Monday, June 27, 2005

Spain, Greenday and one really loud American girl


Life as I know it is back in full swing. The only real joy left will be picking up my photo’s from the RiteAid.

There are exciting things to share about my last day and a half in Spain – and some musings about the flight home.

The hotel where I stayed was lovely and most of the patrons I encountered were with our conference. We tended to take over the bar after the day ended and after dinner. On Wednesday, the other patrons took on a different look and feel. American guys in cut off jeans (at the knees like skateboarders not at the ass like 70’s rollerskaters) plaid shirts, wallets on chains and skinny American girls in super tight jeans, heals and um… breasts were milling about. That night in the bar, there was our party of nerdy security folks and their party of hip (but calm and quiet) hipsters. I noticed them, but didn’t really pay much attention. Needless to say – they had beer I had beer so TECHNICALLY we had beer together. Why is this important? Well – it’s a technicality that means I had drinks with GREENDAY!

It turns out that Greenday was staying in my hotel for 3 days between gigs. There were a number of Billy Joe sightings including a very exciting revolution in the lobby door. We did actually talk and it went like this:

ME: are you looking for the guy with the horns?
Billy Joe: yeah
ME: he just went up in the elevator
Billy Joe: he’s hard to miss huh?
ME: yeah

Then Billy Joe went up in the elevator, and I’m thinking to myself – “oh yeah, me and Billy Joe are tight!

I have been asked if I got an autograph and the answer is, no I did not. You will have to take my word for it that Billy Joe and I are best friends now. I really think if I was famous that I would hate the loss of being invisible in a crowd. When I see celebrities I really make an effort not to flip out even if its someone cool like Billy Joe. I would so much rather appreciate them for what they do and honor that by leaving them alone than trying to say something meaningful. I don’t really know these people and I’d hate for the encounter to go badly and then have to think of them as an asshole.

I put some thought into who I might cross the line with and the only people I came up with was Duran Duran and only because I loved them so much as a teenager and I really like the new album that I’m not sure I could stop myself.

Anyway – the Greenday sightings were fun and it made the last few days more exciting.

Our last night out was amazing. We went as a group to a restaurant I never would have tried on my own and we had a blast. The beverage selection went like this: Cava (Spanish champagne), white wine, red wine, port, coffee and then back at the bar (with Greenday) beer.

My appetizer was Gazpacho with fresh vegetables and lobster (a cool 22 euro for that bad boy.) The bowl it was presented in was the most amazing bowl I had ever seen. It was super thin white china and it looked like a very stylized heart with the two sides pulled out into graceful wings. It was sexy – there’s just no getting around it. The soup was served with the lobster in the bowl but the vegetables were on the side in a special dish with diced tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and crunchy croutons.

My main dish was a grand piece of Turbot in spicy paprika oil. It was good, but I’m really excited about the dessert – Mango Pyramid with Chocolate Sauce. I took a photo of it and as soon as the Rite Aid frees my film I’ll post it. I was expecting mango slices and chocolate sauce, but was served a tart mango mouse with a gelled mango core the whole thing was drizzled in a rich dark chocolate. It was sweet and tart and chocolate all at the same time. It was so good that my mouth is watering as I type. My table neighbor wanted a taste and it was all I could do to let him have a bite, heck it was all I could do not to lick the plate.

After dinner (3 and ½ hours after entering the restaurant) we walked up to the fountains. Friday was a major Spanish holiday (St. Joan Day) and like the 4th of July in America the Spanish celebrate with fireworks. We missed the last of the state sponsored fireworks but the natives celebrated late into the night. The scene was chaotic – with children throwing lit fireworks at every open spot, adults lighting big blow your hand off fireworks – punk kids dropping fireworks into tin cans to watch the cans explode. By the time we left at 12:45 the crowd was thinning – but we passed two bonfires with people throwing fireworks into the fires to watch them explode. This wasn’t a parking lot or a secluded area of the beach – this was smack dab in the middle of a public park area under trees (who live in 90 degree heat day after day with little rain) it was a 13 year old boys dream and a mother’s nightmare.

