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On Thursday night, I was at the show of a band I had never heard before called Travis. I went with no idea of what to expect, but thanks to a new friend (whose boyfriend was in the opening band) I was able to get in on the guest list (Thanks again, Sire!).
It was fantastic. From the opening cord the energy was so amazing you could feel it running throw the dancing, singing crowd. It didn’t matter that I had a sore throat, that the air was thick and smoky, or that the guy next to me spilled beer on me. Nothing could cut through that positive energy, that electricity that was pulling me directly into the moment and connecting me to everyone in the room. It was like I was feeling every good emotion I have felt since I’ve arrived here—a kind of openness and fearlessness that had been lying dormant within me before.
The true enjoyment of a show, I think, is in letting go. It’s letting the rhythm and the lights and the lyrics take you and move you. If it’s good you forget your expectations, your criticisms, and your reservations of looking foolish and you just dance. You move your hips and you raise up your arms and your voice and you let go because it’s all about the moment. And it’s all the more poignant when it’s everyone together letting go, when it’s everyone together taking in the moment.
More and more, being here has been teaching me that this is how I want to be in this world: a person listening to the music and dancing to its beats. Waiting for whatever comes without expectation and without longing, but through taking in and enjoying the electricity of the moment—the only time in which I truly get to be alive.
The Spanish word esperar has two English translations: to wait and to hope. In effect, the ideas of “waiting” and “hoping” are inexorable connected. Linguistically speaking, you cannot wait without hoping, and you cannot hope with out waiting.
Like many people, I spend, and have spent, much of my life so far in a state of waiting- be it for a grade, or a person, or a feeling; or waiting to feel happy, or in love, or free. Waiting for change, or for time in general—just waiting for improvement, for things to come. But to me, this word esperar points to a different kind of waiting. It is a waiting intertwined with hope, with the feeling that everything will turn out for the best, or, at least, that everything will turn out as it should. It means that instead of being suspended uncomfortably in the feeling of waiting, you can sit and enjoy the feeling of courage, of optimism, and of trust. (I say courage and trust because I feel that in a world full of negativity, it takes courage to hope for better things, and it requires trust in goodness and love to have this courage.)
After this show I went to, where the electricity was palpable, and the people jointly suspended in positive energy, I can’t help but wonder, what is positive, hopeful waiting if not the ability to live in the moment and to take in the electricity? If our lives are just a series of moments leading one into the other, why do we so often chose to live the present moment all the while despairing over future moments that have yet to arrive? I want to start choosing la esperanza instead. I want to start choosing the electricity and the connection to the present moment born from the hope that the future will be as it should. To rest easy in the knowledge that all I can do about the future is have hope, and the only way I can enjoy the present is to feel its electricity. It seems to me, that choosing this is the only way I will be able to keep dancing in the present moment—dancing with my arms up and my hips shaking with abandon.

Cacadad 2008

Caganer

A few days before Christmas, I was talking with my friend Risa via AIM about two curious Christmas traditions they have here in Catalunya (Catalunya being the province of Spain in which Barcelona is located). One is the Caganer (pictured left), the official Christmas Pooper, placed in every home nativity scene. Please note his squatting stance and the fact that, had I taken this picture from the side, you would see plastic piles of pooh directly beneath his exposed buttocks. (I am, of course, referring to him singularly, even though there are multiple figurines in this picture.) The other tradition is Tió de Nadal (pictured below). A log covered in a blanket (Tió in Catalan means ‘log’). Children ‘feed’ him for a few days before Christmas, and then, on Christmas they ceremoniously beat him with a stick as they sing songs ordering him to “poop” out gifts:

Catalan:150px-cagatio

caga torró,avellanes i

mató,si no cagues béet

 daré un cop de

bastó.caga tió!”

 

Translation:

poop log,

poop turrón, hazelnuts

and cottage cheese, if you don’t

 poop well,
I’ll hit you with

 a stick,
poop log!

 

I was immediately fascinated by this Catalan fixation with poop and Christmas. Why have a little man pooping near the nativity? Why hit a log to get him to poop? I began asking the Spanish people around me about these traditions, I searched for answers on that end-all be-all source for information: Wikipedia. Then, I started sharing the traditions with my American friends.

