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    Born to Run by Christopher McDougall - (K) Humorous and thorough history and science behind ultrarunners and long-distance running
    *****
    Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela - (K) An autobiography covering his childhood, years as a freedom fighter and incarceration. Inspiring and informative
    *****
    The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón - (K&T) A mystery set in Barcelona involving an old book, a failed writer and murder
    *****
    Lush Life by Richard Price - A Lower East Side tale of cops, drugs and drinking
    ***
    The Chinese by Jesper Becker - (K&T) Modern history of my peeps, from the cultural revolution to the many failed economic and social attempts to move the country forward
    ***
    Setting the Table by Danny Meyer - A "how-to" on hospitality and business acumen by the restaurateur behind such NY institutions as the Shake Shack and Union Square Grill
    ***
    The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama - Obama lays out what is wrong with the current government and how, vaguely, to change it.
    **

NY Marathon – In Pictures

dinner2

Carbo-loading the night before the marathon with Hoa, Mike, Rob, Susannah, Emily, Jeff and their family

before1

Hoa took this pic:  me, very tired at 6am getting ready to catch the ferry

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Day 8 – Booze, Cruise, Mountain House and Diesel Tries to Put Women’s Clothes on (But Is Stopped!)

After spending the night in peaceful and mysterious Montserrat, we got the car and started driving towards the Penedes region, which is dotted with dozens of cava makers.  Cava is sparking wine, basically Spanish champaigne, but don’t tell the French that.

We stopped at a small cava maker that had very cheap cava (about 10 euros) and even cheaper wine (5 euros).  The hosts were super friendly and told us about the vines and the wine.  But the best thing about that place (besides the reasonable prices) were the snacks, man!  No delicate crackers.  Instead, I gorged on the crackers, potato chips and fuet (cured meat, it looks like a small salami).  Diesel got quite embarrassed that I indiscriminately took the fuet out of another group’s plate, but I figured since we didn’t get any of our own, it was ok to share.  Apparently, Diesel didn’t agree, and he made his opinion known–as always…very opinionated indeed.

Our second stop was Jean Leon, a winery that we had visited four years ago and enjoyed.  The main office is located in a very modern and cool building, where we had our wine tasting.  Marc, our host, rushed through the tasting because, as he told us, he had some very important guests arriving soon:  the CEO of a N. American company and his wife.  He escorted us back to the lobby, where a lady wearing an oversize sweatshirt that proudly announced her hometown of WINNIPEG across it and matching sweatpants, was waiting.  She should have accessorized with a leather fanny pack, but I guess wives of important CEOs just don’t carry their fortunes that way.  Too showy, probably.

After being rushed out of the place, it was time for a late lunch.  Diesel and I figured we would find something on the way to Vilafranca, where we were supposed to meet up with Anna and her friends.  Sure enough, we spotted several cars parked outside a local restaurant and decided that was the place.  We had a fabulous meal (aioli bacalla with potatoes for me and steak with mushroom sauce for Dies) and lingered for a while.

A bit before 4:30, we arrived at Vilafranca’s train station, where we were supposed to meet Anna and her friends, who were leaving Barcelona that afternoon.  I called her to see how close she was, and in true Spanish fashion, she informed me that they still 30 min away, as they had just left the city.  About 30 min later, she arrived with friends Monica (who we had met a couple of times in Barcelona), Monica’s bf, and Gemma.

The plan was to brave the winding roads leading up to Anna’s parents’ mountain house together.  And so we did.  Another half hour later, there we were, at Anna’s family’s 200+ year-old house.  I had been there 4 years ago, and it was even lovelier than I remembered, with grape vines adorning the outside of the house (and the last grapes still on the vines!), the old wood fire stove in the kitchen, the makeshift cellar where Anna’s dad keeps the wood fire and the wine, and the rooms upstairs with high ceilings with its beautiful old beams.

I just really knew that Diesel would love it, and he said he did.


We settled in, started the fire in the kitchen and proceeded to cook dinner together. Dies watched Gemma make tortilla a la espanola (a Spanish stable; sort of a fritata with fried potatoes), which we ate with salad, dense bread and cheese.  All of that was washed down with cava and wine that we had purchased earlier that day.

