11 July 2008

On the docket

Today's focus will be packing bags for my Tuesday departure to the US (since we'll be at the beach for the weekend, returning Monday). I should say "bag" because I'm aiming to cram a month's worth of stuff into one carry-on suitcase. And since our activities range from camping and hiking to city dining and wine tasting, in temperatures ranging from Death Valley Pickle to San Francisco Fickle, I imagine the task will be a bit tricky. I will count on layers, and on laundromats, to make it work. I'll choose the most lightweight things I own. The clunkiest things (tennis shoes, for camping/hiking, and jeans and a sweatshirt) I plan to wear on the plane. So here's hoping for the best!

Almost a year ago was the disastrous pre-trip where I discovered that our paid-for tickets did not exist. So another task today will be thorough confirmations of all plane tickets.

There are still a million details to figure out for the Las Vegas/Grand Canyon/California driving tour, but I figure I can do a little bit of that while I'm in Boston, and that we can also just go with the flow and find places to sleep on the fly. Is that a bad idea? It being high season and all?

Last but not least, tonight we're going to see a Madeleine Peyroux concert at the beautiful Palau de la Música Catalana. Yippee! M's birthday gift from his parents were concert tickets, and we got to choose which concert (limited by the fact that it had to be, um, today, the only day M. is in town before our trip and without prior commitments). Lucky for us, this concert is happening today, and lucky for me, the birthday boy is sharing his present with yours truly.


Last night a friend came over, a friend we haven't seen in months, and part of his news concerned a business venture/harebrained scheme that involves selling ebook readers to the European market. He wanted our two cents as to whether this is a good idea. In the US, the Sony Reader and the Amazon Kindle have made some waves, but here there are few to zero places to buy such devices, and publishers are correspondingly slow to format new books in European languages. Anyway, whatever he decides to do, the best part is that he had a Reader with him. And he left it with us for a couple of days to try out!

I will defend and champion the old fashioned, ink-and-paper book as long as I have breath, but I have to admit I jumped up and down like the geek that I am when the Reader come out of its box. I've been loosely following the news on these things but hadn't yet held one in my hands, much less used one to read a book.

So last night before falling asleep I curled up in bed with a Ken Follett e-ink novel (pre-loaded, it was pretty much my only option longer than a twenty-page excerpt) instead of my ink-ink James Baldwin novel. I am rather surprised about this, but I loved it (not the novel--blech, the experience)! "Turning" pages didn't involve anything more challenging than a slight pressure of my thumb, which in bed with a husband who is bound to bolt upright and look about him as if an intruder had just catapulted through the window when I make too much noise, is an advantage.

I'm enthusiastic about the e-ink, which really is easy to read and easy on the eyes, in bright light or in low light (although there is no internal light source, so in the dark, I still needed a lamp). The device is a pleasure to hold, weighty without being heavy, and is a perfect compact size; I could slip it in my purse and easily bring it on the metro or on the plane.

And for sure, what made me interested in the thing in the first place are the implications for travel. I routinely lug around piles of novels to read while I'm in the air and wherever I'm going. Imagine no more heavy knapsacks! Imagine being able to refer to books that I needed for research without bringing the book along! Hundreds of books in one!

Which brings me to the drawbacks. As a literary scholar, I see great potential for this thing but have a feeling the realization is going to be long in coming. The titles available are bound to be best-sellers and standard classics, with not much in between. Poetry? Literary theory? History? Literature in other languages? (Which is the challenge our friend is facing.) Plus, it would be absolutely essential to be able to mark and annotate pages for future reference. The Reader has a "bookmark" feature, but it only enables you to "dogear" a particular page, with no way to distinguish why you did so. If you want to refer to your bookmarks, you get a random (the top?) line of text for the page, which doesn't help if you were interested in something further along. And your only option for deleting bookmarks is all or nothing. Plus, unless they come up with some very good interactive indexes and tables of contents, reference books will be as good as useless.

The menu interface leaves a lot to be desired, and can sometimes be slow. Even turning pages is annoyingly slow; there's a sort of black and white "flash" each time you do it. You can look at pictures and book covers but they're very slow in loading and only in black and white. It plays music, and you can stick headphones into it to listen while you read (not a feature I'd use, I don't think, since I don't like music piped directly into my head while my head is immersed in the world of a book).

I understand the Kindle does have internet connectivity, and does include newspaper and magazine reading capability. For me that would be useful, since a reader like this is the perfect distance between a laptop (on which I normally read the paper, but only at home or somewhere with internet) and a fancy phone (which I imagine is too small to really read a mag or paper), and would be perfect for commutes and travel--while saving oodles of one-use paper trash. The Reader, without these features, probably can't compete with the Kindle.

There are also looming questions about copyright, the price of books, digital vs. analog. Would I want both versions of the same book, if it's one I want to own and keep?

And the big question, the question our friend is asking us: Is it worth it? Would I buy it? For 300 bucks, I'd wait until they come out with better and cheaper versions before I'd buy. I'm thinking it's still not the moment to jump on this particular bandwagon. Hopefully someday the clever and cool folks at Apple will come up with a design that puts all the others to shame.

07 July 2008


How has it happened that several whole weeks have gone by since last I wrote anything here? It was kind of not my fault, because of the lack of internet in Barcelona, although it is kind of my fault because I can usually get a neighbor's signal if I sit on or near one of the balconies. Plus, we were in Brussels this past weekend for a wedding, and there was internet. But again! Not so much my fault! Because we had guests staying with us and you know how it is with having guests: you end up running around doing stuff and not so much bloggity blogging.

