Amsterdam knows how to be ALIVE. It wasn’t that the 31st was filled, for the entire day, of fireworks randomly going off around the city, including some right outside our window. It wasn’t the build-up around 11:30pm of really intense, concentrated fireworks of all shapes colors and sizes, all kinds of explosive sounds and smells coming from every street and from the air, like a battlefield of awesome, an Awesome War, complete with one richocheting off us, that moved me.
It was nearly a full 90 minutes in to this intensity of fireworks and celebration — the likes of which we Americans usually reserve for our finalé only — that compelled me to weep tears of joy to be there, in that moment. To be fully alive, holding onto the metal handrails of a bridge as I wept. I’ve never cried so much for joy my entire life.
The revelrie continued well throughout the wee hours, and nobody was dampened by the drizzle. Kids were still out lighting firecrackers with their father’s cigarettes. People were still dancing at home.
Looking at photos now I see how organized everyone is. All the champagne bottles piled up by the citizens on the curb, before the street cleaning happened. I suppose in a city that’s built atop a dam, where everyone and their houses are tall since there’s no room to go wide, you grow up being methodical.
You also know when to explode that sensibility.
A week in Barcelona is like nothing else. Yes, I’m on vacation, and I’m always gratified when I can fill my days with the essentials of coffee, wine, cava, agua con gas, eating, cooking, sleeping, napping, taking pictures, and lots of reading, writing, and doodling. But I can think of no better place to be completely inspired. Everywhere I look there is something or someone beautiful — giant architectural wonders and small details of purity of expression. Everything I taste is rich and full of passion. The sun is strong. The wind is clean. The purr of the diesel engines is purrier. The marcona almonds are smokier, and the salt on them is saltier.
All of the food, since it is local, is supremely affordable. Today I navigated one of the smaller markets, got myself some lamb chops (fresh cut while-u-watch), spinach (you can practically taste the iron), brussles sprouts (you guessed it: sproutier), and tomatoes (lots of lovely little ones still on the vine). And some manchego and membrillo for dessert. Total food cost: around $10. My bottle of wine (that I almost polished off myself) was around $8, for a 2007 Jumilla. (1 foto attached)
I love to cook as much as I love to eat. Although I’ve only had one other formal cooking class in my life and most of what I learn is by doing it, usually in collaboration with another chef (like my buddy Steve), the very awesome and kind people of Schwadesign got me a cooking class for my birthday, at a place called Cook & Taste. The chef was excellent and taught many things that weren’t on the recipes — typical to how I like to learn! At 10am we had a little briefing, then we went shopping at La Boqueria (the main market) for a few ingredients, meanwhile learning what to look for in dried meats (ribbons of fat!) and where to get the best razor clams (I can find it but I don’t remember the name of the stall). Around 11am, all 12 of us in the class got assigned various tasks (mine was to pour the wine and make pan con tomate), and from 11 til 4 we cooked then ate a butternut squash bisque with jamon serrano and one grilled shrimp, tortilla española, a giant paella de mariscos, and a crema catalan. (3 fotos attached) I had a nice long siesta yesterday…….
Other lovely little vignettes…
- The octagonal city blocks are called manzanas (either after the Big Apple or a reference to other latin places).
- If you say it fast enough, “vaya con dios” (tr.: “go with gods”) also sounds like “adios.”
- As I was cooking lunch today I heard Santa Baby wafting through the central exhaust shaft of the building. Sung by someone Dean Martinish. Couldn’t place it, but the local was singing along, In English.
- I’ve been dreaming a LOT. Of book covers, of old bosses, old pets, of family…. the chef said that eating lots of olives will cause you to dream more.
- Smiling opens many doors. Even if you are afraid of saying something wrong.
Today I felt like a true local when I was asked for directions and knew where to direct. The elderly couple that stopped me asked me, in Spanish, if I knew where a certain church plaza was, and I replied, in Spanish, “yes, go straight a little more, then to the left.” I’ve officially arrived.
Of 33 here in Europe. I’ve been taking a lot of photos of graphic inspiration — smart logos, great entrances to shops, textured and layered windows, funny posters at design markets — but they are too numerous for me to write all about now. So here are a few that make a lot of sense:
- Bar L’Amistat. Friendship in Catalan. Look at all those funny faces in the letterforms. A perfect marriage. And yes, there were people inside.
- This wine store had the magical ability to also serve wine. If you’re looking to buy a bottle, why not sit and try something out before you buy it, and get in the shopping mood? They also had pinchos (snacks) and beer on tap. This copita (small glass) was 1,50 Euro (about $2).
- Taverna Can Margarit, as recommended by my friend Bill, invites you to unwind from your day (yes, even at 10pm when I got there for dinner) with a cup of their own house-made wine in this reception area before you enter the dining room (just beyond the red doors in the back). Those white odd-shaped tusk-looking things are tall wax blobs made by putting candle atop candle atop candle. Being surrounded by the barrels in a chill room before entering the warmth of the dining room was like an airlock of awesome.
- Oscar H. Grand and I talked for about a half an hour regarding my first custom-tailored coat, cut for me and to my preferences with his recommendations. I wandered down this street and he was playing 30s “In The Mood” era music which caught my attention. I walked in and saw all of his amazing shirts and pants, but it was this waxed cotton raincoat with the high collar and contrast stitching…. Ahh, to fall in love with design. Some people make it so easy. He is super pro and very talented, which you can see from his site. I love that the construction and fabric retrieval will take about a week,and I will still be here.
- I like the three different windows on this house. Gives it lots more personality than regularly placed windows. Fenestration — look into it!
- Sometimes I’m walking and I do double-takes on things I should snap pictures of. This half-block construction site is one of those things.
I’m going to jump into the sky. I will work on being able to keeping the newness and freshness I feel when I travel, in my daily.
Looking at things differently is a gift, and being able to accommodate lots of varying perspectives, including ones that might be foreign to me, is a critical step in communication.
The universe provides. I’ve always felt this.
Whether I’m at my wit’s end or my last resort — an extremely rare occurrence — or I’m at an emotionally tender and insightful juncture, my remaining atoms point towards a greater goo that keeps everything together. A good goo.
So I’m drinking tea, folding laundry, orienting a friend to those of my plants that need to be watered in the sink and those that are happy to guzzle on site, and learning about my new Olympus EP3 (most of which was intuitive). There are dozens of physical preparations and a few spiritual ones — the ones that the universe has just opened up to me.
I’m very much looking forward to being on a plane to Barcelona exactly one week from right now.
What’s next is soon.
It’s all coming together. My trip. The longest I’ve done. I’m taking 40 days off as I turn 40 this December.
I’ll still be connected to the studio — I’m bringing a laptop — but I’ll be working from the cafés and nooks of Barcelona, Budapest, Paris, and Amsterdam.
I’ve only two more facets of the trip to resolve, and then my itinerary is set.
Very exciting. I love to travel. It brings such perspective.
And that’s my job.