Monday, May 24, 1999

Off to Lisbon (lisboa?)

Hey everybody!

Another weekly installment of "How to learn a foreign language in 29,000 painful lessons". Well, This week is Lisbon, or Lisboa, or something. Anyway, tomorrow I'm hopping to night train to Portugal to get the Work Permit stamped in my Passport. Advice to those wanting to work in another country: it's not for the faint-hearted. After all of the hassle of getting fingerprinted, tested, inspected, rejected, and injected in every part, and even getting kicked off of the Group W bench, the final step is that I finally get my work permit. But I can't get it in Spain, I have either to return to the States (which would seem ludicrous for the three seconds it would take to actually receive the stamp) or go to a third party nation. I had my pick of Paris, Lisbon, or London. This is the flip side of the hassle: it's not so bad to get hassled when you're in Barcelona and have to choose between London, Paris, and Lisbon. This is what I call a "luxury problem". (Rachel, when I get a moment on the train tomorrow, I'll try to outline the process for you. Kidding aside, this is worth it. Really.)

Anyway, besides setting up the train trip and everything, I finally got my gas and electric systems inspected and repaired, and I should have hot water pretty soon. I've rigged a manual system to provide me with enough hot water to take a sort of shower (thank god for the Marine Corps: "If it looks stupid but it works, it's not stupid"). The electric system repairman/inspector even provided me with illegal electric power for the week, in a scene strangely reminiscent of "The Cable Guy". I have to sneak out to the power box and giver the breakers a twist before the actual electric system connectors come. Whereupon they will give the breakers a twist in the opposite direction and charge me 10000 pesetas ($66 US) to do it. Yippee, free enterprise comes to a socialist nation. New answer for the "Why did we bomb the Chinese Embassy" question: Because we missed the Spanish one. Incidentally, they *really* think we're either ridiculously stupid, or horribly mercenary, or both, for doing that. Kind of understandable.

Red Cross and Doctors without Frontiers both ended up being non-starters. As it turns out, I couldn't have fit it in anyway, but one wanted a one year commitment, a word I have trouble spelling much less doing, and the other, after an initial animated response, didn't return my call. So I went to the beach instead. Life in any city these days must include some exposure to the great variety of living conditions that people can experience, but it is always, always a bit of a shock to see the haves and the have-nots right next to each other. Rather like taking a walk down Swann street in DC: 600K to Zero in two blocks. Anyway, the beach here is like that. Beautiful, no getting around that, and fantastic, tanned, half naked people with the backdrop of the Olympic village, which is still very impressive. BMWs and Mercedes, and very exclusive Jeep Cherokees line the parking lot. Run twenty yards in the wrong direction down the beach and the standard of living drops drastically. It's incredible that people can actually live without a damn thing-- nothing. Makes me feel pretty fortunate to have my flat with illegal electricity and disconnected gas.

Wow, that was pretty serious. Anyway, not much else to add, and the hour is about to click over. I have made some new friends here, but I miss the heck out of you all, you're all invited to come stay, simultaneously (that *would* be a party). I turn 35 in a month! Now I can really misquote Fitzgerald and say I'm 15 years too old to lie to myself and call it honor. Take care, write me, etc. -Tim

Wednesday, May 19, 1999

Tim's Big Adventure/Inventing Sleep/Valencia

Bom dit a tot!

Okay, that's all the Catalan I know. If you were wondering, Catalan is about as closely related to Castellano as Portuguese is. It kinda *sounds* like what you learned in Spanish class, and I can understand it if it's spoken slowly (Ha! like that ever happens), but it's pretty different. But everyone *can* speak Castellano here. It's kind of like Texas decided that it really should be it's own country, and failing that, rewrote the State Constitution to start off, "Naow y'all lissen up, y'hear?" as a symbol of national pride.

Thanks everyone who wrote me. I know I'm the world's biggest geek for writing back en masse, but I'm paying 800 pesetas an hour to do this, so it's just gotta be this way until I get access at work.

Well, the big news this week was the trip to Valencia. Valencia is the third biggest city in Spain, still part of Catalunya, except that instead of Catalan, the speak (you guessed it) Valenciana. Which is kind of like Colorado wanted to pretend it wasn't owned by Texans so they stopped using the word "y'all". Anyway, I packed up my stuff and worked out an Itinerary to take me all the way down the east coast of Spain, down to Morroco, and finally to Lisbon. I took off last Friday.

