Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Notes from Balaguer

Our sixth and final HelpX edition - Balaguer, Spain. Staying with Jordi, Anita, Dennis, Anni and Villia in the first floor apartment that could have been mistaken as a youth hostel. Anita was a HelpXer from Manchester, England. Dennis and Anni were HelpXers travelling around Europe in search of their new home who only a month before had left Finland with their 2 year old daughter, Villia.

It´s the story. . . of a single teacher. . . who was hosting more and more each day. . . the youngest one in curls.

According the Jordi, the best way to clear the table was by forming a line and passing the dishes to and from the kitchen along said line of people. This, he said, prevented backup and congestion in the kitchen area. So picture it. Every meal we, mature adults, would pass dishes and plate along the line. The two year old would watch in wonder as her parents assumed the position. It brought her uncontrolable joy watching us all pass her used plate and cup from hand to hand. Villia, so overwhelemed with excitement, would run back and forth down the line like a quarterback butting helmets with the rest of the team before the big game. Only, she wasn´t that tall so really she was butting us in the crotch.

What I also loved about the line was watching certain items go back and forth at every meal (see "Waste Not"). My favorite were these two little bottles of beer that were sent out to the table every lunch and dinner and, every lunch and dinner, would return down the line back to the fridge. Because Jordi told us that he didn´t drink and because even if you drank both of the beers, it would hardly constitute a full glass, nobody wanted to drink them. Nobody wanted to be that guy who drank the two midget beers at dinner. So back and forth they went. All week.

Jordi never wasted anything. Anything! If something wasn´t eaten at a meal, he would continue to bring it out at every subsequent meal until it was finished. Fine. But come on, that dried up develed egg didn´t get eaten on the 2nd, 3rd or 4th meal - it ain´t gonna get ate.

Speaking of meals, once for breakfast he put out Kit Kat bars. I loved his breakfasts.

Jordi did not believe in trash. We noticed that he had no apparent trash cans on our first night after he told us that we could "recycle everything." Are my Q-tips a paper? Do my old work boots go into the paper or plastic pile? The muffin cup/wrapper I put into the compost. It just felt right.

Kelly and Anita bonded one night over a discussion about how they had to smuggle certain products out to the street trash cans because, come on, some things just don´t go in recycle bins.

Jordi volunteered us to go to the high school to speak to the english class. Teenagers are frightening. They asked us if Americans are rude and if all English people have a drinking problem. To impress them, I told them that Kelly and I have been in some movies in NYC (passersby, but still). They stared blankly and then asked Anita about the Manchester football (soccer) team. I should have told them that Kanye West was our neighbor and that sometimes we shared sugar. Teenagers like the hippity-hoppity.

One thing that I love about Kelly is that she never quits. We ran into some kids from our english class when we were walking around Balaguer one night. They were selling roasted chestnuts. Kelly wanted to know if the chestnuts were from their family´s tree. They didn´t understand what she was saying. I was ready to start talking about the slightly racist plush toy that I had won at the carnival claw game but she just kept on. Basically just repeating the same words. Only slower. This goes on for some time and I start daydreaming. Eventually she starts grunting and miming and suddenly they understand, using words that sound just like the ones Kelly had just been using. I could tell Kelly wanted to know more about the business: supply chains and cost/benefit analysis and what not but by that point it was getting pretty late and time for us to go home to bed.

To test whether or not a couple is compatible, they should have to ride a Vespa together. This should be a requirement before a marriage license is issued. Have you ever ridden on the back of a Vespa? It´s scary shite. Having no control, every turn, lean or brake feels like the brink of death. Driving is great.

The Finnish couple let us take their Vespa out for a spin (or 3) around town. We were chased by a little and, most likely, rabid dog. People stared at us, most likely because we were two huge (fat) people squeezed on a little Vespa and my helmet was way too small for my huge cabeza.

At one point, Kelly pulled over and got off the bike complaining that I was a backseat driver. She insisted I drive and then, not two seconds later, yelled "f·ck" and squeezed my breasts because she thought I was going to crash us into a wall. Talk about a backseat driver. Another time, when I swerved to avoid hitting an older couple walking on the side of the road and nearly drove into an on-coming car, Kelly actually reached forward and pushed the handle bars.

Eventually we had to stop and have a discussion about criticism and feelings. But I know our relationship is stronger for it. Thank you, Vespa.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Christopher fights the wind on the deck.


We took the ferry from Rome to Barcelona. It was the closest thing
I've experienced to a cruise.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Today Is the Day

We jumped from our beds like kids on Christmas morning. We couldn´t sleep any longer. Frightened that we would find only lumps of coal. But hopeful to find a new future.

We stood side by side. Breathless before the glowing television. And there was Barack. But we couldn´t tell. Had he won? Had he lost? The coverage was in rapid-fire Spanish. Breathless.

But then. . .

El primer Presidente negro de los Estados Unidos.


Llamadas de McCain a conceder.

