Thursday, March 17, 2011

Early Surprise - Abridged Edition

Friday, February 11th will be a day to remember. I came home from work that night and things were pretty normal around the house. The laundry was piled up in the hallway so that I could haul it down to the laundromat as soon as I got home and avoid the hundreds of customers that would make there way through the steamy, cheap bane-of-my-existence a few doors down. Oh laundry, how I loathe thee!

Oh, and Erika casually mentioned to me before I left that she was leaking water all day. Uhhh...hmm. Smell? Negative. Color? Negative. Blood? Negative. Baby's head? Negative. Well, that's weird. She was at just 33 weeks and everything was healthy thus far, so certainly it couldn't be broken water, so what was it? We decided to give the doctor a call just to make sure. And he told us to come into the hospital just to make sure all was hunky dory and then we'd make our way home and he'd see us in six weeks when the baby was due.

Except that it didn't go like that at all. One thing I am proud about is that for the past few weeks, I had been joking that it would really be best for us to take the subway to the hospital when the baby was coming. I mean, why spend $18 when I could spend $2.50 instead? Well, totally confident that it couldn't be broken water, we decided to take the subway. It was actually nice that way (for me) because it gave us time to settle down and relax and to further convince myself that it couldn't possibly be the water, even though all signs pointed to it being so.

We got to the hospital, got lost in the innards of the hospital trying to go from one side to the other (the hospital is about five blocks long - massive!), and then finally got a confirmation that the water was indeed broken. Eff. This wasn't supposed to happen this way! The final words from the doctor? "Welcome to Mt. Sinai!"

So we settled into a delivery room and had no idea what to think. I hadn't brought ANYTHING with me except a mobile phone, so there would need to be some work done the next day. But, for the evening, it was the same as it would be for the next five days. Sitting around with Erika plugged into antibiotics, steroids, and fluids. We got the SOS text messages sent out, I got Paul to sign up for some volunteer activities for the next day, and we both got scatter brained over the implications of this event.

The baby was early. Six and a half weeks early. Apparently, 34 weeks is an important milestone for a baby because at that point the baby is more or less fully developed and is just a little skinny. The 34th week began in five days, which was the target date for the delivery. The baby couldn't stay in forever because without the amniotic sack he was at a higher risk for infection. But he didn't need to come out right away either, so he could hang tight inside, suck up the steroids to make sure his lungs were fully developed, and then mommy would get pumped full of Pitocin and the labor would begin.

But first, I had some major work to do. I was scheduled to pick up our gently-used stroller off Craigslist the next day (a nice $300 savings on that one), I had to go home to take a shower, do the laundry, and pack up the bags for the hospital. I clearly was not in the right frame of mind to do this on my own, so big ups to Paul for the help that day.

Five days later, we were woken up at 6:00am and wheeled to a new delivery room. My mom was in town by then, so we settled in and the fun started at 7:00am. To make a long story short, Erika got thrown through the ringer for ten hours of strong, symmetric, artificial contractions without almost any progress. Like a good mom, her body was just not ready for the baby to come out! It finally became too much and shortly after the epidural, the baby started to show some signs of distress (heart-rate making V-patterns around the contractions) and the doctor left us to make a decision on whether to continue and wait until the baby really starts freaking out, or go ahead with the c-section.

It broke my heart that we needed a c-section. All I could think about was the fact that my wife had just suffered for ten hours for nothing, would have a long recovery ahead of her, and now we would become one of the 40% - a number that is way way too high - of patients who ends up with a c-section. But we had to do it because the most important thing was for the baby to be healthy.

The c-section was pretty scary. Erika was crucified on the delivery table with needles everywhere and a blue screen to prevent us from seeing anything. Her body was jerking around from the pulling, prodding, and slicing of the team of surgeons with the smell of burning flesh surrounding us and before I knew it, the baby was jumping out and started crying. He was tall, skinny, and white with a little bit of dark hair. I was snapping pictures and trying to take care of Erika at the same time. We got a few quick pictures of the baby before he was wheeled off to the NICU to begin his recovery while Erika started to get sewn up. More tugging and prodding and she started to complain that it was hurting her. The resident doctors just kept pumping her full of morphine and God knows what else, but I was completely hopeless and lost in the moment.

