Tuesday, December 21, 1999

Dreaming of a Normal Christmas


Hi Everybody,

Okay, I'm extremely lame, it's been like a month and a half since my last installment. Lotsa stuff happened. Let's get to it.

First off, it's very close to Christmas here, and since I promised a long time back to write about the weird stuff going on here in Spain (and not just the weird stuff going on in my head), I'll let you all in on the Christmas traditions here.

If you've been to Spain, or have friends here, or can spell "Spain" (watch that second vowel, it's tricky) you know that this is (or was) a Catholic country. *My* country was discovered in a particularly fervent attempt at being very Catholic (vease "Reyes Catolicos"). Most people here are named "Maria", even the male president (Jose Maria Aznar). The language is littered with lotsa cutesy catholic-influenced sayings like "En un santiamen" (I'll get to it in the time it takes to say the benediction) and "Donde Jésus perdio el gorro" (Where Jesus lost his hat, kinda like the Texan "Out in East Jesus") and finally the constantly heard "Es la hostia, Tio" ("That's the communion host, uncle", which translates more or less to "What a cluster"). Where was I... oh yeah, Christmas. So, you'd figure that being catholic would make everyone brush off their church suits and go to the Cathedral for the yearly visit. Nope. That's what used to happen, but not anymore.

What happens now, at least if you live in Barcelona (which I do), is that they have a bunch of basically pagan traditions which they kind of Christmas up. The Catalans are proud that they don't do Christmas like the folks in Madrid. Add this to the fact that Catalan humor *is* scatological humor and you get:

1) The Caga-tio. This is a contraction of the two words "Cagar" and "Tio". "Tio" means Uncle. "Cagar" is what you do several hours after a big meal. The Caga-tio is a log with two legs at one end, made up to look like a kind of strange two legged animal. They put a blanket over it, and tell the children that if they feed it and treat it nicely, the Caga-tio will, um, cagar presents for them on Christmas eve. So the kids put a bowl of milk under the blanket every day and wait. Finally the big day comes, and Mom and Dad give the youngsters sticks, and they take turns hitting the Caga-tio with the stick, while singing in Catalan, "Caga tio, tio of Christmas, cagar me some presents or I will hit you harder". Then the kids have to close their eyes and pray for a few minutes, and magically, the Caga-tio fills up with presents. I'm not making this up. They only do this here (thank god).

2) The Cagoner. Maybe you can see where this is going. Cataluña has a tradition of making very artistic "Belenes", or nativity scenes. Most houses mount one well before Christmas, and the children make a daily habit of moving the three kings (Reyes) closer to the manger each day. They don't arrive until January 6th, which is the holiday known as "Reyes" here, and it's when the kids really get their big presents, Christmas being more of a socks and underwear holiday. The tradition of the Cagoner is that there was a Catalan shepard in Israel (again, I'm not making this up), who must have had, um, an especially big meal just before the baby Jesus was born. So every shop that sells nativity scenes also sells little figures of a Catalan shepard squatting down and thinking hard about life with his pants around his ankles. This year they also had "Caga-Monica Lewinskis" and "Caga-Popes". How's that for Catholic?

3) Burning Bragas y Calzoncillos Rojos. This one is more about Noche Vieja (New Years Eve). On New Years Eve, everyone has to go out and paint the town red. No big surprise there. You might even know about Las Uvas... the tradition that everyone swallows twelve grapes at midnight for good luck. This is where it starts to get Spanish: At midnight, if you're fortunate enough to be dating someone, and I mean even if it's the first date, you exchange red underwear with your date. They are to be worn that night, and that night only. The next morning, you are to burn the underwear with your date. I suppose this is better than firing pistols into the air (which they don't do here, mom). But it makes me wonder how many fires get started this way (what do you tell the cops when they come?), and how many kids get born around September 30 as a result. They also have a saying in Catalan: "Que no carda al cap de l'any, no carda tot l'any", which is kind of like "If you don't get lucky on New Years, you won't get lucky all year." Guess I can see why. Gotta love them Spaniards.

There's a lot more to write, but I have to get off to the company Christmas dinner, so until next time... Happy Christmas/Tu B'shevat/Kwanza... I miss you all a lot. -Tim

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

Wednesday, September 15, 1999

Valladolid, Flies, and of course, dogs


Hi Everybody!

Bon dit from luverly Barcelona! I'm firmly in my fifth month here, and I've finally gotten around to ordering furniture. Considering that I haven't had my own furniture in almost five years (okay, I had a bed, but you get the picture), this is a big deal. I take shipment on Thursday, god and IKEA willing.

Yup, there's an IKEA here. And really, it's just exactly the same as the one in Dale City or Oostende or Uppsala. It's the McDonalds of furniture, and it's not even American.

