Thursday, March 26, 2009

Two Musings on Socialism

In the interest of actually writing updates on my doings and goings-on, I will try to keep future blog entries shorter and less philosophical.  Well, shorter.

Yesterday I wandered around the Barri Gotic in search of Plaza George Orwell.  He apparently spent some time in Barcelona during the Guerra Civil, and the Catalans of the 1930's, ever comrades in anarchy and socialism, named a plaza after him.  

On Sunday, I went for the first time to see Castellers compete.  Castellers are the troupes of athletes who build human towers, sometimes up to several stories high.  Watching them all cooperate to put up a tower, with thirty or so members at the bottom creating a base, then layers of increasingly smaller team members climbing up to the very top, was extraordinary impressive and inspiring.  After each successful Castell, there was a huge amount of energy and accomplishment that surged throughout the group.  And what's more, the three groups--ostensibly competitors--would actually help out the other troupes.  Each troupe would send ten or so members to help build up the base of the team that was building their Castell, and then that team would reciprocate.  Historians believe that the hoplite army was the origin of Greek Democracy; that standing side-by-side with one's fellow citizens, each man forming a link in the phalanx, breeds a sense of camaraderie that necessitates equality in place of monarchy.  Could it be that the sport of Castellers, which includes members of both sexes, and necessarily of all age groups (the one on top is always a child of 4 or 5), and the cooperative nature of competitions be the nature of Barcelona socialism?

Friday, March 13, 2009


My mentors have long assured me that I would reach this point, this level where I feel like I am just about to break through, just about to crest the ridge, just about to finish the final lap of the 1650, just about to….understand Catalan.

What they never told me, is that I would pass this point.

Threshold!  Alas!  You cannot hold me!!

That’s right, folks, I can finally understand Catalan.  The breakthrough happened late Wednesday night, when I found myself able to understand 90% of my professor’s lecture in Nationalism, Federalism, and Territorial Structures (the other 10% was a result of me zoning out).  Considering that the first lecture consisted of me mainly guessing at the subject that he was addressing based on nearly-universal cognates like “federalism” (federalisme), “modern states” (estats moderns), and “Juan Carlos I” (Joan Carles I), I applaud myself at my speedy absorption of the language.

Granted, I cannot yet produce the language, but passive fluency is definitely one of the stepping-stones to the natural acquisition of language.  Of course, my passive fluency is still selective, as my ability to understand Professor Miquel Caminal is no doubt partially due to the fact that I have become accustomed to his voice, speech habits, and lecturing style.  And besides, the highly-specialized vocabulary (see above) of the subject matter means that I really haven’t needed to expand my knowledge of Catalan words beyond a few prepositions and auxiliary verbs.  However, given the new confidence acquired Wednesday night, I have found myself able to respond to questions posed by Catalan speakers without first having to confusedly ask “¿Cómo?” and then have them switch to Castellano.

Likewise, my confidence and proficiency in Spanish has increased dramatically.  With the exception of my friend from Andalucia, I am able to understand virtually any Spanish speaker.  This of course creates comical situations in the classroom, where the students to whom I teach conversational American English believe I do not understand Spanish.  I was unable to contain my laughter when three thirteen-year-old girls proceeded to bicker among themselves as to whether or not they should ask if I am gay.

Pues, no tiene novia...”

Y lleva una camisa mojada…”

“¿Quizás sea gay?”

Instead, they proceeded to ask me if I lived in a house or an apartment building. 

As of right now, I have only optimism for my future acquisition of Catalan and perfection of Castellano.  A most excellent opportunity has afforded itself this coming Sunday, when I plan to attend a calçotada, some form of Catalan barbeque involving the countryside, onions, and bibs.  Although attending involves my waking up at some 7:00am on a Sunday (I have to catch the 8:40 Renfe out of Sans Estació, itself a 30-minute metro-ride away), I could not turn down the generosity of Ángels, the director of the English department at the high school where I volunteer.   Besides, when else will I have the opportunity to attend such a distinct cultural phenomenon?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Seven Modern Technologies to be Developed in Spain

1.  Coat hooks. 

I have a seemingly unusual penchant for choosing to wear a coat and attempting to use public restrooms.  Because coat hooks—one of the superior inventions of Western Civilization—do not exist in Spanish bathrooms, I am required either to drape my coat across my knees, or to contrive some mechanism for storing it on the door handle, stall-wall, or handicap railing.  This inconvenience can be avoided by placing hooks of pre-determined sizes on the insides of stall-doors.