It was all over. I had to go take care of room reservations for the next four days of recovery and then take my Mom and Roberta up to see the baby and take care of Erika. The poor baby was already hooked up to an IV with tubes in his mouth and oxygen in his nose and looked so alone and skinny. It really broke my heart to see him like that, but to be honest, at the moment I really wanted to be with Erika because I knew she was alone and recovering from major surgery. What a terrible spot to be in!

Needless to say, the next four days were full of learning, trials and tribulations and some "fights" with nurses to have full access to the baby and figure out what was going on. But, all in all, the nurses took really good care of Erika in the recovery room and the NICU nurses were amazing with their knowledge, experience, and for the most part, cooperation. We had lots of wonderful messages of support and visits from our family and friends who helped us out more than we could ever thank them for!

A week and a half after, we got to bring Oliver home and we've been enjoying him ever since - as long as he only wakes up twice a night (like most nights)!!

J. Riley, I could write a novel with all of the details that I left out :o(

Baby Shower

There has been plenty of baby preparations going on around our house lately. Last weekend, Erika had her baby shower, which was hosted and organized by the wonderful Roberta and attended by almost 20 friends and family of Erika's - including my Aunt Sam and my mother. Sean and I kept ourselves busy - and wet - by deciding to walk 16 blocks to have lunch at Republic in Union Square - despite the fact that it was drizzling and about 32 degrees outside. Not only that, but once we arrived, we found that it didn't meet Sean's dietary requirements (although, eating there the next day, I found that it actually DID), so we walked the 16 blocks back to his neighborhood to have the most wonderful pizza ever at Pala. Needless to say, I had to wait for hands to thaw out before I could grasp the delectable gluten free porri e salsiccia pizza squares.

On Sunday, following the best bagels and cream cheese on earth at Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Co. and witnessing a poor old guy spill coffee on his wife's fur coat and never hearing the end of it, it was Erika, Aunt Sam, and Mom's day of putting the gift cards to use to purchase the items that we needed for the baby but didn't have yet. I met up with them for the tail end of their Babys R Us trip after watching Liverpool devastate Chelsea with a shocking 0-1 victory away :o) . 

J. Riley, thanks for all the wonderful outfits!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Spoils Of Online Scouring

This Christmas was great, as it always is. We got to spend some quality time with my family that I don't get to see so often, in fact it's been at least a year since I've even seen my parents! It's terrible to live so far away from both of our parents, especially as the new chapter in our life approaches.

As expected, Erika got a lot of personal attention with our boy in her stomach and we started thinking about the approaching day that he's gonna pop out and change our lives forever. We decided that we needed a new camera to capture all of the action in greater detail and with greater clarity, so we did some after-Christmas shopping and ended up with the camera that I'd been researching for a while - the Sony SLT-A33. We've joined the Haines' favorite hobby - SLR picture taking! Having just arrived today, we look forward to neck/shoulder/and back pain carrying it around while we're out and about in the city.

We also decided that we needed to start buying some essentials as soon as we got back to New York. We learned a lot from all of the mothers at my parents' house, including minor points like the fact that we won't be able to leave the hospital without a car seat. I wasn't too happy to hear that I would have to spring for one of those, but I guess it's a worthwhile investment. We also started doing a lot of research on strollers (a major point of contention), baby carriers, and ways for my to be stingy in my new bible, Baby Bargains. Unfortunately, Erika is not buying all of my revolutionary ideas of how to save money, even though I still have a few months to convince her that if people can survive with cheap items in developing countries, why can't we survive with it as well? Something tells me that I will lose most of these wars...

