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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Barcelona primer

My top recommendation to people going to Barcelona is to visit the Palau de la Música Català since it doesn’t get enough love. Antoni Gaudí was great, but after living in BCN for a while, I actually grew to like the work of his Modernisme contemporary Lluís Domènech i Montaner better and the Palau is his most impressive work.

The downside is that it’s owned by a private foundation so the only way to see inside it is to take their tour. Despite what the website says, there isn’t an English tour guide available for all the advertised times, so I stress that you need to get there early and sign up for whatever English slot they have. If you’re a brave soul, sign up for whatever time is available as just looking at all the details (like blown glass on the bannisters) will be enough.

My favorite part, the stained glass sun ceiling.

My favorite part, the stained glass sun ceiling.

You also can’t take photos inside since the foundation owns the copyright on all images, but Rob Whitworth somehow managed to get in and included many shots in this great Barcelona video. The Palau part starts at 48 seconds in.

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Barcelona GO! from Rob Whitworth on Vimeo.

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My first expat Christmas

My roommate's attempt at making me feel at home. He didn't know I hate Christmas. (Please note that the boxed jamón at left is almost as tall as the tree.)

My roommate’s attempt at making me feel at home. He didn’t know I hate Christmas. (Please note that the boxed jamón at left is almost as tall as the tree.)

I was in Barcelona and had no plan. I didn’t yet understand that EVERYTHING closed on holidays in Spain. I didn’t realize that even if people hated their families, they spent ALL NIGHT with them. I wasn’t prepared to deal with the total desolation of my neighborhood as everyone I knew went to their pueblos [hometowns].

I spent the evening with a couple friends, one of whom had a car. We drove up to Tibidabo, the small mountain range behind the city that seems like it wants to push Barcelona into the sea. There’s an impressive-looking church there, the Templo Expiatorio del Sagrado Corazón.

Templo Expiatorio del Sagrado Corazón, Dec 2005

Templo Expiatorio del Sagrado Corazón, Dec 2005

My friend, who is a professional photographer, offered to take my picture but didn’t like where I’d chosen to pose. I tried to explain that I wanted to be hidden. I told him that people who knew me would recognize the outline of my Russian-style hat since I’d had it for ages. He really didn’t want to do it, but it turned out perfect.

I can totally tell what clothes I'm wearing too.

I can totally tell what clothes I’m wearing too.

Everything was closed down, but the merry-go-round was creepily lit up and running. There didn’t seem to be anyone minding the place, so my thoughts immediately went to Scooby-Doo type scenarios. (There were probably two kids smoking pot in the bushes and watching the wheel go round and round.)

Maybe it was meddling kids who'd turned it on?

Maybe it was meddling kids who’d turned it on?

It was a weirdly peaceful evening. Excepting the lack of food options, it was pretty nice as far as Christmases go.


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Word Mystery: ice cream cone / cucurucho / cornet

Wednesdays, I explore the linguistic origins of the same word in different languages.

In the summer time, when the weather is warm…I am frequently too damn hot to eat dinner. Sometimes, half a kilo of strawberries is a meal, other times, I’ll grab a sorbet on the way home to cool myself off from the inside out.

Earlier this week, I had a scoop of citron for dinner, but it didn’t compare to the delicious cassis I used to get in Lyon after a hard ride on a sunny day.

Glorious.

Glorious.

Nothing beats cooling my brain off after sorting out a Word Mystery though (I tell myself in the hopes that it’ll be true).

EN → ice cream cone — an edible wafer container shaped like a cone in which ice cream is served. ORIGIN late Middle English (denoting an apex or vertex): from French cône, from Greek kōnos .

ES → cucuruchoPapel, cartón, barquillo, etc., arrollado en forma cónica, empleado para contener dulces, confites, helados, cosas menudas. [Paper, cardboard, wafer, etc. rolled in conical form, used to contain candies, pastries, ice cream or small things.] ORIGIN From an Italian dialect’s cucuruccio.

FR → cornetGaufrette conique que l’on garnit de glace. [Conical waffle which is filled with ice cream.] ORIGIN Diminutive of corne, this from Low Latin corna [cone, horn].

English note: the origin reminds me of a time during my ESL teaching days in Barcelona. Another teacher poked her head out of her classroom and asked if anyone knew another word for “top” to help her class complete an exercise. Without a moment’s hesitation, I said, “Tip, apex, peak, acme, zenith, summit, climax, pinnacle. Do any of those work?” Everyone around me was shocked, but they didn’t even realize the super-scary thing I’d done. As an avid crossword-puzzler, I’d listed the synonyms in ascending order of letters. My mind is a terrifying place, full of words and oddness.

