Archive for September, 2006

Lisbon, here we come!!

Lisbon at Christmas

The main plan when we first got to Barcelona was to spend the year here for my dissertation research and then move on to Lisbon when I finished my degree to research a second project there. But then we fell in love with Barcelona and, suddenly, my second project in Lisbon didn’t sound so good anymore. I needed to find ways of staying in Barcelona. Who cares about Portugal?

Well, fate is funny and it has it that many of our good friends here have lived in Lisbon and they all LOVE it. Jackie & Sebastian lived there and they introduced us to many of their Lisbon friends who come for a visit. Naomi was there last week and loved it. Suddenly the interest to go to Portugal rekindled and we have booked our flight for a long weekend in december. We leave Dec 8th and come back on the 12th. Can’t wait!!!

September 29, 2006 at 5:17 pm Leave a comment

Gran Fiesta de Barcelona – Mercè

Norbert and Carole visited this week and we were really happy to see them. We spent the week wandering around the city and I had my first experience with pickpockets (see the previous post). We also discovered another little alcove in Bari Gotic. It was so relaxing and peaceful, almost zen like.

The sound of trickling water combined with the soft reflected light really made this alcove a place for reflection. What really added to the ambience was the sound of classical music filtering in from outside. There was a violinist and a cellist playing just outside the building.

I hope they enjoyed their week here as much as we enjoyed having them visit.

Well this weekend really was another kicker. Mercè started on Friday and it was a very wet day. It rained on and off for most of the day and a lot of events were either cancelled or postponed. It must be extremely disappointing for those who have dedicated so many hours of their time to organize, construct or practice for this major Barcelona event.

We had planned to attend a number of events on Friday but decided it was too wet. Besides, we had a party to go to that night. Tio Seb was having a surprise birthday party for Jackie at a club called Senses. We had a great time there and Jackie was completely caught off guard. They have a lot of friends and it seems like they all showed up. It goes to show how really great people those two are. We left the party around 2:00 and I heard it went on until about 7:00 the next day. Needless to say, all our plans for taking in the Mercè on Saturday were shelved. Saturday was a quiet day, a day to recharge my batteries.

Sunday we were up early and headed to Plaça de Sant Jaume to meet Francisca at 10:30. The square was packed.

The giants were performing when we arrived and because they were giants we could see them, at least the upper half of them. They are quite amazing and always come in pairs, man and woman. Some sport real hair and are very lifelike.

After the giants paraded around the square, Francisca discovered that the public was allowed in the Palau de la Generalitat. What a treat. The inside of this building is gorgeous and the few photos I took do not do it justice.

The marble floor is made of individual tiles of differnt coloured marble. You had to look very closely to see where they actually joined. From a distance they looked painted. The craftmanship put into this building was beyond words. On one wall, which is a modern addition and is actually a piece of art, is an inverted figure. The figure is a hollow in the wall. If you look at the bottom of the figure you can see what I mean.

From there we walked over to Ravel to eat. Alex and I had eaten in an Indian restaurant called Shalimar across from Jackie and Sebastian’s place and we really enjoyed it. Alex decided to call them so they came down and ate with us. Sebastian told me that he too had a quiet day yesterday (I wonder why). We visited with them for a while and then headed home. It was a full day.

Monday we wanted to go hiking but the trail we wanted to take was probably too muddy to be any fun. We were going to take the GR6 trail over to Sant Cugat. The beginning of the trail is very steep so we decided to do it some other time. Instead, we grabbed both of our cameras and headed to Bari Gotic (old Barcelona). We just walked around taking photos of anything that appealed to us. Here are some examples………

I saw this one when I was watching my feet.

This poster and reflection made me do a double take when I caught it out of the corner of my eye.

And then we needed an animal shot to round out the day, he was probably wondering what the heck we were doing……

We headed in the general direction of home and found Psseig de Gracia was closed to traffic and filled with kiosks. We browsed our way up the street and came across these wild hair dressers………..

The red dresser

and the gold dresser

So the long weekend comes to an end. It seems like we always chance upon the most interesting things because of wandering randomly around.

Hope you all have a great week.