However, she did agree that we could start shopping on Craigslist for items. I figure that if we start three months before the baby is here, we should be able to find good deals on most of the stuff we need from New York's population. Case-in-point: last night, we ventured out to the Upper West Side and picked up an infant car seat for $60 ($149 value) as well as a baby carrier for $40 ($100 value, albeit not the ErgoBaby one I'm jonesing for). While we were at the couple's house, they said that they would really recommend not buying everything new, to which I rejoiced and commented "Why do you think we're here!" ;o).

The baby is very active these days and it's interesting to try to figure out something about him while he's still baking in the oven. Judging by the ultrasound pictures, we think he has Erika's nose and chin and maybe my voluptuous lips. But thinking about all the permutations this kid could have is crazy. He could turn out to be a total cholo Latino kid with dark skin and hair, or he could be blonde with bleached white skin like me, or anything in between.

I've invented some of his characteristics already as well. Whenever he's going nuts trying to break out of Erika's belly and I try to touch him, he stops immediately (relatively speaking). This *must* mean that his skin is sensitive to the touch like mine, obviously. Putting this on the slippery slope, we can also therefore assume that he'll eat at a snails pace like his daddy as well. I'm sure Erika will appreciate that - I think? Actually, I have no idea.

Aside from that, the other major thing that we're going to need to deal with soon is our apartment. We don't really like where we're at now, but we were considering an upgrade to a two-bedroom in the same building if we could move in early. But our *lovely* management company said that we can't move in until our lease is up at the end of April, which is the issue in the first place. Looking for an apartment, signing a lease, and moving all weeks after Oliver is born is *not* on the agenda. Guess we'll have to go month-to-month until we can get on our feet and find a new apartment - or job!

J. Riley, Oliver Wilson Haines it is.  

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Baby Journal - Page One

Considering the fact that the baby isn't born yet, there isn't too much that we can scrapbook yet. But we can at least do a little background work for the little guy. We have decided to dedicate  two pages to this subject, leaving lots of growing room for the future. Drum-roll please......

Page One (click for full size)

So what we've got here is the first (title page) of the journal. Using the color laser printer at work and our Hamermill Color Laser paper (acid-free, 32 weight, 94 brightness), we printed some wedding pictures, a nice little heart, and a picture of one of the ultrasound pictures from October. I could certainly tell that the printer at work is built for printing graphs and charts because the colors in the photos wasn't quite right and overall I was slightly disappointed. However, the paper weight was nice and strong and considering the cost and the fact that I could print any size that I want, the flexibility is worth it. Plus, if we ever decide in the future to switch out the pictures, we've using double-sided acid-free tape so that should be do-able.

On the left-hand side is a strip that we cut from one of our full-size pages of visually-textured $0.99 paper. I think the colors go well with the album cover and we added two billowing cutouts from construction paper for the "dedication" passages written by Erika and I. We linked everything together with simple lines from our acid-free (get the theme here?) pen and wrote our wedding dates in the middle of the heart. Erika added some aging effects to the construction paper using our set of color pencils. We added one our our stickers to the upper-left corner of the ultrasound picture just to add some color (and so Erika could break out the sticker packets and put them to use ;o)

J. Riley, craft blogger (as Summer eloquently put it)... 

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Joys of Journals journals. I don't really know how to make one, but Erika
actually has (and uses) the creative side of the brain and made a
shopping list for us on Saturday. We splurged for the Kolo scrapbook,
one that is worthy of gracing shelves of some SoHo boutique
scrapbooking store, but of the up-most quality. I mean, this thing
needs to last several lifetimes, right? And then there were the clear
plastic sleeves, the extra pages, the tape, the acid-free pen, etc.
etc. The idea of buying a $29 journal at Barnes and Noble was sounding
better and better every minute.

And then off to the paper store. We had to have the baby stickers,
right? And the animal pictures. And the lettering stickers. And the
cute patterned sheets to decorate and border the pages. I was not in a
good mood when the pile of sticker packages were getting rung up and I
saw $5 per package. Luckily, Erika likes the clearance stuff as much
as I do and we did find some deals towards the bottom of the pile.

