Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sitting in Class Issues

At my internship, I work with people of vastly different backgrounds. The CEO is from Germany, one guy is from India, another from Argentina, 2 guys from Denmark, an Egyptian woman, an English guy, and 3 people from the Barcelona area. Despite being so different, everyone treats everyone else equally, and I believe it's because everyone is able to communicate in Spanish, despite their different heritages. In the city itself, I've seen this reflected on a much larger scale. It seems that as long as you speak Spanish, or Catalan, you'll be treated equally and respectfully. However, there are always exceptions to any rule.

Spend enough time around the city and on public transportation, and you'll see groups of African men toting large sacks of cheap wares that they'll spread out on the ground to sell. These men all travel together in very large groups, and try to sell to any and everyone nearby until the police show up. As soon as any cops are spotted, all the men will gather up their goods and head for the nearest subway. If any group is treated worse than other people, it's this class of people. I believe this stems back hundreds of years, when the African Moors used to rule Spain. After the Moors were kicked out, there was significant backlash, with Moorish buildings torn down and converted into churches. This trend still continues today, albeit not as overtly, but as a faint idea in the backs of people's brains, I believe. However, despite this issue with Africans, Barcelona is a very progressive city; where the ability to speak Spanish is your ticket to ride!

What do you think about class issues in Barcelona, or any other similar city?

What Divides a City?

Barcelona is very much an international city, with strong influences from the rest of Europe, Africa, and South America. Yet much of what provides the differences and divides in the city is whether or not people speak Spanish (or Catalan). Any Spanish speakers, regardless of where they're from, are generally more accepted and embraced here. Argentinians have a strong influence here, with neighborhoods, bars, and restaurants all over the city. There is in general a strong Latin influence, especially Argentinian, as evidenced by some of the most famous and popular restaurants and bars being Argentinian. L'ovella Negra, or the Black Sheep, is one of the biggest bars in Barcelona, and is considered an 'Argentinian' bar, especially during the World Cup. Foc, Margarita Blue, and the Rosa Negra are all very popular Latin restaurants, in all different areas of the city. In fact, much of the city seems divided by tourist areas; some people even say that much of modern Barcelona was planned to cater to tourists.

Whether or not Barcelona was actually planned with tourism in mind, the city layout is fairly simple once you learn where a few important landmarks are. If you keep in mind where Plaza Catalunya, Las Ramblas, and the Barceloneta beach are, you'll be set for much of the city. All these areas are very different feeling from the rest of the city; they're kept cleaner and seem more tourist friendly, and give off an old meets new vibe. Especially walking down Las Ramblas, you'll find modern stores like H&M housed in an ancient looking building. Leaving the touristy areas, the city becomes much more gritty and industrial, I work in the Poblenou area, just off the Bogatell metro stop. The area is filled with garage and motorcycle shops, and small cafes populated by the working class. The whole area feels just a bit seedy, like a place you wouldn't want to be alone late at night. Yet walk just a few blocks, and you'll find a more upscale residential area fronting onto the Ciutadella Park, the Central Park of Barcelona.

Overall, Barcelona seems divided by whether the area is intended for tourists or not; the differences can become apparent even on opposite sides of the same street. Ethnicity doesn't play as big a part as other places, as far as I can tell there's no 'Little Italy' or a Chinatown anywhere. Instead, you have the big, glitzy tourist-friendly areas, from Plaza Catalunya down Las Ramblas all the way to the beach, and the gritty, working-class areas, such as along the Diagonal. Barcelona is a beautiful city, but is all that beauty contrived just for tourists, or is it natural?

