrong has denied ever using any doping products and has aggressively pursued a libel suit against the book's authors.

Verses and Morahan say that while there is an informal understanding that what is heard or seen in the massage room stays there, the use of doping products is highly unethical and betrays their mission of caring for the athlete.

"Most of the riders are really good guys," Verses says. "I've given massages to Lance, and I can assure you that I've never seen any sign of doping."

The bond between riders and their soigneur is a strong one. Verses, 41, has retired from the pro circuit but still attends to her former charges when they visit the Santa Barbara, Calif., area.

Morahan says the offseason separation is difficult. "I missed it," she says. "Not being with the team is the hardest."

And the riders share that closeness. When Bolch left the Saturn women's team for a job with U.S. Postal, four-time U.S. national champion Barry says, the riders saluted him when they stole his camera for a few minutes and posed for a team "moon" photo.

"Needless to say, he had a little explaining to do to his wife upon returning home," Barry says.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Cheers to time, and a little aggression.

A quick recap before I get into my post for the day: After a week spent clearing my mind, having multiple day-long conversations with Phil, and encountering quality architectural firm contacts who focus on sustainable design here in Barcelona for my Fulbright, I am back on track. All I have to say is, thank goodness. Two nights ago, one of my roommates, Sara, and our fellow Fulbrighter and friend Amin were over. I was exhausted and it was midday. We sat down in the living room, and Sara mentioned how both her and Amin were feeling the same way as my last blogpost described my current state. I guess voicing stuff like this, whether it be in a blogpost or to friends, is vital to getting past it.

Five days ago, while in the thick of feeling like crap, I decided that a gym membership would be the perfect solution. Having gone to the gym closest to our place during my banking marathon that day about a month ago, I knew it was the one I wanted to sign up for even though it was a bit too expensive for my liking (64 euro/month). So in my dark little bedroom on that late evening, I went online to the DIR website. I found that you can sign up online for a special discount! Excitedly, I went through the steps necessary, and it quoted me at 41 euro/month. It even pro-rated the month of October since it had already started. I know, I know, I sound like a weirdo getting excited about a gym, but this is no ordinary gym. In Barcelona, its rare to see people running around or biking to stay happy and healthy. People walk around to shop and they will maybe bike to work on a cruiser. That's it. I wanted to feel like part of some community I could relate to, while also giving my daily schedule with a little structure.

So I signed up, and went in the very next day after work, at 3 pm or so. The fellow who helped me at the front desk was very friendly. I think he was new too, because he was asking the others a ton of questions. But eventually, he got a card made for me, and I was set. When I tried to slide my plastic card into the slot that resembles a subway entrance with the metal fan that rotates when you push on it, it didn't work. So I looked back at my new gym worker friend man, and he pushed a button that opened it for me, and said "mañana funcionará, ok?" I nodded.

The next day, same time, I walk in, wave, and try my card. Again, it doesn't work. I turn around, he pushes button, I walk in. You get the deal. This happened for the first 4 days. I guess I sort of wondered why my card was still not activated. I mean, I had paid and everything. On the 5th day, I was feeling ultra motivated, and got there around 2 pm. I tried my card, it didn't work, so I went up to a new fellow at the desk and asked if he could let me in or get my card to work. He was not a very friendly person from the get-go. Seemed a little too angry inside to be working at a happy-go-lucky place, so I was being extra nice to see if maybe he's just having a bad day or something. Well, he scans my card, and tells me I have to pay still. Here is the conversation:

Crankypantalones: Tienes que pagar todavia. You have to pay still.

Me: No, ya pagué hace cinco días y he venido cada dia desde allí... No, I already paid five days ago and have come each day since then.

Crankpantalones: No, has escogido la opción por internet, no? Requiere que cada vez que vienes, despues de la una, tienes que pagar 2.30 Euro. Si vienes antes de la una, sólo pagas 0.50 Euro... No, you have selected the internet option, right? It requires that each time you come after 1 pm, you have to pay 2.30 Euro (like 3.75 dollars). If you come before 1 pm, you only pay 0.50 Euro.

