Monday, October 31, 2016

Pumpkins and Dragons

On Friday I grudgingly headed down to the physics building on our campus to photograph the annual Halloween Pumpkin Drop. It becomes challenging to make a successful, new photo every year, hence my hesitation to excite. I arrived at 11:45 as the assignment suggested and was peeved to find out the dropping didn't start for another 45 minutes. With rain spitting down, I went inside to wait it out.

When showtime started, something new happened - kids! There are not typically kids at this event since it's in the middle of a school day and on a college campus, but, here they were, brought in on a bus from their Boston Public School.

They lined the perimeter across from me, making it basically impossible for me to not photograph them. They were very excited about the drop - some of the pumpkins have paint in them, some were frozen, etc. When two went the edge of the roof and plummeted down at once, the kids squealed at an extra-high decibel level, and started chanting "Three at once! Three at once!"

The photo we ran is of the kids' reaction to the largest pumpkin of the bunch slowly being rolled over the edge of the roof and off. I just love the expressions, and I especially love the two kids hugging each other, and then the little boy with his hands on the side of his face.

This was the original crop, but once I got in touch with the school, we found out the little girl in the middle in pink, and the boy on the left, could not be photographed (which is why I blurred them here)

This is a version of what we ran  which I cropped more to my liking for this blog entry (so you can see more of the pumpkins at their feet)...

While I'm no Eisenstadt, I have to admit that this shoot reminded me of my all-time favorite shot of his...

And I was just really grateful to have one of those moments when you just laugh out loud while watching someone else's joy in something simple. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Considering It

I am slowly considering dipping my toe back in the dating pool. Before I do so, I am reading a book called "It's Just a F*&*ing Date" by the authors of He's Just Not That Into You.

There's a segment written by some guy, not the authors, in the book, talking about how in college he could get any girl he wanted, basically. He and his friends would talk about the women they got and on and on. "I don't know if it's a Daddy issue or what, but some girls let you walk all over them or treat them like shit" he writes. He thought that when he got out into the professional world it would be different, but found that "even the most successful women are so starved for male attention that they'll let you go all the way without even promising a phonecall. It's wild"

This is what I'm up against, what we're all up against; a society which has created a culture in which men know they can find "something better" if they just keep looking, but can probably get something from you before they go.

Unless you don't let them.  Yikes.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Dark Mold

I walked away from it for a short time
hoping distance might help
just a bit
It was a mold that I left behind
and it kept growing and growing in my absence
and I came back
and I stepped through the door
and It clung on
like it missed me

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

European Adventure Day Thirteen - Barcelona

As I've approached the end of my trip I've been more and more restless at night. I wake at 3 or 4 and toss and turn a bit, eventually falling back to sleep.

On this final morning of my trip, I woke at 5 or 6 and tossed and turned. I left the apartment about 8:20 with grand plans. I would go to Escriba, a very well-known patisserie in the city for coffee and a croissant, then call a cab and head straight to Park Gruel (screw that walking stuff) to make my 9-9:30 entry time indicated on my ticket.

When I arrived at Escriba, this is what I found...

I approached a man who was loading a truck with Escriba pastries and asked him when they opened. He translated my question in his head with a pause, and answered "Nine".

I had been misinformed about the 8:30 opening time. I believe it was I who misinformed me. I took a moment to shake my fists at the heavens, and then found a cheesy chain pastry place and got a coffee and a plain croissant (snore) to "take away". I had downloaded a taxi app the day before (Spain doesn't permit Uber or Lyft so this app was their solution).  Except the app wasn't intuitive and didn't appear to call any cabs for me. I hailed one instead and when I got in, it smelled so bad inside I just put my croissant in my purse. Maybe I would be hungry later.

I did get to Park Guell at nine though, and when I entered, I was somehow surprised at how many people were there already. Man, tourists are a pushy lot of people. They must get their photo taken from just the right angle in front of the Gaudi lizard, and they will take as much time as they need to get that selfie right, too!

I've found people in Barcelona to be the most un-self-aware and inconsiderate of all the places I've been on during this trip. It has also had the most tourists of all my destinations, so make of my observation what you will (read; everyone across the world, in general, are out for least when it comes to selfies).

