Tuesday, March 9, 2010

adventures in spain with mom

(i started this entry last week--i wrote a paragraph here and there when i had a break at work.)

hi. we're back. we managed to fly in right before the snow started last thursday. i went to work on friday and was maybe one of 15 people on our entire floor to come in (the floor is big). i also didn't have much to do so i basically closed my office door, blasted grooveshark, and read every single article on the nytimes as well as every blog post on apartmenttherapy and brownstoner. it wasn't so bad.

spain was great. i feel like it was such an educational experience. the great thing about traveling to other countries is you're constantly comparing things--food, sights, smells, sounds, architecture, people, design, fashion, culture, the list goes on--and during that comparative analysis you end up learning a lot not only about the new place but also about your own country, yourself, and life in general. and it was fun to do that aloud with my mom, who is very perceptive (and also very not PC). the interesting thing about traveling with my mom was that we ended up doing that comparison three-way. it was spain vs US and also spain vs korea...which, if you think about it, is really funny because she hasn't been there in 18 years. still, i guess it's only natural for our parents to think like that.

so here are some observations that we made and some interesting things we noticed while in spain.

overall, the food was good. everything is well-made. whether it was a hot dog, or a fancy meal, whatever they cooked, they cooked it well. the bread is amazing. why is american bread so awful in general? every piece of bread i had was so crusty and crisp on the outside, and so soft and delicious on the inside. even their fast food places had rows and rows of bakery-fresh baguettes. their seafood is very different--lots of clams (berberechos were my favorite) and lots of langostinos (those mini lobster looking things). the jamon was good but it wasn't as good as i had imagined it would be. maybe i'm too used to american versions of ham, i'm not sure. it was surprisingly not salty though, which was good because american ham is usually way too salty. the iberian pork we had was so soft (it had been cooked for 14 hours) and savory. what we did notice is that as far as we could tell, there isn't that much variety in spanish food. it's a lot of bread, jamon, cheese, baguette sandwiches, iberian pork, sausages, and seafood (either in paella or cooked by itself). so my mom then felt obliged to remind me that there is no food like korean food, where you could eat a different dish every day for 365 days and still have dishes left to try. yes, i know, i said. barcelona being a big city, there was some variety in food--japanese, chinese, italian, even a korean restaurant. but when we went to malaga, we saw ONE non-spanish restaurant, and it was a chinese restaurant that had closed down. after living somewhere like NY, where literally every type of food is at your disposal, i think it'd be hard to live somewhere like malaga and be limited to, well, basically one type of cuisine. although the weather may make up for that.

one of the things i loved seeing the most were the markets they have in spain. we went to them in both barcelona and malaga. they have such fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses, meats, and seafood. what freaked my mom and me out were the rabbits (whole) and the goat (i think) heads. the heads were skinned but the eyeballs were left in! ugh! so gross. they're staring at you all googly-eyed every time you walk by. the fruit is SO cheap there. i saw 3 euros for 1 kilo of strawberries. at first i thought, 3 euros for a pound? ok. but then i realized it was a kilo, which is 2.2 (right?) times a pound. so it was a little over 4 bucks for 2.2 pounds of strawberries, which is insanely cheap.

i'd say beer is cheaper than water but their water is really cheap too. we had beer with almost every meal. it was usually about 2 euros which is less than $3 for a bottle. the spanish beers we had (estrella damm, a.k. damm, san miguel, etc.) were very good.

there aren't that many spaniards in NY. i feel like my idea of what spanish people look like is based on nadal and antonio banderas (who, btw, is from malaga!). i feel like you need to see a constant sea of faces of a certain people to get a sense of what they look like, what their distinguishing traits are, what their facial expressions are like. after being in spain, i'm able to get that sense. hard to explain "what a spaniard looks like" of course, but i have that sense now in my mind. in general, the people were very friendly. if i asked a question speaking spanish, they would gladly reply in spanish but obviously slow down their speaking so i would understand. i think no matter where you are though, cities are cities. NYers are notorious for being or at least seeming unfriendly (i am probably guilty of this), and it's sort of the same in barcelona. people are busy, they're on the run, and they're not necessary smiling while they're doing it. but i think that's just the sense i got from the people i observed on the streets. when i did have to speak with someone, they were always extremely polite and friendly.

true to the stereotype that europeans are more PDA than americans, there were lots of couples hugging and kissing in public, or, as my mom called it, "making a movie." also, the spanish population seems pretty elderly. people in barcelona were definitely more fast-paced. things in malaga were much slower and quieter.

the affordable gold standard of fashion in spain seems to be zara (is it a spanish brand?). it is EVERYWHERE. i think we walked by 3 or 4 of them in barcelona. it's cheaper than the american version so we shopped around a bit. the usual high-end stores were there (my mom nabbed a nice pair of sunglasses from burberry for a good price) but in general, i thought the fashion was behind NY. also, something funny i noticed is that you know how boys sag their pants? well, there are more girls sagging pants in spain than boys. it's weird. i mean, what girls do that here? except for skater girls in middle school? but lots of girls and adult women were doing it as a very proactive fashion statement. even mannequins had saggy pants in stores.

the buildings are just unbelievable. i think as americans, we appreciate european architecture so much because there are no thousand-year-old buildings in america. what's the oldest building we have, 300 years old, maybe? the malaga cathedral (i think the construction for it started in the 1500s) was maybe the most amazing building we saw. i posted some pictures on fb. my mom and i walked in, and when you take in with your eyes the size and magnitude and intricacies of the cathedral, you are literally speechless. and it's so humbling to think of the time, energy, money, dedication it took these people to create something like that when there was no electricity, no cranes, no machines.

every little corner and every square in barcelona and spain is exquisite and endearing. they probably don't even notice it but my mom and i loved just taking long walks around the cities looking at the architecture.

here i mainly want to take about the siesta. barcelona doesn't do it anymore, so we forgot about it until we arrived in malaga and it was a ghost town at 1pm (or at 13:00). this old man saw my mom and me sitting on a park bench and started talking to us. when he realized i spoke spanish he got really excited. we ended up "hanging out" with him and walking around malaga with him for over an hour. he said he was retired and just taking walks for his health. so i asked him, "do people really go home and sleep during siesta?" and he said "claro!" and he said it in this "duh, of course they do" manner. it's so wild for us to imagine that, but i like the idea. even if i can't go home. please set up a bed in my office so i can lock my door and sleep for an hour. no emails, no phone calls, no partners tracking me down to make one punctuation changes to documents. that would be nice. you know we all doze after lunch anyway, don't front.

anyway there is so much else that i want to write about spain but i should just post this entry and write more when i have time.

oh, and i didn't run my race. it was the sunday after i got back from spain and the ground was still covered in snow. i didn't want to risk it, esp. when i knew i wasn't in shape for it. i'm going to sign up for a 5K for the summer and train for that. i'm looking forward to it. when i find one i want to sign up for, i'll write about it and yall can enter the race with me!