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