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So yesterday (Friday) was my day off from work and, with little on the agenda, I decided to check out Occupy Wall Street for the first time.  No sooner had I boarded the “L” train did I see a middle aged man carrying a big cardboard sign saying “Bring Back Glass-Steagall Act now!” (or something to that effect…and, no, he wasn’t Penn Badgley).  Once I finally got off the subway and made my way to Zuccotti Park, I was struck by a few things:

The Tourists: Making my way to the ‘tent city,’ I saw many, many people from out of town (or even foreigners) walking around with their cameras and gawking at OWS.  Inherently I knew that I wasn’t so different from them even if I did live in New York: I came out of curiosity, I had no plans to join in the protests, I wanted to take pictures but failed (my iPhone was out of battery).  It was an odd feeling though, particularly as I walked behind some tourists speaking Spanish, ostensibly from Spain or somewhere in South America…is this a good thing for visitors to New York (especially visitors to America) to gravitate to what is intended to be a “protest” or a “movement” as if it were a tourist attraction?  Planning a Financial District agenda on, say, Day 3 of a NYC-visit: visit 9/11 memorial, go to Battery Park to see Statue of Liberty, shop at Century 21, look at Occupy Wall Street…

I’m as yet undecided whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing that OWS is attracting visitors to come look at their tent city and photograph their protests…maybe it doesn’t matter one way or another?

The Press: OWS has been chugging along for almost two months now (or there abouts) and yet every two feet I saw some member of the press corps interviewing a protester with either a video camera, a voice recorder, a reporter’s notepad or some combination of the above.  I’m not sure why this struck me as so strange but it gave the whole protest or movement a somewhat surreal quality that it was so flooded with media attention.  I even saw an Italian journalist interviewing someone on camera.

The tent city itself: Many people have read reports about the ‘tent city’–the free, donated food, the medical tent, the library…in addition, I saw a designated “Press Area,” and an “Information Area.”  I also had never been to Zuccotti Park and was surprised that it really wasn’t a park at all but more of a city plaza.  That was actually the initial impression I had but the larger OWS grew and the more people there were (with reports of sanitation issues that followed), I started to think maybe this was some sort of grassy, enclosed space that you occasionally find scattered throughout New York.  However, my initial instinct was correct and the “park” is in fact all stone and concrete with the exception of some small enclosed planter areas that no one would pitch a tent in.  Moreover, the protesters must have been shamed a bit by all of the coverage of waste and sanitation issues in their ‘city,’ because I did not see any overt refuse and in fact saw several occupiers with brooms and garbage bags trying to clean up the space.

The People: Interestingly, the occupiers seemed to fall into two camps: the young twentysomethings (many of whom may be protesting against bank loans and unemployment) and older 60+ retirees.  Not too many people from the mid-to-younger sections of the Baby Boom generation.  So you have aging hippies (perhaps the oldest Boomers) and young twentysomethings bonding together.  It is interesting to see how OWS keeps up its momentum.  When I was there on a Friday afternoon, there were plenty of people actively protesting with signs and slogans but many people are truly passive occupiers at this point: they hole up in their tents and basically just lie low (although who knows the rhythms and patterns of these occupiers and when they decide to protest and when they decide to ‘hang’).  And because OWS has gotten such attention, amidst all of the activists are many opportunists…there have been reports of homeless people seeking shelter (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you consider that OWS provides free meals) but there are also people promoting bands, trying to hustle money (one crazy-looking dude had a sign that he would “rap for money”), and being just plain weird (another guy had a “fart smeller’s movement”).  Attention has shifted to how OWS will survive when the weather drops and with the first snow falling today in New York, this question is as pertinent as ever.  It will be interesting to see how the occupation evolves when living conditions are less bearable.

Ultimately it was an interesting visit and I’m glad I got to see it, if only to witness firsthand what everyone seems to be talking about.  I feel ambivalent towards OWS in general–the lack of a truly coherent message or game plan is a little off-putting–but some of the general principles against excessive corporate greed and wastefulness and their ilk are ones that I can stand behind.  It will be interesting to see how time judges this movement–whether it will go with the 60s protests in the annals of history or be forgotten in a few years.