The biggest problem was when we got home and actually opened the
packages and looked at the mess we were creating. Where the hell do we
start??? First, we need to come up with a list of "facts" and
information that we want to put in the book. We decided that a title
page wasn't really an option (considering the cost of page real
estate) and we'd start with a little background. Extended family,
wedding pictures and hearts (add acid-free color laser printing paper
to the list), and memos to the baby from mom and dad (add color
pencils and construction paper to the list). Naturally, it needs a
cute border so we came up with a stinjenius way to not have to buy a
designer exacto knife and god-knows-what accessory to cut paper in
straight lines: a box cutting knife (from my urban tool-kit), a ruler
with a metal edge (thanks PWC), a flattened cardboard box (thanks
Amazon), and two pairs of hands. It works much better than trying to
cut straight lines with a pair of scissors, though it remains to be
seen if we have all of our appendages by the end of the project....

J. Riley, maybe I'll consider making a guide for this project on the
ol' blog...

Friday, December 03, 2010

Circles of Life

I'm hoping that this post will help me fall off the wagon when it comes to not writing, and with the events recently I think it's time!  The last two weeks have been pretty bi-polar around here. The phrase circle of life is very cliche (thanks, Lion King), but it really has hit me like a capoeira roundhouse recently.

Two weeks ago today, I attended the first funeral visitation in my life. I've been pretty lucky up to this point in dealing with the ends of life, i.e. I have not had to deal with it! My co-worker's wife passed away after about five years of battling lung and brain cancer, and although I didn't ever have the chance to meet her, just attending the visitation was fairly traumatic to me. I was confronted with feelings that hadn't really hit me before, but I put on a brave face and got through the visitation unscathed. But I felt like I had totally disrespected the experience by trying to be wooden with my emotions and dwelled on it for the rest of the evening, trying to understand the pain and loneliness that my coworker would be going through, knowing that they had no children and by his stories in the past how much he had loved her. I had a really hard time with it all night and actually lost quite a lot of sleep over it. I attended the funeral mass the next morning and felt like I was able to connect a lot more to my emotions and, thankfully, that awarded me with a sense of closure that was missing the day before. It made me think a lot about my relationship with my wife and how lucky I am to have someone that I can talk to and experience life with, although she was out of the country for the past month!

Fast forward just two days later, and the point hit home when I was told that my own grandmother had passed away after years of battling her cancer while waiting for Erika at the airport. I don't know if it was better or worse that I had gone through so much in the previous few days, but I definitely felt farther away from my family than I had for a long time. I yearned to be back in California and since I had moved to New York I knew that this day would come, especially recently as hospice had been coming to her house to let her go painlessly and peacefully. No matter how prepared you think you are for this event, and knowing that it's going to happen soon, knowing that you won't be able to have a conversation about their life with them again is hard, obviously. I definitely feel like I missed out on being there at the end, but I hope to find some closure for this event at Christmas time when I can be with my family and visit my grandma for the last time. I won't forget her voice and my memory of her will always be of her healthy years when she swing danced with me on the family ranch so many years ago!

As chapters end, so chapters begin. After six weeks of talking to my in utero "daughter" and wife over Skype, we found out that "she" was actually a he. If the ultrasound technician can't really tell the gender of your child, isn't it better that they say "we don't know yet" rather than "we think it's a girl, but we can't guarantee it yet"? It's going to take a while for me to come around to him being around in the belly, but like the doctor said, of course I'm happy it's a boy :o) . It's fun to think about all of the permutations that our child could have, but of course I assume that he will have olive skin, be handsome (i.e. look more like his mother), blue eyes, and thick blonde hair, but I have a feeling that I'm going to be his biggest fan even if he looks like a little cholito from South America :o).

We're in fully baby prep-mode around here and are beginning to think about baby journals. We looked at some at Barnes & Noble but they just seem to artificial and lack the personal touch, so we are thinking about going the creative route with making our own. Having done some research, I think it's going to be a lot of work, but if I'm going to be documenting it on paper and in pictures, I think I can at least do it online via my blog as well! Maybe I need a new blog :-$??? We'll see about that. In any case, if anyone has experience with scrapbooking baby journals, by all means let me know!  

