Tuesday, October 26, 1999

6 Million Catalans discovered in Cataluña


Hola, Howdy, Bon dia, Dobry Den,

Has it been a week since the last one of these? Well, ambition, like water and morality, seeks the lowest possible level at which it is comfortable. Which doesn't mean jack, but is meant to somehow make up for the fact that in spite of myself, I've discovered a routine here in Barcelona so boring that there hasn't been much to write about.

Oracle hasn't sent me anywhere for a while, with the exception of a few side trips to Madrid. I'm so dang glad that I didn't decide to go live in Madrid-- honestly, it's so flat and far away from everything, and the architecture is to yawn at. Here in Barcelona we have buildings that look like they were built by sand castle mechanics on extended acid trips (maybe they were). You compare the buildings here to ours in the States and think, man, we oughta use more tile.

I've been here for six months now, as of the 24th. Kind of a big deal, a milestone when you consider that my contract is only for two years. I go through days when I'm damn sure that I'll go back at the end of the two years (I can hear my mom sighing with relief), and then I have days when I'm certain I want to stay forever (I can hear my mom tensing back up).

My free time is all Spanish now. My house is like one big list of new words; During conversations I suddenly dive into my rucksack to scribble down something someone said. Okay, this is heaven.

My friend, Sònia, is earnestly learning English at this point. Which is real good for both of us, because I end up helping her out, and it makes me have to think about our grammer a lot. Quick. Is "When" an adjective or an adverb? Or neither? Why do we use the word "do" for negative commands ("Do not panic") but not for affirmative ones ("Panic")? How do you pronounce "Egg" and "Iron"-- some day, the answers I give to these questions, especially this last one, will mark her forever as having learned pronunciation from a Southeast Texan.

Sometimes I get kind of jittery about the whole thing-- what if I'm wrong? Weirder still is the fact that I have a lot of Spanish coursing through my head, so, for example, the other day Sònia asked me what the English word for "Pronunciación" was. I thought for several minutes about this, and concluded that there wasn't one, that we'd say, "how it's pronounced". Then we looked it up, and sure enough, it translated as "Pronunciation" (duh). But I couldn't pronounce it correctly! I mean, what the heck is that "t" doing there, anyway? I've always kind of complained about French pronunciation (damn that word), but really, when you have to explain it, English writing has just about nothing to do with English pronunciation. May as well be Chinese.

It's starting to get cold here. My first exposure to Spain was Christmas day in Madrid, when it was about 14 degrees (57F), and probably that impression will last forever. I don't remember much about that first day, but I do remember getting off the bus from the airport and coming out of the station in the center of Madrid, thinking, I might end up living here. It was different then, because I still wasn't sure I'd end up with a job-- I couldn't imagine coming here without a job. Now I find out that there are thousands of Americans living and working in Spain with a tourist visa from like 1978. Anyway, I set down my backpack on the curb of the Paseo del Prado and looked around. I can't describe the rush of thoughts I had... I was excited, and worried that someone might speak to me and I wouldn't understand them (this happened right away, too). I noticed that the first building I set eyes on was the American Express building. We're everywhere. I thought about my prospects of moving, and then about my job and my friends and my family back in the States. I really wasn't sure that this was what I wanted to do, but I wasn't sure that it wasn't, either (did that make sense). So I picked up my backpack and found the metro into the Puerto del Sol.

Just this morning a co-worker asked me why I had moved to Spain. I never have a good answer for this. Usually I say "for the fame and the money". Occasionally I say "for the adventure". If I had to tell the truth I think I'd say "I don't really know". Most of my expat friends here say pretty much the same thing-- we just ended up here.

Well, enough of that. I have to get to work. Lots to tell-- I just found out that Barcelona has its own Marathon in April, and I think I might run in it. We'll see. Hmmm, I didn't mention anything about dogs. I'm working like a... you get the idea. I'll write again soon. -Tim

Wednesday, October 13, 1999



Bon dia! Howdy!