September 25, 2006 at 5:36 pm Leave a comment

Jabuticaba

People often ask me if I miss Brazil. I don’t really miss places but I do miss family and friends, and also the food. Particularly the fruits. I miss having my papaya at breakfast (I tried it in Canada and Spain and it tastes like crap in both places) and some of the more exotic fruits like acerola and jabuticaba. Jabu-what? You heard it right – jabuticaba. It sort of looks like a grape – same principle, seed in the middle wrapped by this succulent flesh – but the skin is a little tougher and it can be much sweeter. It also grows differently. Instead of coming in a bunch that hangs off a plant, jabuticabas grew right from the bark and when it’s season it can cover the whole tree. My grandmother has two trees in her backyard and every year the family has a few weeks of jabuticaba-picking bonanza. My brother sent the recent pictures of this year’s events:

Picking jabuticaba

Jabuticaba

September 24, 2006 at 11:24 pm 10 comments

The wisdom of a child

Alan sent me this story today from this blog. I don’t know if it’s true but it certainly brings tears to one’s eyes:

Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog’s owner, his wife, and their little boy were all very attached to Belker and they were hoping for a miracle. I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family there were no miracles left for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.

As we made arrangements, the owners told me they thought it would be good for the four-year-old boy to observe the procedure. They felt he could learn something from the experience.
The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker’s family surrounded him. The little boy seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on.
Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away. The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion.

We sat together for a while after Belker’s death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives.
The little boy, who had been listening quietly, piped up, “I know why.”
Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I’d never heard a more comforting explanation. He said, “Everybody is born so that they can learn how to live a good life – like loving everybody and being nice, right?” The four-year- old continued, “Well, animals already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.”

September 23, 2006 at 8:22 pm 1 comment

Fall is here

Year 4 of the PhD begins… I miss Toronto!!

September 23, 2006 at 2:46 am 1 comment

It Finally Happened

Well, today, Tuesday September 19 it happened. Norbert and Carole are in town and we were just wandering around. We had gone to Hospital Sant Pau and took the number 92 bus up to the top entrance of Parc Guell. We walked around the park and exited at the lower entrance. From there we walked to where the number 24 bus stops. It was crowded and when the bus came there was a lot of people in a hurry to get on. Once on, someone pushed Norbert and he gave them grief. I was also being jostled and I kept looking at my pocket to make sure nothing was going on there. I had my camera in my other hand and I was trying to keep my balance on a moving bus. I felt something near the pocket so I turned away so that my pocket was against the seat. To no avail. There were three east europeans working together and they got out at the next stop. Actually, they waited until the door was closing and then dashed out. I immediately felt for my wallet and guess what, gone. I should have yelled something right away but for some reason I didn’t (maybe pride). I didn’t lose much, maybe 5 Euros at most. I had a debit card, my drivers licence, my health insurance card and a pocket version of my birth certificate. All except the birth certificate are photo id. I had another debit card so I used it right away to cancel the old one.

How do I feel ? I’m not sure. I am pissed off but not all that much. I do wish that I could have inflicted severe physical pain on one of them and I envision different scenarios by which that happens. Anyhow, I now have experience on what to look for. I was always cautious on the subway but the bus had never occured to me. It just goes to show that even when you’re prepared you always let your guard down and that is when it happens. OK, now I have learned and will take measures to prevent this from happening again. Now anyone reading this blog must understand that this type of theft occurs in ALL big cities. Paris, London and Rome. Barcelona is no exception and I would still encourage everyone to come and visit.

September 19, 2006 at 6:28 pm 4 comments

Catalan language and poetry

Sept 11th was an important holiday for Catalunya. While the rest of the world talked about terrorist attacks and the loss of liberties those entailed, Catalans remembered the date in 1714 when its armies surrendered to the Spanish forces led by Felipe V. Many foreigners laugh and shake their heads – “why commemorate a defeat?”, they ask. Because it wasn’t a simple defeat. The date marked the beginning of suppression of Catalan language, culture and institutions by a centralizing Spanish monarchy that wanted to punish Catalunya for picking the wrong side on the war of succession to the throne. So the date has become an important day to commemorate freedom (llibertat) and Catalan culture.

