Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"Colon Fluid"

I just passed a sign on the highway in Barcelona clearly marked, "Colon Fluid." Is it my eyes? It's one thing to feel duped by another language. It's another thing when the language you speak starts speaking to you in another tongue. The verdict on Spain? Let's do the math.

Espresso is as common as water in Spain. There's coffee with breakfast, but there's also coffee with lunch, and then coffee after dinner. But dinner is also at 10p. Need a nap? Have a coffee! If you're coming from the States, you need to lose the idea that coffee is functional. It's not about staying awake. It's just an ongoing part of the day.
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It's cool to smoke in Spain. I had a fleeting moment of nostalgia yesterday as I enjoyed my lunch indoors under a cloud of smoke ... and then I felt like throwing up. Restaurants and bars bear encouraging signs: "Smoking Permitted!" If you want the nonsmoking section, that's outside, and it's 20 degrees cooler out there. Not cool.
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No clocks in Spain. Don't have a watch? Too bad! There are no clocks out on the street, no clocks in or outside shops and restaurants, none in hotel rooms. And of course, your cellphone won't work. When you're traveling, this is just downright dangerous.
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You could eat off the floor of the Barcelona airport.
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The Barcelona lisp? Come on! Totally adorable.
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Didn't see it.
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Fat, Greedy, Ravenous Old Women
I spent twenty minutes in a bakery yesterday trying to buy a croissant. Ten small, squat old grandmas yelled their orders over my shoulder and I couldn't get mine in because new ones kept coming in the door and cutting in line in front of me. They also cut at the airport.
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Spain: -34 points (not recommended)

Monday, March 22, 2010

USW reviewed in Princeton Alumni Weekly (and maybe something about me, too)

Not that I think I'm cool or anything ...

Read the full story.

The Final Resting Place of Brünnhilde's Helmet

It's a bird. It's a plane. It's ... Flight of the Navigator?

Folks, this is an opera house.

This is not a joke. The coolest opera house in the Universe is in Valencia, Spain. It's cooler than Sydney (which looks like a giant white pirate ship) and it's cooler than Oslo (which looks like a half-sunken Titanic). And the best part is that the inside of the coolest opera house in the world looks like Sea World without the water. It's navy blue, turquoise and aquamarine all over. Opera singers aren't quite as cool as sea life, but it's not far off.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Little More Valencia with that Barcelona, Please

I've often thought that if I could do without sleep I could do so much more. I could learn things. Go places. Today started at 3am. Not by choice. My neighbor at the hostel, who, as I learned, is a soccer fan from Manchester, is an enormous big man and an Class A snorer. In the wee hours, I banged on walls and doors to no avail, except that I managed to annoy the rest of the people on the hall. So finally I got up and went outside. It's surprising what you'll find on the streets of Barcelona at 6am on a Sunday. Crowds is what. 10 men standing around an abandoned piano. Roosters crowing inside padlocked boxes. And lines of people getting espresso. I'm not sure if they were just waking up, or struggling on through the day before, like me.

You can have your Barcelona. What's to like? Beefcakes from Manchester? "Dunkin' Coffee" and Starbucks on the Rambla? Basta! Last night I saw The Opera Show downtown, which was truly amazing as long as I thought all the performers were men in drag. Suddenly Lakmé was riveting. How are they hitting those notes?! Then I realized I was wrong. Now all I can say is I've seen the Alice in Chains version of the Queen of the Night aria. I've had too much tapas and mediocre wine, and I'm ready to move on.

Valencia, fortunately, allows me to at least fantasize that I'm in a Mediterranean country. The plants look all twisted and queer and on the train from Barcelona we passed the most gorgeous golfing club I've ever seen in my life. The whole country is a big golf club. (Tip: when traveling by train in Spain, do book yourself in preferente class. They will throw snacks at you like it was part of a parade.) Also, do bring good walking shoes (I didn't) and for godssake avoid hotel elevators (I had to get pried out with a crowbar).

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Day of Magical Snoring and Baby Aliens

At 5a last night the snoring through the wall of 320 Operaramblas was unbearable. Given other circumstances, it would have been hugely funny. Given present circumstances (jet lag) it was not. I trooped down to the front desk, explained my situation, and moved to room 420. I eventually started to fall asleep as the morning light came through the windows. And then I heard a huge, loud snore from the room next to me. This snoring was different. Louder and more desperate. I moved back to 320.