Yes, I am resurrecting La Urbanita.

Now that I’m no longer in Spain, shall I stick with the Spanish pseudonym?  Should I change it to The Urbanist (to complement my New York locale)?

I’ll have to mull this over.

In the meantime, this little blog will be shifting gears: it’s been two years since I left Spain and now, having graduated from university, I am embarking on an entirely different voyage in the careerist swamps of old Manhattan (or old Breuklen–sp?–or Bklyn, if you like).  Having moved to New York a mere week ago (on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, an eerie date to be sure) and settled into a Williamsburg pad, I’m strangely feeling many of the same emotions that I did in Barcelona.  Of course there’s the usual mix of excitement, apprehension and anxiety that comes with moving to a new city but there’s also this strange sense of being caught up in a whirlwind (or, perhaps a treadmill, a hamster wheel).  It’s fun, it’s captivating, and it’s nonstop, which sometimes leaves you feeling like you need to catch your breath.

Yes, I know I need to relax, I’ve only been here for a meager week!  BUT, knowing exactly the kind of gal I am, I know I’ll have a mighty hard time not taking complete advantage of all that a city like New York has to offer.

Without skipping a beat, last week seemed to portend what I hope will be in store for me: new “job” (a paid internship at a prestigious NYC-based magazine with one of the most popular blogs around), new pad, and lots of new people (and maybe a new suitor or two…who knows).  Days were filled with work and countless trips to Bed Bath & Beyond, Duane Reade, Ikea, FoodTown, and the hardware store.  Nights were filled with socializing.  After a social feast-and-famine summer in Chicago (on the heels of an exquisite spring at Brown), New York has not disappointed.  When I arrived, the city was in the midst of Fashion Week and so Wednesday featured a vaguely fashion-related after party at the Tribeca Grand Hotel while Thursday was the Vice Magazine party–an event where it seemed every hipster and Brooklyn BYT coveted a spot on the guest list (I was lucky to snag one through a media friend).  In attendance were the usual hipster crew of Mark “The Cobrasnake,” Terry Richardson and some of the boys of Das Racist.  And Johnny Knoxville.  My date and I agreed he looked a little worse for wear.  Amidst hipsters drinking Grolsch and listening to many live bands, Rick Ross (yes, Ricky Rosay) took the stage for the tour de force final performance in the beautiful former bank where the shindig was held.  Check out pics on Brooklyn Vegan.  As a 180 from the Vice grungefest, two days later witnessed me hopping into Le Bain atop The Standard Hotel and 1Oak, two veritable MePa establishments.

See, I guess that’s always been my M.O., ever since college: I play it both ways (and no, not that way) but rather, I really am an Uptown/Downtown kind of girl.  I find that a lot of my closest friends share this trait and I think any longterm romantic prospect will out of necessity share in, or be amenable to, the bouncing between the ‘worlds.’  While never playing the part of a poseur, I enjoy bouncing between the two worlds–between the more conventional scene and its quirky, artsy complement.  I suppose I enjoy being the most ‘edgy’ (read: clothes, music taste etc) person in a room full of frat boys or finance types and then later being the most acccessible (read: normal grooming habits and a general friendliness) in a room full of musicians and ‘hipsters.’  But, of course those are gross generalizations of people you might encounter in those cliques–I know plenty of frat bros with good taste in music and ‘hipster’ with bad taste.  But, when push comes to shove, I’ll put betting money on those common perceptions.

For now, amidst all this craziness, I’m content.  I need to remember to slow down, let myself veg out sometimes, and take time to find the perfect throw pillows for my bed.

Now that I’ve not only safely landed back in the states but have also already left Chicago for Providence, it’s time to think back on my experiences abroad.  One topic I wanted to touch on was what it was like to be a young American woman in Spain, and Europe in general.

I’ll be honest: surprisingly I encountered very little overt anti-Americanism.  Little more than two weeks into my semester, a professor during our orientation told us that Spain has some of the highest rates of anti-Americanism in Europe.  Moreover, it didn’t just have to do with W. but has roots all the way back to the Spanish-American War in 1898 (think Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders from history class)  in which we defeated Spain and in doing so, effectively ended their centuries-long empire, making them a third-tier power.

