Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

I am pretty sure Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. There's practically no pressure - unless you include my refusing to use 8 sticks of butter in the apple pie crust for health reasons last year - and there's no need for good weather since we all know the sky will be cloudy and the trees leafless.

Now, it's been three years since I've been able to enjoy this holiday in Minnesota with my family. So that's been a little tough. But I had my uncles and friends in San Francisco to make it feel as traditional as possible. I now miss even the SF Thanksgiving ritual.

The more I travel, the more I miss everywhere. That may not make much sense, but it's true. I think I can do better to explain this, though: The more I live in very different places, the more I miss the things that make each place special. Traveling for me has taken on a completely different meaning after 9 months living in places that I don't consider home. Without trying, my suitcase is always in plain vision - whether it be in Flers, Lucca, Minneapolis, Campbellton, or Barcelona. Sometimes my life stays inside of it's zippered walls. Sometimes my life escapes onto a temporary shelf...but it's always there looming over me, reminding me that I am nothing but a world citizen who has taken to living on the road, and separating the meaning of travel from living.

I think about my little French pony often from my post back in April 2009. His disappearance still haunts me. It makes me feel a loss of control - that the people and beings we care about can still leave us even if we're able to uproot at any given moment.

Thankgiving has a lot to do with traveling, with living, and with the meaning of home. It's giving thanks for all of the above, and not separating experiences and emotions. I've realized over the past 9 months that it is okay to feel sad when something or someone leaves. It's natural. And it will happen again and again. So instead of drowning in the nostalgia of moving around, I choose to give thanks for the opportunities I've had to share time with those who've taught us valuable lessons. So I give thanks to all my amazing and kind family members, my hilarious and beautiful friends, the acquaintances and random experiences that have taught me something, my boyfriend Phil who has been an inspiration in countless ways, and especially to my heart and soul - the animals I have loved and lost - Sophie, Fluffy, Theo, Aisha, Dollie, Buddy, Copper, Mickey, Max, Cotton, Elsa, Kimmy, Penelope, Tonto, Lupe, Meggie, Tinker, and Cloudy - I wish you happiness wherever you are.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Don't follow the locals!

Today I went for an aimless run. It ended up taking me through the backside of Parc G├╝ell on a dirt trail, that was quite hilly with a human to toy dog ratio of 1:6. I noticed a few other runners while back there, which helped kick up the motivation to stride it out as I leapt over yorkies.

The first runner I saw was a man about 55 years old with some very ripped legs. He must be a tri-athlete, I thought. Too thick to be a hardcore marathoner, and he was actually running, which meant he couldn't be a cyclist or anything. I tried to run behind him, but he spun around at one point, like a collie rounding up cattle, and started back down the hill we had just slaved up. Since obviously an about-face on my part would unveil my lemming-style running mode of the day, and because I wanted to appreciate having just crested a large hill with a view of Tibidabo, I pretended to change the song on my iPod as he passed me. After that, I continued up the steep grade, looking for my next local to pace behind.

There he was, just a few dusty moments later. I spotted him, a white-haired fellow wearing an electric blue t-shirt and sky blue running shorts, as he was speed walking. But I could tell he was a runner, he just had that look about him. Since he seemed to be a local as well, and in great condition almost like the herding dude, I expected nothing less than the discovery of the fountain of Gaudi youth.

In no time, I saw him darting off the wide, dirt trail and between a couple of trees at a quickened pace. He was showing me the runner's mecca of Barcelona! I just knew it! Wait, where'd he go? Where's the blue? I leaned, looking...running, running...hmm... crunching rocks made a startling noice under my feet as the trail wound down to the left and I spilled off straight ahead, away from the beaten path....running, running...

Um...Whoops! Sonja, look at your iPod again. Pretend you didn't see the path curve. About-face. NOW...and FAST. Pretend you didn't see old man's backside as he took a mid-run pee.

(I'm sorry!!! I was sick of stepping over poodles and pomeranians, and I thought, well, I thought you'd lead me down some paths that were different. But no, you took me to pee. I hope you did not suffer cardiac arrest right there. I made a point to run around below your pee spot before returning up the hill and checking to make sure you and your blue were not laying there... well... blue.)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fraudulent inflexibility

You know how you wake up some days and within in minutes, your day sort of starts off on the wrong foot? Today was one of them, and to relieve the anxiety and stress that has blanketed my morning, I think I'd like to write about it... because who knows, maybe you've had a really great morning and it will feel even better when you become grateful that it didn't start this way...

