Monday, December 21, 2009

Visit to L'Orangerie and the Grand Palais

Yesterday turned out to be quite a day for viewing famous art. I met with Pierrette who is also associated with the Couchsurfing organization in the early afternoon. We had some coffee and I chattered on and on about my trip and my Couchsurfing experiences. Then, at her suggestion, we decided to visit Musee de l'Orangerie to see its collection of Monets and other art as it was only a short walk from our meeting spot in the Place de la Concord. It was a wonderful visit and I have some photos to include below but the run-away, drop dead best, art exhibit I've ever seen was Renoir in the 20th Century currently running at the Grand Palais. Incomparable for the great beauty of Renoir's masterpieces of course but also because if its size and scope. Renoir works were brought to Paris for this show from museums all over the world, museums in Venice and Verona, New York, Vienna, and Prague, even from the Musee de l'Orangerie itself on the other side of the square.

Before going on, I must again say that without (CS) I would not have met Pierrette, who not only speaks three languages fluently but is a great lover of the arts, and I would missed one of the greatest artistic exhibits it has ever been my pleasure to see. I've been wandering around Paris for days, enjoying myself certainly, contenting myself with just being present in this exciting city, feeling its energy, sampling the food and wine, and enjoying the wonderful architecture. Apparently, living in Homer for over 24 years has heightened my appreciation for such stuff. Pierette and I had communicated through the CS site before and had made plans to get together to share a cup of coffee and talk about Couchsurfing. But her knowledge of Paris and the current art scene was the key to yesterday's exciting and lucky visit to the Grand Palais.

I was able to take photographs of the paintings in the  l'Orangerie, including some Renoirs that weren't included in the big exhibit at the Grand Palais but alas, no cameras were permitted in that venue so all I can bring home with me are memories. There is a nicely done catalog available that I was tempted to buy but at 49 euro and about 5 lb I couldn't justify it, either in terms of cost or weight. Plus, it is in French. This exhibit will travel to the U.S. next year and will be in Philadelphia (June 12 to September 5, 2010) and Los Angeles (February 14 to May 9, 2010). If you happen to find yourself anywhere near those cities during those times, it would be well worth your while to make the effort to see it.

The few Renoirs I have here are not quite as fine as the others, in my very humble opinion, but I include them to enhance what might be an otherwise dry monologue.



There were several galleries containing works by Andre Derain, a few Picassos scattered here and there, a few Rousseaus, works by Soutine, Cezanne, and of course Monet. The big attraction upstairs in this museum are several beautiful panels by Monet but due to their large size my photos couldn't do them justice so I didn't include them. Below are two by Derain and two by Rousseau that I liked. This first is a portrait of Madame Guillaume, wife of Paris art critic Paul Guillaume. I think the next one is also by Derain but I'm not positive about that.


Next are two by Henri Rousseau. Click on this one to view it full size and check out the "expression" on the dog's face:


After visiting the Renoir show we began the long walk back to the Bastille Square. But we detoured to the Champs-Elysées where I took these photos. The first one is looking east toward the Place de la Concord and the ferris wheel in the Christmas park there. The other view is to the west with the Arc de Triomphe in the distance. Christmas decorations are everywhere apparent on this last weekend before the holiday. And, as always, much traffic both vehicular and pedestrian congest this popular area.

Here are photos of Pirrette and me taken on the Champs-Elysées.

All in all, it was a wonderful day in Paris. (Doug: I logged 25,915 steps yesterday.) I'm not sure if I'll have a chance to write much more from here. Tomorrow I will be flying back to the states to my hometown of Buffalo, New York, via JFK. I hope the snow everybody seems to be enjoying so much stays away until I'm through there and sitting in front of sister Sandy's fireplace in Buffalo. My daughter Carin lives in North Carolina now but she grew up in western New York and she's thrilled that her area got hit by a huge snowstorm. Needless to say, I'd just as soon avoid that if possible.

Merry Christmas to you all.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

I love Paris even in winter

I finished my entry this morning and then headed out onto the streets. I wanted to feel that excitement that I felt during my first visit. It was so cold that at first I only felt the chill and not the excitement. I wandered up the Rue Du Faubourg Saint-Antoine toward Bastille Square really feeling the cold. I stopped in and had a latte at the local Starbucks. I know, I know, Starbucks doesn't have the best coffee but I'm forced to admit that compared to the other coffee I've had over here, it isn't all that bad. We're very lucky in Homer and just happen to have the best coffee you can buy right in our little "Cosmic Hamlet by the Sea".

