Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Hash marks

I honestly can't explain my actions sometimes. Lately it feels like I'm on autopilot, or a hovering observer, or a Greek chorus singing ominous warnings to myself outside myself to do or not do things which only get trapped in the fogged up crystal ball of my skull. And there will always be something I'll be wanting to say but I just...won't. I'll bite down on the confession until it retreats into the mist and disappears and poof, the moment is gone. If I had been keeping track via hash marks of all the opportunities I've missed in this exact way, I'd be the proprietor of a warehouse full of slashed up, wounded, decaying Renaissance murals. Yes I'd count my hash marks on valuable, old works of art for dramatic purposes. Dear everyone who is able to express their feelings out loud in adult words, what's that like?

This habit of mine manifests when it really, really counts and also, when it is stupid and doesn't really matter or when expressing discomfort or discontentment or just turning around and leaving would actually save me physical pain. I was reminded of this last night, when I went, against all better judgement, to a hot yoga class.

This was not my first foray into the disgusting rodeo that is hot yoga. It was actually the third class I've taken in about five years. I understand there are people who enjoy it, benefit from it and make a career out of teaching it and to them I say, kudos! And you physically stink most of the time but that's an occupational hazard so I allow it. I practice yoga regularly and so it always seems like a natural progression to go hot. Kind of like "do all of this really difficult and demanding shit but make sure you can't breathe at the same time, mkay?" And the physical challenges actually appeal to me. The gradual pace of arriving at advanced poses and testing the limits of my flexibility make yoga one of my favorite things in the world. I enjoy the idea of testing it further and I think maybe that is why, in the abstract, hot yoga sounds appealing.

The first time I did it was in this cramped, extremely crowded studio in Astoria. It was a Saturday and there were about four hundred people in a studio apartment sized room. I don't remember that much about the actual practice, only that the man in front of me was in the middle of a warrior 3 pose and all I could focus on was the puddle, and I mean deep wide puddle of sweat coming off his head. It made me nauseated. That was enough for me to give it up for a year or two. Then, when I first started doing yoga about five years ago, I took a class with this lovely young woman who I then ran into at a bar a few weeks later. She told me she was opening her own studio near where I live. Of course, I had to check it out. Plus her classes were really cheap. One of the downsides of yoga classes is how dang expensive they are and how inconvenient the class times are to someone with two jobs. Well, it turns out this new studio was hot yoga only. This time, although there was more room to move around, I couldn't actually breathe. Breathing, as a matter of fact, is one of the main focuses of yoga and each time the instructor said "focus on your breathing" I searched the room frantically for a paper bag in which to hyperventilate. I never found one. And I never went back.

Until last night. I had some free time on my hands and my regular yoga studio wasn't having any good classes. I sat around my apartment feeling all restless and not unlike Indiana Jones during his last crusade, when he's reaching for that holy grail and just almost, almost getting it brushing it with his fingers so close only to realize he's got to let it go because it was all in his head. Yeah, that old feeling. So I thought, hot yoga! There's an idea! And from that point forward, each time I didn't just change my mind and turn around was a missed opportunity to do something that actually made me happy or was in any way pleasurable. Each of those times was another hash mark. As you read along, how many do you count? So I drove back to that I can't breathe in here studio and walked in.(hash mark. that was a freebie)

I was greeted by a young woman who was sweating. Next to her was a tall beardy blond tan guy who probably wants to bring the word tubular back into the popular lexicon. They asked me to fill out some liability form (probably because someone dies every five minutes in those classes) and while I was doing this, beardy blond tan guy (BBTG) starts packing a bowl. He stood at the front desk of this business and prepared his Mary Jane with the casual way one prepares a peanut butter sandwich. And ok, fine. I have no problem with weed. But then he lit it and started smoking it on his way back into the studio. And that just struck me as a bizarre thing to do before a yoga class, mostly because yoga IS the thing that is supposed to take you to "the next level". At least that was my school of thought. Again, I'm not judging. I just thought it was bizarre to prepare and smoke it in full view of a crowded office of a busy business. Immediate regret, a feeling I'm becoming intimately familiar with, poked me in the ribs. Again.