I offered to take a couple's picture for them with their phone which they were selfieing with at that moment. They looked at me confused, as if to say we already have someone taking our picture! or The idea of any other photo than a selfie-style one just isn't an option.

People are weird.

I took the most photos here of all places. Gaudi's work is so funky - gothic in one area, then feminine in another, then science-fiction-like here, and then art nouveau there. Really interesting and no shortage of amazing details to photograph.

Yesterday morning when I made my botched attempt to go in, I was told there was a section of the park open to the public. I went to have a look at the time but didn't stay long. Oddly, along the main path you walk on through the public area, there were countless souvenir salesmen with blankets laid out covered in cheap crap. Not only that, but they would heckle you as you walked by. That annoyance combined with my dejection of not getting in to see the good stuff made me leave pretty quick, but today - no hecklers (because I was in the ticket-required area) and an hour plus to look around.

I had about fifteen minutes left before I needed to head out to get a cab, go back to the apartment, finish packing and get another cab to the airport for home. I had 17.50 euros left in my wallet. I looked around and found a mug I finally liked in the gift shop, a cheap piece of jewelry because I hadn't managed to find something anywhere else and, at the last minute, a bookmark. The cashier rang it up  - 17.50 euro.

"Thank you Barcelona and good night!" Reaches arm out and drops mic.

When I grabbed a cab, I told him where I needed to go, pronouncing it to the best of my guessing ability "Por favor, en El Gotic, Placa de Sant Jaume". He repeated it back to me exactly as I had, letting me know he knew where it was. I was very proud that I'd said it right!

Feeling good about the day thus far, I got to thinking, you know what? This part of the trip has had its setbacks, but I'm gonna end this right. "Do you know Escriba?" I asked the driver, "On Las Ramblas?"
He said yes, of course he did. I asked him to drop me there. I was gonna get a damn chocolate croissant from that famous patisserie before I left this continent if it killed me.

And that's exactly what I did (plus another one for later)!

Neat interiors at Escriba

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

European Adventure Day Twelve - Barcelona

Well, the majority of the day today was a wash, unfortunately. Breakfast was great though! I went to this cool place near my AirBnB called Milk. As is usually the case, I ordered one thing and got another (due to my incorrect translation of the menu). I ordered the yogurt with pistachios and maple syrup, fruit compote and cinnamon, with a side of bacon, thinking this would not be too heavy to start my day. I got that, all on top of french toast! How I missed that I do not know.

Ready for my (unfortunately) last full-day in Spain

From there I walked to the metro where I made an ass out of myself by getting stumped over how to properly get a metro card to read in the turn-style. When I arrived at my stop, I navigated my way to Park Guell. The walk was a solid 25 minutes and it was all uphill. The weather was beautiful and I was feeling comfy and light in a maxi skirt and tank top, but it was still a trek, especially considering I'm at the end of a trip with a ton of walking involved.

Morning light in the neighborhood

Metro mates
Clearly I never checked the website which I linked to in the previous paragraph, because I arrived to find out that tickets were required, and there was assigned entry times with those tickets, and he next entry wasn't until 16:30 (4:30PM). I had arrived at the park around noon, and had plans in the evening.

I tried hard not to cry with disappointment when I approached the window. I came too far to not come to see this park. It was one of two places I NEEDED to see. I got a ticket for early the next morning. I would rise with the sun, come back (via taxi, thank you very much) and get a visit in before hauling back and getting myself to the airport. I was NOT leaving this country without seeing Park Guell.

I wondered how I could salvage my morning as I wandered down the hill to La Gracia, a nearby neighborhood which was supposedly a nice place to explore. Last night I did some research and found a nice affordable tapas place for lunch. After all the walking, I felt I could stand to eat again, but when I got there, it was closed. Or course it was.

I was underwhelmed by La Gracia and wondered if I was wandering the wrong streets. I still don't know if that was the case or not. Most of the shops were closed, as were the restaurants. A lot of places open at ten, so why they were still closed at 12:30/1 I have no idea.