After that I got out and got moving. And I started to feel warmer. By the time I reached Bastille Square my chill had dissipated. I had dressed warmly before leaving the flat: longjohns and Levis, my wool Ibex pullover, a polypro pullover on top of that, and over it all my Mountain Hardware jacket. People were out shopping and walking. The square wasn't as busy as I'd observed previously but Paris is a big city and there is much to see and do.

I headed toward the Seine. I passed many shops selling Christmas stuff and this one caught my eye, and my nose. The fragrance of pine was very pleasant and quite noticeable when I stopped to take this shot. The beautiful lady I caught in passing seemed dismayed to have been captured in it.

I crossed the Seine on the Pont Marie over to the I'lle Saint Louis and found a little street just full of shops that sell a bit of everything: jewelry and art, croissants and fine wines, cheeses, clothing, leather goods, and souvenirs. My excitement about being back in Paris was returning. Definitely returning.

It was really fun to be Christmas shopping in a  place that is so fundamentally different from the usual mall shopping most Americans do. I found a little perfumery where I bought something for my mother. I bought a tartitte for lunch at one of the boulangeries there and finally crossed over to the the I'île de la Cité for another visit to the Notre Dame cathedral. I don't think I posted any pictures of the cathedral in my earlier blog entries so I include this picture now.

As you can see, there are tourists everywhere. It may be cold and wintry in Paris but people are still visiting and taking photos of the memorable sights this astonishing city offers. I crossed back to the other side of the river for my walk back to Arnaud's flat on Rue Trousseau.

 Tomorrow is a new day and hopefully I will not be as uncomfortable as I set out for new adventures and new things to see in Paris.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Paris - Reprise

Well, the joke in Valencia was that I brought in the coldest spell of weather my hosts had seen during their six months in the city and the day I left, yesterday, a simply gorgeous day, I took the cold weather with me. Rety and Bruce walked with me to the tram stop dressed in short sleeve shirts, all of us enjoying the sun and warmth after three full days of uncharacteristically chilly temperatures. Nevertheless, it was a fantastic visit made so by my good luck at being able to stay with such interesting and friendly people, people I met through the Couchsurfing site.

My flight back was uneventful except for a couple of delays. But imagine my dismay when our plane dropped through the clouds to land at Orly Field and I saw that the ground was covered with snow! Yep, Paris has snow. Orly, south of the city, looked like it got about a foot perhaps. Here, in the heart of the city, there isn't much more than a trace of slush on the streets but after Spain, it feels decidedly cold and damp. I had emailed Thea to tell her not to worry about meeting me at the airport because, now that I'm a more seasoned traveler, I felt confidant that I could find my way to their flat. And so I did. But of course there's a story involved.

I went to the Information Desk at the airport and got directions from the attendant. Orly isn't on the regular subway route, she explained in English, so one must first take a shuttle bus to the closest subway station, Denfert Rochereau, catch the #6 Train to Bercy and then grab the #14 Train to arrive at Gare de Leon, the big railway station a few blocks from Thea and Arnaud's flat. She told me to go to Gate D for my bus. I wandered over that way to find the bus loaded and ready to leave. Great. I ran over and jumped aboard. I asked the driver how much was the fare and he responded, 6.40 euro. Huh! Right away I knew I was back in Paris, easily the most expensive city I've visited. Nowhere else are buses or subways this expensive. In Berlin, or Amsterdam, or Spain, the fares are more like 1.20 or 2.40 maybe, but not here. The driver laughed when he saw my look of surprise and said in English, "This is Paris, What do you expect?"

After about 20 minutes we arrived at the subway station. I had been careful to ask a fellow passenger which direction to travel on Train #6, so I knew I wanted to follow the signs for the train to Nation rather than the one going to Saint Lazare. Alas, when I entered the station there was no ticket window available that I could see. But I had saved a subway pass from my last visit and had kept it for two months in the back compartment of my billfold and I thought, okay, let's try it. It worked perfectly. I felt so proud of myself. Here I was, back in Paris and feeling very much the veteran, and so competent now compared to how I felt during my first hours in Paris back in October when I worried about every little thing.