Dodging fireworks and fires on the way back to the hotel we hit the bar for one last drink. That lasted until 2am when the bartender asked us to leave (because of the holiday) and I headed to my room. My flight the next morning left at 6:30 am – so I needed to leave the hotel at 4. I was packed and I attempted to take a nap but with the constant sound of fireworks and gunshots out of my window there was no sleeping. I turned the light off for 15 minutes and then gave up. During dinner one of my companions explained how to get free porn (not to me, but to someone else) so I checked it out. The trick was to turn the tv to the porn station and then turn the tv off and on again at the tv (not the remote) and boom – Spanish porn. I didn’t watch long but the plot was intriguing:

Dude standing in a field talking to a woman. Next scene, dude is in an outdoor pool and 6 ladies (including gal from day one) walk up – they appear to be in flight attendant gear. After some talking and a Vanna White Showcase moment the ladies drop top and pool guy takes a second look at each gal. One more clothing drop and the ladies are standing in high heals and their kicky flight attendant hats and scarfs and he selects one. That’s when the music started and I realized I was sitting alone in a hotel room watching porn, so I clicked off the tv. I’m not opposed to porn – but as a single gal what’s the point?

Anyway – after a shower, change of clothes and a detailed look around the room to make sure I didn’t forget anything I headed downstairs to check out. The night clerks checked me out and when my cab arrived unlocked the front door and let me out. Meanwhile, rockets and fireworks were still going off outside.

Because I was early at the airport the check in was smooth and calm. Folks behind me were restless and I made a mental note for the fall – check in early! There was a young American girl (maybe 19 or 21) who was having trouble checking in and while she waited for the agent to figure out her situation she had a loud conversation with her companion who was NOT standing with her. They talked over the whole queue of people as if no one could understand them. They talked about the guys they hooked up with, how drunk they were and how excited they were to be going to a place where you didn’t have to be worried about getting mugged. This is the gal who gives American tourists a bad name. Once down in the waiting area things were peaceful – I was sitting next to a nice couple and we were watching Spanish news on the tv on a roll around cart. Loud girl arrived, asked the one guy closest to the tv if he was watching it and even after he nodded yes, she changed the channel looking for basketball. She tried to tell him how important basketball was and after she couldn’t locate any channel showing basket ball turned the tv to a station with some loud nutty game show. The couple next to me gave me a look of horror and said something very low in Spanish that I could only take to mean – “get a load of that gross American” and I whispered back with sadness in my eyes “no habla espanyol – Americano.” They seemed not to hold it against me. Fortunately she was not on my flight back to Seattle and I was able to ditch her loud ass in Amsterdam. If you get mugged or shot on your next trip overseas – it’s loud girls fault.

I’m not sure if it was the lack of sleep or the many many drinks from the night before but I managed to sleep on both the short flight to Amsterdam and the flight to Seattle.

It’s good to be home and the weekend was fun – I went sailing on Lake Washington and played softball on Sunday. It was a glorious Seattle weekend. Looking forward to the 4th with friends and before I know it, it will be time to head back to Spain for vacation in October.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Map, I don't need no stinking map!

Hola! Welcome to the last live-on-location entry from Spain. I can’t guarantee that the trip home won’t be memorable enough to write about – so I won’t attempt to claim this is the last Spain entry.

I stuck out the whole day yesterday in the conference. Today is a half day and so far (20 minutes in) it’s pretty interesting. So no wise cracks today about my boring techie job.

Ironically, after I complained a bit about feeling isolated I was invited to dinner. The group (19 people strong!) was going to meet at the hotel bar and walk over for an early dinner at 8:30. I decided I wanted to see the city so I made my way to the metro. I’m glad I did because while the trains were clean and easy to navigate it was apparent that if you were dragging luggage you would be in the way of other commuters and getting down to the trains is stairs. (Note to self: when you come back in October hire a car to pick you up at the airport.)

Another important thing I learned a compass and a GOOD street-map might save you time and blisters.

I had a hard time orienting myself on the street so I tried to navigate by locating myself on the map and then walking toward the next street and then to the next to determine the direction I was walking in. My map, while portable didn’t have the many pedestrian only streets listed so I walked about a half a mile to the next major street and then to the next major street which ended up being the exact opposite of where I needed to be.

