The whole of May….gone. Where did it go?
A lot of times in my life I felt like a spider hanging precariously from it’s own thread in the prevailing torrent of swirls in the wind to keep on threading no matter what, until a steady ground would secure my leading end then I could bridge onto my next step until further prevailing winds would lead me on. One such story follows.
A month goes onward and the cast in the wings anxiously awaits their spot on the stage.That’s how I felt waiting for this blog to spill. So now I spit the swill.
I have been absent for the longest, even though my first goal for this blog was to push myself to write on a ongoing basis to further my writing skills. For the ongoing there was one, but it wasn’t the one I was expecting. Instead it was the relentless flow of creativity found (the proverbial hanging thread) after I had discovered that you could physically print your book through Amazon’s CreateSpace website without a dime to show. I had one that was printed 5 years ago, a children’s coloring and activity book I had set up way back on Etsy that didn’t sell much. But the cost to me back then was $8.00 a unit which I sold for $10.00. The same book on CreateSpace…….three freakin’ forty five. Can you believe this? Not only that, but at my cost back then, I had to package and post it, which I don’t have to care now or pay further more for that matter. Didn’t I wish I had found that out before?….hell yeah!!!
The caveat is, you have to know your graphics and layouts. Since I’m by trade a trained graphic artist, for me it’s not a problem. But for somebody who has never dabbled in the field I would consider it a bit of a hindrance. But I divert.
Bottom line is, I just spit out two books within a months time, one that was dormant and I revived it and the other one I completed in the remaining time. Although both, very time consuming but all well worth the effort. I’ll give you the link as soon I get them for both. It is no literary masterpiece but it’s from the heart. See you soon, so I can share the fruits of my recent labor. Until then…
Jamon, jamon, my world for jamon (pronounced hamon). I’ve never seen a culture so obsessed with cured meats. Especially Jamon Iberico which is everywhere. Nothing in common with the run of the mill jamon Serrano. They have an enclosure at the supermarket’s meat section which takes about half the space of the whole counter. Hanging in a special display like trophies, hooves and all, as opposed to American ones, they are sold bone in. Raging in prices from 75.00 Euros at the lower end and up to the ludicrous price of 300.00 Euros for the ultimate jamón Ibérico de bellota. You heard me right and it might seems crazy to us but for them it’s the ultimate go to for any occasions. Specially during the Holidays , that’s when they have boxes piled up high like a mighty mountain. A whole island in the middle of the market solely dedicated to it, they have shiny gift boxes for them including a special designer slicing rack (the jamonera). There’s even a slicing instruction booklet inserted for the slicing novice.
At home It is displayed proeminently on the kitchen counter for all to see and sample. In turn, throughout the day, everybody picks up the reserved knife and slices himself a paper thin portion of this soft, salty, flavorful treat chiping away at it until it needs to be turned on another side for optimum slicing action. And believe me it is a science, you have to have the perfect ratio of fat to meat to have the ultimate degree of chewing experience and they are really serious about it.
I never thought that a religion might someday involve a pig’s foot as a worshiped idol but here it is. If you want my opinion, I have had my share of prosciutto de Parma, the Italian counterpart of it and nothing compares to the almighty jamon Iberico de ballota, sorry my Italian friends but this guy is sold.
When you move in a new neighborhood you get to discover a new grocery store, a new place to hang out or a new park but you get to feel a little disoriented when your coming back home from work for awhile. I got that even when I moved 5 blocks away. You have the familiar part still hanging on, from one point of reference, your old job and it’s surroundings. Until you thread your way home, your new home. In the beginning, many times when I got to the new, unfamiliar part, I would just walk past my place without stopping until I had realized I was too far. It took some time to readjust the internal compass to hone my direction to know instinctively where I was.
Now take the same principle and throw yourself 6000 miles away, on a different continent, different culture, different language and try to orient your bearings from that point. Where do I begin? Absolutely nothing is familiar except that I’m amongst humans and we have clothes on, we eat, poop, cry, laugh and sleep the same way. Else from that, you’re on your own.
