Thursday, June 14, 2007

rooftop party

Without going into detail, I cannot state how bizarre it has been to go from a flat in NYC that had a roof with a tremendous view--really, like a once-in-a-lifetime, you'll-never-stumble-ont0-anything-like-this-ever-again view, to my current BCN flat. By pure look, we can look down calle Mallorca from our top-floor terracitas, or go up to the roof for a better view of the surrounding hills, Sagrada Familia, Torre Agbar, and--if you lean dangerously over the edge-- the sea.
The Torre Agbar is slowly winning me over (more on that building later), but the real luxury here is being able to marvel at the soaring towers of the Sagrada Familia whenever I damn well please. I mean, holy shit. Last night the sky was ripe.
I'm very happy that my musician roommates have announced a party up there on Saturday later eafternoon/early evening, round 7-8. It's in honor of Tomas's girlfriend's b-day. We'll hang out up here and make a lot of noise. If you're in the area, drop by! (We'll miss you, Ian!)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

gearing up for Sonar

As a big fan of electronic music, I am very happy indeed that the SONAR festival has been setting up shop in the MACBA plaza right outside CIDOB's windows. (...Macba is the Contemporary Art Museum, the plaza is technically the Plaza dels Angels, and CIDOB is where I work; photo taken from my boss's terrace.)

SONAR is a badass mostly electronic music festival, with other festival-appropriate artistic doodads thrown in. It takes place over the course of a long wknd in June, and while it's not the winter music conference in Miami, it's an event to which many DJs and people 'in the industry' come. After all, it's a great excuse for many of them to come to Barcelona and party, so who's going to turn that down? (And hey, why not make it a longer trip and hop on over to Ibiza?, etc)

The festival has two venues, aside from the many unannounced/underground parties on the beach or in random bars: the aforementioned daytime site in the heart of the Raval neighborhood, where I work; and a larger Fairground area on the other side of Montjuic, where the night sessions go down. In short, it's nonstop craziness for 3, 4, or 7 or 10 days, depending on how long attendees decide to extend their clubbing escapade. (I hate using the word clubbing, but I fear it's the only way to convey the idea to those who aren't 'in the industry'.)

So tomorrow should be a fun day at work, according to my colleagues, because we will be exposed to noise pollution of the highest quality. Actually, I have no idea if the big-ass tent will be playing, like, techno at 2pm, or something more downtempo. But the speakers were industrial strength. I'll keep you updated.


In her Slate column today, Anne Applebaum writes that this G8 has shown that we’re progressing beyond a 9/11-based politics, in which: there are other major issues to address aside from terrorism; Europeans and Russia are going to push for them; and that quite possibly nothing is going to get accomplished:

"…it's not exaggerating at all to state that the events of the past week—and the wildly divergent international news coverage that accompanied them—illustrate a profound transformation that has been taking place, slowly and quietly, over the last several years. Call it post-post-Sept. 11, or maybe just a return to status quo ante: Either way, it's pretty clear that that brief moment of consensus—those very few years when the world's most powerful governments all believed that the world's worst problem was international terrorism—has now passed. "

Not that terrorism is any less important an issue, but there are other things to worry about, right? Climate change, global economic inequality and poverty, AIDS, immigration, missile defence (which shouldn’t even be an issue, mais bon), and oh yeah the war in Iraq—which, due to the peculiar genius of the Bush Administration, has become impossible to separate from the fight against terrorism. Which is technically a whole other war.

While there are certainly other issues that deserve attention, I’m not sure why fighting int’l terrorism has to suffer as a result. It seems she is criticizing the ADHD nature of modern politics, wherein concrete action is taken only in the presence of a tangible crisis or disaster, and long-term vision goes as far as the next election. Now that 9/11 and the subsequent European bombings are receding into memory, terrorism won’t be given the overarching attention it deserves until the next major attack (which is only a matter of time).

Applebaum’s final point is that this return to a cacophony of voices and priorities makes the post-9/11 solidarity seem like an exception to the historical rule: “Most of all, though, the world's divided attention proves once again that global Internet access and global television have not created anything resembling a global conversation.” This might border on cynical (and isn't even entirely true). But she's got a point that the globalized world is perhaps more provincial than it ever was, with national governments and companies fighting even harder for their citizens’ support in what has become a (threatening) global market. As the rest of the world encroaches upon you, in both positive and negative ways, some might accept it with open arms; others may lash out against it (Which helps explain the re-emergence of the extreme right across Europe over the last 15 years). While nations tend to act in their own self-interest, to the possible detriment of others, such a strategy makes less sense in a more interdependent world, where our greatest threats now come from the 'bad' countries farthest 'off the grid' of Western-style liberal democracy. (There are also some 'good' countries 'off the grid', and they too should be kept an eye on, because failed states are not in the interest of really successful ones, like G8.)