Moving back to the fact that I didn’t encounter much open anti-Americanism, I want to point out that I’m also not naïve.  I know that had I been studying in Spain as little as one year before (during the election season and the Bush presidency), my experiences and comfort level may have been radically different.  Having been fortunate to travel to Europe before on vacation, I remembered going with my family to Paris or Switzerland during the Bush presidency and feeling sheepish to say that we were Americans.  Let’s face it–we knew the rest of the world did not look at us flatteringly.  This time around, however, I felt perfectly comfortable (and, you might say, confident) to say I was American and from Chicago.  As I held my head up high and told Spaniards or other Europeans where I was from, the responses were overwhelmingly positive.  Especially when mentioned that I was specifically from Chicago.  I’d inevitably get “Oh! Obama!  Michael Jordan!  Oprah!” (or some variation on that theme).  Yes, for despite Obama’s homegrown poll numbers, the Europeans (and the Spanish are no exception) LOVE him.  It proved how superficial and stupid anti-Americanism truly is.  We have our faults, of course, and with great power comes great responsibility but quite frankly, the EU and its component countries have their share of faults and problems too.  And, what more, yes we’ve elected a MUCH BETTER president (no matter what people say or criticize) but we still are embroiled in the same problems: we’re still in Iraq and Afghanistan, we haven’t yet passed any type of healthcare reform, and our banks are still using government money to give each other bonuses.

Interestingly, many of the well-educated, worldly young Spanish adults I spoke to about this subject responded how anti-Americanism was a cop-out concept for people who were looking to blame their own country’s problems on someone else–a.k.a. the big, bully brother.  These people generally thought anti-Americanism was stupid and at times even defended the U.S. of A. In fact, a few times I encountered outright love for the States.

That said, of course anti-Americanism still exists.  Just because Obama is in office does not mean we’ve regained all of the trust and support we lost over the past 8 years.  However, I have heard horror stories about young students traveling or studying abroad and receiving awful treatment because of their nationality.  It was both a comfort and a relief that we were all (for the most part) well-received and able to talk about America and our backgrounds with pride rather than shame.

The one scenario in which America is still examined for all its problems is the classroom.  I took a Sociology and the Environment course and naturally the U.S. came up a lot because of our failure to sign the Kyoto Treaty and our massive carbon emissions, reliance on foreign oil and generally wasteful ways.  That said, I didn’t find that these discussions carried over to sentiments outside the classroom.

I will mention that despite a lack of overt anti-Americanism, it was still uneasy at times to make friends with local students.  The profound Catalan pride and use of the language is admirable at times (for those who don’t know, Catalonia or Catalunya in Catalan, is the region in Spain in which Barcelona is located and they have their own language, Catalan) but also has the potential to be exclusionary.  The one difference I will point out is that it is exclusionary toward any non-Catalan speakers and thus has no directly anti-American component.  You can be American, Canadian, French, British or even a Spaniard from Madrid and still come across these issues.  Frequently in a class taught in Spanish, students would make an argument in a class debate or ask the professor a question in Catalan.  For all of us non-Catalans (which was sometimes as high as 50-60%), we’d be generally lost and confused.  Occasionally the professor would kindly remind the student to speak in Spanish, but more often than not, they’d let the kid continue while half the class stared blankly.

Ultimately there were certainly challenges to being a foreigner but it was rare (if ever) that I felt uncomfortable to be American.

El Fin

This will in all likelihood be my last post from Barcelona, however, I’m planning on adding some final thoughts on my experience abroad once back in the States.

These last few weeks after getting back from Morocco have been exam-filled and only since this past Friday have I been a carefree woman.  The initial stress of taking four exams in Spanish and of not knowing what to expect was fortunately mitigated by, for the most part, easy exams themselves (and the promise of celebratory beers in the university cafeterias!)

One of my closest friends at Brown, Kelsey, came to visit this past weekend and seeing her and showing her Barcelona was a fitting way to end my time here.  I had fun taking her to Park Guell and just chatting for hours in cafes or tapas bars.  I think it also helped us start to transition back into the “real world” of Chicago and Brown as our conversations naturally revolved around our college friends, helping us to re-orient ourselves, so-to-speak.