We realize.

Victoria para Obama.

We watch the world celebrate. France. Spain. Kenya. We jump up and down. We embrace. And we say, Thank God.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Punked Again

I am a dreamer. An endless optimist. My mind soars with the eagles.

I see it there and I know. I just know that it is right. That it will be mind blowing. A must. Have to. Can't miss. Once in a lifetime chance.

And, without fail, it fails. It punches me in the face. Always. It happened at the Bronx Zoo when I thought that the little airborne carriage on a wire (is there a name for that thing?) would take us on a glorious tour above the entire zoo. Did we see lions? Tigers? Bears? No, we saw the tops of 7 trees and then were back on the ground. Ahhh.

But I conveniently forgot our history of the sky carriages (isn't that always the way of the dreamer?) today when I made Kelly and I wait in line for over two hours for the Barcelona sky carriage.

From the ground it looked glorious! Awesome. We would see everything. And on top of that, it looked like it would take us up to the highest point in the city. We would have it all!

So we waited. And waited. And waited. The sign on the little ticket booth at the front said 3o minutes. Uh, either that was written by a pre-schooler who had not yet learned the clock or someone was having a laugh. We continued to wait. Yes, I thought about leaving the line. Enjoy the day by walking about. But every time I would start to inch out of the crowd, a carriage would move gently overhead and I would be lost in its wonder. We waited. The line never seemed to move. And behind us was the family from hell. You know the one. I don't even have to explain.

Finally, finally we get to the front of the line! And the guy closes the ticket window. He turns in his little booth and jams to music that I am not sure is actually there. We wait some more. After about 20 minutes he turns back around and opens the window. Hello!

The luster is fading but, wait, our moment has come! We are heading up in the elevator. (I close the door before the family behind us can get in.) We are up. Up and here it is. . . . another line! We have watched the day slip by us and here we get to watch it from the top of the tower.

Our turn in the carriage! Except, though we leave the Addams family behind us, we are the last to get in. So, of course, everyone has crowded around the windows. Kelly and I are stuck in the middle of the magical air carriage.

I catch little glimpses of the sprawling Barcelona. It must be beautiful out there. However, just as I am squeezing next to a window we are headed back down! WHAT! Hours of wait for fifteen frickin' minutes of ride!?!?! It seems that it is another air carriage somewhere else in the city taking people to the top of the mountain. All we got for 18 euros and 3 hours of our lives is a teaser.

I want my money back! My dreams. My hopes of a world view like no other are dashed.


He Had Your Grandmother

No, really, he did. And, sadly, that's all that he had. But when Claudio said "he only had your grandmother," what he meant was: he only had his grandmother. The boy's parents had died in Belarus.

Staying with our first foreign language family in Italy provided an interesting communication challenge, as neither Kelly or I speak Italian and English was not a second language to them. Third, maybe, but not second. As you can imagine, the pronoun jumbles (always you/your instead of his/her/he/she) provided endless entertainment.

Your husband is an engineer
. I look at Kelly with eyebrows raised.

You had many women

Philippo likes your friends
. He does?

Classic. My favorite being when Claudio, talking about the poor boy affected by Chernobyl, said: he only had your grandmother and brother. I know, a sad, sad situation. Not funny at all. But, really, my brother too!?!?!

And who was I to correct them? I spit out a nasty concoction of English and Spanish with occasional Italian and Portuguese that must have sounded like gibberish to them. By the end, Kelly and were communicating with each other that way - broken English with grunts and charades. Watching Kelly try to act out "sneaky" for Philippo was brilliant.

The Italian-English dictionary was kept close at hand. At one point, Philippo got a phone call from a friend and I quickly found ragazza (girl/girlfriend) and used it mercilessly. We all laughed. And by "we all" I mean everyone but Philippo. I blame the wine.

Claudio, Tiziana and Philippo are a fantastic family. Delicious food, homemade wine with every meal and enough olives picked that it took two of us to lift the resulting olive oil. Between olive harvestings, they showed us around Velletri, let us help bottle wine (Kelly cried when Claudio poured a bad batch onto the ground) and sang us traditional Italian songs.

They were a great bunch. Claudio used to run a theater troupe, is a farmer and teacher and showed us a book of poetry he wrote poking fun at President Bellisconi. Tiziana is an archaeologist working at a museum in Rome. One day she gave us a guided tour of the museum and I laughed every time she skipped over something saying that it was "too difficult" to try explaining in English. We skipped a lot. Philippo, the 12 year old, acted as translator between us and his parents.

Philippo and I would play football (soccer) on his PlayStation. Because he had only one controller, we would switch off at the half and, inevitably, he would get frustrated with me for not listening to his instructions. I couldn't help it. I just loved shooting goals but, apparently, half way down the field is way too far to shoot from. And over and over he would yell: WHY!?! I would have explained that I just get overly excited and shoot too soon. But I didn't know how to say that in Italian. So I just grunted and yelled GOAL!