Monday, March 30, 2009

Pictures! Real, honest to goodness, high quality Pictures!

I am immensely enjoying writing this blog, despite slow internet connections and the surprising and unfortunate abundance of poor image quality when I upload my pictures. Happily, I just put several of me and Matt's photographs onto my google account, which is accessible to any and all as long as they're willing! Three albums so far - Barcelona, Rural Spain, and France.

Hopefully I'll get a bit of a beefier entry in before we leave here this weekend. Enjoy your night!


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Small tour of a French Market

On our first full day at the permaculture farm we had the privilege to accompany our host, Namua, to the market in Ceres, where she sells used English books. She doesn't have a surplus of vegetables, and even if she did it is apparently quite an ordeal to get a vegetable selling license, especially if you have a small volume. So she helps all of the British ex-pats (of which there are quite a few) enjoy their fill of crime, mystery, and the odd recognizably-decent tale.

Céret is a charming little town about twenty minutes' drive from where we are staying, in Laroque des Alberes. The market takes place along one or two quaint rues in the middle of town. The stalls and asphalt are lined by plane trees, which also border the highways and all of the other buildings and town squares that I've seen here. There's also a castle, just like in our village.
It is a very interesting market. I am used to markets being heavily discriminated by the goods sold. For instance, in Arlington, Virginia, we sold vegetables and eggs at a food-only market, with very strict rules as to what counted as legitimate market food. On a near sidestreet vendors had a flea market that came off as being a whole different story. The market in Ceres is interesting in that it is vegetable/meat/flea/prepared food/toy/crafts market. You can really go there and get just about anything you could (or couldn't possibly) need. Carvings of owls, magical boxes, massive leeks, whistles that sound like birds exactly, eau clairs, knives, pickled duck - you name it, you got it. Following is a handful of the sorts of foods and faces we encountered. I also took a tiny video while walking through the market, which is on youtube.

The jars stacked and casings laid in baskets contain some of the most perfectly preserved meats that I've ever tasted, and I got to taste them many times, as the vendor kept smiling and cutting perfect half-moon slices and quietly explaining to us how they were made as we contentedly ruminated. (Matt partly understood, and I grinned back and questioned Matt en Anglais.) In the end we got some wonderful, inexpensive sausages that are so incredibly cured that we're keeping them on a shelf in our room until resuming travel in twelve days. We found in Spain that sausages of this sort are a superb and worry-free source of protein and salt while scaling mountains.

At so many of the stands, folks were more than happy to cut off a piece of food, hand it to you and engage you in conversation. Many of them asked us where we are from (a byproduct of our attempted French accents), and upon learning that we were Americans often gave us encouraging smiles. (One woman was especially delighted, laughing and repeating "Americans! Ah ha ha!" and happily filling our paper bag with organic dates that were still on their branches)

More pork delicacies, as displayed at another stall...

This man sold us such a lovely little jar of honey. In American farmer's markets I've been hard pressed to find non-filtered honey, which is unfortunate as I long for chunks of wax and pollen and propylis. He gave us just what we wanted - gorgeous clouds of bee goods in a beautiful sunny nectar, as well as a cheery face.

I hope that you can properly see the old-fashioned scale used to measure spices at this quaint stand, where one can buy a wee little veil of saffron for 25 euros and most other cooking spices and minerals for a farm more manageable price. (Surprisingly they didn't have salt, but we did manage to buy an excessively large bag of black pepper, as it only came in two sizes, as well as some the verde - green tea.) They make soaps, too!

This woman provided us with our lunch - a big pan-sized bread inlaid with cheese and ham. For a good price, too, with service as pleasant the beeman's and sausage-maker's.

You should come here.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Primarily thoughts on the thoughts on Americans

We live here.

Here is France, a country immediately different from Spain. One crosses the border and finds terraces similar to Spain's, but on taller mountains and occupied by gnarled, clipped, clove-like stubs of grapevines, rather than the vast orchards of a few days ago.

