Catalonian Traditions, Turkish Snowstorms, and Lebanese Warmth

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Coincidence brought me back to Barcelona around the same time that I had departed last November. I found the city just as I had left it, minus a few notches in temperature but just about the same number of pigeons.

Going somewhere familiar is unlike vacationing in an undiscovered destination. I guiltlessly slept in and spent afternoons in cafes. I finished a book. It was, for once, a break where I disconnected from home and was present in real time. I still worked from my trusty overweight laptop but I was mentally distant enough; my thoughts had room to expand and float above me before they popped in thin air.

Being in Catalonia at the end of the year means you learn about the seasonal traditions. First, there was Tio. Then, on New Year’s Eve, you have to eat 12 green grapes when the clock strikes 12. One grape per chime of the clock, one grape per month of the year. You also have to wear red undies for good luck? Some say they have to be a gift, others say you have to gift them before daybreak. I’m still digging up the origin story on this because I fear it’s the De Beers’ solitaire of undergarments, not that that stopped me. After 2016, I’ll take any source of luck for the calendar ahead.

Tortell de Reis (like our Galette des Rois) appears on January 6th for Three Kings Day. It contains two surprises baked into the pastry: a small king figurine and a bean. The person who gets the slice with the king gets to wear a paper crown and the person who gets the bean has to pay for the cake. They’re also granted good luck if they keep the bean in their wallet all year. I had already paid for the cake AND the bean was in my slice. It’s like it knew.

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Whenever I encounter Arabs abroad, there is an immediate sense of familiarity. You’d think that once you’re out of the country, you’d make it a point to meet people of different backgrounds but I understand why we flock to each other when setting up shop overseas. When I come across a Syrian, Jordanian, Egyptian, and, of course to an even greater degree, Lebanese, I feel an unspoken understanding. As Rankoussi, my glass-blower friend in Rome, said to me with a grin,“you are also from there,” after revealing he was from Damascus.

The unexpected “unlucky” 72-hour layover in the Radisson Blu near Sabiha Airport opened my eyes to a quality of our people that I am reminded of whenever I leave: warmth. 

I left Spain decked out in thermal Nike running gear (that I didn’t run in) and boots (to avoid adding the extra weigh to my suitcase). Thank you red underwear and bean for knowing more than I did. Besides the literal warmth my lucky outfit provided, there was a figurative one that came from being stranded in a Turkish blizzard with 3 Lebanese guys who were also flying back to BEY from sunny Barcelona.

Although I may not ever see my stranded brothers of Istanbul again, I am grateful that I had some company while stuck in a frozen village. Plus, chasing down taxis in a snowstorm would’ve been a nightmare solo. These absurd yet instant friendships where you are trading stories on a hotel couch drinking minibar wine, the kind that may evaporate as soon as you part ways, never to see each other again, was still comforting in a situation where you would normally feel entirely alone. It’s bittersweet how this only happens when we’re away from home. When abroad, I don’t get the same warmth from my fellow Americans in airport terminals or Starbucks lines but, when I’m here in Lebanon, I don’t get it from my fellow Lebanese either. When at home, we don’t mix outside of our known circles.

We have to be removed. We have to be foreigners together against the world to feel like we can do that, to feel like we’re the same.

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Bambi Recommends: Jardins de Laribal

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Forget Park Guell and Parc de la Cuitadella. And while you’re at it, forget Fundacio Joan Miro, which is located at the tip of this green haven in Montjuic. Jardins de Laribal was designed for the 1929 World Fair and was once a part of the private estate of lawyer Josep Laribal. Barcelona’s city council bought the lands upon his death and Jean Claude Nicolas Forestier & Nicolau M. Rubió Tudurí were assigned the task of transforming the gardens into a public domain.

While Park Guell is flooded with tourists, Parc de la Cuitadella full of loud kids and fiesty parrots, and Retiro a 3-hour train ride away, Jardins de Laribal was where I could picture myself wasting a Saturday afternoon reading Cathedral of the Sea with a jamon & brie sandwich packed in my bag. Worst case, you can grab some food from La Font del Gat, a cafe named after the famous cat fountain and located in a building designed by my man, Josep Puig i Cadafalch.

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The green space spans between the Miro museum and the Jardins del Teatre Grec. Forestier linked the gardens with the Greek Theater via staircases and waterfalls, two elements that run throughout the entire area. Small fountains, sculptures, and canopies are scattered along most of the stepped paths. I personally found this to be one of my favorite spots in Barcelona because of its tranquility: you could be alone with your book under the sun while still within walking distance of the central district.

