27 August 2007

A mini-tour

I promised a few photos of our place in Barcelona, now that the whole setup can function again, thanks to 1) a card reader, 2) my dad's help in backing up and deleting an unwieldy and hard-disk-gobbling amount of photos, and 3) internet, yay! Credit for most of the pics goes to K., poet and picture-taker extraordinaire.

Our new kitchen! As seen from the dining room (with original corner hutch) and towards the blue living room. The oven still isn't in yet, thus the big hole under the stove, but I love how it all turned out, especially the exposed brick (kudos to M. on that, who is the visionary in this relationship). There will be a marble bar extending from the free-standing shelf over to the counter.

The front, purple room, as seen from the green room, our bedroom. The purple room will be an office/library, thus the piles of books (which we hope to put on built-to-order shelves):

The blue room again, with a chest of drawers built by M's great-grandfather, and, yes, a TV.

A close-up of the bathroom sink. Flowery antique saucer used as soap dish, in contrast to modern slate gray tiles and sleek fixtures.

It will be a long process to complete all of the many details that we left unfinished this summer, with little bits done here and there on weekend visits. Some things will remain provisional for the next two years, until we move some of our favorite things from Brussels to Barcelona, and others will change as we refurbish old furniture and buy new items. Each step will be exciting, I think, even if it takes a long time.

Bruxelles redux

As the Mister and I were falling asleep last night, I whispered, "I'm happy to be home." What I meant was, happy to be in our own, big bed, happy to be alone in our own house, happy to unpack the suitcases (in which we lugged about fifty books purchased during our travels).

I have to admit that it wasn't so thrilling, however, after sunny, breezy Barcelona and the sincere, effortless beauty of Vermont, to return to the gray grime of Brussels. Everything I looked at seemed to be coated in a nauseating layer of ick; cigarette butts and beer at the train station tram-stop, crumpled paper and trampled french fries with neon pili-pili sauce revoltingly spread out over the sidewalk in front of our house. (A not uncommon sight, thanks to the frites wagon across the street.)

The gray skies didn't help, and neither did the knowledge that I would really have to knuckle down to work now that vacation was over. No more days spent being fed abundant mother-cooked meals, no more to-do lists that included such pressing items as "read Harry Potter" and "go to museum" and "play with nephew." I'll miss hearing him say, "Ook, Robin!" and his neverending question, "What's that?" to draw my attention to something, anything: the whole world is AWESOME when hanging out with a two-year-old.

Lest I get completely wistful about vacation being over, there are some things to look forward to: my mom is coming in a couple of days and we have lots of ideas for fun things to do while she's here, French class and choir will start up again soon, we will head back to Barcelona in mid-September, and back to the US in early October for a big family reunion: the two-hundred odd descendants of my great-grandparents are getting together for a big celebration of the centenary of their arrival.

And now, I need to do a little cleaning. Six weeks of neglect has left this house a little dusty.

17 August 2007

Inferno, paradiso

To solve the problem with our tickets I spent TEN hours on the phone (this number is NO exaggeration, although the following might possibly be). I heard Pachelbel's canon approximately six thousand, four hundred and seventy-nine times, talked to approximately fifty-seven different Cheaptickets agents and "supervisors" (in quotes due to my suspicion that these were just "agents" who were more skilled in customer evasion), and repeated our "record locator" and our situation the same number of times. Every time I called I was greeted with a cheerful description of our old "confirmed" cancelled flight, which seemed to be deliberately conceived to get my goat.

I lost my cool just a couple of times, M. once shouted threats at the Pachelbel's canon hold music when I couldn't take it any more, and we were told we had new, confirmed tickets three times. I finally thought we had a new ticket at the end of seven hours on the phone on Tuesday, but woke up on Wednesday to find no e-mail confirmation, and BA only had a record of the last leg of our return trip, from London to Brussels. Three more hours on the phone resulted in, at long last, an actual new itinerary, a confirmation number, and what appeared to be a charge of over three thousand euros. Yet another call was required to make sure that we wouldn't be charged for the new flight.

The ten hours I spent on the phone were just about evenly matched to the ten hours we spent in the air yesterday, and British Airways in the heavens at least somewhat made up for the hell of Cheaptickets and the purgatory of Heathrow: we flew first class on our transatlantic flight! (The ticket we were given by cheaptickets was the slightly better "World Traveler Plus," probably because it was the only thing available, and then BA bumped us up to first class.)

Flying first class on a long-haul flight has long been a dream of mine, so I was giddy with excitement when we got on the plane and discovered that our seats were better described as seat/bed/entertainment compartments. Like little kids, we pushed all the buttons, zooming in and out in our fully reclinable seats, and ordered champagne and newspapers (OK, like grown-up little kids). The food was actually delicious, the china was real, the service was impeccable, and the movies were pausable. (We watched Waitress: SO good! Watch it!) It was the best flight I've ever had.

