Archive for August, 2006

Fiesta de Vilafranca del Penedés

It’s Wednesday, August 30 and what a great day for us. Sebastian, his two nieces (yes, Sebastian is Uncle Sebastian or as we say here in Spain, tio Sebastian), Alex and I went to the Fiesta de Sant Felix in Vilafranca del Penedés.

Alex has read about this pueblo in her research papers which date in the 1300s. The pueblo itself has it’s origins in the 12th century. The same time that Henry the Second of England married Elenor of Aquitane, the Tower of London took in its 1st prisoner, Crusaders marched into Beirut causing a bloodbath. You can see this is an old pueblo.
Anyhow, we drove up to Villafranca in Sebastian’s car and arrived before the activities took place so we managed to get a half decent spot in the square to watch everything going on. The principle reason we were going was to watch the Castellers. Villafranca has a very famous and accomplished team.

Castellers are the people who belong to a colla castellera (team) devoted to making the most impressive castells (towers of human construction) in popular festivals in Catalonia.

Their typical clothes are white trousers, black sash, shawl and colored shirt with the team’s emblem. While performing they usually go barefoot so that they don’t hurt the other castellers as they climb and so that they have more sensitivity in their feet.

The sash is the most important part of their clothing since it protects the lower part of the back and it’s very useful as an additional help in climbing. This piece of cloth has diverse lengths and heights depending on the casteller’s position inside the tower and also on personal taste. Its length can range from 1,5 to 8 meters, and it is usually shorter for higher positions.

The castellers, which are a team of acrobats (some of them children), arrange themselves into a multi-tiered structure or tower, sometimes as high as seven-people. The Vilafranca team built one today of 10 people. Alex has photos and comments of their team.
Once the base is constructed a person then climbs to the top of the tower – they are known as the enxaneta and are usually children eight to twelve years old. The accidents are unusual during the construction of a castell. The 6 of august os 2006, in Matarò a 12 year old child fell off the castell and died. Before this, the last mortal accident was in 1981 in Torredembarra. To date there have only been three fatalities in the Castellers history.

Castellers have a motto: “Strength, balance, courage and reason”.

In Catalan the word castell means castle, although a castell with two persons per level is a torre (tower) and is usually called a pilar if it consists of just one person per level.

The tradition originated in the Spanish region of Catalonia; more specifically, in the southern part of that region near the city of Tarragona. The tradition later spread to other regions of Catalonia, and has become very popular. However, the best and most skilled castellers are still found near Tarragona although the Vilafranca team is considered one of the best.

Here are some photos of some of the other teams competing and some different structures.

This one is not considered a castel and was for demonstration purposes. It was probably to give less experienced castellers a chance to perfom.

The following sequence of photos shows the progress of a team as it constructs a very impressive tower. Here they are building the second level.

The third level, notice the climbers on the side going up for the fourth level……

The fifth level ………

Getting ready for level six……

Here they are capping the tower with the enxaneta climbing to their positons.

One of the other perfomances that I really wanted to see were ‘El Correfoc’, ‘diablos y demonios’, devils and demons armed with all sorts of fireworks go through the streets. I’d seen them briefly in Gracia and I couldn’t believe what I saw. I have a few photos of them in Vilafranca.

Here they are marching towards the square. I had to get out of their way, those sparks burn.

Once they were in the square they danced around and let their dragon loose.

They finished up with really noisy rockets. The sound in that square bordered on painful but they were spectacular.

We drove back along the coast and stopped in Sitges for a clara (Beer and lemonade). The ride along the coast is magnificent. I can only imagine what it must be like all down south.

I’d like to thank Tio Seb for a truly enjoyable day.

August 31, 2006 at 12:16 pm 3 comments

Fun and Friendship at the Delta

As most of you who read Alan’s blog knows, this past weekend we went to the Delta del Ebro with some good friends. At the risk of repeating some of the info Alan has presented in his blog, I’ll write a short entry here to share some of my pictures. To the surprise of most of those who know me as an electronic gadget freak, I brought my Minolta 35mm SLR camera instead of relying on Alan’s trusty Canon digital. That meant waiting an extra two days to actually see the pictures but it was worth it for the nice feel of shooting with an SLR with a couple of good lenses…

Anyways, back to the delta. The region lies between Tarragona and Valencia and is supposed to be the largest humid area of Spain. Because of the abundance of water, it is perfect for the cultivation of rice, fields of which spread as far as the eyes can see.