El-Tanein Diet Week #18

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As promised, I’m posting about ONE week again. I’m a few days late but I’ll get back into the swing of things. It’s going to be so nice focusing on one week in detail again and by week #20, I should be back at the gym in Beirut! I’m a little scared my muscles have atrophied.

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Workout Tally

Walking everywhere for 7 days.

Outdoor Activity

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CaixaForum Madrid

Walking around Retiro Park in Madrid. I spent week #18’s weekend in Spain’s capital via high-speed train. Although I didn’t have enough time to hit the big museums, I passed through CaixaForum, downtown, and Retiro. What a fantastic place to see during a sunny autumn day.

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Fitbit Flex

No comment. I’ve about had it to HERE with this thing. Apple Health said I walked 19.6K steps on Sunday so I’m still hitting the highs on weekends.

Best Meal of the Week

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If I were to pick a restaurant’s meal for this week, it would go to Toyo because that was the only time I really ate out. They have all-you-can-eat sushi for 10 Euros (lunch) and 15 Euros (dinner). It’s good stuff and the manager is very attentive. Only complaint: too much rice and mayo. That’s where they get you full. If you’re going to go, you’ve got to get there early because the line starts before the doors even open (1pm for lunch and 8:30 for dinner).

With that said, although I don’t have a photo of it, having homemade Lebanese food while in Madrid wins over all 7 days. Ain’t nothing like tabbouli and kibbeh bil forn with laban w’khiyar.

Other Highlights

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Bombings in Beirut and Paris: Too many tragedies all over the world in November. I, along with many other bloggers and journalists, have said enough on this topic. I’m glad people listened. Here’s to hoping that refugees remain welcome in cities all over.

Flamenco in Madrid is better than Barcelona: That’s a big statement to make but, from what I saw, the Spaniards have more on-stage pizzazz than the Catalonians. Olé snap. Watch here.

Workout Track of the Week

It’s not perfect for working out but I was just told about this band and I saw it necessary to share. Listen to this too. McLovin!!

Cheese of the Week

More cheeseducation.

El-Tanein Diet Week #15, #16, and #17

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I did it again. I bunched 3 weeks in 1 post.

Excuse: I’ve been in hermit mode ever since my roommate left because we went into overdrive before her departure from BCN. I’m a little burnt out in a good way. I came home each night last week wanting to catch up on blogging but would end up bingeing on How to Get Away With Murder. Damn you and your writers’ storytelling skills, Shonda. Then, the weekend rolled around and I realized that my time in Spain is also running out. Overdrive continued and I museum hopped and ticked off more stops on the “must-see” list before I return to Beirut in the time of cholera.

SERIO, I’ll post every Monday from now on since I’m down to TWO MORE WEEKS here. Gotta make them count! *presses play on 8th episode in a row*

Workout Tally

Walking everywhere for 21 days

Outdoor Activity

See above or below.

Fitbit Flex

I’m starting to give up on this accessory. I hardly ever sync it and forget to charge it most of the time too. It hasn’t been doing its job to motivate me and I only remember it’s there when I hit 10K which is rare during the week when I max out at 7-8K come nightfall. It used to be more effective when I was moving less. My walking here is more out of necessity than planned fitness so the counting doesn’t matter as much. We’ll see how I feel when I go back home.

Best Meals of the Weeks

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Before I crown the winners, let me say that Barcelona is a designer-who’s-a-foodie’s dream. The restaurants are beautifully designed from interior to menus AND the food is usually delicious as well. Did I mention how much I love cava?

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Week 15: Tapas and sangria at Casa Lolea, a sangria factory located down the street from Palau de la Musica Catalana. I liked 3 things about this quaint little eatery: the cheese section on the menu, the sangria bottle design, and the truffle risotto.

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Week 16: Sunday brunch at Hotel Barcelo in Raval. For 25 euros/person, you get open buffet with a cocktail on the roof. Great view of the entire city and then you can go check out the stands on Rambla de Raval selling handmade goods.

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Week 17: Carrot Cake at Pudding, a cafe right out of Alice in Wonderland. The actual food is mediocre but the setup is great for coffee and carrot cake. Order the carrot cake.

Other Highlights

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Bibo and my leather obsession: I wandered into this brand’s shop in Born only to want everything. Turns out they’re all over Barcelona and they’re very fairly priced considering they’re selling Spanish leather goods. Sniff.

Working on my Barcelona clip: I’ve been trying to take some quick clips using my Polaroid Cube. Hopefully, something worthy will come of the footage. Otherwise, I’ll just show you some pigeons in Plaça Catalunya.

Being the oldest people at an R&B club: No one warned us that Otto Zutz is full of prepubescent hormones but they played some decent R&B so I danced my face off and didn’t care. Pretty sure some of the songs were older than the people dancing to them.