Ever been to Barcelona? Let me know what you think about the city, or any other city!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Barcelona Flow

Despite what you may think of this post's title, I will not be writing about hairstyles in Barcelona, rather the ebb and flow of time. Don't get me wrong, hairstyles here are pretty wild, but so is the way people treat time. Before coming here, I'd been repeatedly warned that the people who live here see it differently, that 'Barcelona time' is different from the rest of the world. Well, after a month here, I can tell you that it's true. Everything and everyone is more casual, more relaxed, more toned down. People hardly work more than 4 to 5 hours a day, and lateness isn't a real concept. Getting to work a half hour late, or even 3 hours late, doesn't seem to matter. Due dates for work are expressed as 'whenever' and meals are expected to be at least 3 hours. Sitting down for dinner, the custom is to get drinks and nurse those for an hour, then you order food. Eating is followed by more chatter, and then maybe a desert or coffee a good hour later. Finally, if you sat down around 7, you might be ready to leave at 10.

Last summer I interned near home, in Philadelphia, and like most American jobs, time was a precious commodity not to be wasted. Work had specific due dates, down to the minute, and coming in late was a sure recipe to get fired. A common quote I've heard, especially in public relations, is that if you're not at work on Sunday, then don't bother showing up on Monday. Working on the weekends here in Barcelona is considered anathema, it's a completely ridiculous prospect!

A busy day in Barcelona might consist of going to work from 9-2, getting lunch, and then relaxing at the beach, before dinner and a few drinks at a bar. I think to most people, this sounds like an ideal day, with more time spent relaxing and eating than anything else. Siesta time is very important here, most smaller businesses will be closed from 2-4 pm everyday because people are eating and napping. Actually sleeping at night isn't a big priority, because it's expected for a typical party-goer to be out until about 5 am or later. In fact, without siesta napping time, life here just wouldn't be possible, because there'd never be enough time to sleep!

Supposedly, the government is slowly trying to move people away from this relaxed work-ethic lifestyle, but it's such an ideal lifestyle that's so entrenched here I can't imagine it happening very soon. Plus, with all the tourists and visitors such as myself, the relaxed atmosphere is only added to. Check back early next week to hear about my 4th of July experience abroad!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Barcelona's Hidden Gems

I don't know how, or why, but Barcelona has got some of the best food places I've ever been to, but also the hardest to find, from cheap lunches to expensive dinners. Barcelona, being a modern, international city, has restaurants and eateries featuring cuisines from all over the world, but to me there were a few that really stood out. The great thing about Barcelona is that some of the best places to eat are the most unassuming places; those great places that often only locals know about. Interning here puts me in constant contact with many locals, so I've been fortunate enough to have experienced some top-notch local places.

1. One of the first places we went, it's a Latin food and drink restaurant simply called Foc. Originally believing it to be called Foc You, I thought it was just a play on F*** You. Instead, the place is just called Foc, which translates to Fire. Foc is in a prime spot right on the beach, so it's a little more touristy and expensive, but definitely worth it. The one thing about Barcelona is that waiters and waitresses will wait for you to signal them before they take your order or anything. Being one of our first times eating out in the city, it took us awhile to figure that out. Finally, we got the waitresses attention, and ordered a margarita pitcher (it was a wonderful feeling not getting carded for alcohol!) and our food; I got the chicken burrito. If you've ever been to Chipotle or Qdoba, you might have expected, as I did, a log of a burrito. Instead, I got a perfectly wrapped, normal sized burrito, that along with the drink and appetizers, perfectly filled me up. Unfortunately, I was so hungry at the time that I forget to take any pictures, and haven't had a chance to get back there.