Rice fields at Delta del Ebro

We rented some bikes and explored the rice fields…

Stream by the delta

But the Delta is not just the river and rice fields; there was also a nice coastline with lots of neat little beaches.

The local economy is also based on fishing and the area is known as one of the most important in the production of mussles and oysters. We ate a lot of nice and fresh seafood all weekend for half the price of what they cost here in Barcelona. I was in heaven. I highly recommend going for lunch in the little village of Poblenou, right in the middle of the Delta.

But in the end, I wasn’t the only one going nuts with the camera…

Sebastian and his digital camera

To be continued….

August 29, 2006 at 11:03 am Leave a comment

Delta del Ebro(Delta de l’Ebre)

This past week was really something else. The football game on Tuesday, an amazing dinner at Cardamon (C/ Carders, 31) on Thursday night and a great weekend with friends at the delta. The restaurant is in the old part of Barcelona and is in a building built in 1734. That’s older than I am, wow. The food there is great and it’s not too expensive. Naomi introduced us to this place a few weekes ago.

Then on Friday, Francisca, Jackie, Sebastian, Naomi, Alex and I took the train from Barcelona to Delta del Ebro. The following description is an excerpt from the Barcelona city guide.
The Ebro Delta covers 320 square kilometres and is the second largest wetland area in the western Mediterranean, after the French Camargue.
It has many natural habitats not common to the rest of Catalonia: large lakes of salt water (such as La Tancada) or fresh water (such as L’Encanyissada), kilometres of beaches with sand dunes (El Fangar) and salt wastelands (Erms de la Tancada, Punta de la Banya), places where underground fresh water comes to the surface (Els Ullals), shallow bays (El Fangar or Els Alfacs), riverbank woods and fluvial islands that, together with the ecosystems created by man – rice fields and salt pans – constitute a unique landscape of great natural wealth.

This diversity of ecosystems and flora and fauna has led to the protection of a large part of the Delta and in 1983 it was declared a “natural park”. It is in fact an ornithological paradise where you can see more than 300 species of birds.

We rented a nice little house in Sant Carles de la Rapita and arrived Friday evening around 7:30.

Off we go to explore and walk by the sea towards Sant Carles. On the way we passed by the fishing port. Lot’s of activity there.

We found a place where we rented bicycles to go cycling the next day. Sebastian is quite the cyclist and has cycled all over the place. Places like New Zealand and in the Himalayas (almost as far up as base camp for Everest climbers). You can tell he is comfortable on the bike just by looking at his form……….but that’s a whole other story.

Sant Carles is a tourist town and very popular.The mountains on one side,

the sea on the opposite side and the delta to one end. The delta itself is very flat and a large part of it is used by farmers to grow rice. Because rice grows in water, there are many irrigation canals flow control gates in the fields.

We cycled along the dirt roads that run all over the area and went down any road that headed in the general direction we wanted to go. It was quite windy so the heat wasn’t much of a problem.

We eventually ended up in a conservation area and nature park. This was the wetlands of the area.

Lot’s of birds. As a matter of fact, the park is a very popular bird watching area so there are lots of blinds for observing the wildlife as Francisca is.

We ended up in a pueblo (small village) called Poble Nou where we stopped for lunch. The menu consisted of 6 plates. The food was amazing (as usual) but we only ordered the menu for three because we would not have been able to eat all the food that was on the menu for one. There were six of us and we still walked away stuffed.

