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Observations on a New Life in Spain

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New Years at Casa Füster 2015

21 January, 2015 (03:48) | Living in Europe | By: admin

Happy Birthday Mark

Because Mark’s birthday is 2 days before New years Eve every year, I try to make it into a big, fun adventure. Last year we were in L.A. and celebrated with a big party at our pad there, as seen in this a recent blog. The year before that we celebrated by staying at the fancy Hotel W, near our pad at the beach.

This year I came up with the idea: let’s spend Mark’s birthday through New Years at the 5 star hotel made famous by Woody Allen; Casa Füster. It is located only a few blocks from our Partners In Rhyme headquarters in Gracia, but staying there provided a unique and enchanting view of our neighborhood.

Let me start with Mark’s birthday on the 29th: we invited 3 close friends to celebrate Mark’s actual birthday with us. We listened to cool Bill Evans style jazz, ordered room service, had a great time.

Birthday friends posing on terrace.

Festive Views from our room

Our suite had a sauna and a jacuzzi, so we spent the 30th pretty much ordering room service and making use of all the bells and whistles of our hotel. Here are some photos of and from the hotel. Many landmark buildings, such as Sagrada Familia, Tibidabo, Gaudi’s La Pedrera, others, can be seen from the rooftop terrace. The hotel itself is the work of the architect Lluis Domenech Muntaner, a modernist contemporary of Gaudi, and was built in 1908. Casa Fuster itself is an emblematic designer hotel. But its the views that are to die for, in my opinion.

1) view of Tibidabo 2) Passeig de Gracia. In this shot you can see the Hotel W. You can also see how close the beach actually is from Gracia. The ocean in the background is where we live in Barceloneta.

1) You can see people milling around on the rooftop of Gaudi’s La Pedrera in this photo. 2) Passeig de Gracia leading to Plaza Catalunya and Las Ramblas. if you know your architucture, you will notice Gaudi’s Casa Battlo in this shot. It really blends in with the other eccentric buildings.These views make me fall in Love with Barcelona all over again.

Eccentric Skyline of Bcn.

above – Snaps of and from the Hotel Rooftop terrace show landmark buildings and a beautiful skyline

1) You can see the Sagrada Familia in this shot 2) Modernist architecture of Casa Fuster is characteristic of my adopted city.

More shots from and of the hotel:


On New Years Eve we invited some friends from our barrio to come celebrate with us.

The new year rushing out.

Dancing into the new year – what an auspicious beginning to 2015!

Thanksgiving in Barcelona 2014

16 January, 2015 (11:14) | Living in Europe | By: admin

Since living here in Barcelona these last 8 years, amongst all the numerous local holidays, feasts and “dias de puente” which I’ve so religiously blogged over the years, Mark and I have established the uniquely American holiday of Thanksgiving, a holiday I never appreciated until moving here to Spain. Thanksgiving, or “Accion de Gracia” as they call it here, has caught on with our Barcelona friends. Every year we squeeze more and more people into our space. Some years we celebrate it at our beach pad, others we celebrate at our Partners In Rhyme headquarters in Gracia.

Normally we invite all our Spanish friends but this year we had a special American guest visiting and staying with us so we invited all our expat friends; we had a Czech, an Australian, a German, a Pole, an African, a French man (with his Catalan wife), along with our usual Spanish core of amigos, and I must say this was the best Thanksgiving I’ve ever had, seriously! The chemistry of good food, wine, cheer prevailed.

This year we had 16 people, four of whom were Thanksgiving virgins, participate in the feast. The succulent bird did not disappoint; Mark did an excellent job (as usual), which combined with all the other traditional dishes provided by our guests lived up the the holiday depicted in American cinema and TV, or so our “Thanksgiving Virgins” said.

Our special guest this year was Mark’s former Visual Effects boss in New Zealand, Jim Rygiel.

1) When we were in L.A. last year Jim came to our New Years Eve party and subsequently invited us for a BBQ at his house in Pacific Palisades. That’s where I got this shot of Rygiel showing off his multiple Oscars, BAFTAs, and Visual Effects awards…. Pretty impressive stuff from such a low key, soft spoken fellow. 2) This is a classic photo of Jim Rygiel, our guru for all things digital. When we lived in New Zealand Jim was Mark’s Visual effects supervisor on the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He’s since become a good friend, with a lot of help from facebook, helping us to stay in touch and hook up in different countries over the years.

Jim’s presently working in Rome, supervising the VFX in the upcoming remake of Godzilla. He didn’t miss a beat when we invited him to come to Barcelona for Thanksgiving this year.

1) We are Internationalists. 2) Four nationalities are represented in this photo; Czech, French, German and French.

What made this Thanksgiving special, other than the fantastic chemistry of our friends, old and new, was the food. To go with Mark’s exceptional turkey and mashed potatoes, Jenifer made yummy Texan gravy, Nicole made an exceptionally creative salad, Jim made stuffing, and our French baker friend Philippe made an apple pie to die for. Add wine and libations to the mix and a good time was had by all.

