29 December 2009

Christmas week in Maine, by the numbers

approximate hours spent in pajamas: 100

games played: 11
(Nerts, Oh heck, Catchphrase, Trivial Pursuit, Tick, Apples to Apples, Go Fish, War, Old Maid [these last three particular favorites of our 4-year old nephew], Bunko, Boggle)

types of sweets eaten: 18
(although not exactly countable since this involved ongoing grazing, there was: pumpkin bread pudding, apple crisp, chocolate sour cream cake, coconut macaroons, raspberry coconut bars, toffee chocolate bars, caramel chocolate nest cookies, mexican wedding cookies, date bars, butternut squash bread, banket [Dutch almond patties], puppy chow, maple pound cake, homemade candy [truffles, peppermint patties, caramels, and maple candy], french cherry pie)

entire containers of Tums chewed due to pregnancy/overeating hearburn: 1

bookstores or booksales visited: 6

books read and/or purchased: 9
(I finally got to read Steinbeck's Travels with Charley, finished but was disappointed by Joseph O'Neill's Netherland, and got a beautiful edition of Umberto Saba's poems, plus a bunch of small-town library book sale finds)

suitcases checked due to unwieldy piles of books on return trip home: 2

Christmas-eve candlelight services: 1

weeks pregnant: 34

airport delays: 0, thank heavens

sub-freezing walks on the beach: 1

snowfalls: 2

matching t-shirts donned for matching t-shirt photo: 15

Christmas plays performed: 1 (I was pregnant Mary)

stockings hung by the chimney with care: 15

moments I thought what an awesome family this kid is going to be born into: countless

03 December 2009

30 weeks

Ah, yes. I have a blog. I'm sorry I haven't written, and surprised I haven't written much here, because pregnancy is such a weird and cool and shocking thing, and I'm weirded out and shocked almost every day. And I love reading about other people's pregnancies, have survived by doing so. Yet this at the same time it is all so personal and interior and inward...all so our experience that I want to savor it with the Mister, and friends and family--writing about it just seems to place me squarely in cliché-land. Oh, yes, I suppose there's another reason I haven't written much: trying to eke out a dissertation, grading the never-ending pile of student papers that threatens to slope off of our coffee table, and making lesson plans (only a couple more to go!) have just been a *tad* bit time-consuming.

We flew to Barcelona for Thanksgiving week; it was our last chance to see everyone there before baby, and to show off the belly (I finally have one!). We filled the too-quick trip spending as much time as possible with our friends and family, especially the Mister's grandmother, and eating as much tapas and delicious seafood as possible (fortunately, these two agenda items were perfectly compatible, although not with my smooshed heartburn-prone stomach). We made a Catalan-American Thanksgiving dinner: I contributed stuffing, potatoes, and an apple pie to others' roasted chicken, salad and vegetables. It only tasted a little like Thanksgiving, but at the same time I was so thankful for...everything...that it was indeed a Thanksgiving day.

However. I don't exactly recommend a 9 and a half hour flight crammed into the tiniest seats known to man plus two layovers when one is thirty weeks pregnant. It didn't help that our alarm didn't go off the morning of our return trip and at 6am the taxi driver woke us up. But at the same time, the travel went well and I stayed hydrated and on my feet (although my ankles resembled tree trunks by the time it was all said and done).

Speaking of which, how did 22 weeks become 30? How did I suddenly turn into the pregnant lady who "oof"s and groans every time she sits down, stands up, or rolls over? I really do think it happened overnight, because only a few days ago I was still amazed that I felt rather sprightly and was surprised every time I looked down--what I looked like didn't correspond with what I felt like. But now the two are starting to come closer together: I am definitely starting to feel like what I look like. As one of my students oh-so smilingly pointed out today, I am huffing and puffing a lot when I arrive to class. (Thanks, buddy! I hadn't noticed!) Also, turning the corner into the last ten weeks makes it seem a bit more real--in the 20-something weeks you're only about halfway. But in the 30-something weeks it's all a countdown to the big day.

There's still so much to do! So much to buy! My mom, sister, and sisters-in-law threw me a fantastic baby shower in Boston the day we flew out from there to Barcelona, and in addition to being really fun and a perfect chance to see some of the Boston-based lovely ladies in my life, they gave us some wonderful gifts. Then in Barcelona we were also given so many cute little outfits and bedding and hand-me-downs that we came home with quite a nice start to filling out this baby's wardrobe and swaddling needs. (We got so many striped outfits--I love them!--that the Mister expressed worry that our baby might look like a broken television...) But it is just the beginning! I finally ordered some of the cloth diapers we'll need, which I feel very triumphant about, and we plan to make another run to Indianapolis for further baby equipment, including the sort of obligatory crib and carseat.

Christmas is right around the corner, and I know that will make these last ten weeks (or less?!) fly by. I want to savor them all, remember every drop of them. I love being pregnant, love seeing how my body is changing and what it's capable of. I don't want this to go too fast, but at the same time, the arrival of our son can't come fast enough.

13 October 2009

Snips and snails

Last Thursday we went to our 22-week midwife appointment and ultrasound, eager to know what variety of human we would be having in February, eager to have a pronoun to use when referring to this child of ours, eager to narrow down our name speculation by half. The Mister had a feeling that it would be a boy, while I had absolutely no intuition in one direction or another.

As the technician rolled the rolly ultrasound thing over my belly, she pointed out kidneys and brain hemispheres and heart chambers, a nose and fingers and toes, femurs and ribs and the umbilical cord. At last, hovering over another grainy image of round shapes, she typed BOY in big yellow letters on the screen. The Mister was right! It only sunk in, a few tears escaping of their own accord, when the technician started talking about "his legs" and the way "he's kicking." And kick he did! It was rather wild to watch him kick and feel it at the same time, hard enough that the little ultrasound wand bobbed up and down too. We watched him (him!) swallow amniotic fluid, we admired his little feet waving around, and found his little curled fist tucked under his jaw.

We were able to tell all four grandparents in person, since they were all in town over the weekend. As the Mister's only sister does not plan to have any more kids in addition to her two girls, the news was greeted with special joy by the Catalan family. But a new baby is always joyful, and since my parents adore their three grandsons (and surely have quite a few more grandchildren on the horizon--there are five of us, after all), they were just as thrilled with the boy-baby news as all of us.

I surprised myself by feeling both thrilled and a little let down, too, sad about the girl that we don't have, even though I had no preference one way or the other and was equally excited about the possibility of both. I was puzzling over this to my friend, and she told me: until now, it was like I had two imaginary babies, and both were equally present in my mind's eye. Now there's just one, so it makes sense that I would feel a tiny bit of loss for the other. If it were the day of birth, the emotions of meeting our son would probably wipe away any lingering regret about a daughter, but since it's all still so abstract, I've lost one world of possibility, one of tiny dresses and a mother-daughter relationship.

But those feelings were short-lived. After all, I may still have that daughter some day. And for now, we are looking forward to *this* kid, the one who will wear stripes and gurgle and fit into the crook of our arms.

Punkin'

I don't know if I can chalk it up to pregnancy cravings, or to my annual obsession with fall foods, or to the awareness that next year we may again be without easy access to pumpkin-flavored goodies, but I have been on a pumpkin streak over this past week or so. It helped that we ate out and cooked a lot, in the name of giving my parents-in-law a taste of a broad variety of American foods (items they had never eaten before this week: quesadillas, French toast, breakfast sausage, grits, portobello mushrooms, pecan pie, zucchini bread, dill pickles, jumbalaya, bagels, fudge, grilled cheese sandwiches, and yes, pumpkin-flavored things, with the exception of the pumpkin desserts I made last year for Thanksgiving).

The list of pumpkin foods I have eaten over the past week alone:

pumpkin cream cheese muffins
pumpkin spice doughnuts
pickled pumpkin salad with crunchy pumpkin seeds
spicy pumpkin soup
pumpkin cheesecake
pumpkin bagels with pumpkin cream cheese
pumpkin pie fudge
pumpkin ice cream (two versions)
pumpkin gnocchi with sage brown butter sauce (which I made from scratch!)
pumpkin bread pudding (this is the most delicious and easy dessert ever: it impressed my guests and I'm considering making another pan of it just for myself)

When everybody began to notice my penchant for nabbing any pumpkin item from every menu and making as much pumpkiny food as possible, they started to joke that we should name the baby (oh! the name debates! they are raging) Pumpkin, or Carabasseta (little pumpkin, in Catalan). It's not half bad, at least as a placeholder until we have a permanent name. Our little pumpkin baby, round and chubby and scrumptious.

03 October 2009

Week in review

It's been a good week at Can Cant d'Ocell (=Chez Birdsong). It started in Boston, where I made a quick trip to attend my nephew's baptism and first birthday party: a beautiful occasion and a great chance to spend time with my family. I figured I should take advantage of being nearby and childless--two situations that won't last much longer. My flights went so smoothly and quickly (what a novelty: a direct flight landing in the same time zone one takes off in!) and the new Indianapolis airport is so work-friendly that I actually hung around after arriving to take advantage of the comfy seats and free internet.

The highlight of the week was finally having the Mister home, waking up at 6:30 am the next morning (he was jet-lagged; I was restless) and discovering that the baby was restless, too: we could both feel those tiny extremities making sturdy bumps and thumps against my stomach.

