Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures


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Feliç diada de Sant Jordi

I usually don’t commemorate holidays here, but I’ve had this post scheduled for months just so I could share this lovely rose with you.

Genetically engineered Catalan flag rose

Genetically engineered Catalan flag rose

Sant Jordi (St. George) is the patron saint of Catalunya and every year, the whole country (region, if you’re nationalist) celebrates with an all-day party. Men traditionally give women flowers and women give men books. These activities are practically compulsory and the sidewalks and plaças are taken over completely by people selling both gifts from stands large and small. (Click for bigger images.)

Obviously, I think the men get the better end of the bargain since a book is a great gift and flowers are stinky and dead, but, when in Rome…

Over the years I was teaching in Barcelona, I got a lot of roses on Sant Jordi like the one above. It was actually kind of cute to get one from little boys since I was clearly the first non-relative to receive one. (When I got home, I’d always give them to my roommates.)

Travel watch

Mid-April is a perfect time to visit Barcelona. The weather is very good (it supposedly never rains on Sant Jordi) and people are in high spirits because the city looks beautiful all decked out in flags and ribbons and books.

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Move along (and moving on)

boston.crime_.tape_While I’m no longer alternating between crying and staring blankly into space, it’s still too soon for me to go back to my default setting of trying to amuse. Instead, I’ve been wrestling with how much the bombings at last week’s Boston Marathon affected me versus how little I care about the many horrible things that happen elsewhere around the world on a regular basis. And this makes me feel pretty terrible about myself.

I cut down my Internet time considerably over the weekend to give myself a break from how horrible everything (possibly including myself) is, but podcasts stop for no man, and one actually made me feel a little better. Terry Gross, who hosts a long-running interview program on NPR (kind of an American BBC), spoke with Charlie Sennott, a Boston-born reporter who’s been all over the world and covered military conflicts, wars and disasters of various kinds. Here are the things he said that actually made me start to breathe easier (emphasis mine):

Patriots’ Day is a day in Boston that is the best day in Boston, when it seems like there’s almost always good weather and we have the Red Sox playing and the Marathon is such a great tradition, proud sense of history, the anniversaries of the battles in Concord and Lexington and you think, this is this pageant of just life, and a great city. And I think when we – when we saw these events unfold, I started to really ask myself why does it feel so different that these victims have a Boston accent?

This is different and I think it is different because suddenly you realize that every time you cover a bombing, it’s someone’s hometown. And I think this bombing has reminded me of that, that maybe we’ve covered so many bombings over so much time, in Belfast, in Pakistan, Oklahoma City, Jerusalem, Kabul, Madrid, London – maybe all of this somehow gets you at some point inured to the meaning of it for the people who have gone through it, and it’s a horrible shock to Boston. It’s a tough, resilient town, but it’s a reminder to me as a journalist from here that we’ve got to bring that same emotion, as much as we can, every time, everywhere in the world, because wherever a bombing happens, it’s someone’s hometown.

You can listen to the full interview here or read just the transcript here.

We’ll see if I can get up to my regular shenanigans later this week. (Thankfully tomorrow’s post was planned ages ago.)


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I love that dirty water

This makes me cry. @illuminator99

This makes me cry. @illuminator99

There are 9964 songs in my iTunes (30 straight days’ worth, 61.92 GB). The last time “Dirty Water” by The Standells played was on January 6, 2009. This Tuesday, the day after the Patriots’ Day bombings at the Boston Marathon, while listening on shuffle, it came on again. I think the odds of this happening are something like 1 in 10,000, but I’m no expert. Whatever the odds, it was a hell of a coincidence.

The song goes like this:

(Spoken:)
I’m gonna tell you a story
I’m gonna tell you about my town
I’m gonna tell you a big bad story, baby
Aww, it’s all about my town

Yeah, down by the river
Down by the banks of the river Charles (aw, that’s what’s happenin’ baby)
That’s where you’ll find me
Along with lovers, fuggers, and thieves (aw, but they’re cool people)
Well I love that dirty water
Oh, Boston, you’re my home (oh, you’re the Number One place)

Frustrated women (I mean they’re frustrated)
Have to be in by twelve o’clock (oh, that’s a shame)
But I’m wishin’ and a-hopin, oh
That just once those doors weren’t locked (I like to save time for my baby to walk around)
Well I love that dirty water
Oh, Boston, you’re my home (oh, yeah)

Because I love that dirty water
Oh, oh, Boston, you’re my home (oh, yeah)

Well, I love that dirty water (I love it, baby)
I love that dirty water (I love Baw-stun)
I love that dirty water (Have you heard about the Strangler?)
I love that dirty water (I’m the man, I’m the man)
I love that dirty water (Owww!)
I love that dirty water (Come on, come on)

I didn’t grow up in Boston, but Boston is my home. It’s the first city I loved and it’s where I really became myself; an entity separate from my family. I haven’t been back in over a decade, but the attack still feels personal. I walked or rode my bike on Boylston Street hundreds, possibly thousands, of times. I worked at a restaurant that was half a block up from the second bomb. That strip of pavement and the steps into the Boston Public Library were literally my stomping ground for years. I spent hours in the BPL because it was free, air-conditioned and full of books making it the best place in the city for a college student on a budget.

