Nau Côclea Residency - Log 10

I spent my final day packing and trying to finish up Darker Side.  I cut it really close - the painting was wet most of the evening but finally around 9:00pm I was able to wrap it up to put in my suitcase.  That last night I woke up a number of times to blow my nose.

The next morning I took the train back into Barcelona and then switched to another train that took me to the airport, where I then had to find the bus to take me to Terminal 1 - the international departures terminal.  Due to the infrequent train schedule and my therefore early start, I thought I was going to have to wait at my gate for about two to three hours, but actually by the time I got through security and customs to my gate it was only about half an hour before boarding (though boarding was over an hour ahead of departure). 

I ended up getting stuck in a middle seat, which is particularly unpleasant on a ten hour flight.  Luckily, the woman next to me started trying to figure out how to sit next to her partner who was two rows back and after they asked some other guy who weirdly preferred his middle seat, I volunteered myself to switch with her partner who luckily was on an aisle.  Then the flight attendant saw me and since I was clearly willing to move, asked if I could move again to bring another family together.  She offered a window seat (no thanks - I like to be able to get up without asking someone else to move) but I countered with aisle and she made it happen.  As the flight started taking off, I realized that the stuffiness last night was because I was, in fact, getting a cold.  Honestly, while I'd have preferred no cold at all, it was better that it happened on a travel day and not during my last few days in Spain.  Getting the aisle seat was super helpful, though, as I made at least ten different visits to the bathroom for tissues.

That flight also had some of the most abundant food services I've ever encountered.  They had more than twice the amount of services that the initial flight had - we had a full pasta meal, then later they offered ice cream, then they offered pretzels, and then they brought another slightly smaller meal around.  This was all quite nice since the rest of my travel was uneventfully but tightly sequenced such that as soon as I landed in Charlotte and found my next gate I had less than ten minutes before boarding it so I wouldn't have had time to get more food if I had wanted any.

Finally I arrived in Kansas City, and though my bags were really slow to come out on the carousel, they appeared eventually and my wonderful colleague Susan was waiting to take me home.  It is so nice to have a trustworthy, friendly face to welcome you back after some time away.

Nau Côclea Residency - Log 8

I made a quick evening visit to the French-Spanish border town of Portbou on Friday.  Clara said I'd want to see the architecture and that it's a kind of uncomfortable/creepy place - not touristic at all, though.  When I got there, it honestly didn't seem that different than other small Catalonian towns (and did seem to have a bit of tourist industry going) although there was more decay evident.

Then the next day I went back to Barcelona to do the other half of the tourist bus route.  I primarily wanted to see La Sagrada Familia and Park Guell, but also wanted to check out the Glories district.  After eating a really nice lunch of sangria, gazpacho, and coca (a sort of focaccia/pizza) with a green tea cheesecake for dessert (though I have to say, cheesecake in Spain is pretty much uniformly disappointing - the texture is not smooth and creamy but rather kind of fragmented and crumbly), I headed for La Sagrada Familia.  When I got there, it turned out tickets weren't available to be sold until two hours later and at that point you'd still have to wait in a long line, so it would probably be at least three hours just to get in.  So I only got to see the outside, which was nice but also partially covered in construction.  Then I went to Park Guell, which requires quite a hike from the bus stop.  Once I reached it, I found out that it, too, had over a two hour wait to even be able to then wait in line to buy a ticket.  I could walk the circumference of the park for free, which I did, but there wasn't much to see as they'd purposefully gated off the actual park to start charging entry a few years ago. 

I was irritated, to tell the truth; I felt the whole situation was pretty opaque and tourist-gouging (you could buy a much more expensive "cut-the-line" guided tour).  This type of multiple-level entry delay doesn't typically happen (as opposed to just a line, like at the Eiffel Tower or the Sistine Chapel) and wasn't something I was made aware of in conversation or online prior to experiencing it in Barcelona.  As a result of both its frustratingly sprawling nature and the waste of my time trying to see these sights, I have to say that despite the hype Barcelona is definitely not one of my preferred cities in Spain, much less in all of Europe or my overall global travels.  Within Catalonia, I prefer Girona.

On Sunday I was invited to Clara's sister's neighboring house to have lunch with a group of about eight people.  First we dunked ourselves in the outdoor bath to cool off (the days here are regularly around 90-95*F) and then had a bit of vermouth and tapas followed by gazpacho, salad, and paella, followed by a fruit tart, chocolate, coffee, and limoncello.  It was a really nice, drawn-out meal with lively conversation.

