Barcelona

From One Coast To Another

by Becky on July 22, 2013 · 2 comments

in Travel

packing pains

What an ordeal, leaving Barcelona.  No, really: we became so attached to that city.  And Miss Lavender’s treasured DIY Door out on the sidewalk, waiting for someone else to discover it and haul it home. The idea of dragging an old door out to the street for someone to claim it probably seems odd, no? But that’s the custom: you don’t want it, maybe someone else will, so we parked it on Provenza, five blocks down from the Sagrada Familia cathedral.

Adios Barcelona!

I hope someone appreciated it. And the care that went into its re-making. And the “Adios” spelled out in bold letters for passersby to consider.

Adios Barcelona!

our Barcelona home

Our place looked naked once it was time to head to the airport.

Late in the afternoon on the 11th of July, our plane took off, and as it banked over the city and began to climb, I watched Montjuic and the harbor grow smaller and smaller.  Finally I had to close my eyes because I couldn’t watch everything disappear altogether.

We landed in Berlin, where, at around 9:30, the sun was just setting. Of course the Eleven O’Clock Dad had to stop and grab the moment.

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Once we’d settled in, the Camera Man left the airport for a while and took himself on a walk.

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Berlin, Germany

The crew tried to get comfortable. Tough, though, on those nasty metal chairs.

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airport sleeping

Or on the ground . . .

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We made it through the night, boarded a plane for L.A. the next morning, and, roughly twelve hours later, landed in California, cleared customs, loaded our gear into the cars of some (very good) friends, and made our way down the coast to Newport Beach, where the Eleven O’Clock Grandparents live on the weekends.

From the Mediterranean Coast, to the Pacific Coast: Goose loves the sun either way.

Newport Beach, CA

Not a bad thing, being back. The weather’s been glorious. And it’s brilliant, being with family and friends. But it may take a minute or two for me to accept the fact that I will be homesick for BCN. Maybe for a while.

Newport Beach, CA

Right now, on the other side of the world, it’s 6:20 am. Sun’s up. The city I grew to love is stirring. And I am so deep-down grateful that we grabbed ten months that would otherwise have gone by anyway . . . and took off for Barcelona, Spain.

(Photo:  the lifeguard tower at 39th Street in Newport Beach. )

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Life, The Day I Become A Re-Pat

by Becky on July 11, 2013 · 5 comments

in Travel

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I get up early, shower, polish off a strawberry yogurt, check email.  The apartment is quiet for a while.  After a bit, the Eleven O’Clock Dad gets up and goes into high gear.  He is remarkable during cruch time.

Today will be crazy.  We’re almost packed, which means nothing, really.  It’s that last ten percent that gets you every time.

* * *

Mid morning, friends show up to help us with last-minute cleaning and relieve us of fridge and cupboard items that need a home. Saying goodbye to friends here?–brutal. Truly. Alarm bells keep going off in my head, signaling the end of this Brilliant Moment in my life, and I keep punching “snooze” so I don’t have to think about it. If I do, it’s all over.

Last night, Miss Lavender and I stood for a few minutes and stared at the Barcelona Cathedral. When I felt myself tearing up, I told her we needed to go.

* * *

Early afternoon. We’re packed, though still shuffling a few things around so we don’t go over our weight limits. The flat looks startlingly bare. Strange, that a place that was never our permanent home will always feel so much like home.

Barcelona. BCN.  The Catalans say “Adeu,” their version of Adios. I’m not going to say it, though. “Hasta pronto” works better for me.

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For those of you who adore lotions and potions as I do, The Perfumery, a small boutique in the heart of the Gotic district in Barcelona, might just be the best story ever.  We stumbled upon The Perfumery one night after deciding to make a right turn, not a left, onto a little street we’d only ever gone left on before.  And when I say ‘turn,’ I mean feet, not wheels, since nothing wider than a bicycle could make the venture successfully.  After all, the streets of Gotic were cobbled together–some of them–by Romans.  In fact, the space in which The Perfumery sits was once an entrance into the old city of Barcino, the walls flanking the store are that old.

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But it wasn’t the sign outside the shop that caught my attention, though my eyes often go to signs that promise fragrances.  It was the decor/mood:  rustic opulence might describe it.

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For example, If I told you that some of the bottles resting on the shelves inside The Perfumery were exact facsimiles of bottles created for fragrances used by Napolean, and that inside said bottles were the same fragrances used by Napolean and his women and children, you’d be within your rights to doubt me.