This is our new friend Dinger King, self styled comic, reality show, Catalan rapper. He and his Lithuanian girlfriend Vytaute celebrated with us.

Vytaute and Dinger were two of our Thanksgiving virgins this year. Fortunately the meal lived up to all the hype.

I looked him up afterwards and found that he has heaps of YouTube videos, such as this one:

Dinger King is a fun and welcome new character in our lives – look him up on Youtube and you will be wildly entertained.

1) Marta (click on her name to link to the blog I did of her in the past) 2) Karafa (Click on his name for more info on him)
For those of you who have been following my blogs over the years, I have written extensively about Marta and Karafa, seeing as we took a trip to Senegal with them.

After dinner, in the spirit of tradition, (*our Partners in Rhyme tradition” that is) a spontaneous acoustic jam session happened in our music room and featured the debut of Mark’s new ‘banjo guitar’ recently given to him by my (late) cousin Stefano in Florence. Stefano’s grandfather, Nonno Nanni constructed it over 50 years ago. For Stefano it was a special childhood memory, watching Nonno Nanni build it. When Mark played it and got a great tone out of its inherently funky feel, Stefano gave it to him on the spot.

Thanks to Guitarland Music Store, (located literally around the corner from our Partners In Rhyme headquarters in Gracia) for so beautifully and generously restoring and repairing it. Nonno Nanni sings again. I remember Nonno Nanni as happy fellow, at the beach in Tuscany, wearing a wife beater shirt, strumming on his guitar. He knew lots of Communist anthems, and could play and sing Renato Carosone’s songs (popular singer back in the day) plus a few originals, with silly sing-along chorusus. So many decades later this magnificent one of a kind instrument has found its rightful home with Mark.

As is our tradition, after the meal we had a funky, relaxed jam session. Normally Karafa will start playing the African drums in our studio, Mark joins him and the jam begins… Others join in… Now that’s something to be thankful for!

The Unsung Heroes of Barcelona

19 July, 2014 (09:54) | Living in Europe | By: admin

These are the unsung heroes of Barcelona. These government employees, in fluorescent attire, are always seen cleaning up the grounds, beaches, parks, streets, water. Dressed in bright green, they are always in the background, especially early in the mornings, combing the beaches for flotsam and sweeping the boardwalk of debris.

We’ve been living here almost 8 years now and we’ve seen our beach evolve from a coast littered with flotsam from the big boats (tampons, toiletries, sometimes rats…), the beaches themselves addled with pickpockets and party revelers coming down from a night partying, to a respectable beach where, thanks to petty crime clampdown we no longer witness muggings or pickpocket events on a daily basis. In fact, I haven’t seen *any* pickpocket crimes at all this year. Phenomenal! I just love that this city is always pulling itself up by its bootstraps and taking pride by maintaining its natural resources.

One day Quixote and I rode a bike to his favorite fetching pond, normally littered with cigarette butts and dead leaves, and found the following unsung hero cleaning it up

All the water got sucked into this vehicle, the pond was swept and then the water is put back in.

This is a pond my dog Quixote and I often ride a bike to and photograph him fetching balls from it. The above unsung hero drained the pond, cleaned the bottom and then refilled it. I was impressed, when a few days later I returned to a sparkling clean pond:

Quixote’s favorite pastime is fetching balls and sticks from this well maintained pond.

On a separate bike ride I encountered this park maintenance vehicle, which I’ve noticed before but on this day found it in use. The worker who drives this vehicle obviously has kept his sense of humor with his skull wearing sunglasses decorating touch… He’s a hard worker, filling up the back of the truck with newly mowed grass. I see this one distinctive Parks and Recreation truck driving around Barceloneta all the time.

This is the little clean-up boat that collects floating junk from tourists, weather, cruise ships, et al. It does an amazing job. Our beaches are cleaner this year than ever, and the water is miraculously clear for such a big city as Barcelona.

Throughout the city these workers are always busy cleaning, repairing, laying down pavement, you name it. Here’s a quick snap I just now shot for this blog, of some city workers repaving our road in Gracia. The days of tripping and falling over loose cobblestones are over. Although one could argue that getting rid of the cobblestones takes away a bit of the old world European charm, I must admit when we first moved here people tripping on loose cobblestones was an everyday occurrence, it happened to me once and I was lucky not to have broken any bones.

Unsung heroes paving our street in Gracia.

Last winter we had some big storms that washed a lot of sand onto the boardwalk; not to worry – the unsung heroes will clean it up:

I’ve been meaning to write something about these unsung heroes for awhile now – just a small recognition that some of us notice and appreciate their efforts to make our city into a first rate, safe destination for visitors.

Cleaning up amidst the overnight party revelers on the beach on a typical early Sunday morning.

Thank you unsung heroes!

To give this blog another whimsical level, I recorded on Iphone audio of Q. wrastling me for the ball if you click on the link.