While I learned both traditions are hundreds of years old, dating back to the 16th century at least, it was difficult to find a concrete answer to the question: Why? For the explanation of the Caganer, I heard a lot about how he is a political statement, a constant reminder of the need to “poop” on the accepted order, the status quo. I heard about how he was meant to “humanize” Christmas, make the story of gods and miracles more accessible to the huddled masses, reminding us that all of us, even the baby Jesus, shit.

 So it seems that it’s all just in good fun. Really silly, pretty gross, fun– another example of the age old truism that in this world of wars, and violence, and all sorts of other despicable things, we all just need to laugh.  That even during the celebration of what many believe to be the holiest of nights and one of the most significant moments in human history, that we still just need to laugh. You know, loosen up.

 The Tió de Nadal, on the other hand, confounded me for quite awhile. I mean, wasn’t the Caganer enough of this caca silliness? Why two symbols of poop? Why have a child hit a log with a stick? It just seemed too obscure to me, until I asked Sandra (the house-keeper, cook, nanny and overall wonderful woman that works for the people I live with).  Her answer showed me that far from being just a strange, borderline absurd tradition, that this Tió figure was actually pure genius:

 It’s to keep the children (the crazy, excited, running around, screaming, children) occupied! What could be better for releasing pent up energy and excitement at potentially boring family gatherings then hitting the crap out of something with a stick? Brilliant.

As I mentioned before I was speaking with Risa about these traditions. “Wow, they sure like poop a lot,” she told me. To which I responded, “Yeah, they should call it ‘Poopmas.’”  But Risa, being the hilarious person she is, did me one better: “Cacadad!”

So, everyone, I hope you all had a wonderful Cacadad!

So I have had the last month completely off from school, and, one would think, this would leave me with more than enough time to successfully keep up this blog. Yet, somehow, and I’m still not even really sure how, it seems that during my past month of “Freedom,” I have been busier than I was during the two previous months.

 

I have been in Spain for almost three months now. The time has gone unbelievably fast. In this time I have made a mountain of friends, procured the ability to hold basic level Spanish conversations, been really, really cold, and more and more and more. It’s been a very amazing experience so far, one that I am very grateful I undertook. I can feel myself expanding, opening up, becoming freer. But, all of that, I think I will leave for another entry (or maybe even another blog) because right now I want to write about the Christmas season in Barcelona.

 

Spanish people love their holidays, and they love getting together during these holidays. There were about 6 occasions for large family dinners over the past 3 weeks.  Actually, it’s the norm in Spain that families stay very close to one another. Children even continue living with their parents into their thirties. It’s a different attitude from that of a lot of Americans. Of course, there are pros and cons to each, but I have enjoyed being a part of it here. I think there is definitely something almost magical in a big family gathering where everyone is laughing, drinking wine, even singing.

 

Christmas eve was really nice, with the exception of watching the preparation and consumption of an entire suckling pig. Head, tail, feet, and all (Only his head and tail were cut off and put next to him in the over so they whole thing would fit) His name was Pepito (pobresito) and everyone thought he was delicious. I proposed a moment of silence for him (jokingly of course) and did, in fact, try him. Pork is pork, after all, whether you see the head and feet or not. Gerardo enjoyed teasing me about the pig. It was a good time.

 

On Christmas day, I was not woken up to the excited shouts of the girls opening their presents. Instead, it was a more low-key affair. Santa had only come to Grandma’s house, where we went and had Christmas lunch and exchanged some gifts. The next day, Dec 26th, was also a holiday which is celebrated in Catalunya, St. Sebastian.  Celi explained to me that this is because Catalan people are very practical—the 25th they spend with the maternal side of the family, and 26th is spent with the paternal side. Y esta. No arguments, no complicated plans. But this, of course, required another family get together. 🙂

 

I’m going to end this here and write another entry about the holidays in a couple of days, there is just so much too this. (For homework, please, look up the Caganer and Tío on Wikipedia).  More on that soon, and the Day of the Kings!