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But it’s true.  And that’s what caught my eye:  the most beautiful bottles I’d ever seen, all arranged just so, the effect giving this little place an air of French decadence that prompted me to say, to the Eleven O’Clock Dad, “Stop.  We are going in here.”

Which we did.

It was Virgilio who helped us that night, reciting stories about various fragrances and the houses that had designed them, and for whom.  A fragrance connoisseur for more than a decade, he and his business partner, Tom, had selected only the lines whose stories and notes were the most unique and compelling.

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In fact, they actively look for fragrances with stories.  For example, they feature one brand created by a woman who desired to capture the essence of Barcelona, the city’s complex interplay between ancient and modern.  Another brand they carry can be found in only one other boutique on the continent, its makers are that fastidious about where it’s sold.  I adored the feel of the place:  part salon, part apothecary, a menagerie of glimmering crystal arrayed along shelves and tables pushed up against walls mortared centuries ago.

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In my jeans and the Volcom pullover I inherited from my son, El Surfeador, and with my backpack slung over my shoulder, I might have felt totally out of place, except that Virgilio was ever the gentleman, eager to respond to my questions and to the petals’ little gasps of delight as he sampled this fragrance or that one for them.

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If you can believe it, I hauled my husband back the next day with his camera, to meet Tom, the boutique’s other proprietor.  If Virgilio regaled us in Castillian, then Tom got right down to business in English, giving me the Fragrance 101 rundown on the pyramidal structure of perfumes, which, as he explained, have notes designed to work together to create the scent we experience as a ‘fragrance.’ The head note announces itself first. Then the heart note. And then the base–what stays on the skin. All kinds of things can affect the way a fragrance behaves on a particular individual, including their diet, race, body type, and even the climate. Unsurprisingly, Tom often can predict the kinds of fragrances a woman will gravitate toward, depending on the way she carries herself and the way she interacts with her surroundings.

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If you’re in Barcelona, you must stop in. Just around the corner from Plaza Neri, The Perfumery will remind you why it’s good to be good to yourself once in a while. And if you’re unsure what ‘good’ might mean, Virgilio or Tom will help you locate your Perfect Fragrance, y con gusto!

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Click on the arrows for a 3-D look at The Perfumery. Be sure you click your way into the shop!

The Perfumery. C/ Sant Sever 1, Bajada de Santa Eulalia, Barcelona. (Just around the corner from Plaza Neri.)

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Where’s Your Stop?

by Becky on June 14, 2013 · 2 comments

in Parenting

Montpellier

This morning the petals and I made our way up to the BF International School, where they were scheduled to take some final exams, the school’s principal being their approved proctor.  It’s a hike.  Line 5 metro toward Cornelia Centre.  Off at Diagonal.  Over to the train station.  Wait for the train, along with half of Barcelona.  Crowd in.  Find a place to stand.  Off at Sarria.  Then out and up, streetside.  Catch the V7 bus.  Off at Plaza Borras.  Walk the rest of the way to the campus.

After I’d talked with the principal about a couple of matters of importance, I kissed the girls (both cheeks–our way now), slung my backpack over my shoulders, and left.

Instead of catching the V7, though, I decided to walk back down Via Augusta toward the train, and the walk gave me time to think about metros and trains and the passengers they carry.  Not surprisingly, if you don’t know the direction of the metro line or train you’ve just jumped on, whether you make it to your stop is a fifty-fifty.  I planned to grab the train headed toward Plaza Catalunya.  If I didn’t, I’d never make it to Provenza, the stop at which I needed to get off in order to board the Line 5 metro toward Val d’Hebron.  Seems sort of axiomatic, I know, but it’s an easy thing to forget when you’re new to the process and staring into metro corridors that take you in a dozen different directions.

And I started thinking about how, the day before, the petals had made it home from school on their own, in spite of the fact that the stop for the train is Provenza rather than Diagonal, and I’d forgotten to tell them that.  I had wondered:  would they figure it out?–or would they end up in Plaza Catalunya, never realizing they had gone right through the stop where they were meant to transfer from train to metro??

As a primer on life–especially for the teens we want to raise up to be independent thinkers who know what they want and how to go after it–public transportation becomes the perfect metaphor.  You know the end of the line, then you know which direction to go.  You don’t know the end of the line, then your chances of getting there dry up, just like that.