2.  Speed-walking.  

Invented by early American industrialists and the poor, over-worked immigrants that they employed, the science of speed-walking (not to be confused with the pseudo-sport Power-walking) was perfected by the Germans in the 1930’s.  How this technology never made its way south of the Alps is beyond me.  Its introduction to Spain will greatly smooth the running of business, government, and daily transportation.  It also means that I will no longer have to deal with confused middle-aged women who believe that they are taking their Sunday after-church stroll down Calle Sardenya, when in fact, they are obstructing my rush through the stuffy, unnaturally-lit metro tunnels at 9:45 on a Tuesday morning.  If I miss the L3 out of Plaza Catalunya by 1.5 seconds one more time…

3.  Pizza.  

Spaniards, and Europeans in general, seem to have confused the cheese-smeared, baked cotton t-shirts they eat with pizza.  Pizza, by nature, should be crusty, saucy, doughy, cheesy, greasy, and full of flavor.  What Spaniards call pizza is crusty, floury, and completely bereft of what anyone would call flavor, sauce or toppings.  “La Pizza mas Fina” is the slogan of one pizzeria, and the picture that accompanies it shows a chef ironing dough to make it just that much thinner.  Pizza, like power-walking (but unlike hotdogs and hamburgers, which, I am told, were not invented by Americans or the residents of Frankfurt and Hamburg, but by Frenchmen living in Switzerland--or possibly Swissmen who happened to speak French) is a truly All-American invention.  However, unlike speed-walking, the original model was indeed the best, and no further improvements or detractions need be made.  Keep pizza American!

4.  Motion-detectors on elevators.  

These—ostensibly—already exist on Spanish elevators.  However, they make the mistake of placing the motion-detectors inside the doors.  This critical error entails two further failings: one, that it is possible to be entirely within the elevator, and yet still obstruct the doors from closing by stepping in front of the still-exposed detector; and two, that if you happen to be on the other side of the door, that is, coming into the elevator, the motion detector does nothing to help you, as the door will hit you (and refuse to stop closing as it hits you) before you ever reach the motion-detector.  Motion detectors should be place synchronously within the closing doors, and, if possible, accompanied by a pressure-detector to prevent me getting crushed another time. 

5.  Tap-water.  

We’ve already been over this.  But just to re-cap: please make it taste better. 

6.  Watches.  

Or, in a more general sense, clocks.  While it is refreshing to show up fifteen-minutes late (because of that lady in the metro station) and find that the person with whom you had a meeting is still occupied and thus did not notice that you were late, it is equally as exacerbating when you arrive on time, and are required to wait twenty-minutes for your appointment to arrive.  Even worse is rushing to get to a class on time, and sitting around with nothing to do for  half an hour while you and half the class wait for the professor to show up (the other half of the class is enjoying wine and cigarettes at the bar down the street, and probably won’t bother showing up until the last ten minutes of class).

      7.  Couches.  

These, like motion-detectors, already theoretically exist in Spain.  However, they are seldom employed in their most perfect form—that is, as vehicles for nap-taking.  While the Spanish have shown amazing resilience towards the industrialization of modern lifestyles by maintaining the mid-day siesta, this two-hour break does little good if one must commute 45-minutes each way to reach home, sofa and bed.  Stragetically placing couches in University libraries would circumvent this inconvenience, and allow for heavily-fatigued students (of which there will be many more once the controversial Bolonya reforms are enforced) to pass out on surfaces at least marginally more comfortable than book-ridden desks.