So, it actually begins last night at around midnight. I was looking online to see that my checking account could pay back my last little bit of student loans before I come back to the states, when I noticed that I was -$533. Sweet. Fraudulent charges nearing $1,000 from a walmart.com purchase and some china house purchase in california have brought me to nothing but overdraft fees. So I called in, and they cancelled my card. I felt a little better, and decided to just go to sleep.

Today, I awoke at 7 am to go to the bathroom. Now, I was planning on going running at 8:30 am to jump start my workout, but out of nowhere, I have a horrible sore throat and stuffy nose. So there went that.

The next thing I knew, I woke up at 12:05 pm. Our room is in the middle of our apartment, so we never wake up "naturally". It really seems to do nothing but suck the life out of us when we sleep til mid-day. At least for me it does, someone who values my mornings.

I went to take a really hot, long shower, thinking maybe my room just dried out my throat or something. After that, I came back into my room and checked my email on my phone. I had a message from my mom, and she seemed disappointed that I wasn't coming home for all of December. I had planned on being home for all of that month and trying to find a job or something, but since no one had responded to my applications sent out yet, I decided that it would be equally as beneficial to work alongside Phil's team down at the Vuelta de Costa Rica, where I'll have free room and board for two weeks. That way, I still come home from Dec 5-10, and then I'll be back on Dec 25, to spend time with everyone.

Something I feel that I have not yet learned in life is how to balance what I want with what others expect of me, especially when it involves more than one person. Because I have been traveling a lot, living out of a suitcase, and dealing with the difficulties of having no one constant variable in this world, I am used to finding the good and the calm in the simplest of things. I think the struggle that I have in all of this, and other ridiculous situations I've dealt with recently, is that I don't understand how people can be anything but flexible in a world that is uncontrollable.

That said, I feel better having gotten the financial, familial/relationship, and health conundrum out in the open (and because I just made fun of Phil's allergy sneezes since he sounds like a cartoon when he does them, saying "A-CHOO!" each time).

I think I'll celebrate by going out to buy a new stick of fresh-scented deodorant.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Autumn food and winter play

Last night at 9 pm, Amin (fellow Fulbright scholar, and recently moved in roommate), Phil (my cyclist boyfriend-turned-computer skilled madman), and I were sitting in the living room. Thinking about dinner. Jenn, the keeper of the flat we all share, was to throw a big "fall dinner", yet there was no start to the frenzied kitchen madness. In fact, the quiet in our big apartment was almost as loud as our grumbling bodies.

"Are you sure she said tonight?" I was asking in 10 minute intervals, as the clock ticked to about 9:45pm. Finally, with the city nightlife fervor beginning to stir, Jenn wisks into the kitchen with Gigi at her side and takes to the stovetop and the oven, making (Sara's famous) pistachio pasta, banana cake, roasted chestnuts, cooked wine, and an avocado apple salad. Kris arrives about 8 beers deep, as he said, and livens up the living room scene with his bellowing voice and hilarious opinions. (One of my favorites from last night was his argument with Amin about Spanish people not getting lung cancer from smoking as much as American people because they eat better food.) Then Kelly and Marc came over, two friends of Jenn's, with a large kettle to make squash soup. After 5 minutes of chatting with the men about electrical engineering, cycling, and research in Barcelona, Phil, Marc, Kris, and Amin had almost forgotten about the food that was being cooked for all of us. Marc is originally from Barcelona, so he had a lot of insight about the city and the culture that Amin, Phil, and I found fascinating. Meanwhile, Kris was walking from the living room to the kitchen, dancing with Gigi to Brazilian ballads she was playing on her computer, and returning without the glass of cooked wine that he had intended to grab each trip. And with that, the clocked chimed 11:25pm, and the table was full of people and our stomachs quieted. It almost felt like an early Thanksgiving, to be honest. In fact, if we don't do something similar towards the end of the month, that's what it will have been :)

Today, Phil and I have been dinking around on our computers, and are planning to get going to the Snow Show soon, which is the Snowboarding World Cup held near Montjuic at the Olympic Stadium. I can't wait. Not only have I never seen talented snowboarders, I've also never been to a competition of anything that takes place in the snow. Not sure if I need to wear a winter parka, or my usual fall jacket, since the current temperature here is like 55 degrees!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Spain: mullets, casinos, and 2010 preparation


After about 2.5 weeks with some of my favorite people visiting, and then with Phil arriving, the last bit of my free time here was sopped up by relaxing nights in Barcelona and getting food poisoning that lasted 4 days while in Valencia. But that's a story unto itself, and I realized that specific vomiting stories are only earth-shattering and fascinating when it happens to you, not when you hear about the multiple train bathroom visits or the fact that we had to stop the cab driver during a roundabout on the way to the Valencia hotel so I spill out of the vehicle and puke in a bush next to a bunch of happy couples in a city park. So that's all you get for details... besides my advocating you do not eat a spinach/egg torte that is sitting in a showcase window.


