Sunday, December 12, 2010

Caga Tio!

Introducing el Tio Nadal other wise known as el Caga Tio (or the Shitting Uncle!)
We are staying just a two block from what seems to be THE Christmas market in Barcelona. So When we called our friend Olga to let her know we were finally in Barcelona she suggested we meet there as she wanted to do a bit of shopping with her little daughter. We met at the steps of the cathedral and began chatting--her daughter was busily occupied with her toy car to pay much attention to us but son got bored and began exclaiming that she wanted to see the “Tio”
Her mother said, “Oh yes its an enormous Tio!” Hugo and I are to be excused in imagining they were talking about an obese relative or some very large guy at this point. You see we had yet to be introduced to el Tio Nadal. But thanks to Olga and her little daughter we have learned what must be one of the weirder Catalan customs… perhaps the oddest Christmas ritual ever.

In Colombia Niño Dios (or baby Jesús) comes to give gifts on the 24th of December. In the US and much of Europe there is Santa Claus/ St. Nicholas. Other places have the Magi give gifts on January 6th. But in Barcelona there is the Tio—this is a log with a smiley face that is beaten with a stick on the 24th so that it will poop gifts.
The details:

The tio has a smiley face-- and in a strange case cross-cultural pollination a santa claus type hat—It has two sticks as feb, and most of it is covered with a blanket.

The Tio is fed by the children. According to Olga her daughter is very certain to give the log very good food so that it will poop good gifts—she is hoping for a scooter!
(The parents then hide the food when the child is not looking at the child believes it has eaten the food.)

Some parents replace the Tio every once in a while with a larger one so it seems as if the food is making it grow.

On the 24th the tio is beaten with a stick as festive songs telling the log to poop are sung to it. The log the “poops” the gifts under the blanket, the blanket is removed and voila the gifts.

We got to see a small enactment because of the enormous Tio that is gracing the Christmas market. There were children lined up around it ready to beat the tio. The line was long—this seems to be like Santa at Macy’s. But Olga’s daughter was determined, the line moved quickly because unlike Santa at Macy’s 7 children or so got to beat the log with a stick and no one asked him for specific things. Instead a worker reached under the blanket to give each child a lollipop the log had pooped once they finished singing their song and their little arms were tired of whacking the Tio. I don’t have a phone line yet so I wasn’t carrying my telephone (and therefore camera) so you will just have to take this picture culled from the internet as proof that I am not making this up.

Thursday, September 09, 2010


Now that we are leaving. Yes we are leaving NY and going to Barcelona… H and I have taken advantage of the JetBlue all you can jet promotion. We can visit our relatives before we leave—even the ones in Colombia! All for just $500. It couldn’t have come at a better time.

Our first stop? Niagara Falls. We always wanted to see it—but never enough to pay for the trip and take the time off. This seemed like the perfect opportunity. Our plan was to take the subway to the airport the flight to Buffalo a public bus to the falls. Walk around see what there is to see, have lunch and take the bus back to the airport and take the last flight back.

On the flight there we are in a row of seats between two Spanish couples that clearly know each other. They think nothing of talking to each other as if our row wasn’t there. And all of a sudden I remember. Spanish people are loud, and to Latin American ears their habits seem a bit abrasive and rude. I worry when it occurs to me that I have never had a Spanish friend—maybe I don’t like them… Then again maybe they will seem less loud when they are amongst themselves.

Is this move a mistake? We run into in them A couple of times in Niagara—or that is to sy we can hear that they are close. They have noticed we spoke Spanish and have asked for a our help knowing where to get off the bus etc; not wanting to spend the day with them we avoid them as much as possible.

Niagara is a very odd place. I have been to some tourist towns before certain sections of Ciudad Juarez, Nassau, Montego Bay and always been horrified at what tourism will do to what could be a lovely place. But I always thought that the biggest problem was the developing economy butting against first world economic power. Now I see that even in developed countries tourism does dreadful things. Niagara is covered with “family” tourist attractions which seems to mean several knock-off Madame Tussuad. (If you thought walking past Madame Tussuad as you hurried to get out Times Square was depressing? Try “Monsieur Tussuad”, or several other museums dedicated to wax creations of the worst criminals in history, or the most infamous people in the world etc.) but all is not wax museums loud electronic carnival barkers will try to usher you in to Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Hard Rock Café, several varieties of Haunted Houses or Fun-house type places all in super saturated colors and with neon lights on even though its 2 in the afternoon.
The food is also hideous. We found a falafel/shawarma place—I thought this was a safe bet because you can’t go wrong with falafel, right? I mean it can be greasier than youd like more or less tasty but its always all right? Sadly its not the case. I now know that you can really, really mess up falafel. Who knew?

But the falls themselves… they are beautiful. Standing over them on the Canadian side the water looks like glass right before it cascades down. The view is beautiful. WE went on the boat too. H was so sweet to humor me—but its almost the only way to see them from the bottom.
The line is ridiculously long even on this cold September day but it moves quickly. On our way down the hill to get to the boat we are pushed into a room so that they can take a picture of us against a blue screen this way they can superimpose us onto the falls later. We tell them we aren’t interested.
“It’s free. You don’t have to buy the picture”
“Yeah, no thanks,” H says again.
“It’s a great way to remember your visit to the falls.”
I don’t point out that it wont be an actual picture of us at the falls because even then we wouldn't want to do it, but it leaves me thinking how right Baudrillard is.