     Over these past six weeks, I have been experiencing all the drama of a new passionate relationship- with lots of highs and lows, moments of pure joy and contentment superseded by moments of pure frustration and loathing. Somedays, I wake up and can’t wait to continue, I literally long for more; while on other mornings I find that lingering feelings from  yesterday’s encounter have left me dreading what is to come. I am talking, of course, about my relationship with the Spanish language. 

     I can’t quite tell you what I was expecting when I boarded that plane in LA,  and I readily admit that this “not-knowing” was part of the charm. But here it is now, in front of me, and I have found that learning Spanish by these means has become one of the more interesting experiences of my life so far. When something clicks, I am elated- like when I manage to put the le, or the la, or the les, las, lo in the right place.  Times like these are  generally occasions that call for immediate self-congratulations. I have probably confounded multiple service workers in restaurants and cafes by expressing a joy that goes far beyond the normal server-customer bounds. But, alas, I can’t help it that successfully ordering  a tuna sandwich with extra tomatoes, hold the mayonnaise, please, and an agua fresca “para tomar” leaves me giddy.  It has been during these moments that I have learned nothing feels quite better than to be understood (even if all you are saying is “do you feel well,” which, by the way, is “te enuentras bien?”), unless, of course, that thing is to understand. Thanks to the very kind and patient Spaniards around me, the being understood part  has been getting better and better- though I’m positive most of the time I must sound like a 5 year old, or worse. The understanding part is also improving, like a thick fog which is very slowly burning off. I don’t think there is any better way for me to describe how it feels. 

     Taking on this challenge has also been teaching me a lot about humility– since in the pursuit of learning Spanish I make a fool of myself daily.  Like the other night, when I confused “nadar”- to swim, with “nacir,”- to be born, and asked one of my girls “Were you born today?” And I am anxiously awaiting the moment when I confuse “cajones”- drawers, with “cojones”- testicles. I will, of course, report this transgression when it occurs. Perhaps I will just do it on purpose to get it out of the way. 

     Ultimately, and above and beyond the frustrating moments (like learning how to use the 4–count them FOUR types of past tenses in the Spanish language), I am the most excited when I leave a conversation, or a class session, and realize that despite my errors, I was able to fully participate. So, Spanish, though sometimes you infuriate me, confuse me, utterly bewilder and act colds towards me,  I know that it is not you, it’s me.  Alas, it will always be me that has to change, because, Spanish, you are nothing if not constant. And who am I to argue with a thing that has existed for hundreds of years, and will continue to go on long after I’m gone?

    Espanol, te quiero.

Birthday Update!

This morning I woke up late (like I do every Saturday morning) and was immediately greeted with a chorus of “Happy Birthday to you!” Sung in perfect english by the wonderful Spanish family that has been kind enough to take me in for the duration of my European adventure :). It was a wonderful greeting! In Spain, instead of saying “Feliz Cumpleanos”, or “Happy Birthday,” they more commonly say “Felicidades.” So, it’s almost like “Happy Birthday! And congratulations for making it through another year of life!”

I am very excited right now, not only because it’s my birthday, but also because I am so happy to be finally clearing off the cobwebs and dusting of this blog… which has been so sadly neglected for over a month now. Long story short, my computer died a week before I was leaving for Spain, and it wasn’t completely fixed until after I arrived. Then it took over a month to get here, and had to sit in Spanish customs for awhile. But, many phone calls and faxes to the post office and customs office later, here I am with my Mac again. Reunited, and it feels so good. (Although, I did loose my hard drive, so I would love any kind of music donations!)

Ok, now onto Barcelona. Short response: I love it here. Love it love it. 

Long Response:

It has been five weeks since I left California. During these five weeks, I have gone to 20 hours of Spanish lessons per week, taken the train multiple times per day, bought new boots, gone to three different offices to finish my visa documents, had a cold, had the stomach flu, ate some food that did not agree with my stomach, saw Park Guell, the outside of La Sagrada Familia, La Caderal and the Gothic District, walked down Las Rambles, had multiple meals with a wonderful great big Spanish family (with INCREDIBLE food), drank lots of excellent wine and met lots of excellent people. I know this is all so general, in future blogs I promise to be more specific. But I just don’t think I will be able to adquietly cover a whole 5 weeks worth of Barcelona goodness in on post.

