Tag Archives: Barcelona

The problem with foreigners

She and I enter the elevator.
As always,
in Japan,
we move to the back
and slide like shoji*
into our respective spaces,
giving each other room
while saving the other
the embarrassment
of eye contact
in such a tiny space.
She then slides closer to the handrail
and places her hand over her bag.

I look around
but there is nobody else.
Just her and me
in our little pulley-boat.
I am the danger?
In my 40’s, a {mostly} sweet Canadian woman.
A Counselor.
A person who cares for others
for a living.

The metal doors open.
The woman explodes
out of the elevator.
Not very Japanese, I think.

An epiphany lands lightly.

The problem with foreigners
in Japan
is that there is no way
for the Japanese to know if
(and to what extent) we:
1. know the rules
2. understand them
3. are committed to following them.

This is not your garden-variety
about the foreigners.

In Barcelona,
locals would hush happy groups
of English speakers
even though the hushers themselves
were speaking much more loudly
in Catalan or Spanish.
They found us
(and our habit of speaking English in public)
To them,
we seemed like children.
Entirely too happy,
we were
seen as simple.
(And very poorly dressed.)
What I felt was disdain or contempt
at worst.


The bottom line is that we
(strangers, quite literally)
did not change the fabric
of daily life in Barcelona
for the Catalans.

The sweet life…
as embodied by tapas and cava
and the reverence for a long lunch
as well as the not so sweet…
bureaucracy and bad service,
these things
continue to thrive
in spite of
the arrivals and departures
of foreigners in Gaudi-landia.

In Japan,
I never feel contempt.
(The Japanese are much better
than Catalans
and Canadians
at keeping their thoughts
to themselves.)

What I feel
from the Japanese
is genuine concern
about the way they live their lives.
Japan didn’t get to be
the safest, most secure and courteous
nation in the world
by accident.

There is a code for behaviour for every occasion.
How to…
Enter and get off the metro. (Walk on the left, please.)
Greet people. (With deference. Bowing.)
Give money. (In an envelope. Always.)
Carry your umbrella when entering a restaurant. (Wrap it in plastic.)
Stand when waiting to use the ATM. (On the green foot prints)

At first,
I found these rules
A dirty, brown albatross around my neck.
(As an order-loving, type A Canadian,
I was actually surprised to feel this way.)

But the abundance of rules
brought out the rebel in me.
I channeled my inner James Dean.

Now it’s been ten months
(sometimes it takes months
or years to get the rhythm of a place)
and I am starting to get it.

They like Japan the way it is.
They don’t want it to change.
I get how they feel.

When DP lost his wallet
in a taxi,
it came back
with all the cash.
When I left my computer in a restaurant
my little silver machina was right there
30 minutes later
when I returned
wild-eyed and breathless.
The order and restraint
shown by of millions
of Tokyo train commuters
every day
is a miracle.
(The Pope
should show up
to see it.)

Most of us
love these things about Japan.
We appreciate
the Japanese way of life
and try to emulate
this behaviour
as best we can.
We also want Japan
to stay
and courteous.

But the Japanese are right.
Foreigners have different
We weren’t raised the same way.
We may not have been taught
to spot the dropped glove
and place it on the closest bench
where the owner of just one glove
will return and find the mate
waiting patiently.

Not very good at hiding our emotions.
So fixated on placing our own needs
before the collective.

We are unpredictable
in a country that depends
on predictability.

Please know that so many of us are trying.

*In traditional Japanese architecture, a shōji (障子) is a door, window or room divider consisting of translucent paper over a frame of wood which holds together a lattice of wood or bamboo.

A peculiar story about time travel

I don’t know if this happens to you but sometimes, in the middle of a mundane regular-life moment, I find myself somewhere else.

Standing in front of the greeting cards section at a Target in McAllen, Texas.

Eating panna cotta in a tiny restaurant in Florence… and, at the table beside us, four raucous women are licking their plates and laughing until tears stream down their faces.