I jumped on the next train and rode to the Bercy station. I exited that train and promptly caught Train #14 for the short hop to Gare de Lyon. So far so good. But getting out of this massive multi-leveled station isn't that easy. This major terminal serves the entire southeastern portion of Paris and has bus lines, subway lines and rail lines connecting on at least three levels (maybe four I don't know), and there are multiple gates requiring a pass to clear. I stuck my pass into the slot. Nothing doing. A red light came on illuminating a short error message in French. Damn it! My old pass had let me through the gate at Denfert Rochereau -- why not this one?

I had learned how to cheat my way through these gates during my previous visit. I hadn't intentionally set out to do that but buying subway passes in Paris can be very cumbersome and consequently several times I had found my self trapped in a station with no legal way out. What you do is to wait until someone walks through the gate using their pass. Before the gate can re-lock itself, you jump in right behind them and pass quickly through. Pretty soon a fellow walked up, put his pass in, and went through--I glided right in behind him and pushed through the gate. Success! Again I felt like quite the veteran. But there are many gates, four in fact, to pass before you are finally out of Gare de Lyon.

I  got through the next two gates without too much difficulty but had a problem with the final one. Because I was coming from the airport I had my daypack on my shoulders and was pulling my roller suitcase behind me. Getting all that gear through a gate directly behind someone else can be tricky and at this last gate my luck finally ran out. There are these little sliding doors as well as a turnstile that are expressly designed to prevent the type of passage I was attempting and this last one caught me good. I wasn't quite speedy enough. The damn gate closed early and caught my back pack solidly. To make matters worse, the turnstile had also locked and had caught my roller bag in the narrow aisle behind me. I was literally skewered in place, stuck firmly in the teeth of this infernal contraption. Oh, oh, I thought, this could get ugly.

But before I could even begin stressing out about this embarrassing development and to my immense surprise, two (three?) French commuters magically appeared and in a heartbeat helped me through the gate. A woman behind me grabbed my 40 lb roller bag and lifted it through the adjoining gate to a man. Either he or a third man somehow helped extricate my backpack from the little doors that only seconds ago had so firmly held me and before I knew it I was through. I said, thank you, thank you, and mumbled something, in English naturally, about my pass not working. But they were already gone. Like Robin Hood they seemed to relish the idea of beating the system and helping one of its unfortunate victims. As far as I can tell they didn't know one another and it was over so fast that I can't be sure if there were two people involved or three. But they responded in seconds to help me out of a jam and then just as quickly disappeared into the passageways ahead. Who says the French aren't friendly?

I somehow made my way out of the bowels of the station and when I finally emerged onto the street immediately knew where to go. I walked briskly to the Rue Trousseau and was inside the flat with my friends in a jiffy.

Today as I write, it's cold and gray and there is a light snow falling. It's not all that pleasant. But we'll head out for croissants and coffee soon and perhaps do something interesting later. I have a bit of Christmas shopping to do, and there's more of Paris to explore.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Valencia afternoon

Today was my last day in Valencia. We got together with Cote, Rety and Bruce's best friend here and a Couchsurfing member, and his wife Ana and went to the Cuidad Viejo for tapas. Cote knew of a place that served the traditional tapas he likes and ordered up a selection of them that we enjoyed thoroughly: mussels, fried potatoes, a deep fried roll stuffed with tuna and veggies, a salad made with some sort of large bean, and deep fried calamari. After the coffee we had in an ancient and friendly cafe we walked around the city while the afternoon wore on into evening. It was good luck that Cote acted as our guide because we visited places that I didn't know about and that I'd have missed if not for him. Here we are at the tapa bar. From left to right we have Rety, Bruce, Cote, Ana, and Y'r Ob't S'v't.