Anyway, last Wednesday, I was sitting around at work, working, when my partner on the project announced that he had hurt his foot, and had a presentation of our product in Madrid and Valladolid the next two days. The presentation was for the autonomous government of Castilla-Leon. And he couldn't go. So I had to go. Fuerte, ¿no? So he showed me the presentation materials, which included an hour and a half demonstration by Gerard Chiva (his name), which now was going to be given by Tim Allen (my name). In Spanish. Yikes. I immediately broke out in a cold sweat.

Well, today's Tuesday, so I must have survived it. There were salespeople involved, and lots of changes, and more than one embarrassing pause. But I think the client bought it. We finished the presentation and the sales folks dropped me off in the center of Valladolid to wait for my flight and do some site-seeing.

Valladolid is about 200km northwest of Madrid on banks of the river Duero. As a site-seeing city, it's not all that great. There was a Cathedral (big surprise) and a Plaza Mayor (again, big surprise: even if you don't speak Spanish you probably realize this translates directly into "Big Square" and every city in Spain, Guatemala, Panama, etc has one) and I guess if I had looked hard enough I could have found a jail and a graveyard. However, Valladolid has one thing that makes it famous: the Prime Minister of Spain, Jose-Maria Aznar, supposedly grew up there.

Except, maybe not. A taxi driver assured me (if I understood him, and there's a good possibility that I didn't) that Aznar grew up in Madrid, and had lived in Valladolid for a few years, so he claimed Valladolid as to appear a bit more a man of the people. To which I thought, hmmm, George Bush.

The taxi driver dropped me off at the Airport of Valladolid, which is actually smaller than the Airport of Beaumont (I know, I didn't believe it either). There's one flight a day between Valladolid and Barcelona, daily, at 5:30 pm. At 5:40 pm I was still in the airport, drifting off as the zillions of flies in the airport tried to be friends with me. I came up with a charming little theory that maybe flies aren't the hateful little creatures that we imagine them to be, but instead they hang around us because they really love us, but don't know how to express it. So they fly around us telling us how great we are in flyese (which amounts to landing on our noses and the like), and are bewildered when we suddenly kill them. Then I started wondering if this is in some way like our relationship with our creator. Then I realized that I hadn't eaten for a long time and I was getting kind of funky. I went and got some peanuts and waited for the flight.

Back in Barcelona I dumped my stuff in my apartment, took off my suit, and headed down to Avenida Gaudi to people watch. Avenida Gaudi, or more properly Avinguda Gaudi in Catalan, is a wide pedestrian sidewalk lined with outdoor restaurants next to Templo de la Sagrada Familia. The Sagrada Familia is lit between 9 and midnight each night, and there are usually hundreds of people in the street until late at night. Fortunately my flat doesn't face the street, because it gets pretty loud with all the folks riding their scooters, yelling at each other, and walking their dogs. When I say I people watch, I really dog-owner watch. The great thing about dogs is that they're too stupid to realize that they're really love slaves, when you boil it right down. I mean, when you're out working in the office, they're locked up at home, fantasizing about licking your face while you run your hands over their furry bodies. Something to think about next time you leave the dog to watch the kids while you're doing quarterly reports. It all seems so innocent, but imagine if, for instance, you were on the Avinguda Gaudi, watching the Spanish ladies out walking their husbands on their chains, the women chatting while the men pull against their chains and try to sniff each others' rear ends. Hmmm.

This Sunday, one of my best friends on earth, Allison, is coming to Barcelona from Seychelles to visit for a week. Yipee. So I'll be taking a well-deserved (well, well-desired) rest to show off the city. Take care until next time. -Tim

Friday, August 27, 1999

My Own Private Lumberton

The Weakly Tim

Hola, Bon Dit!

Hi again! Well, okay, it's been a lot more than a week since my last installment. I have to admit that a) I got busy, b) nothing all that funny has happened recently. The trouble with living in an exotic, exciting place like Barcelona is that after a while you realize that it has stopped being so exotic and exciting and has turned itself into your boring old hometown. You end up yearning for other, more exotic places, like Lumberton. For more on this, see "The Weakly Tim, Washington DC edition".

I lived in DC for like 8 years. When I first got there, I was a 23 year old hayseed from Texas. I still had shoes with, well, stuff on them, really (sorry, Mom). On my first trip back home, one of my aunts asked me if I thought I was old enough to live in DC. Which made me laugh at the time, but, heck, maybe she was right. Anyway, When I first arrived in DC, I was going down to the mall to look at monuments, staring morosely at the Vietnam memorial (too dang big), and generally being a tourist. By the time I left, I was travelling entirely in a radius of about five miles. The mall had become an annoyance, Pennsylvania avenue had been closed between 15th and E to accomodate terrorist attacks, and I was begging my boss to send me out of town. Which he did.