But specifically, I wonder how many people will take home a picture of them “at the falls” as a souvenir and how that picture will mesh, or not, with their memories. What will they think about when they see it? Of the line that passes through the room where they take the picture, of the boat ride, of the entire holiday, or of a moment that doesn’t exist the moment when they stood against the falls and someone snapped a picture of them?

Anyway, the trip was totally worth getting up early for, luckily, that is all it had to live up for. It was an anthropological marvel more than anything but the waterfalls are beautiful—they are worth a small detour, or an early rise, so thanks JetBlue for your sale.

Note that its not my picture either... more simulacra. On the other hand will I ever start taking photographs-- it seems unlikely.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

We have gotten rid of almost everything now. Every day I take about ten books down and place them in front fo the building and hope someone will take them. So far almost every book has “sold” I am thrilled not to have to throw them away but have been surprised at many of the books that have found new homes. Most of the novels seemed like good candidate, but who knew that books about Russian peasants in the 18th century, Kant’s Critique of Judgment, or really dry literary theory would be picked up as well.

Today I sat in my much emptied apartment and cried as if my first love had left me. I have lived in New York for some 15 years. I leave NY in the fall, the same season in which I arrived to go to Sarah Lawrence. I do want to go, so why does this feel so sad?

Monday, August 02, 2010

Yes, of course, because I fell in love with NY again--or more particularly my little corner of Brooklyn--we are moving.
H is going to study… I am going to eat lots of Manchego.
Wine will be drunk.
It feels bittersweet.

I wonder if I will live as close to these pink arches as I do to Grand Army?

(Grand Army Plaza pic by WallyG.)

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

This may be the hottest day ever. Those of you with me in NY will of course not be surprised that I am complaining. But I have never been quite this hot in my life. We walked less than ten blocks from the subway to a coffee shop where I am trying to write this. It is about 5 in the afternoon and it is 104 degrees outside—how is that even possible. The heat has given me a headache and from experience I know it will take an hour of sitting in the anemic air conditioning this café is offering before I feel better. But I am not just writing this to complain. (However I must say that it is sad to have the one week off from interpreting that I get this summer during the middle of a heatwave. I wish the courts were open so that I could be sitting in air conditioning. Never has our decision to live without air conditioning felt so foolish as today.)

I write this whiny preface to exclaim that I have seen two yes that is 2 people running. My computer informs me that it really is 104 outside. I mean perhaps I am just jealous because usually any slight discomfort will serve as an excuse to stop exercising . But really what can they be thinking. Just don't run today. It has to be the hottest day in at least a decade. Where could they be from that they think this is normal? Perhaps somewhere in Arizona, or southern Sudan?

Well if they can do it, I suppose I should just be impressed.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Upon my return to NY, I was looking at the city and it seemed boring, too busy without being interesting and well I was just so over NY. And then Cathy arrived. Cathy is a friend of a friend. (s she is from Colombia of course because Americans just don’t stay with friends of friends right? They almost don’t even stay with friends…. See just how cross I am about the US right now?

Anyway Cathy is making me see NY through new eyes again. And well its beautiful. I feel like the luckiest person in the world to live in Prospect Heights. I love our coffee shops—both of them are great and if one doesn’t suit the mood Imin the other does. Breuklen and the Glass Shop are both amazing. Francesco can be stand offish at first but you really grow to love his way of relatingto people as he warms up. As for Frank, Jason and Liza.. they are lovely all in different ways. Francesco has the sardine sandwiches! Frank has the organic coffee and grass fed cow milk.

And then there is Prospect Park (it doesn’t hurt that its June.) blue marble ice cream and the park slope coop.

Chavela’s with the nicest owner ever and surely the best Mexican food in Brooklyn.

Our new find Pilar’s up in Bed-Stuy /Clinton Hill—also great people but their food may be even nicer than they are!

The Public Library both on 42nd street and the Brooklyn one a few blocks away next to the park, the sun, the brownstones, getting to ride my bike over Brooklyn bridge to go to work, the highline park, going to see Shakespeare in the Park, music at Lincoln center. the MOMA, biking to Breezy Point to go to the beach and stopping for Uighur food and Russian pastries on the way there.

eating Senegalese, Indian, Jamaican, Veggie Jamaican and cheap Chinese owned Japanese food all on one street right next to your house

Of course Cathy loves it… she keeps comparing NY to Koln where she has lived for the last several years and hearing her makes me realize just how amazing our neighborhood is. I think this is what having a child must be like—getting see everything as new again. I should have guests more often--of course my dissertation suffers—although we did spend a bit of time ar 42nd street library doing research….

Monday, May 03, 2010

H has been less than excited with his work for awhile now. I have always wanted him to go back to get his doctorate—ironic considering how much I love getting mine, right? But we have also been talking about moving for a while.

So H and I have been saying it would be good to put my EU citizenship to use. He is suggesting England I prefer Spain, Italy, France or Austria. Of those I suspect only Spain is viable because of our rather limited linguistic abilities.

Should we go? I love the life we have built here. But I must say this is definitely not what I imagined my life would be at 35 . I have spent my entire adult life not only in the US but in one city—arguably the best city in the world, but it is just one place.

I came to NY to go to college and I have just stayed. I think I need a change. It seems so wasteful though to just let all we have built here go.