Waking to the sound of the call to prayer in Istanbul.

We’re in a gorgeous, sun-filled cafe in Vienna and the waiter, who seems impossibly kind, explains that the woman sitting in the next booth is a poet. And she won the Nobel Prize when she was younger and had black hair. (He whispers the part about her hair.)

My first heavenly bite of a tamale at the Christmas Posada at our school in Monterrey.

Birkenau in Poland. It’s snowing lightly as I walk behind Damien and our guide. I didn’t expect there to be beauty here but there is. For a moment, I’m light-headed and I think I might pass out.

We’re preparing strawberries to make jam. I’m with my mother in her kitchen and the walls are the colour of baked cheesecake.  My fingers are stained red.

I don’t know if it’s time travel or not but I find myself visiting past moments quite a lot lately. And for that moment, I’m really there. I can taste the panna cotta on my tongue… feel the sun on my face and neck… smell the jam as it thickens on my mother’s stove.

All these moments – those from my past… and this moment right now – these moments make up my life and I’m grateful for every one of them. Even the hard ones.

And I’m particularly grateful for the time travel.

Recently, I’ve been visiting Barcelona in my mind frequently. I wonder that that means.

{Photo Credit: Kyle Hepp}

Where have you been going in your mind?

The Charms of Barcelona: Guest Post

DP and I were in Barcelona for a glorious week this summer and all I wrote for you was one (just one!) post about our photo session with Kyle and Seba.

Until now, that is.

I’ve written a guest post on Dry as Toast and you can read it here.

Dorkys Ramos, the blogger, is in Barcelona right now so I am, of course, a bit envious.

Halfway around the world

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

When planning our trip home this summer (Ottawa for me and Calgary for DP), the cheapest plane tickets we could find got us from Bangkok to New York City via London. So, I was thinking… if we were going to be in London, why not spend a few days there? And if we were going to be in Europe, why not fly to Spain and see our friends in Barcelona? Why not see some shows in London and New York City? After four nights in Manhattan, we’d take Amtrak’s Adirondack route from Manhattan to Montreal and then, the following day, we’d take Via Rail home to Ottawa. We’d rent a car and drive to Toronto and Kingston. What could be easier?

So that’s what we did. We traveled halfway around the world.  (The other half – the half that leads to our new life in Yokohama, Japan – begins in just two weeks!)

We visited ten cities and many small towns in five countries and slept in 11 different beds. In Barcelona, we had our photos taken. We’ve seen many dear friends with whom we shared stories and some extraordinary meals. (Unfortunately, there are some friends we won’t have a chance to see this year. This always makes us feel a whole host of emotions situated along the sadness/guilt spectrum but not seeing everyone is one of the few drawbacks of our mostly-lovely nomadic life. Knowing and loving many people is not always compatible with our strong need for rest, recovery and some time for ourselves at the end of each school year.)

The journey has been:
a) heart-warming
b) exhilarating
c) delicious
d) exhausting
e) all of the above (and still a very good idea!)

Today, exactly one month after our Bangkok departure, I had my first full day in my jammies. In short, I had a vacation from my vacation. To say that I have enjoyed this day without commitments would be an understatement of criminal proportions. I even loved the scary wind storm and ensuing power outage that gave us a reason to light our seldom-used, big red Christmas candles. I felt a bit disappointed when the power came back on and the bright lights ruined the lovely mood. That’s exactly how I used to feel as a kid… like “Why is everyone so excited about the power? It was more romantic with the lights out.”

I have so much to share but after a month on the road, I got stuck and wasn’t sure where to start. So I’m just starting.

Hello! How have you been and what have you been up to?

Un-wedding Photos, Barcelona

I confess.

I totally talked him into it.

This is actually the second time that I have coerced DP into playing along with this particular scheme; the first time was a few years ago in the Tuileries in Paris.

I am speaking, here, of having our photographs taken by a professional photographer.