My parents-in-law also arrived from Spain for a visit, and their first day here was the perfect kind, a real fall day with a chill in the air and warm sun, all the better to show off the lovely corners of campus. We were invited to my thesis director's house for dinner, which I was a bit nervous about but turned out to be a fabulous dinner party, and probably the only possible event in town that could allow my (non-English-speaking) parents in-law to converse with other Catalans.

Today we went to the Farmer's Market and enjoyed taking in the bounty of southern Indiana's fall produce. My in-laws were charmed by the Amish and other local farmer types, the folk music, and the abundance of pumpkins and gourds. And for further exposure to Bloomington's back corners, we drove to a few yard sales and found some bargains for our kitchen (glassware), closets (shoe racks and one baby item, a gender-neutral yet adorable pair of denim overalls), and winter preparedness (snow shovel). Total cost: $2.00. Tonight we're headed to the opera, which should be a nice ending to a great week.

25 September 2009

Ommm

I just got back from my first prenatal yoga class at the local birth services center. I haven't been to a yoga class in months, since long before we got the news, so the beginning of the class was just a process of readjusting my body to the stretches of yoga.

Then, about ten minutes in, the teacher instructed us to "inhale, directing the focus to your baby."

Me: "wut?"

I had sort of forgotten about the "prenatal" part of this yoga class, at least on a physical level. On a social level, I was a little embarrassed at how underwhelming my belly was, in class full of women either about to burst, or who like me are around 21 weeks, but who unlike me are sporting big robust stomachs.

Between the distractions of belly comparisons (I know, silly of me) and reacquainting myself with yoga, I was completely caught off guard by the reminder that this was no longer about just my body and that there was an entire *other* body involved.

So then I was amused by this sort of freakish state of affairs and started laughing silently in the middle of our cat pose, which didn't really fit the whole serene flow that the teacher was aiming for, I suppose. I wondered if the baby was getting the good vibes of my movements, or maybe even doing a fetus version of yoga poses.

At the end of class, during the relaxation time, sure enough, he or she started thumping around down there. It wasn't very relaxing, but it was quite entertaining to consider what kind of baby yoga moves were being conducting inside of my uterus.

Does this pregnancy thing ever stop being totally bizarre?

23 September 2009

About face

Here is a question that I do not know how to answer: Should I join Facebook?

On one hand, pretty much everyone I know is there, and I have received many requests to join, and I think it would be a nice way to keep up to date on people's lives, while they keep up on mine. The Mister is on it, and I see the value of maintaining connections with people who otherwise would be lost to my past.

On the other hand. Oh, the other hand. I haven't joined so far because on a practical level, I think it would be just one more time suck on the internet. I also haven't joined because I'm exceedingly wary of managing my online presence under my full name. There's a reason this blog never mentions my last name, the Mister's name is not public, I don't post too many pictures, and many topics are off limits.

I also don't like the jumble of everybody in one's life being thrown under the category "friends" and everyone being privy to the comments and conversations of everyone else. (Which, admittedly, is part of the attraction of Facebook on the voyeuristic end.) I tend to have very distinct and small knots of close friends from the many places I've lived, and I don't think the kinds of relationships I have across the board necessarily "translate" from one group to the other. They're all facets of me, but they're different facets. I can imagine this leading to awkwardness. Maybe I'm too concerned about how people view me, but that's part of being a quiet/private person.

As a simple example, back when we first told our family about the pregnancy, one of my aunts congratulated M. on Facebook--perfectly natural and very thoughtful of her to do so. But he hadn't told any of his work colleagues yet, including those who were doing legwork for potential job placements for him. So he had to delete her comment (awkward) and hope that no one had seen it. I can imagine situations even more awkward than this one.

In addition, having resisted Facebook so far, I'm really indignant about the assumption that *everyone* is on it. I have missed important news from friends and relatives--the "we're moving!" news, the "I'm pregnant!" news, or worse, "the baby is born!" news--because they assume posting it as a Facebook update means that then everyone knows. In other words, I feel like Facebook sometimes cuts into the (dwindling) amount of personal connection we have with our friends and family (even if it's just an email) under the guise of a purported greater connection. Maybe we're mistaking connectivity for connection?

All of that said, I'm still really tempted to join, especially now that we're pregnant. It would be a good way to let friends and family have quick snapshots of our lives and our growing child, especially as it gets more difficult to write more thorough updates, and the blog might be too public a forum for baby pictures and so forth. So I'm open to being convinced. Should I join Facebook?

21 September 2009

Halfway

Today I am officially at the midpoint of my pregnancy, twenty weeks.

This is a tad disconcerting, because the first half went by really really fast. Granted, we were kind of busy (see: previous post), but still, if the second half goes at all as quickly the first, I should start packing my hospital bag immediately.

Actually, packing is just one of the many things that I am apparently behind on, the things most pregnant women have started to do by now that I haven't even begun to think about, like buying baby clothes out of the "just can't resist" urge or registering for a bewildering pile of apparatuses and baby holders and whatnot.

We've been concentrating on outfitting our house rather than outfitting a tiny person who's just fine hanging out inside me for the time being, so there's that. Also, we want to acquire only the bare minimum of baby accoutrements, limited to what we can take back to Barcelona with us.

There's also the fact that I hardly look pregnant. Close friends assure me that they can see a change (and obviously *I* notice the changes), but I'm certain that I look at best like I've got a bit of a beer/nachos belly. Not unusual for a college town. I'm wearing my regular clothes, and although they feel tight to me they look pretty normal. My students had no idea at all; I told a few of them last week and they commenced to stare at my stomach for the entire class, probably wondering where I was hiding the baby.

They say tall women with long torsos take longer to really show, so I know there's a reason for this: I had all kinds of room in there for the little one to grow into. And I should see it as an advantage, because I'm not yet unwieldy or waddly or uncomfortable. I'm sleeping great, walking to campus, eating normally, and generally just feeling like, well, myself. And I'm sure the ultrasound in a couple of weeks, the one that tells us if we have a boy or girl (if you're wondering: I have no "intuition" or leaning either way and am totally psyched for either), will help me feel more like myself plus one.

So yes, I'm eager to look and feel more pregnant, but for now I'm happy to just *be* pregnant. Come to think of it, there isn't much that's "more" or "less" about it, right? You either are or aren't. And I am.

19 September 2009

Begin again

I didn't mean to leave a cliffhanger of a post up for nearly three month. Will the heroine and her Mister stay in Barcelona? Will they move to Bloomington?

But I did. And one of the reasons that I did is a little six-inch person currently doing somersaults in my belly.

Yes, the Mister and I are expecting a baby!

In fact, that last post, the one that's been sitting on this page for eons, was written just a couple of weeks after we found out I was pregnant, before we had even told all of our immediate family. When I said that I missed the Mister, I *really* meant it: I had never imagined that I would tell my husband the big news over Skype! When I said that I was tired, I *really* meant it: I was both travel weary and first trimester weary.

I had only just begun to experience the bizarreness of pregnancy, that sensation of being taken over by something other than myself. Although I had only a couple of days of true nausea, by the time I got to Washington, DC I was continually hungry yet uninterested in foods that normally are my favorites. I would have moments of bone-crushing exhaustion and painful episodes of indigestion, interspersed with periods of general malaise and achiness that made me glad that at least there was a good reason for it all. And that made me glad that my mom was taking care of me. Through all of this, the Mister and I (over skype!) were trying to make major life decisions about where we would live for the upcoming year, and where we would (gulp!) have our first child. Barcelona meant living in our own home, being close to family, and access to guaranteed medical care. It also meant staying where neither of us had a job. Indiana meant a job, for me at least, but beyond that all I saw were insurmountable hurdles.

By the time I had hitched a ride with my brother and sister-in-law up to Boston, collected the Mister from the airport at long last, and driven to Vermont, we were surprising ourselves by leaning towards an Indiana baby and had begun to search for a university visa for him and housing for the fall. Plus, as I turned the corner from first trimester to second, I began to feel much more like myself again, and we made the most of our week alone before the rest of the family arrived, working as much as we could but also enjoying the jaw-dropping gloriousness that is a Vermont summer.

That next week with my parents, siblings and nephews was a delight: we climbed Mount Mansfield, ate outside with views of the same, splashed around in wading pools, made trips to Burlington and Stowe and poked around in the meadowed corners of the state. This all happened with special intensity this year, because it was our last vacation of that sort for a long time, as my parents have rented out their house and moved to Washington, DC. In fact, as much as I spent time outside, I spent an equal amount of time in the basement, sorting through the boxes that represent my entire life from childhood through graduate school, as well as the bulk of my personal library. The fact that I consolidated the boxes from 30 to 22 does not sound as impressive as it should, given the hours of organization and the ruthless culling and the aching back bent over endless piles of paper and books.

By the time we flew to Barcelona, we had solidified most of the details of our move to Indiana, not that the prospect was any less frightening. We spent two weeks at home, furiously cleaning out our apartment for a renter to move in--a friend, thank goodness, meaning we only had to truly move our things out of the bedroom and the bathroom, although we did undergo a thorough cleaning and reorganizing process for the rest of it. We enjoyed a few precious days at the seaside, had our first ultrasound glimpse of baby, saw as many friends and family members as we could to say goodbye, then *poof* once again we were on our way back to Boston. The next morning, we began our drive out to Indiana with my parents' car--they've generously loaned it to us for the year-- stuffed full of our suitcases and miscellaneous donated items from my family, me a bundle of nerves the whole way.

