Saturday, June 9, 2007


Barcelona 1 - 1 Espanyol

I am still in shock.
I can't believe such a glorious game at the Camp Nou could end in such a way. It is shocking.
In a very important game against their hated cross-town rivals Espanyol, Barcelona came down from 0-1 to tie the score at the end of the first half, and then went up 2-1. They were playing brilliantly, Messi especially, and the Camp Nou was full and rocking. It was quite a spectacle, and I couldn't believe that my housemate Bea had actually hooked me up with a ticket. I was at the biggest home match of the year.
At the same time in Zaragoza, the home side was taking it to Madrid, leading by 1-0 and then 2-1, deep into the 2nd half. Because Madrid and Barcelona are tied for first, a B win coupled with a M loss would, with one game left, almost certainly win it for Barca. The place was ready to pop.

Then terror struck. It may well go down as the single minute that determined the Liga 07.
It was around the 42nd minute. The man sitting in front of us cursed out loud and groaned and started telling everyone around that Madrid had tied their game at 2. This was a real shame-- the entire stadium had gone bonkers for both Zaragoza goals that put them in the lead (many spectators show up to the game with earphones to listen at the same time on the radio. Thus, although it was prohibited to post the score of the game on the stadium scoreboard, the crowd reacted immediately to the radio commentators, and the players obviously knew that Madrid was losing.) Well, no matter: even if Madrid salvaged a tie, a Barca win would make them controllers of their own destiny.
And what destiny! Not 30 seconds later, Espanyol got a nice pass downfield and found one of their aging starts, Tamudo, on a breakaway. (The underlying irony: both Tamudo and Espanyol's other key player, De la Peña, are from Barcelona; the latter, who had an incredible game, used to actually play for Barca.) The goalie was forced to come out and try to cut off the angle, and he neatly stuck it between Valdes's legs and into the net for his second goal of the game (as if to spit in the face of Messi’s two wonderful goals-- one of which involved heading the ball with his hand while hurtling through the keeper's space, a feat equal parts beautiful and illegal).
It is hard to express the collective shock that 95,000 people went into. This turnaround meant that, basically, Barcelona and Madrid would remain tied for the lead, which is very bad indeed as Madrid holds the tiebreaker advantage (they won and tied in head to head competition). Next week, Madrid is home to a mediocre Mallorca team and Barcelona is away at a very bad team-- but it doesn' t matter. The league is Madrid’s to lose.
And to think that EVERYONE in the stadium, with 3 mins left in the game, was thinking about the celebratory parade that would take place the following Monday. Barca has won 2 league titles in a row, and this year (in which Barca has tumbled rather pitifully out of their other 2 competitions, the League Cup and the Champions League) would have really put a dynasty-type exclamation point on the whole thing. And I would have been here for it! Fucking shitbag!
I never did like their goalie, Vickie Valdes. He’s generally solid but unfortunately error-prone. He really picked a moment here, let me tell you. I haven’t seen the reply yet, so I’m not 100% sure it was his error, but that’s how I keep replaying the thing in my head. And I can’t stop replaying it. What a terrible long walk to the metro. I tell you, if I had some opium to come home to… but I don’t even have any whiskey here, it turns out. Me cago en la puta, tio. I shit on the whore, dude.
Thus what was to be a crowning moment of my summer stay here has been effectively waved in front of my face like candy in front of a baby, and then taken away just as fast. Ugh-- the vision of thousands of Real Madrid fans mobbing Cibeles Plaza to greet the team bus is going to bother me for a long time. Me cago en la hostia macho. De verdad estoy…defeated. Vencido, tio, callado.

I cannot remember another key sports moment when it’s so clear how just one game—and thus an entire season—could so easily go one way or the other. If Valdes blocks the shot, we would have been singing in the streets on the way home and reflecting on just how well B played, and congratulating Zaragoza for holding Madrid to a tie. But instead it was the Bataan Death March: people confused, angered, disappointed, ready to pick a fight. All because of one stupid minute.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Tariq Ramadan: Europe & Islam

By pure dumb luck, IEMed organized a lecture series about more or less the exact topic I studied last term, Muslims/Islam in Europe. This is an extremely important issue both for understanding Europe’s future and, obviously, in the post- 9/11 context of the ‘war on terror’ (an unhelpful but inevitable term). How they knew to schedule the series for my arrival in Bcn, I have no idea. But I salute them.