Spanish note: Italian, eh? I guess ice cream came by boat to Spain. Figures. There aren’t any good native desserts there. (I think flan is yuck to the max.)

French note: this was a little bit of a cheat today since I was fairly certain going in that “cone” would have a French connection, but I make no apologies.

C’mon. Do you even have to ask who today’s winner is? Have you *tried* saying cucurucho out loud? If you do, I guarantee that it’ll be one of the best things that comes out of your mouth all day.


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Coke racist

Someday, I’ll write the really good, salacious stories that illustrate how racist Spain is, but for today, here’s a little something to whet your appetite.

Sitting with a friend at a bar in Barcelona on a hot, hot day like all the others I spent there, I order a Coke Zero and she a regular Coke. Our drinks arrive a little while later and as the waiter is putting them on the table, her back goes rigid and her temper, aggravated by the heat, flares.

“I didn’t order this! I’m in Spain and I want Spanish Coca-Cola! Take. This. Back.”

The waiter starts to say that this is the only Coke they have and she gets up from the table, dragging me along.

Polish Coke 1

Even better than the real thing.

“Then we are leaving!”

Looking back longingly at my Coke Zero sweating it out on the table, I saw that her Coke had weird lettering on it, indicating that it came from somewhere close to Russia.

Later, drinking locally-sourced Cokes, I told her how in the US, Mexican Coke is highly prized because it tastes better. (It’s made with real sugar, not high fructose corn syrup.) She was horrified by this information but recovered quickly, making disparaging remarks about Mexicans and their relative levels of cleanliness.

I let the topic drop since convincing Spaniards that they’re racist jerks is a futile endeavor and I just don’t have the energy to engage with them on every big and little thing they do that’s offensive.

But I do think of her every time I get Coke that “fell off the back of a truck” as is sometimes the case when I order food from a local place. I don’t understand how the economics of this works out, surely the transport alone negates any savings, but it all tastes good to me. (And it’s always still better than US Coke, so I’m still winning.)

 


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Word Mystery: blackout / apagón / panne d’électricité

Wednesdays, I explore the linguistic origins of the same word in different languages.

Things I was forced to learn learned recently include:

1. French fuse boxes don’t look like any fuse box I’ve ever seen.

Curious.

Curious.

2. French fuses come in different wattages (or whatever), look like bullets and live in little Japanese-pod beds.

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3. Spent (or used or broken or whatever) French fuses literally blow their tops off, revealing a tiny red mark that indicates they’ve gone to illumination heaven (which I imagine is actually a really dark place where they can all rest for once).

French busted fuse.

4. Those things from IKEA that look like surge protectors are actually not protecting anything.

EN → blackout — a failure of electrical power supply. ORIGIN Darkness is black. It’s not hard to figure out, people.

ES → apagónInterrupción pasajera del suministro de energía eléctrica. [Temporary interruption of the power supply.] ORIGIN Noun of apagar [turn off], from Latin pacāre [calm, mitigate].

FR → panne d’électricité — Arrêt momentané et accidentel du fonctionnement d’électricité. [Momentary and accidental shutting down of electricity.] ORIGIN Variation on penne [pen] from Latin penna [wing].

General note: all three terms refer most commonly to large-scale power outages. What happened to me recently, I remembered after thinking long and hard, was that I “blew a fuse” but that wasn’t Word Mystery fodder so out it went!

So angry, Howard. Why don't you calm down?

You’re so angry, Howard. Why don’t you calm down?

Sad note: I actually lived through a big blackout in Barcelona in July 2007 that made international news. I filmed a video of the immediate aftermath (which I’d love to share with you but WordPress wants me to pay to upload video and I refuse) because Catalan people be crazy.

Imagine the oddest reaction to massive electrical failure that you could possibly think of having. Now let me tell you what the citizens of the whole affected area did en masse — hang out their windows, just like Howard Beale wants you to, and bang on pots with wooden spoons. Other people uploaded their videos to YT and you can check some out here and see that I am not lying.

English note: disappointed again.

Spanish note: A thing about me is that telling me to “calm down” makes me super angry. This is because it’s a common thing Spanish people do and they mean it in the most condescending way possible. Suggesting that someone else is in hysterics is a great way to make oneself look infinitely superior which is a national pastime. Spain loses just for that and may get put in the penalty box for being such a jerk.

French note: I understand how “wing” became “plume” but am a bit confused about its jump to meaning cut or rupture. Maybe ’cause a wing has an articulation in it? I don’t have science, so I can’t say if that’s even true.

Today’s winner is nobody since all of these stunk. Next week better improve or I’m going to get as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!