These last few days have been crummy, rainy weather, which put somewhat of a damper on my plans to walk around and take everything in one last time.  My room is a disaster zone with clothes and open suitcases strewn about and it’s hard to believe that I came to Barcelona with my life in two suitcases and I’ll be leaving that way too.

It’s also such a mix of emotions to be leaving.  I know I’ll miss Barca when I’m back in the cold/sleety weather of Chicago or Providence but now it feels like it’s truly time to come home.  Home for the holidays.  I’m nervous watching weather reports expecting bad ice storms in the Chicago-area.  Since I’m not scheduled to fly home until Christmas Eve, I could potentially miss Christmas if I had issues with my flight.  I’m honestly just hoping at the minimum to make it to New York (my flight to Chicago goes via JFK) and then take it from there…

I feel like I should have some pretty strong feelings right now but honestly in the chaos of getting ready to leave, I don’t know what or how I feel and I’m sure it won’t be manifest until I’m either on the airplane itself or getting off the plane at O’Hare.

See ya in the States.

Without photos this post will seem woefully incomplete but I promise to add them as soon as I have a funcional computer back in the states!

This past weekend I went with two friends to Marrakesh, Morocco–a trip unlike any other I´d experienced.  My travel companions were my friend Caroline, a girl in my program, and a friend of hers from class, Eirini, who is from Athens (Greece not Georgia) and is studying Spanish in Barca for the semester after having already completed her bachelor´s and master´s in England.  At first I (and my parents, I´m sure) was hesitant about not having a male traveling with us (after having some organizational mishaps in which the original guy who was going on our trip had to back out), but suprisingly the trip was smooth without any major problems pertaining to our sex.

We flew from Barcelona to Casablanca on Saturday (a short 2 hour flight) and upon immediately getting off the plane, my senses pricked up and I took note of my different surroundings.  For although Morocco is considered one of the most modern and westernized countries in the Muslim world, there were still no shortages of burqas, hijabs, and traditional dress.  We were so lucky to have Eirini with us for we learned she spoke French–a real necessity as it turned out.  She bargained beautifully with our cab driver at the airport to take us to the train station (where we would take a train from Casablanca to Marrakesh).  Starving, we tried to find food but the train station was literally in the middle of nowhere so we found a dilapidated corner store and bought Moroccan potato chips and butter cookies.  At this point I was still on my guard, unadjusted to my new surroundings and I was afraid that we really stood out with our fair skin, light hair, and Western dress.  But no one made any comments to us and we had an easy train ride, riding first class for the equivalent of only €14!  Once we arrived in Marrakesh, the owners of our hotel arranged for us to have a pick up and thank goodness we did because it was one less thing to worry about.  Arriving after dark, I marveled at the sights of Marrakesh, including the crazy drivers who seemed neither to obey traffic laws nor use traffic signals, with cars darting in front of one another, cutting each other off as motorbikes whizzed by, narrowly avoiding nicking another car.  We stayed in a lovely Riad, Riad Miski, owned by a French ex-pat couple, Francis and Christine.  Once the van arrived, we got off in a little square where people were milling about, men were pulling carts with donkeys, and children were running around.  The driver helped escort us to the Riad, which consisted of walking down a dark, narrow, and very spooky street in the Medina (or old walled city).  Thankfully I´d been tipped off by guidebooks not to get alarmed as most riads were just as hidden and hard to find as ours.  Once we arrived at the riad and met the owners, we noticed how beautiful and charming it was and how it opened up into a central courtyard with a terrace on top.  Our suite was lovely and had some traditionally Moroccan elements.  Tired, we were thankful that they had prepared a dinner for us.  After telling me that the chef had already left but “we´ll see what we can do” I was shocked at the wonderful meal we had before us: mint tea, eggplant spread, sweetly-seasoned tomato spread, salad, Moroccan pita-type bread, chicken tagine (a Moroccan stew), and a crispy bread dessert with a sweet dairy or cheese on top followed by dates and more tea!  Everyone was so welcoming and, true to form, the Middle Eastern hospitality was in full force.