And so here we are: I've settled back into the rhythm of teaching, which I suddenly remember that I truly enjoy (except the grading part, harrumph). We've outfitted our little rental with donations from friends, craigslist purchases and yard sale finds, and are enjoying the gorgeous, still summery fall weather. There's the farmer's market to look forward to every weekend, the walks to campus, the forgotten perks of a quiet small town existence.

The Mister is currently in Europe, because he had to finish up the visa application process (we were sort of late to the game, you see) and attend a couple of conferences. It's been surprisingly hard to be away from him, given how accustomed we are to long separations. But we had just settled into a lovely rhythm of life here, and I can't wait for him to see how his baby's tiny knobby knees can already poke hard enough to feel from the outside.

29 June 2009

More wanderings

My midwestern sojourn has come to an end, and what an end it was! Saturday night I attended the wedding of two beloved friends, and although I had planned to leave early (because of my four-thirty-am wake up the next morning), it was impossible to tear myself away. So: three hours of sleep, a bleary-eyed shuttle ride to the airport, two cramped flights, and a drive home, only to throw on my dress again and attend the wedding reception of another friend (my flight arrived too late for the ceremony). I was ever so glad to be able to be at both weddings, but I did a zombie swan dive into bed when I got home from the second one.

Another reason it was hard to leave Saturday's party: Over the course of those two weeks, including a fantastic bachelorette party in a swanky Chicago condo overlooking the lake, and the pre-wedding preparations, I had gotten to know some of my friend's friends. And--as is logical, since we are all friends with the same awesome person--I was really enjoying their company. But when it was all over, it was farewell for good--when would we see each other again?

Oh, and the Indiana wedding was my first Jewish wedding ever! And it was so much fun. I do believe I shed tears during the hora, when the inner circle of family members widened and intertwined and spun and linked arms. So darn...sob...symbolic!

Anyway, the two weeks flew by in a good way. The first week I stayed with the soon-to-be-marrieds, and the second week I housesat for some people from my old church, which was a good deal given that I got to use their car and only was required to water a few plants. We cooked lots of yummy food, including my first batch of homemade gnocchi and the best paella I've personally ever made (which isn't saying much, but it was delicious). I spent a lot of time holed up in the library and had a series of meetings about teaching in the fall and about my thesis with the department chair and my committee people, which all went swimmingly. And speaking of swimming, there were bits of Bloomington summer fun in the sweltering heat: the outdoor pool (the night swim was possibly the most peaceful swim I've ever taken), the always delightful farmer's market, porch swings and strolls to the ice cream stand and fireflies and flowers. And there were wedding projects! Buying plants and jars and potting terraria for the wedding centerpieces, cutting out and inscribing seed-packet name cards...

I was reminded of what I like about Bloomington, and all the reasons it might be fun to live there during the school year. That said, there is still some debate as to whether I will actually be there in the fall. If I am, though, the Mister will be tagging along, and that, my friends, is a good thing. (Boy do I miss that boy!)

Now we're off to Boston, for just a quick stay and a celebration of my nephew's fourth birthday, and then down to Washington, where I'll be staying with my parents for a couple of weeks, until the Mister flies in and it's time to head back up to Boston and Vermont. It is a wandering kind of summer, that's for sure.

12 June 2009

Living the questions

"Be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves liked locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer."

- Ranier Maria Rilke, from Letters to a Young Poet

11 June 2009

Squish

This has happened before. I leave home to embark on a long American sojourn, and I abandon this little blog, which languishes while I galavant.

I guess the reason is partly because I am seeing the actual people who form my primary blog audience, and partly because I'm, well, on the road. And come to think of it, not much more time has gone by than the usual too-long gap between blog posts; the difference is that I've been more places in the meantime and family life landmarks overbrim the mere record of them.

But just to keep track, I'll enumerate my recent whereabouts. Basically, it's been a tour of the Northeast Corridor. Two weeks ago today (only two weeks?), I flew to Philadelphia, and so did the Mister, although not on the same airline. Boo. Then we drove (er, were driven) to Bucks County to attend my brother's wedding, and sing in it, and in general be happy that I have one more sister-in-law to add to my collection of Awesome Sisters-In-Law. They had a exquisite day, the ceremony was delightful, and the bride and groom were beautiful. Our nephew ever so studiously and carefully carried the little pillow, and forlornly asked at the end of the day, "Am I still a ring bearer?" There was a moment of panic before the ceremony when my dad noticed that one of the rings was missing from the pillow, but did not realize that they were aluminum stand-ins.

The post-wedding day was one of intense Hanging Out with all the lovely friends and relatives who were present. (As the Mister noted, the English phrase "to hang out" is a great catch-all that doesn't actually mean much. Case in point: one can "hang out by [one]self.") The kind of thing where breakfast turns into a four-hour gabfest with all the people who are coming and going in the hotel breakfast nook, plus snatches of the Sunday New York Times. A whirlwind Philadelphia visit ended the weekend. I hadn't been there since my childhood, so it was fun to revisit the Liberty Bell, take a carriage ride and be impressed by good ol' Ben Franklin all over again. I never did get a water ice, though.

After the wedding weekend a bunch of the immediate family caravaned down to DC, where my Dad has new digs for his temporary job. We spent the week eating and museuming and yes, hanging out, and I got some solid time to research at the Library of Congress (getting a library card is always a thrill, but this one was special) and the Mister had meetings where he gave talks and debates and so forth.

We made a trip to the Natural History Museum, too: after my nephew and I gazed at the record-length squid for a good while, he rushed over to my sister and said breathlessly, "Mom! I just saw a giant SQUISH!"

The Mister flew back home last Friday, and I spent Saturday in the back of a minivan with a lot of luggage and two adorable squirts as we drove up to Boston's North Shore. We had a lovely time together for a few days, and managed to get together with the newlyweds, tanned and honeymoon-glowy. Then down to Boston for a couple of days at my brother's with the littlest nephew, and now on Saturday it's off to the great midwest for the next chapter of this summer marathon!

It's a bare-bones record, but it's the last few weeks in a nutshell. Still, there are times when lists of places visited do not suffice; so much joy and even sorrow is squished into such a fragile frame. The unsaid will have to remain so, the lists a reminder of the lived.

26 May 2009

Should

I shouldn't be blogging. I should be:

1. packing

2. writing any of a gazmillion emails I have to write

3. attending to details for renting for the downtown apartment (new renters move in soon! but too many pesky things to do/fix/print/sign/move)

4. finding housing for a semester

5. finding housing for several of the five cities of my summer peregrinations

6. buying plane tickets and changing old ones

7. sorting through rafts and reams of papers and books to figure out which ones to take with me, with is basically:

8. packing

I really would like to bury my head in a hole, ostrich-style. (Do ostriches really do that? Or is that a myth?)

Oh! I would also like to write about Hungary, and how cool Budapest was, but that's not what I should be doing.

I should be packing.

19 May 2009

May days

I realized the last post is a little too "woe is me!" so I should add that despite it all, it's May, and May in my opinion is The Best Month. When I was in high school, my birthday was just a week before a good friend's birthday, and in calculus class we declared those five days--by writing the words across the empty squares in my calendar--a week of AWESOMENESS. So in my mind, when May rolls around, the awesomeness begins.

This weekend we celebrated my birthday and my sister-in-law's birthday and my father-in-law's saint day in an omnibus outdoor dinner, and I got to choose new clothes from my mother-in-law's store, always a fun prospect. Meanwhile, back in New England, celebrations for my nephew's birthday and my mother's birthday (today!!!) and mother's day and some April birthdays thrown into the mix were also underway. It's a transatlantic party for both sides of our family!

The weather is perfect, the kind of weather I wish it could be year-round, sun and breezes and cool evenings. Our plants are going gangbusters, the balcony doors are permanently thrown open, and even though I don't like the haircut I got yesterday, my husband tells me I'm pretty.

Like I said: awesomeness.

Happy birthday, mom!

Budapest

One would think that we've got enough on our plates, what with moving a truck of stuff out of one apartment in order to trip over it in another apartment, and with cleaning and fixing up yet another apartment so we can (finally!) get renters moved in. Oh, and there's the question of preparing for our trip to the US next week, which for me may turn into a seven-month stretch rather than a two-month vacation if I decide to just change my return ticket instead of buying new ones. Because it seems that I am going to be back at my university stomping grounds in order to teach for the fall semester. Which also means finding yet another apartment to live in (will we never tire of not living in one place?), and also implies the terrifying prospect of packing a suitcase that will suffice for seven months.

But no! That's not enough, evidently, because we're leaving for Budapest on Thursday. Thursday, as in the day after tomorrow. The trip--the Mister will be speaking at a conference and I'll be a plus one--is actually a compromise, because he was initially planning to be in Budapest and then Bucharest until next Wednesday night (we leave for Philadelphia on Thursday morning). I said I didn't that would be a good idea, except I said it in a slightly more forceful manner. But after we ruled out Bucharest, compared to returning the day before our flight to the US, returning four days before from a shorter trip seemed totally doable, and I was tempted by the glittering idea of a weekend escapade in a country and a city I've never visited. So I said I'd go along, and that's how I find myself about to go to Budapest.

