“You are now at a crossroads. This is your opportunity to make the most important decision you will ever make. Forget your past. Who are you now? Who have you decided you really are now? Don't think about who you have been. Who are you now? Who have you decided to become? Make this decision consciously. Make it carefully. Make it powerfully.”

- Anthony Robbins

Painting is Olbinski again, (as surely you must be able to guess by now) The Magical Transparency of Time.

(And it's creepily similar to the 'Law of Attraction' piece below, I know, I just realized... must just be something in the air...)

The Law of Attraction: Inside the Mind of the Universe

I belong to this pretty nifty group called 'freecycle', a sort of match.com for connecting people who have junk/treasure, with other people in need of that exact variety of junk/treasure. Members post about items they'd like to get rid of (sofas, phone chargers, gnome lawn ornaments), but also make requests for items they'd like to have (laptops, tapes for learning French, gnome lawn ornaments). It's a nice sort of game of ring-around-the-roses, people giving and taking; a whole population willing to show up at each others' doorsteps to cart away unwanted stuff.

Anyway, recently someone, we'll call that person "Bugsy," posted a request for a suitcase. Since somehow I've accumulated so many suitcases (we're talking, like 8) that they no longer all fit under my bed and are taking up space in my (smallish studio) living area, I immediately replied with a "I have one! You're welcome to it!"

But instead of the chipper 'Thanks' and 'When can I swing by?' that I was expecting, I instead got a three paragraph sob story as to why exactly Bugsy needed the suitcase. It was the typical sort of tale of 'I've made some stupid mistakes and life-keeps-doing-me-wrong,' where things keep breaking and people are unreliable and you just can't get a leg up.

While I knew Bugsy was looking for sympathy and was justifying the need for a suitcase to me, the tale absolutely rubbed me the wrong way. I never said, "you can have the suitcase, if your really really need it." Just that Bugsy said one was needed was reason enough ... I had an abundance and was more than happy to share.

Yet the groveling stirred up some dark emotions... my cruel-streak, which I have to say is pretty dormant, reared its head. After being smacked by Bugsy's desolate negativity, I didn't want to give Bugsy the suitcase anymore. Bugsy's forlorn and ungrateful miserableness didn't seem worthy of it... mostly in the sense that I realized the gesture wouldn't change anything... this individual would remain dreary and woebegone no matter what happened. After all, the suitcase had already been given away in thought... it was just a matter of it physically getting picked it up. But after hearing the diatribe, the suitcase that I had already earmarked for Bugsy, was suddenly in jeopardy of being so.

I didn't respond to the email for a few days as I waited for its potent taste of gloom to dissipate and for my sense of sympathy and a renewed feeling of generosity to set in. When I did respond, Bugsy's reply was again laced with a new set of problems that had unfolded since our last communication. Ick. (Never fear, in spite of that, of course, I will give the suitcase to Bugsy when/if he/she ever arrives to pick it up).

There's been a lot talk about The Law of Attraction recently thanks to that book The Secret; the idea that positive thinking draws things in, that acting as if you already have something will make it materialize. While I've sort of taken these principles with a skeptical grain of salt (I simply don't think you can dream up money and fancy cars), this particular experience gave me new insight into what its profferers are getting at, especially since they talk a lot about gratitude.

I mean, if the universe is just this great grand place with an abundance of suitcases and everything else... and it says to us, "Sure! You need that? You want that? You can have it! Just come and get it!"

And we reply with, "Yeah? That's nice, 'cause just so you know, everything's crap for me and I never get anything that I want and nothing ever goes right and just breathing this existence is pretty dang miserable..."

I kind of think the universe must think as I did, and sort of say, "Ummm... Right. About those things you wanted? Never mind."

Or Not...

I seriously didn't plan this!

I swear, I'd never seen this picture before I stumbled across it today. But when I did, I thought: AHA! a pictorial retort to my verbal question and Magritte's suggestion... which also simultaneously proves Schutz's point that we indeed live in a 'taken for granted reality,' where creations like this bemuse us simply because they challenge what we know to be true.

The piece is a painted photograph by Teun Hocks. While it has no title, Hocks explains that the man here was just so intent on understanding the painting, so deeply curious, he literally entered into it. I know I've done that to paintings...a couple of Pollocks, a Picasso, a James C. Christensen or two... generally pieces that are either super-abstract or dreamily surreal. Then there's the paintings/creations of my own - I know I climb into those with regularity.

More of Mr. Hocks' pieces can be found in what looks to be a really fantastic exhibition called A Mind at Play at the Art Institute of Chicago till the first week of September. So if you're in the area...

What you see is what you get?

"Most of us live in what Schutz calls a 'taken for granted' reality, by which he means 'that particular level of experience that presents itself as not in need of further analysis.'"

- Jim Thomas (sociologist), quoting philosopher/sociologist Alfred Schutz

The painting is Magritte's La Condition humaine.

Partying with a Side of Zucchini Pickles

I know what my friends and family are going to think: "your communication with us has dropped to nil because of your dissertation, but you have time to make pickles???"