As non-conventional souls, we have opted out of many things including marriage. That’s not a big political statement on our part; we have just never felt the need to have our relationship recognized by church or state. (In our case, how would we begin to figure out which nation state’s blessing is required?) I do, however, love wedding photos especially when they are taken by photographers as talented as Kyle Hepp and her husband Seba.

When I saw that Kyle and Seba would be in Barcelona at the same time that we were visiting in June of 2011, I contacted Kyle about the details for an un-wedding shoot. When I knew that it was possible, I asked DP if he was interested. He said he’d think about it. He thought about it… I encouraged him… he caved. This is no small thing as DP would always prefer to be on the other side of the lens.

This is what love looks like, folks.

On June 16th, we met up with Kyle and Seba at the train station in Gracia and retraced our walk home through the neighbourhood of Gracia to our former piso (apartment) on Carrer Seneca (Seneca Street).

I felt nervous. Nervous and overheated. And then my head started to sweat. (If you know me, then you know that I’m a famous head sweater from way back!)

Then Kyle and Seba arrived at our meeting point and they were so friendly and accommodating that I soon forgot about my nervousness (my head, however, continued to sweat) and we walked through the favourite parts of our old neighbourhood having our photographs taken. This is a seriously surreal endeavour which I highly recommend to single people and married people and happily unmarried couples.

Yes, if you have been wondering, people do stare. They are trying to figure out who you are and why you are having our photographs taken. Mostly, they are just curious.

The surprising thing about having our photographs taken in Barcelona, where we lived for three years, was that people on the streets were much friendlier and accommodating than we had imagined. I have a saying about Barcelona which tickles me to no end… “You don’t go to Barcelona for the hugs.” (Catalans are notoriously suspicious of outsiders which is completely reasonable given how they were treated by Franco!) When we were having our photos taken, however, people stopped and waited patiently for Kyle and Seba to do their thing. A couple of people on a moto actually apologized which made us all laugh.

With some guidance from Kyle, we had chosen 7:00 to 9:30 p.m. and we were well rewarded with the most delicious light. As Mara says about Florence, “You could eat the light with a spoon.”

We totally recommend Kyle and Seba who have created an amazing photography business by being intentional and professional about every aspect of their business. They are warm souls with whom we felt immediately at ease and they made it a priority to understand who we are and what we wanted as clients. They are both amazing photographers and DP and I love their aesthetic. Amazingly, less than a week after our shoot, Kyle had already posted the preview of our photographs. Oh, the photos!

You can check out our un-wedding photographs here on Kyle’s site.

What’s the lesson here?
1. Do what you want.
Do it even if it feels goofy or you think other people might not approve. Live all over the world. Move to Japan. Have your photos taken on the light-filled streets of Barcelona by two strangers who are no longer strangers. Do it! What do you have to lose?
2. DPs love for me is an awesome thing. I totally owe him one.

In praise of blogger… and my new blog!

Part 1: In Praise of Blogger
As if it was not enough that DP and I changed continents (and schools, apartments, wardrobes and languages) in July of 2009, I found myself wanting to give my blog a makeover as well.

It must have been the peer pressure… so many people were buying their own domain names and jumping to Word Press. I even went so far as to contact a couple of people, including the intrepid Nomadic Matt, about how I would manage such a move.

Finally, my case of temporary blog-improvement-insanity passed permitting me to stop, slow down and prioritize what I really wanted in a blog:

1. A “brand” new blog name
I was searching for a blog name that would transcend both my work (teaching/counseling) and my home (Barcelona or Bangkok or wherever) so I have chosen my very own name: Monna McD. My crazy Scottish last name is too challenging for most people to pronounce correctly so McD seemed like a great short form. In the end, I decided not to pay an annual for something that Blogger provides for free and I have created a new blog called monnamcd.blogspot.com

2. Two blogs in one
The next thing on my wish list was a format that would bring together both my current blog Teacher Meets World and my former blog Barcelona Moments. Blogger has a feature that allowed me to export both of these blogs onto my desktop and then import them into the newly created Monna McD, complete with comments and labels. This took me, literally, 15 minutes.