Valencia was breathtaking. Pretty in a very different way from Barcelona, only three hours north. Everything is, well, really really old, like built before the "nail" was introduced in the USA. Oh, get this, Valencians *invented* paella (saffron rice with shrimp and mollusks and a whole lotta chutspa). They had a beach that rivalled Miami or even Beau Vallon in Seychelles. My second night there I met some Danish folks and partied until 6am. The next morning was, well, horrible, but in a very beautiful place. It occurred to me that night that sleep must have been invented in the first 24 hours that people were on earth. Like, Ug and Zug were sitting around, banging rocks, and Ug says to Zug, "Man, this is hectic. There's rocks to bang together and dinosaurs to run away from. To top it off, I think I must be getting sick... I can't concentrate, and I try to bang the rocks together but I miss." And Zug says, "No, hey man, that happened to me too, but Fug showed be a trick. Watch." And Zug goes off to sleep. Ug sees that Zug has become still and quiet and worries that maybe Zug's died (death being one of the first things invented on the first day when Pug tried to invent flight)...

Anyway, I sat down and looked at my checkbook and my itinerary on Sunday, and decided that my money would hold out, but that I wouldn't. I realized that I actually missed working. Crazy. I'm going to save this email and read it again when I really hate working again. So I called my boss back in Barcelona and told him I was ready to get started, and we slid that date back to the 1st of June.

So I hopped a train back to Barcelona. Cool. I'm pretty dang bored, so I checked with Medicos sin Fronteras and Cruz Roja and found out that they need some help with their computers, so I'm going to go see about doing that tomorrow. Tell you how it turns out.

BTW, someone asked if I was planning on writing the guide for Consultants Working in Spain. Maybe. There sure is a helluva lot to know. But it's been worth it in droves so far. I really love what I'm doing, and I haven't done a lick of work yet, so we'll see what that's like. The Danish guy I talked to who was working as a Steel Engineer in Valencia seemed to think he'd died and gone to Engineer's Heaven (what would that be like?), and he was being paid as an intern (read: not much).

Well, the meter's about to click over. I'll write back in a few days. Take care everybody, and contact me especially if you plan on getting to this part of the world, everybody's welcome to come stay, I live in a cool place with a neat church (Sagrada Familia) on the corner and a spare bedroom. Cuidateis. Love, Tim

Tuesday, May 11, 1999

My phone, flat, and the Persianas story...

Hey Everybody!

Bom dit from luverly Barcelona. It's the prettiest day for a long time here, it's starting to get hot, and the tourists are coming here from everywhere. Yay.

My flat is almost liveable now. The water company has assured me that I will have water in a day or two, and I should have electricity and gas soon. I also got a phone, a mobile. One of the great things about living overseas is the english-style stuff that have here. For instance, my phone is from the line "Movistar". I had a choice between "Movistar" and "System Joc", which is for sporty types (y'know, Jocs). Almost as good as when I was in Japan and the popular car stereo system was the "Lonesome Car Boy" (I assume a take off on "Lonesome Cowboy").

Speaking of lonesome carboys, I put on my cowboy boots and my Stetson yesterday and played guitar in the Plaza de Pi, and made about 2300 Pesetas in just under an hour ($15.54 US). Hell, maybe I'll quit my day job. I even made a couple of Deutch Marks (Germans and Italians being notorious for tipping in their own currency).

Oh, hey, big news. My Permiso de Trabajo came in. I have to take a physical and then go to Paris to get the stamp put in my passport (they can't do it here in Spain). That sounds like great news, except that I was kind of hoping to do some more site-seeing before I started working. It looks like I'll be working in less than two weeks. Dang. I was kind of looking at the 4 month wait as a good time to chill out and see the sights, but it looks like my efficient paperwork handling (learned in the arduous processes of getting into Annapolis and the Peace Corps) allowed the Spanish government to process my request in record time. The good news is that all the money I had piled up to survive on is now unnecessary, so I can spend it on some vain frivolity like flashy clothes or a pension scheme or something.

¿Qúe más? Ah, I have good Spanish days and bad Spanish days. I won't bore you with that, except to say that it's surprising how much you can accomplish with hardly any words at all. Oh, I promised the Persianas story. Persianas are a popular type of window blinds here, popular since France and England weren't friends (well, were actively enemies). There were a couple of ancient Persianas hanging in the windows in my flat, and as part of my rental conditions, I got a break on my first month's rent (YES!) if I fixed the Persianas.

If only I had set up a video camera, I coulda won "America's funniest home videos" (or at least "Catalunya's funniest home videos"). I got to know the guy at the hardware store on a first name basis (a feat here, as everyone has twenty first names). The old Persianas weighed about sixty pounds each, and I was perched up on a ladder six stories up removing these things. Every few seconds I imagined myself years from now telling the story, "and that's how I went blind/became crippled/fell screaming to my death in Spain". There was a lot of banging and dust and dropping things. I felt foolish several times. I finally removed them and carried the whole 120 pound mess four blocks to the hardware store. Anyway, I got the new ones in, and it'll be a great apartment as soon as there's water and light.

Oh, hey, I'm reading "La guía del autoestopista galáctica" (you guessed it, "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" in Castellano). Great news: Douglas Adams is funny in Spanish, too.