Going through McDonald’s Drive Thru in a cab at 3 am: I don’t know how this happened. Okay, I do. We told the cab we wanted an open McDonald’s and he didn’t tell us it was drive-thru only until we got there. We weren’t going to go home after going all the way down to the beach with BigMac anticipation. Ain’t nothing like heart-attacks in a box at 4 in the morning.

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Dressing up for Halloween:
First time since I was 12 maybe? I was La Calavera Catrina, an icon of Mexican dia de muertos. My roommate (dressed as The Joker) and I walked through the Gothic Quarter and danced to R&B (again) in a hole in the wall somewhere in Born. But all that was only after we walked back home to make sure my carved pumpkin was not a fire hazard. Oops. Apparently, Halloween isn’t really a thing in Spain but La Castanyada, a popular festival that occurs around All Saints Day, is a big deal in Catalonia.

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I was one of those losers in line for H&MxBalmain: 
But in my defense, I was fully aware of the idiocy of doing such a thing. In my normal life, I would not have done such a brainless act of pure consumerism but seeing that I’m living a semi-life here, I figured I’d see what it’s like to be a fashion lemming for a brand that I wish I’ll be able to afford one day. It felt like I was a Huffington Post Snapchatter covering the event; I was there for shopping but I felt like an observer because the whole thing was an outer body experience. I have never seen people behave like that for clothing. I’d always heard of people lining up for Apple products or new releases but it was truly fascinating to see the crazy come out. From an advertising perspective, the entire campaign leading up to the launch was genius. They gave us free coffee!

Workout Track(s) of the Weeks

Week 15:

Not a new track but I’ve had it on my playlist forever and I’ve been using it to put a spring in my step during the morning walks. Ever had a song that makes you strut a la John Travolta? This is my BeeGees groove.
Week 16:

My German colleague returned from a holiday spent in Bali. Doesn’t this tune sound like you should be in a hammock in Bali? Or working out at the gym…for your beach body. Right.
Week 17:

Can Ed Sheeran ever go wrong? Best leprechaun ever. I say that with love.
Cheese(s) of the Weeks

Some science for all you cheese lovers out there:

A Catalonian Frame of Reference: What People Worry About

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While being in Barcelona, I have done a lot of comparing with Beirut. It’s natural I guess, to compare your new relationship, flaws and all,  with the previous one that gripped your heart. Here I am, 8 weeks in, and the point that sticks out the most is how the typical Barcelona resident spends their energy and how it contrasts with a person living in Lebanon.

At first, I thought that residents here (and I say “residents” because not everyone who lives in Barcelona is Spanish) were blind to how good they had it. Oh, you poor thing, you’re not sure which bike rental service to sign up for. How hard life must be for you. It was resentment that was uncalled for. Their worries seemed so trivial and I thought that I was somehow better equipped for life’s curveballs because I came from a country that can’t get its act together. Sure, we are aces when it comes to back-up plans and sly maneuvering. The Lebanese know how to “bounce back and overcome adversity.” But then I realized something: you’re not supposed to spend so much of your own brainpower thinking about half the shit we think about back home and yet, we have to.

…or do we?

When I’m asked what I think about Barcelona so far, my automated response is, “It’s a lot like home except everything works.” I thought I was different from the Catalonian population because of what my daily life consists of in Beirut but, when having deeper conversations with people, I came to see that all of us have the same concerns, the same aspirations, and even the same confusion when it comes to romance and significant others. We may speak different languages but we’re not from different planets. It’s just that I come from a country that added a few rolls of parchment to my what to think about tonight while staring at my ceiling list. That does not mean that those who live here don’t have their own fair share of burdens, they just have the kind that is more of a DEFCON BEIGE than our constant VERMILLION.

This is why I left. I wanted to see how the other half lives, to see what’s missing at home as well as abroad, to see what would push me to emigrate elsewhere or make me stay. All I can say now is that being able to only think about things that are quintessentially important to my life, even something as basic as scheduling a tennis lesson before it rains, is refreshing. I wonder what it will be like to return to my scrolls of only-in-Lebanon problems.

Barcelona may not be my Beirut but, upon being away long enough to see it from a distance, I’m not sure what my Beirut has become either.

Barcelona, You’re Not My Beirut

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Still from Vicky Cristina Barcelona

I was told that, upon visiting Barcelona, I won’t want to come back to Beirut. I was told that I would fall in love with the city and Lebanon, with its garbage and unending toddler tantrum of a system, would not even compare to Catalonia and evening walks by Santa Maria. I will say it’s been an adventure every weekend; I’ve been investigating alleyways and losing myself in museums full of posters and sculptures I studied a few years ago. To be able to use my legs for more than just walking to my car has shown me how much I despise being at a desk for too long. It’s been enriching to be in an environment where you learn something new everyday. That, for a nerd like me, is always good. But the difference between here and Beirut? This is not home.