I guess the answer is "yes."

As a matter of fact, these pickles were made in a rather harried state on Saturday night after my brain decided it could no longer come up with remarkable things to say about research methodology and opted to go clubbing instead. Since during the week I'd also developed a wrought iron desire to try this pickle recipe from the Zuni Cafe, their preparation got thrown into mix of the night's rebellion.

There I was... running back and forth... slicing zucchini... looking for nylons... crushing mustard... rejecting another dress from my closet in exasperation... one part domestic diva, one part minx-in-the-making. It sounds like a feat (obviously, I'm referring to the boiling of vinegar and such, really, the minx thing is second-nature), but they're just that easy!

Anyway, what sparked this obsessive desire to make a batch of tangy refrigerator pickles at 10 o'clock on a Saturday night was this post from the lovely Luisa of The Wednesday Chef, who attempted them despite feeling overwhelmingly down-and-out. Maybe I'm crazily overly empathetic, but making them seem supportive of her somehow - of anyone who's been weighed down by an intolerably heavy fog. And also the idea of making pickles in the middle of London, which to me seems like such a rural countryside sort of activity, sounded so grounding and refreshing and summery... I thought, if she can do it in spite of everything...how fantastic...and I have no good excuse to do anything but follow suit.

So if you need to take your mind off anything minute or massive, or perhaps have an excess of zucchini in your life, or maybe just want to temporarily preserve the fading days of summertime, I recommend this as a tasty and mustard-infused way of doing so.

Note: Since I really despise sweet pickles, I only put a 1/3 cup of sugar in my brine... and they still turned out a touch too sweet... next time I would probably add even less, maybe only a tablespoon or two.

Zuni Cafe's Zucchini Pickles

Makes 3 cups
1 pound zucchini
1 small yellow onion
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 cups cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed yellow and/or brown mustard seeds
Scant 1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1. Wash and trim the zucchini, then slice them one-sixteenth-inch thick; a mandoline works best, but a good sharp knife is fine, too. Slice the onion very thin as well. Combine the zucchini and onions in a large but shallow nonreactive bowl, add the salt and toss to distribute. Add a few ice cubes and cold water to cover, then stir to dissolve the salt.

2. After about 1 hour, taste and feel a piece of zucchini - it should be slightly softened. Drain and pat dry.

3. Combine the vinegar, sugar, dry mustard, mustard seeds and turmeric in a small saucepan and simmer for 3 minutes. Set aside until just warm to the touch. (If the brine is too hot, it will cook the vegetables and make the pickles soft instead of crisp.)

4. Return the zucchini to a dry bowl and pour over the cooled brine. Stir to distribute the spices. Transfer the pickle to jars, preferably ones that have "shoulders" to hold the zucchini and onions beneath the surface of the brine. Seal tightly and refrigerate for at least a day before serving to allow the flavors to mellow and permeate the zucchini, turning them a brilliant chartreuse color.

Aha! The perfect opener (uh, slash, 'disclaimer') for my dissertation's preface....

If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?

- Albert Einstein

On Journeys...

Goodbye el Borne. Goodbye Barcelona.

The Catalan cats have been left to their own devices for a night and will be reunited with their owners’ tomorrow morning, meanwhile their former caretaker sits in the BCN airport, tap tap tapping away, waiting for her flight home to London.

Home to London. Whoever would have thought I’d be saying such a thing? Not me. Not really. And whoever would have thought a month ago that I would now be saying farewell to Barcelona after spending two weeks exploring its nooks and crannies? Given that the city ranked pretty low on my fairly prioritized travel agenda, not me. But that’s exactly what I absolutely-love/can’t-get-enough-of about life – that you never really know what will happen in the next breath; I may have some image of what my life will look like next month, but it may not look like that at all. Yay.

During my stay here, I rediscovered a Mary Oliver poem,
Last Night the Rain Spoke to Me, while looking for an email address amongst old mails. I have a number of Ms. Oliver’s poems committed to heart, but I’d totally forgotten this one, and it circulated in the air and my thoughts after sundown during my many inky blue evenings on Barcelona’s beach. It goes like this:

Last Night the Rain Spoke to Me

Last night
the rain
spoke to me
slowly, saying,
what joy
to come falling
out of the brisk cloud,
to be happy again
in a new way
on the earth!
That’s what it said
as it dropped,
smelling of iron,
and vanished
like a dream of the ocean
into the branches
and the grass below.
Then it was over.
The sky cleared.
I was standing
under a tree.
The tree was a tree
with happy leaves,
and I was myself,
and there were stars in the sky
that were also themselves
at the moment
at which moment
my right hand
was holding my left hand
which was holding the tree
which was filled with stars
and the soft rain –
imagine! imagine!
the long and wondrous journeys
still to be ours.

