a wandering woman writes

Saturday, July 29, 2006

And Skyline 2

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Skyline 1

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Friday, July 28, 2006

Wandering Barcelona 1

The blogger formerly known as Alex (and newly christened Alfacharly) retraces the steps of the walking tour he and Mestre gave a friend and me during my trip to Barcelona in a post on his site.

He's generously given me the OK to publish his photos and words here, translated and liberally paraphrased by yours truly. If that pesky language barrier normally impides your enjoyment of Alex's blog, here's your chance: join me on a virtual walk through Barcelona with Alex and Mestre - in English:

As we started out from Porta Ferrisa, one of the puertas of the old city of Barcelona, we stopped a minute to enjoy a gigantic Picasso, completely free: the decoration on the facade of the Colegio de Arquitectos de Barcelona building. That's a design by the famed painter from Málaga you see on the building's concrete face.

The ruins of the 2 aqueducts that carried water to the Roman colony of Barcino (now known as Barcelona) are directly across from the Picasso design. The aqueduct in the photo above carried water from the river Besós. Very little remains of the other aqueduct, which carried water from the Llobregat.

Before moving on, we looked West for a moment to admire the colorful awning atop the Mercado de Santa Catalina.

We continued into Ciutat Vella and next visited the Plaza de San Felipe Neri, a small plaza cooled by the the fountain in its center. Facing the facade of the church that bears the name of the plaza (or vice versa), you can see the destruction caused by battles during the Spanish Civil War. (Note from Erin: Click on this fabulous photo and take a good look at the wall behind the cyclists: it's pockmarked.)

Next we stepped into the apartment building that conserves the ruins of the columns of Barcino's Roman temple on its ground floor. Although it's hard to appreciate in the photo, many tenants of this building are lucky enough to enjoy a view of Barcelona's history with a mere peek out the living room window.

Next we walked through the Plaza de Antonio López, where Erin learned a Spanish word she doesn't like at all: negrero, or slave trader, a very lucrative activity we can't forget was legal until the beginning of the 19th century.

Finally we washed down delicious bocadillos (sandwiches, jamón serrano for some, chorizo for others) with cold cava, and left Erin and her friend to enjoy a Maria del Mar Bonet concert in the Plaza del Rey.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A wise and timely thought?

There is divine beauty in learning, just as there is human beauty in tolerance.
To learn means to accept the postulate that life did not begin at my birth.
Others have been here before me, and I walk in their footsteps.
The books I have read were composed by generations of fathers and sons,
mothers and daughters, teachers and disciples.
I am the sum total of their experiences, their quests.
And so are you.

Elie Wiesel


Sunday, July 23, 2006

The fishermen and the immigrants

The six gorgeous human faces you see above belong to the crew of the Spanish trawler Francisco y Catalina.

They are shrimp fishermen. For years, most of them have spent more time on the water than they have at home with their families. One crew member is 21. He signed on for a year, just enough time to earn the cash to repair his car.

On Friday, June 14, those faces spotted an open, broken-down boat full of immigrants in the middle of the Mediterranean. 51 people, mostly Eritreans and Moroccans, sat baking, shelterless, in the sun, while their engineless boat drifted out to sea. Among the exhausted crowd packed onto the boat, the fishermen spied a 2 year girl and 2 visibly pregnant women.

For hours, the fishermen called authorities, pleading for someone to pick up the immigrants. Pleading for someone to tell them what to do.

No one did either. Two Maltese fishing vessels approached only to rapidly motor away.

Eventually, having failed to find any help, anywhere, the Spanish fishermen took a vote. A unanimous vote. They'd snatch this boatful of dehydrated, doomed immigrants from the sea and face the consequences.

They made for the closest port, a town in Malta, with their unexpected catch. Twenty miles offshore, a Maltese patrol boat ordered the Francisco y Catalina to stop. Access to the port was denied.

I'll condense the next chapter into one mind blowing sentence: When Malta refused to allow the fishermen to drop off the immigrants in Malta, claiming they were picked up in Libyan waters, and regardless, were now standing on Spanish ground (the boat), Spain, the EU and a handful of Mediterranean countries began what El País aptly named "The Auction of Immigrants".

For eight days, the fishermen lay at anchor 20 miles off Malta, feeding their guests, getting to know them as best they could in a strange exchange of Gallego, Valenciana, and what little English they could piece together. They cranked up the DVD players they use to pass long hours at sea and played The Little Mermaid in English for the 2 year old. They lost heart when she wouldn't eat and offered her every food on the boat till she took something. They covered the part of the boat where the immigrants waited in the heat with a tarp.