So I ended up in Spain. Hey, I painted my apartment (yippee). Well, one of the hallways (orange). But I'm doing the whole place (not in orange, that would be too... too). The thing is that when I rented the flat, there had been a wardrobe against one of the walls in the living room. They removed the wardrobe when I moved in, to reveal-- Jimmy Hoffa! No, but there was a huge patch of non-standard wallpaper from when Janice Joplin was alive behind it, with big avocado colored ovals from when avocado was a color. This made me morose every time I walked into my living room (too dang big). So after watching "The Birdcage" in Spanish fifteen times, I decided to do up the entire apartment South Beach style. We'll see what the council or the board or the generalitat or whatever it is this week has to say when I'm done.

I ran into my busking pal from Mexico, Hector, again, walking around Las Ramblas with a guitar. We ended up busking in a cafe right next to the birthplace of Joan Miro. This time I'm positive: no one has ever done "I wanna be just like you" from "The Jungle Book" on Las Ramblas before. We even did a little scat singing (you know, zaba daba zee etc). You'd think that Barcelona would be too big to just bump into people on the street, but I really do see the same folks all the time. There's a guy here who plays guitar and panpipe, who built a little stage for his tiny little dog, who wears little glasses and a hat (the dog, not the guy). The dog sits there and howls. My god how the money rolls in.

Work is so boring right now that it's hardly worth mentioning. The reason for this is that the entire country of Spain has gone on vacation for the entire month of August. These people (me included now) get 25 days off a year, plus a handful of holidays, and the entire week of Easter. For those of us unfortunate slobs who do have to work, the schedule is cut back so I only have to work until 3pm. Is this civilized or what? Imagine asking for 25 days a year off in an interview in the US. The interviewer would have you doing a drug test in no time flat.

I realized three days ago that I had been in Barcelona for four months. I was reckoning on speaking like Cervantes by now. I'm not going to lie to you: I can speak Spanish now. It's far from perfect, I'm sure I sound like a four year old, but I'm getting by. I've started learning Catalan by osmosis. I was watching a soap opera the other day in Catalan (yup, they do their own shows here) about a salesman with Tourettes syndrome who loses a sale because he says something off-color to the client, then shows up for work in shorts and a Hawaiian luau shirt. They cribbed most of the story from Kurt Vonnegut's "Breakfast of Champions", I think. At least that's what I understood of the story.

Anyway, I can say stupid little Catalan things that make the locals smile, like "Molt be" (that's great) and "Bon Cap d'Setmana" (nice weekend). This is like watching a dog dance, it's not so important that he does it well, but that he does it at all. The next step will be the swear words... the great thing about the very first part of learning a language is that you can say wonderfully off-color things ("Is being a great day, I'll be damned!") and everyone just smiles, smiles, smiles. As you can see, I'm doing my best to change the idea of the "Ugly American".

The trouble is that my English is getting bad. I really didn't expect this. I had to address a group of folks from London about our product the other day, and I was reeeeeaching for words. There was a Glasgoweegian or something in the group, and I absolutely couldn't understand him (I'll be damned!).

I know what you're thinking. This is like when you're standing in line at the airport and some guy in a Jimmy Buffett shirt ahead of you in line is saying, loudly, "well, the trouble is that now I've got all this currency from Nepal and Pago Pago..." and you're thinking, stick it bud, they've all but chained me to my laptop. Ha ha.

Well, enough. Anybody coming to visit? Drop me a line, I'd love to hear from you. I miss the states, less, but I miss it. Oh, hey, I registered with the US Embassy, finally, which was great, because the entire transaction took place in Spanish, there wasn't any fooling around in English just because we were, oh, in the Embassy of the USA. Anyway, take care... -Tim

Monday, August 2, 1999

How to learn a language in 29,000 painful lessons, part 56

Dear Everybody,

Another week in the joint, er, paradise. I'm back in Barcelona these days, working on a project for the Generalitat de Valencia, the seat of the autonomous government of Cataluña in Valencia. What's cool is that this is a project to publish the annual budget, which is the project I worked on for Bill Clinton six years ago. Yipee.

I spent the weekend wandering around the Barrio Gotic, the old section of Barcelona which used to be surrounded by the Roman walls (Steve and Caroline, yes, those were the Roman Walls). I saw the birthplace of Joan Miró, one of the three artists associated with Barcelona (along with Picasso and Dali, and that's not counting Gaudi), and the steps of the Palau Reial Major, where Ferdinand and Isabel received Colombus when he returned from the New World.

I passed a very small street called the Carrer d'Avinyo, the home of a brothel which was supposedly the inspiration for Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon". I stopped off to talk with one of the current employees of the brothel, and asked her how she felt about working in a place of such incredible historic significance. Her response: "Well, si, of course I am feeling deeply honored to work in such a place, which is so well known, and which was inspiring so famouses works of arts, and of course where Picasso was spending so much of his free time. I feel, in a way, that *I* am a Picasso." I moved on to look at the Cathedral, which was started in 1298 but not finished until the early 19th century, which made me feel better about our National Cathedral in Washington. As I walked around the Cathedral, I stopped and talked for a while with a guy playing Flamenco guitar, and then a man and woman from Barcelona playing Australian Digideroos across the same square. And as I walked around the cathedral, listening the the Flamenco mixing with the Digideroos, walking past a place that was started nearly five-hundred years before there was a United States, I just started to laugh, thinking what a strange place I live in.