*

After breakfasting on the terrace, Christine escorted us to the main plaza, the Jemaa al Fna, which during the day is home to acrobats, henna artists, snake charmers (yes, real snake charmers), spice sellers, and juice vendors.  At night it becomes a crazy scene with loads of food stalls and other entertainment in addition to that during the day.  She also took us around the crazy labyrinth of the souk or bazaar, where you could find everything from scarves, lamps, hookahs, spices, jewelry, rugs, leatherware, and other decorations.  She took us to some vendors she knew who gave us a good price for spices and scarves.  She then left us to go meet some arriving guests and the three of us girls were on our own.  Though it was not high tourist season, there was a significant presence of tourists, which meant that we were not accosted too much.  The vendors were not too aggressive and a simple “no merci” usually did the trick.  As three unaccompanied girls, we surprisingly never felt too unsafe nor uncomfortable.  After leaving the souk, we visited an old (but no longer operational) madrassa, or Islamic school that instructed young boys in Islam and the Coran.  It was a beautiful old building with lots of small rooms where you could picture the boys hunched over reciting coranic verses.  Next we saw the Koutoubia Mosque, though non-muslims are not allowed to enter inside (I don´t know why…some mosques permit other faiths to go in).  Afterwards we visited the stunning and recently re-opened La Mamounia hotel for a cup of tea (that´s all we could afford), which I believe is owned by the Moroccan royal family.  This hotel was majorly luxurious and also very westernized as there were women lounging poolside in bikinis and couples drinking alcohol.  Next we indulged ourselves and took a horse-drawn carriage ride around the city, stopping at the Majorelle Gardens which have plants from 5 continents and are now financed by the Yves St. Laurent Estate (who knew?)

Afterwards we bargained some more in the souk before having a dinner of tagine and cous-cous at a restaurant overlooking the Jemma al Fna.

*

The next morning Christine had kindly arranged for us to take a day trip to the Marrakeshi desert and we met our guide, Frederic, in front of the KFC (ha).  Like Francis and Christine, Frederic was also a French ex-pat who decided to move his whole family from Paris to Marrakesh.  After buying a riad and some horses, he was horseback riding in the desert one evening when he discovered a real, nature-made oasis.  After tracking down the owner, he bought the property and has developed it (minimally), christening it Le Pause.  He has made rustic-chic villas (beautiful and traditional furniture with minimal electricity but modern plumbing)  and luxury tents for guests to both dine in and sleep in. After exploring the property, we got to ride some camels!  Funny creatures.  The most exciting part of the camel ride was when they stand up or sit down for you to mount on or off as their spindly legs cause a little jolt.  After our camel trek we had another great Moroccan meal of more eggplant, tomato, and carrot spreads with warm bread, lamb tagine, and a chocolate cake for dessert.

We left Le Pause as the sun set in the desert, to return to the bustling city.  We had to leave the great Riad Miski as they didn´t have rooms available that night and we went to another riad nearby, Riad Puchka, which was quite an adventure.  It was more traditional-looking than the other (which was cool, I suppose) but did not seem as nice.  The owners are actually Americans but seem to have minimal involvement.  We had some communication problems with the guy staffing the place but then decided (after Eirini desperately tried to communicate with him in her perfect French) that he was high on hash.  Luckily the place was fine and safe, so after our big lunch we just tuckered down and ´feasted´on peanut butter sandwiches (which I had schlepped from Barca via Chicago) and clementines.

*

The next day we spent an onerous 12 hours traveling back to Barcelona, first taking another train from Marrakesh to Casablanca and then another from the train station to the airport before getting on our plane.  Finally home, I was exhausted but had to cram for my final in History of Islam (how appropriate!) which luckily is over and done with.

It´s incredible that I only have two weeks left in this great city.  I´m filled with such mixed emotions–both excited to be coming home and sad to leave…

At last!  Photos!