I admit that I felt a bit ominous about FRANCE, where there's nary a Freedom Fry and the language is high-pitched and too cute, or at the very least too nasal.
So they say, and so, in spite of my striving toward open-mindedness and my yearning for time spent submerged in other countries, to see a country as a person rather than the child of a fairly anti-French America, I ended up wondering, somewhat privately, somewhat unconsciously, oh, I wonder if I will like them.

My thoughts, private and public, after my third night in the country:


Mediteranean France is a land of smiling people who greet you and use so many hand gestures and apprciate your feeble attempts at the language. There is a lot of pride here, as witnessed in the hitched ride that we were graced with that took us from Catalan to the French mountains, as our driver's daughter asked isn't French beautiful? And as witnessed at the market that we attended this morning in Ceret, where people were so proud of their sausages (dappled with pistachios, dyed with blueberries, wrapped carefully, hanging amazingly) and cheese (in the widest of wheels) and dates (still attatched to branches) is wonderful to be in a place where food and drink are so honored and loved, and where people look so healthy amongst the butter and red wine, foie gras et cetera. (Not making any political statement on foie gras at the moment, but mentioning it because I did indeed see a lot of it at various stalls this morning.)

This evening we did indeed have our first discussion involving anti-Americanism that was very impenetrable and fairly uneducated on the side of the anti-American. But! The arguement was not even given by a French person! Rather, it was from a British ex-pat (whom we happen to be working for. And whom is very educated and interesting.).

I think that Matt, myself, and Libby, another WWOOFing American who is staying here as well, held our own quite well in a discussion that was impossible to progress in. [Here I wrote a lengthy diatribe on the breed of anti-Americanism discussed but deleted it due to ramblings and thoughts that could probably be better fleshed out at another time of day.]

I have to admit that this evening made me very homesick for friends and family who are American, who are very beautiful and thoughtful and imperfect and loving and loved. I don't quite agree with Obama when he says that we should not change the way we are, because I think that everybody has something (if not many things) that could, and often times ought to, be changed. America certainly has a lot to improve upon. But I do think that there's so much that is wonderful in the US, and many things that have plenty of potential. We ought to "keep up the good work," as Garrison Keillor is fond of saying. Everyone should. What we shouldn't do is think that we've got it all figured out, or proclaim that we are the best. Neither Matt, Libby, or I are proclaiming anything of the sort - indeed, we are in Europe because we believe that there is much that we can learn from the traditions and cultures presnt here. Some people assume that all Americans are that way, though. Of course, some Americans believe the same thing about the French.

Next time that I write I would love to share something of travel and the weight of a pack and the taste of our travel food. Until then, bon soir, and see you soon. Thanks for reading and for all of the kind comments left regarding the journey and the writing.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

My hair is mussed from an olive branch

Buena dia, again. Due to a pleasant hiccup, we have woken up once more in Cadaques. We have some time in the Internet Cafe while we await a fully charged phone and camera, and the opportunity to post a bit fuller of an update.

We spent a relatively sleepless but gorgeous night in an olive orchard just outside of town after having a bit of difficulty finding the trail out. The orchard was ridiculously bucolic, even more so since our time spent inside was during the gloaming and sunrising hours. Such soft gilding lining the branches of trees which may be centuries of years old. The olive trees grow on terraces, and part of why we couldn´t sleep was because we nestled into the incline of one such terrace and were sliding downward throughout the night. But, oh, the stars and the gulls and the sounds of the city far away made it worth it. (In the orchard we were also scared speechless by screaming cats, which didn´t click in our heads immediately that they were cats and nothing more. This little terra-cotta town is teeming with four-pawed calicos and whites and browns and blacks and all kinds of other gorgeous, leen cats and now we know why - they mate all night long in the gardens.)