Maybe Budapest will be a good break, though, because all of the other stuff is, to say the least, stressful. I'm nearly paralyzed by the magnitude of "to-do" and the spiral of "what-if" and the sadness of "don't-want-to-leave." The not wanting to leave Barcelona part is not just about spending Fall Semester in the great wide midwest; it's also about the Mister being a candidate for a (really really fantastic and prestigious) job in.... Brussels. Yes, the place that sapped our energies over several years with its uncannily gray skies, and the place that we just turned our backs on in a diesel-puff of exhaust smoke.

Which is why I'm counting on Budapest, one B-city that at least has no emotional connotations in my life, to be a clean slate of a weekend getaway.

14 May 2009

Beastly

In my last post, I referred to the van as a beast, and I after four solid days of driving it, I did not waver from this opinion. We encountered a bit of everything: mountains and rain tempests and hailstorms and border-crossing traffic, and I freaked out regularly (am I doing this right? is the engine supposed to sound like that? what gear am I supposed to be in? should I wait for him to move or try to squeeze into that spot? how will I get out of this space? what if something is behind me and I can't see it?). We learned that big huge vans, especially ones loaded with books and furniture, go pretty slowly, and that it takes sixteen instead of twelve hours to travel from Barcelona to Brussels or vice versa. But there were long stretches of smooth sailing, I learned to trust my sideview mirrors and find the clutch's sweet spot, and we had really good luck across the board.

First of all, the city driving went very well on both ends. And secondly, we were buoyed by the kindness of strangers and friends: the passer-by who parallel-parked the van for me in a tight spot (in front of our house!) in Brussels, the neighbor who carried furniture down the stairs with the Mister, the car rental agent who gave us a 35% discount, the neighbors who took other items off our hands for us, the Sicilians at our favorite neighborhood pizza place, the friend who cooked us dinner when we had no kitchen, the friend who gave us a ride when we didn't want to move the perfectly parked van, family who arranged for help when we arrived in Barcelona, and so on.

We sure did need help; those four days of driving were interposed with one and a half days of frantic packing and paperwork and carting of heavy objects up and down many flights of stairs. The good news is that the van is gone and the stuff is now in our apartment, even the sofa (we planned to sell it, but the buyer backed out and the van was so big that we could take it for its first road trip to Barcelona).

The bad news is that the stuff is now in our apartment.

As in, we now have two households worth of things crammed into our already-small space. This morning we did some major rearranging to accommodate piles of boxes and suitcases and furniture, none of which we have room for. I'm quite disheartened by the impossibility of it all, and the major projects we will have to tackle just to incorporate and/or sell or give away the stuff we didn't have time to deal with in Brussels. On our drive back, we solemnly vowed never to buy anything ever again.

But it feels really good to have one less household. For the first time all of our wedding gifts are in one place! My summer clothes and my winter clothes are in the same city! The two Murakami books that were in Brussels can sit on the shelf next to the two that were in Barcelona! All of our financial records can be merged! And so forth and so on. All thanks to the beast.

09 May 2009

First gear

Of the rental car companies that I consulted, only one had vans available that we could take out of the country. But they were out of minivans, so we had to go with a cargo van, the size-of a nine-passenger dealio. But then they didn't have any of those actually in the lot, so we were upgraded to an even bigger size, the kind with the roof pushed up like a bouffant hairdo.

The idea of me driving this beast through the French countryside is simultaneously amusing and terrifying. We have reservations at a little bed and breakfast for tonight, but I have visions of getting the van wedged into a tiny village lane, so I might just end up parking on the shoulder of the highway and hiking in from there (kidding, I think).

I've hardly driven in Barcelona, and never in Brussels, so I'm also nervous about negotiating my way in and out of the cities, neither of which is known for its pleasant and patient drivers. I guess there's something to be said for learning as you go, but: gulp!

If you need me, you'll find me in the slow lane.

08 May 2009

Birthdays are the best

Over our fancy-schmancy lunch, I was reminiscing with the Mister about birthdays of my past. They range from the bad (during college there were always exams on my birthday or my friends had already skipped town) to horrible (sleeping in a dingy train station before arriving at a new place where I knew no one) and the fantastic (surprise parties on two occasions, once in high school and once in Salzburg) to the ideal--days like today.

I have had a smile on my face from the moment I woke up--well, not entirely true, since I almost never have a smile on my face when I wake up--and even though we have been cleaning the house like crazy, it's been a perfect day. The Mister made me breakfast, with presents on the side, and took me out to the aforementioned fancy-schmancy lunch, with presents on the side.

This year also marks the first time I'm in Barcelona for my birthday, and I'm quite irrationally happy about it. In a few hours many of our beloved friends will arrive to celebrate with us, and I've been able to talk to my mom and my sister and my nephews over the internet (to everyone else: I'm online, give me a ring!). The best part, though, is simply being with the Mister and loving our life together.

I'm thinking thirty-one is going to be a great year.

06 May 2009

The game

During the historic Barça-Madrid soccer (football) game on Saturday, the Mister and I were sitting on a little spit of land near the lighthouse in the Costa Brava town where his family has an apartment, and where we had gone to spend the sunny long weekend.

We had intended to watch the game, of course--this being the one game of the year that even non-sports people like us really should watch. But we were going to watch it at a bar with our sister- and brother-in-law and our nieces (games like this are available only on cable), but then they got invited to a friend of a friend's house, and we didn't really feel like being the fifth-wheel relatives of the friends of friends. Besides, we had a lot to talk about (see previous post) and the sun was setting so prettily over the Mediterranean.

So we found ourselves strolling out onto that spit of land, with a perfect view of the round curve of the harbor, and had been happily ensconced for some time, when all around us came a roar, as if we were smack in the middle of a stadium field while the crowd was doing The Wave. Followed by air horns and firecrackers, so we knew: Barça had scored.

And in that way we kept track of the game, which basically consisted of continual Barça scoring. Back at the apartment later, we watched replays of the (six!) goals and the delirious crowds at the Canaletes water fountain on the Ramblas, the traditional place for fans (culers) to gather and celebrate.

I am reminded of this tonight because right now as I type, the town is going wild: horns are honking madly all over the city, firecrackers are going off every few seconds, every sleeping dog is now barking, and people are screaming their heads off. I can pick out a voice yelling "Baaaarçaaaa!" over and over. I reach the only possible conclusion: Barça just beat Chelsea for the Champions league semifinal. (Or not: a bit of googling reveals they actually tied, but it's as good as a win because their goal gives them enough accumulated points to advance to the final.)

If I hadn't known earlier that a game was going on, I would have thought that a large group of men were having a nasty, curse-laden fight in one of the apartments below, because they just kept yelling and swearing. All the building windows are open due to the weather, and one can hear any of the neighbor's louder activities.

And on nights when Barça is playing at home, we can even hear the roar of the crowds from the stadium, just a few blocks away. With this kind of excitement, who needs cable?

04 May 2009

Next move

It's May. Our plans for the future change every day. They now may involve any or all of the following: teaching in Indiana for a semester, moving back to Brussels, staying in Barcelona. For the first time in a long time, I can't concentrate on what I'm reading and have trouble falling asleep because I'm worried about big abstract puzzles, like The Future, and What I Am Going to Do in It, and How We Are Going to Get There.

There are also short term complications. For instance, given that the Mister only needs to travel to Brussels a few more times over the next few months, it made sense to move out of the apartment there. We did manage to find someone to take over the lease so as to avoid paying a two-months'-rent penalty, but now that means, um, actually moving out of the apartment. By May 15.

The Mister looked into moving companies, and the cost of moving our furniture is more than the sum total of the worth of that furniture. So our new plan is to sell what furniture we can, and abandon or give away the rest of it. But there still remains a goodly pile of clothing, bedding, books, kitchen items, paintings, decorative objects etc. etc. that we want to bring to Barcelona.

So, if all goes well, next weekend you will find me driving a minivan or a small truck over the midsection of Europe with the Mister, in a marathon session of highway miles and heavy lifting of boxes up and down flights of stairs (remind me why don't we ever live in apartments with elevators?).

It's not how I envisioned my first large-scale European road trip, and it's not how I envisioned spending my birthday weekend. But a road trip it is, and in that sense it should be fun, I hope.

We're still stuck on what to do with the piano, though. Yes, the piano that cost more to hoist up to the second floor than it did to purchase. Any ideas?

24 April 2009

Unsinging

Pre-concert warmups, the prova de so--"sound test." A chaotic scene, violinists dashing in at the last minute, choir members trying to squeeze onto the risers. We flubbed the run-through of our opening piece. But that was the least of my worries. After coughing all day, I had been nervous about how my voice would hold up. At the moment, it was doing all right, especially in the higher registers. With judicious dosing of cough syrup and lozenges and water, I thought I could do it, I could sing this concert.

They pinned sweet red roses on all the sopranos and altos--this was the day of Sant Jordi, after all. People rushed about applying makeup and ordering their scores. We scrambled to line up in our positions, and then we were marching out, folders clutched in the hand facing the audience.