The other night I attended the session featuring Tariq Ramadan and a couple of other intellectuals in the field. Ramadan is an important and controversial Swiss Muslim academic who, in short, speaks optimistically of a modernized, European Islam but also has dubious family connections and would appear to sometimes cater to extremist and/or anti-Western ideas, especially regarding women’s and individual rights (and of course the big issue of church-state separation, though he is ready to accept this reality). The latter claim has been much debated.

In a move that has become symbolic of his controversial status and of the American approach to the struggle against terrorism, Ramadan was denied a US Visa at the last minute, after accepting a job as lecturer in Peace Studies (sth like that) at Notre Dame; the US claimed dubious contributions to a group who was later accused of supporting Hamas. Ramadan had already moved his family over and enrolled the kids in school. (Oxford subsequently took him on as lecturer.)
Several big articles and books about the topic depict him as a mysterious, contradictory leader of a movement or emerging face of Europe that most natives don't quite know what to do with. He speaks about the complex situation faced by many Muslim Europeans, in which—to simplify—their true motives and trustworthiness are placed in doubt, and conspiracy theories easily take hold, along the lines of a Clash of Civilizations or "Eurabia". Ian Buruma wrote a big piece on him the NYTimes Magazine recently, and Timothy Garton Ash wrote about him in the NYRB before that. Paul Berman just published a massive and highly informative piece in TNR about both Ramadan and the media coverage of him, which I was just able to read before the lecture.

What a treat it was to see him speak in person. It was just like when NYU gets some academic big shot who fills up a conference hall-- except in Spain, and he spoke French, while everyone else spoke Catalan (which I struggle to understand). The guy is a smooth operator, great speaker, patient, humorous, above all extremely intelligent. I honestly think that the West needs a guy like him ‘on their side’ in the broader struggle for Muslim hearts and minds, of which the 'war on terror' is just a part. Despite his rough edges, he shouldn’t be dismissed, much less considered an enemy. But the issue has been politicized out of control. Certain American intellectuals (neoconservatives, especially, and Berman, who is apparently a liberal, haha) are all too eager to call him a terrorist because his grandfather was the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood and he has said some questionable things about Jews. In any case, in the wake of Berman's novella, this is not the place to dive into the debate.   

The conference itself wasn’t spectacular. Frankly I’d already heard much of what was said, and I don’t think there were too many ground breaking or highly thought-provoking comments made. It reminded me a lot of that feeling of disappointment at about half of the academic lectures I go to in NYC: there's this sort of disappointment wherein the more familiar you are with the topic, the less you get out of the lecture, because there’s never enough time to analyze specific issues, or to make difficult connections (or to address your pet issue).

The best and most telling moment of the evening came after the lecture. By then half the crowd had left, others were chatting, and there was a long line of mostly Muslims waiting to speak with Ramadan, who hadn’t left his seat. This was actually quite spectacular, and I stood there and took it in. You could see the way these people—a tiny minority in Spain, fighting against several difficult stereotypes—respected and admired him and his message that it is no contradiction to be European and Muslim. Ramadan chatted patiently with each person in line; he was in no rush. It seemed clear that, being already a veteran on the lecture circuit, he knew this unofficial role was just as important as the speech. He seemed to grasp just how much these young people need positive, progressive Muslim role models (and how few of them there still are in Europe). I really wanted to speak with him myself, but I wasn’t going to sit there for an hour only to bother the man with my particular gripes about his politics and double-faced strategy. Wouldn’t be prudent.

Next Wedsnesday features Olivier Roy, who is kind of like the Michael Jordan of experts on Islam in Europe and around the world. Like MJ, he can do everything: strictly religion, young disaffected French Muslims, terrorism, globalization, deterritorialization, etc. I’m hoping to stick him a tough question, probably about Ramadan’s role. I hope he brings his A game.