All people want is to find the place where they feel embedded. Maybe this feeling develops with time once you’ve created roots, once you’ve let your feet sink into the sand. Or maybe it’s already there because it’s where your parents grew up, met, and formed the life that led to you.

While binge-watching Netflix’s latest hit, Narcos, I found that not only was I improving my Spanish but I was also relating to a coke king’s link to his Colombia.  While hiding out in Panama, even though he’s got so much money he could bathe in liquid gold, the prospect of returning home is more important than all of his wealth and possible incarceration. I am aware that that is a romanticized depiction of a drug-lord but I can appreciate the sentiment.

It may be too soon to make such a declaration but I don’t feel a connection in Barcelona. Besides the professional lessons, I am grateful that it has given me the distance needed to get some focused perspective without my thoughts being punctuated with worry or distress that comes from a typical day in Lebanon. But it’s also shown me what it’s like to live in a city that is not my own, that I have no national ties to. I look for my own culture within the one that already exists here so that I can feel a sense of belonging but, even when found, I am just a visitor here.

I’ve said this before but it seems, no matter where I go, I am always looking for you, Beirut.

El-Tanein Diet Week #7

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This is going to be a short one because I’ve got to get to bed. I’m joining the workforce again tomorrow and I need to get my sleeping patterns back on track. Also, I hardly moved during week 7 so there isn’t much to report.

I can feel the momentum slipping away from meeeeeee. Week 8’s mission is to create a fitness plan for Barcelona. I don’t want to spend my evenings working out so I’ll have to see if mornings are something I will finally stick to…or come up with a better solution. I can always resort to DVD programs if gyms aren’t in the cards? Ew.

Workout Tally

Walking around Barcelona for 6 hours

I’m not kidding. That was it. I spent the 6 days prior seeing people, hanging out, and – as lame as it sounds – saying goodbye to Beirut. It also felt like it took me 4 years to pack. Even with that, it took a while for my brain to catch up with what was happening while I walked around Plaça Catalunya. I still can’t believe I’m here.

Outdoor Activity

I’d say my stroll to and through Parc de la Cuitadella would have to be the outdoor activity (and only activity) for this week. Yes, one day in Barcelona has taken over every category.

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Fitbit Flex

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That one afternoon in Barcelona came to a total of 17K steps. I see that this pedestrian-friendly city will be keeping my totals high. Even with the internship about to start, I think my numbers will be higher than in Beirut since I won’t be relying on a car to get around. I at least hope that is the case because I have yet to find out if I can afford the gym nearby.

Best Meal of the Week

A friend of mine had been raving about the double cheeseburger at Urbanista for about 6 months now. We finally decided to make a plan out of it since we’re both trying to make healthier meal choices.

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Much like the Souks’ The Met, Urbanista is not a restaurant you’d go to when you’re craving a meaty burger but they both have pretty good ones. Urba’s double is a mean burger but I recommend you share it with someone. It’s heavy and very filling; it’s a cheese overdose. You’ll want to finish it but it’s probably best if you don’t. Don’t ruin a good thing. Also, have it when you’re ravenous. If you’re in a “meh, I could eat” mood, you’ll be wasting the meal.

Other Highlights

Lost 4kgs: I know I said I wouldn’t focus on what the scale says but I couldn’t help checking while weighing my suitcase before the flight. Considering I was a sloth up until Sunday, I found this to be very perplexing. My doctor friends say it’s because my basal metabolism has changed after the sustained activity. Keyword here is sustained. The challenge now is figuring out how to do that in a new city.

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Another lunch at Jammal: I had to say adios to Batroun. We grew so close this summer. Ixsir rosé, octopus, and shrimp rolls with a gorgeous view and company. It was the right way to remember my country.

Workout Track of the Week

 

I don’t know what it means but it’s provocative and it gets the people going.

Cheese of the Week

Lufthansa Business Class: I don’t know if I got upgraded or my original ticket was Business Class to begin with (highly doubtful because cha-ching) but there I was. And then I fell asleep during the meal distribution. You win some, you lose some. I got the breakfast on the next flight though! A cheesy vegan nightmare.

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Not photographed: croissant and fresh bread. They were good, I swear. I’ve come to see that these El-Tanein posts are looking more about food than about fitness. I have no interest in becoming a food blogger but fitness has A LOT to do with what you put in your body. And food is more photogenic than my sweaty self at the gym.