Friday, February 22, 2013

On The Road: La Bisbal d'Emporda

La Bisbal d’Emporda is the ceramic capital of Catalunya and the destination of my road trip this week.  This road trip was made possible thanks to the new battery I just had installed.  I will try to drive the car a little more regularly, I promise, in order not to have this annoying and costly problem of a dead battery again.

I’ve been to La Bisbal before, years ago.  When I had my shop in Tarragona, three different workshops in La Bisbal provided most of the ceramics that I sold.  Unfortunately I didn’t have much of a visit in La Bisbal this time.  It was a grey day.  I woke up late, got a late start, and not long after I arrived all the shops suddenly closed at 1 pm, and that was that.  But I had enough time to look around and confirm that I want to come back.  Not only are there lots of ceramics shops, but also, and even better, there are several antique shops to investigate.

Since everyone had closed down and gone to have lunch, I did the same.  My lunch was at El Teatret, an attractive restaurant with a very good menu del dia for 12 euros.  It was not off to a good start when the waitress steadfastly ignored me for ages after I had entered.  It wasn’t that she didn’t see me; she was very close by and could at least have uttered a welcome and asked me to wait. 
But once seated in a cozy nook at the front window, I was very pleased with the food and the service.  I’ll be back to eat there again when I go back to scope out antiques.  I have to.  My mechanic says I need to drive the car once a week and there’s no point in just driving around in circles, is there.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Walking: The Path to Vilabertran

In my new life as an urban-dweller I walk a lot.  That wasn’t true when I lived out in the middle of nowhere because there was nowhere to go.  In order to be happy when I walk, I need a destination.

Now I walk to do everything.  I walk to the bakery, to the farmer’s market, to the supermarket, to the pet supply shop and to the train station if I’m heading out of town.  For that matter, I walk to my car when I use it because the nearest free street parking is ten minutes away.  I walk to do all my errands and then I walk to window shop and read the posters around town to see if there is anything interesting happening.

Some days I take a longer walk.  Up until now I had two routes for my longer walks.  Neither was great.  Both were acceptable, but both were also within the city limits.  What I wanted was to find a cami, a footpath that would take me out of the city and get me to a reasonably interesting destination.

So recently I went to the tourist office to ask about footpaths.  At first they wanted to send me off to nearby villages, but I told them no, that I didn’t want to drive first.  I wanted to walk out my door, walk to a footpath, and then walk to somewhere.

It turns out that it is possible.  It took two attempts to find the start of the path that the tourist office agent marked for me on the map, and this week I found it.  It is a path that goes from Figueres to the nearby village of Vilabertran.  Unfortunately, by the time I was within shouting distance of Vilabertran and could see the church tower, it was well into lunch time and I was hungry, so I turned around and went home.  But I will walk that path again soon and explore the village where I hear there is a pretty monastery.

The Figueres-Vilabertran path isn’t spectacular.  It crosses agricultural land and some irrigation canals and makes for a pleasant walk.  But now that it has been snowing in the Pyrenees, there are some impressive views of the mountains, even on a hazy day.  Enjoying those views was a personal revelation.  In recent years, when I’ve seen something beautiful, I wasn’t able to fully enjoy it; I missed having someone to share it with, to say “Look, how beautiful!”  But this last Sunday, when I turned and saw those mountains, I simply exclaimed aloud “That’s beautiful.”  It wasn’t a question, not even a rhetorical one.  There was no one there but me.
Near the edge of town, I walk along
the Passeig John Lennon
Country views are always littered
with abandoned buildings
Irrigation canal
No Shooting sign


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Making It Mine

I noticed years ago that if I had a pet with me when I moved, wherever I landed, it would immediately feel like home.  Home is where my pets are, even if there are no pictures on the walls.  But at some point pictures have to hang and I need to attend to the details that make an empty shell more my own. 

The day I moved into this apartment, in spite of it being summer and before opening windows for the cats to sit on the window ledge or go out onto the balcony, I put up plastic wire so that they couldn’t jump off.  Then I painted the two wooden windows because they were in a poor state and only going to get worse.

A few weeks later I painted the guestroom.  It had been a child’s room and had been painted a ghastly combination of yellow and pink.  Each color was ugly, and together they were exponentially awful.  I thought I might have a visitor coming soon and knew I had to repaint.

I always knew I would also paint my bedroom, but I figured that could wait.  My bedroom is an interior room with one small window which I leave shuttered most of the time.  One of my few initial improvements was to hang a new lamp in the bedroom, but it didn’t really give much light.  On the other hand, brighter light would emphasize the ugly color of the room.  It wasn’t peach and it wasn’t apricot, but some sort of watered-down yellowy peachy color.  All the pictures I hung on the walls looked dreadful, in spite of the fact that I’ve had them all for years and always liked them before.  I thought maybe my taste had changed.