The digideroo players, Marta and Victor, were making their living playing on the street, which has to be hard... I love digideroo, but it kind of sounds like an Elephant after a big meal. They let me try out their digideroo, and they told me they lived near plaça de Orson Wells, but that everyone called it "plaça trips" after the amount of acid tripping done there. To which I responded, hummm.

Near the cathedral was the tiny Plaça de Sant Felip Neri. In it was the Museu d'Història del Calçat, which is, as you can see from the name, the Museum of Antique footwear. Unfortunately it was closed. The plaza is also the home of an elementary school. I noticed some deep pockmarks in the walls of the school. I found out that in the last year of the Spanish Civil War, 1939, a bomb fell in the courtyard during recess and killed twenty school children.

I wandered down Las Ramblas some more, worrying about my hair, which I haven't gotten cut since right after I got here for fear of Castilleon-based scissor mixups. The trouble is that, now that I really want to get a haircut, I've found out that the barbers here really only work one hour per year, you know, because of the union. The rest of the year they're on siesta, or they're just opening, or are about to close, or they're asleep in their chair and maybe it would be better not to wake them up and then have them cut your hair, grumpy. It's not that my hair's all that long, but I'm exceptionally vain.

All of this was parading through my head when I was passed by a small, fat, brown and white dog. This dog had short hair on most of his body, but the hair on the left side of his head seemed more ambitious than the rest of his less motivated hair, and his poor little behind had hardly any hair at all. Somehow the effect was that this dog was undeniably gorgeous. It occurred to me that dogs almost always look great, and they don't give a wet slap about what they look like, unless they're around another dog, and then all they care about is that they look bigger than the other dog. Dogs probably have the best self-esteem on earth. I bet there's never been a dog in history that looked at another dog and thought, "I wonder what that dog uses to look like that", or, "man, that dog's got it all together, I wish I were like that dog."

Well, enough of that. Better get back at it. Until next time... -Tim

Friday, July 16, 1999

Hola del centro del universo conocido

...or rather hello from the center of the known universe...
Hola everybody!

Well, I just realized I haven't sent an update for a while-- it wasn't for lack of desire to write, more an over-abundance of something that hasn't been very abundant until recently: WORK. My god what an ugly word. It was such fun here pretending that I was the independently wealthy son of the Count of Lumberton. Now I pretend I know how to write computer programs and design data warehouses (don't ask, I don't understand it either).

As was quite familiar to me for the last two years, I'm traveling four days a week for good ole Oracle again. I'm assigned to Mallorca-- this big island the size of connecticut (I think) in the Med. It's a really beautiful place. Michael Douglas is there now with his new girlfriend Katherine Zeta-Jones, I saw it on Antena Tres... and how does a guy like that end up with a woman like that without the universe imploding? Kind of like Ric Ocasek and Paulina Porcegoddesskova (or whatever her name was).

I'm not always in Mallorca, tho. They let me stay here in Barcelona on the weekends. My friends Steve and Caroline and their kids Bavard (I know I just slaughtered that) and Kyle came to stay for a while, down in Sitges. I have an exceptionally long and excruciatingly detailed story to tell about the trip, which I really don't have the energy to tell. Suffice to say that the story is about my almost failed attempt to take the train to Sitges to visit. There was a part about boarding the wrong train, and another about a conductor who spoke more rapidly the more I appeared not to understand, and a poorly printed ticket in a town some 50 miles from Barcelona, and how because of said ticket there ensued a blinding sprint to catch a second train on platform 14 (which looked exceptionally like platform 12 on said poorly printed ticket), and how there ensued a lot of gasping and foolishness. Whew. Oh yeah, there was also a part about how all of these mistakes added up to me passing accidentally through the valley where they make Freixnet Champagne, and how mind-bogglingly terrific that was, and how that probably would have been like accidentally turning the wrong corner and tripping over the holy grail for me five years ago, but how now it was just kinda ehhh (I passed on the free samples). It was a great story, if you can imagine it.

Sitges was pretty fabulous, or rather faaabulous. Lotsa transvestites and German tourists in shorts with black socks (not that there's anything wrong with that, or maybe there is) and faaaantastic houses built by people who probably would have been kind of weird in their own countries but who ended up being very rich and very weird here. That happens all the time here. I was with my friend Beatriz in Mallorca on Wednesday, and we went out to look at the sea from this 100 foot high cliff, and she pointed out the house of Keerk Dooogless (Kirk Douglas). Earlier we were walking through this little town called Vallereal which appeared to have been built by gnomes during an overly productive stage, and she casually pointed out the house where Frederik Chopin had lived (and died). Ho hum. I live in Spain. I grew up in Lumberton, Texas, the smallest town known to anyone, anywhere. Parece mentira.