With perspectives like these, it is hard to be an optimist. Unless you are rich, in which case I'd recommend buying property on a mountainside in a temperate zone.

Tchin Tchin: welcome to the club Sarkozy!

Oh, le pauvre nouvelle president Nicolas Sarkozy. He gets slammed in the press for taking a three day vacation on a billionaire friend’s yacht after winning the election and before starting the most demanding job in the country (How terrible to have wealthy friends!). During the first 5 weeks of his reign, the little guy has been hopping around Europe like Napoleon on speed, trying to earn the respect of nation and neighbors. He has admirably pushed to get the EU Constitution back on track, to improve relations with the US, with Spain, with Germany, en fin, avec tout le monde qua. The man is taking a moribund, deflated country in a new and exciting direction!

And let me tell you, I am rooting for him. I become more of a Sarko fan every day. I don’t agree with all his ideas; but insofar as he is giving the French economy and statist culture a good kick in the faisse, I am with him. I root for my favorite self-denying Hungarian!

And now comes this jewel. Poor Sarko, who claims he does not drink, has had a bit too much fun of some sort with his new buddy Vlad Putain. Surely the latter—the wily ex-KGB veteran of the G8 circuit—outsmarted the former, who, in his naïvete must have assumed he could drink Vodka with a Russian and then do a press conference. Ah, il faut aprendre quelques choses, mon ami Sarko ! That ex-spy de merde Vlad Putain chewed you up and spit you out, son! He told you that a few shots would be no problem, you’re now beyond criticism of the press anyway, no one can touch you, etc—and WHAM! Smacked you on the ass from backstage and sent you tumbling to your first public embarrassment as President.

What a shame! The guy was just having some fun (here is a fun YouTube comparison with Spanish ex-Prez J.M. Aznar a bit borracho at another public outing). Now everyone’s going to think he’s irresponsible. Even though he semi-recovered in the conference to give a “sober” account of his meeting with Vlad—and spoke with more intelligence than our great American president knows how. In any case—what a scandal!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

What I am doing here?

I must respond to the deluge of emails from all over the world asking me why I am in Bcn, for how long, under what auspices, etc. Man, this blog has caught fire!

I am interning at CIDOB, which is a thinktank/NGO-type organization dealing with all aspects of Int'l Relations. As part of my Masters in European Studies (yes, it exists), I wrote to these people and asked if I could do an unpaid summer internship in their Europe and Mediterranean depts. I've now the opportunity to observe how European issues and EU policy is dealt with on a local level, and all that stuff. I get to see the practical, policy sides of what I study. So that is cool. Also I get class credit for working at a thinktank, attending conferences, and even helping organize one.

I'm also working/studying in some as yet unknown capacity with IEMed, which is a smaller thinktank, but important in Bcn as it deals exclusively with implementing the Barcelona Process in Spain. This is a big, ambitious directive issued by the EU several years ago (read more) that deals with Europe's Mediterranean region and, specifically, relations with their neighbors around the Mediterranean rim. I find all the cross-cultural and developmental challenges between Europe and North Africa/Middle East to be fascinating, especially within the context of (1) increased immigration to Europe from these areas and (2) post-9/11 geopolitics of relations with Muslim countries.

I'm now trying to figure out what specific academic project will come of this term. Eventually I'll write a paper about my research in that area, including interviews with some of the thinkers in these tanks. The paper will be along the lines of "what I did this summer," but hopefully interesting and useful. It might even lead into my thesis, which I have to write in the Fall. If I were smart I'd just settle on a topic now, find a way to work on it as part of my internship, and then take that material into the thesis. Knock on wood.

The problem is, it's impossible to settle on one topic. You can imagine that, within the EU alone, between Mediterranean and Barcelona Process stuff, integration of minorities, comparative federalism, and European integration theory in general, there is just way too much to choose from! Right?!

At the same time, I'm so excited to be in this city que me importa un pedo ("I could give a fart": I love that one) about the academic project. I'd rather go to the beach and read. And not about the EU. I hate the stupid EU!

Spanish pizza curiosity

I just read the disappointing news that the NYC’s best pizzeria has once again been closed down due to negligible health/sanitary concerns. As I imagined a sizzling Sicilian DiFara pizza sitting on the table in front of me, my mouth watered and I truly desired pizza for the first time since being here (three week anniversary, btw). Culinary geniuses that they are, the Spanish just haven´t figured out pizza yet.