Young Catalan at Sant Cugat Flags at Saint Cugat

As Alan mentioned on his blog, when we took the train that day to go hiking nearby, we were given a little hardcover book of Catalan poetry. It is entitled Catalunya en vers: mil anys d’història a través de la poesia and it is basically a collection of poems that mention Catalunya as a nation. Since nationalism was the criteria, most of the poems hail back from the nineteenth century, that golden age of nationalism.

I have to say I was very disappointed. For a book that wants to talk about “a thousand years of history”, it completely ignores the middle ages. The oldest poem in the book is from the seventeenth century. As a medievalist, I cannot let that pass without saying something. There was no dearth of poets and writers writing in Catalan between the 13th and 15th centuries. Just think of Ramon Llull or Ausiàs March.

It always amazes people when I tell them that not only Catalan is a language in its own right (and not a dialect of Castilian as some assume), but it is also one of the oldest of the current languages spoken in Europe. Scholars hail about the early development of English citing the work of Geoffrey Chaucer and Shakespeare. Well, Ramon Llull was writing his mystical novels one hundred years before Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales just as Ausiàs March and his contemporaries were writing beautifully a hundred years before Shakespeare.

Here’s one of Ausias March love poems:
Així com cell qui en lo somni·s delita
e son delit de foll pensament ve,
ne pren a mi, que·l temps passat me té
l’imaginar, que altre bé no hi habita.
Sentint estar en aguait ma dolor,
sabent de cert que en ses mans he de jaure,
temps d’avenir en negun be’m pot caure:
aquell passat en mi és lo millor.

Del temps present no·m trobe amador,
mas del passat, que és no res e finit.
D’aquest pensar me sojorn e·m delit,
mas, quan lo perd, s’esforça ma dolor,
sí com aquell qui és jutjat a mort
e de llong temps la sap e s’aconhorta
e creure·l fan que li serà estorta
e·l fan morir sens un punt de record.

Plagués a Déu que mon pensar fos mort
e que passàs ma vida en dorment:
malament viu qui té lo pensament
per enemic, fent-li d’enuigs report,
e, com lo vol d’algun plaer servir,
li’n pren així com dona ab son infant,
que, si verí li demana plorant,
ha tan poc seny que no·l sap contradir.

Fóra millor ma dolor soferir
que no mesclar poca part de plaer
entre aquells mals, qui·m giten de saber
com del passar plaer me cové eixir.
Las! mon delit dolor se converteix,
dobla’s l’afany aprés d’un poc repòs,
sí co·l malalt qui, per un plasent mos,
tot son menjar en dolor se nodreix.

Com l’ermità qui enyorament no”l creix
d’aquells amics que tenia en lo món
e, essent llong temps que en lo poblat no fon,
per fortuit cas un d’ells li apareix
qui los passats plaers li renovella
sí que·l passat present li fa tornar;
mas, com se’n part, l’és forçat congoixar,
lo bé, com fuig, ab grans crits mal apella.

Plena de seny, quan amor és molt vella,
absença és lo verme que la guasta,
si fermetat durament no contrasta
e creure poc, si l’envejós consella.

September 14, 2006 at 8:51 pm Leave a comment

Vallfogona and Roca Guinart

It’s amazing the way we thread our way through various interests. Where one thing leads to another and another and another……… until we find ourselves in a place that has no common links to where we started from. In this sense, this post is probably an intermediate step.

Yesterday I posted some Catalan poetry I had picked from a booklet given to us on September 11 to celebrate a Catalan holiday. I understood the context of one of the poems but didn’t know the first one. Antoni, a phtographer from Sant Pol de Mar explained that the poem was about a famous Catalan bandit, Roca Guinart. Of course I had to look into this. It’s difficult to research because I do not speak Catalan and almost all of the references were in Catalan, after all he is part of Catalan folklore.

Well, I found reference to the author, Francesc Vicent Garcia (Rector of Vallfogona) and the town Vallfogona.

Vallfogona de Riucorb is a pueblo of 130 people. It’s roots go back before 1038 with the Queralt and Cervallo families (they have a history all to themselves) and it was known as Vallis Alfedi or Vall d’Aleu until the 12th century.

In 1193 the Knights Templar established a Templar castle there and, after the order was dissolved in 1312 it was taken over by the Hospitalers. In 1416 the castle was restored and in 1811 became the house of Vallfogona de Comalats. The town was surrounded by a fortress with towers and had a hospital that cared for pilgrims and the sick. There are still ruins from the chapel of Sant Pere dels Bigats dating back to the 13th century.