I'm not going to gripe about learning Spanish this time. As usual, I have good days and bad days. The good days I think I've finally got it and it'll never go away. The bad days I think that I must have been out of my mind to come here and that I'll never learn the staggering mountain of words, phrases, and rules which I must learn before I can stop sounding like a four year old. Actually, the four year olds sound better, I probably should hire one to interpret for me.

The other day I realized it was the fourth of July here, about one minute before midnight. I rushed out to the street (it is *never* late here) with some half-formed idea that I had to tell someone that it was independence day and was as far as Avenida Gaudi before I realized that there really was absolutely no one to tell. On the other hand, I was hanging out on the dock on Monday night in Mallorca (which is what people do for fun there, hang out on docks) and a fireworks display just started up out of nowhere for no reason that I could determine. It was so beautiful that it was kind of ridiculous. It reminded me of the night before I left Pennsylvania and I was hanging out on the porch with my brother Travis, and the town of Carlysle fired off an impromptu fireworks display. We realized that you don't really get the full benefit from a fireworks display after about three minutes unless you're under twelve years old or you're on your first date with someone.

As usual I've written three times as much as I should have, so you'll have to imagine the part where I tell you all how much I miss you, and how you have to come visit (except Steve and Caroline, who now have to imagine that I'm asking them to come visit again), and not to worry cuz I'm having a blast here, and how you really have to write me a letter now, okay? Take care, -Tim

Monday, June 21, 1999

Sagrada Familia/Dogs, Nougat & Pringles


I'm sitting in the airport station, gotta ticket for my destination (hmm mmm mmm). I´m going to Mallorca again, and my flight has been delayed an hour, so I figured I'd take out my frustration on you all and write some more. Yesterday afternoon I finally went to see the inside of the Temple of the Sagrada Familia. This is disgraceful, of course, because I´ve lived next to it for almost two months now. The same thing happened when I lived in DC. In eight years I never saw the Holocaust Museum. Buildings are like your friends. You figure ah hell, they´ll always be there, so you don´t bother to go see them. And then one day you call their phone number and it´s been disconnected. Oops, we were talking about buildings (but while we´re here, does anybody have Cathy K´s phone?)

So I went to see it. It´s not for nothing that this building is so closely associated with Barcelona. It´s our Eiffel Tower, our Empire Steate Building, our Watergate Hotel. And it was designed by the architect best known for his work in Barcelona, Antonio Gaudi. An eccentric and deeply spiritual man, he was given (almost) free reign to build in Barcelona by the city´s elite in the late 1800´s and early 1900´s. When you say the word "Modernismo" you have to say Gaudi in the same breath. When you come to see Barcelona, you basically come to see Gaudi´s work.

The temple really is quite amazing. One of the neat things about Barcelona is that you´re never more than 100 meters from some local monument, but nothing prepares you for this. The neighborhood isn´t much to shout about, but you walk through this fairly mundane street, turn a corner, and there it is. Unbelievably huge, it looks like someone has built the world´s most beautiful church and then somehow made it more beautiful by melting half of it. It currently consists of four (or eight, depending on how you count) towers, each tower a pair of granite taper candles extending upward over 100 feet. I was reminded of the castles we would make on the beach in North Carolina by dripping wet sand in a pile.

The exterior is covered with all kinds of, well, stuff... giant snails, fruits indigenous to Cataluña, a huge green Cyprus tree-- much of the stonework is in color. I wondered how they convinced the government to fund this, and in fact they didn´t. It´s being built entirely from private contributions.

A great thing about Spain is that they don´t have the legal concept of the "Attractive Nuisance". (Scenario: Guy A puts in a pool. Guy B´s kid drowns in Guy A´s pool while skinny-dipping and autoasphyxiating. Guy B sues Guy A, claiming that the pool was an "Attractive Nuisance". Guy B wins, and now has enough money to build his own pool, but Guy A is now so poor that he has to move to house C in Love Canal where he and his family contract diseases D, E, and F.) If this temple were in the U.S., there would be lawsuits galore. Going up in the towers you climb up a series of spiral staircases which are dark, narrow, twisty, and breathtaking. There were open balconies every 10 feet or so, which was fine, until a part of my brain said, what if I went nuts and... Jumped Over The Side!?!? Which sounds ridiculous, but I have proof: my brain is attracted to whatever it knows it can´t do. Like the times I´ve gone to a party, knowing I would see Jones and his wife. I would have a little talk beforehand with my brain: "In no uncertain terms will anyone in here mention the affair he´s having. Agreed?" And all the little voices in my head would assent, sure man, whatever. So I arrive at the party, and there are Jones and his wife. I stick out my hand, grin, and open my mouth: "So Jones, how´s the mistress, ahmm, I mean business"... and go plummeting 100 feet over the side of the tower of acceptable social behavior.