After dinner, we sat around the fire and Anna decides we should play telephone:  somebody says something in somebody’s ear, and the 2nd person whispers it in the 3rd person’s ear and so forth, until the last person, who has to say what he heard.  The original word/phrase often gets distorted–which is the fun part of the game–but in our case, the distortions reached new heights, as phrases were passed on in Spanish, Catalan, English, German, Basque and even Chinese (YES, I know *a little*).  With the exception of English, SOMEHOW the words/phrases always seemed to change completely when they got to Diesel, whose difficulty with the foreign languages was exarcebated by his inability to roll his “r’s.”  Once Anna asked me why he has a JAPANESE accent, and by that, she politely meant, why the heck does he turns his “‘r’s” into “l’s” as in pronouncing  “choLizo” instead “choRizo.” I seriously did not know what to say, except that sometimes I think Diesel is a bit Asian on the inside.  I get glimpses of his Asian-ness when he slurps his cup-of-noodles like a Chinaman or decides he needs to buy a How-To-Speak-Chinese book.

Anyhow, after our unanimous and quiet acknowledgment that with Diesel in the game no word would be transmitted correctly, we decided to call it quits and just chat.  We had a great time.
Somewhere during this conversation, I decided to take a shower.  Anna had been playing with the buttons on their water heater, so I was unsure if I would be showering in hot water.   And lo and behold, 1 min after I get in, I realize there is no hot water coming out whatsoever, so in all my desperate nakedness, I start shouting from the bathroom that I’m in need of hot water.  Fortunately, Anna found the right button and I enjoyed my hot shower.

The night wears on and as people start yawning, we decide it’s time to go to bed.  Diesel and I got to sleep in Anna’s parents bedroom.  At this point I realize that the magical charm of an old home is inversely related to how cold it is, i.e. when I realized how cold it was going to be at night, sleeping in the 200-year-old house didn’t seem so awesome anymore.  But it was worse for my poor husband, who had left all his pants outside in the car.   He resigns himself to the fact that he was going to freeze at night, until, all of a sudden, he jumps in excitement:  “HERE! I’m gonna wear THIS!”  And as I turn around I realize in horror that he is taking Anna’s MOTHER’S PJ BOTTOMS and getting ready to put them on!  “What do you think you’re doing?  Do you think her mom would appreciate you hairy man wearing her clothes? ” I find myself screaming.  And PJs, nonetheless, which I consider intimate apparel.  Lucky for me, he grabs the pillow case instead, which is resting on top of the actual PJ set, but I never told him that. Better let the husband freeze than 1)  embarrass himself by putting on women’s clothes 2)  contaminate Anna’s mother’s clothes (and she is a very clean lady, so I KNOW she would mind).

In the end, it wasn’t that bad, since we slept with sweaters on and found extra blankets in the closet.

The next morning we woke up at 5am to drive back to Barcelona and drop off our car at the airport.  Sweet Anna made us breakfast and we said our good-bye’s.  Love ya Anna and miss you and your beautiful city already…

Dinner with Anna, Sikna (sp?), Monica and Gemma

Diesel gets some grapes for dessert

Diesel fetches some wood fire in the makeshift cellar

Day 7 – I Hate Pepecars and Here Come the Monks

On the 7th day of Barcelona, we gave up our keys to the apt. we were renting in the Poble Sec neighborhood (the name “Poble Sec” literally means “Dry Village.”  Why?, you ask.  I don’t know) and made our way to the airport, where we were picking up a car and driving to the Penedes area, the wine/cava (sparkling wine) region that lies about 30-40 min from Barcelona.

We got the the airport at around noon, and were told by the info people that Pepecars, the car company from which we were getting our vehicle, had a shuttle that came every 20 min.  20 min go by and nothing.  Another 20 min.  Nothing yet.  “Something is not right,” I told myself, and called the company.  I was assured that a shuttle had just departed and would be arriving shortly.  15 min later, nothing.  So I decide to call again and complain taht we’ve been waiting for over 40 min.  Instead of apologies, I am informed that they were actually “resting” and no shuttles have departed in the last hour.  Resting?  It wasn’t even siesta time.  GREAT.  In total, we waited for the damn shuttle for 2 hrs, which put us both in a foul mood.  There were hurling of luggage and raising of voices, which we are embarrassed about, but please, don’t tell me I’ve been waiting for 2 hrs because you decided to take a 2 hr break in the middle of the work day!  They explained that they are the McDonald’s of rental cars.  EXCUSE ME?  Did I hear this right?  I speak with authority as a very loyal frequenter of Micky D’s, and I can assure everybody that I have received nothing but efficient and consistent food and stellar service at McDonalds.  Well…except for the time Diesel pissed off the cashier and she refused to serve us.  So how DARE you compare yourself to the shrine of fast food? Continue reading

Barcelona – Day 6

Everything is pretty calm here though it was touch and go for a little bit. K woke up one morning
stressed out that we weren’t taking full advantage of our traveling because I was sleeping in
until 10am. What was so important? I’ll give you a hint…it involves our credit card.