As I mentioned, one of the towns citizens was Francesc Garcia Torres ( Tortosa 1582-Vallfogona 1623,) and also known as Rector of Vallfogona. He studied in Lleida and Vic and, in 1607, he came to Vallfogona where he befriended Rocaguinarda and wrote the poem. In 1951, the town erected a monument in his memory.

The famous “bandoler” Perot Rocaguinarda (Roca Guinart) was born in December 18th 1582 in Oristà, Catalunya. He is also refered to as the gentleman bandit Roque Guinart in Don Quixote. The Castilian writer Miguel de Cervantes imagined the Catalans as being fearsome natives. He writes: “More than forty highwaymen suddenly surrounded them and told them in Catalan to stop and do not move until the captain had arrived.” The captain was Perot Rocaguinarda, and Don Quijote and his attendant spent three days and three nights with that Catalan highwayman, hiding themselves together through the woods around Barcelona. Just as a point of interest he was one of a a very few highwaymen who escaped the gallows. His house of birth can still be seen (at least the ruins) inOristà.

September 14, 2006 at 12:19 pm 2 comments

Some Catalan Poetry

I had mentioned in my last post that we were given a book on Catalan poetry. I was browsing through the book and realized that the poems were written over many centuries and by people from all levels of Catalan society. One poem written in the 16th century seems to be about a man named Roca and was written by Francesc Vicent Garcia who was the rector of Vallfogona. It was a random selection as I can only understand a little.

A ROCA GUINART

Quan baixes de muntanya, valent Roca,
com si una roca de Montseny baixara,
mostres al mon la fortalesa rara,
que per a tu sa furia tota es poca.
Ninguna de tes bales lo cap toca
de qui no et veja, si no fuig la cara,
que ton valor insigne no s’empara
tras falsa mata ni traidora soca.
Tot aquest Principat fas que badalle,
Que et persegueix de sou i persegueixes
Ab mortal i funebre parasisme.
Qui tinga el tal judici mire I calle,
O diga’t senyoria, que ho mereixes
Per lo millor pillard del cristianisme.

This next poem written Anonim (anonymously) is about the war of 1812 against France. It stood out because of our visit to Montserrat and the destruction caused by Napoleon’s armies there (not to mention the theft of history).

De la Guerra Del Frances
Es una meravella
De veure els sometents;
Com mes els aturmenten,
Sempre son mes valents.
Francesos valerosos,
direu a vostre rei
que dintre Catalunya
mai hi fara la llei.
La primera vegada
que al Bruc vareu anar,
molt contents i alegres
hi vareu arribar.
Amb els canons de fusta
els llevarem la pell.
Es van posar a correr
fins a Molins de Rei.
A la guerra, a la guerra,
contra Napoleon,
per defensar Fernando,
la Patria y Religion.

Hope you enjoy and if any reader would care to comment on the content of the first poem, it would be very much appreciated.

September 13, 2006 at 8:57 am 1 comment

Sant Cugat del Valles

Barcelona is one truly amazing city. The more we discover its secrets the more impressive it gets. This morning, Alex and I took the metro from Provenca station to Vallvidrera. It’s only 2 or 3 stops but the metro station is in a park , Serra de Collserola. Our objective was to hike from Barcelona to Sant Cugat. It’s about a 15 to 20 km hike with an altitude difference of 200 metres. I really didn’t feel like going but I knew that because I felt this way it was probably going to be a good day. It was.
We left home at 7:15 and walked over to the Provenca station. Getting out at Vallvidrera was a real surprise because it was a LOT cooler there than home. Exiting the station, we were given a hardcover book of Catalan poetry. Why? it was a holday to celebrate being Catalan so all kinds of cultural events were happening around Catalunya.

We were right at the entrance to the park and ready to start our trek. The trail began at the information centre which was a little uphill. Once we reached the start, Alex synchronized our position on the map so we could follow the trail a little easier. A good thing too because many of the directional signs had been removed by vandals and there are many trails in the park. The beginning of the trail was more or less a dirt road. It was an easy path but climbed steadily. This was our view about 45 minutes into the walk, behind Tibidabo and up quite high.