3. A page of their own: About, FAQ, Travel Itinerary and Links
Currently, I have much of this information running down my sidebar and I find it cluttered and distracting. I wanted the ability to create a separate page for each of the following: About Me, Frequently Asked Questions, Links and our Travel Itinerary. This is one of the reasons that I found the tabs on Word Press so appealing. After some experimentation, I learned that I could open a new blogger blog for each of my four topics and link each back to my primary blog. I have turned off comments and removed the side bar.

4. A shiny new header
In that sweet, demure way that I am so famous for, I asked DP… and he made me a new header in thirty minutes. This is not the final header but it’s great for now. I’ve also had my first Photoshop class! (Please be warned… I am going to be a photoshop machine!)

From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank the kind and super-smart folks at Blogger for designing a platform straightforward enough for me to solve all of my own problems without spending a dime.

Part 2: Introducing Monna McD, the blog!
My new blog, Monna McD, is not a bouncing, new, baby-blog at all but a continuation of Teacher Meets World… and it contains every blog post I have ever written with the exception of those on Slow Blogs. I know… this is the kind of news that some bloggers lead up to for weeks but, honestly, one post is all that anyone should have to read about another blogger’s platform/hosting dilemmas and epiphanies.

Technical Stuff: How do you subscribe to the new blog?

If you subscribe through a reader:
If you use a reader, such as Google Reader, then you are savvy enough to add a subscription to monnamcd.blogspot.com and then delete Teacher Meets World. Thanks! (Please e-mail me if you need any help!)

If your receive new TMW blog posts via e-mail:
If you currently subscribe to TMW by e-mail, you will find that I have used your current subscription e-mail address to sign you up for the new blog. You will receive an e-mail shortly and all you have to do is click on the hyper-link to confirm that you would like to subscribe to the new blog via e-mail.
A word of WARNING: This subscription e-mail may go into your spam because it is not a recognized email address but it is definitely not spam and it will not harm your computer. Simply open it, click on the link and you will receive Monna McD in your inbox in exactly the same way that you currently receive Teacher Meets World.

This will be the last post in my TMW blog space but there will be no tears because nothing important is changing for you or for me. I am happy to welcome you at Monna McD.


12 Hours in Barcelona

The question is… what would I do if I only had 12 hours left in Barcelona? Where would I go, what would I see, and where would I eat in that last precious half-day before the window on my time in Barcelona closed.

I first read about Twelve Hours in Dot Dot Dot at Chocolate and Zucchini. You can learn more about the original meme (or challenge) at The Amateur Gourmet.

If I had only 12 hours left in Barcelona, and I’m working on the assumption that it’s because DP and I would be moving (we move quite a lot), I’d have to be completely packed or I could never enjoy this last day. I would definitely spend part of the day in Gracia and the Eixample where I have lived my Barcelona life. This magical half-day would start at 11:30 in the morning and end just before midnight. (Glass slippers!)

Before we embark, please note that I have listed addresses and phone numbers of cafes, restaurants and other favourite spots at the bottom of this post.

11:30 a.m. We would begin with a walk around our own neighbourhood of Gracia, punctuated by stops in our favourite plazas: Rius i Taulet, Plaça del Sol, Plaça de la Revolucio de 1868 and Plaça del Diamant. In Plaça Rius i Taluet, my favourite of the Gracia plazas with its clock tower and old city hall, we would sit at one of the outdoor tables at Cafe Las Euras and I’d order a cafe con leche. Without question, I’d have my camera with me and the little collection of shots I took (the good and the bad) would come to be known as “The Last Day Photos”. When we reached Plaça de la Revolucio , I would stop in for some chocolate gelato at Gelateria Caffetería Italiana which serves the best gelato I have tasted in Barcelona. It is run by two gregarious Italian women who often sing in Italian while they work. The secret is out though; lines are often long. If the Gelateria was closed I would adapt quickly, heading to Tomo II on Carrer Vic at Sant Miquel where I would order two scoops – one chocolate and one mint chocolate chip.