As I rode home today, transferring at Provenza and getting on the Line 5 toward Val d’Hebron at Diagonal, I thought about how crucial it is to be talking with my own teens about their End-Of-The-Lines.  Where do they want to wind up?  Because if they can identify that, then they can work out where to get on, where to stop, where to transfer, how to backtrack if they need to.

I got off the metro at the Sagrada Familia stop, pushed through the exit gates, and made my way up the stairs and out to the street, where I gazed for a moment at Gaudi’s massive cathedral, which remains my favorite in all of Europe.  And I realized:  even if I’d walked all the way home from the other end of the city, I would always have known I was heading toward that landmark, and I could have recalibrated, even if I’d gotten lost.

There might not be one single thing more important than knowing where the end of the line is.  Where you’re headed.  Where you know you’re meant to go.

Don’t you think?

(Photo:  Miss Lavender on her way to Montpellier, France, a few months back.)

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A Little Street Music, Anyone?

by Becky on May 30, 2013 · 4 comments

in Music, Travel

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Street music. Such a unique phenomenon. And such a delight. For a euro or two, you can hear a whole movement of something. What’s more, street musicians often play as if no one’s around at all, and with the kind of focus that belies the casualness of their surroundings. It’s as if they’re in a music room somewhere, alone with their instruments.  True, some of them acknowledge passersby.  After all, engaging an audience may mean the difference between a few euros or many finding their way into the guitar case lying open on the ground.  But I’m so often amazed at how cool these musicians remain.  And how skilled they are.

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Once, I saw a gentleman sitting at a grand piano at the Line 5 metro stop.  Inside the metro station. I want to say he was playing some Tchaikovsky, but I can’t recall exactly. I just remember the shock of hearing such robust piano music and then realizing it was coming from a real instrument . . . inside the station!

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You’ve probably heard the story about world-famous violinist Joshua Bell playing in a metro station as part of an experiment to see whether people would stop to engage with the music. One of the only ones who did was a small child anxious to stay and listen, only to be pulled away by–what else?–a parent in a hurry.

When the kids and I come across musicians in the street or the park, we often stop to listen. Among the many we hear, there’s no doubt a young Joshua Bell or Yo-Yo Ma or Jean Pierre Rampal.  It’s easy to be a parent in a hurry.  But it’s surprisingly easy to stop for the music, too.

 

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Near Palau de Musica_3310

Spanish olive oil has become a new obsession. Some of the lighter, more delicate ones just delight me! During our trip through southern Spain this last week, I saw where it all comes from: the hundreds of thousands of olive trees criss-crossing the countryside. Such beautiful groves . . . everywhere!

So olive oil boutiques like this one, Olimar, across from the Palau de Musica in Barcelona, give me the opportunity to dip, taste, and decide what I want to take home.  Right now there are no fewer than five bottles of Spanish olive oil next to my stovetop.  One of them, infused with basil, is good enough to guzzle straight from the bottle.

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Those who know their product collect their favorites and display them in charming little venues like Olimar, where olive oil novitiates like me can dip their bread, experience the divine, and take home a bottle of whatever speaks to them.

Try this:  drizzle some good Spanish olive oil on a slice from a really good baguette. Add a couple of slices of fresh tomato. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Take a bite.  Die of happiness.

Olimar:  C/ Sant Pere Mes Alt, 24, Barcelona.

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We usually eat in, but when we discovered this place, I recognized the stirrings of infatuation and decided that at some point, I’d have to return to sample the goods. Miss Celandine and I stopped in one afternoon for lunch, and of course the infatuation with La Cuina D’en Garriga phased to something much warmer.

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I adore the set-up: a fascinating little grocery area heavy on gourmet items imported from France; an intimate dining area that feels at once totally continental and utterly homey; and a corner stuffed with both kitchen antiques and with the latest in super streamlined kitchen tools.

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So I’m partial to the very functional-slash-elegant canning-style jars that announce the volume of the container in big, white, happy numbers:  250 ml, 450 ml!  Don’t you want a dozen for your refrigerator??  And naturally I’m smitten with the linens.  (I’m often smitten with linens.)  And the food:  hearty, rustic, fresh.  And, and, and.  I could go on and on!  Oh, wait:  I have.

La Cuina D’en Garriga.  C/ Consell de Cent, 308, Barcelona.

 

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Lamp with chocolates in background_0755

Remember when you were a little kid, and when someone declared that they loved something, you’d chant, “Then why don’t you marry it!??” Let me just say of Sampaka Chocolates that I am ready to marry again. (No disrespect to my current partner, who is perfectly acceptable and a great Eleven O’Clock Dad.) Take a look at the goods, and you’ll certainly be willing to ratify my decision.