Yesterday we enjoyed an afternoon at Casa de Dali. It was amazing...for 40 minutes we got to be houseguests in Dali´s intimate quarters, view his studio and stuffed bear, owl, and swans, examine the eggs of all shapes and sizes that sit upon rooftops and mantles, and marvel at the odd genius of the master, all for 8 euros (student price). We took several pictures, but the USB ports at this cafe are filthy so we´ll wait to add pictures until France. You should know, however, that the orchard that we slept in was next door to Dali, literally, so he most-likely tread where we slept. His swans, which he brought to Cadaques as they do not exist in Spain, flew and nested there.

To go back a bit of a ways....
Our journey thus far has been amazing. Our flights went off without a hitch, except for a bit of humorous luggage issues in Barcelona that were righted after some wayfairing in the airport. Isabel and Fernando made us feel like family and gave us bread and olive oil for the road (both of which make you kiss your fingers in contentment). Barcelona showed us nothing but kindness and amazement - such a wonderful city of Gaudi and music and lights and friendliness. The trails have been gorgeous and challenging, our packs have made us sore but stronger, and we are smelling alright, due to marvelous sea breezes and good food. Matt and I are proving to be good travel partners, living with eachother´s various nuances and smoothing out the more extreme sides of our personalities.

Time´s about up and we´re going to check our emails quick. Take care, and we´ll write soon.
PS Due to time and keyboard restraints, I apologize for weird grammar or spelling or punctuation marks.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

La casa de Dali

Hola! We are in Cadaques, Spain. It is on the coast. There are sea breezes. This used to be Dali´s home and we are eating yoghurt, sausages with names more interesting than ¨sausage,¨ writing from an internet cafe, loving cafe con leches, etc. Matt is smiling. I am a little dehydrated but drinking water. We will be in France by Friday if all´s well. That is all for now, no time, love you!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Open windows, bright clotheslines, pollen

Buenas dias, family and friends. We Are Here.
We are here, after two exceptionally pleasant airplane trips, four bottles of wine of two servings each, one Cadbury candy bar, one long and perfect view of the Pyrenees from a window seat, two train rides, one bus ride, and a walk to where I sit, a wonderful apartment in the Carmel neighborhood of Barcelona. I hear construction across the street - sawing scraping sqeaking. Children, vespas, buses, birds. The loudest, most frantic birds, thrusting out tightly curliqued phrases over the roofs. Buildings are girdled by the tshirts bedsheets washcloths pants baby clothes pillowcases and towels of everyone. There are flowers in pots on windowsills and pots on balconies, blossoms in overgrown lots, sides of sidewalks and the swaths of parks.

Isabel and Fernando (and their cured pig leg) live here. When we arrived Isabel kissed our cheeks twice, offered us everything (the keys, the drinks in the fridge, a clean well lighted place) and then we sat down and ate sausages of the countryside, cheese, and wonderful oranges. As we ate, she and her son, Marc, told us the history of Spain, recounted their trip to America when Marc was small, asked us about America, discussed politics, descriped Catalonya, suggested places for us to go, gave us a map, unfolded it and introduced us, and pointed us on our way to el Parque Güell, which is perfect and surprises you everywhere you look. I could stay there all day. I could write a dozen novels there and so many books of poetry. It is perfect, with columns and cupcake chapels and benches made of rocks and stalagtites and mosaics.

We came back to Isabel and Fernando's expecting to stay up until dinner, but Fernando didn't finish work until 10 (rather, 22:00), so Isabel offered us food that Fernando had prepared earlier, and we ate (wonderful vegetables, fabulous chicken), and then we slept through the night.

Some things that I have learned: Barcelona is so very Catalan, and not so much Spanish. In fact, the idea of Spain itself being "Spanish" is ludicrous, according to Isabel, as there are so many cultures in this country. This also means that my puny amount of high school and college Spanish aren't getting me especially far, here. Also, Barcelona is officially anti-bullfighting, according to City Hall. It still happens, though.

Matt just woke up, so I'm going to join him for capaccino and buttered toast in the kitchen, and then we're off to explore the gothic quarter, old town, bakeries, and hopefully a market. I have posted more photos at my facebook page, and you can see them even if you do not have an account.

Con amor,