We cycled from there to the beach at platja dels Eucaliptus which was about a 30 minute cycle from the resaurant. I must confess that my butt was becoming slightly tender. Once we got to the beach I was in the water in minutes. Floating in the salt water was soooooo relaxing. Soon, we had to start back. We had no idea how far we’d gone or how long it would take us to get back to Sant Carles. We had to have the bikes back by 8:00 or risk paying extra but you know, we were on a holiday so if we got back later, so what. We weren’t going to race back to get there on time. Ok, a confession, even if we wanted to we couldn’t race back to get there on time. All we could do was hope to get back period. The following photos were taken in the middle of the ride, please note the expressions on the faces of the cyclists, Jackie and Alex. Let me just say that we all didn’t look that fresh at this point.

We finally made it back to the shop and we were still in good spirits, tired but very happy to be back and we were on time. We calculated that we had cycled at least 50 kms that day. I know it doesn’t sound like much but it was a full day.

We started walking back towards our casa and picked up food from different shops along the way. Francisca and Sebastian were playing catch with a half full water bottle which brought looks of concern on some passers by. About a kilometre from our casa I decided it would be far easier to run than continue walking so I finished up with a short run.

That night Sebsation cooked on the barbeque and we sat, drank wine and chatted the evening away.

Sunday was a quiet day for me, too much sun the previous day. The chicas went to the beach and Sebastian and I stayed at the casa playing chess. Actually, he was playing chess, I was playing Rambo. We left for the train station at 4:30 and that was the weekend.

Alex and I had a great time.

August 28, 2006 at 10:27 am Leave a comment

Barcelona 4 x 0 Bayern Munchen

Tuesday night we went to the mythical Camp Nou stadium to watch FC Barcelona play the current German champion Bayern Munchen for the Gamper Trophy. You can see some comments on the events of the night and the pictures we took in Alan’s blog. I’ll focus here on translating the comments I wrote in Portuguese at my brother’s blog:

I’ve been following Ronaldinho’s career since he arrived in Paris to play for Paris St Germain, a few years ago. It was a cold winter night and I was catching the metro in Paris – where I was accompanying Alan, who was attending a conference – when I saw him at the frontpage of a local newspaper. Living in Canada, I was a bit out of touch with what was going on in the football (soccer) world and wasn’t aware Ronaldinho had left Gremio, his home team in Brazil. And then we had the 2002 world cup, his fame reached new heights and he moved to FC Barcelona. Coincidently, I started studying Spanish history, particularly the Catalan part of the country. And my interest for Catalonia, football and Ronaldinho have merged into a passion for the local team, FC Barcelona – better known as Barça.

Barça reminds me a lot of Flamengo, my Brazilian team. It has a great history and very passionate supporters. The team proudly boasts homemade stars such as the capitain Puyol and the midfielder Xavi, as well as international players such as Ronaldinho, Eto’o, Deco and the recently-hired Gudjohnsen, Thuran & Zambrotta.

Yesterday was the final of the Gamper Trophy against Bayern Munchen, one of the very top European teams and current German champion. Since there were good prospects of a competitive game, tickets were cheaper than usual, and there would be a big party to celebrate the beginning of a new season, I decided to treat Alan to his first football game. As I said above, check his site for his impressions. The party was pretty cool, the environment very festive and full of families, and there were fireworks and light shows for the introduction of each of the players that form the 2006/07 team. Ronaldinho was the last one to be called into the field and the most applauded.

As for the game… Barça showed the kind of game I would like to see the Brazilian national team playing. Group spirit, almost perfect control of the ball, incredible passes, unrelenting pressure (I must say it annoys me to no end when Brazil and other good teams stop playing as soon as they have a favourable score), and a good defense. Bayern showed some battle spirit during the first 20 mins, but there was no way around it. It was a master class and Barcelona was giving it. Ronaldinho open the score board with a perfect free kick and Eto’o scored twice within the following 10 mins. The second half brought in an entire different team – literally, the coach replaced all 11 players to give a chance to the others and to preserve them for Friday’s game – showing that Barça has no B team. The team continued to pressure Bayern and Saviola scored another goal for Barça. Oliver Kahn – the famous German national team goalie – left the field looking pretty sad. And Barcelona showed that which we, Brazilians, respect in a football team: that one can win playing a beautiful and aggressive football.