The most visited building in all of Spain

Is a few blocks down calle Mallorca.
It's not the view we had in Brooklyn, but it'll do.

Uh oh

Digital camera finally arrived.
Appears to be broken.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Lovers of music unite: is the newest bestest thing out there. Billed as “the social music revolution,” it offers intelligent streaming radio: it learns from what you listen to and gives you more of it. It’s also an online community of people to get new music from. It’s extremely well organized and archived and will liberate you from the 30gb constraints of your ipod, as and had already begun to do for me, but mostly in the world of electronic music (which itself has a nearly bottomless well of stuff to offer).

This site is a service to humanity. Join today and start tagging and sharing and stuff. There is no limit to the groups you can discover with this format, and it’s free! Plus you’ll lose 30lbs during the first week! It will change your life. And this is only the beginning…soon we’ll be accessing personalized streams of music via online radio from our iphones, which will also serve as credit cards and ebooks. The future is going to be better than ever!

More annoying G8: leaders or protesters?

I was thinking a bit more about this urge to ridicule the G8 protesters almost as much as the leaders. It is both terribly cynical and entirely understandable. There is no doubt that most of them are there for a good cause; it's great that they want to make a difference and are willing to sacrifice their own time and money to attempt to do so; and certainly there is legitimate reason to criticize the G8 for insufficiently managing the world system (or, perhaps, deliberately mismanaging it, i.e. to their own mutual advantage and to the seemingly eternal disadvantage of so many other countries, who—while ostensibly receiving aid and 'developing', are also, in concrete ways, getting screwed, etc).
I suppose this cynicism is born of my longtime frustration with the disparate global resistance movements whose causes I support, often partially but never entirely: mostly anarchists, socialists, and libertarians (but also more ‘moderate’ reformers and progressives, especially the Greens). I realize these groups, as well as the Anti-Globalization/World Social Forum crowd, clash on many fronts. But they all have important things to say, and they are all being ignored
by the establishment (the Social Democrat wing of the Socialists being an important exception here, though the divide between these two is only growing).

Two questions about the protesters. First, what do they want? Second, what are they trying to accomplish?
The two are not the same. The former is theoretical, a matter of politics and philosophy: what are your gripes with this meeting, these leaders, the new world order? What should be done instead? The latter question is more practical and refers specifically to their strategy at the Summits, the way they carry out their resistance, and what larger movement or discussion this act attempts to stimulate.

My gripe is this: in 2007, hasn't the g8 protest been done before, and done better, to sufficiently positive results (disruption, violence, general spectacle, lots of press and some controversy)? Isn't it time for the next level of protest, resistance, and would-be revolution from these guys? Now, I'm not sure what that level is. But it seems to me that the g8 protest thing has long past its peak utility. The only way these protests are ever going to make a difference again is if they get massively violent—a situation which in the long term undoubtedly benefits the protesters more than the g8, who would rather maintain the status quo of pretending to do stuff. G8 protests have been sucked into the permanent news/cultural cycle and have consequently lost their significance (we’ve all seen profiles of the protesters pictured below -- and it was just a matter of time before it became, say, a topic for quick and humorous reflection on ColbertNation.)

This is a pretty important topic, and I intend to return to it. Are there others out there of the "protesting: so over it!" mentality? Or am I just going all bourgie on you?

Quit clowning around, this is serious!
We form like Voltron

Smile! The leaders of the 8 most badass countries on the planet are getting together to continue being the best, and will discuss improving the lives of the other countries over brunch. Meanwhile, the unhappy and/or the adventurous protest. If only I could report first hand, 'embedded' with either of these two unique groups of people-- what a journalistic opportunity. I'm sure I'd have fun with both of them, but probably succeed in talking sense to neither.
As to whether the leaders or protesters have more fun, it's anybody's guess. The leaders get to resolve complex geopolitical nightmares by working as a team; the protesters get to take off from work to taunt armed police into violent action. Everybody wins!

Hunting, Fishing, Mining, Farming, ...?