So, after signing in, I took off my shoes and stuffed my belongings into one of the cubby holes provided and entered the gates of hell the yoga room. It was hot. It was literally Africa hot. That's a funny phrase coined by Neil Simon but it was reality. Again, I wanted to leave. But I just...didn't. I was followed BBTG who, having smoked in some energy proceeded to stand at the front of the room and get all bendy and headstandy and it was annoying. I dislike people "warming up" for yoga and it is worse when they warm up for hot yoga. Gilding the lily, so to speak. Except the lily is wilted because nothing can survive in that room, not even humans. So you can do a headstand, congratulations, I don't care. I prefer to sit still and contemplate everything but my ego. BBTG was distracting me. As was the very attractive guy that set his mat down next to me. He was lithe and sinewy and sat still and had his eyes closed and allowed me a lovely view through the mirror. Oh yeah and also, this studio had a mirror that everyone faced. I dislike that as well. I don't like watching myself do yoga. I find it very distracting. My ego takes over and I start to criticize. BBTG was loving it though and you could tell. But here's what confused me. BBTG didn't even stay for the class! He came in to the room to do two headstands and preen a bit and then he left. Wth??

The instructor was 10 minutes late, giving me 10 extra minutes to change my mind and go suck in some cold air instead of sitting inside someone's mouth, waiting to die. Just as I was about to leave, she walked in. The class started and was fairly straightforward but the instructor didn't do any of the poses. I suppose it would be hard to talk and do poses in that setting. But there was no extra talk or introduction, another thing I need in my yoga practice. I would like a thought to hang on to while I'm struggling through poses. My erstwhile instructor used to have themes for each of her classes. One time we had class on Mick Jagger's birthday. He is a yogi and has been for many years and she arranged a Rolling Stones playlist and told us to let go like Mick Jagger onstage. It was a great class that put everyone in a good mood. This, on the other hand, was like being in school. Hot school. With lithe sweaty bodies everywhere. I could not let go in this class. I just kept trying to breathe, trying not to look in the mirror. It sucked.

The class lasted 90 minutes. The instructor left abruptly and as soon as she did I may or may not have pushed an old lady, a clown and few children to get out. I'm not going to do hot yoga again. For at least another two years when I forget how much I hate it and get bored and decide to take a class instead of, I don't know, clipping my toenails.

So how many hash marks did you count? I lost track.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Day 5: Guell, Picasso, Rambling Las Ramblas and Eating Bicycles

Despite downing about a gallon of water before falling asleep the night/morning before when we got back to the apartment from Gracia, I woke up feeling that dried up raisiny feeling that walks hand in hand with alcohol consumption. My mistake was not sticking to the wine. I'm pretty sure I was just drinking bowls of vodka, but I can neither confirm nor deny that.

The plan for the day was to at some point visit the Picasso museum. It was our last day in Barcelona and our group was going to go our separate ways after that so the Picasso museum was to be our meeting point. After taking a pretty long time to get out of the apartment, Jason and I started walking up the steepest hill in Barcelona in order to get to Park Guell where we were to meet up with Nancy and Jon.  I think we probably made it about 10 minutes and a quick ATM stop before deciding to get into a cab for the rest of the way. I felt a little guilty about spending money on a taxi but sometimes, you have to live like a local and I know, without any doubt, that if I was a Barcelona local, I would have taken a cab.Yeah, that's why I did it.

Park Guell is just one more of Gaudi's footprints, complete with amazing architecture throughout and about four hundred million stairs. Here are some photographs, including one of me tripping after rounding a blind corner which was "accidentally" captured by Jason.

The entrance is more than likely always like this.

Beautiful city views are plentiful throughout.

There goes Jason

My office is currently freezing;this picture makes me wistful.