Well, enough of that. I hope everyone's doing well, I think about you all very often. I'll be here for a minimum of two years, so please come visit whenever you can. As a Spanish worker, I get 30 days a year off (how damned civilized is that? why can't we do that in the US? sorry, sorry) so I can definitely take some time off. Take care, I'll write in a few days. Love, Tim

Wednesday, May 5, 1999

The Tim Allen Barcelona FAQ

Dear everybody,

Well, I found a cheaper email connection, so I'm able to write again. I'm sorry to respond to you en masse, it's just pretty dang expensive to write individual emails from here. But I've got a little more time so I can answer some of those burning questions I've been getting from you all.

1) Hey Tim, how are you spending your days out there?
Well, really, my main purpose right now is learning Spanish, or Castellano rather. They do speak Catalan here, a lot more than you'd think. Although Franco tried to squash the Catalan language, everyone kept speaking it. The end result is that everyone over 50 seems to be illiterate in Catalan, but speak it all the time. Something new to learn. All the signs are in Catalan.

But anyway, I just rented a place around the corner from Sagrada Familia (the really weird, beautiful church designed by Gaudi). The process was arduous. I had to go through three different agencies to find it, and there was a lot of standing around, finding out that the agent had no keys. It was an excellent opportunity to practice the language, though. Now I'm all depressed cuz I found out how much a bed costs here (too much). However, there is an IKEA here(!), so I'm going to go check that out.

Other than that, I've been busking a lot out on La Rambla (Busking: vi, Playing street music for money). I've met some of the other musicians here, who seem to be living on the 1000 pesetas they get each day, I don't know how. I made friends with some Bill Wilson fans, too, and am hanging out with them a lot.

2) How do I contact you?
Email remains the best way. I have an address now, but I'm not certain how that works, since I don't even have the keys yet. I don't have a phone yet. I promise to update all of this for you all.

4) Are you writing?
YES! finally, after months of nothing, I started up the novel again. I'm changing some of my old characters, but the storyline is still basically the same (Seinfeld style: no storyline) There's a lot of great material here.

5) How's work?
Well, I'm still waiting for the Permiso de Trabajo, so no work yet. But I did meet my sponsor here, the other OLAP programmer who seems to be the guy I'll be working with most. I went to the offices, which was cool. They have better laptops here than we had at Oracle US! And everone smokes. It was like, Hi my name's Juan, do ju want a cigarette? Lots of big ashtrays on the desks. Everyone has a mobile phone. No one has a car.

6) Are you running?
Funny you should ask. I've been running a lot, there's a great hill here overlooking the whole city. The return route runs through the Guadi museum, which is kind of like running through the set of "Yellow Submarine". I just signed up for "La 21ª Cursa El Corte Ingles", which is a 12km run here at the beginning of June. 12km... I'm assured a PR, cuz I've never run that distance before.

7) Are you getting news there?
Not all that much US news. No one really seems to talk about the shootings in Denver. There is plenty of anti-OTAN sentiment about the situation in Kosovo. But people don't sit around yacking about the US a whole lot, which surprised me. I would have thought that everyone would spit when they said "USA". But no.

Oh man, I saw a pretty bad accident between a motorcycle and a taxi, though. I think everyone walked away from it, but it was a little scary there for a bit. A day later, I found out about the big tornado in Kansas. On the whole, the motorcycle accident made a much bigger impact on me, if that's any indication of how things are news-wise for me.

8) Would you like some more email?
Yes. Sí. Ja. Anio. All that. I'm checking my email every other day or so. If you're trying to ICQ me, forget it until I get my own connection.

Well, anyway, that's how things are in a nutshell for right now. I really miss you all. The homesickness is wearing off some, though. And yesterday was a really good day for some reason, like, I suddenly realized that I could understand Spanish. It was like someone had just stuck a babel fish in my ear (if you don't know, don't ask). Which is cool. I'm still going to look into school here, but at least I'm not going to starve to death. It's getting warm. There are many Italians here now. I miss you all. -Tim

Tuesday, May 4, 1999

5 minutes

Dear Everyone,

Dang, why do I always seem to only have 5 minutes left when I start writing? Well, thanks to everyone who wrote (and for the rest of you, the secret is to bang the rocks together, guys). Well, things whip along at a frightening pace here. I just rented my apartment here, a process requiring much stamina. Not so much painful as just kind of... bureaucratico.

I just realized I´ve only been here for a week and two days. I expect the world out of my Spanish. Every time I commit a minor faux pas I expect everyone in Barcelona, nuns, little catalan guys, british tourists, to run after me amenazando me with papers, bibles, copies of El Pais, yelling, Juu must to leef now... Barcelona was a nice plase til juu got here.

Yahh. I have to go, one minute left. Mom, pay the checks, it´s okay. I´ll get you back. I love you all. Tim