I´m not sure what the problem is, because, while it may be hard to make a fantastic pizza, it´s rather easy to make an adequate one. Yet it doesn´t seem to exist on an affordable level here: the Italian restaurants that serve up a nice pizza are relatively expensive (though Veronica is apparently worth it). Plus options at such places remain limited to the classic Italian thin-crust style, which is fine, but begs the question: ¿Dónde está el slice-o Americano, tio? Why do I have to go to some crappy chain like Pizza Hut, which takes the American style overboard and heads toward Sicilian, but is not nearly as good?

At first I thought this is connected to the Spanish disdain for eating on the run. I really haven’t seen many people eating while walking, which is of course an American pastime (especially in NYC). I love roaming around town clenching my bocadillo de tortilla española, and would be more than happy to double fist my way down las Ramblas with a slice in the other hand. Then when you get to where you´re going, you can concentrate on drinking.

You´d think that if any city on this peninsula is going to transcend the limited Spanish conception of pizza, it would have to be Barcelona, no? Progressive, cosmopolitan, experimental, blah blah—so what gives? When I lived in Madrid we must’ve tried every spot in town before giving up and making our own pizza at home. That’s fun and wholesome enough, but sometimes you just want a friggin slice for the road, you know? In a country dotted with Kebabs, bakery-type pizza/bruschetta thingies, and the infamous old-skool 'sandwiches' (bread with cheese; bread with ham; bread with tortilla), in addition to many bad pizzerias, perhaps the market is saturated? If Spain can have a famous pizza chef and consultant, where are his disciples?

I can´t figure it out, but I assure you I will not rest until I have an explanation. I can only hope that some young Spanish entrepreneur, perhaps with an MBA from the US, has the vision to follow the Italian example and develop the pizza market here. The Spanish are too good for this TelePizza crap. Man am I hungry.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Just say yes

Back in the Tarifa and Budapest days, my friends and I cultivated a very simple approach to our adventurous, bohemian lives: Just say yes. The philosophy speaks for itself, I think. The idea is to accept all opportunities for adventure or discovery-- especially when you are living in a foreign and/or strange place, when such opportunities are more frequent and hold potentially profound implications for your experience there. I’ve already had a couple of JSY moments here, but here I’d just like to explain the philosophy in all its profound simplicity.

While bound to fail on occasion—meaning that potential fun fizzles out or even ends up a waste of time—the JSY strategy is indispensable. I can’t begin to list the wonderful life experiences that almost didn’t happen because I was almost too much of a wimp to JSY. Underground parties, hidden gems in the city and country, real connections with new friends, an unexpected lesson learned, an unforgettable conversation with someone I'll never meet again.
It makes sense to be more adventurous while traveling/expatting than you would be at home, where you're more likely to be comfortable and complacent. Abroad there's simply more stimuli and discovery, less stability and boredom. JSY can be intimidating because it often involves trusting a total stranger or recent acquaintance, or perhaps going somewhere without knowing the slightest thing about it. But hey: that's life, damnit: there is always an element of chance, the unknown, risk, tension, discovery. Unfortunately, the gated-community mindset taking hold in affluent cultures runs completely contrary to this philosophy of life.
Granted, there is also a thin line between adventurousness and recklessness, openness and naiveté. While I can look back on some reckless stunts, they pale in comparison to what some of my pals have pulled off, mostly in the third world. They would argue that the disorienting context of new places is the ideal venue to learn what life really means, and just how overwhelming/wonderful/terrible it can be. This illuminating quality is why people become addicted to travel, and why many who haven’t travelled are insular (or more likely to be). Many adventurous types come to create their own luck, in that they get better at meeting people, gauging contexts, and making smart decisions. Some have a better natural sense of this than others, but there is no doubt that travelling enhances it.
So if you're given the chance to drive overnight, through the rain, from Paris to Budapest in a beat up 1984 Peugeot with luggage roped onto the roof: just say yes. Change plans with a friend in order to do something potentially more exciting with complete strangers? JSY (and buy your ditched friend a drink later). Take a bus ride to an uncertain place to see an event that might or might not suck: sign me up. And finally, accept every invitation from a native of the strange land you’re inhabiting/visiting. The natives hold the key; for one to penetrate the shell of a place and discover its essence, one must engage the natives on their terms. So Just Say Yes—to most things—and you’ll be rewarded.
After all, what are the chances that you’ll end up dead in a ditch on the side of some back road? Pretty small, I’d say.