But now, oh blog, I have come back to you, and I promise considency.

That’s all for now, until next post! 🙂

So it’s Monday and I am officially (and willfully) unemployed. I feel free. I’m watching the Santa Ana winds blowing through the bright green leafs of the trees and the clear blue water of the pool outside my window. When I was a kid, I used to run outside and play in these same winds. I’d let it blow through my hair and my clothes; I’d lean against it and its invisible force would hold me up. 

I think that, maybe, there’s a lot of invisible forces that hold us up. And this past week, saying goodbye after goodbye to so many people that I care about, I realize that over the last three years its been the love and friendship of these people that has been holding me up. 

In five days, I’m going to Spain to expand and challenge myself, but it’s really been here, in California, where I have gotten to know myself, and I’ve learned I can make it through just about anything. As I see friend after friend and hug goodbye, I can feel myself turning the page, but I know it will be a place I’m never truly away from and one I will visit often. 

This is not to say I will never return to California, I just know it will never be the same again. 

I happened to find this book someone gave my mom as a gift when she graduated from college. It’s called The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, and I’ve loved reading it because it feels like, maybe, it’s something my mom would want me to know. It sums up a lot of how I feel:

“How shall I go in peace without sorrow? Nay, without wound in the spirit shall I leave this city.

Long were the days of pain I have spent within its walls, and long were the nights of aloneness; and who can depart from his pain and his aloneness without regret?

Too many fragmants of the spirit have I scattered in these streets, and too many are the children of my longing that walk naked among these hills, and I cannot withdraw from them without burden and ache. 

It is not a garment I cast off this day, but a skin I tear with my own hands. 

Nor is it a thought I leave behind me, but a heart made sweet with hunger and with thirst. 

Yet I cannot tarry longer. 

The sea that calls all things unto her calls me, and I must embark.

For to stay, though the hours burn in the night, is to freeze and crystallize and be bound in mould.”

 

In the past three years, I have experienced the biggest heartaches, losses, and challenges of my life. And leaving here, the place of these heartaches and the healing that has taken place since, is going to be strange and sad. But, I know something bigger is calling me, and moving on is what I have to do.

It was around 9PM last night, as I finished taking an online Spanish placement exam for my classes in Barcelona, that I realized my Spanish is about as rusty as the old Honda coup that’s been sitting in the side yard of my childhood home since Reagan was president. Now, don’t get me wrong, I was not terribly disheartened, nor was I particularly surprised, but as I looked at my computer screen full of words, phrases, and syntax I either didn’t recognize or only found vaguely familiar, all I could think was: “Andrea, you have a lot of work to do.”

But that, after all, is why I’m doing this. Sure I’m expecting Spain to be amazing, and beautiful, and fun, but I also know it will not be easy. I mean, all that “mind-expanding,” “life-changing,” “self-improving,” “language learning” mumbo-jumbo which is the real purpose of this journey are not really going to happen with out my full participation and willingness to work.

Which was why I only let myself feel defeated by the placement test for a moment. How can I feel defeated when I have this amazing opportunity to improve?

Now, packing, on the other hand…. Let’s just say that if there was a placement exam for packing, I would most likely be placed in the remedial class, or maybe just not allowed to enroll at all. I can imagine receiving my rejection letter from a school we’ll call “University of Basic Life Skills,” stating: “We’re sorry, but we do not accept students who have not met our ‘folding clothes before putting them into a suitcase’ and ‘knowing how to decide what and what not to take on a trip’ prereqs.”

Ok, well, maybe I’m not that bad…but then, it depends on who you ask. Anyway, I am lost as to where I should start, and so, as a result, have simply just not started yet. Probably, I will pack as I usually do, all willy-nilly and border-line panicky the night before (a method frowned upon by the aforementioned fictitious University), throwing clothes in my suitcase and making last minute, cut throat clothing decisions that I will later regret. (Cut to Andrea in Barcelona “Ugh, I can’t believe I decided not to bring ____”).

But, oh well, who cares? Because, did I mention, I’ll be living in SPAIN?!?