At the Sampaka store and chocolate café in downtown Barcelona, you’ll find artisan chocolates:  bars, truffles, ’tiles,’ creams and spreads, enrobed beans, and more. All divine. All perfectly marriageable. In fact, there is so much love in that place, I’ve watched people walk in, take off their dark glasses, and surrender, right on the spot, the depth of their spontaneous in-love-ness registering on their faces as a kind of beatific adoration, as if they’ve just seen Saint Someone-or-other with their own mortal eyes, except that what they’re probably seeing is the truffle bar.

And may I just gush about those?–the truffles, that is?  Fruit-infused, flower-infused, herb-infused, and the list goes on.  You have never seen–or tasted–such beauty, and believe me, I know my ganaches.

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Or maybe folks are feeling the chocolate-hazelnut cream (which is divine on homemade crepes–just saying).

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Or even the cacao powders for cooking, hot-chocolate-izing, and the like.

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The love grows in the café, where you can sip things both delicate and complex, enjoy gelatos and confections, and generally feel eternally grateful that all this belongs to you by virtue of your having entered into that most sacred of contracts.

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Marriage altar . . . chocolate altar. What’s the difference? Come worship:  Sampaka Chocolates, C/ Consell de Cent, 292, Barcelona.

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Cardboard roses_4333

What if a legendary fascination with roses grabbed an entire city? And, assuming such a thing were possible, what if every rose (both real and handmade) on the entire planet suddenly appeared on the streets of Barcelona? Flower sellers everywhere–on the street corners, at the metro stops, in the parks, on the ramblas. An effusion of roses!

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Likewise, let’s imagine that every bookseller (and for that matter every organization even remotely connected to books) went and set up its own portable store on the streets of the city, so that just for a day, there were more books than people. Wouldn’t that be beyond grand?

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Imagine it!–books and more books, everywhere you turned! Books in Spanish and Catalan. Books for adults and children. Books for your library, your bedside, your coffee table.

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So let’s give the idea a name–Dia de Sant Jordi–and ordain one day a year, April 23rd, during which a man may present the woman in his life with a rose, while the woman presents her gentleman with a book. (We’ll forget for a second that women receiving flowers while men receive books is at all problematic.) Isn’t the whole affair just delightful?

According to legend, on April 23rd, Sant Jordi slew the dragon who had been terrorizing Catalunya, and from the dragon’s blood sprang a rose, which Sant Jordi gave to La Princesa, who presented him with a book in return.

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Dia de Sant Jordi: possibly the most charming event I’ve ever witnessed. Roses for the women.

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And books for the men. Naturally you could shake things up, if you wanted–give a flower to your guy while you treated yourself to a good read.

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Wandering the ramblas felt like trying to thread your way along Colorado Boulevard the night before the Rose Parade. Seemed like everyone in the city was out!

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Goose makes a fine Sant Jordi, doesn’t he?

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All ready to slay dragons for the rose-loving/bookish girl in his life. (Wait–I think that’s me!)

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Museu Blau

So I frequently write about my teenagers. In contrast, today is a ‘Caboose’ post. If you’ve recently joined me, a short primer on my Caboose, a.k.a. my youngest, who also answers to ‘Goose.’ The nickname Goose hearkens back to his days as an unsteady but fastmoving toddler who often ended up with goose eggs which a) quickly swelled to cartoonish proportions, b) always popped up in the same spot on his forehead, and c) were unfortunately never photographed consistently enough for us to prove to anyone that he pretty much sported a fabulous goose egg for the first several years of his life.

Living abroad has been a bit tough on Goose. Sure, he likes climbing around in old Roman ruins and scaling castles dating to the 1100’s (not that the dates impress him). And yeah, he likes pedaling around town on his bike.

But all the cool markets? (Did we not notice that they smell like fish!?) And the spectacular scenery rolling by when you’re in the car? (Unless you’re too carsick to care.) And the Highly Impressive historical sites? (Blah, blah.) And window shopping while you fantasize about handmade Spanish shoes? (Pain, torture, agony.)

But the museums? Ahh, now there’s something.  Nine-year-old boy + natural history = Intense Fun.

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Are we feeling it yet? Because Goose sure was.

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A day at the museum, and he’s so pumped up he’s ready to leap tall buildings.

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Or at least medium-sized ones.

(Hooray for inspired taxidermists.)

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