Water and food were brought out from shore. The boat's cook adjusted to cooking for 60. After a few days, when one of the crew members went to clean the bathroom they'd set aside for the immigrants, the immigrants stopped him, and cleaned it themselves.

On Tuesday, the 2 year old, her mother, and the most seriously ill immigrant were allowed to be airlifted to Malta for medical treatment.

Meanwhile, Europe argued over who would take the immigrants. Italy offered to take 10 if Spain would take 40 Moroccans already in Italy. Libya agreed to take 10, then reneged. More than once, the fishermen followed the order to hoist the anchor and start the engines, only to be told negotiations had broken down. They would not be allowed to enter the Maltese port after all.

In the end, Spain flew more than half of the shipwrecked Africans to Madrid, where the Red Cross and a Catholic relief agency will house and feed them while they apply for asylum. Malta accepted 5, Andorra 5 and Italy 12.

The fishermen lost their catch and 8 days of fishing.

Early in the week the boat's captain, José Dura, asked a journalist what would happen the next time a working fishing boat ran across a boatful of immigrants drifting off to sea and certain death. Would the fishing boat stop to save them, knowing the consequences?

"What were we supposed to do?", he asked in an interview. "Let them drown?"

I know immigration is a tough issue and I know that small island nations and small island provinces, like Spain's Canary Islands, don't have the resources to house the thousands who wash ashore every year.

Still, today, I'm proud of my adopted home, as I watch her burst in pride at this story of 10 fishermen. Spain can't handle more illegal immigrants, either, but she took them.

Two crew members did the boat's grocery shopping in Malta this weekend, and the Francisco y Catalina headed back to sea, to pick up where she left off: fishing for shrimp.

Somehow all the news I read today left me with the same feeling: if only more governments could look beyond their difficulties and their principles enough to see the 2 year olds behind them. And the pregnant women. And, in the words of one of our fishermen, "the brave men".

Said José Dura, interviewed as the immigrants hugged him, thanked him for saving their lives and headed for the buses that would take them to a pair of Spanish planes:

"We'd do it again."

Today, here's to people for whom a human being is always a human being.

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Thursday, July 20, 2006


Meet Concha Buika, flamenco meets funk meet Nina Simone. Live, she's an amazing performer, hypnotic, soulful, gutteral, lost in what she's singing. Plus the playful, ecstatic musical bantering between her pianist and the cajon player in the phenomenal quartet she's currently touring with only added to my gooseflesh. I have Pato to thank for thinking of me when she bought tickets.

I will tell you neither the video nor her new CD (Mi Niña Lola, hard to find online) captures the energy and the power of Buika live, acapella, trading Ella-style licks with a bass player or belting it out with the whole quartet. See her live, if you can.

Here's a little you-tube taste of Mi Niña Lola. I linked to it from deep within another post, but decided Buika deserved a post of her own.


Footloose and flip flop bound

So what have I been doing this week instead of blogging?

Well, avoiding walking onto the terraza in my barefeet, for one thing.

Now that I spend my days at home, supposedly working, I find myself endlessly tempted to prance onto the terraza barefoot.

Always a pot that needs watering, laundry that needs tending, a bird to watch. I've caught myself a thousand times.....dare I shock the neighbors by venturing forth au natural from the ankle down? Dare I risk scandalizing every Spanish mother with a balcony within view?

I can hear the maternal chorus that will greet me, at every entry into the building and every naked step on the patio: "Pero hija, ¿que haces?? ¿Qué HACES?"

I've held back, so far, partially because yes, when in Spain, I'd like to do as the neighbors do.....and partially because I am convinced all these perpetually shoed Spaniards have discovered the secret of luxuriously smooth feet.


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Japanese Andaluza

I've had company for a couple of days - wonderful, lighthearted, easy to please company.

My visitor is a Japanese friend who after 6 years in Sevilla speaks stunningly fluent anadaluz (the equivalent to, say, English in Mississippi). Surprising, especially for Spaniards, hearing thick Andaluz spurl out of a lovely petite japonesa.

I invited a couple of Salmantinas to help me escort my guest through the pincho bars of Calle Van Dyck and soon regretted it. Stunned by her fluency (hey you guys, she's been here 4 years more than me, whined the frequently erring American) they began an independent study into how this japanesa had learned to deliver so many Spanish cusswords and slang expressions, flawlessly. Never misses a beat, this adopted Andaluza.

Me, I talk like a poorly pronounced Spanish textbook. On a good day.

When she confessed she'd learned Spanish in the street, especially by chatting up waiters, I knew was in trouble.

"That's it!" cried our usually faithful Nomadita. "Erin, you will perfect your Spanish by talking to waiters."