2. One night, a group of us missed the free dinner provided to us, so we ventured out into the city to find some food. Walking around the Gracia neighborhood of Barcelona, we stumbled upon this hidden gem called Da Greco, which turned out to be really upscale restaurant almost purposefully hidden on a back street. We had to wait 30 minutes for a table, but it was worth it. I got an €18 steak, which came out sizzling and just tasted sublime. Some people got pasta dishes, and they surprised us all when along with the main pasta dishes, they would bring out a little sampler dish for the rest of the table to share. I definitely plan to go back there, even if it's just to get that same steak again.
The entrance to Da Greco.
3. I'd heard stories and legends about a place in the Del Born district of Barcelona of a place variously called Bo de B, Bo de Bo, and Bey de Bey. When I finally found this fabled eatery, it was in fact called Bo de B, and if you've ever been to Jim's Steaks on South Street in Philadelphia, you'll know what a line around the corner looks like. After waiting over an hour, we got inside to place our order. I'd been told to get the chicken sandwich, with all the sauces and toppings except lentils, so that's exactly what I got. Watching the girl make it was mesmerizing, as she piled on 7 different sauces, of which I could positively identify tzatziki and chipotle sauce, and toppings such as fresh (everything was fresh) tomatoes, peppers, corn, lettuce, and radish slices. Trying to eat the sandwich was a challenge, just because it was so packed, but for just €3.50, it was the cheapest meal I've had yet, and also one of the best.
The line outside Bo de B. They only let in 4 people at a time to order.

The toppings bar!
4. A few days ago, I asked a coworker to recommend a good burger joint, as it'd been weeks since I'd had a burger and I had a craving. He recommended a place called Bacoa, which turned out to be near my train station so I checked it out. Walking up to it, I saw it was crowded but not packed, so taking that as a good sign I went in, figured out how to fill out the order card, and got the Bacoa Classic Burger with fries. Settling myself by the open air entrance to people-watch, I quickly received my burger. See below for my before and after burgers. That burger was so good I hardly stopped for air as I inhaled it, leaving me full but wanting more. It was so well cooked, with delicious manchego cheese and frankly I don't know what else. I ate it so fast, and the menu was in Catalan, so I wasn't totally sure what was in it besides a tomato and some lettuce. They had their official Bacoa sauce on the table, so I drizzled my fries in it, finding it to be tasty mixture of ketchup, barbecue sauce, and hot sauce.

After these last 4 weeks, all the delicious food has definitely sapped my will to go to the gym or go on runs or anything, I comfort myself by taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and eat whatever makes me salivate the most! This has been my longest post to date so far, but that's just because there's so much good food to talk about!! Catch ya next week.

Nit de Sant Joan

Whew! I feel like it's been a very long time since last I blogged, but it's only been a week...just a very long week. Before I get into this week's topic (it's food!) let me tell you about a local holiday we celebrated this week. June 24th, a Tuesday, was Saint Joan the Baptiste Day here in Barcelona, which was celebrated by having off from work. The night before the holiday, Monday night, is the Nit de Sant Joan, or the Nit de Foc, which means the Night of Fire. A large group of us went to the beach, as we were told it was custom. I can't say for sure what I expected to find, but it certainly wasn't the seemingly smoke-filled war zone we did find.

Coming out of the metro station, the beach was covered in a thick haze of gunpowder and barbecue smoke, and it sounded like a battlefield from a movie. In reality, people of all ages were constantly lighting off fireworks, from tiny handheld firecrackers to giant rockets and mortars that light the night sky. Trying to cross from the boardwalk area to the beach proper was done so at one's own risk, twice I nearly stepped on a firecracker or tube about to go off. Once we were situated in a safe (relatively) position, we were able to enjoy the spectacle. From where I was, I could see up and down the beachfront for miles, and everywhere there was the flash and pop of fireworks being set off. Kids as young as 3 years old were cavorting about the beach, throwing firecrackers willy-nilly, sometimes right in the middle of groups of sitting people. After midnight, all the curiously large piles of wood we'd noticed suddenly got lit into humongous bonfires, lighting the beach up as far as one could see. Minutes later, street performers dressed as devils came running, swirling through the smoke and fire and throwing firecrackers and shooting roman candles. At first, I didn't know if I should be terrified or not, but I quickly realized they weren't really devils. The performers did good job scaring most people, but it was all in good fun though, as the night was one of celebration, with all the fire a homage to the shortest night of the year. It certainly didn't feel short though.

Arriving at the beach around 9 PM, the festivities continued well into the morning; 3 AM came and went and there was no end. Finally, the sun peaked over the horizon, ending the last few holdouts. It was an amazing night, filled with the constant crackle and rolling thunder of fireworks near and far, and groups of street performers and musicians.

