All entries for September 2006

September 30, 2006

Balkenende, held van de economische hervormingen

Writing about web page

Van de Volkskrant website, vandaag:

De premier onderstreepte dat het economisch herstel niet alleen een prestatie van de politiek is geweest. ‘Samen hebben we een paar jaar achter elkaar de broekriem aangehaald.’

Cliché wellicht, maar het komt mij voor dat Balkenende, met een jaarsalaris van 129.500 euro (volgens de Haagse Stadspartij) zichzelf echt niet tot de deze ons-groep mag rekenen.

Daartegenover staat dat het uiteraard politiek minder sexy klinkt om te zeggen dat de krimpende middenstand en de lagere inkomensgroepen de afgelopen jaren de rekening betaald hebben.

September 29, 2006

Finding a Home/In Barcelone (imagine the letter rhyme)

Barrí GotícOne of the first new words I learned upon arrival here is piso, which means flat.

Everyone around me is looking for something, people go on inspection visits, time after time. Every single time something is not right. The alquiler (rent) may be way too high (around 300-400 euros, which is – don´t be snobby you Brits and Skandinavians – a major chunk out of an average European and especially Spanish budget). The flat lacks windows. Housemates or the landlord may suck. Or the location may be way out of the centre.

Take, for example, Poblenou, a great barrio (neighbourhood) on the coast. Anything further away than there is pretty much undoable, as travelling from there to uni (out of the city) already takes between an hour and 1,5 hours.

So, my brain started to grind, dust from the summer came off. I slowly started to realise I´d better start looking around for something after the 1st of December when I get kicked out of my campus piso.

A friend of mine lives in the very heart of the centre, a sidestreet of the famous Ramblas. It was weekend so I stayed at his place to avoid having to take a nightbus every night. I found out one housemate is leaving the flat, the city, the country, the continent from the 1st of December. Something clicked in my brain. The rent is really quite low and the housemates are all great guys who have a nice atmosphere going. In short – everybody, exhausted from looking around, wanted his place.

And then, after the weekend, I was invited to come and live with them. It´s unfair to the rest and just very lucky, but I´m moving into Barcelona´s very city centre, the Barrí Gotíc. Looking something like the photo posted along with these words. Click on it to enlarge.

September 28, 2006

Kassie wijlen

Zoals soms weleens gebeurt in een geniaal moment, daagde ineens het volgende vermoeden bij mij.

Het betreft de mooie maar ietwat vreemde Nederlandstalige uitdrukking “kassie wijlen”, hetwelk volgens mij betekent: dood.

Wijlen, ok, dat kennen we nog, al is het een ouderwets woord. Maar waarvan komt toch dat kassie? Het is toch niet Amsterdams voor kastje?

Mijn vermoeden is dat het tijdens de Spaanse tijd geïntroduceerd is, van het Spaanse casi, hetgeen betekent bijna: bijna de pijp uit.

Maar waarvan komt dan “de pijp uit”? Misschien van de Amsterdamse voormalige volkswijk?

September 27, 2006

Aprendiendo Castellano

Luis Buñuel himselfAh, well… I´ll tell you another time how I found a flat in Barcelona (see my previous entry), right now I just wanted to cite some proper lit in the Spanish language!

I have been taking Spanish classes for over two weeks now and I´m gradually reaching a level where I can understand more than just the big picture of a story. I try to read the Catalán version of the Metro as well, which features articles in two languages. And I am starting (very meagerly) to read some more elevating literature.

For example this exerpt, A favor y en contra, from Mi último suspiro. A polemic about taste, which features some interesting ideas about its author (Luis Buñuel) and Spain in general:

Me gusta comer temprano, acostarme y levantarme pronto. En eso soy completamente antiespañol. Me gusta el Norte, el frío y la lluvia. En eso soy español.#

And a bit further, perhaps my favourite line:

No me gustan los poseedores de la verdad, quienesquiera que sean. Me aburren y me dan miedo. Yo soy antifanático (fanitcamente).#

*Sigh * Isn´t Spanish a nice language?

(# & #: I like to eat on time, to sleep and to get up early. In this I am completely anti-Spanish. I like the North, the cold and the rain. In this respect, I am Spanish. [...] I do not like possessors of the truth, whomever they may be. They abhor me and scare me. I am (fanatically) antifanatical.)

September 26, 2006

La Mercè was "Amèrcing

GegantsThis weekend was as I expected, one of little sleep, or rather, little sleep during the nights. Of my lists of traditional things to see I scored quite a few. Really nice and typical such as the sardana (very traditional dance where the dancers have an average age of 60-70 and seem only focussed on getting the steps right), correfoc (smoking out one of the centre´s high streets with lots of sparkly fireworks shooting in all directions by people dressed up as quasi-terrorists), and the gegants (a parade of puppets up to 4 or 5 metres high, see photo).

But my highlight of the weekend must´ve been the piromusica, on Plaza d´Espagna, one of the city´s biggest and grandest squares. Thousands and thousands of people had come together yesterday night to see it. The palace, on Montjuïc´s hillside, formed the backdrop for a spectacular fireworks show. Normally I´m not a manic fan of fireworks, but this display was minutely synchronised with some excellent music, ranging from Miles Davis to a bigband interpreting Beatles songs. I repeat: it was amazing, I never saw anything like it in my life.

It would almost be a disgrace to post a photo of it here. Just kidding, in fact I just couldn´t find one. You´ll have to come to Barcelona yourself next year to see it with your own eyes.