I enjoyed the walk, and saw many sights that I was interested in. I wasn’t worried about getting to the restaurant (until about 30 minutes before I was supposed to be there) so I lingered in some of the plazas and shops. The Bari Gothic area is a fun area of mostly pedestrian only streets that are lined with chic shops.

I was approached by one questionable person who must have used his crack skills to peg me as a tourist. I wonder if the map and the camera gave me away. He came too close to ask if I knew the name of the Plaza I was standing in as if he was lost. Street names and plaza names are generally found on the corners of buildings and so while they are not as noticeable as the big green signs in America they are none the less visible if you know what to look for. I looked the guy right in the eye (to let him know I wasn’t weak) and pointed to the plaza sign behind me while casually resting my other hand on my bag. He nodded and walked away. I moved off to the side of the plaza to spend a little more time in my map and to scope out a picture. As I stood there I saw him approach Ma & Pa Kentucky and another young American looking couple.

The guide book says that this area of town isn’t dangerous, but that the traveler should be more cautious about their wallets and bags. In fact, the waiter advised us after dinner to stick together and watch for pickpockets.

About 30 minutes before I was supposed to be at the restaurant for dinner I started to get a little worried that I wouldn’t find it. Persistence is a good thing because as I got lost again I made a decision (guess) between the option of left or right and ended up on the street the restaurant was on. I found it in about 3 minutes. Because I was early I popped into a ceramics shop and poked around. The store was clearly designed to sell to tourists but there were some very nice items. They also had a wine cellar and art gallery under the main shop. I couldn’t resist the temptation to purchase a bowl that would be lovely for summer salads. Rather than haul it home I inquired about shipping it back, but at 70 euro to ship to the US I opted to import it myself. It was only a 20 euro bowl for pete sake.

I made my way back to the restaurant to find only one person from my party there so we sat at the bar under about 30 hanging hams and had cava. Normally I am pretty uptight about being late as I think it’s really rude to make the restaurant hold tables for non-existent patrons. (I also hate that people assume that it’s ok to make your friends wait for you.) This is not the US – it’s Spain, and everything is late here so the fact that our party didn’t arrive until 9 was no big deal. In fact, we had a lengthy dinner and left after 11 and there were tables where folks were just arriving yet there was no pressure to leave.

The restaurant didn’t look like much from the street. Rather, it didn’t look like much more than the bar area so when they walked us through the hot hot kitchen to the back and then around a corner and up a 200 year old carved staircase and then around another corner to our tables. The whole place other than the loft area where we were sitting has hams hanging from the ceiling.

The first course was an amazing array of tapas – jamon, mushrooms, prawns, and squid. I wanted to lick every plate – and my mouth is watering just thinking about the squid – it was lightly breaded and salty but not chewy. They were nothing short of perfection. We didn’t order it – they told us that they would be bringing it. For the second course everyone ordered their own but my end of the table agreed to Seafood Palella. The waiter brought out this huge hot pan of seasoned rice packed with seafood. Even after it was divided there was no way we could have eaten it all.

My dinner companions were extraordinarily fun. This group is from all over the UK and America and so my dinner companions were from the UK: Ireland, London, and Edinburgh, Scotland. We laughed about the differences between the US and the UK and listed absurd television shows. I totally concede defeat to “Naked Darts” a show in which topless women play darts. Who wants to marry my dad has nothing on Naked Darts. I’m sure FOX will pick up on it soon.

Thankfully after dinner, we found a cab and made it back to the hotel just after midnight. I figured out the wake up alarm situation (thankfully I have my cell phone) and made it to the last day of the conference on time.

Tonight the fountains will be on display, but there will also be fireworks so instead of a lengthy dinner some of the gals and I will make our way to the plaza near the hotel for a night out.

I leave tomorrow morning on a 6:30 am flight so I won’t be posting again until I’m back in the States. Viva Espana!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Can it really be called work when you're in Spain?

Buenos Dias!

The conference is progressing well. It is somewhat of a challenge being a single gal amongst the 50 year old male European business men. I really try to mingle and make connections – but it is hard and a bit isolating. I had a great conversation last night with the only other gal here from a financial services company – she’s with Behemoth National Bank somewhat of a competitor to my company but when one is starved for meaningful conversation, even George Bush might be fun to talk to. I’m certainly not comparing her to Bushie.