Our Riad, the lovely Riad Miski

The souk

Spices

Lanterns in the Souk

The courtyard of the old Madrassa

My friend in front of an arch in the Madrassa

A view from their reflecting pool

Outside the luxurious La Mamounia Hotel

The Koutoubia Mosque

The Berber-style tent we ate lunch in at Le Pause Oasis

Camel riding

Catching Up…

As an addendum to my last post, my beloved dinosaur of a computer has finally died and I will have to replace it in Chicago.  What that means for the future of urbanita is simply this: fewer posts and unfortunately no photos (in all likelihood).  That said, I want to fill you in on the last few weeks and promise to add photos once I´m back in the States.

Ruta de Dalí

A few weekends ago, CASB (my program) took another group trip up to the Costa Brava (home of beautiful beaches, El Bulli, and the Dalí museum).  We stayed in Roses for two nights, during which we took trips during the day to discover “the route of Dalí.”  On Saturday we made it to Dalí´s crazy hallucinatory house that he shared with his wife, Gala, in Port Lligat.  It was home to his studio and many assorted surrealist furniture pieces.  Then it was on to Cadaques, a beautiful beach town, for a great lunch with an even better pastry and cappuccino break before heading to the Dalí Museum in Figueres. I´m sorry I can´t post photos right now, but this place was truly head-spinningly cool.  The building itself had a huge courtyard with sculptures on the stone wall and massive paintings.  Inside, the museum held many a Dalí masterpiece filled with all sorts of crazy Dalí symbols, fetishes, dreams, nightmares, sexual references…

Our last stop on Sunday was the castle Dalí bought for Gala (during a period in which they were living apart) in Pubol. It was interesting, though with limited time, I´d definitely recommend skipping it in favor of the museum.  Other highlights from the weekend including going out in Roses as one massive CASB group (and getting to hang out with people you don´t normally see in the process) and seeing a bizarre hip-hop performance by a female Spanish dance team in one of the plazas in Figueres.

Thanksgiving in Barcelona?

After returning to Barcelona, I connected with my family who had flown in for the week to see me and have Thanksgiving.  It was great having them here and getting to show them my new city and rediscovering it for myself in the process.  We visited Parc Güell, walked around in the Barri Gotic (and saw the oldest synagogue in Spain, in the Call).  We gourged on rosé and tapas, including a fabulous set of tapas meals at Cervesaría Catalana and Taller de Tapas.  My dad and brother went to the FC Barca-Inter Milan game (Barca won 2-0!) while my mom and I had drinks at the chic Hotel Arts down by the beach.  Went to the Miró Foundation (one of the best museums in Barcelona) and saw the view from atop Mt. Tibidabo.  We tried some of Barcelona´s famed gastronomic cuisine at Comerç 24 (the chef, Carlos Abellan is a disciple of Ferran Adria´s, the chef/owner of El Bulli) and had argentine steak for Thanksgiving!  Finally, we rounded off their visit with a day trip to Girona, a charming city (around the size of Providence with a populaton of 120,000) with a beautiful medieval section including a huge Cathedral and pretty Call or Jewish quarter.

That´s what I´ve been up to in addition to studying this week (who knew that I´d have to study in Spain! haha)  I was mildly terrified for an oral interview  all in Spanish about a book with my History of Islam Professor (who I have trouble understanding his accent to boot) but it went better than expected and he turned out to be a nice guy (not nearly so intimidating as he is in class).  This Saturday I´m off on another adventure to Morocco with some friends!  It´s been a nightmare planning this trip (with drop-outs and new flights) but now that it´s finally coming together I can´t wait!  It´s somewhere I´ve always dreamed of traveling to, and I´m so excited to be taking advantage of my proximity to Morocco while I´m here.

CASB Computer Curse

So my beloved and decrepit Mac iBook has finally succoumbed to the same troubles that have befallen the laptops of many of my friends here in Barcelona, which is to say that it doesn´t work.  The other night it was working hard with a powerpoint up and running and the internet, skype, and Microsoft Word all in use and it just couldn´t take the pressure anymore…

So now it is in Barcelona´s “Mac Hospital” (the closest Apple store is in Munich) and I´m hoping for its speedy return.  Until then, expect limited blog posts and less frequent email/facebook responses.

Maybe this break from my computer and the technological world will be just the thing I need to be more productive…¿quién sabe?

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