In other news, there is a lot going on with our friends. Alan and Andrea just had baby boy number two!  Melissa and Jonathan have begun planning their wedding for next summer - in Aruba! Priya and Manny are engaged and are planning their wedding for next summer - in Jamaica (rumors)! Yinety and David are engaged and I can only assume that they are planning their wedding for next summer as well - in the Dominican Republic! Thanks a lot folks, couldn't you at least space your weddings out a year, or are we going to have to move down to the Caribbean for the summer? Not to mention Sean and Roberta's potential "wedding" in Italy - next summer. When else??

Season's greetings to everyone, stay in touch!

J. Riley, send in those baby journal ideas all of you Martha Stewarts out there!

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Ambitionz as a...Drivah?

Since I'm half-baked at the moment (my favorite B&J froyo), I figure that I can dedicate a blog title to the great, late rapper Tupac Shakur, who was a visionary, who sought change, and died trying. But he didn't change his lifestyle enough and was eventually gunned down after getting involved in the east/west hip-hop gang wars. I suppose Tupac was named after the last Peruvian Inca Tupac Amaru, who resisted change until the end and eventually succumbed to the Spanish conquistadors, who tied each of his limbs to a horse, and then unleashed the horses, who tore his body literally apart in front of the remnants of the Incan empire in their capital city of Cusco. Visuals aside, both Tupacs resisted the change that was necessary to survive.

Although not quite so extreme, there's gonna be some change in my life to come, and regardless of the outcome, there will be a car involved, and I will be a "drivah". I spent the last four days of last week up in Massachusetts with my mom, sister, and wife and became reacquainted with relatives, checked out some of the tourist hot-spots in the state and region, and spent some time in a great city and it's charming residential areas. I thought I had a rough sketch of my future residence in California, but Boston wooed me with it's perfect weather, it's urban and academic atmosphere, it's houses with marvelous and historic character, it's New England charm, and so many wonderful distant relatives of mine. I'm not sure if I can say that this has thrown a wrench in my plans, but it is an intriguing option that appealed to both of us. Of course, ask me in six weeks when it starts snowing there, and things can change in a hurry!

I'm at a cross-roads in my family life, and things are just not falling into place perfectly. But can they? I'm not so sure they can. No matter where I end up, I will miss everything that New York City offers. I've been saying for a while, why stay here when I can't enjoy everything it has on offer? But we do enjoy so much of what it offers with it's melting pot (or at least a salad!) environment that I take for granted until I visit somewhere that doesn't offer that to the same degree (like Boston). Public transportation is the best thing ever invented, but in seven months it's going to turn into a huge pain in the ass.

And where do I go from here? Just today I had a conversation with someone who had moved recently and whose children missed their old neighborhood, it's shopping centers, it's bread (??), and other things like that. It seems so easy just to pack it up and move out to California, but things will be so different there! We will miss walking to the grocery store and being able to buy almost any ingredient that we want. We will miss having every clothing store in existence a mere 30 minute subway ride away. Of course, we will have family there, which is a huge, huge bonus that can't be measured. What about moving to Boston? We would be in a charming environment, have to deal with snow and more of the same weather that we deal with now, and uncertainty as to whether family bonds could be established after thirty three years of neglect. But at least the option is there and we could settle into something and establish a home that would be our own. And then there is always international destinations like Peru, where we would have countless family members, certain employment for Erika, fresh fruit, vegetables, and all types of food from neighborhood markets. The language issue and the culture change wouldn't bother me too much, but I wouldn't know too many people (which Erika has had to deal with here as well!), my profession would most likely have to change, and I would need to deal with the crime and pollution that Lima offers. We could even stay more or less local and relocate to Long Island or (gasp!) dirty Jersey. We would be able to maintain some form of relationship with our current environment and our friends, but we know absolutely nobody in those outer regions and would be just as far (or farther) from our family then we are now! So, there is no perfect scenario, but what is certain is that there will be change in store in the future.