My friends at home joke about my boring job – it’s security but not in the stand-in-the-way-of-a-bullet kind of way – it’s a lot of meetings, writing and research. I’m excited by the myriad of possibilities within this industry, and as a woman I feel like a jr. pioneer. However, yesterday I may have found the topic that puts even me to sleep – “Light Boundary Protection using Fibre-Optic Sensors.” (yes, that’s fibre not fiber we are in Europe.) The topic overview read:

This presentation shows how such technology may be used to provide land or sea-based boundary protection, and presents the results obtained from research and current trends.

During the speech which included graphical representations of seaports with the giant ropes with sensors attached, and graphs comparing these sensors to normal sensors I was inventing new and unique ways to end my life. There is a giant crystal chandelier overhead and I thought that if I threw the bottle of water on my table at it, that it might maybe crash down upon my head and stop the speaker from talking – if I was lucky.

Then it occurred to me that if I unplug my power adapter and put one end of the cord in my mouth and plug the other end into the European socket without the adapter that the electrical shock might be enough to keep me awake.

After the day blissfully ended we headed to our social event which was held at the Poble Espanyole. PE was built in 1929 for the World Exposition to showcase the varied architectures styles across Spain. The area park is approximately 1 ½ football fields in diameter and is designed to look like a small Spanish village all centered upon a square. Each building emulates a real building somewhere in Spain and within each of the facades is a restaurant or shop featuring crafts targeted at the tourist. The shops were fun and I must admit I did succumb to the Spanish tile shop – but managed to skirt the scary painted clown mask shop. *shiver* Abandoning all sense of pride, I pulled out the camera and took a series of shots that if they turn out will be great. At one point in the park I noticed a man and his daughter who was dragging a jump rope. When told by her dad to step it up, she tied the rope around her waist and in doing so accidentally hiked the back end of her skirt up revealing her little girl panties. Once the rope was secured, they went on their way. I couldn't resist taking a photo of the little girl with her big burly dad and her bum hanging out. I confessed my voyeuristic shot to one of my colleagues and he laughed and admitted he took one too.

We were given a private tour of the park and then taken to the “monastery” at the top of the hill for a reception of dinner, cocktails, and handsome singing Spanish men in short pants. We dined outside under orange trees near a bubbling fountain. The “monastery” overlooked the city and as the sun went down the city came to life. It was a beautiful summer night with no wind and if every night in Spain was like that I’d move here tomorrow. I’m sure my enjoyment of the evening had NOTHING to do with the free flowing champagne and plates of cheese and jamon (that’s cured ham to you and me.)

Today is the last full day in the sessions, and tomorrow is a half day. I’ve got my afternoon mapped out. I’ll navigate the subway to the Ramblas for a walking tour of some Gaudi buildings and shopping. I also intend to seek out the apartment we’ve rented for our return trip in October – which will decrease any anxiety for the solo return trip.

The current presenter is discussing the complex and exciting topic of absorbing radio frequency signals – seriously: dallenback layer and circuit analog Jaumann RAM. Holy shit – I’ve got no idea what this guy is talking about. I guarantee, someone in the room does and will ask this horrifically smart man a question, but it won’t be me. To research the FSS analysis and design try this link: Ooh, now he’s talking frequency absorbing paints and coatings. I’m titillated – architectural coatings really get me going!

That’s probably enough for now.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Barcelona, Spain

There is one important thing to note about the airport in Barcelona. There are three baggage claim areas and it’s not apparent which one is which and once you enter one area it's a do or die decision. Once you choose you're out of the trusted circle of airport security and there's no going back - choose wisely! Out of the KLM wing the signs point to baggage claim, then you reach the main crossing area and the signs point in both direction: A (left) and B (right.) The kiosk screens only display departures. They are also not close to one another. I schlepped my carry on across the world to baggage claim B only to second guess my decision. I asked the “Information” lady:
TP: Para Ingles?
IL: a littleTP: Baggage claim A or B?
IL; que?
TP: miming luggage (two hands clenched into fists at your sides) then “Ahh oh Bah”?
IL: Ah, airline?
IL: ATP (looking at the big B sign over head) to herself: of course. (to the lady) grathiath
IL: a nod, and then back to her book
[based upon this amazing dialog - i'm sure you are all waiting with baited breath for my novel to be published]

Upon my arrival back to the main intersection which is extremely evident by the hordes of people looking left, then right and left again I took maybe 10 steps toward the A area and found the arrival kiosk. It was right outside the door to the one-way-only access to the baggage claim area.