- Mary Oliver

And what of this particular journey? Certainly, there are books and chapters I could probably write on what has unfolded here – or maybe just a sentence, which would go like this:

It is not what I thought it would be beforehand, and exactly as I thought it would be during, yet all the while, there’s been the sea, together with the constant shore - distant enough to need seeking.

Buenos noches Barcelona.

Inside the Sagrada Family Church: What Nobody Tells You

So maybe it was because it was my third attempt, or maybe it's because the deadline for my dissertation is swiftly approaching and I still need to write 8,000 words, or maybe not, but once I finally got inside the infamous Sagrada Family Church today ('sagrada,' for the uninitiated, means 'holy,' lest you think as I did not-too-long ago that the 'Sagrada's' must have made a handsome endowment for the construction of this ecclesiastical edifice) I thought: "I woke early, basted myself in sunscreen, and trudged up a hill for....


You see, the church isn't finished. Which I totally knew going into the pilgrimage, but since it's been under construction for about 90 years, and everyone raves so much about it, I thought it would be, well... a little further along.

But no. It's really not finished. Like, the bathrooms don't even have soap not finished.

And I hope the altars to carbonated beverages are not going to be permanent fixtures.

So, if you're in Barcelona and have some time to kill (i.e. do not have a pressing deadline for a several-thousand word dissertation), or if you're an engineer like my dad who probably would appreciate the church in this state more than he would the finished product, then go ahead and make a serious effort to see the Sagrada.

Otherwise, I'd enjoy the view from the outside and wait to come back in 2028 when it's done.

The other moral of this story: go with the flow, if life makes something really really difficult for you to do.... it's probably trying to tell you something.

Okay now, cynicism aside... a few of the actual aesthetic aspects...Enjoy!

The pillars are meant to resemble trees.

And! Haha! Just across the street from The House of God... what do we have here, but The House of Jamon... as if to somehow venerate and simultaneously remind exiting Sagrada-ites of the devotion owed to the holy ham.

And you totally thought I was exaggerating when I said the Spaniards deem their cured pig sacred... you know you did.

Barcelona: Ciudad de Arts

Picasso's version of Velázquez's Las Meninas as seen inside the Picasso museum. It actually reminds me quite a bit of my favorite Pollock at the MoMA... oh... I could stare for hours.

Everywhere you go in this city: music. And not some half-wit musician strumming bad versions of the Eagles or the like on his guitar. No, I'm talking proper Baroque with instruments rarely seen out of concert halls. Imagine a bit of Vivaldi in your head as you stroll among the following mere handful of sculptures to be stumbled upon in this city. It will help set the mood. Enjoy!

BCN's version of London's Gherkin. (Designed by the same guy... I mean, naturally...)



And Miro!

(I actually didn't realize my sculptural pics were all creatures of sorts till just now... Hmm.)

Eluded once more by the Sagrada Family Church: Repeata por favor -or- Third time's the charm?

Woman at Ticket Booth (just before taking my money): "The tower is closed...it's okay?"

Me: "Uh....when will it be open again?"

Woman at Ticket Booth: "Tomorrow morning."


Fingers crossed for mañana...

Greener Things: Jardins

And behold... at long last... the Sagrada Family Church...in minature (framed by the tree and pillar).

After several failed attempts, the life-size version should finally be featured here tomorrow! (Must charge camera...)

The Age of the Lion

"You know," he said, "in a month it will be ten years since I first met you."

I blinked.

A decade ago?

Could it really be true?

That I'm old enough to know people I didn't know ten years ago?

Among the Philistines

"I'd like to write a novel," I told her.

And as if she equated this ambition with someone wanting to undertake a rather prolonged and unnecessary homework assignment for no good reason at all, and she'd never encountered a real-life person desiring to do such a thing, she cocked her head to the side and said, "How come?"

Which, frankly, I had never been asked before. But I thought it a good question, and without a breath of hesitation replied, "Because there's a novel in my head."

Montjuïc & The Font Màgica

At the base of Montjuic there lies a magic fountain that is dry most on the time, but on certain nights, is infused with water and life and musica.

The illuminated water ballet totally made up for the fact that I didn't see fireworks on the Fourth this year.

Short video (30 seconds) I took... just to give you a diminutive idea...

All of it...

...pure phantasma.

Gaudi's House of Bones

So-dubbed because the exterior pillars look like femurs...

...which you can see better here.

And here.

The mouth of the dragon? (Since the estate's official name is: Casa Batlló - The Dragon House).

Whirlpool ceiling... Guadi wanted Caso Batlló to have an underwater feel.

How the mushroom hearth fits into the theme, I don't know.

Glass elevator.

Do you feel underwater yet?

Gold squiggle on the door is Gaudi's actual handwriting.

Outside on the terrace.

"Window boxes." (No really, that's what the tape said, "window boxes.")

Gaudi was obsessed with the parabolic curve (and rib cages).

You will find no straight lines in the house... as in, none... right angles need not apply... exclusively curves.

Which actually reminds me of a favorite quote:

"If they give you lined paper, write the other way." - William Carlos Williams

To which I think Gaudi would say, "touché!"