My spirits weren't even dampened by a lost bag in Boston, and after a late-night drive to Vermont with my brother and sister-in-law, all it took was one whiff of the good Vermont air to feel entirely at peace. When we got out of the car, the sky was brilliantly clear, displaying a magnificently populated starscape. I had forgotten how electrifying of a sight it is, this infinity of stars, the way the night sky was meant to be seen. The milky way meandered across the heaven, the big dipper scooped low at the horizon, and as we stood there, both M. and my sister-in-law, who had never seen a shooting star, saw a large one greet us with its light.

14 August 2007

Not so cheap

Stop the presses! We are flying to the US on Thursday, or are supposed to be. But when I called this morning to order a vegetarian meal, British Airways told me that our reservation had been cancelled. When? The day after I bought the ticket, two months ago. And who cancelld it? Why, the reserving agent, cheaptickets. This is news to me, because we paid for these tickets (and despite the company’s name, not so cheaply, hoo boy no sir), and because we were never informed of any such change.

Cheaptickets.com, meanwhile, tells me (after answering the phone—in India, I think—“thank you for calling Orbitz”) that our flight is confirmed and there shouldn’t be a problem, and we should call back in four hours when BA offices in the US open. In four hours. Aaack, we just want some answers, and we just want to be able to get to Boston and then back to Brussels, without forking out more money.

This is the second time I’ve had a major problem with cheaptickets.com, so I don’t mind telling the world: DON’T buy your ticket from them! The last time, I was stuck for an extra day in Halifax because Delta told me I hadn’t paid for my flight, when again I most certainly had, and also not cheaply. This is beginning to sound sort of familiar.


Where to begin, after so many days and so much work and fun?

Let’s begin with a color. Think of the worst color you can imagine. Specifically, the worst color possible for your new home’s entry, dining room, and kitchen. Then imagine walking into your house, a smile already on your face in anticipation of seeing the completed paint and the trim new kitchen, then wiped off after finding the walls painted exactly that color, that horrid color.

That color for me is a pale electric greeny-yellow, and if you come to visit you can still see it in the little guest bedroom. We could only afford to re-paint a certain number of rooms, so there it will remain until we someday take it upon ourselves to wield brush and paint. Actually, in an enclosed space, and one that I don’t tend to frequent (given that at the moment it serves as a storage warehouse for old furniture and dusty lamps) it’s even tolerable. It was the living spaces, the heart of the apartment, that I just couldn’t stand to see robed in that upsetting, nerves-on-edge tint.

The whole thing was more or less our fault, anyway. We tried to choose paint colors by computer, first carefully narrowing down our Pantone favorites, then through some complicated “translation” programs to get the color equivalent of the “Natural Color System” preferred by the painters. I don’t know how “almond cream” on our computer in Brussels translated to “pale electric greeny-yellow” on our walls in Barcelona, but so it did. (I would point out that the painters didn’t help much; we had described the difficulty we had of getting the color codes, and included a description of the color we wished for, and I’m sure I don’t know how they thought that the two were even remotely related.) To further add to our grievance, M. had actually seen the colors during a quick business trip the previous week, and had very much liked them, although they weren't exact. Turns out it was only the "tinted primer" that the painters had mixed up based on our descriptions, but they never mentioned the possibility that the final color would be different, nor did they remark to us that the color took a drastic turn between "description" and official "code."

The walls were repainted in due course, and are now a nice buttery cream. And in the weeks since that first rather shocking welcome, we have done a lot of hard work. I never expected the house to be as utterly dirty as it was, covered with thick layers of plaster dust, paint splatters (another gripe with the painters; did they not use drop cloths?), and wood particles, all on top of the decades of dust accumulated by the 97-year-old great aunt who lived here before us.

We moved in a couple of weeks ago, but it wasn’t until last Thursday, when the carpenter finally came in to put the doors and trim on the kitchen cabinets, that that things felt like they were coming together visually. (Also provoking another round of wood-dust cleaning.) The cabinet wood, a decision made so long ago I couldn’t remember what it looked like, goes fabulously with the exposed-brick wall, the rustic black stove hood, and the creamy countertop.

Meanwhile, we’ve been doing a million things, from buying curtain rods and doorknobs to dealing with the lovely and tangled red tape of electric, phone, and internet companies, from mopping and washing furniture to unpacking boxes, opening wedding gifts (like Christmas!), and trying to figure out where that box of bed linen went.

We’ve also managed to have some fun in the month since I last wrote; we’ve twice been up to the coast for a quick weekend beach trip, once out to the Catalan interior (the beautiful, sunswept Sagarra), and a good friend of ours came for a stay, prompting welcome respites like paella at the port, strolls in the city, visits to favorite restaurants, an afternoon in Sitges, and a ride on the cable car that sways its way over the water from Barceloneta to Montjuich.

What our quick Costa Brava trip this weekend (to celebrate our niece’s two-year birthday) told me, though, is how much I was looking forward to coming back to our breezy and serene apartment. I already love this place, knowing that it will be a home that we continue to build and live in, a place to come back to from wherever we are in the world.