I hope everybody's doing great. After almost six months here, I finally got out of Spain for a day. Some friends and I drove into Andorra, which is a country so small that it usually gets mistaken for a dog hair or something when you're looking at it on a map. It sits between France and Spain in the Pyranees, and is the seat of the Association of Ridiculously Small Countries (which includes Luxembourg, The Vatican, Rush Limbaugh's Butt...)

A few facts: No one knows anything about the history of Andorra. Every article I looked up started with a statement like "The history of Andorra is obscured by the fogs of the past" or something. They do have a charter called the Carta de Fundacio d'Andorra signed by Charlemagne (conveniently locked away, and commonly believed to be a forgery with the sole purpose of giving the Andorrans claim against France and Spain). In 1933 a Russian declared himself King Boris of Andorra (I'm not making this up) but was escorted out of the country by several burly guardsmen.

Anyway, sometime in the last hundred years some genius decided to remove sales tax in Andorra, making it the Delaware of Europe. Every weekend, zillions of Spaniards from the south west and Frenchmen (Frenchiards? Froggians?) from the north east invade to buy watches and cheese. This weekend was no different, or maybe a little different. This weekend there was a Texan, too.

The French drive like hell. The Spaniards drive like hell, too. My friend Sònia was driving, and I got to see a side of her that I'd never seen: the brutal, French-hating, goddam-it-this-is-my-lane- so-go-back-to-France side of her. It was cool.

We looked at watches and violins and bought groceries. It really was a lot cheaper (eight yogurts for 500 Pesetas: ¡Guay, tio!). We saved about 3000 Pesetas ($19.38US). We filled the tank twice, for 5000 Pesetas. You do the math.

Woof, what scenery! The drive from Barcelona into Andorra was breathtaking. We kept passing shimmering reservoirs to bring tears to your eyes, followed by winding switchbacks up undulating hillsides to put lumps in your throat, and vast herds of sheep to put plugs in your nose. The city of Vella d'Andorra itself is a single street, and unfortunately, by the time you get there, you're so cranky at everybody that you want to punch anyone who has a French accent (or Spanish or Catalan). But it's pretty, in a little bit too modern way.

One thing that really is worth buying there is cigarettes, but I stopped smoking 16 days, 7 hours and 11 minutes ago. Thank god for one thing: The day after I stopped, Oracle Spain instituted a new rule saying that you could no longer smoke at your desk (did you American folks get that?). As you can imagine, this did not go over big with the locals. I don't like to generalize about the Spaniards, but as a people, they do not like rules that restrict their personal freedom (you wouldn't either if you had had Franco for 40 years). This extends just about to the ridiculous, with laws prohibiting smoking in Elevators only taking effect a couple of years ago.

As part of my campaign not to smoke, I started working my Rubik's cube again. I can do it in like three minutes now. I do it on the metro. I do it at work. The other day I was going to meet some friends for the opening of a club called "The Wild West", which is a Texas theme bar, basically. So of course I wore my Stetson and my Cowboy boots, and my Lumberton High School letter jacket. I looked real Texan (cuz ah am). I was standing in the metro, in my cowboy hat, working my cube. When I got off the train, I heard the kid behind me say to his girlfriend, in Spanish, "man, these tourists sure dress weird" (tia, estos guiris se visten gillipollas). I turned around, looked at the kid, and just smiled. "Um, um, except for you, sir" he said (Excepto que usted). Tim: 1 Spain: 0. Cool.

My friends Allie and Bibette came from Seychelles a couple of weeks ago. It was great, I got to see a lot of my city that I hadn't seen. I also got to play translator (fun, fun, fun). I kept looking at my Catalan friends and speaking English and looking at Allie and Bibette and speaking Spanish. We went to Sitges for a day and met an older Indian lady who tagged around the city with us. We didn't see a single dang Transvestite, which is kind of the whole point of going to Sitges. We had a blast.

Well, really no more to report. Drop me a line, I'll probably write again in a week or two. -Tim