We parted ways after traipsing around the park. Jason and I were going to try to get back into the Casa Battlo gift shop since our previous attempt failed. We made our way back to the site and were met at the entrance by a scowling, tiny woman who looked dubiously at my face as I explained to her that we didn't want to sneak inside, only to visit the gift shop since it had closed early the day we visited. She explained that if I didn't have my ticket stub (I didn't as I had cleaned out my bag that morning in a hungover state of exasperation) that there was no way I could prove that I had paid the entrance fee and she couldn't possibly let us in because we would go tell our little friends that it was really easy to fool this 4 foot "guard" and get into the house for free. We had traveled across town and wanted to see the gifts from our favorite attraction in Barcelona and it seemed ridiculous to me that, after she acknowledged that the gift shop had indeed closed early on the day we were there (how would we have known that if I hadn't been telling the truth?) that she was still being so stalwart. After standing in line for a few minutes to see if we could find a friendlier face behind the ticket booth, I realized that I had paid for my entrance fee with a debit card and was able to pull up my bank statement (have I mentioned yet that my phone bill after this trip was about $200?)  and prove that I did indeed pay for my entrance on the day I told her I did. All of this was going on in Spanish which, while I understand it and can speak it pretty well, I was missing a word here and there and all the while trying to find the grammatically correct way to say "just let us in, biatch." When I showed her on my phone she stood there staring at it, unblinking beneath her power trip. She eventually relented and took my phone with her to show her supervisor and explain to her what I said and we saw her supervisor simply nod her head and shrug her shoulders as though it were no big deal because you know what, little lady guard? It WASN'T one.

We finally made it into the gift shop and, like most events that are preceded by a lot of hopeful anticipation, we realized pretty simultaneously that it wasn't worth the trouble. I think I bought a pen. Huh.

After that, we went into an expensive restaurant where I ordered at random and was served a slice of toasted bread with cheese on it. I think it cost about 9 euros.

We made our way down to Las Ramblas. Or maybe we started walking and ended up randomly at Las Ramblas...the memory fades. I do remember that it was first on Las Ramblas that I heard the earsplitting, nails-on-the-chalkboard shrill pain inducing sound of some novelty toy being sold by street vendors that sounded like a maniacal duck being tickled to death. I didn't know it then but I would hear it throughout the rest of the trip. But each time I did hear it, it made me cringe and scowl and I sincerely hope to never hear it again. Why anyone in their right mind would buy such a thing will live beyond my understanding forever. I know that sounds a little melodramatic but honestly, it was awful.

We wandered aimlessly a bit in order to kill time before meeting at the Picasso museum. Jason is one of my favorite people to ramble with for many reasons, mainly because if we are not laughing we are bouncing ideas and observations between us. Some people either hate going on meandering walks or do it very badly, i.e. they get frustrated and cranky and can only talk about those two feelings and/or sigh heavily. They would be bad ramblers. I don't really get along too well with bad ramblers. I try to surround myself with people open enough to walk and talk with me for an indefinite amount of time. If I were to assign a name to my posse, it would be the ramblers.

Somehow, we ended up at the Picasso museum and I could not tell you how this was achieved since it is on a side street of cobblestone. I think I've said before in this blog that I have no idea how to get from point A to point B in Barcelona. So don't ask me for directions in that city. Everyone showed up, Lorraine and Rashish sunkissed from a day at the beach, Nancy and Jon energized from walking around the city looking at beautiful gothic architecture.

My impressions of the Picasso museum were...dampened. I don't know why. Anytime one is able to see Picasso in any capacity is a good time. I think maybe I expected it to be a bigger space. There was also a very large portion dedicated to his painting "Las Meninas" which was something he was apparently obsessed with since there are details and sketches and first drafts enough to fill several rooms of the museum. I could appreciate the effort, the time, the obsession that went into the work but as for the painting itself, I suppose it didn't grab me as other of his works did and would when I got to Madrid. I realize this sounds jaded. But these were my impressions. Maybe it was the size of the museum, or maybe it was the two American young women taking photos of themselves in the museum saying things like "OMG sooo CYUTE everything in this place is sooo CYUTE!" Whaddayagonnado?