Back to the hunting and fishing story (o caza y pesca). So, I was relishing the return to the classic beach scene, and I was also surveying, observing, making mental notes... was I fishing? Or maybe not me, sitting up in the sand, but say that guy or girl or group who meanders through the horizontal masses, running the gauntlet of stares, confident enough to sort of announce her/his/their presence? Just as someone to keep in mind for the future. See what develops.
I’m not sure farming would apply here--it seems like more of a long-term strategy, rather than a night out or a day at the beach. I suppose you could go up to people and said a few words, pique interest, point to your spot, and go there. Then at least you'll have little social reference points among the crowd: some recognizable faces to seek out-- 'Where's Waldo' on the beach, where Waldos are actually good looking people you want to get with. (I don’t know if this is actually done on the beach, but it seems like a better idea the more I think about it.)
So then B suggested mining. Another essential act, timeless in its utility. I was wondering if mining was better or worse than farming, or if they were qualitatively different; in which case, another question: is ‘farming’ just as good a term as ‘playing the field’, but sadly overlooked? Isn't it time, in any case, that we replace or at least complement the wonderfully but woefully vague hooking up?
I am wondering what the ligaring scene is like in BCN, in any case. The dating scene in recent cities I’ve lived in is hard to define, since it seems like there’s something for everyone, but more for people who have money to spend, which is pretty much the same anywhere. I can’t really remember what “Catalan girls are like,” for example (though I can think of some stereotypes). You intrepid reporter will inquire toward this end over the course of the summer.
Who can add to this ‘on the prowl’ list? I’d especially like to hear some terms in other languages that aren’t used in English-- I'm sure Borat has a solid one, for example. You may also submit made-up English words for community review. Our language is so awesome, we make up new words all the time! And then, BAM!, they’re part of the vernacular. We don’t need no Royal Academy of English. We straight up decentralized and underground!

(PS: mega bonus points for a working translation of ‘straight up decentralized and underground’ into any language. That would be sweet! I will ask around for Spanish; I’m not sure about ‘straight up’, for starters, and I fear ‘underground’ would just be Spanglosized, como ‘es muy oon-dair-GRAOW, tio.' Yes, very underground indeed)

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Spanglish (II): Hunting or fishing?

I was speaking with my roomate Bea sobre metodos de buscar chica/os—ways of looking for, being single and on the prowl. I noted that in English we could say that one is out hunting, “a la caza", or on the hunt (as some would have it). And Bea—who speaks quite well English and French in addition to Catalan and Spanish—suggested fishing. Another classic. Clearly related to hunting, though a decidedly different approach. I am not sure if I could be a fisherman, in that it would require me to stand around like a magnet, waiting for someone to ‘bite’. (I believe does happen to some people.)
On the other hand, if B sees fishing more like waiting for something to happen, as in just going about your life and hoping you bump into someone worth pursuing—well, that’s where the metaphor gets hazy. Bait doesn’t normally respond or ‘bite back’. But live bait does. So I’m undecided. I think live bait are for the big fish and the dead bait the smaller fish, right? Does it matter of the bait in the fishing metaphor is alive or dead?
Full of ideas, B went on and said that farming could work, in that you plant various seeds and see what grows. Or sprouts, whatever. According to other factors like outside elements (the atmosphere) and how the farmer 'treats' his crops (watering them? uh...getting them wet?!), in due time the seeds will mature, etc. Ok.
Now my question is, could we say farming in English? I mean I know we could but do we? This may seem obvious to some of you, in which case, please remind me.
Ah, the timeless topic of ligaring, or flirting/hooking up, terminology. The universality of certain essential metaphors, the prowl foremost among them. This being Spring in a romantic city, with a beach and cobblestoned alleyways and sunny plazas etc, there’s a springy prowly vibe. The weather has been top notch for at least a week now. The beaches are packed and there is a lot to see. En fin, people have been talking. I would say that this past Monday, a holiday here, achieved spectacle status. I was having trouble adapting to my new city, lifestyle, schedule, and general status until yesterday, when I went to the beach. I took long looks across the swath of sizzling human flesh on the Icaria beach and thought back on Saturday, when I’d done pretty much the same thing at the next beach (And it was good). Then I wondered: wait, is this normal? Wait--this is normal. This is the beach on the weekend. Summer is here. It's just that--stop making such a big deal about it!
But hold on a sec-- this shouldn't be a typical and easy part of high class urban living! There should be a price to pay! There is nothing like surveying the scene upon arriving at a crowded beach on a perfect day; but to do so after having lunch 'downtown' or even getting out of work or whatever approaches the ludicrous, and is certainly unfair. They should have to pay a special tax here-- you know, a little som'n som'n to keep the operation running smoothly and keep out the riff raff. But no! It's all free! They're going to find a way to mess it up, I'm sure they will, the fools!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Spanglish (I): Introducción al Epanglish