But this week, in the quiet that follows the post-friends-on-vacation lifestyle, Phil and I plug away on our computers in the shared apartment living room. Periodically, we stare out of the large french doors that lead to our Barcelona balcony and to the bohemian streets below, but we never stray far from our inboxes and status updates. Right now it is critical for us to figure out how to best kick off 2010 in our own, very different (and thus complementary) ways: Phil is designing his 2010 season 24/7 - phone calls, sponsorship talks, excel spreadsheets graphing profit margins, etc. - with his people in the cycling world. Yes, it's confidential, or you know I'd be sharing that information with you all. In fact, I don't know everything either! This is the life of being a pro cyclist's girlfriend, they say.

And as for me, I've been simultaneously working on my Fulbright research by setting up interviews with a few different architecture firms who focus on sustainable design, here in Barcelona. Something I didn't think I'd be finding after speaking to my host institution, Actar Publishing, about their thoughts on my project earlier on... they had said, in so many words, that sustainable architecture is not happening in Europe right now, because of the horrible economy (and Spain has the worst unemployment rate in Europe, at 17.4%). After getting over this discouragement and having my proposal to extend my grant into 2010 rejected twice which would have allowed me to go to Madrid, since there are huge multi-unit housing projects that were recently built down there, I figured I'd dig a bit deeper into Catalunya before throwing in the towel. And voila! Before I knew it, a smattering of impressive architects have responded to my request for information that will begin tomorrow, with an interview I have with Habitan Architects.

Onto other, very important matters... I have started to realize a couple things about Spain that I will share with you now.

(1) Spanish people - both men and women - think that the uglier the haircut, the better it looks. It reminds me of people who thought of themselves as "alternative" growing up - the kids who thought they would buck the system and be different. It doesn't work when lots of people are doing it - I mean, you're not seen as being daring. You're seen as another person with the worst haircut in the entire world.

EXAMPLE 1: a woman will shave her head except for the back - from the top, down to the bottom, so that it resembles a man's coat tail*. Usually this part of the hair is left only about 3-5 inches long so it looks fluffy, not mullet-like... see next.

EXAMPLE 2: the Spanish men claim the mullet. they cut the hair short on their head all over and grow the back down to their mid-back. sometimes they wind that hair into one, long, inspirational * they usually drape over a shoulder like a snake, or if their hair is thicker in back, then multiple dreads.

* I will be taking to the streets with my camera to find them for your viewing pleasure.

(2) While checking out the blackjack tables last night at the Gran Casino de Barcelona, I noticed a plethora of Asian people gambling with 100 Euro chips. Not just one or two, but tons of them. Throwing 500 Euro bills and even a 1,000 Euro chip onto the table every 10 minutes or so. Women especially. Young ones, like 25-35 years old. They aren't dressed to the nines either. Now, it's not that this sight was shocking, I mean, I was not amazed that women gamble, nor that Asian folks gamble, in fact, my experience in casinos generally is minimal. But the ratio of them in this casino was something I did not expect at all. Oh yeah, and we didn't win, but it was fun watching pretending to be one of those Las Vegas girlfriends standing in support behind their player's chair. I got him water, I held his chips when he was up, and I held his hand walking back to the metro when we walked out empty-handed... haha. It is "the nature of the game", they say.

That's all for now - I'll be home in one month for Meghan and Zack's wedding - and then to stay with Liana and hopefully find some fun gigs to earn cash while our "in limbo" situation gets sorted out. Phil will be heading to the Vuelta de Costa Rica from mid-December into January. I am sad that I won't be able to go along, but a girl's gotta pay back student loans and be responsible too...right? Plus, being with a nomadic boyfriend, I have realized that there is never going to be a lack of adventure. December will just be a time to relax in the snowy wonderland with my family and friends back home. And although it's not the Costa Rican waterfalls, volcanoes, and thrilling races I'll be surrounded by, I am happy and grateful for wherever life takes me.