First stop, the Silk Market (Lonja de la Ceda). Before heading off we met a young Chinese Couchsurfer from Canton, Xiaochao, (say: zow-chow) who is currently living in Nice, France, while she attends school there. She was fun to chat with and to have along on the last day of my visit. The Lonja de la Ceda was built between 1482 and 1533, and is a masterpiece of late Gothic architecture. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Above is a shot of one of the many gargoyles hanging around the place. The flag is that of the City of Valencia. Now the weirdest thing about this building IMHO is that it was, and remains, a masterpiece. Yet the carvings that adorn practically every cornice and doorway are decidedly, er, obscene, or at least mildly offensive in nature. Take a look for yourself. Each of these are approximately 12 inches in height and are sometimes part of a filigree or high-relief that might extend 15 or 20 feet, sometimes all the way to the border of the ceiling, and is composed of scene after scene like the ones below.

Here's another:

And another (below left). What is this guy attempting to do here? I leave it for you to figure it out.

Here's a sample (right) of a longer carving near a doorway. The entire building is decorated in this fashion.What motivated the designers to commission and pay  for such work at a time when the Roman Catholic Church reined supreme,  a church that was responsible for suppressing the sexuality inherent in other great works? Many ancient Greek sculptures of the male figure had the genitals chopped off centuries ago by ignorant priests and bishops of this same church. I guess that question deserves some research. Google anyone?

The artistic creations are not limited to stone work. There are fabulous carved wood ceilings throughout.

We stopped next at the Ceramic Museum. Here is one small portion of the extravagantly carved  entrance portico.

I took photos of some of the incredible pieces that reached out to me. I'm no student of art as I've admitted before, but these particular pieces reached out to me in some fashion so I include them below. Here is a bust I call the Porcelain Lady. Pretty incredible, no?

Recreated inside is this ceramic tiled kitchen. I'm not sure about the time it dates from but being a big fan of anything gustatory, here it is. I have a photo of Rembrandt's kitchen and thought this was its perfect counterpoint.

And this next one we jokingly referred to as the Penis Platter from the modern art section of the same museum. Hey, this is legitimate art. No complaints please.

We left the museum and headed for Cote's car. This fountain with its accompanying orange trees was begging to be photographed. That's Rety with her foot on its edge.

And lastly, another Christmas scene. Below is the Valencia City Hall lit up for the holiday.

I'm headed to Paris tomorrow. Talk to you soon....

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Valencia by bike

After the steady rain of yesterday Valencia experienced a very sunny day today, but it was crisp and later in the day, downright chilly. I started the day with a bowl of nourishing fruited oatmeal, one of Bruce's specialties. As I said earlier, Rety and Bruce are from a colder climate, Vancouver, Canada of late, and are committed to eating healthy foods. And for the first time on my trip I had my favorite morning beverage, strong black tea laced with honey and condensed milk. Consistent with my focus on the foods I've been eating on my trip, below is the obligatory food photo ;-)    (No, we didn't drink the wine with breakfast. We saved it for the paella Rety rustled up for dinner.)

 I rode a bike I borrowed from Bruce. All in all I rode about 20 miles through the length of Turia Park with a short hop into the old town. There are some pretty cool sights here in this beautiful Mediterranean city and I started out by heading over to the the spectacular City of Arts and Sciences (Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències) near my hosts' apartment. This complex was designed by world famous architect Santaigo Calatrava and it is a striking testament to what can be done with modern materials and a fresh approach to designing a public area. And almost as if to please me, included in the complex is a very unusually shaped tennis center, the site of the ATP Valencia 500 Tournament. The photo below has the tennis center foreground and Calatrava's beautiful single tower bridge, the Agora Puente, called by locals the "ham holder" or, the name I much prefer, the "harp" after its very unique shape. I had thought the new Charles River Bridge in Boston was unique until I saw this gorgeous structure.

In the following image, taken from the other side of the City of Arts and Sciences, you can again see the tennis center but this time it's behind the Agora Puente. Also, although it's too far away to see keep in mind that the bridge is a six-lane highway divided by a double wide combination pedestrian bike path. It's an awesome structure, functional, beautiful and cleverly designed. Valencia native Calatrava has become a popular designer, and is much in demand. He's designing part of the new World Trade Center in New York and has designed bridges and public buildings in many great cities of the world.

Above is a view of the L'Umbracle (left) and its reflecting pool, in the City of Arts and Sciences complex.

Here I am in front of the ultra modern Opera House, (left rear) and the I-Max cinema (right) which are in the northernmost part of this beautiful complex.