I don’t pray but my thoughts are with all the people of the greatest city I’ve ever lived in. I know them and I know they’ll bounce back and be tougher than ever, but the physical and psychic wounds will take time to heal, even from the other side of the world.

And now for something completely related

→ I don’t want to leave you on a sad note, so here’s Stephen Colbert‘s response which includes some reminders of why Bostonians are bad ass mofos and not to be trifled with. They will fah-Q up.

→ And Jon Stewart almost making me cry again by correctly identifying the century-long rivalry between his city and mine as one not of enemies, but siblings. Sniff.

→ Dennie Lehane, Boston writer extraordinaire (Shutter Island, Mystic River) says “Bostonians don’t love easy things, they love hard things — blizzards, the bleachers in Fenway Park, a good brawl over a contested parking space.” Fortitude is in the water there.

→ Reddit is trying to solve the mystery of who the bomber(s) is/are by crowd-sourcing the crime scene. I have conflicted feelings about this. Right hand says that the wisdom of the crowds can offer valuable insights. Left hand says that mob mentality doesn’t lead to anything good.

→ A weird question I was asked by a Spanish friend once was “What does it feel like to have a national anthem?” I never figured out what he meant, but today I can say that it makes you feel like you’re connected to hundreds, thousands, millions of people you’ve never met. Here are 17,000 of them.


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Barcelona real estate

Watching people running around Barcelona and saying deep things like, “Can you imagine living here and seeing this every day?” got me thinking about what living there every day was actually like. The apartment situation was bad. Really bad. So bad that it was a joke used in marketing.

"Bigger than your apartment. Texas BBQ Whopper."

“Bigger than your apartment. Texas BBQ Whopper.” (March, 2006)

So bad that people planned protests (like this one in the fall of 2006) about how hard it was to find affordable housing.

"You're never going to own a house in your whole damn life."

“You’re never going to own a house in your goddamn life.”

Of the many things I don’t miss about Spain, the living conditions are near the top. (The heat would probably be my number one.)


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Word Mystery: lace / encaje / dentelle

Word Mysteries are where words in languages that I know don’t correspond to each other at all despite those languages often sharing lexical histories. These words are both mystifying (why are they different?) and annoying (why must you be different?!).

I think my grandmother was disappointed that I was such a tomboy. She was always trying to get me to take up ladylike activities and I wasn’t having it. One of the weirdest hobbies she tried to interest me in was crocheting. The strange thing about it is that no part of the pursuit was suited to me; delicate hand work, interminable patience, desire for doilies upon which to place things. My mother even tried to make crocheting “fun” by ordering a wooden mushroom “toy” from Lillan Vernon that somehow taught the skill but I wasn’t fooled.

CaixaForum lion

CaixaForum belaced lion

Sadly, “crochet” isn’t interesting enough to merit Word Mystery status (it’s the French word for “hook” the tool used to create it and the Spanish is ganchillo (gancho : hook), but the inciting incident this week is lace and that is good enough!

EN → lace — a fine open fabric, typically one of cotton or silk, made by looping, twisting, or knitting thread in patterns and used esp. for trimming garments. ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French laz, based on Latin laqueus ‘noose.’

ES encajeTejido de mallas, lazadas o calados, con flores, figuras u otras labores, que se hace con bolillos, aguja de coser o de gancho. [Material made of meshed and open spaces with flowers, shapes or other design elements, which are made with bobbins and sewing needle or crochet hook. ORIGIN en + caja [able + box : to box in].

FR dentelleTissu très ajouré formé de fils entrelacés qui forment des dessins et dont le bord est généralement dentelé. [Material with an openwork design made of interlaced threads which form designs and whose edges are generally jagged.] ORIGIN circa 1380, dent + elle [tooth + noun suffix], so called because early lace looked jagged/serrated.

Who do you think wins today? I’m leaning toward Spanish, just because encaje is the most fun to say.

Speaking of fun, here’s Gene McDaniels singing “Spanish Lace.”