On the other fronts, it seems like Erika is progressively getting better and starting to feel human again, though it could change at any moment! I've been delving into my local libraries and reading some great books, such as "Born to Run", "Freakonomics", "Shadow of the Wind" (a good read before and after Barcelona!), "Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman", and a few others that I've already forgotten. The idea of getting an eReader is becoming more appealing to me, especially as I've discovered that I can actually check out eBooks from the library. One of my biggest issues with the eReaders is that I don't want to have to buy books. I don't buy them now, I'm never going to read them again most likely, so why should I pay $10 for a book? But if libraries, an tax-paid-for asset that many people don't take advantage of enough I think, can rent me a book for a Nook (sorry Kindle and iPad fans), that has some appeal. Of course, I don't really have an issue with carrying a book now, so I really don't see any reason to buy an eReader in the first place! But it would be nice for trips.

J. Riley, I have to admit defeat - I most likely won't finish Barcelona and Germany! Maybe I'll publish some cliff notes!  

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Barcelona Observations

While I continue to work on the detailed stories of our trip to Barcelona (a long time coming, but I shall persevere!!), I thought I would share some observations that I jotted down throughout the trip in my ultra-trendy faux-moleskin notebook that I carried along to document things while sitting on planes, trains, and automobiles. Here we go, bullet-point style:

  •  On our second day in Spain, we hit up some stores to replenish our clothing supplies due to the lost luggage incident. One of the things I noticed pretty quickly is that the Spanish are much more laid back and informal than the people in Peru are. Everywhere we went, we were greeted with "hola!", which I only hear in casual settings in Peru. I think the very prevalent Peruvian service industry is trained to be more formal and offer up a "buenos dias!" when greeting you. I don't think we got a "buenos dias" once during our trip. Using "hola" seems to make the human interaction more personal.
  • On our first night in town, we hit up the Born neighborhood for a late dinner and we immediately noticed that we seriously under-dressed. Shorts and t-shirts were definitely inappropriate, but what was I really thinking? I guess I wouldn't go out in a hip-part of Manhattan at night for dinner in shorts and a tee, but in Spain they did it up nice with slacks, nice shirts, and a lot of white. It was a reminder that in urban environments, you must dress to impress - even if you're married ;o) .
  • Speaking of dinner that night, I quickly realized that people eat late! We went out at about 11:00pm and every place that we walked by was so crowded that we couldn't even walk in in our shabby clothing. Then again, it was a Friday night, so I suppose that might of had something to do with that fact. But I guess Spain has a reputation for late dinners and drinks anyway due to the sweltering heat during the day. Maybe that's more relevant in southern Spain than in Catalonia, though. It was almost contradictory, however, that the subway stopped running at sometime around midnight. 
  • Wine is very cheap in Barcelona! In fact, I found most things priced very reasonably regardless of what we were buying. Maybe after spending so much time in New York I've gotten used to overspending when it comes to drinks and food. I think that might actually be true too, now that I think about my time in Germany as well, where the beers were very cheap relative to what we pay here. But, anyway, the wine was pretty good to my non-developed palate and at 3€ a glass, you really couldn't go wrong. Likewise, the tapas were great in Barcelona and could be surprisingly cheap, depending on where you go. It's like a buffet - all you can eat, you just pay per item. One of our favorite spots was around 1.50€ per tapa, which was quite a deal when you consider that you fill up after about six of them.
  • Barcelona was surprisingly cosmopolitan. There was a strong contingent of Africans there (mostly selling fake designer purses and watches, shockingly ;o) as well as some elements of South Americans. Erika said there were quite a few Bolivians there, although we didn't really come across many South Americans. Catalonia is known for having a robust economy, which I guess would draw people from around the world to move there. Erika and I certainly felt the pull!
  • The style for the younger generation is similar to what I envision Argentines being like - shaggy and hippy-like. Beards, overgrown and unkempt hair, and hemp necklaces and bracelets were the norm among the hipper crowd - and they were everywhere that we went. 
  • It's so ironic that local produce is so trendy in the United States when the plethora of markets in Barcelona (and the rest of Europe, and the rest of the world?) would find it ludicrous to sell anything but local, seasonal produce. In New York, we think that it's great that we have access to wonderful green markets and Whole Foods. But in reality, it's really difficult for us to live that kind of lifestyle with companies like Walmart going "local" and putting those "local" farmers under intense price pressure!
  • The subway trains in Barcelona, which were surprisingly clean (again, maybe I'm jaded by New York's), actually wait for you! We were about halfway down a long staircase trying to catch a train, when it closed its doors. We slowed down and waited for it to pull away when all of the sudden the train reopened it's doors and waited a good five seconds longer for us to run and jump in. Five seconds! How outrageous!
  • I had heard that sometimes people from Spain had a superiority complex when it came to Latin Americans and I was interested to see how they would treat Erika with her Castellano Spanish accent. The reality was that they didn't even react to her accent and, in the odd circumstance that they used a different word in Spanish than she knew (such as at our local market when talking to the deli meat specialist), they would laugh and joke together about the different words and would take interest in her words. 
  • The shoes. Ohhhh, the shoes. One thing I really regret is not taking advantage of the reasonable prices in Barcelona and buying some hot Euro-shoes. They really had a nice urban flair to them and were totally unique compared to what I have here in the states. But, with my shoe rack already overloaded, I couldn't justify spending the $80 on them. Oh well, next time!
J. Riley, just a taste of what's to come!