God help me.

Without a word to each other, my three compañeras slowly backed away from the bar, leaving me face to face with the waiter, alone. (Just in time to pay up, I might add.)

"It's all yours. Talk."

God help me.


Monday, July 17, 2006

Strange and wonderful

Found at the bottom of the backpack I emptied in yesterday's cleaning frenzy:

A Gem sugar packet I picked up somewhere in Ireland, with the brand logo on one side and this delightful little thought on the other:

A spoonful of Irish: "An rud is annamh is iontach."

What is strange is wonderful.

I'm not sure this little sugar pack didn't just explain me to me!
What is strange is wonderful!

I think I am wishing all of us strange things today. In fact, I know I am!



Bear with me while I blatantly mix metaphors, ok? I figure this is a blog, an electronic notebook I invite you all to peek into, so I'm going to let the two images play together here as they are in my head.....

You just never what life is going to throw you.

Just that. This week I have seen life throw a cherished friend an incredible curve ball, the indescribably painful, never anticipated, life-changing kind. I've watched her courageously reach over to catch it - graceful is the best word I can find - stretched way beyond her usual reach, her face contorted in pain, her body leaping, gracefully. I don't know that I'd be strong enough to catch this ball. I suspect most of us would freeze, stand there, stunned, watching it hit the dirt in front of us. Or catch it bloody, full force, in the face and fall down flat.

And what has hit me is that despite all the bold choices I've made in the last few years - quitting a job, moving to Spain, leaving my job here to go off on my own - despite the life I've more or less designed for myself, today I see more clearly than ever that while I choose, daily, how I happen to the world around me, while I defiantly declare where and how I will live, I can't control what happens to me. Or the people I love. In the end, I only control what I do when the ball comes sailing over to my part of the field.

So back to my Bode quote, and Erin's favorite overused metaphor. When my sailing metaphor (for everything, she chuckles) came up on a friend's blog, someone commented that the image didn't work for him. It seemed to him that since you can never control the wind, you are simply stuck when it blows against you. His (brilliant) analytical mind told him, if you had zero friction and a sail that rotated in all directions, you probably could get somewhere despite the wind, as long as you didn't care where you were going.

Some day I'd love to take that brilliant young man out for a sail.

Because he's nailed my metaphor while trying to dispute it.

Long days on the water taught me, without my even knowing it, that there is always a way to get to where I want to, even if it is almost never in a straight line. And I get there with the wind I have, never despite it. I get there by collaborating with it, I get there by changing my angle to this thing I can't control, by welcoming the wind the day brings me - a pleasant breeze or a 35 knot let's just sit this one out and get a pint blow. I tack my zig-zag anything-but-direct-way to where I want to go.

Some of my tacks in life have been pretty darn long, now that I think about it. But could I have gotten to where I am fiercely battling to travel in a straight line? I don't know.

Anyway, here's where my thoughts get me mixing metaphors. Watching my friend has left me wanting to believe that there isn't any wind I can't handle, as long as I remember that I'll never have zero friction or a 360 degree rotating sail.

As long as I remember to let myself go, just a little, toward the ball flying at me, scrunching up my face just as much as I want to, glove ready for the catch.

Because you just never know what life is going to throw you.


Thursday, July 13, 2006

Gone de pinchos

MMMMMMmmmm, that's my lovely morcilla in back there, lower left, and oh, my little peppers, pimientos de padrón, front and left. Looks like tostitas de salmón con anchoa above, and hmmm...chorizo and cheese perhaps. Yep, mushrooms to the right.

What it'll be?

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Expat Interviews - Come on over and meet me

We interrupt my ever so disciplined work-at-home day (oh, when, oh when will I develop an ever so disciplined work-at-home day?) with a new flash.

Melizza from ExpatInterviews is collecting interviews from all kinds of people from all kinds of places, all of whom now live somewhere else. This site is terrific if you're wondering what it's like to live in a particular country, or even if just like reading other people's stories.

So, if you're looking for a little more of the Wandering Woman back story (and ok, I admit it, a photo) I invite you to wander over and check out my interview.

Now, back to that ever so disciplined life of mine. Ahem.

Go away now. Work to do.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A quick stop home

I've developed a habit of catching little unexpected opportunities - things I think I used to miss, when I was travelling at highway velocity, but now...I've learned to welcome the little light that flickers, quietly, in the background when someone unexpectedly mentions a book, or a CD, or a place I should visit.

I got to chatting with the president of the neighbors' association in my building the other day, in the entrada, as I was leaving and she was heading up to her piso. We'd never really talked much before, other than when she's knocked on my door to claim the laundry strewn across my terraza.