A little further along and the trail split a few ways. It was a good thing we had the map. We had to walk along a road for a few hundred metres and at this point we took a paved trail that veered down off the road. We followed it for about a kilometre and then came to some switchback. We checked the map and saw that we were on the wrong trail. There were two trails that were very close at the road and we took the first one we saw. Climbing back to the road we saw the other trail about 5 metres further. Proceeding along the correct trail we crossed a viaduct and stopped to admire the view. It was still morning and the haze was quite heavy. Far off, you could just see Montserrat and even from that distance it was still impressive. I tried taking a photo but it didn’t come out. Could have used a polarizing filter. Just after the viaduct there were some ruins and three trails leading off in different directions. After consulting the map and the guide book we found the right one.

The trail varied significantly in quality, going from paved path to rock strewn, narrow gorges. It was at this point that we had the roughest and narrowest part of the hike. The trail was quite steep, both up and down sections, and rocky but if you took your time and carefully picked your way it was ok.

So, here we are picking our way carefully through the rough spots when I hear this pounding behind me. We move out of the way and this jogger comes running by. He was like a gazelle, bouncing from rock to rock. I was impressed with his sure footedness (is that a word). By the way, he wasn’t the only jogger to go by.

There were lot’s of mountain bikers up there too and at one point there was quite an interesting bit of trail. We could hear the cyclists coming so we stood to one side of the trail. It was hilarious because the first rider stood up and braked for all he was worth. He ended up at the side of the trail and about three riders behind him all drove into each other. The other three manged to stop in time and they all proceeded cautiously down this piece of trail. They were questioning the guide as to the mountain bike classification of Media because of the traildifficulty and the steep, narrow inclines. Anyhow, we met up with them at the bottom as they were changing someone’s back tire.

We continued along this trail until a point where five trails intersected. Some of the trails are classed as GR or Gran Recorregu and PR or Petit Recorregu. These are long distance and short distance trails that make up a nation wide network of trekking trails. At this point we required serious map consultation. Imagine taking a GR trail and ending up in Madrid ????

Once again we headed off on the right path and exited the difficult phase at a restaurant, Masia can Borrell. It was a farm at some time and very rustic. The food was very Catalan and fit the mood we were in. We ordered pan amb tomaquet and Jamon con melon. the pan was served as separate items. We had to rub the garlic and tomato onto the bread. the food was DELICIOUS, just enough to keep us going.

We studied the map and headed back out to the trail. At this point the trail passed through open meadows. It was nice to have such large variations in trail quality and surroundings.

As soon as we walked through the fields and back into the woods, we entered the final three kms before reaching Sant Cugat. The trail here was very easy and peaceful.

It was around here that we saw this weird tree, all by itself, in the middle of a field.

This tree is known as Pi d’en Xandri. It is over 200 years old and I guess at that age, needs help in standing. Actually, it’s quite an impressive and healthy tree for 200 years old.

Well, we finally arived in Sant Cugat, three and a half hours after leaving Barcelona. We headed up to the monastery that is in the old part of the city.

This place was OLD. You could feel the age as you walked around the buildings. I beleive it was founded around 900 AD and has quite the history. It’s a Benedictine monastery so has ties with Montserrat.

Alex was looking at some copies of manuscript and mentioned the century it was from. A little later on we saw copies of the same manuscript in the museum with some background info on it and she was dead on. She always amazes me with how much she knows.

After we left the abbey, Alex wanted to visit the church. It was a part of the monastery and was built in the 12th or 13th century. We got there to find the big doors closed and locked.

Alex went back to the monastery to ask when the church would be open and I waited outside. In a few minutes, a man came running over and unlocked the doors. I couldn’t beleive it. Alex came around the corner and I asked her how she managed to have so much pull. She laughed and told me that they said the church doesn’t open until 6:00 PM so we were very fortunate.

We toured the church and I found graves from the 1400’s . I always look on the floor because they buried influential people in the church floors. Some graves were too old to read, their markings all worn off.

Ok, it was time to go so we headed out to the square, had a clara and some aceitunas and then trekked over to the train station. We arrived home around 3:00 after a truly great day.

September 12, 2006 at 7:14 pm 3 comments

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