She gave me a big smile when I asked if I could take her picture (and then I told her she could just ignore me)

On my map I found the main plaza of the neighborhood and thought I could at least get a bite to eat outside and do some people watching. When I arrived have had a choice of four mediocre tourist-driven places. I chose poorly. The lunch menu, as is often the case, was thee courses with a few options to choose from "Menu del dia". It was in Spanish so I asked for a translation. He obliged kindly and I ordered the pasta dish for the first course and the steak for the second course.

The first course arrived immediately and was tiny, thin, short greasy noodles with...pork belly I think?  I took a OK, I'm having fish. Very fishy fish. I ate enough so that I could get away with "I just don't want to eat too much with the second course coming" if the server questioned me. Which he did, "You don't like?"

It's horrible, "No it's fine! I just don't want to eat too much."

My crappy crappy lunch

In the plaza were two brothers around eight years old kicking a soccer ball around with Messi jerseys on. They were extremely adept and by the end of my meal, three other boys around the same age from different countries had joined them. They scrambled around each other and people passing through the plaza over the next half hour or more.

Did I mention the flies everywhere around my meal? Ew.

My second course arrived. Beef in some sort of gravy with fries. The meat was not very good quality, so basically I was counting on my evening to salvage my day, and considering how yesterday went, I had a feeling that would be the case for sure. The evenings just seem to be better here somehow.

I did know that taking pictures would help me feel better. A crappy experience can be salvaged for me with a few good photographs, if I could find them.

Back in El Gothic I also knew that gelato would also help my disappointment. So I wandered and did some shopping, and got myself an After Eight mint gelato. Things were looking up.

See? Improvement!

In the early evening, I joined Angels at The Foodie Experience Barcelona for a tour of the local market and a cooking lesson. Also there were Dan and Alexandria, who were visiting from NYC. I was nervous that this class wouldn't take place. I kept getting emails from the organizers with scheduling issues. Luckily, Alexandria and Dan found the class and signed up, so there was no need to cancel me on account of not enough participants.

Angels took us from her space near Las Ramblas to the food market. I hadn't been there yet and didn't even realize it existed. It was amazing! Huge and very old with butcheries, fish stands, fruits, and more, she gave us a tour and we talked about various foods and the history of the place (it claims to be the oldest market in Spain). Last night I ate Iberian ham and tonight I learned that it cured for years before it's served. Amazing.

Angels gives us an overview of the market

"Shrimps for eat NOW!"

Don't look too close my vegetarian friends. 

Alexandria, in her early 30s, was a great conversationalist and I really enjoyed talking to both of them through the evening. Angels brought us back to the Foodie location, a beautiful large space with a modern kitchen in an old building, where she taught us how to make proper sangria, Spanish tortillas (a simple but delicious egg, potato and onion omelette-type dish), tomato bread (so good and easy!), Crema Catalana (like creme brulee but lighter and with a nice touch of lemon and cinnamon), and paella.

Flipping the Spanish Tortillas

I've never really liked paella, but was curious to see how it's made and to find out if I'd simply never had a authentic version of it. I wondered if I would have a different result after watching all the ingredients, including rosemary and saffron, go into it.

Nope, it turns out I just don't like paella. however, the rest of the food was wonderful, and the conversation and experience itself was great.

We sat down and ate together and shared wine and left happy, full, and tipsy.

Monday, October 17, 2016

European Adventure Day Eleven - Barcelona

I think I can I think I can I think I can!

That's what I was thinking when I woke this morning to the bells of the nearby church through my window.


I am content. I am excited. But I am also very tired. Averaging six or seven miles a day at least can wear on you!

Today I made the trek to La Sagrada Familia, one of Gaudi's most famous masterpieces. During my 25 minute walk, I could see Gaudi influenced the architecture city-wide. Interestingly, I didn't notice it as much by the second day. This reminded me of how when I visited Florida, I noticed that clear delineation between neighborhoods, but once I lived there, it wasn't so obvious to me anymore.

Similarly, fifty percent of the city's smell consists of toilet water and pot. By the second day I must have gotten used to it. Either that or I arrived in time for city-wide Toilet Water Pot Day.