I took off from here and began my ride north through peaceful  Turia Park. It was a fine day and there were lots of bikers and runners and kids playing on various structures in the park. I came across this odd looking and quite massive structure with kids climbing all over it, sliding down its smooth sides but couldn't figure out what the hell it was until I got back to the flat where Bruce explained it to me.

Okay, got any ideas?

You must look at it from above to get the picture. Google Earth comes to the rescue again (I just love Google Earth.) Take a look below. BTW, the blue vehicle in the lower left corner is a full size city bus.

How's that for a playground toy?  Click  here for another view of this amazing sculpture.

The Parque Turia is a long, winding park directly in the center of the city. It's peaceful and far enough away from the traffic to give one a feeling of isolation in an otherwise busy urban environment, and makes a great bike ride as well. Plus, it's lower than the surrounding area. And there are these mysterious and almost ancient looking walls along both sides of the park. I wondered if this had been part of a defense system of some sort, a moat perhaps, or maybe a city wall? And it's crossed by many bridges, some new and some old like the walls, spanning its entire width. The explanation for all of this follows.

In 1957 Valencia experienced severe flooding of the Turia River, with water levels reaching 16 ft in some streets. One consequence of this was that a decision was made to drain and reroute the river and it now passes around the western and southern suburbs. A plan to turn the drained area into a highway was dropped in favor of this picturesque 4 mile long park which bisects the city. This is the park, actually the Turia River bed, that I rode through. Atop the wall in my photo you can see one of the many bollards remaining from the time when the wall bordered the river. Notice too the characteristic shape of the bridge pier pictured above. It's wedge shaped so as not to impede the flow of water past it. The park was a hell of a good solution to the problem of flooding that had plagued the city for ages.

I noticed some cats sleeping in the sun. I'm sure they're feral cats. I noticed them in the Olympic Park in Barcelona as well. These two were huddled together for warmth I'm sure and appear to be litter mates because they look identical. If you look hard you will notice a third white and black cat almost invisible in the hedge just to the right.

I took a short detour through the old city, the Ciudad Vieja, and had a cup of coffee in the main square opposite the city hall. As in many of the cities I've visited the central public areas are attractive and in this case, was paved with attractive tiles throughout.

By the time I had finished my ride the sun had dipped low enough that I was riding in the shade. Add some wind due to my speed and my hands began to get pretty chilly. Of course the Valencianos still outdoors were fully suited up, riding or running with scarves pulled up over their faces, long windproof pants, and gloves.

I got back and started chatting with Bruce and Rety. We talk constantly about travel, politics, and our experiences in Spain and like the digital junkies we are, each have our computers open while we chat. Rety and I had walked to the supermarket Tuesday and had gathered ingredients for a seafood paella; fresh calmari, dorado, and smelts, locally known as boquerone and our thoughts soon turned to dinner. The preparation of paella is a special deal here in Valencia. She started by frying peppers and whole garlic cloves in olive oil. These are not included in the paella so after frying she put this in some small dishes, sprinkled some balsamic vinegar and salt on them and we ate them as appetizers. Next she fried the boquarone in the same oil. We sprinkled some salt over them and ate those, bones and all just as I used to do with the smelts I used to catch in Lake Erie as a boy, as appetizers also. The object here is to get all these flavors into the oil.

At the market, the girl at the fish counter had filleted our dorado and packaged up the heads and bones for us to take along. Rety had previously boiled these to make a fish broth. Next to a small pot she added the uncooked rice, enough of the broth to cook the rice (2:1), the oil, some more chopped veggies; carrots, garlic, onion, more green pepper, a packet of mixed spices she got from good neighbor and friend Cote, and the key ingredient, saffron.

This is put on to boil slowly for approximately one hour (she uses brown rice). About 5 minutes before the rice is finished cooking the fillets of dorado were steamed until just done. Bon appetit!

It's a chilly cloudy day again today so rather than go out riding we will meet with their good friends Cote and Ana and have some tapas and a couple of beers perhaps. I head back to Paris on Vueling Airlines tomorrow and thus will begin my withdrawal from this  memorable first European tour.