After leaving the museum, we parted ways with Nancy and Jon and went back to our flat to try to cook whatever food was left since we wouldn't have time to eat it in the morning. Rashish was headed home to NY and Lorraine, Jason and I were off to Sevilla in the morning. Rashish and Lorraine had bought bicycle shaped pasta earlier in the week (I'm still unclear as to who decided that since I know Lorraine to be easily swayed by packaging) so they cooked these delicious bicycles for us to enjoy on our beautiful porch, overlooking the Sagrada Familia in the dark. If memory serves, we also had to eat three pounds of olives and mini gherkin pickles and finish two or three beers and about two bottles of wine, a tall order for one meal. We gave it the old college try. Nancy and Jon stopped by to say goodbye and left for Azores the next day. On reflection, I'm reasonably certain I spent my entire time in Spain in a light to heavy buzz of wine and food so my recollection, fuzzy as it may be, was that we tucked in early, lulled to sleep by our erstwhile week long home. And by "lulled to sleep" I mean the mystery sound (I don't know if I mentioned this before in the blogs) we kept hearing somewhere in the distance of our apartment which sounded suspiciously like a pterodactyl searching for prey, ended the evening with a loud punctuation. A stone age "Adios!" if you will.

On the next Spain blog: forgotten guitars, almost missed flights, Sevilla, sangria, flamenco oh my!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

12:44 am

Here's a very brief interruption from the Spain blogs (which, btw, I work on almost every day but become ridiculously distracted) and one which is generated by a late night revelation that makes me feel as untethered as Ryan in that movie Gravity and also groping towards stability like, well, like Ryan in that movie Gravity. This interruption will take the form of three observations I am letting marinate at 12:45am.

1) I have sacrificed more of my own physical comfort in the name of my cats who, while I am sensitive to their affection for me, I fully understand would eat me if necessary. I don't understand why, when they are all up in my grill and I want to move, I don't for fear of "putting them out" somehow. Is this a cat's secret mind control power?

2) I should never let myself fall into a three hour nap, regardless of intense lack of rest the night before. I am articulating this now because when I do this again (and I will), I'll want a reference point before I fall into late afternoon sleep.

3) 12:44 am on a Sunday morning is just one of those hours I guess that you want to be on someone's mind. Or maybe just one particular person. This hour brings things into sharp focus. Things you realize all day long, every day but only savor in the silence of your apartment, alone at 12:44, well those things tend to grab you by the pajama lapels (shut up, I have them) and yank upward.

That's all. Back to staring into dark silence for a bit kind of like Ryan in the movie Gravity.

P.S. Everyone should see the movie Gravity.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Dia Dali

I became frightened when I realized that I have not written more about the Spain trip yet. What frightened me is that today is the fifth day in a new month and September is over as though it never existed and if I sit on this any longer, I'll forget all the things I want to remember. Memory: nature's Etch-A-Sketch. (In fairness to me, I have been occupied with the marathon watching of Breaking Bad and therefore have forfeited all of my time to the endeavor of absorbing someone else's creativity. So, yeah. Go me.) These blogs are, aside from towering magnum opuses for posterity's bemusement, my own personal filing system for documents that I want to reread when I'm 97.

Day 4 in Barcelona was September 11. Please see my Paris, September 11 post for an explanation on why I'm usually either out of the country (or on jury duty) during the anniversary of the attacks. From the nascent stages of planning this trip, Lorraine had made it clear that she wanted to visit Figueres on September 11. Figueres is a town that is about an hour outside of Barcelona and is the hometown and location of Salvador Dali's museum. Dali is Lorraine's favorite artist. I admit to not knowing a whole lot about him, apart from his associations with Luis Bunuel and of course the famous paintings and, after Adrian Brody's depiction of him in "Midnight in Paris" I had a general idea of him in my mind and one really only has to look at his paintings to become either enraged, titillated, the very least, intrigued.

We had gotten in late the night before but needed to get up early to catch the train to Figueres. Another train. It wasn't AS confusing as the day before but there was still the standard moment of confusion when we were buying the tickets but compared with the day before, it all went relatively smoothly. The train rides to both Montserrat and to Figueres were some of my favorite parts of the trip thanks to the great conversations we had. I think at one point we started talking about schizophrenia and the nature of reality and perception. Lest you think it all too serious, we also spent a good portion of the trip talking about cake farting. So, uh, yeah don't ask. Just know it was discussed. A lot.

