Friday, December 18, 2009

Goodbye Europe, Hello Minnesota

Now that we're back in freezing Minnesota, Phil and I have spent a lot of time doing the following after our whirlwind Cycling season and Fulbright awards coming to an end, simultaneously:

1) Dinking around on our Apple laptops (yes, I had to salute Apple because they're the best). We look for cool job opportunities, signed up for Google Wave and Google Voice, talk to old friends in multiple chat windows while conversing with each other and my parents, and bathe ourselves the ease of a stable high-speed internet connection. Ya gotta love tech savvy societies like ours, right?

2) Mexican food. Thai stir fry. Spicy homemade salsa. Anything spicy, we will eat. (Italians and Spaniards did not exactly provide us with many ethnic food choices.)

3) Playing with the foster mother cat and her six kittens. So far, they don't have names, so in the meantime, we identify them with nicknames like: "the austistic one", "doc/the smart one", "the asymmetrical blaze", or "the tiger twins". Oh, and my parents never named the mother cat, so her name to Phil and I is now "Momzies"or "Mumma".

As many of you know, we attempted to save the seventh kitty - "Lil Runty" - but the vet said she had a congenital heart problem or a liver problem that prevented her tiny body from receiving adequate nourishment. We were even feeding her by hand. Sadly, she was taken from us earlier this week. While at the humane society with her, Phil fell in love with a black lab pup named Cyrus who apparently was surrendered due to a chewing problem. We're hopeful that my parents will change their mind... they told us exchanging sweet Lil Runty in for a wild, unpotty-trained dog was not an even trade.

4) Playing far too much Wii Monopoly and a little Wii Sport. I know, it should be the other way around since we're cooped up inside and playing Wii Sport would likely be more beneficial to our health, but there is a major problem. Due to the difference in skill level (aka: Phil's topspin vs. My non-topspin frustration) and the health of his body, I feel that it might be detrimental to our overall health since I'd chuck the Wii controller at his shin bone if he defeats me more than a couple times a day.

5) Baking christmas foods for my mom while she's at work. Today I made the peanut butter with the chocolate star ones. Hopefully this can relieve some of the must-make-christmas-food-like-crazy pressure from her, since I'll have stocked our freezer with goodies all the way til the family gets home on the 23rd.

6) Taking a couple trips to Minneapolis to hang with the twin sister in her sauna apartment. I mean, 1 bedroom apartment. (I think hit 90 degrees. Not fun when you walk out the front door and feel nauseous in the winter's -15F weather.)

That's all for now - I'll be posting more often if I can think of interesting topics of discussion amidst the holiday season bustling around our much-needed, slowed lifestyle back in the States!

But until then, Happy Holidays everyone!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Faulty Spain 2

How could I forget to mention another experience that shines a little light on our lack of trust in basic things here in Spain? On Sunday night, Kris, Amin, Phil, and I decided to hit up Rafa's crazy little sangria and tapas restaurant in the Barri Gotic. We've been diehard fans since the first time that our friend Antonio (a Medieval History Fulbright researcher) introduced us to this hole in the wall spot. It's partly due to Rafa, and partly due to this amazing sangria.

Rafa, or Rafael, is a man in his mid-50s from Malaga. He has half of his teeth, a long stringy gray pony tail, a collection of strangely printed t-shirts that wreak of days old sweat grime, not to mention his vibrancy that alone beats out any other establishment with sheer character. Because in "Rafa's house", you are treated like family. He talks to us about how we remind him of his children who aren't nearby, he dances for us and sings merrily to tunes that play in his head, and he pours up a mad "De Puta Madre" pitcher of sangria, as he calls it (excuse the language).

Now, in honor of our three months in Spain coming to a close - with FC Barcelona's win over Real Madrid earlier that Sunday night WOOHOOOOO! - we knew our real closure would come at Rafa's place. He welcomed us by pointing with a toilet paper wrapped pointer finger, to a table against the far wall and and began on a pitcher of sangria and his house spicy potatoes. We looked at the menu and picked out various items to sample. Since we'd never had more than the potatoes, we thought a sampling was in order: Amin ordered some mussels, Kris ordered a "bomba"(mashed potatoes and meat in a ball that is deep fried and served with spicy sauce), and we ordered the stuffed red peppers and chicken croquettes. It was going to be the perfect cap to the perfect soccer match that ended the perfect autumn of 2009.