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Happy Birthday Mom!

Happy birthday mom, you've got twins on the way! :-x

Monday, July 19, 2010

España and Deutschland: Churches

By the second day in Barcelona, we had the whole luggage escapade our of our system and we were ready to start checking off the boxes on our itinerary of amazing things to see in Barcelona. But where should we start? After doing some quick reading in our tour book, we decided to ponder it further over some variant of ham between two slices of bread at the Barceloneta mercado. Erika had had a coffee con leche with her breakfast the day prior and, although I am not a coffee guy, I decided that one was in order for the first day to really get me going. This was a sign of things to come and let to an incredible addiction that I am still fighting in my heart and mind to this day. Being a coffee culture, I got used to drinking some good stuff, which has set me up for disappointment whenever I indulge on the weekends in midtown.

But I digress. We decided that our first order of business was to check out the insatiable, incredible, one-of-a-kind Sagrada Familia, designed by Gaudi in the early 20th century. He died without seeing it completed, and I will also likely die before it's completed because it's still very much a work-in-progress. Now that I think about it, I find it ironic that we Americans use the term "goddie" (spelled phonetically) with a negative connotation to describe a material thing that is over the top, embellished with thick, ornate, outlandish decorations (much like my definition of the word itself :o). Perhaps this term came from "Gotti" (as in the head of our local mafia family), but more likely it came from Gaudi, who's designs were in fact ornate, outlandish, and over-the-top. Which is what makes this place so controversial, I suppose. Some guidebooks describe his designs as "cake in the rain", which I found pretty accurate.

According to the length of the line and our Rick Steves Snapshot guide of Barcelona (highly recommended, by the way), we arrived right at the worst time, with a line snaking around the corner for the entrance. But, not for the first time, we found the line to be quick moving and in a few minutes we were standing in front of this impressive building in all of its glory. It was almost overwhelming just standing there, so, armed with our audio guides, we took a seat at the base of one of the columns near the entrance (conveniently in the shade since it was toasty) and just took it all in for a few minutes.

It's basically impossible to describe this place. Where's a Graham when you need him? The columns inside the church were unsymmetrical trees of concrete (literally, trees) and the exterior was just breathtaking. I could say that he incorporated nature in his design with spires built like honeycombs and native plants and animals from the Holy-land throughout the exterior, and you would probably cross it off your list of things to see in your lifetime, but that would be a mistake! I literally cannot describe the place, you just have to see it to believe it.