We nailed the first piece, the Monteverdi we had flubbed before. Our director smiled as the final syllable of the Amen hung in the air and prismed in a million directions through the church archways. I smiled, too, because I felt good. My voice was holding up, feeling limber.

We performed the Bruckner "Libera Me" with feeling and movement, and I almost forgot about my precarious voice. The Schumann, the Duruflé...they all sailed. A quick swig of water and a discreet cough at each applause, and I was doing fine.

But then, near the beginning of a cheerful Murcian ballad, that tickle in my throat. More than tickle. I had to cough, but it would have meant a doubled-over bout of hacking, which really wasn't an option, given my position at the top of the risers, highly visible and without an escape. Also, it wouldn't have made a very pleasant accompaniment to this acapella piece. So I held it in, my whole body tight with the effort to swallow a wrenching cough. Sweat trickled down my back, I became slightly faint. My throat was closed, so singing was not an option. I just stood there and turned pages, fighting away waves of whatever it is that makes one need to cough, telling myself to breathe.

At the end of the piece, I quickly bent down and gasped, nearly choking, swigging water and trying to calm my constricting throat. I made it through the last two songs of the first half, but barely, singing only at half-throttle and with a wretchedly strained, whispery sound. As we exited the hall, I knew I would have to sit out the second half, and the thought nearly made me cry--I had been so looking forward to it.

I felt sorry for myself only until the orchestra's first downbeat. Then I realized that I would be able to hear the choir perform the great Bach Magnificat as I had never heard it. Our familiar voices, our familiar sound, but smoothed round by distance and acoustics, so that my experience was not overlaid by the tenor and the ever-so-slightly sharp alto next to me. Instead, a wholeness. With fresh ears I absorbed it all, both from within and without, hearing the details of well-rehearsed counterpoint and the grand geometric heartbeat that Bach achieves so well. I sang without my voice, I sang immersed in the music, like the slender hand of a geiger counter swinging wildly off the chart.

23 April 2009

Deeper than all roses

Today is the day of Sant Jordi, a day of books and flowers and romance. You can read about the history of the day in last year's post, in which I express my wish to be in Barcelona for the festivities. Wish granted!

It's a perfect, warm, day, and I am looking forward to perusing some bookstalls in the gothic quarter, although if the rumors I hear are accurate, leisurely perusal is pretty difficult in the midst of masses of frenzied book-buying crowds (bookstores do close to ten percent of yearly sales on this one day alone). Plus, my cold/cough thing has returned with a vengeance, and I can barely breathe without hacking and gasping. Which does not bode well for singing tonight in our Sant Jordi concert. Boo.

I had the occasion this week to hear Chenjerai Hove speak on the power and fragility of the word, and Derek Walcott, one of my poetry heroes, speak on the "spectre of empire," although mostly he didn't talk about that at all. What he did talk about was contradicting oneself, and the idea of home, and Obama (he read two occasional poems on the elections), and Pasternak. Disjointedly interesting, but especially enjoyable during this week of celebrating literature, language and the book.

A poem is in order. On this springy day, I thought of e.e. cummings, the consummate poet of spring, and one of his rose poems, "somewhere i have never travelled."

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands


[photo credit: flickr user Píxel]

15 April 2009

94

The Mister's grandmother turns ninety-four years old today. This boggles my mind. First, because of the sheer length of that time, nearly a century, enough to have lived through wars and dictatorships and so much of this world's crazy history. Enough to remember this neighborhood when it was a town outside of Barcelona, to remember how she could see clear from the balcony of their apartment (the one the Mister and I live in today) across the farmers' fields and to the skyline of the city.

Second, because if you look at her, you would never guess that she has lived for ninety-four years. Yes, there are a few lines, but don't let her twinkly wrinkled face fool you. She has more energy and a busier social calendar than me. Seriously. I often call to find her out with one of her girlfriends, either shopping or attending mass or bringing them an example of the delicate lacework that she makes by hand. She is a whirlwind of activity, making meals for others even when she isn't expecting company, just in case someone stops by. We can't get her to stay seated at the table. She has a greener than green thumb; her balcony is full of beautiful plants and bursting with color year round.

Her memory is also better than mine; she has a clear mental map of just about every establishment in this neighborhood and can perfectly recall what each shop used to be, the owners' names and those of their children. She remembers events from the lives of her friends, long-gone family, and neighbors in detail, and often recounts their stories to me. She tells me of her childhood working as a maid in a convent in exchange for her board and schooling, of her young adulthood as a seamstress in the factory a few meters from where she now lives, of her marriage and the many trips she took with the Mister's grandfather. Once in a while, she tells me stories of her experiences during the Civil War, of what she saw and the fear she endured.

When I spend time with her, as I did today, bringing her flowers in the morning and stopping by for lunch at her house (faves a la catalana again, yum!) , I wonder what she was like when she was younger, and conversely, I wonder what I will be like as an old woman.

This kind of speculation is a favorite pastime of mine. On the street I pass so many versions of what an elderly person looks like, women twenty years her junior with curved backs and canes, or women like her who still move with a spring in their step, straight thin ladies and round pillowy ladies, some with silver hair and some with thinning hair and some with brown. I envision myself as an old woman, and it's like trying to imagine a me who is not me, a body that is mine but not mine, a wrinklier and creakier shadow of myself superimposed over this thirty-year-old frame. This is similar to trying to imagine myself pregnant, an altered, twilight zone version of myself, submitted to the vagaries of nature and the inherent weirdness of a whole person growing inside another person. A healthy dose of pure curiosity makes me wonder: will I that pregnant girl, or that one? Will I be that old lady, or that one?

In any case, watching the Mister's grandmother turn ninety-four with energy, sparkle, and grace definitely gives me something to aspire to. Happy birthday, iaia!

12 April 2009

Risen

Today, after the dark mourning of the crucifixion, is the bright morning of the resurrection. I think trumpets are called for, and flowers.

George Herbert agrees. This Easter poem (actually, just the first half of the poem; the second half is quite different metrically and in subject matter) weaves a beautiful metaphor of the cross as a musical instrument of praise. The third stanza compares the trinity of tuneful lute, joyful heart, and holy spirit to a three-noted musical chord, made harmonious only by the addition of that third element.

The poem almost demands a musical setting. If you can find it, listen to Ralph Vaughn Williams' version. The first line alone, with the soloist's declamation of "Rise heart; thy Lord is risen," echoed by the choir, is Easter in a nutshell.

Happy Easter, everyone!

Easter
by George Herbert


Rise heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise
Without delayes,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him mayst rise:
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more, just.

Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
With all thy art.
The crosse taught all wood to resound his name,
Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.

Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
Pleasant and long:
Or, since all musick is but three parts vied
And multiplied,
O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.

08 April 2009

A change in plans

Last weekend the Mister found out that he will be without work come July. This was half-expected, given that his job relies on the election cycle, but all recent indications had been that he would continue his work in Brussels for another term. That is, until Friday, when--in a turn of events that I can't detail but that involves nasty political last-minute behind-the-scenes machinations--he was told that he was out.

We barely had time to digest this news when he had to board his plane for the fifteen-hour flight to Tokyo, so we're still in the midst of processing. For now, it all pretty much boils down to two things:

1. No work in an economic downturn. The next few months will be spent job-hunting. For both of us, perhaps. (I even had an interview of sorts yesterday!)

2. No more commuting between two cities, no more maintaining apartments in two cities. I'll have the Mister here seven nights a week. This makes the idea of growing our family suddenly seem much more feasible.

I'm thinking point number two greatly outweighs point number one.

Palms

Palm Sunday here in Catalonia is known as diumenge de rams, or "branches Sunday," which is funny considering that there actually are palms, in abundance, in this Mediterranean locale. Unlike, say, Vermont, where our palm branches must be imported from who knows where.

In fact, as I learned last weekend, Palm Sunday is actually more Eastery than Easter Sunday, in the sense that even if you never go to church during the rest of the year, Palm Sunday is the day you dress up your kids in patent leather shoes and pastel outfits, and take them to mass. According to the Mister's grandmother, everyone is supposed to wear something brand new for the first time. She debuted a lovely blue coat.

Another important ritual is the buying and waving of the palmons or palmes, the former being tall straight palm fronds gathered into a bundle and traditionally carried by little boys, the latter being palm fronds woven into miraculously intricate confections and carried by the girls.

These are sold the Saturday prior to Palm Sunday on the Rambla Catalunya, and since Saturday was a beautiful day, I took a bike ride down to see all of the handiwork. Each booth is laden with palms of all shapes and sizes, from delicate floral fingerlings like the one my mother-in-law gave me to elaborate works of art several meters high. In addition, they sell the candy rosaries, ribbons and tiny toys that are used to decorate the palms, as well as large bunches of laurel and thyme, which are also carried to mass on Sunday morning. (I would have taken pictures, but the Mister has the camera in Japan, with instructions to take pictures of the cherry trees. The photograph above comes from another blog, in Catalan, about the holiday.)