But soon, that lovely idea was gone. Kris' bomb was frozen solid in the middle. Our chicken croquettes were too, and the stringy chicken meat looked raw. Amin scored big on his mussels, but he had a stomach ache so he didn't indulge in any sangria. Feeling bad about the frozen food, Rafa offered us fried calamari. Phil is allergic to shellfish and seafood in general, so he couldn't have any. We ordered another potatoes to tide us all over. Kris was brought a strange tuna pizza pie. As Rafa sat and explained how sorry he was about the food after describing how scrumptious the other items were, Kris noticed a colorful design on his placemat. Upon looking up and seeing Rafa's toilet paper finger blood-drenched, he realized it was blood dripping off of his hand. He freaked, Rafa turned, embarrassed, and ran to re-bandage. We were laughing hysterically now. Well, all of us except Kris, whose face said it all...he was over it. But after a minute or two of calming him down, he decided it would be fine if he tried the tuna pie since he was still famished. A bite or two in, he looked down at the napkin that had wrapped his fork and knife. It was sitting on his lap. Dropping his utensils, he shrieked. Holding up his napkin, there were blood smears. Just then, Rafa came back with our original chicken croquettes that had been half-chewed and were now little balls of deep fried nastiness (he just threw them back into the fryer even though we'd bitten off parts - GROSS). We were over it now, so we asked for the check, and assured Rafa it was okay, since he seemed mortified.

It was an epic frozen and bloody tapa adventure into a cuisine that we already despised, and that, along with our elevator adventure, has us yearning for the comforts of being in a land where that food would have been comped and the elevator would have been the size of a suburban.

Faulty Spain

Yesterday afternoon, Phil and I went up to the rooftop of our apartment building for the first time. The surface area of slanted bricks is expansive and is much bigger than we thought. With stairs that bring you to a second level of rooftop, it'd be the perfect place to host a miniature gathering, if I trusted anything in Spain that "seemed" sturdy (read on for more on this...)

We looked to the east and saw all the way to the sea. Turning around, we saw the Mt. Tibidabo cathedral and its famous carousel in the western hills, along with various height-happy spectacles of Barcelona as we spun in a slow circle. It's too bad we didn't climb up here during the summer since the winter wind is comparable to that of San Francisco here. And if any of you know those rain-drenched wind speed warning days which occur often in that foggy Bay Area city, then you know it's no sweet watering. In SF, you must beware of flying objects during rainstorms. Once, I had a large, heavy canvas mountaineering-type hat that hit my stomach like a bull while crossing Grant and Pine. Feeling sorry for the poor person who had lost their hardcore rain hat and immediately reacting to the shock of being pelted by it, I remember lifting my head and umbrella up enough to look through the shower and shriek "WHOOOSSSE HAAATTTT??!!" A few office workers in the Financial District scurried past me in their wellies without so much as looking up and acknowledging my Minnesotan gesture of trying to help even when it was of no use. Now, although I say Barcelona's wind is similar, I must retract that statement a wee bit after remembering the number of broken umbrellas in a violent cactus shape poking out of the heavy green garbage cans around the city. Here in Spain, the wind does get strong enough to pull off building antennas and satellite dishes (we have heard them crash in the night) but normally, it's just a cold, humid breeze that whips around the narrow alleys and has us preferring the drafty indoors.

When we left the roof, Phil pretended to get us stuck between floors to challenge my claustrophobic tendencies. He does this by opening the inner doors of the rickety elevator, causing the tiny 3' x 3' pod to come to a stop between floors. But since he's done this before - in fact, I think he does it every time we ride in the elevator, which reminds me of something big brother Ty might do to me to "make me stronger in the long run" - I don't overreact at all. I just sit there and wait for my 6 year old to become 27 years old again and shut the doors so we can get on with our day. But this time, after we started up again and were inching down from floor 5 to floor 0, the elevator came off of it's pulley (we think). This caused it to lunge past floor two very quickly and come to an abrupt stop about 2 feet below the floor. Phil opened the interior doors that slide to each side, and tried pushing on the outer door leading to the second floor. Nothing.

We were stuck there, between floors, in an elevator the size of my pinky finger. Just as we realized we were actually locked inside, we see our former roommate Kris walking up the stairs. Before we know it, he's dialing the elevator maintenance folks with the cell phone I left in our bedroom - and Amin, our current roommate, has joined him outside of the door staring in and laughing.

I was beyond angry, since I felt it was all somehow Phil's fault. I mean, it had to be. Why would you challenge a crotchety old contraption? Especially when you know for a fact that the one person affected by this would be your claustrophobic girlfriend. Subconsciously, the elevator stopping seemed intentional. I mean, he'd smile when he'd see me get annoyed and flustered before when we'd be stuck between floors for 20 seconds in that god-forsaken capsule. And boy did I ever let him have it this time, because he definitely was to blame for this.

Twenty minutes passed. I was sitting on the floor with my head tilted up. But my butt was numb. It was better than standing up though. He tried to console me and I could tell he felt horrible, but I was not having it because I'd rather scream and break the entire door down than tell him it was all okay when we had no idea how long it would take to get someone there to help us. And we all know that I won't back down easily...especially in situations like these!

Thirty minutes later, at around 2:30 pm, we were rescued by the elevator folks. My resentment turned into relief, and life continued on as we walked through the cold wind to nourish ourselves with a warm little lunch.