So we decided to part ways for the day so Kelly could spend some alone time with her best friends
Zara, Mango, Sweet Action (or something) and a number of other close “boutique” friends and I spent some more time with my animal friends…ya know, the rabbits, snails and veal. When we finally did meet back up at the end of the day, she only had a couple of bags. I was very happy though Kelly complained that she couldn’t buy anything because she couldn’t use her credit cards though she had 200 euros in her pocket…I never really did figure out why cash didn’t work but uh, i gave up and was happy that the money was still intact.

BTW – Spain seems to have a love affair with the worst of American TV. Over the last couple days
I’ve watched episodes of Flipper (the NEW Flipper!), SeaQuest DSV (wow – this was really bad –
I had no idea aliens were somehow involved in this Star Trek meets 10,000 Leagues…) and
of course 90210, though that one was in Catalan. Unfortunately, the only things in English
besides the first two I mentioned is Will and Grace, which seems to be in marathon mode during all
prime time hours. I guess that is OK as it prevents us from getting stuck in front of the TV.

Kelly and I just got back from an FC Barcelona match which was pretty uneventful, but we did
run into a couple Americans beforehand at Inpoia, the tapas restaurant run by Ferran Adria’s brother.
The guy turned out to be the head chef of Batali’s Mozza restaurant in LA and after chatting for a bit, we figured out that Kelly and Bryant had a mutual Taiwanese Pop-Star friend. Surprise surprise
I mean really, who doesn’t?

Tomorrow is our last full day in Barcelona. Ugh. It goes by so fast. I don’t know what we are
going to do but there will be lots of eating involved for the 7th day in a row. I am not running
but i AM doing sittups everyday. I figure that will help me keep the belly from bulging too
far out. Seems reasonable, right? On Friday we pick up a car, though we aren’t quite sure
where we’re going yet…Hopefully we’ll figure that out soon…

Well allow me to retort!

Well, Kelly is stealing the thunder of my post by writing one of her own right after me and because this stuff is sorted by date. Now maybe I would normally let this go, but she took an hour to write that last post while I sat here watching Pans Labyrinth on a projection screen in the same bar, trying to remember what the hell was going on during this movie (which I really like, btw)

First, I find it amusing that K spells out my 17 year old gospel translator as “Chingy”. Clearly this is because SHANGY was chinese and kelly is connecting that to chink, which i find to be pretty racist, if you ask me. If you’re reading this, Shanhgy, I’m sorry for Kelly’s behavior. I think all those times that she was called a “giant” in China have affected her. 😛

Secondly, I always knew what they were TRYING to sing at gospel. True, I didn’t catch the Obama part (though honestly, I can’t believe how many people are excited by the election results. We are constantly and metaphorically patted on the back with our results. I’m not sure what people think of McCain, but I know what they think of Palin and are amazed and excited we have elected who we have. There is even a new bar in Barcelona names Bar Obama). For some reason, the Spanish can’t pronounce the “u” in Auction or Block. They “eat” it, as Kelly says.

Third, yea, I don’t go to church. Don’t like it. Don’t believe it in. But hey, when in Rome… I feel like that when you are somewhere, you try ad make the best of your situation and have fun. This is a similar situation to the time Kelly and I got stuck in Copenhagen and ended up in a Water Aerobics class at the hotel before finally being kicked out because the next part “would be impossible for us to understand”.

Ah. I’m just pointing fingers at Kelly because our time here has been fun so far and also because I want you to read my post first, then Kelly’s 🙂

Day One – Singing Negro Spirituals

We arrived in Barcelona at around 10am and headed over to Barceloneta.  I leave the meal details to Tim who has planned this trip around meals and visits to the markets.

My friend Anna, one of my best friends from my study abroad year in Germany, took the day off to hang out with us.  It was so good seeing her and just picking up where we left off four years ago, when I last saw her.  She lives in a really charming neighborhood, and on our way there, we passed many a small restaurants, where mostly older men meet over coffee or  beer.

We had a lazy afternoon saving all our energy for the night’s main activity.  We made our way to a church around Placa de Espanya, where we were supposed to join Anna’s choir practice.  Yes, CHOIR.  GOSPEL choir, to be more precise.  A few months ago, Anna joined Barcelona’s unofficial Gospel Choir, which has become famous for singing at one of the city’s main subway stations.  Since Anna admitted that there were really no black people in the choir nor did any of the singers had to audition to participate, I figured Tim and I would be in good company, seeing that both of us are terrible singers.