Monday, December 14, 2009


Made it here yesterday after a nice ride on the Alaris 01111 train. I don't have many photos to show yet because it's been rainy and cold since I arrived. My Couchsurfing hosts, Rety and Bruce, are excellent folks. They welcomed me into their place with open arms and have already made me feel quite at home. These guys have done what many only dream of - they sold their home in Canada when the market was perfect, took an early retirement from their jobs, and after a lot of study, decided to rent a place here in Valencia and travel when the mood strikes them.

The trip here was uneventful but there is a story in it that I want to share. I purchased my  ticket when I was at Naroa's in Bilbao last week. Of course I used the Internet and the Spanish railroad (Renfre) website to pick my dates and times, etc. There was an Internet special fare labeled Estrella that was available for only 30 euro so I grabbed it not really knowing what Estrella meant. Naroa translated estrella as "star", which had no special significance to either of us other than that it was available at a lower cost than some of the other listed fares. I bought it and Marta printed out my ticket when she went to work the next day.

I walked the mile or so to the Sants Estación arriving with plenty of time to spare and boarded the train. The only problem was that the car was facing backwards. As we got out into the country I'm really wanting to watch where we're going but find it too awkward to pull off. I'm watching where we've been rather than where we're going. Ah then, I tell myself, its only a three hour ride. So I get out my laptop, pull down the small seatback table and begin to write in my journal. This is the private journal within which I ponder the imponderables, worry and fret, and explore my fantasies. I haven't written very much in that one because I've been blogging on this trip and much that usually goes into it is going here instead. This fast train goes through more tunnels during the first half hour than I've been in for my whole life up to now it seems and each time we enter one my ears pop a bit as the compression wave, or whatever it is, hits.

About a while the conductor comes around and asks to see my ticket. He inspects it for a moment and then indicates mostly through body language because he speaks no English and I speak virtually no Spanish, that I'm actually in the wrong coach. I'm really not that excited about moving -- my laptop is open, my big suitcase is stashed overhead, my jacket is off--but he convinces me that I will be happier if I move. I catch the word "preferred" or something similar (looking at the ticket now, I see it was Preferente) so I dutifully pack up my stuff and drag my roller bag to Coach One.

As soon as I cross between the two cars I see that this will be one of those proverbial Good Moves you hear about now and then. I had been in a Tourist Class coach when what I had was a First Class ticket. Here in Preferente the seats are facing frontwards, there's a double wide seat with a nice table on which I'll have plenty of room for my computer and a cup of coffee or cerveza, tons of legroom, and only a few other passengers. I rode the rest of the way to Valencia in this very comfortable new situation.

Rety and Bruce met me at the station and we grabbed a subway which took us close to their lovely flat near the harbor. At this point I've had a chance to talk with both of them at length and I know we'll get along famously. After lunch Rety and I took  a quick walk to the harbor and the long beach beyond but the wind was blowing pretty good and it was chilly so we cut our walk short and returned to the flat. While we walked we chatted about Valencia, the arrogant stupidity of George Bush, tennis (these guys love tennis), the election of Barack Obama and what it meant to them, and the growing impatience, all over Europe actually, with Obama's seeming inability to move forward with health care reform and climate change legislation. As it happens, we have much in common.

The two meals I've shared with them so far stand in stark contrast to most of the food I've been eating in Europe. Lunch was a huge green salad with homemade vegetable soup. Dinner was a soybean stew accompanied by bread and eggplant spread, also homemade--more veggies in 2 meals than I've been able to eat in almost 2 months in Europe. At home I eat tons of veggies (sort of like a dinosaur) - broccoli, squash, grilled eggplant, zukes, peppers, beets, lettuce. I had some wonderful vegetable dishes at Jana's in Berlin, but AFAIK European restaurant food I've been exposed to has been decidedly thin on the veggie side, so this is a welcome change in my diet. Seeing as Valencia is the center of the paella world, Bruce learned how to make it from some Spanish friends and has promised to cook up a batch later this week. I'm looking forward to that.

Here are a few other notes about Europe I want to add.  Everyone in every country I've visited in Europe recycles everything, bottles papers, plastic, everything,and they've been doing so for many years. Rety was born in Roumania back when it was still a Communist country and she recalls her mom explaining how to separate out the recyclables when she was a little girl. It's taken us a long time to gain this type of mentality. I know my relatives in Buffalo, North Carolina and Oregon all recycle quite a bit of late but it was slow coming and we still throw away tons of nasty stuff like packaging, especially in Homer where transportation costs make recycling less about economics than about a desire to simply do the right thing.