Josep, my painter (and mason and all-round handyman) came this weekend to paint the room the pretty taupe color I had chosen.  Without his saying anything, I could tell he thought that I was making an already dark room even darker with my choice of paint.  Sometimes I ask people’s opinions about things, but when I do, most of the time I then go ahead and do what suits me, and so it was with this paint.

While he was working, I put in a stronger bulb so he could better see what he was doing.  Eureka!  Why hadn’t I thought of a low-watt/energy saving bulb before?  For less energy the bulb gave noticeably more light.

Paint dried, I rehung my pictures.  I now have a bedroom I really like.  When I change the color on the bed, it will be perfect.  Poc a poc, as they say -- little by little.

Although I’ve been thinking of repainting my dining room, I am not yet convinced that I will any time soon.  But change it I did, also this week.  For some reason I had a bee in my bonnet about getting hold of a poster from one of Marcel Pagnol’s Marseille or Fanny Trilogy films.  I love those films and I love the posters.  If you’ve ever been to Chez Panisse (Panisse is one of the characters in the trilogy, as is Cesar and Fanny) you’ve seen what I’m talking about.

It wasn’t easy, but I did find what I wanted and after some hassle, I managed to order it from a bookshop in the U.S.  It arrived in the mail in less than a week!  I took it to have it framed, and yesterday Josep drilled some new holes so I could hang it.  I think it looks fabulous hanging next to Sue's Cowboys.  The apartment is becoming more mine with each new glob of paint and every new hole in the wall.


Friday, February 1, 2013


The Seven Cardinal Sins
Tarragona Festa Major
This week’s post is about corruption in Spain.  It will be short.  It will be short not because there isn’t enough corruption currently in the news to fill far more than a blog post, but because there are so many cases and so many people involved that I can’t get it all straight.  The last two evening news broadcasts spent over 20 minutes each on the latest happenings.  My mind is well and truly boggled.  Trying to sift it all out, get all the names and supposed wicked deeds straight, is simply more than I can manage.

Suffice it to say that alleged corruption being talked about on the news recently extends from local arenas such as city halls, to the regional autonomous community governments, all the way up to the nation’s capital and the PP, the political party currently governing Spain (with an absolute majority, so it will be interesting to see if anyone will manage to get a legitimate investigation of the allegations under way).  This latest, PP scandal includes many higher-ups, with the President at the top of the heap.  Higher-ups are not limited to the national government: the Royal Family is also included (in another case) in this dubious cast of scandalous characters, in the form of the Duke of Palma, who is the husband of one of the princesses.  Add to that the man who is secretary to this princess and her princess sister.  The Duke of Palma, however, has embarrassed the town of Palma de Majorca to such a degree that they have asked the Royal Family to suppress his title and they have undertaken to rename one of the streets in Palma, changing it from The Rambla of the Duke of Palma, to simply, The Rambla.

One Catalan corruption scandal was just settled recently.  It took twelve years for it to come to trial, and then it wasn’t tried because it was settled out of court.  But if it takes that long for corruption cases to come to trial, there is a problem.

Another problem is the general assumption of guilt until proven innocent.  This is not the official stance, but it is the stance of anyone from political party A looking at any member of political party B who is accused.   However, any accused member of political party A is immediately declared innocent by that party and we are all reminded at that point that a person is innocent until proven guilty.  This also makes me a little dizzy. 
The general public also subscribes to the guilty until proven innocent theory.  But in that case, it doesn’t matter what party because everyone assumes that all politicians are crooks.  In any case, twelve years can be a long time to be considered guilty with no trial.

This might not be too worrisome if you’re talking about someone who really is guilty.  Of course, how do you know?  What of a politician, or shall we call him a public servant, who is innocent?  Littered as the political field is with crooks, there are still many (dare we say most) who probably are not. 

What I find interesting in all this is the tolerance of the public towards corruption.  When times were good, people simply didn’t care.  After all, most people here pay for many things under-the-table in order to avoid sales tax so they are also a little bit corrupt (although they do not hold public office).

Now that things are bad -- people have lost their jobs, many are losing their homes, education, health care, and all sorts of social welfare programs are being cut -- people may no longer be so tolerant.  Some have come to resent their leaders (the same ones who are happy to bail out banks that are badly managed) who make extra money illegally while they face ruin through no fault of their own.  So it will be interesting to see how all these corruption scandals conclude.  Then again, it may take twelve years to find out.