We got to Figueres and to my memory we basically just followed a massive crowd and ended up getting to where we were going. Like most of what I would come to know as "suburban Spain" the streets were narrow and the towns reminded me of small town America but even smaller. We had to single file it down certain streets because of how narrow the sidewalks were and how many people were on them. To the credit of Spanish drivers, everywhere we visited, in all cities and towns, the drivers yielded to pedestrians with the utmost patience. It was almost unnerving, the lack of horn blowing and yelling and the generally understood animosity between drivers and pedestrians. I remember always pausing carefully before crossing any intersection, not knowing that drivers were so damn conscientious. Bonus points for Spain.

For part of the walk from the train station we were walking behind a group of students on a field trip. I am always envious of Europeans for various reasons but mostly for the physical proximity to entirely different countries and the ability to sit on a plane for a scant two hours and end up a world away. These high schoolers were on a trip to the DALI museum. It prompted a conversation about where we went on school field trips. We had some good memories but none as cool as what these kids were doing. 

It was the first chilly day of our trip and I was not properly dressed for it, since the Spain of my imagination is always dry and sunny. I actually welcomed the cool down. There was a line to get into the museum since it was still pretty early and, as I would come to learn over the next few hours, this museum is a hot spot.

Apparently on the day we were in Figueres, it was the National Day of Catalonia. There were parades throughout the town and people walking around draped in the Catalonian flag everywhere and I suspect that accounted for the crowded streets on top of the museum entrance. I scarcely believe it, but I didn't get any photos of people in Catalonian flags. I sure hope Lorraine got some snaps. Anyway, here's a shot of what the streets around the museum looked like:

Notice sweaters and scarves and only parts of people I know.
Dali's church, that is the church he was baptized in, is located right near the museum. While we stood in line to get inside the museum, we each took a turn inside the church. It was your standard intricately beautiful, deceptively small on the outside but massive on the inside. Again, no photos from my lameness but here's someone from the internet's photo:

Actually it doesn't look small on the outside either.

If I were a religious person, Spain would be a wonderful place to tour Catholic churches; they exist in spades.

Anyway, as we approached the entrance to a church I could actually relate to, an art museum, we were greeted with the sight of this fantastic sculpture:

Looking at the photo now, I again marvel at the white robe of the figure. I had mistaken it for a draped over fabric covering something being worked on or something but up close it was such a beautiful and integral part of the sculpture. It was in fact my entree into what to really appreciate about surrealism: everything appears to be one thing but upon closer consideration is something else entirely. In other words, nothing was as it seemed. This is often a point of contention for people when they shrug off surrealism as random or nonsensical. But when I looked more closely, I had the feeling that anything was possible and that, in turn, made me feel optimistic for some odd reason. I had that reaction so many times throughout the day with different works and I wanted to devour all the art inside and live with it so I could figure out whatever he had hidden or disguised in plain sight. Nothing made sense yet everything made complete sense when you sat still and let it marinate for awhile. This kind of art needs to be ingested and to run its course. Which brings me to a point of complaint. (It had to happen sooner or later.)

The Fundacio Dali is a museum dedicated to one artist. It houses several floors of artwork in many rooms and, in my humble opinion unfortunately, photography is allowed throughout the museum. I say this because, aside from the museum being a very popular destination and crammed wall to wall with people not unlike the Met in NYC, the world has become such that instead of taking the time to really appreciate life's experiences, we are now overcome with a compulsion to document life's experiences (she said in her blog about her travels). Gone are the days when we can visit an artwork and feel everything we are going to feel and think, even boredom at times. Now we have PHOTOGRAPH it. We have to photograph ourselves in front of it. Don't mistake me, as evidenced above, I took photographs in the museum of pieces that struck me or spoke to me. I just counted them, I took six. I don't have a problem with snapping a shot or two or even six of things (with NO FLASH for the love of God). But what I experienced at this museum, and others I would come to find out later in the trip, is that people will indiscriminately take photo after photo after photo without bothering to look at the real thing first. People were literally walking down hallways in the museum just taking pictures, telling their children to stand in front of paintings to pose, blocking out parts of the paintings. That was probably the weirdest thing of all to me. Why would someone want their photo taken in front of a painting? Are you going to get all meta and frame a photo of you standing in front of a framed work of art? I sincerely pine for the days when no photographs were allowed at all. I think we lose a little something when we can't experience a moment without the filter of our cameras. I have no doubt that many, many people left that museum completely unaffected by what they saw, mostly because they didn't see anything. Ok, no more complaining.