Culture is a result of it’s environment and it’s shared values, including a multitude of factors. And that goes for Americans as well. For instance in Spain where it is mostly sunny and warm year round, rarely you will see a electric clothes dryer in the house, the majority of it is dried on the clothesline outside. And because of that hot weather during the sunniest and hottest hours of the day people used to have a siesta (not so much nowadays with the latest generations) . They have adopted the American way of life since and keep busy, but business hours have stayed the same as in the days of the siesta. That makes for very long workdays if you ask me. They work until way past 9:00 P.M. And that brings us to food, when you are preparing to go have a nap you don’t tend to eat as much beforehand, hence the traditional Merienda around 1:00 or 2:00 P.M, consisting of a light snack or lunch to sustain you until supper. Americans are used to eating supper around 5 :00 P.M but since the Spaniards have their light lunch and work late hours still following the old schedule, which is no longer relevant, they have supper around 9:00 P.M and even later. After work, most of them too exhausted from their long days make a beeline for the closest bar and stuff their faces with tapas and Vermouth until way past of what’s considered reasonable weekday bedtime for most Americans.
What I want to say is, this North American still has a long way to adjust to his new time zone but I’m getting there. In my next blog I will continue our discussion on the differences between the two cultures and what it means to adjust to it on a daily basis. Till then, adeu!
Our habits are little quirks that are part of our identity in relation to our environment. We don’t give it much importance until the day we miss them. It is then, we realize how much they are a part of who and where we are.
Imagine if you move 5000 kilometers (5924 to be exact, but who’s counting) from home and your only comfort from back home is a laptop and a few clothes. And no, I didn’t have the budget to carry my stuff over. So it all stayed at my brother’s basement back in Montreal. And that’s how I made it here, bare bones. The only comfort I had was my Facebook friends and my tender half. It’s ok, I was here in a foreign country/ culture and I made a vow to adapt to my new living conditions with gusto, a commitment and duty to sample the environment. As much as my adventurous fervor carried me, combined with the eagerness to explore in the first few months . There was an innate need to refill some of that home grown lovin’ to carry me through. I needed a little more at home references to stabilise the wobble that had me not so steady on my feet. After all, this is Europe and my American tootsies were not used to the soil yet. It would take some time to feel my way through. I needed to fill up from the inside out, I needed to replenish, I needed, I needed….. FAT AND CARBS!. Believe me, there’s plenty of that here. For crying out loud, they have defibrillator stations all over town, they’re like little phone booths and I’m not kidding.
But they didn’t have the right kind of fat and carbs I was used to. Sure, they have American fast food joints all over, KFC, Burger King, McDonald’s but I needed mama’s cooking. As simple as a peanut butter sandwich. But lo and behold, no peanut butter found anywhere, not a trace, NADA! How can people live without peanut butter, I tell you, they’re insane. I later searched the internet and for Spaniards it’s not in their culture to eat that. Peanut butter is an English invention, you can get it in the UK and you guessed it, America. So the hunt was on. I asked, I probed, I searched long and hard (we both did). I even considered at one point of buying the friggin’ raw peanuts and crushing them with my bare hands if I had to. I had all but given up on my search, but one day I had stayed home working and got a text from my tender half with a picture attached. I looked at it long and hard and started crying. She had stopped at the supermarket before coming home and out of luck searching for some other item, she stumbled upon the elusive butter of the gods, What was it, how come we didn’t see it before?. Well, we soon found out that they were out of stock, but they sell so little that they don’t refill so often. I texted her back thanking her and that I loved her for eternity….and to bring a loaf of crusty bread if she wanted to be safe coming home. When she arrived, there was no greeting, no kisses, no warm embrace and I got right to the grocery bag and out with the jar. I opened it and put my finger, feeling the smoothness of the texture, no bread, just pure gold. Drew the buried finger directly from the jar to my eager mouth (she told me I was a pig). My first bite was that great orgasmic, body wrenching surge of electricity that took over my entire body, and in a flash of yogic lucidity, I was home again.