Nobody has a clothes dryer. People use a washer to wash their things and then hang them on folding racks to dry in the kitchen, the bathroom or the terrace. Although David and Jenny own a dryer I often see clothes drying on a rack in front of the wood stove. But then, they're especially energy conscious. Most of my other friends in Homer use their electric dryers exclusively. Here, nobody has a hot water tank either. Instead they use tankless, on-demand gas hot water heaters. I first saw one of these, a Paloma brand, in Homer at Ed Berg's place on East Road back in 1983. When Lora and I built our house on Brenmark Road we bought an on-demand Toyotomi hot water heater and loved it. Why do the rest of us insist on heating and storing all that hot water?

Everywhere you go in Europe lights come on and go off sometimes when you least expect it. The lights in hallways, stairways, public places are all governed by timers and motion sensors. If the light doesn't turn on as soon as you enter these places you just need to look about and you'll see a little orange pinpoint of light indicating a wall switch. Click the switch and the light will come on for a few minutes at least. Okay, so far so good. They're using compact fluorescent lamps and they're turning them off automatically after a few minutes. Great, nice and convenient and energy conscious too. Then one night I found myself in a small bar in Bilbao and needing to use the toilet. I entered the small room and noticed that the light was still on from the previous occupant. Fine, I step up to the toilet and begin to use it. But before I can finish, the light snaps off leaving me standing there, my you-know-what in hand, in total darkness. Now, where the hell was that light switch again? Damned inconvenient I say.

In Valencia, continuing to ponder the imponderables, I am Your obt svt DJS

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Barcelona - last moments

Sadly, tomorrow I will leave Barcelona. My last day and evening here was good. After I dropped the bike off in bustling Catalunya Square I walked down La Rambla, sampling the frenetic nightlife and amazing performance art that is found there. As I've mentioned in other entries, I've really enjoyed the craziness and hectic pace of the cities I've visited. I spent 10 years in Boston back in the 70s and can recall how excited I was during my first few years there to be living in such a vibrant, exciting and culturally diverse city. I have again gotten a sense of that in my visits to these big European cities.

As I said on Facebook yesterday, La Rambla rules! It's totally cool. It is a fantastic concentration of art, street performers, restaurants, souvenir shops, and, as I discovered today, food markets. I love to eat and consequently love a good market. When KJ and I moved to Alaska back in 1983 we got there via a very log roundabout road trip during which we spent a month in Mexico. We loved the mercados for their ethnic offerings and ready to eat food, This mercat on La Rambla was similar to those we loved in Mexico. Every conceivable type of seafood, vegetable, or meat product was on display and beautifully arranged. What a welcome contrast to our sterile supermarkets!

Below are some prawns and clams. I have no idea which ocean they came from but they look very edible, don't you think?

In the U.S. all of our meat is prepackaged so we can't connect with the fact that an animal has died to provide us with food. My old Boston friend Gregg mentioned in a post on Facebook yesterday that Spanish paella always seems to contain "eyes" and I must agree. But today in the mercat on La Rambla I saw this. Care for a fresh sheep's head anyone?

 As a contrast to the photo above, here's a photo of a music store whose name I've gotta like:

Okay, back to the market. Here's a shot of some unusual meat and poultry for sale:

I ate some tapas at a restaurant on La Rambla but now I wish I'd waited to get back to Plaza Reial because while the food was good, it wasn't great, and the waiter loaded me up with more food than I needed. I didn't realize until after the meal that I could have specified fewer pieces or smaller quantities of each item, so the meal ended up costing me 33 euros (2 beers at 8 euros each are included in the total), a fairly expensive meal. It's shown below. Pictured (in clockwise order) are pickled mushrooms (upper right), crab cakes, some sort of pork stew, and a tasty compote of pork and beans (not Campbell's style).

Below is probably the last picture I'll post of Barcelona. Everyone is trimming up for the holidays. Many streets in Barcelona are decorated more heavily than this one, which happens to be near my hotel, but I think this photo will serve as a fitting end to my visit to this wonderful city.

I'm headed to Valencia tomorrow. I'll be in touch.