Gol de Ronaldinho

Sunday they play Seville in Monaco for the Supercup. Visca Barça!!!!

August 24, 2006 at 8:56 am 8 comments

Futbol Virgin

I was before last night. Alex treated me to my first professional futbol (soccer) game last night and that means that I have lost my futbol virginity. FC Barcelona was playing Bayern Munich.

It was amazing. Like going to a hockey game but with 10 times more people and 20 times more avid fans.

I don’t know too much about the strategy employed by the teams but it strikes me as being very much like hockey. They tend to regroup a little more but to watch them setting the team up for an attack is like watching poetry in motion. Barcelona is an exceptional team. The european champions and who knows how many other titles they have. You can see why they are champions. They play as a team. For the most part they don’t even look to see where to pass the ball. Sometimes the player is out of position and the pass fails but most of the time it is right on the money. There are a lot of superstars on the Barcelona team, Ronaldinho, Eto’o, Puyol, Deco, Messi and many more. The beauty of these players is that they still play as a team. Ronaldinho loves to set up goals and to watch him control the ball is like watching a prima ballerina move to music.

Last night’s game was for families. Each adult, when buying an adult ticket could get a free ticket for children.

The stadium was really cool too with the pre-game introduction to the players, the crowd gearing up for a night of fun.

There was a group of fans beside us with Barca’s colors on their cheeks and all wearing team shirts. The men were all in our row, the women were down one row and all the kids were about 8 rows down. They were fun to watch but a little to confused for my liking.

Here’s what the club’s website had to say about last night’s game (and it is all quotes);

Even at this early stage of the season, Barca is beginning to exhaust our reservoir of praise. Every game is a treat for the fans and tonight Frank Rijkaard’s team has won back the Gamper Trophy with a display of exciting attacking football against a Bayern side – undoubtedly one of the favourites for this seasons Champions League – that has won the last two consecutive German league titles plus the German Cup.

Once again, coach Frank Rijkaard went for an attacking line-up featuring Deco, Messi, Ronaldinho and Eto’o, a line-up to bring fear to any defence, whether it’s Espanyol or Bayern. His players didnt let him down. Bayern put up a brave face in the opening 20 minutes (Pizarro and Podolski could even have put their side ahead) but Barca then took charge and the chances began to rain down on Kahn in the Bayern goal, with Deco, Messi and Eto’o all looking dangerous.

However, it was Ronaldinho who opened the score sheet. A free kick in the 32nd minute was, in itself, enough to repay the ticket price of the many tourists who packed into the Nou Camp this evening. A superb shot from the edge of the box over the wall into the top corner of the net with Kahn unable to do more than merely look on.

It was an appropriate reward for the avalanche of attacking play and the enthusiastic support of the fans. With the one-goal cushion, the team threw themselves even more into attack and the second goal was not long in coming. After a delightful display of first touch football, Eto’o seized on a rebound from Oliver Kahn to make it 2-0.

Eto’o then made it 3-0 before the break thanks to a poor clearance from the Bayern defence that left him with only the keeper to beat. Two goals – the perfect way to put to rest the controversy that has unfairly dogged him in recent days.

With the European Super Cup just days away, coach Frank Rijkaard decided to rest his first team regulars and brought on a completely different team for the second half. However, it was more of the same as the new-look Barca team continued to terrorise the Bayern defence.

In the 50th minute, Saviola, who made up the new forward line together with Giuly and Gudjohnsen, got himself in on the Barca party and seized on a cross from Giuly to score his third goal of the pre-season campaign. The fact is everything is going well in this Barca side

With the scoreboard at 4-0, the Bayern players awoke and tried to make an impression on the match but it was too little too late from the young hopefuls of German football who promised so much in the World Cup. The few opportunities that fell their way were blocked by Barca number two keeper Jorquera. Yet another clean sheet for Barca and an unbeatable preparation for Fridays European Super Cup in Monaco.

and that’s it. It was an experience I’ll never forget. While I was in the stadium, I just looked around and thought about this dream-like experience I’ve been having since April.

Alex loved it.