Fun fact, if you try and dictate "La Sagrada Familia" into your phone to text a friend and let them know where you are, Siri thinks you're saying ""looks so good I love amelia"

detour to Spain's Arc du Triumph

Above is a little side-by-side comparison of the front of La Sagrada Familia, and it's back. One looks sci-fi to me, the other looks like a highly evolved six years olds dribbled sand castle. Fascinating!

and here are the figures compared!

door detail

I was back to my AirBnB by 5 and looked into getting tickets to visit Palau Guel (Guel Palace). I was happy to find tickets for 7PM that same night. I double checked the date (there they list dates dd/mm/year), and was content with 17/10/16, but when I arrived at the palace to find it closed up tight. Monday. It wasn't even open today. I pulled out my phone to look up my ticket. I'd bought it for the following night. I don't know how it happened, but there you go. I wouldn't be seeing Palau Gruel this visit because tomorrow night I have a cooking class and tour of the market to attend during the allotting time slot for the palace.  I would just have to eat the cost.

Now dejected and wondering what to do with the rest of my evening, I did a ton of wandering. I discovered Las Ramblas and walked it's full length to the water then back again.
the lobby of my AirBnBs apartment building. IDK what was going on but it wasn't there long.

Street Performer along Las Ramblas

I searched for a place to eat for quite a long time. I had found Placa Reial, the main plaza of the city, but really didn't want to eat at it's tourist-heavy options. I found a place called Mi Carmela. It is a tiny place that seats no more than eight people. The chef and two servers scramble behind a bar to serve everyone. Outside, a pair of newlyweds from IL waited to be seated. Soon after they were seated, I was seated at the bar where I could watch the chef.

They offered me a sangria which I happily accepted and while I sat there, they took the orders of the couple. Drinks and tapas. I asked the chef if I could take pictures. He didn't mind at all, and I shot while I watched them work and decided on what I'd like to eat. Fifteen minutes passed and the couple was served their tapas, and other couples at the counter were served additional tapas courses.

The chef looked at me and said "Would you like some mushrooms?" as he pointed at a wooden bowl of assorted wild mushrooms sitting in front of me.

Well, I'm gonna get hammered on this sangria if I don't eat something, "Sure" I said.

A couple with a toddler arrived and while they waited for someone else to finish up so they could come sit, I still sat waiting for someone to take my order. I was displeased at this point, and the trio working were moving at such a fast pace it didn't seem that they had the time for me, so catching their eye was difficult, not to mentioned it was just plain awkward at this point. What was I doing wrong that they weren't acknowledging me?

The couple with their toddler were seated, and their orders too, were taken immediately. I tried to keep a pleasant look on my face while gazing around, but sensed the chef glancing up at me from time to time, assessing my expression. When we would make eye contact, he would smile or wink at me. Don't smile, just ask me if I WOULD LIKE SOME FOOD, DUDE.

Preparing food for everyone but me. Womp womp.

My expression is one of annoyance. Why have 30 minutes gone by before you have asked what I want to eat?!

Eventually, something of the "how are you doing" nature came out of him, and I struggled to hide my annoyance when I asked "Can I order some food?"

He sort of jumped with a  Oh, she wants food! realization. And he called one of the servers over to take my order, and thanked me for my patience. Compared to how quickly others were served, they moved at a snail's pace for me. The chef was clearly the boss, because he would tell the servers what to do. Five minutes or more passed and others around me were served. Again. The chef sort of absently noticed I hadn't been served yet and told to servers to get a move on.

It was so totally weird. I still have no idea what they were thinking. It's not a matter of the customer needing to wave them over to put and order in, because the staff asked customers what they wanted throughout the evening. I had looked over the menu and placed it next to me, I hadn't rejected the menu or even handed it back to them (not that they came to me to ask for it back) so as to imply I was just there to drink. When I sat, I said it was just me, and there was no seat next to me, so clearly I was not waiting for another person.

So, while I have no clue at all what the hell happened, the food was really delicious once I got it, and having it lifted my spirits.

Food! delightful!

Croquets and Iberian Ham

From there I wandered my neighborhood of El Gotic some more. It was only Monday night but the streets were alive for sure. I followed the sound of operatic singing. A large crowd had surrounded a small area and in the middle of the circle, a man performed. Soon, another man came from the crowd dressed in street clothes, and he too sang. I lingered for a long while with the wrapped crowd who sat on nearby steps and railings while this performance took place, before wandering off for more late-nigh exploring.