On Sunday I met the Mister's grandmother, mother, and our little niece in the plaza in front of the church, along with a huge crowd of other families. When the priest came out and read the Biblical passage describing the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, at every "alleluia," the palms and branches were lifted high into the air and shaken, and the straight bundles of palms carried by the boys were tamped into the ground. (From what I understand, they compete to see who can end up with the greatest length of frayed "broom.")

After Easter, many families hang the palms on their balconies, where they spend the year until the next Ash Wednesday, when they are burned to make the ash. If you're ever in Spain, if you look up from time to time, you'll notice the drying palmes strung across balconies' metal fretwork.

03 April 2009

Drip, drip, drop...

...little April showers... That song from Bambi has always stuck with me, and I tend to sing it whenever the rain comes down. The other rainy day lyric that always comes to my head is "It looks like rain, now won't that just be jolly? It looks like rain, I must go and get my brolly" (sung with the best-worst British accent I can muster). I always thought that this came from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, but a little pause to consider the logic and some internet sleuthing seems to indicate that it's from Captain Noah and his Floating Zoo. Boy, it's not easy to keep all those Old Testament musicals straight.

The reason these little jingles come to mind is that we have had quite a rainy beginning to April here in BCN. Today the sun is showing its face again, but we had a solid week of chilly, gray, and wet.

We spent last weekend visiting the Priorat, a beautiful wine-producing region south of Barcelona, with the intention of enjoying its terraced hills and tiny towns, wineries and winding roads, but after a couple of miserably cold stops in deserted villages, we went straight to the cavernous farmhouse (one of the B&B places known as a casa rural), with its fireplaces and space heaters, where we feasted well and spent the night.

Anyway, that's about the extent of the excitement around here. I'm just getting over my lingering cold/cough thing, the Mister is off to Japan, and my Easter week promises to be quiet and (hopefully) productive.

24 March 2009

Cough, cough

I guess March is just... not my blogging month. I've been under the weather over the last week or so, battling laryngitis that was initially caused by a cold, then made worse by my insistence on singing in a concert last week, and accompanied by a persistent cough, the kind that feels like it's out to strangle you to death. I was virtually voiceless over the weekend, and it is only today that I actually can speak somewhat normally again.

Ironically, the day I fell sick was the day I had my first blood test in the Spanish health care system. Brandishing my brand new health card, I had asked for an appointment for a checkup the week before, and two days later I met with my new doctor, after practically no wait. He kind of insinuated that as a healthy thirty-year-old, I didn't need a "revisió general," but he asked me a few questions about my overall health, took my blood pressure, and sent me on my way to schedule a blood test. I was a bit put off by his summary appraisal, but I discovered later that it's true that the yearly checkup may not be necessary. Most medical sources I looked at suggested a checkup every three to five years, so I guess I'm on the mark for that.

Still, I'll be curious to see how medical care stacks up in the nationalized health care system. So far, I've been favorably impressed, by the friendliness of doctors and nurses, the ease of making appointments (and lack of waiting time), the organization of medical care (you're assigned to the nearest "ambulatori" which for us is only about a seven-minute walk away), and of course by the fact that there's no exchange of money whatsoever. It's all entirely free. Of course, I have yet to (and hope not to!) require any serious care for serious issues, so it remains to be seen how things go when the going gets tough. (Or if the tough, say, get pregnant.)

Tomorrow I will go in to pick up my blood test results. Do blood tests show that you have a cold? If so, under the microscope the medical technicians will probably see little blood cell guys duking it out for the chance to strangle me with coughing fits. (I know, my grasp of medicine and physiology is astounding, right?)

16 March 2009

Stairs of song

Spring has well and truly come to Barcelona. The sun is steady and bright, the breeze is gentle and pleasant, and buds are bursting out everywhere. We had guests this weekend and they probably stumbled upon the most ideal weekend of the year to see the city. Lucky for me, showing them around involved long strolls by the waterfront; a stop at that welter of sensory overload, the Boqueria market; midnight tours of the gothic quarter; a sunny afternoon at the park; and lots of truly delicious food.

Our internet is mysteriously not functioning today (this will be posted via a tenuous neighbor wifi signal), which I think is the perfect excuse to scoop a couple of books into my arms, grab my sunglasses, and find a park bench or a café table and soak up this pleasant spring sun.

Other of the weekend's activities were musical. My choir debuted a jazz cantata set to Salvador Espriu poems. These works are beautiful in their simultaneous expression of despair and hope, in their expression of love for a place, for a people, for a language. I did a quick translation so our guests could follow along, and here is one of the more hopeful poems, set to a rollicking, exuberant swing.

(If the Catalan title looks a little funny, it's because it's in medieval Catalan, which Espriu took from an 11th century troubadour poet.)

"Levem nos bon mayti e no'ns adurmam plus"
We Awake in the Morning and Sleep No More

by Salvador Espriu

If you want to listen,
open your windows.
Truths climb quickly
on the stairs of song.

In the very heart of night
a new canticle begins
and will accompany your step
at the threshold of hope.

We must burn every memory
of a yesterday full of sorrow
in the bonfires of tomorrow
that today it is time to light.

Look always ahead,
leave your tears behind.
The young sun turns red
rising from the depths of the sea.

Awoken by my nightmare
cry, the eager, slow radiance
of every furrow
walked the wide earth.

It rests on the sand,
white sails burnished.
Riding on the wind’s back,
the keel crossed the mountains.

Within the order of light
we saw the house resplendant
that we wanted to watch over
when thieves misruled.

The air carried the good smell
of new wheat, of goldenrod.
The poppy is saved
from the danger of dying.

Now you hear how the song
broke holes in the chain,
the villainy of fear
that tied up our tongue.

One voice, two hands,
strong hands stretched out.
Wake up, laborers,
for now it is time for work.
Wake up, people of the land,
for now it is time for the harvest.

03 March 2009

Card, credit

Yesterday I finally got my Spanish residency card. It's colorful and iridescent and conveniently fits in my wallet. Hooray! Now I can legally... get started on yet another pile of paperwork that was awaiting my official identification number. Still, it's nice to be official.

Speaking of paperwork, I got a scary loan default letter yesterday, threatening all kinds of dire bad credit issues if I don't cough up the money.

But wait! I have paid off all my college loans! Why am I being bugged for money?

It is because of the folly of youth: in college, I co-signed a loan for a friend. I have not spoken with this person since college, so evidently it was not the kind of friendship that outlasts working together in the resident assistant program. But since she is not paying her loan, I am being hounded (my parents get all kinds of calls as well).

I have tried to find a way to contact this woman, but all I have at the moment is her street address. I guess I'll have to write an old-fashioned letter and ask her indignantly politely to pay her stupid $8.10.

Yes, all of this is over an unpaid eight bucks. Still, it really kind of stinks to be facing bad credit over not a lot of money, and I worry that she will continue to not pay off her loan, especially given the economy, and that this could get a whole lot worse.

27 February 2009

Wandering words

I spent some of my morning with the two Paul Celan poems that deal (obliquely, in ciphers) with the Spanish Civil War ("Shibboleth" and "In One"), as well as Jacques Derrida's brilliant essay about them. Even if the poems fall outside of the scope of my thesis, having been written in the 50s and 60s, you better bet that I'll be drawing on both Celan and Derrida in my discussion of the "No pasarán" slogan.

I learned a new word, too. It's always fun to learn a new word, and I guess I didn't look it up the first time I read the Derrida essay, a couple of years ago, during a graduate seminar. The word is "gnomon," and as cute and gnome-like as it sounds, it actually refers to the stick part of a sundial, the horizontal blade that casts a shadow to tell the time.

After reading through the essay, I got sucked into Felstiner's translations of the Celan poems, reminding myself of my favorites and falling in love with others. If it wasn't so long and spread out on the page, I would reproduce "Stretto," an incredible poem and one I used for a course I taught on poetry and music. But I'll content myself with "Speak You Too," a haunting meditation on language.

Speak You Too

Speak you too,
speak as the last,
say out your say.

Speak--
But don't split off No from Yes.
Give your say this meaning too:
give it the shadow.

Give it shadow enough,
give it as much
as you know is spread round you from
midnight to midday and midnight.

Look around:
see how things all come alive--
By death! Alive!
Speaks true who speaks shadow.

But now the place shrinks, where you stand:
Where now, shadow-stripped, where?
Climb. Grope upwards.
Thinner you grow, less knowable, finer!
Finer: a thread
the star wants to descend on:
so as to swim down below, down here
where it sees itself shimmer: in the swell
of wandering words.

~Paul Celan (tr. John Felstiner)

25 February 2009

Favas and kohlrabi


February hasn't done much for me by way of blog inspiration. I seem to be stuck in a rut. So sorry!

But the weather has been lovely, springy, sunny and good for my all-around energy levels and productivity (um, other than blogging).

As one more sign of spring in these parts, the fava beans have started to appear in the market. They come in long, knobby pods, and they are the fundamental ingredient in the Catalan dish faves a la catalana. I got to talking with the Mister's grandmother, and she promised to show me how to make them, minus the botifarra (blood sausage) that normally is another fundamental ingredient. (So fundamental, in fact, that when the lady at the market stall where she bought the beans smiled and asked if she was making faves a la catalana, iaia said no. I guess without the sausage, it's not really Catalan.)