By design, Mercat Llibertat (the impossible-to-miss temporary market in Plaça Gala Placidia) would be the last big stop on my Good-bye to Gracia Walking Tour. I would pick up a head of romaine lettuce, pine nuts, feta cheese and a red pepper. Finally, I would pop over to the nearby French bakery Paul, at the top of the steps of the Gracia train station in Plaça Gala Placidia, to purchase two perfect chocolate macarons.

2:30 p.m. At home, in our little “American” kitchen (this certainly does not mean that it is large… but it is not a typical Barcelona galley kitchen), we would assemble a simple lunch. We’d have leftover roasted chicken from Los Caracoles (how convenient!) and throw together my favourite salad: romaine lettuce, roasted pine nuts, slightly warmed chunks of red pepper and feta cheese. DP would whip up a vinegrette and we would spread out our picnic on whatever furniture we had left in our piso. Some of the best meals I’ve had in Barcelona have been prepared with fresh ingredients by DP in our own home. Oh… I almost forgot the macarons! We’ll savour these slowly.

5:00 p.m. In the late afternoon (I feel I must confess that we may well have indulged in an afternoon nap), I’d feel tempted to catch a matinee at Cine Verdi or Renoir Floridablanca to experience “cinema as a temple” one last time. In the end, I would be sensible. I would tell myself that that there will be movie theatres in the city to which we are moving. Instead, I’d head down to the Born to the Museu Picasso where I would spend an entire hour studying Picasso’s Variations on Velazquez’ Las Meninas one last time. You can read more about Picasso’s Variations here.

7:00 p.m. Dinner is easy. One last celebratory meal at Cerveseria Catalana in the Eixample. We’d arrive at 7:00 just before things get hopping so as not waste to a moment of our precious day waiting for a table. (If you arrive at 9:00 in the evening, you take your chances!) We’d order the patatas bravas (of course), escalivada and the decadent little hamburgers. For dessert, DP and I would order both the chocolate cake and the lemon cake to share. To read more about Cerveseria Catalana, click here. (Warning! This post might make you hungry!)

9:00 p.m. There would be a discussion about how to end the day. DP would want to go to a Barca game (we’ve become fans while we have lived here) but I think he’d make the following sacrifice for me. We’d head back down to the Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter) to the Palau de la Musica Catalana to attend a concert. I’ve written about this beautiful modernisme concert hall here. If our last day just happened to be November 24th (it’s not), we’d see Irish singer Katie Melua (we are)! You can listen to part of her song Nine Million Bicycles here.

In bed by midnight… to get a good night’s sleep for whatever adventure comes next. We’ll dream of Barcelona.

Stops along the way:
Cafe Las Euras (Gracia)
Plaça Rius i Taulet, 1, Barcelona, 08012

Gelateria Caffetería Italiana (Gràcia)
Plaza de la revolución, 2, 08012 Barcelona
Tel. +34 93 210 23 39

Tomo II
Carrer Vic 2, Placeta Sant Miquel
Tel. +34 93 217 31 92

Los Caracoles (Barri Gotic)
Carrer Escudellers 14, 08002 Barcelona
Tel. +34 93 302 31 85

Museu Picasso of Barcelona (Born)
Carrer Montcada 15-23, 08003 Barcelona
Tel. +34 93 256 30 00

Cervecería Catalana (Eixample)
Mallorca 236, 08008 Barcelona
Tel: +34 93 216 03 68

Palau de la Musica Catalana (Barri Gotic)
Carrer Sant Pere Més Alt, 08003 Barcelona
Tel. +34 90 244 28 82