The towers were crawling with tourists from the US, Germany, and France. I kept thinking, Tower of Babel, Tower of Babel. There were walkways between the towers, some of them quite long, completely open to the sky. As I walked out on the longest one, I noticed I was making little involuntary noises with my throat like my Grandmother makes when she´s sleeping. Needless to say I didn´t hang out for long on them. But on one I realized that I could see my house. Cool. All I could think of was that stupid joke where Jesus is up on the cross and groans, "Peter, come here", and Peter tries repeatedly to get to Jesus´s side, but keeps getting turned away by the guards. Peter finally manages to claw and fight his way to Jesus´s side and, bloody and beaten, yells up, "Yes, Lord, what do you want to tell me?" And Jesus says, "Peter, Peter... I can see your house from up here."

I ended up just laying around this weekend, which gave me time to think about the really important things. Like, why do dogs age seven years in one year? What, are they shooting heroin when we aren´t looking or something? Or how about this: "Pringue" means "grease drippings" in Spanish. And yet Pringles sell, sell, sell here. I wonder what that means. And the packaging is different here. Most packages have their copy translated into the fifteen languages spoken here. Which makes for a lot less room for copy. In the States we have so much room on our packages that they have to hire a Copy Writer to fill up the space. Imagine this job: Some guy goes to college for seven years to get his B.A. in English lit, and ends up writing about "Krunchy, Chocolaty wafers filled with creamy nougat..." Here they have about enough room for one line of copy, which they probably delegate out to one of the nougat engineers: "Hey Manuel, gimme some copy... 'Real Nice Cookies'? okay, sounds great". And they translate it into fifteen languages and away we go.

Well, the notice board for my flight just changed to "Amsterdam". On the whole, I´d rather go there. But I guess I´d better go see what´s going on. I miss you all. Love, Tim

Wednesday, June 16, 1999

Really Good Day

Hey Everybody!

I´m waiting out a meeting here so I can head home with my co-workers. Again, I´m in lovely Mallorca, seeing beautiful skylines from our wonderful office. Yipee. My co-worker is stuck in an interminable meeting (thank god I´m not in it), and it´s considered kinda rude here to head home without the whole team. Meetings are really a big deal here, as much as we talk about doing work back in the good ole US, we do about twice as much here. We had a three hour monstrosity of a meeting this afternoon, right after lunch. It was grueling. Everyone in the meeting, including the guy who called it, was complaining, as if meetings were just part of life, something to put up with. And they´re all in Castilian Spanish (if they´re not in Catalan: eek), which lets me really feel like a martyr.

For instance, in the meeting, I was thinking to myself, it´s important never to lose one´s Sense of Wonder. Right then my Spanish was failing, and I found myself thinking, "I Wonder what the hell is going on?" and "I can´t seem to make any Sense of this". Spain builds character.

Fortunately, next week there´s a holiday of some kind. Spain´s great about this, there´s a holiday every other week, almost always of a religious nature. I started wondering why churches don´t have a holiday called "Really Good Day". It would be a day to commemorate the one day in the Supreme Being´s life when everything went just right. Like the day He got up and the sun was shining, and His car started on the first try, and maybe a girl smiled at Him. Nothing special, just better than commemorating the day He died in fearful agony. That should be "Really Bad Day".

Another great holiday would be the day He figured it out. That would be the day the Supreme Deity figured out the He (or She) was the Supreme Deity and not just Some Joe. Like He (or She) is sitting around, thinking, "y´know, water´s great, I really like water, but it sure would be great to have some wine right now," and POOF! his water turns into wine. He says, woah, and then goes on to raise people from the dead and walk on water and stuff. Kind of like "Anything Can Happen Day" on the Mickey Mouse Club Show.

I went walking on Las Ramblas this weekend, on Saturday, and ran into my friend Hector (Barcelona´s small enough to do stuff like that), who had just bought a new guitar. We ended up having an impromptu jam session on Las Ramblas with two guys from Holland, Tom (probably not his real name) who played washboard, and Juurgens (definitely not his real name, but I really didn´t get it), who played piano. The only song that came to mind was Johnathan Edwards´ "Don´t Cry Blue", and I got to relish the assuredly false impression that I was the first guy ever to play Country music on Las Ramblas. You can do stuff like that here and almost no one ever calls you on it.

One of my favorite songs ever is Joni Mitchell´s "In France They Kiss on Main Street". I´m gonna write a song called, "In Spain They Do Just About Everything on Main Street". This behavior used to surprise me some (since my Mom and Dad get to read these emails, I´m not going to explain much more), but now I just kind of smile and realize that underpopulation will never ever be a problem here.