Be happy ……

August 23, 2006 at 3:33 pm 4 comments

Mac Pro – A Dream

The new Mac Pro quad Xeon 64-bit worksation is out and I want one. I can dream can’t I ????? It was less than a year ago when I switched from a pretty powerful Dell and Windows XP to my current Mac PowerBook G4. It’s not that I was fed up with Microsoft or Windows XP. I used to do music on my Dell and had no problems at all. I used Cubase and had all kinds of controllers hooked up and I never had a problem. I was going to Barcelona with Alex and I needed a machine more for my digital photography than for anything else plus it had to be a laptop for portability. I’d heard that Mac’s were the machines to own if you were doing anything with graphics or music. I wasn’t happy with the laptop choices and since Alex already owned a Mac I thought I’d give Mac a try. Besides, I was already attracted to them because of their design and packaging. I know, I know, packaging doesn’t add to the computer in any way but I thought that if they spend that amount of time and effort in the packaging and seeing the PowerBook’s simplicity and design, well, the combination sold me. I really love my laptop. I’m not in the business of high powered database design or business modelling anymore (I think I’d use Microsoft if I was) so the Mac is just what the artist ordered.

Now they have come up with the Mac Pro.

The design of this machine is amazing. You can go to the Arts Technica site for a complete review. I just wanted to dream here and show just a few of the features of this machine, like the insides…

Those 4 hard drive bays are drawers and all you have to do is drop a hard drive into them, close the drawer and it’s done. No cables. It takes a pro only 30 seconds to install one. You can install 4 500 GB drives. I couldn’t fill those in a lifetime.

Of course, to display all this power I’d have to have the Apple cinema display, the 30 inch HD display. It’s awesome to see.

Feast your eyes on more than four million pixels in the first high-resolution 30-inch flat-panel display designed for a personal computer.

Then, to top all of this off and provide a beautiful interface to Adobe Photoshop CS, I would add an Intuos Cintiq 21UX tablet. This input device is amazing, go see it at Wacom’s site.

So, if I could, this is what I would order…..

The Mac Pro with Both Bluetooth 2.0+EDR and AirPort Extreme
A 500GB 7200-rpm Serial ATA 3Gb/s, one 16x SuperDrive Accessory kit, two 3GHz Dual-Core Intel Xeon processors, this is extreme but 16GB (8 x 2GB) of memory, Mac OS X and an ATI Radeon X1900 XT 512MB (2 x dual-link DVI) graphics card. The 30 inch Apple Cinema HD display and the Wacom Intuos Cintiq.

All I can say is Wow ………………..

August 21, 2006 at 3:16 pm

La Festa Major de Gracia

Last week is a blur. From the beach trip last Sunday, all through the week up to today was a roller coaster. The weekend was spent recovering and I can tell you that Alex and I are lightweights when it comes to partying.

Most of the week was spent in the company of Franko, Detlef, Jackie, Naomi and Sebastian. We had everyone over for drinks when la festa gracia started. The intent was to gather in a central location, have a few drinks and off to the parties in Gracia afterwards. It poured rain, and I mean poured. Water was coming in the windows and we’re on the fourth floor. There was a lot of wind and thunder and lightening that finally let up around midnight. Mandy and Nat left to go home and the rest of us headed into Gracia. Gracia is a neighborhood a few blocks away from where we live. Way back, when Barcelona was a small town, Gracia was a neighboring village. At some point an area known as Eixample was designed and built, effectively joining Barcelona and Gracia. You’d know immediately on entering Gracia because the streets are narrow, one lane affairs left over from medieval times. The houses and shops are all very old and the area still has a village like atmosphere. There are many squares or placas where people gather in the evenings. It seems to attract creative types and people with a more bohemian lifestyle. If you visit some of the placas, you’d swear you were back in the 60’s watching hippies gather. It’s an eclectic mix of people because there are also families with lots of young children. Alex and I usually walk up there after dinner and sit in either placa Revolucio or placa Rius i Taulet (catalan names) and watch all the children playing. The children playing is a subject all of its own and Alex should really comment on that. Anyhow, enough of the backgraound.