My other acclimation situation is more of a Europe thing than a Spain thing. The atm key pads are oriented differently than in the States. If you are like me and have your PIN memorized by the word it spells you could be in trouble. The key pad does not have the corresponding letters on it and it is upside down so neither spelling nor finger memory work. After entering the wrong pin twice I panicked (that’s an odd grammar rule right there to add the “ed” to panic you first have to add the “k” – it’s no wonder people hate English) and stepped out of line and quickly drew the key pad the right way with the letters and attempted my transaction one last time. The danger is entering the wrong pin enough to cause the ATM machine to eat my card. Having arrived in Europe with no cash having my card eaten would have added an interesting dimension to the day.

The hotel is lovely and my first task upon arrival was to shower and wash the stink of the 16 hour journey off me. I’m a big fan of the fancy shower installations and my hotel does not disappoint. The overhead shower is a large rain shower type head and the two side heads spray water in a delightfully strong manner to get your back and front at the same time. The only problem is if you have to bend over for any reason, the spray goes promptly up your nose.

I abandoned the hotel hair dryer which is surprisingly weak in comparison with its size. No matter, ten minutes outside and my hair which at home can be damp all day was dry.
I hit the street with my Barcelona map and my camera. This hotel is near the former Olympic Park so I set out to see the sights.

The museum of art is located in a stunning castle like building at the top of a hill opposite a sweeping street that must have been the focal point for the Olympics. To get to the museum you have to climb a well architected staircase complete with enormous water fountains. The fountains weren’t flowing and I figured that because it was Sunday that things were closed. Alas, at 9:30pm when I finally allowed myself to go to bed the fountain show began (think of a European version of the fountain outside of the Belagio Hotel in Las Vegas.) Fortunately, the music was Vivaldi rather than something modern and raucous because it turns out that my room faces the fountains (although the line of sight is obscured by the apartment building next door) and the show starts every half an hour on the hour from 9pm until 11pm. I was delighted to see out my hotel window a marvelous view unobstructed view of the museum – that I completely missed upon my check in.

After the museum, I wanted to see the Poble Espanyol which is a tourist draw that was built for the Olympics. It’s a combination of a streetscape of all types of Spanish architecture and local vendors. My map is confusing because the park is on a hill and things that are located next to one another are actually quite far apart due to the vertical nature of the site. I descended the stairs from the museum to a second set of stairs in a different direction and climbed those to find myself at the museum about 100 yards from the first staircase. I didn’t find the PE which turns out to be a good thing as our conference event will be held there – provided I can find it.

The conference started this morning at the extremely civilized hour of 9:30. Traditionally, we start the events at 8am which was painful in Chicago due to the time change. This time change is more dramatic (my computer clock reads 1:26 am) but since I managed to stick it out until almost 10 last night, I think I’m adjusted.

I've coined a new word for my ongoing "Fictionary"
Confercation: noun, the conference located at a highly desirable location, such as Las Vegas or Hawaii (Barcelona?) thus enabling the employee to maximize conference downtime for personal enjoyment. Justification for attenting the formal event may in fact be questionable.

More tomorrow. (wireless connection at the hotel is 17 euro for a 24 hour period so I'm trying to bridge the days - ooh the lengths I go through to save my company money (while I sleep in a 200 euro a night room with a fancy shower and amazing view of the city.)

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

the heartbroken office supply guy

Poetry finds you when you need it most. For most people spotting poetry pretty much ended the last day of high school English class. They don't notice that songs on the radio, laughter of children, or the stories of our elderly parents are really poetry in disguise.

Some of us have to be hit over the head with poetry. Others are destined to send it out into the world never to know where it might land or how it effected the person it reached.

A few years ago I was opening a pack of plastic organizers for my boss. They were shipped directly from the plastic organizer company and were sealed in plastic wrap.