Nit de Foc at Barceloneta Beach

The only thing it was missing was some good food, which I'll talk about in my next post!.

The World Cup

Unlike the rest of the world, America is nowhere near as crazy about soccer, or fútbol, as is the most of the rest of the world. Maybe you've heard of the movie/documentary about the Green Street Hooligans? Hooliganism is quite common all throughout Europe, and the arrival of the World Cup every 4 years certainly doesn't alleviate matters.

If you know anything about soccer, then you'll that countries such as Spain, Brazil, Argentina, France, and the Netherlands have traditionally been very good at soccer, and thus produced some of the most die-hard fans. I'm from Philadelphia, where we have a reputation for being extreme sports fans, but even that doesn't compare to European soccer fans. Being here in Spain has been very eye-opening for me regarding this global soccer culture that America is really not a part of. Back in the States, many people don't care about the World Cup, but here it's the only subject worth talking about this summer.

Now, it's fairly common knowledge that Spain loves it's soccer, but Barcelona, and greater Catalonia, are a bit different. Catalonia, of which Barcelona is the capital, is a region of Spain, a region that wants to be independent from Spain, a region that wants to be a country. When asked about FCB (Fútbol Club Barcelona) players playing on the national Spanish team, a native to Barcelona called them traitors to Barcelona and to Catalonia, because to Catalanas, Spain is a different country.

Being in Spain, even if it is Catalonia, there's still a lot of energy about soccer, but not as much as there is in Madrid. Here, there are just as many fans of other countries; our group from the USA went to a sports bar to watch the first match against Ghana, and that bar was completely packed with other Americans that night cheering their team on. Many of us wouldn't have followed the World Cup back home, but here in Spain it's expected of everyone, regardless of who they support.

Back home in the States, people are missing out on the incredible energy in this global soccer culture, just watch videos of when goals are scored in the World Cup to see how much energy the crowd has. I'm very happy to be here to experience this furor, even if it is a bit toned down here in Catalonia.

Check back soon for a post about everyone's favorite topic: food!

Arriving in Barcelona

 This summer, I'm living in the beautiful city of Barcelona, Spain, and I'm interning at a technology start-up company called SAST-MFA, or secure accrediation systems technology. Here, I'm the only intern, which is very favorable for me because I get to be involved in all aspects of the small company of 10 people, learning all about their public relations and marketing strategies, as well as the business aspects of entrepreneurship.

The first day started as a bit of a struggle, as I had the old address for the company, and had to call my boss to get directions, it was actually the first time we'd ever spoken, besides email. The woman I'd originally interviewed with via Skype had moved away, so I wasn't familiar with my new boss yet. As it turned out, he is extremely accommodating, and went out of his way to help me navigate to their new location.

Walking into the office, it was not what I was expecting, at first glance it seemed a sketchy, too-warm, dark room with a bunch of strangers sitting around. One older guy was walking around barefoot, and there was country music playing pretty loudly. However, everyone, even the company CEO, got up and came over to me, introducing themselves very warmly, setting me at ease. After about 5 minutes, they'd even invited me to a small housewarming party they were having for 2 of the guys who worked there. It wasn't like any job or internship I'd had back home in the States, but soon I grew to like it. Everyone was super friendly and laid-back, they didn't give me an email account for 2 days, as opposed to my American internship having it ready for me the minute I started work. But, I decided that it wasn't necessarily a bad thing, because it gave me more time to relax, get my bearings, and interact with everyone in the office; a few of them even showed me a good place to get a cheap lunch.

All in all, having started work on a Wednesday, and only working 5 hours a day, it's been a great first 2 weeks here in Barcelona. My co-workers are extremely friendly and relaxed, but it's very rewarding because the work I'm doing has a real, immediate effect on the company as a whole. I'm very happy to be here, and I look forward to the rest of my summer!