Following a few hours of drinking from the cup of Gaudi at the Sagrada Familie, it was time to see the next church. Euros, they always complain about how Americans love churches and how boring they find them, which I can totally understand. But when we picked up Leif at the Plaça de Catalunya, he was actually excited to see the next church on the list. After mentally mapping out our plan for the rest of the afternoon, we decided that the best thing to do would be to purchase day-passes. Of course, we'd already used our $0.70 metro card ticket twice that day, but surely we would ride it at least six more times that day. I mean, how long can you really stay at a church (especially after just finishing up with the Sagrada Familia)?    

So, we headed off to the next place of worship, which was a bit on the outskirts of Barcelona and a further ten minute walk from there before it appeared before us. This is a place where legends are created and nurtured from a young age until they are released against inferior opposition as teenagers. One of the largest of its kind in all of Europe (nearly 100,000 people can praise the Hand of God on an afternoon), a place where nationality was celebrated and defiance against fascism was practiced on a weekly basis for nearly a half-century, the Camp Nou: The house of FC Barcelona, the best football team in the world. I feel lucky to have been able to visit this place now while they are nearly at the peak of their ability. Where a boy (Leo Messi) who will likely be called the best football player of all time is plying his trade at the tender age of 23.

I haven't been to many football stadiums in Europe, but if I was to pick one to visit (other than Liverpool's Anfield, of course), it would have to be the Nou Camp. While it would be much more exciting to actually go there while the season was in full swing and experience the noise of 97,000 patrons, this would have to do for the time being. FC Barcelona is actually an important cultural icon for the nation of Catalonia. When the fascist Franco plunged the country into civil war and struck down Barcelona and the Catalans, FC Barcelona was one of the last places of refuge for the citizens. Franco outlawed the flag of Catalonia, but the flag was incorporated in the club's emblem, so it really was, and is, a way for them to display some pride in their nationality. Little did I know that the club's slogan "FC Barcelona, More Than Just A Club" is not just some marketing moniker that Nike came up with after all.

We toured the stadium and locker room (as exciting as a locker room can be I guess), we got pictures holding a mock Champions League trophy, we held a press conference in their media room, I got my photo taken with Messi himself, which was amazing since he was actually in South Africa at the same time!), and generally payed homage to all of the greats that have graced the colors of FC Barcelona.

After a few hours at the church, it was basically time to meet up with Leif's girlfriend Melanie (who, conveniently, was in town for a girl's weekend) and head out to the Olympic Port for a seafood dinner. This area, which felt like it was at least a five mile walk from the subway) was basically built for the '92 Olympics and was at the end of the incredible Barcelona beach (which, by the way, we never got to enjoy thanks to the weather and the luggage incident).

So we wandered along the beach, along the snack shacks, clubs, and all sorts of interesting things going on until we got to the pier that held giant outdoor restaurants stacked full of fresh seafood and greasy, over-sunned menu hawkers. I have no doubt that these guys are definitely the Jersey Guidos of Europe (minus The Situation's abs) judging by the way they haggled and got a little too cozy to girls walking by.

We were pretty tired by this time and so we settled into a nice paella plate after dining on appetizers. The ironic thing about it was that we had just walked for over an hour to this place way out of the way based on one of the German's book's recommendation when we learned that none of the Germans, in fact, liked seafood :o). Suddenly, Erika and I become the "experts" on recommending which fish they should eat when they don't like any fish at all. Leif made things easy by ordering a steak, while I hastily described what a monkfish looks like when Melanie asked me what I thought about that for dinner. I recommended the cod, which they found relatively palatable. :o)

It was one of our longer, dryer days (and hot!), but we enjoyed the Germans company for the night. Next time, we'll take them for awesome tapas instead of seafood :o). We took the brisk subway home and crashed pretty hard after wandering around our little village neighborhood's narrow streets a little bit more.

J. Riley, we used our day passes exactly twice, which means we wasted about $15 on the day pass :o|