As I removed the top organizer I noticed a thin cardboard sheet in the box. It caught my attention because it was covered in handwriting.

This was exciting! So often I forget that a real person makes the things I buy. I imagine the plastic organizer flipping off the conveyor belt and into the box just before the cardboard separator drops in. Then the box is whisked down the belt to the spot that the box folder machine folds the box. But no, at Acme plastic organizer Inc real live people box the plastic organizers.
I was eager to read the message. It could have been anything. I myself have left notes for the future all over the world. My secret hiding spot? I place small rolled up notes inside the tp holders. You see they come apart and its a great place to stow a note. This started when I was a kid and continues to this day.
The plastic organizer note was hard to read. The writing was unmistakably male. But, I made out the poem he wrote:

I want to leave, away from this place
so far away, out of your life
you hurt me girl, took away my heart
throw it in the trash,
now your with him, am misable
and every time I saw you with him
I just want to brake down, brake down and cry
I just wanna brake down and cry.
I smile...but am crying inside.

Misable indeed. I imagine he was so wrecked with pain that writing a poem couldn't ease his suffering. No, he had to send his agony out into the world.

Well, thank you mister plastic organizer boxer man. Your poem was received and I send it out into the world for others to find.

Friday, June 10, 2005

TPgal vs. Jennifer Aniston... the winner is: Jennifer

When you're measuring your life by how you stack up to others your success or failure is totally dependent on whom you choose as a yard stick.I find it so interesting and humbling that the people I measure against also look to others for validation. (This means that I’m not the only neurotic person in the world.)

My ex-friend Demonica (I swear, I will get into that later) made statements that made me realize she thought I had it all: good job, decent pay, my own home and money to travel once a year and once in a blue moon to places like Italy. I look at Juniper and see someone who runs a successful small business, has a beautiful daughter, a husband who is a total delight and the ability to grow a lush garden and I think "wow, my life is shit". Juni looks at Yazmine who just got married and moved into a behemoth house and can only compare her fabulous but 100 year old house and think something is lacking.I suppose it’s good that we aren't friends with anyone REALLY successful.

I was complaining at work about being one of the lowest paid on the team. (Note to managers PEOPLE TALK to each other!!!!). My wise mentor told me to take a chill pill because when compared to the average for the state I'm well above, and in comparison to the rest of the world I'm in the stratosphere. He wasn't being dismissive, but trying to give me some perspective.

One of the big regrets for me at the moment is the fact that I haven't found my Mr. Tpgal. I worry that I won't have a family and that I'll die alone. (Not soon mind you). But, when I look at the unhappily married I am filled with relief as it seems better to be alone than miserable. Not all married folks are miserable – but the ones that are scare the daylights out of me. How on earth do you get married to someone and then end up hating them? It just seems like an unbelievable leap even though it happens.

I guess the lesson is (and now, on a very special episode of Blossom…) be thankful for what you’ve got. There’s always someone who has a hell of a lot less.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Damn the blog eating editor

So - I just wrote this totally funny and witty entry about sports in the office and then moved on to an embarrassing revelation about a baton and was able to preview the entry and got an 'error' upon attempting to publish.


Here's the abbreviated run down:

Work sucks -- funny joke about photo-copying money - (a disclaimer to Mr. Secret Service treasury agent that it was A JOKE and that I'm not really a candidate for detention in Guantanamo Bay)

my co-worker Sport Boy asked me to show him my softball "arm" and I nailed him in the Fred Flintstone with the Princess Diana beanie baby. Princess Di was borrowed from the receptionists desk - I don't have beanie babies in my life.

My softball team is called "team #2" (thank you uninspired team coordinator) - to make the shitty name seem more like a purposeful thing we are making signs:

Go Number 2!

Gosh - the other post was so good that I'm heartbroken.

Lastly -- the embarrassing revelation about the baton was that I actually use to be a twirler. It's good this is somewhat anonymous or I might never live it down. I wasn't good enough to graduate to FIRE BATON - but I didn't suck so bad that I ever hit anyone in the Fred Flintstone either.

Sigh -- I guess I should write these in word or some other evil product and copy it over. I know, save your work.

I hate IM. It sucks. I want to kill myself every time it pops up.