As soon as we arrived, Anna went up to one of the choir organizers, who checked off her name.  And then, the organizer asked Tim and I for our names.  This was getting too “official” for me.

We were forewarned that the first hour was playing games, and that night promised some pretty cheesy activities which turned out to be quite alright.  First there was marching right, left, forwards and backwards, according to what the choir director yelled out.  Here, Diesel got really confused because everything was in Catalan.  By sheer luck, , one of the choir organizers, Chingy (for unknown reasons, she never revealed her real name), the only other Asian girl besides me, took Diesel under her wing (and let me point out here that Chingy  is only 17) and helped him through the game.

Then we partnered up with a random person and talked about what we ate the day before, last Sunday and last Wed.  My partner was an excited middle-aged man, who seemed very nice.  As soon as he found out we were from the States, his face lit up and he described his month-long trip to the U.S., where the word “fantastic” was lavishly used.  In great detail, he recounted his adventures in New “Jork,” “California, Grand Canyon and Tennessee.  TENNESSEE?  “What were you doing in the South?,” I asked, in utter confusion.  Turns out he thinks country music is “faaantastic” and he also enjoys dancing to country music.  Go figure.

The games hour went by pretty fast, and finally we all stood in a semi-circle ready to sing some Gospel.  The choir organizers went over the few verses of the song in English, first bases, then altos, then sopranos.  I was shocked.  These people were actually good!  What the heck was I doing there?  I decided I would just lip-sync, which is what I did for the rest of the night.  After a few rounds of practice, we were ready to give it a go, for real.  Everybody was singing with such passion, raising their hands to the heavens, contorting their faces into exaggerrated expressions and dancing.  I looked over across the hall, where Diesel was standing with the rest of the bases, and there he was:  Singing Gospel in Spanish!  Diesel, who refused to go to church even after his poor mom asked him to.  All animated, clapping his hands even, and singing the words:  “Hoy el Senor te llamo, y tu nombre pronuncio.”  The song couldn’t be more religious:  “Today the Lord called you, and He pronounced your name.”  Hallelluiah, for Diesel was filled with the Spirit. And as he walked around, totally uncoordinated trying to clap and do the two-step across the hall, we finally met in the middle of the joyous crowd.  It was then that he whispered in my ear in slight despair:  “I have no idea what I’m singing.”  It was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen him do.

With the 50 something choir members all excited, it was time to move on to the next song.   But before that, the choir director took over the stage and had a few of the younger people recite a poem in Spanish.  It all sounded very familiar, until I realized that they were reciting Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  And off he went, talking about equality and hope and dream and how on Nov 4th, America finally elected a black president.  Tim and I knew that that all of Europe was following our election pretty closely, supporting Obama.  I even had a few of my European friends actually congratulate me on Obama’s win.  But to have the priest give a mini sermon about how the election brought hope to everybody was quite striking.

Anyhow, with that little intro, the choir organizers helped everybody learn the lyrics to the next song.  “No more action black.”  What were they saying???  That just didn’t make any sense to either Tim nor me.  Nor anybody else for that matter, because it became very obvious that a lot of the Spaniards/Catalans that were there didn’t even understand English all that well, especially the older crowd, which made up for their lack of understanding with more dancing and louder singing.  Tim and I both had to look this up and found that there was a bit of a vowel problem and the words were actually “No more AUCTION BLOCK,” which is a negro spiritual, as explained here.

The rest of choir practice was spent practicing this song, followed by a very heated discussion session about how expressive one should be when singing this song.  We were told to close our eyes, raise our hands to the skies, clench our fists, hold other people’s hands and dance to communicate the message of the song, but apparently not everybody agreed with the exaggerated theatrics, so both sides presented their reasons for why one should do that or not, which didn’t go anywhere, really.

Overall, the whole thing was pretty entertaining if not a bit embarrassing at times, when the choir people would hold my hand and tell me how I should sing louder or dance more enthusiastically.

Here’s some footage of choir practice.  Unfortunately it was too dark, but you will notice that the singers are actually very good:




Hi from Barcelona

I can’t believe we’ve already been here for four full days. It has gone by very fast. We haven’t had much luck getting our travel computer (which I meant to tell you about earlier) on wifi, but have been checking email and facebook via other computers. Maybe tomorrow I’ll try harder to find a better connection and even contemplate paying for one (right now I’m on some network called Jazztell and it isn’t strong enough to upload any of the great pictures we have taken since we arrived on Friday morning). We were connected last night to a network from our rented apartment but it mysteriously changed form unsecure to secure about an hour after jumping on it…

A little bit about what we’ve been up to.. On friday morning we arrived on the nonstop AA flight pretty tired as we only managed 4 hours or so of sleep. It was pretty easy to find the train station across the street from the airport despite their attempts to hide it by placing the directional signs at the far end of the airport and behind numerous businesses.