I´m really homesick today. I miss Taco Bell and that little dog (they don´t eat tacos here, contrary to popular belief). I would miss "Allie McBeal", but we get that here, dubbed in Spanish. Which is real odd. I really miss Pennsylvania Avenue, which is the Passeig de Gracia of Washington D.C. I miss you guys. Ugh, the radio is playing "American Pie". I don´t miss that. I started to try to explain the significance of the song to my co-worker (y´know, Buddy Holly, Mick Jagger, etc) and then realized that there really was no point in it.

Yippee, the meeting is over, paella time. Talk to you all soon. Love, -Tim

Friday, June 11, 1999

A good plan

Dear Everybody,

Well, I just finished off a week in Luverly Mallorca. It was great, I sat in the office and looked out the window at the second loveliest place I´d ever seen, twelve hours a day. It looks like I´ll be returning there each week until 1 July. I turn 35 on 30 June. I´m going to turn 35 in Mallorca, Spain. I´m from Lumberton. Ha ha ha. I get to come back to Barcelona each week to take my Spanish classes on Fridays. One of the subtle ways that the language sticks it to you here if you´re an American is by changing your nationality. Here it´s Estadounidense. About 50 times a day I have to pronounce the unpronounceable "Soy de los Estados Unidos" or "En los Estados Unidos..." Everyone else gets off easy: Mejicano, or Italiono, or something. After a while, you just stop mentioning the USA. My solution, of course was to start saying I was from Texas: "Yo soy Tejano". Which worked fine. Until I found out that this actually means, "I am a pair of blue jeans", a la JFK´s "Ich bin ein Berliner" (I am a donut).

An Excellent plan:
a. Move to Europe.
b. Insult Europeans

Last night I had dinner with my co-workers in Mallorca, Teresa from Madrid, Maria from Barcelona, and a fellow from France named Richard. Sometimes I just have to stop and let it all sink in. Anyway, somewhere between the Tallerines Negros and Dessert, I asked Richard (of course pronounced "Reesh-ar" just to be French) where he was from. Keep in mind that this whole conversation took place in thrilling technicolor Spanish, just making the high comedy a little, um, higher. He replied that he was from some unpronounceable place in the Alps, near Hen-Ebra. Being American (or whatever I am, good lord this place is complicated) I said, oh, that´s nice, I´ve never heard of Hen-Ebra. He Look At Me In Awe, as if I had suddenly grown an eyeball in the middle of my forehead with the reflection of an American Flag waving in it. "Jou have neaver heeard off Hen-Ebra? Theese Americains! Bouf!" Whereupon I got up on my horse, pulled on my cowboy hat, and let him have it at full gallop: "Hey hombre, have you ever heard of Lumberton? Do you have any idea of where Louisiana is?" (he said it was next to Florida. Hah!) I ranted on in this fashion for a few minutes when a little trigger went off in my head: "Hmmm, Hen-Ebra... Spanish pronunciation Genebra... oh. Geneva.)"

Suddenly my horse threw me, removed its shoes, and refused to budge, claiming that its new European 32 hour work week was over. I realized that I had suddenly become very ugly and very American, and later discovered that the Tallarines Negros had stained my teeth black, making me bizarre to boot. I said the only thing to be said in these situations: "So, how about them Bears?" They didn´t get it, but it was better than, "Gee, I sure am an Ugly, Bizarre American".

It´s been a good week, really. I´m actually happy to be working again. I wonder if I´m going to be travelling constantly again for Oracle Spain like I was for Oracle USA. I´m not sure if that would be good or bad. I´m not even sure if "good" or "bad" can be applied accurately in this situation. Hmmm, this letter is taking on this kind of "¿Quien soy yo, y donde voy?" shade, so I think I´ll close until next week. Take care, -Tim

Tuesday, June 1, 1999

And then a bird pooped on me...

Dear Everybody,

Well, I got my work permit, finally. I had to go to Lisbon, in Portugal, to get it. It was quite a trip. I had to take a sleeper car, which I had done before, but not by myself. When you´re a single guy, they put you in the sleeper car with the other single guys. Single guys who have not figured out that you gotta scrub your feet once a month whether they need it or not. Yippee.

After I arrived, I went to the embassy (theirs, not ours), filled out the form, handed it in, and the guy behind the window told me to go get a cuppa joe, this is gonna take a while (well, not in those words). Half an hour later I was a legal Spanish worker.

I walked around and looked at stuff, got rained on, and once again had the strange sensation of being in a country where I couldn´t even ask for the location of the bathroom, as I speak no Portuguese. It´s hard to remember being like that in Spanish, but I did do this when I first went to Bolivia. Worse was Japan, where I didn´t learn a word in two years. Or maybe Scotland, where I thought I spoke the language but actually didn´t.