In defiance of what I just finished saying, here are a couple of photos I did take:

Those are golden French baguettes.
This room greets you as  you enter.

A smaller version of "Persistence of Memory" which, oddly, is at the MOMA.

Like a lot Dali's work, this could have come right from one of my nightmares. Or a Tool video.

All of those pieces were amazing but the one that struck me the most, of which I did not get my own photograph of was a painting in part of a collection of lithographs about the Holocaust and is called "Aliyah, the Rebirth of Israel". Here's a picture of it that does not do the image justice:

I don't know if this painting qualifies as surreal but when you see it up close, there are several images inside the beard of the rabbi, all symbolizing a rebirth after the Holocaust. In fact, all the lithographs in this series, which took up a whole floor of the museum were striking and beautiful. 
The entire museum is something everyone should experience at least once and I am so glad we got to see it.

After leaving, we were all famished and found a local place to eat. The waiter, when I asked if he spoke English, listed no less than eight different languages that he was fluent in but English was not one of them. Yet another reason to admire Europeans, the language skills. How many waiters do you know that are fluent in so many languages? Anyway, we had a delicious meal (pimentos de padron part one million) and when we left we walked straight into the Catalonian Pride parade. Distracted by this for a bit, we missed our train. And, this will come as no surprise, the schedule was impossible to understand. So we had to wait about an hour for the next one....maybe. It could have been an hour or it might have been 15 minutes. It turned out to be about an hour. But the schedule was so confusing and the answers from the ticket agents didn't really translate either so it was a bit like sitting in limbo. I asked a (hot, of course) police officer and he showed me how to read the schedule. The only problem with that is that while he was explaining it to me, I was focusing on trying to come up with the right word to describe the particular shade of blue of his eye color. I think I settled on azure. Anyway, I left the conversation with the impression that the next train would arrive in 30 minutes. But that was conjecture. The train confusion I experience in Europe is really just absurd.

Anyway, we boarded the train at last and made our way back to Barcelona and to the apartment where Nancy and Jon were staying. It was lovely in there and equipped with a bidet. I did not use it but I appreciated that I had the option. We had some wine and cheese on the terrace that overlooked the color blocked windows of neighboring apartments and rooftops. Barcelonians really know how to use outdoor space. We decided that we were going out to drink heavily and left in search of a happening neighborhood. Working on a tip from either the landlord of Nancy and Jon's apartment or the inimitable Rick Steves, we decided to try the Gracia neighborhood. 

We took the metro there and nothing seemed doing at first glance so I approached a young woman on the sidewalk. She was very informative and friendly and even walked us to the street where all the happening spots were. Her name was Chiara and she was actually Italian but had lived in Barcelona for several years. She walked us right to the end of the street where all the cool places were. We ended up going here to a small place called Chatelet. You will have to forgive me because everything is quite a blur from that point forward. I know for certain that Jason and I had a conversation during which I laughed so hard that I almost fell off the stool. I know we left at some point to go elsewhere and on the way to that 2nd place this photo of me was taken by Nancy:

which was apparently another bar that we did not enter. (Btw, what a stupid name for a bar.) We ended up sitting outdoors in a plaza being loud Americans. I remember laughing hysterically and the waiter, who was hot. (Are you sensing a theme?) We wandered home on foot around 4am-ish I think and only made it there because Rashish has an internal compass rivaled by none that works even while he is tipsy. I envy that. 

And so day 4 bled spilled drunkenly into day 5 which I can hopefully write about in six weeks or so. Hey in this way, my vacation NEVER ENDS.