She asked what city I was from, for some reason, and when I answered Chicago (my short answer since all the places I am from take a while to explain) she surprised me.

She recommended a book. Seems she's always wanted to visit Chicago, because of the role it plays in a novel by Simone de Beauvoir, called The Mandarins.

A little googling told me de Beauvoir was in Chicago, in the 40s, in love with Nelson Algren, a classic Chicago writer.

Anyone know the book?

I'm going to stop by Cervantes Librería and buy it this afternoon before meeting friends for pinchos. The "to-read" list is long at the moment so we'll reserve it a spot right away.

Sometimes home is that simple. Sometimes you go home just hearing someone react that way, with a crystal clear image, accurate or not, of where you are from. Sometimes home is a link you never saw, a relationship between something familiar, from home (Algren) and something you didn't know went with "home" (a classic European - de Beauvoir.)

If anyone's read the book, tell me about it, please.


Sunday, July 09, 2006

Wine for the Soul

Laughter is wine for the soul - laughter soft, or loud and deep, tinged through with seriousness. The hilarious declaration made by man that life is worth living.

Sean O'Casey

I've named the handsome little guy above The Boy at the Next Table. We laughed our way through a meal at a restaurant in Barcelona.



Maybe we should call for more fireworks.

Two years into my life in Spain, during this week in which so many "yeh, I live here" pieces seemed to fall into place, I finally reached the ultimate milestone of any move.

I committed myself to a hairdresser.

It's true! I have made it through the nightmare of every move I've ever made - the search for a hairdresser who will take control of my hair (making up for my utter lack of hair imagination), contradict me when I spout bad hair ideas, and make sitting around being a girl for a few hours a pleasant experience.

His name is Carlos. And I should have known I'd love him. The friend who recommended him is the friend who came back from New York talking about Cosmopolitans, the only American yuppie I've ever met who's never lived in the US. Despite her frustration when I fail to recognize the best brand of cafeteras or lamps or shoes or who knows what, she responded to my hairdresser inquiry with a confident smile, a phone number and map.

When Carlos listened patiently, then told me I was dead wrong, here's what we would do, I knew I'd found my place. By the time he was cutting, singing Monica Molina at the top of his lungs, I was sold.

And he's given me a new identity. When his assistant dutifully agreed to enter my name into the salon's database, she had apparently not been warned that I had one of those names. Not Spanish. We got through Erin, but my response to her polite "¿Y el apellido?" shocked her. "Corcoran. C-o-r-c.." "Da igual", she said, as Salmantinos so often say. "We'll call you Erin."

And so there you'll find me, deep in the database of loyal customers, alongside Maria Isabel García Fernandez, and Isabel Fadrique Martín,and Carmen del Rey Flores and a long list of double-surnamed, well-coiffed españolas. Surrounded by 20 syllabled, tripled named neighbors, there I sit:





Could there be a Spanish virus I haven't met yet?

I spent Friday afternoon responding to an interview, waxing poetic about my life here, Spain and the Spanish......
but today, having been tracked down by yet another bug I seem never to have met before, I am wheezing, tearing up, coughing and wishing, just a little, that I lived closer to my mother and her chicken and escarole soup.

Let's just officially mark down one downside of running away to Spain, when you run from the States, ok?
The move seems to carry with it a certain number of unavoidable nasty colds.

On the bright side, the thick wooden "doors" (my shades are shutters, but wooden, solid and interior) on the huge windows I normally open wide to coax in the sun today create an infirmary like no other. Ourside I hear my neighbors splashing in the pool; inside it's dark and cool. A little Indigo Girls, I think, a cold glass of horchata, and a sick day catching up on the blog.

Hope you're feeling better, wherever you are, and that when you need it, you have a way to tightly close the shutters and rest a while, alone, inside.


Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy 4th! Vive España!

Fireworks, please!!

I arrived home from a spectacular weekend in Barcelona today, only to find.....

a package slip for a certified letter from the Subdelegación.

My residency!

Dropped my bags in the hallway and raced down to Correos, thinking, hmmm..ok, if they've said no, all I have to do is find a job and retain my current residency, as an employee...I hope.

Can I really have all of it just by going for it? All of it? Living in Spain and owning my own time?

Waited in line, toes tapping, fingers twiddling, heart racing. Tore open the envelope as the man behind the counter handed it to me....

And I'm official. I am, on this 4th of July, legally autonomous. Newly independent. In three little weeks and one brief morning of chasing down paperwork, Spain (very graciously, I might add) changed my residency to self employment.

To Spain, self determination and the 4th of July!

Somebody back there eat an ear of corn for me, will you?