Lisbon was beautiful, and not at all like Barcelona. There was an even bigger rich to poor spread, some of it downright heartbreaking. Apparently the population of Lisbon exploded after the Portugeuse colonies in Africa were granted independence in the 70´s. About a million people came to Lisboa. Anyway, As I walked back to the train station to leave Lisbon I read the grafitti along the way: NATO FORA DOS BALCÃS (NATO out of the Balkans), then ten yards later, in perfect English, JOE IS A S.O.B. Surprisingly sophisticated. The next was written neatly on a hot pink building, again in perfect English: PORTUGAL IS CURSED BY GOD.

I got back to Spain to find that the magazine "Interviu" had recently headlined a story with pictures of the young duke Lecquio frolicking nakedly on his boat with his girlfriend. The pictures demonstrated in at least one small (well...) respect, the young duke is, um, better than the rest of us men. No one seems to tire of talking aobut this here. I went to the local Kentucky Fried Chicken and ordered a large coke. It was served in a cup with the message, "El tamaño SÍ importa": Size does matter.

On the way home I stopped off at the newstand to buy a chocolate Kit-Kat (you could live here for a year and never see an unfamiliar trademark). Newstands here are great, they sell everything. One thing they do that we don´t is to display what we would consider reasonably hard pornography in plain view. We don´t do this in the states for fear of corrupting the children. It´s a shame too, because the children here *are* corrupt. I sat down to eat my candy bar and noticed an eight year old positively coveting my Kit-Kat. Shame.

I continue to Run For President, though I´m in a country where no one can vote for me. "Run For President" is my term for Gripping & Grinning, trying to meet and make friends with everyone regardless of their race, creed, or level of pleasantness. Today as I walked into my building I saw the woman who ownd the clothing store next door. I´d been thinking about introducing myself ´cuz I´d seen her practically every day. So I entered the shop-- she immediately put on her you-just-made-a-big-mistake-this-is-a-woman´s-clothing-shop face, and I sputtered out in Spanish "You... I presenting to you... I..." (seven years of Spanish training down the drain). I finally managed to convey that I had seen her around there a lot and she replied, as if I were 2, yeah, that´s because I work here. I stuck my tail between my legs, said my name, shook her hand and rushed out. On the way out, a bird pooped on me. I´m not making this up, it was so bad I started to laugh. Oh yeah, her name was Vanessa.

People here say that it´s hard to make friends with the Catalans. It´s true, but doable. I have made a pretty good number of friends here.

You see dogs everywhere here, in the street, in restaurants, on the train. I figure dogs have it all together. You see two guys walking their dogs. The two guys stop to talk, and their dogs immediately freak out. "Hey man, I´ll kill you! Arf!" "Oh yeah? Hey yer gonna look funny when I bite yer tail off and shove it up yer ear! Grrr" and then "So, hey, ya wanna be friends?" "Okay". They smell each others´ butts and then they sit down and look around for a while. "Hey, this is my master. Pretty fat, huh?" "Oh, hey, yeah? Heh, heh, yeah, he´s huge. Oh hey, this guy´s *my* master." "Cool." "Yeah, it´s all real cool." Then they pant and watch butterflies. Of course, dogs don´t know jack about sharing. Just try to share something with a dog, you´ll come back with a stump. It´s either yours or the dog´s, but not both.

Okay, enough nonsense for a while. I´ve got ready access to email now, so I´ll try to shorten these letters up a little since I don´t have to do it all at once anymore. Take care, I miss you all. -Tim

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

Tuesday, April 27, 1999

Actually in Barcelona

Hola everybody!

Well, at long last, I'm actually here in Barcelona. Good lord, I've been going to be going to Barcelona for like six months now. Thank god Oracle USA re-organized and gave me an excuse to punt.

Anyway, I'm here at the prohibitively expensive Cafe de Internet on the Gran Via dels Corts Catalanes (which *is* the Michigan Avenue of Barcelona). It's my fourth day here. I've had like two real conversations since I got here-- I mean, when I say I speak Spanish, I'm using a very broad definition of the word "speak". And I'm all confused about this Catalan Frangspañol thing they speak here.

Now I'm waiting again for my Permiso de Trabajo stuff to go through so I can actually begin working. This should take about two months. I plan to use this time productively, sitting around, drinking coffee, and playing Guitar. If you have a mind to come visit me here in Barcelona, this two month period would probably be a good time, 'cuz I have time to play now. After that, you're all welcome, except I'll be working so you'll have to put up with me being all stressed-out and uptight again because I'm so dang dedicated to my work. Right.

Anyway, I'm headed out to Las Ramblas to play a little street guitar and see how many Duros (which *are* the nickels of Barcelona) I can pull in before the cops run me off (just kidding mom, busking is legal here). I miss you all. Now would be such an excellent time to write me a long email. Take care. -Tim