Anyway, yesterday I accompanied her to the doctor's office, and after our little excursion it was time to make faves. We shelled the fava beans as well as some peas (she says the peas cut the acidity of the favas), then rinsed them and put them in a pot with a couple of roughly chopped tomatoes, quite a few whole garlic shoots (which also show up at this time of year), a few branches of spearmint (or mint, but spearmint is what she had growing on her terrace), plenty of salt, a pinch of sugar, and a bit of moscatel (she says anis--anise-flavored liqueur--is better if you have it). You don't add any water, as the beans and vegetables produce their own cooking liquid; only add a little bit if it gets dry. Covered, over a low burner, let it "xup-xup" (not sure how to translate that charming expression that evokes "soaking up" the juices; Catalan cooks use it to mean a slow simmer) for a good while, twenty to thirty minutes, I'm guessing.

The end result isn't pretty, but boy is it good. The silken beans are sweet and soft, and I pretty much ate until I was stuffed.

At which point iaia brought out the fish. (Despite my protestations, no meal is considered complete at her house unless there is meat or fish involved.) I ate leftovers for lunch today and they were just as good.

Here is a similar recipe, with pictures that are much better than any I would have taken, if I had had my camera, which I didn't, because the Mister has it, because he's in Bulgaria and promised me some photos.

Now the trick will be to see if I can replicate the deliciousness in my own kitchen.

Before that, though, I have another experiment to perform. Every time I go to the market, I've been trying to come home with one unfamiliar item--usually a vegetable I've never cooked before. Saturday, I spotted a lumpy green round thing that looked sort of like celery root or fennel but wasn't. It had shiny green skin like the stalk of a broccoli, and small stalks coming out of the top. I asked the market lady what it was, and she said it was a cross between a cabbage (col) and a radish (rave). Intrigued, I brought it home and consulted my trusty How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (Mark Bittman). Sure enough, his description of kohlrabi fit the bill. I should have figured it out in the first place, from the Catalan, col-rave : kohl-rabi (from the German, for cabbage-turnip).

I found some suggestions here for what to do with kohlrabi, but I'm not sure which direction to go...

18 February 2009

Florid

The gargantuan bouquet of flowers the Mister brought home for me on Saturday was almost too big; it was hard to take it all in. So when the flowers started getting a little droopy and the water needed to be changed, I decided to spread them all around the house, a bit of brightness in every room.

There are gerbera daisies on my desk...


Blue irises in the bedroom...


Roses in the living room...


Lilies on the dining room table...


And on the coffee table, a, um... a lily-winged flying cow.

Off key

There was a time in my life when I didn't have any keys. I had sold my car: no car keys. I had moved out of the House of Love: no front door keys. I had left campus: no office keys or mailroom keys. I was living at my parents' house, and they never lock their door (it's Vermont, after all), so I didn't need keys while I was there. In those few months between moving away from Indiana and getting married, I felt a bit unmoored.

Because keys are like little metal dog tags; they tell you who you are and where you belong. I guess they're a sign of possessions, as well, and not having them might be freeing. But they also do what their shape promises. They unlock, they allow access, they permit you to enter the familiar interiors of your life.

I saw keys in a different way, however, when I watched a beautiful documentary about a young Bulgarian woman working as a cleaning lady in Amsterdam. The camera follows her through her lonely days in empty rooms, communicating with upper-class Dutch families mostly through notes, as she straightens and sweeps and vacuums and scrubs. Speaking to the camera, she says she thinks she is losing herself. She feels like a ghost.

But she also takes pictures. Self portraits of herself in the cleaning closet or the bathtub, surrounded by household cleaners. Empty rooms with rumpled sheets. They could be out of an interior design magazine, but because of the point of view threaded through the whole of the collection, they present a diametrically different message.

To the back of the photograph she pastes the words from those notes, repetitive in their obligatory "how are you" and their demands to sweep the back stairs, wipe out the cabinet, change the laundry, a never-ending to-do list. She hangs these photographs and the notes inside a paper cut-out house, and on the floor of the house, she places her large collection of front door keys, all pointing upwards, a menacing carpet of jagged metal.

For her, the keys mean alienation, entrapment; they are a barrier and a burden. She is permitted to enter everywhere but is denied anything that make a home a home. Far from her family, working illegally, she is stalled and alone. Remarkably, though, she seems genuinely optimistic and her smile is always at the ready.

The woman's name is Hristina Tasheva, and the documentary is called The Houses of Hristina (see the trailer here). You can see many of her photographs here (click on the collection "A better life" for the ones shown in the movie).

By following the story of one woman, listening strictly to her voice, the documentary presents a beautiful meditation on domesticity, immigration, interiority, gender, social class, and art.

I'll never think of keys in the same way again.

14 February 2009

Loverly day

I get why some people don't like Valentine's Day, and I agree that it's an over-hyped, commercialized holiday. But it doesn't have to be, and I think it's a great idea to take time to celebrate all of our loved ones, not just our gooshy, swoony, romantic sweethearts, but also our there-for-you friendships, our fierce-hugs and belly-laughs family, the spinning-in-circles nephews and nieces, and our gone-but-deeply-missed grandparents.

If you fall into any of those categories for me: I send my love from Barcelona! I wish I could bake you all a chocolate cake.

As for the gooshy, swoony part, the Mister and I had a fabulous meal last night at this place, and then chocolates and strawberry champagne and candles at home. I woke up this morning to a big bouquet of beautiful flowers.

We decided to celebrate yesterday, since today we'll be at the hospital--actually, the Mister was there (and helping out at his parents' house) all day yesterday, and I was there Thursday--and we were supposed to go hiking with a friend who had an unexpected wisdom tooth removal, so no hiking after all.

But that brings me back to my point, I guess: what better way to spend Valentine's day than being there for family, the ones we love? Actions speak louder than words, but words are pretty darn good, too: Happy Valentine's Day!

10 February 2009

Drive on

I haven't written in a few days because of good things and bad things. There was my mom's visit, which was fun and relaxed. It rained almost the entire time, which was bad timing, because that's not what it usually does around here, but we still had a good time and ate yummy food and had fun shopping and chatting and just hanging out.

Then last weekend my father-in-law fell off the roof while he was doing some spring cleaning, and it was very scary for everyone while we waited to hear what the doctors have to say. He will be in the hospital for a few weeks, totally immobilized, while the cracked bones in his pelvis heal, and then the recovery at home will be another couple of months. It will be hard for him to be still for so long, and hard for my mother-in-law in terms of juggling her work and his care and so forth. We'll of course help as much as we can; while he's recovering at home I may take my laptop and work from their house so I can be available to lend a hand.

This unexpected turn of events prompted the Mister and I to think about certain Big Picture things, which brought us around to the rather mundane topic of driver's licenses and cars and if we should get one and if so when. Right now I'm perfectly happy--more than happy, really--to be living without a car. Not only are we saving money by not having the expense of car payments, insurance, gas, maintenance, and parking, but we are doing the environment a good turn by relying on public transportation (and taxis in a pinch). I love that we CAN get everywhere we need to go with the metro, a train, or a bus. And we can always rent a car if we want to take a short weekend trip.

The reason this came up in relation to M's dad is that we do, however, tend to rely on him and his car every once in a while for, say, transporting big items like furniture, and he also did a lot of ushering of M's grandmother back and forth from her apartment (around the corner from us) to their house outside of the city. And that's something we can't pick up the slack on, although it would make sense because we ARE around the corner, because we don't have a car. And even if we could use M's dad's now-unused car, there's the pesky detail of neither of us having a license. (!)

You see, the Mister, who has lived in public-transport-friendly Europe all his life, has just never gotten his, and when I started investigating how to have my American license converted into a Spanish license I learned some pretty depressing things.

First of all, there's no "conversion" process. I have to get my license again, from scratch, just like when I was seventeen and ran a red light during my driving test. (You might imagine that I have no desire to go through THAT again.)

This would not be a problem if getting a license was like in the States--relatively cheap, easy, and painless--because after thirteen years of driving experience I am now unlikely to run a red light during my exam.

But it is not cheap, easy, and painless. It is expensive, hard, and painful.

Here in Spain, the AVERAGE (and now I'm going to get all-caps squealy because I'm outraged) cost of getting a license is 936 euros. NINE HUNDRED THIRTY SIX. That is ALMOST A THOUSAND EUROS, people. You have to pay ridiculous amounts of money to the "autoescuela" to teach you how to get through the ABSURDLY difficult written exam (which you pay also ridiculous amounts of money to take), which asks HORRIBLE questions DESIGNED to trip you up (I read some samples), and then do practice hours with an instructor in a car with dual gearshifts and brakes and then take the exam in one of those same cars. In other words, your hands are TIED because you have to pay the schools for the use of the stupid double-sided car, but they won't let you use their stupid car for the exam unless you sign up with them for a huge sign-up fee and spend a minimum amount of hours in the classes. Oh, and if you fail either exam within three tries (total, for both exams) you have to pay--surprise!--ridiculous amounts of money to take them again.

It's as if the autoescuelas and the department of motor vehicles are in CAHOOTS because they both earn OODLES of money from the whole setup. Harrumph.

You'd think that at least, with such a rigorous examination system, Spain would have good driving safety record. On the contrary. It is, with Portugal, the EU country with the highest highway mortality rates.