Tomorrow: Finding a Flat in Barcelona

September 22, 2006

Fiestas de La Mercè

La MerceToday is the first day of the celebration of La Mercè in la ciudad bonita. This festival, four days of party (Monday is a free day for all) is held in honour of the Catholic saint Mercedes, who is the city´s patron.

Not much religion involved though, from what I´ve been hearing. It´s more of an excuse to have excellent parties and events throughout the city, even beyond the city centre. With my indistinguishing foreigner´s eye it appears to me something of a carnival party.

Towers of people, up to eight layers high, will show their skill. From photos I saw that they reach up to the third floor of a building, with a little child at the top.

Dragons shooting off fire march through the streets, as well as giant puppets in the shape of kings, celebrities and other things. The skill is to carry the biggest, which naturally weighs most as well.

There will be displays of fireworks, bands from Spain and abroad, beach parties, all kinds of processions and markets. There might be some alcohol involved and most probably fairly little sleep.

It is not like that I will update this blog anytime before Monday or Tuesday. Like Brasilian football players during the Rio de Janeiro carnival, I´m disappearing into the crowd for a few days. Don´t try to find me!

September 20, 2006

Football (continued)

Yesterday the language group gathered for a game of beach football. Barceloneta beach changed into a pitch for an hour and a half during which all the sand was turned around and everybody got enough movement for a few days to come.

The mix of students from different countries also seemed to attract some attention, a good few passers-by had a look at us. What can we say? The star players were blond & Skandinavian, a still fairly unusual sight if it’s not in one of the bars around Las Ramblas.

Meanwhile a Belgian fellow student told me he got hold of tickets for this Sunday’s FC Barcelona-Valencia match. He pays a solid 50 euros for that! Think I’ll stick to the student’s version for the moment.

September 19, 2006


Everything for the fansPeople here are crazy about football. I thought the Netherlands was a football-mad country but here it´s even worse (or better, decide for yourself).

The people from Barcelona say that FC Barcelona is “más que un equipo de futból”, which says it all, “more than a football team”. It is a symbol of fierce Catalunya-ness, as opposed to Real Madrid, which represents its opposite: Spanishness, the thing that Catalonia isn´t.

So whenever FC Barca plays (which is twice a week!), the Catalan flag, the Bandanera, if I´m not mistaken, goes out and nearly the whole city and lots of people on campus watch.

A joke I heard the other day, for those who speak a bit of Spanish. How do Argentines call Maradona?


September 18, 2006

Primer clas

L´Auberge EspagnolToday, I went to my very first lecture at the UAB. Which, as it turned out to be, became my very first lecture in Catalan as well!

Here at universities in and around Barcelona, or more broadly speaking, at Catalan universities, lecturers have a right of choice of language. Any professor can decide for him- or herself whether they will speak Catalan or Castillian (which is Spanish as we know it from Manu Chao).

In practice, the number of Catalan lectures turns out, if we are to believe la Autònoma´s numbers, to be some 60%. These figures already gave me a slightly uncomfortable feeling before arriving here. Now my fears are becoming reality! A professor spoke for an hour in Catalan and I didn´t understand more than a shit and a half of it! I was struggling not to fall asleep at the same time, as an introduction to Economía Política can be quite aburrido (boring) if you can´t understand it.

My model film, L´auberge Espagnol, with which I compare about everything that happens to me these days, only mentions the problem in passing, in a scene where an Erasmus student gets told off for asking the lecturer if he can please speak in Castillian. But this is romanticised, I don´t even dare to ask him to change his language if all other students are first-language Catalan speakers! A little handy guide that I was given upon arrival, entitled something like 10 tips for survival in Barcelona, phrases it something like this: “When we asked young foreigners arriving at the airport what Catalan is, most of them failed to give a correct answer… The fact is that Catalan is totally different language, spoken daily by some 7 million Spaniards.”

It´s scary and unreal, but I can still laugh about it. Will get back to you on this one when exams approach.

September 17, 2006

The Trick with the Leg

The strangest thing happened to me last night while going out. I got robbed of my wallet, and a minute later it was handed back to me! ¡Que raro!

Saturday night on Las Ramblas, the Oxford Street or Leidsestraat of Barcelona. A couple of friends are waiting for me while I go to do my thing in a quiet corner (when I come to think of it, I seem to write about this repeatedly…err…). A guy comes up to me, asking “Quieres cerveza, do you want beer?” This is quite common in the city centre, there are always many mainly Pakistanis selling “five beers for six euros”. This guy seems Spanish though.

Either way, I thank him and want to walk on. But he extends his hand as if to say, “no worries pal”, a gestures which also doesn’t seem very harmful so I cheerfully shake his hand. But then he does The Trick with the Leg. While shaking my hand, he shakes my legs with on of his, which puts me off guard for just a split second. Coins roll over the street, and it takes just one second more for me to feel that my back pocket is empty. Stupid, I shouldn’t have put it there to begin with.

Just seconds after The Trick with the Leg I walk back intent to find the guy and get my wallet back. And practically the same moment he stands in front of me, gives it back and walks away. There was only a ten-euro note in there, was it not enough?

It all took less than a minute, and I still don’t really understand what happened just there. Was it him who took my wallet out, or another guy working with him? Why did he bother to return my wallet? Did he just want to teach me lesson or were his intentions less noble (which in fact seems more logical to me). Who but him can know? I’m happy enough my wallet is back with everything still in it. And more on my guard, from now on.

September 2006

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