This festa is one of the largest in Barcelona and lasts all week, from 15 to the 21 of August. Each neighbourhood goes all out to decorate their streets and organize activites. Prizes are awarded for many different things, from decorations to music to other activites. One of the really intersting activites is a competition involving castelleres. Alex will explain this activity in her blog.
As I said, all the streets are decorated and from the following photos you would not even know they were streets. The creativity demonstrated was awesome. Alex and I had observed one group over the summer and wondered what they were doing and I’ll let Alex comment on them because we really felt for them after the first night.

This is one street that we came across during our wanderings. Note the crowds, the time is well after midnight.

On middle verdi we came across the winning street. Their theme was war of the worlds and you could see the time and massive effort that went into this production.

Each area had stages set up in the middle of the decorations where live groups played all typers of music. There were poets reading their poetry and dancing. All high quality I might add.

On upper verdi the theme was a fantasy world. These figures are over 3 metres high and the owl stretched almost across the street. I might add that every single one of these displays, all over gracia, used only recycled materials. Plastic bottles, plastic bags, newspaper, all recycled.

This last photo is in B&W as the original color had lighting that made it so monochromatic. Each one of the styrofoam balls had been hand carved by someone. It was like walking through a dream world.

Everything seemd to end that week. Detlef was the first one to return home to Lisbon. Franko left on Thursday. I was really glad to get to know these people and they certainly left me with a lasting impression. Franko and I hit it off from day one. I felt like I had known him for a long time and hopefully I will be able to say that. He will return to BCN before Alex and I return to Toronto. Another bit of news, Naomi and Xavi have split up after three years together. Naomi is living with us until she can find a new place to live. I hope both of them are ok.

By the way, during the week, everyone was ill. Alex is still under the weather but is on the road to recovery. I guess the quiet weekend helped a bit.

Here’s a poem in catalan. I think it was written for the festa 2006 and I think it’s titled

BAN
Del mati, i fins l’horabaixa,
i de nits, al carrer estant,
tots aquells que anem de marxa
haurem de complir aquest Ban.

No badem, que aqui la festa
es festa de molta gent,
gent que penca, gent valenta,
gent que ho fa per l’altra gent.

Tindrem tecs i fartaneres,
hi haura trons i timbalers,
i sabors de nits rumberes
i les taules al carrer.

Nomes fins a quarts de tres,
que la nit ens pot abatre.
Ja els divendres i els dissabtes
plegarem a quarts de quatre.

Comte haurem amb les begudes,
l’alcofoll i els combinats
no van be per les arrugues
ni tampoc pels arrugats.

Si amb la birra ens ve pixera
hem d’anar alla on mes conve,
no fotessim cagalera:
al baci, i apuntem be!

Els qui tenen bar i barra
hauran de deixar passar
als qui de tant anar de farra
tenen ganes de buidar.

Reciclem plats, gots i ampolles,
no omplim de brossa el carrer.
I tambe, si anem en colla,
no fotem tant de merder.

Deixem l’auto a prop de casa,
que conve no perdre punts.
Si arribem ballant a Gracia
maxarem sabent-ne un munt!

Rumbes, tangos i boleros,
rock, pasdobles i fogots
i un ballar tan sandunguero
que enamora el meu xicot!

Portem cara de conquesta,
portem roba de coto
perque si crema la festa
no ens faci fred ni calor!

Que hi ha diables a la placa
i un feroc drac volador,
que hi ha gent que pica en terra
ballant a cops de basto.

I gegants, i gent que puja
pel damunt d’un munt de gent,
i un dimoni i una bruixa
empaitant tot el jovent.

Sota un cel de serpentines
avui sopem al carrer.
Tot xerrant amb la veina,
que en farem de mullader!

Crits i amunt! que ja comenca,
la de Gracia es festa gran
p erque el poble es qui la pensa
i de nits la va somiant!

Donat a Barcelona l’agost del 2006

I don’t understand a lot of it but the parts I do are all about Gracia and this festa major.

Have a great week.

August 21, 2006 at 11:46 am 4 comments

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