So, enough excuses. Since I've dropped off the face of the earth (no skype either, not since the Great Computer Failure of June 08), I should just briefly--but chronologically, as I am unfortunately linear in my thinking--summarize what we've been up to since I came to Barcelona with intent to live. (You see, strangely enough, after all of this time visiting Barcelona on summers and vacations and weekends, and even after we bought an apartment here, I've never truly thought of us "living" here. And now I do, because we are. It feels good.)

Hold on, first another (non-linear, parenthetical) note: I just typed the word "resume" instead of "summarize." Even as I pressed the delete button I was dumbly trying to process: why isn't resume right? why on earth did I think it was resume? what's the right word anyway? My fingers, typing faster than my brain, typed resume because in Catalan, you say "resumir" to mean "sum up," "go over," "summarize." Can it be that Catalan has so infiltrated my thinking that I am using reverse false cognates?

Anyhoo. The first week here was a madness of getting the apartment in shape for the Mister's birthday party and for guests who were to spend the following weekend with us. It was grimy from disuse and lack of time, on prior whirlwind weekends, to clean. I finally was able to convince the electrician to come and install all of our lights, which was a relief because it meant that our restored original lighting is now in place, instead of naked lightbulbs. The weather was sultry hot, humid, sunny. I didn't sleep properly for days, because of the heat, and the noise from the street through the open windows. But it was better than Brussels, where jackets are still necessary.

We had a fun family-and-friends birthday party; everybody had just left the house around midnight when our weekend guests arrived--the same Italian friends whose wedding we attended in Sardinia. We went to the beach for the first time this year, we ate lots of good food, we trudged around the city in the heat, we watched Spain win the European football championship. Our Italian friend (a big football fan himself) was a little puzzled, I think, as to why the Catalans were rather lackluster on the cheering front, until we pointed out the Franco-era flags waving in the stands and listened to frenzied radio commentary about the "raza superior": it's amazing how football in Europe can be so...political, so closely tied to ultra-nationalism.

Our friends left last Monday, and I finally had a rather calm few days to myself here. I got some work done, explored the neighborhood, did a little sales shopping. (In Europe--well, at least in Spain and Belgium--the sales are restricted to post-Christmas and late summer. Other times of the year, it's rare to find anything on sale, and so during these sale months everyone goes crazy, and it makes the news, sort of like Black Friday. I myself rather prefer NOT to shop during these times, as formerly orderly shops become bargain-basement jumbles of clothes, and formerly solicitous salespeople become surly and snappy. But I went to buy some items I had my eyes on earlier, and snagged them on sale on July 1.) I also finalized our rather complex set of plane tickets from Barcelona to Boston (me) and Brussels to Sioux Falls (him), then Sioux Falls (me) and Omaha (him; yeah, don't ask) to Las Vegas, then Las Vegas to Barcelona. It'll be his first trip to my midwestern birthplace, and I haven't been in years. We'll be in Iowa/South Dakota for a family reunion, and then we're taking two weeks to drive around California. I have never been (less surprisingly, he hasn't either) to Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Los Angeles, or San Francisco. So those are all on the list, and I have a feeling two weeks is going to start seeming awfully short.

I also got a haircut! I got a very short cut--a pageboy?--with long straight-across bangs. I've never had bangs like this and I'm still adjusting to them, but I think I like it. It looks kind of retro, kind of flapper-ish, and it went well with the beaded dress I wore to the wedding this weekend.

I had a bit of a misadventure when I flew to Brussels last Thursday. Somehow in setting the alarm I changed the time as well, so that when I thought I was waking up at 5:30 in the morning it was really 3:30 in the morning, and I had in reality only slept for two hours. Not until I was wheeling my little suitcase down the dark, deserted street did it occur to me to wonder why there were so few people and why it was so dark at 6 am. I showed up at the train station at 4:15 in the morning, and had to wait for it to open at 4:30. The first train to the airport was at 5:30, so I kind-of-slept for an hour, dragged myself to the airport and through check-in and security, and then kind-of-slept for another two and half hours because--Murphy's law!--the plane was delayed for two hours.

Upon arrival in Brussels, I had to rush home--shivering, because the skirt and tank top that had seemed so smart in boiling Barcelona did not quite cut it in chilly, rainy Brussels--change, and meet my Mister at a super swanky delicious restaurant called BonBon to celebrate our two years of weddedness. It was worth it though, because the meal was a memorable one and the travel stress melted away under the influence of a nice wine recommended by the sommelier and the handsome face across the table.

Unfortunately the glamor could last only for so long, because we had to clean the house in preparation for the guests who would be with us for the wedding, arriving later that night. The weekend was full of wedding flurry, inevitably. The bride and groom and many of the guests were a group of friends who had studied with the Mister at the Johns Hopkins International School in Bologna, a fun mix of Americans and Europeans of all stripes, and I got to meet some of them for the first time. The wedding itself was a civil ceremony that took place at the very grand town hall in the very grand Grand Place, and drinks afterwards were Belgian brews at a nearby brasserie. We danced and mingled until four o'clock in the morning, and the next day we were plied with the famous fries at Chez Antoine in Place Jourdain. I flew back to Barcelona late last night (the Mister had flown to Madrid for a conference) and well, here I am.

Here I am, that is, until a week from tomorrow, which is when the whole American adventure starts. I'm super excited to see family and celebrate and lolligag in cabins by the lake, but I'm really quite beside myself that we're finally going to take a driving trip around the west coast. Even if I end up feeling like foreigner in my own country.