I was a foodie way before the foodie revolution. I used to watch Graham Kerr’s, The galloping gourmet, when I was in diapers. Later, when PBS had Julia Child and much later when they had the all cooking show Saturdays from 12:00 to 4:00. I used to sit there with a pad and paper and take notes and recipes. Two years ago I moved from Montreal to Lloret de Mar in Spain. It was then that I discovered the richness of a different culture. My palate had to adapt to a new set of culinary permutations. Ones that my american taste buds hadn’t been titillated with yet. Top of my head faves would be, roasted eggplants with honey, yes I know vegetables with sweet, but if you think about it, carrots are in the same vein, no? And the famous truita de patates. Slow simmered onion infused olive oil with sliced potatoes in an omelet that is browned on both sides like a pancake. Simply delish!
There is, mayo and mustard if you ask for it when ordering a sandwich, but the standard here is, pa amb tomaquet (literally translated to bread with tomatoes). You pour olive oil onto the bread, slice a tomato and proceed to press and spread that wonderful juice, seeds and all, all over it, finishing it with a dash of salt. It seems quite mundane at first but the combination is surprisingly tasteful. And who could speak about food culture in Spain without the famous tapas? Well actually that is more a Spanish thing then a Catalan one.
When I first arrived here I got to know that first hand, when I asked my tender half if we could go sample some of those tasty little morsels, she rebutted that it was not available unless we would go to Barcelona. As you may or may not know, Catalan people are fierce about their culture even if it comes from a food standpoint. And I can assuredly relate to that being a Quebecois native. Both cultures are vowing for their independence and their root identities, whether it be language, food or otherwise. And tapas are definitely Spanish, NOT Catalan!. I thread lightly now that I know this fact. I do my google research before I ask any questions or else I risk the wrath and disapproving stare of a proud Catalan. Oh, and I almost forgot, the centuries old Catalan tradition of eating Calçots or spring onions grilled on the fire and eating them like a big giant spaghetti with a generous dousing of Romesco sauce…and plenty of cervesa. I experienced the culture through their culinary mannerism and it’s all fine to me. Because it also gives me the opportunity to get together with them to share our mutual stories, that’s actually where we bond. And that transcends everything.
I had two blogs before this one, but they both went to R.I.P in the electronic forever after. On this one, I wanted to focus on challenging my writing skills. Any challenge is good enough for me. The frequency of regular and creative posting might trigger the mojo inside to squeeze and ooze the good stuff out to smile for the camera. I agree that this last imagery might not be my best metaphor to date but you get the picture. I now consider myself equally an illustrator as much as a writer. But it hadn’t always been the case.
I wanted to share with you what eventually made a difference in my life as for the perception of one’s own abilities. And that sometimes you need an outsider’s heartfelt opinion to realize your own potential, because as we all experienced it at one point in our lives, we are sometimes our own worst judge of character. I can remember the time I was working for a corporate identity company as a drone graphic artist, doing hundreds of adaptations on a theme. You know, the company logos on everything but the kitchen sink type of thing? We had a long time employee move to California (I’m from Montreal) and I volunteered my skills to format a farewell package to send her off to the ever so sunny southern part of the Americas. I was given the reigns to take the direction that would have her send-off, a success. Together with a few photo-shopped funnies of the protagonist in various compromising situations, I concocted a California dreaming cliché package and a farewell praising speech. And , to my surprise they nominated me, the deliverer of that speech.
The problem was, that my skills as a public orator were and still are, to put it bluntly, as effective as a flint on wet wood as a fire starter. I might have to join one of toastmaster’s group someday. I broke down on the first few lines of the delivery and had to delegate the speech, to the dismay of the next poor soul in line. But, what made the difference was that, afterwards, that same person came to me privately and told me, I was in the wrong business (graphic design in this instance). She had tears in her eyes. I didn’t even have to ask her why, I knew intrinsically what she meant and it stirred me to my core. At that point in time, in my life, she made total sense to me without even knowing it. She turned my life on a dime in an instant. I had composed and delivered lyrics for published songs before, but never considered myself a full fledged writer. My art was at the forefront, not my writings. And she turned it upside down right there. It made me question my priorities and my direction. But in the long run, thinking about it now, it equalized everything. Smoothed the whole thing out like peanut butter on hot toast. Both had the right of way in my life, they just had to find their respective spaces. And that’s the day I became an illustrator SLASH writer.