Me: So why did it not say this to me online, then? It had not given me this information, therefore, I will not pay for it each day. It's too stupid a system. What kind of a place makes a member pay every time? (Poor guy!) It's not right. Tell me how much it will cost me to be an actual member of this gym, one without limitations. Please, Mister.

So basically, this went on for awhile. I am just sick of being screwed over by these weird systems. The banking system, the gym system, the RyanAir flight system (that got me hard when I was coming back from Pisa to BCN), etc. So from now on, I will make a stink about stuff when they try to pass me off as a tourist with no clue. Ha. I feel bad about attacking people specifically, so I'm usually calm and nice, but if they're jerks, I will dish it right back. what happened at the gym...

He went and got his four other gym desk people, and they all tried to tell me how the system works when you sign up online - aka: they tried to calm down the aggravated American girl who was ready to shove the protein powder jug in their hard bellies.

Needless to say, I had to pay 15 euro more, and I have a membership now that is only for the evenings. So 55 euro/month for an evening-only membership... unless I feel like paying the extra 2.30 euro after 1 pm or the 0.50 in the morning. Grrrr.

Since that altercation, I went in yesterday. I first saw my friendly gym desk fellow there. He smiled and waved. Then I noticed my rude crabby gym desk guy next to him. He saw me and looked away instantly, trying to avoid eye contact. But when he looked away, he looked right at the nice guy who was now asking how I was that day. I noticed the confusion between them - one having seen me as my Minnesota nice, and one, the evil Cruela Gym Deville. I snickered to myself, and tried my card.

It didn't work.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Blahbitty brown grass

I've been in much more of a visual mood lately, wanting to take pictures nonstop and trying so hard to get the courage to open my sketch book and draw portraits of the beautiful old spanish men and women who sit next to me at cafes. I guess this is one of those things - you want what you can't have. If I had received a grant to do nothing but capture images, I'd probably desire the expression of words.

When I look a little deeper however, it's not as simple as that dumb grass is greener expression that we sometimes say just before shrugging our shoulders and dead end-ing any conversation. The thing is, I know what it's like to be content even within my world of constant, intuitive decision-making that regularly tips me off my rocker. So how is it that now, when I have a nice apartment situation, an income for a few months, food on the table, an ever-so-slowly increasing number of nice friends, and a boyfriend who I am so very grateful for, do I feel that I can do nothing. I am becoming a very reactive person. Not to the point of apathy, but definitely stunned when I see someone who exudes the same positive energy I had only very recently. And those people, the reactive type that I feel myself becoming, are obnoxiously boring. So that's not an aspiration. I must dig with my fingernails to get out of this rut before my awesome opportunity passes me by here in Barcelona.

In the next few days, I'm going to do all I can to motivate myself back into the hyped up, proactive arena where plain goose droppings and cultural differences are fascinating and not frustrating. Where love is something to cherish and hold dear. And where I can hopefully find a state of true relaxation. Something I've not felt in awhile with all of these dramatic life changes that will perpetuate into 2010, without a doubt.

Oh, and as much as I hate to admit this since I enjoy knowing I am perhaps too independent, I think a lot of these feelings come from being in a temporary (thank GOODNESS) distance relationship with Phil. I can't move forward here, because he isn't here with me. We've actually discussed this before. It doesn't make it any easier, but it's out there, and we know that both of us are dealing with the stagnancy in different ways.

But let's just pretend that it could be a bit more than the simple distance relationship thing. For goodness' sake, people do that successfully all the time. And a month is not that long. But for the sake of finishing this blogpost and not deleting it all having come to this pseudo-conclusion... I will pretend its a personal dilemma and tackle it head on in the coming days with some major couch time. Just me, myself, and I...and maybe a sketchbook if I'm really bold.