So you can understand why the Mister, with all of his traveling and living abroad, has never gotten his license. And you can understand why I am despairing of getting mine.

After learning all of this depressing information, I looked into getting my license in Belgium, because any EU driver's license is valid in all other EU countries. Belgium has an examination system much more like the US--a provisional driver's permit after the written exam, and then a driving exam in your own car, without requiring classes. They even allow you to "convert" your American license, but only within the first six months of living there. Oops. So I may eventually try to find a way to use someone's car for the test? Or buy a car there, when and if we decide to buy one? But then I may not have a legit Belgian ID anymore? Doing it in French would be extremely daunting, to say the least, but it beats boring hours of classes and the nightmare of getting a Spanish license.

I'm hoping a magic fairy will come and tell me something I failed to discover in my research, such as that there's a Vermont-Spain secret treaty and that Spain will recognize my Vermont license and will just stick a little A-OK stamp on it.

Sigh. At least I had lunch in the sun today, soaking up every little particle of warm oozy light that I could.

30 January 2009

Chandelierward

Last night the Mister flew in from Brussels bearing a big pile of books I had left there, most of them poetry. Isn't it fun to be reunited with books? Like seeing old friends again.

In honor of my mom's visit, I've chosen a Wislawa Szymborska poem about music (mom is a musician) from out of that stack. It's one that has long impressed me as much for the inventiveness of Szymborska's conception as for the virtuosic translation by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak. I wish I could read the original to get more of a sense of the work they've done, but it comes through quite brilliantly anyway.


**
Coloratura

Poised beneath a twig-wigged tree,
she spills her sparkling vocal powder:
slippery sound slivers, silvery
like spider's spittle, only louder.

Oh yes, she Cares (with a high C)
for Fellow Humans (you and me);
for us she'll twitter nothing bitter;
she'll knit her fitter, sweeter glitter;
her vocal chords mince words for us
and crumble croutons, with crisp crunch
(lunch for her little lambs to munch)
into a cream-filled demitasse.

But hark! It's dark! Oh doom too soon!
She's threatened by the black bassoon!
It's hoarse and coarse, it's grim and gruff,
it calls her dainty voice's bluff -
Basso Profondo, end this terror,
do-re-mi mene tekel et cetera!

You want to silence her, abduct her
to our chilly life behind the scenes?
To our Siberian steppes of stopped-up sinuses,
frogs in all throats, eternal hems and haws,
where we, poor souls, gape soundlessly
like fish? And this is what you wish?

Oh nay! Oh nay! Though doom be nigh,
she'll keep her chin and pitch up high!
Her fate is hanging by a hair
of voice so thin it sounds like air,
but that's enough for her to take
a breath and soar, without a break,

chandelierward; and while she's there,
her vox humana crystal-clears
the whole world up. And we're all ears.

**

Have a wonderful weekend. I know I will!

27 January 2009

Dregs

The end of January is a tough part of the year. Christmas is over, the shiny newness of those resolutions has worn off, and it's still winter. I find myself:

Eating a lot of cheese.
Spending too much time asleep.
Battling the dreaded dry skin of winter.
Unmotivated to work.

Fortunately, there are some things that help:

My mom is coming to visit!
The sun is bright and the sky is blue, bearing a hint of promise for an early Spanish spring.
Warm tea and simple soups.
Actually getting the hang of some of those aerobics spins.
Nephews' smiles and laughter.
Good swinging jazz.
Dogged perseverance.

Hah! There are more things on the second list than on the first--take that, winter!

(PS: Happy birthday, sis!)

23 January 2009

I heart google (or, why the internet is awesome)

I was hired to translate some poems recently (hurrah! paid to do something I do for fun!), and as I was working, I noticed that I had the following pages open as tabs in my web browser:

1. Google mail, from which I opened the text of the poem
2. Google docs, where I was translating the poem
3. Google search (actually constituting several of the tabs), where I sought out some obscure vocabulary about rocks (the subject of the poem) and an Auden poem to which this poem makes a reference
4. Google books, where I found a Glossary of Geology that was invaluable for finding synonyms for, say, "pebble"
5. Google reader, where I was NOT at the moment actually reading blogs, many of which are about language and translation
6. Google image search, where I WAS, out of curiosity, trying to get a glimpse of the face of the poet I'm translating

If you had caught me at another time, I may also have been perusing Google analytics to check out my blog's site statistics, or Google maps to quickly find that street where we have to meet for rehearsal.

Thrown into the mix were a couple of Wikipedia pages on marble and other stones, three of my trustiest online Catalan dictionaries, and the online OED, accessed through my university library.

All of which leads me to think: Google is taking over the world! (And I probably couldn't live without it.) Also, in the days before the web, translators must have been surrounded by towering piles of dictionaries and other reference books, and must have spent ages in the library looking through, say, the 779 pages of the Glossary of Geology or whatever other specialized vocabulary the text at hand called for. Now, it's all boiled down to a few virtual tabs on a flat color screen. It's dizzying, isn't it?

21 January 2009

There but not there

I called my husband and dad on skype yesterday, eager to hear how the inauguration had gone... And it turns out, they didn't even make it inside! They stood in line starting at 8 am, and the line simply didn't move. There were no signs, no authorities, a sea of bodies as far as they could see, and the crush of people made it impossible to go anywhere. Other ticket holders started to protest, it was a chaotic scene, evidently, people clambering over walls, even some arrests after a while, and although they did everything as they were supposed to, they, along with hundreds of other people holding tickets, never got through the gates into the Mall. How disappointing! I'm glad I wasn't along, because I would have been just devastated. My husband, much more able to take these things in stride, was laughing about it already. He flew thousands of miles to attend the biggest event in recent history, only to stand in the cold for a few hours, unable to see or hear any of it! He was interviewed by a reporter and is already in the news, if that's perhaps some consolation. Sigh. He'll just have to watch the inauguration on the internet, like the rest of us poor overseas saps.

20 January 2009

O happy day

Last night, well past midnight, saw me swaying onstage with a crowd of all the evening's performers as the credits rolled, singing "O Happy Day."

I thought it was an auspicious beginning to what is surely a great day in history. Today, Barack Obama will become our president.

During Christmas vacation, the Mister was finishing up an article, and our little nephew came up to ask him to play. M. told him that he just had a few more sentences to write, and then he would come down.

The three-year-old stood there for a moment, and then solemnly said, "Barack Obama is our president."

So when I say today that Barack Obama is our president, it is the little guy's innocent voice I hear, and I think this perfectly fitting. His voice is the voice of the country's future.

Another reason today is a happy day is that this is my 300th blog post! I can't think of a better day to write it, a better reason to celebrate.

19 January 2009

Barack's Books

"With the right words everything could change," wrote Barack Obama. An article in today's New York Times describes the books that our new president has read and has loved, and how they influenced him. These include Melville, Marilynne Robinson, Emerson, Shakespeare, the Bible, Reinhold Niebuhr, Toni Morrison, Derek Wolcott, Doris Lessing, Ellison, and of course, Lincoln.

Words do change things. Words have shaped Barack Obama, and in turn, his words have already changed things. I can't wait to see what else will be transformed.

17 January 2009

Parlez-moi d'amour

The Mister kissed me goodbye this morning during the pitch-black of the wee hours. He is flying to Washington to attend the inauguration! My dad managed to get a pair of tickets and so they're off on an adventure, my two main men, of battling crowds and traffic and cold to participate in this historic event. I'm a little bit jealous, but then again if I had really wanted to tag along I could have (I'm also a little bit nervous).

Instead, I get to appear on Catalan television Monday night. Wearing a red clown nose.

Our choir will be singing at the Catalan cinema awards show (like the Oscars but... quick, name any Catalan movie!). The noses are part of an elaborate gag that involves a besotted clown, a French love song, and the presenter. There's choreography involved, so this afternoon you will find me at the TV studios practicing a nonchalant walk in my ill-fitting choir garb (I have to borrow from someone else since mine isn't ready yet) and furiously memorizing the French lyrics.

Aside from that, my weekend sans the Mister will be all about work. Me and my laptop are going to have so much fun!

16 January 2009

to learn, so much

Here's a favorite poem, by a favorite writer, C.D. Wright. The first line sticks with me, and I find myself saying it, and chuckling over it, from time to time and for no apparent reason. Imperfections and messiness are inevitable in relationships, from the fruit with fire blight and socks that get dingy and don't match, but still there is the river, the wind, the thunder...

Everything Good between Men and Women

has been written in mud and butter
and barbecue sauce. The walls and
the floors used to be gorgeous.
The socks off-white and a near match.
The quince with fire blight
but we get two pints of jelly
in the end. Long walks strengthen
the back. You with a fever blister
and myself with a sty. Eyes
have we and we are forever prey
to each other’s teeth. The torrents
go over us. Thunder has not harmed
anyone we know. The river coursing
through us is dirty and deep. The left
hand protects the rhythm. Watch
your head. No fires should be
unattended. Especially when wind. Each
receives a free swiss army knife.
The first few tongues are clearly
preparatory. The impression
made by yours I carry to my grave. It is
just so sad so creepy so beautiful.
Bless it. We have so little time
to learn, so much... The river
courses dirty and deep. Cover the lettuce.
Call it a night. O soul. Flow on. Instead.