Street opera

the audience

don't mind us!

A required late-might gelato

This guy's Flamenco playing was awesome too

Sunday, October 16, 2016

European Adventure Day Ten - Wrapping Up in Brussels

Sunday was a glorious and warm day in Brussels. It was also market day! Hemu, Nirvi and I took a nice walk to check out the sites. Tent after tent of fresh produce, trucks with coffee and waffles (yes, please!), and even bigger trucks with, get this, full counters of meats and fish. Some of the meats and fish were in fridges covered with glass, just like you'd find in the grocery store back home - except we we're the middle of the city. Just ponder that for a minute. Then there were giant trucks with a full wall of turning, roasting rotisserie items. It was wild! And clearly very popular because the lines were long too.

heading out tot he market
rotisserie truck
You could also, quite randomly, buy mattresses if you wanted, though not from the rotisserie guys.

When we first arrived, N and H hit the produce stand which was very long and colorful with a huge variety of things to choose form. A large man in a knit hat who worked part of the stand approached us and said to me, in French, "It's one euro to take my picture!" I wasn't sure if he was serious or not. Being in another country, you don't know how people will react to you and your camera, but Nirvi and Hemu laughed, so I think it was OK. The man cut a fig in half and handed it to me. A few seconds later, he slapped a bunch of tiny bananas in my hand.

Someone has a crush on me!

fig provider
pickin' out chestnuts (no, I don't know them)

I was excited to have another waffle and once it was our turn to order, I also asked if I could take photos. They said sure. There was a young man and an older gentleman running the popular truck, and the younger guy told me the older man used to be a photographer, but "when digital came along..." he said, and glanced over at the older man, who then gestured the demise of his career by running his thumb across his throat. Ah well, I guess digital's not for everyone.

The waffles here are amazing, as you might guess. As far as we can tell, a sugary coating is added to the outside of the waffles, which give it an amazing, subtle carmelization on the outside. ** I just looked it up. Apparently pearl sugar is used which melts in the iron making that crispy coating. I ordered a chocolate one, and the former-photographer made this happen by jamming two sticks of chocolate in the waffle which then melted perfectly. (I'm suddenly starving, BTW).

We relaxed and enjoyed our treats, and then made our way slowly back to their home where I packed up my things. I knew I was getting close to the end of my trip because I had to use the expander built into the luggage I borrowed from Mom for this trip.

It was still really beautiful out, so Nirvi and I got a little walk through the neighborhood in before they both rode with me to Brussels Midi where they walked me to my platform. I lugged my LUGgage on the train and watched as Nirvi teared-up on the platform. Poor Nirvi. She's on such an adventure but also so far away! I was happy I could see her during this trip.

my view through the window at the train station

At the airport I approached the RyanAir counter to check in. He asked for my boarding pass, and I told him I had the scannable one in my phone. "It needs to be printed out for you to board" he claimed. Without thinking, I responded, incredulously, with "Are you SERIOUS?!"

He was serious. I asked him if he could print it out for me. "For a price" he said. I searched for the boarding pass in my phone, and apologized to him, mentioning that I wasn't somewhere that I could print it out and nowhere did I see any indication that the version in my phone would not be acceptable.

He silently printed mine out for me and didn't charge me. I suppose that's what I get for paying, I kid you not, no more than $50 to get from Brussels to Barcelona.

Landing in Spain was a bit discombobulating. My mind was still on French, and even though I don't speak it, "Merci" and "Si vous plait" were on the tip of my tongue, and well as "pardon".  When I got in my cab, driven by a Pakistani, we spoke only a little bit. I asked him how to say "thank you very much" here. I know that seems like a silly questions, but I came to find quickly that my English to Catalan translation app was not accurate. He said "merci or gracias".

Later that night, once I was checked into my AirBnB located in a grand apartment building in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, I went out to get a bite to eat. Having no idea where to go, and it being nearly ten at this point, I just chose someplace nearby and outside (it's warm and a bit humid here).

At the end of dinner, I asked the server the right way to say "I'm finished" at the table. I would have thought "He terminando". Not even close, "He acabat" she told me, (which I heard as aya cabado until I looked it up just now).

Time to take on Barcelona!