A quick 30 min/5 dollar train ride by renfe and you are in the heart of Barcelona. We were staying with Kelly’s friend Anna for the first couple nights in Barceloneta, which is a little beach section of Barcelona, and due to our combination of exhaustion and excitement, we made a quick stop for cafe con leche and a chorrizo bocadillo. Even though it was only 10:30am, it didn’t stop the old men around us from ordering a couple beers and smoking up a storm. We had forgotten what it was like to live in a city where smoking is still permitted in restaurants and bars…

After meeting Anna (and taking an hour long nap, myself), we chatted for a bit and then headed out for lunch. We jumped right into tapas, though mediocre, with a tortilla patata (basically layered, sliced potatos and cheese), abondigas (meatbballs in tomato sauce), mussels in tomato sauce, potatos, etc. Nothing special but it all came out to 9 euros for a three course meal and a carafe of wine.

Afterwards, Kelly and I headed back to Anna’s and took a 3 hour nap. When we awoke, we were hungry again and so we stumbled down the street to a little place that seemed to be doing a pretty brisk business, despite it only being 7:30pm (super early for dinner here in Spain). We went in and were not disappointed by our little meal in the flourescent white light bleached bar. It was packed and so we took a space at the stand up bar, ordering bombas (little croquettas of uh, something), sepia (cuttlefish) that was thrown on the flattop and finished in the Spanish favorite sauce of olive oil, parsley, garlic and lemon. I’m not sure I’ve had cuttlefish before but this hooked me on it. Very similar to calamari.

We also took down some croquettas. The best part of the dinner was running into a young English girl, so excited about finding and getting into this bar that was apparently in her guidebook that she lost all ability to communicate with the owner. Instead of ordering off the menu, she started asking the guy things like “pollo? conjeho?” and then finally asked the guy what was supposed to be “What do you recommend?” I’m guessing it was not perfect Spanish, but he smiled enthusiatically and mentioned the bombas. He next asked in a way that even I understood as “How many do you want?” to which she replied “El Senohor! I am very hungry!” as she rubbed her belly. I was thinking “he just wants to know a number”, but somehow she finally conveyed through mixed languages that she wanted other things too. She ended up with shrimp/gambas and I don’t know what else, but she did end up happy.

The best part of the night was what happened next. Anna took K & myself to her normal Friday night activity: Gospel Choir Practice! Yes, we spent the next two hours playing games and singing English gospel songs. I can’t believe I had to go to Spain to sing gospel, but there we were singing “No more auction block for me!” with 75 other white people. The conductor even spent a good 20 minutes talking about Obama and what his election meant to the civil rights movement in America, not knowing that there were two Americans in the audience, trying to get them to put more heart into the singing. I still have the images in my head of all these white Spanish people of ages 14 to 75 raising their hearts, voices and arms to belt out this song. I even met two new friends here who helped me translate what was going on after I got separated into the “bass” section. One girl, I didn’t even get her name, but the other was Shanghi, which they nicknamed her because she was from Shanghai. She has since added me to her facebook. Hi Shanghi!

We slept well that night but the next night wasn’t so good. I didn’t get to sleep until 5am, though K seems to sleep just fine. Sat we walked around the marina, bought a few things and headed to Sitges, a small coastal town about 45 minutes from Barcelona by train where we met a friend of Anna. The town is beautiful and we arrived just in time to catch sunset. I have an amazing photograph that I will upload as soon as I get that stable connection.

We spent Sunday on the beach, reading our ebooks in the sun and finally settling down to a big lunch of Arroz Negre and Razor Clams before checking into our new apartment near Parc Montjuic. The apartment is very nice and we’re happy to have our own place and not have to worry about intruding any longer on Anna. We spent today at Parc Quell, which was just packed with tourists before walking a couple ks to a hospital that was sort of designed by Gaudi and finally La Sagrada Familia, which is still a good 15 years away from being completed, but amazing nontheless.

Craving a homemade meal, we headed to Barcelona’s largest market and bought some veggies, seafood and chicken to cook up later tonight but because we were so hungry, we stopped for a small bite to eat and had some amazing sepia and fedua. Now we’re sitting in a bar at 9:20pm about to head home and cook up our dinner…