Then the following day, Clara wanted me to go back to Barcelona with her, first stopping at Granollers Centre to see an artist residency/studio center there and then continuing on to Hangar, another arts center in Barcelona.  I met some really cool people at the Granollers Centre, and then Clara and Lourdes, an artist friend of Clara's, and I all headed off in Lourdes' car to Barcelona.  We had a light lunch and then made our way to Hangar, where Clara was to be interviewed by one of the artists there while Lourdes and I hung out.  We had the option to leave and explore, but for the first two hours, we just sat and conversed, as it was very hot outside and we were tired from all the earlier activity, plus our conversation was surprisingly intense and interesting, given that my Spanish is not the best and Lourdes doesn't speak English.  But after two hours, we decided to leave and get some gelato.  Apparently just as soon as we finally left Clara's interview was done, but Lourdes' phone was on silent and I just didn't hear mine (it gets really bad reception here, so I'm not sure it even made any noise).  Lourdes noticed that Clara had called, though, so we headed back with gelato in hand.  Clara and I were supposed to take the train back to her car, but since we were a bit later than intended due to the phone/gelato confusion, Lourdes decided to drive us back to her car.  Both on the way to Barcelona but particularly on the way back out, they kept getting us lost with competing and often wrong ideas about where to go (Clara seemed more right than wrong, though).  I kept offering my GPS up, but they seemed to enjoy the heated discourse and resulting forays into weird dead-ends.  They both said a GPS wasn't necessary, but I'd guess that we spent at least 40 minutes that day on being lost.  I think it's a cultural disparity, as they really thought it was odd that I kept suggesting it...

The next day Clara and I went to a bird sanctuary in the early evening - we got to see some cranes and ducks from afar as well as some really cool jumping fish, but not much wildlife up close - and then to her friends' hotel in L'Escala for a really tasty dinner of mussels (I explained to them earlier that I do eat bivalves since in the ways that matter to me - cognition and pain reception - scientists believe they are no different than plants).  Elena, one of the pair running the hotel, also showed me her artist studio.  I really liked her artwork; it was also inspired by nature but in a much more abstract, sculptural way.

Nau Côclea Residency - Log 6

On Saturday I went to Barcelona for the first time.  (Well, the first time was when I flew in, but I didn't see anything other than the train station, so I don't think that counts.)

The train ride is long: it's about two hours away.  Add to that the twenty minute walk and I got there around midday.  I decided to take one of the tourist buses as Barcelona is a sprawlingly large city and many reviews have noted that these tourist buses are actually decent methods of traversing it.  There are two different routes the buses take - I plan to go back another day to take the other route, but I started with the route that went by the Olympic arena because right nearby is the Barcelona Botanic Garden.  I stopped there first; the garden was worth the cost (1.9 euro) but was all open air/open climate so it wasn't as interesting as gardens that are able to create greenhouses with appropriate microclimates.  On the rest of that route, I saw the Arc de Triomf, the Passeig de Colom, the Poble Espanyol, Gaudi's La Pedrera/Casa Milà, and Gaudi's Casa Batlló.  I also stopped to get lunch in Plaza España and then walked up La Rambla back to the Passeig de Gracia where I caught the last train back home.

I painted the next day and most of the following day, with a break to go to the beach.  We went to a very pretty little beach about a fifteen minute drive away from Camallera near L'Escala.  I swam a little, but I don't like saltwater in my eyes and mouth so I mostly floated around, sat on the beach, investigated crabs in rocks with a small child with a stick (he didn't hurt them, just excavated them from their hidey-holes) and just enjoyed the Mediterranean atmosphere.

Then on Tuesday, the day of the summer solstice, I went back to Girona, as I wanted to make sure I felt like I had fully explored the town and I hadn't seen the cathedral, Arabic baths, or old monastery yet.  It rained a fair amount, though, so a good bit of time was spent sheltering in odd shops.  I had a funny conversation with one of the shopkeepers.  About half the people I meet in Spain compliment me effusively on my Spanish, and the other half clearly think I'm awful at it.  My skill entirely depends on the situational context - what I need to talk about, what else is going on, whether I'm stressed for time, etc. - but I'm aware that even at my best I am merely functional in the language.  I can only discuss superficial ideas and speak simply, but I do get by and I have a decent accent.  Anyway, I was talking with this shopkeeper about the weather, and the holiday, and my residency, and so on, and she complimented my Spanish.  I said it was a little ugly but functional, which is typically how I reply.  Her response to me, however, I found really funny: "What's really important is that you understand me, and this you clearly do quite well."  

The holiday we were discussing was the Saint John festival in honor of the solstice and we had a party to celebrate it that evening in my studio space.  A number of people came over, several of whom I had met previously (a Scottish immigrant artist named Amelia; Clara's sister; Jordi, the musician using the smaller studio attached to my house; Clara's boyfriend; and then a fair number of new people.  Amelia and a couple other guests played some lovely, old music that I half recognized on the violin and guitar and a potluck supper and drinks were available all night long.  Amelia had brought a young artist friend of hers along who's in his early twenties and just starting to figure out his skill set and artistic path.  Just as the fireworks came out and were starting to be set off, he asked me if I'd sit for a portrait.  I kind of wanted to watch the fireworks, but I acceded and let him draw me.  He kept bursting into laughter while drawing, which didn't seem like the best sign, but I think he was just insecure about what he was doing and the drawing was also veering into an overly solemn expression.  He said that he would really like to learn accurate illustration skills but that despite seeking them out, there weren't any well-taught courses on it.  After some time he finished and showed it to me - I thought he had a good hand but my face was a little vertically stretched.  Then I thought we were done, but he asked if I would draw a portrait of him.  This was quite clever of him, as I felt obligated since he'd done mine, so I did one in his sketchbook for him.  Clara told me I'm a "good drawer" and I garnered other praise from attendees, so that was nice.  The party as a whole was a really good time that felt very medieval what with the music and the summer solstice celebration and the general ambiance.