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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Lovely Lisboa

Last weekend I went with two Brown friends on my program, Katie and Emmy, to Lisbon.  None of us had ever been there before, but we had heard great things about it from the multitude of CASB-ers who had visited the city during the past few weekends.

What immediately struck me about Lisbon was how it felt less globalized and less touristy than Barcelona and all of the other major European capitals.  Since its economy is not as dynamic as Spain’s, Portugal has been able to retain more of a traditional lifestyle and feel, which even transfers over to their capital city.

Once we arrived and sampled some of their local codfish or bacalao Friday night, Emmy, Katie and I went out in the Bairro Alto-the main bar neighborhood.  The Bairro Alto was a maze of narrow cobblestone streets with copious amounts of bars and restaurants whose patrons spilled out onto the streets with their drinks (the bars even purposely give you plastic glasses because of this phenomenon).  It felt a bit like the Portuguese botellón (see my post from Madrid) albeit one with an older, more sophosticated crowd of urban creative professionals and hipsters as opposed to 18-20 year old university students.  The three of us were a bit overwhelmed by all of the bar options but luckily made a great choice after ducking into a small and colorful bar for a glass of wine and some live music:IMG_1075The following day we set off to explore the city by first taking one of their famously rickety trams (the thing looked like it had been in operation since 1920)

IMG_1078to the flea market or feira da ladra, which translates into “thieves market” for some browsing and bargaining.  There was a real buffet of items to be bought, anything from the perrennial pashminas to old silverware, adult movies, and espresso cups from an impressive cafe collection.

Flea Market Finds

Flea Market Finds

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Some men hanging outside the flea market

Some men outside the flea market

I ultimately walked away with a nice little watercolor that I bargained down from 10 euros to 7.  Afterwards we went in search of the Castelo Sao Jorge, one of the centerpieces of the old, Moorish neighborhood of Alfama.  For such a seemingly large castle, the thing was hard to find and subsequently we got very lost (though we’d heard that you can’t go to Lisbon without getting lost so I suppose that was something we could check off our list).  In the midst of our search, though, we stopped for a delicious respite in one of Lisbon’s many pastelerias and tried their famous custard pastries the pasteis da nata.  En route to the castle we stopped for some beautiful views overlooking the city:

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View over Lisbon

Finally, after much wandering we found the castelo.  It was pretty but there wasn’t too much to explore, in all honesty.

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Castelo da Sao Jorge

After a lunch of throat-burning, runny-nose inducing spicy chicken piri-piri (literally grilled chicken in a chili sauce), we did some window shopping before heading out to a great and very chic dinner at Cafe Royale, a restaurant featured in the New York Times’ 48-Hours in Lisbon.  After treating ourselves to hummus and pita, white sangria with berries, and salads (this was clearly not a trip with males on it), the three of us headed to this cool bar in the Bairro Alto for capirinhas.  The bar had a literary theme with bookshelves everywhere and lots of hipsters.

IMG_1154On that note, I did happen to notice a lot of young people who fit the proverbial “Williamsburg-hipster” look.  Interestingly enough, for such a young city, Barcelona on-the-other-hand seems to be lacking in the hipster department (except for at this one club, Razzmatazz).  Or, I suppose, their smallish traditionally-hipster segment is greatly overshadowed by all of their mullet-loving pseudo punk hippies.  In any event, all of these Lisboan hipsters reminded me of Brown.

The next day we set off for the outer district of Belém, which has a stunning monastery or mosteiro and is home to the bakery, Pasteleria Belém, that originated the pasteis da nata or cream pastry:

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the pasteis da nata

Ordering our pastries involved a lot of pointing and gesturing since most of the staff did not speak English and, as we were told before coming to Portugal, it is considered offensive to try to speak to the Portuguese in Spanish.  That meant for once we had to bury our pride and fully become turistas.  In any event our pastry ordering turned out just fine.


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The stunning Mosteiro da Jerónimo

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In the cloisters

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After the monastery we went to a modern art museum whose collection had some interesting pieces, many of which I could not understand, including a whimsical sculpture made out of plastic utensils:

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It started to drizzle as we left the museum and headed back to the main part of the city.  We’d heard comparisons between Lisbon and San Francisco before (Lisbon even has it’s very own Golden Gate-esque bridge) and the weather part sure seemed to fit.  Once downtown we made our way to the airport and said goodbye to a charming city that felt both traditional and strikingly hip at the same time before returning once more to our new home in Barcelona.

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I found this jar of Skippy peanut butter, or in Spanish, crema de cacahuete, at the Asian supermarket near the dorm.  You know we’re living in a globalized world when an American brand of peanut butter from a multinational corporation is being produced in China and then exported from China to Barcelona, where the Asian community (who knew they had a penchant for peanut butter?) and American study-abroad students buy it.

 

The Spaniards don’t understand our obsession with the stuff.  They like their nutella alright, but to them, peanut butter is odd–and since it’s usually located with the nutella, they must consider it as much of an indulgence as the chocolate-hazelnut spread.  Until I found this Chinese Skippy, we’d been paying nearly $5 (3.50 euros) for a jar half the size by the Spanish brand Capitán and my father had graciously schlepped the real deal (reduced fat Skippy straight from New York) to London…ahh what lengths we go to to be reminded of home!

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