Getting back into the rhythm of speaking Spanish as the main language has been mostly a smooth process, but not without its kinks, especially in a diglossic society like Catalunya. Though I'm fluent (and teach Epani and have plenty of epani-epik efrens), living here reminds me of just how much I don’t know, and for that reason it’s humbling and instructive. As well as I speak, each day sees tons of phrases or words I don’t have that I ‘need’—or at least think I need if I’m to be as native as possible (kind of like when you hear a song that is so good that your 40+ gig iTune collection seems utterly incomplete without it). This is a contradiction, of course: either you're native or you're not, and no permanent adult expatriation can truly bridge that gap. Hence the distinction between ‘fluent’ and ‘native’. That I consider myself a 'frustrated fluent speaker' while my students think I should maybe worry about other stuff goes to show how relative language learning can be. As a long-time teacher of English and Spanish as a Second Language, this fact never ceases to amaze me, and has become one of the pillars of my larger philosophy of relativism (which I'll save for another post).

As with Bea’s English, my French is (or was, when I was there) at a level where I could “defenderme”, or ‘defend myself’ well enough, but I still make mistakes all the time; and because I want to speak better and am convinced I should be able to, I tend to be ashamed of mon niveau. Which is, of course, silly, as the French themselves are still tooling at grammar and spelling in their senior year of high school, nevermind mastering the subtleties of past perfect subjunctive, which probably requires a graduate degree. I was speaking with a French friend of a friend on the beach the other day, and found myself drowning in similar sounds and verb conjugations. It’s quite a uniquely disarming feeling when your brain simply cannot separate one from the other and you end up sounding like a fool—but in a mostly funny and understandable way. Ah, the art of communication! J, an American friend of mine who has been living in Barcelona for going on 3 years now, speaks Spanglish que te cagas (‘that you shit’, or, very well), and intuitively mixes words (plus Catalan a veces) into an organic and fluid whole. Her personalized style suggests that some words better express the essence of a specific idea, or simply sound better, than their foreign counterparts. Translation is so tricky because (1) there really are 'better' ways to express things in one language or another, and (2) this depends greatly on one's taste.

(More later on Spanglish as high art; for now, check out a typical Spanglish dictionary, from a Spanish perspective. Also here is an unfortunate example of what happens when literary nerds take the Spanglish phenomenon too far.)

Those from romance-language countries can experience this easily by going from, say, Portugal to Italy or France to Romania; but for us Anglophones it’s harder. We’ve got a foot inside the Germanic and another in the Romance/Latin, yet stand on our own, and mostly can’t understand a lick of that other crap. And but why would we need to, anyway? We benefit from the historical moment of English’s ascendance as default world language. The chance doesn’t come too often, people. Better to spend your time learning some other universal language, like carpentry. Or calculus.

But the question remains: from a practical standpoint, is it really necessary for the ABCs (o sea, Americans/Australians/British/Canadians) to learn other languages these days? Who are we kidding? Ok, certainly ONE (1) other language (say, Spanish) would be a good idea, but two (2) or three (3!!!)—which tends to be 'normal' for Europeans—that’s just crazy! In a world where we are busier than ever but also coming together at a faster rate (through globalization & IT, western cultural imperialism, and of course the rein of our native tongue, etc), shouldn’t we just take everyone else’s English for granted and dedicate our busy lives toward other useful goals? It really is a matter of time and priorities, right? Won’t the whole world be better off if everyone spoke a single language (say, English—again, from a purely practical perspective), despite the highly political implications of asking us to do so? But hasn't the question already been asked, anyway, and aren't we already headed toward an English-speaking global society?