But another and stranger encounter with snorers of this world (I actually feel pity for them, in addition to hating them -- surely they haven't had a good sleep in years?) happened earlier on the plane to Zürich. Back in the rear of the plane with the hoi polloi, a large Indian man on my right feel asleep 2 inches from my ear and snored into it for the first leg of the trip. Desperate to improve an impossible-to-improve situation, I woke him and asked, Was there anything I could do to help him sleep better and snore less? More pillows? Some water? He replied in broken English that he would strive to do better, and then fell immediately back to sleep. And he stopped snoring. Completely. For the next five hours.

And now, apropos of nothing at all other than sheer shock and awe, some photos from the morning market fare in downtown Barcelona. I can't read this sign but I think it says BABY ALIENS.

Why anyone would be eating this is ...

... uh ...

Oh God!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Things We Forget

Two years ago I got trapped in International Terminal at O'Hare on an empty stomach. Not knowing any better, I had swept past security and into the terminal only to discover that there was no food there. I don't mean there's no good food (and hence I'd eaten a half-smashed Snickers before boarding and felt nauseous for eight hours....) No, I mean there is literally no food. The international wing at O'Hare is the only place on American soil where there are no vending machines. There is one fold-out, painted plywood box from a third world bazaar, with a couple neat rows of disposable cameras and Advil 2-packs, and its vendor goes home at 8pm.

Today, I mosey up to the man guarding the first set of security stops and offer him my ticket. He says, Have you eaten? (Who is this guy? Do I look hungry?) I point to the sign leading down the terminal that says "SNACKS." He says, If you haven't eaten, go back. NO SNACKS IN THE INTERNATIONAL TERMINAL. Duh! How could I have forgotten? Solo travel rule number one: bring your own snacks. Do not rely on the concerns of the international wing on behalf of its travelers. It doesn't care about you.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Unperformance of Fitness in Ratner Gymnasium

A couple years ago I blogged about the strange fashion I saw in Berlin's women-only gyms. According to a similar logic that enables female fashion in eastern Nebraska to lockstep one decade behind the times (if in the late eighties women were doing this with their hair

in Papillion, Nebraska, they were still doing it when I went to college in 1997) Berliners still lift weights in thong aerobics leotards. But in both of these cases, I have to assume that these fashion choices are choices. (Someone took the time to make a decision and follow it through.) Maybe they're misguided, maybe they're slow. But they're still deciding: this looks good on me. I'll take it!

On the other hand, the fashion cluelessness at the University of Chicago is just that--complete unconsciousness. And I mean fashion not only in the sense of what one wears (pocket protectors, hair nets, coke-bottle glasses) but as comportment generally (how one walks, talks, poses, assumes an attitude). In short, if fashion = the sum of all the choices that go into determining how one's body is presented to the world, in this case, fashion = 0. (I'm not sure that was actual math.)

One has to assume that the students here are simply too overworked (under-exercised), overstimulated (caffeine replacements) or underexposed (to other human beings?) to think about what they're doing with their bodies at all. (What, commit myself to conscious action when I get dressed in the morning? You must be crazy! I have to get to the bottom of Lacan's &<>$!!) This might make the U of C the one place on earth apart from Moore's utopia where everyone might as well be wearing unisuits because what they're wearing conveys exactly the same information as a unisuit: "what I'm wearing is of no consequence; it is not integral to who I am." But of course, it's entirely integral to who we are, because if we care not at all for what we wear, that says a great deal about our attitude toward our bodies. It says my body is beside the point.

Case in point? Back to Ratner. I'll give a quick run-down of my choicest choices.

There's Speedo, the guy with a military haircut and a vigorous ballet routine who drags his "girlfriend" to the gym and then stares at his crotch in the mirror for 45 minutes while doing every exercise that involves legs spread apart. There's Thirsty, who needs to drink at least once a minute, who gets perceptibly nervous when anyone else tries to use the drinking fountain, and who has difficulty navigating space with other bodies in it. (About a week ago, Thirsty threw himself down onto the ground 3 inches from my right elbow, did 10 crunches, noticed someone at the fountain, sprung to his feet, and nearly crushed my skull. I don't pity these folks. Self-absorption & stupidity in one case, obliviousness and a possible proprioceptive injury in another, do not trouble me. But then there's Priceless, the woman who looks like she escaped from the exotics wing of the Salpêtrière who walks up and down the hallway ... sideways. With a book. And today, a man pedaled a stationary bike so violently that it hobbled like a bouncing laundry machine all the way into the center of the gym and straight into the triceps dip station. I think I'll call him Time to Finish My Dissertation.