Sunday, September 10, 2017

Homage to Berlin

Ok, it's been a while since I have written, and much has happened, as it does. The world keeps turning whether you make a note of it or not.

After Maker Faire Berlin, Christian and I had a "aha" moment on the plane back to Barcelona. Maybe Berlin was a better fit? We discovered that Berlin is a freak show of great proportions, with active squats, punks, queer culture, freaks of all ages, truly amazing graffiti and public art works, a healthy dose of green forests and bustling family scenes. Lots of playgrounds, where parents enjoy a picnic with beer and kids jump on the many public trampolines. It's a colorful city. 
Upon returning to Barcelona, the old Catalan city was overflowing with tourists (literally) and life there suddenly seemed a bit conservative all around.



Within a few weeks I was back scouting for schools, found an amazing International, IB/UN* school taught in American English that had space for Kodiak, and that was that. Our remaining days in Barcelona were filled with beautiful coastal escapes from the city, the heat and the masses. We moved to Berlin a few weeks later.
This time we took the opportunity to not make the same mistakes and found an apartment close to the school. Now, we bicycle to and from school, through a section of forest no less. After school we bike to a nearby lake and take a swim, have a beer and bike home. It's dreamy.

*International Baccalaureate and United Nations School (ie. students from all over the world)

Christian started taking German lessons and in good German tradition there was a special handmade "SchulTüte" given to both of my boys. It made the first day of school all the much better. I speak pretty decent German, so we kind of flipped roles here from Spain (my Spanish is still at beginner level, unfortunately). 
As I was making Kodiak's Schultüte, I glued some sparkly sprinkles to the design and shook the few extras off on our balcony. Well, I guess the sparkles flew down to the neighbors terrace and when I saw her in the hallway the next day she told me in a stern voice that it was strictly "Verboten!"* to have fairy sprinkles in the building. I thought it was a bit strong, but hey, we are in Germany.
*forbidden/prohibited

We had been in Berlin 14 days when the terrorist attack happened in Barcelona. The van that pointlessly took so many lives on the Ramblas that afternoon was a block from our old apartment. My heart broke with sadness and anger that this happened there, next to my neighbourhood defined by its diversity and tolerance. Of course that is beside the point, but I am grateful that friends and loved ones are still with me, existing in this very temporary state on this planet. No Tenim Por! (We Have No Fear, in Catalan)

Berlin exists in Germany, and I say it this way because it is quite an unusual city in Germany. I will admit I was never excited to move to Germany, having lived here once before in the 1970's in the capitol of those times, Bonn. My mother was born in Mainz and survived the insanity of WWII as a kid, about Kodiak's age. The trauma of that experience remains with her today.  I too, carry some of this German weight. Back when we where trying to decide where to move, Christian stipulated "never France" and I said "never Germany", which is kind of comical now, as sweeping generalizations of places usually hold as much water as an old paper bag. 

But, let me generalize a bit...
I think it's clear that Germans are a more serious and possibly grumpy lot, especially in comparison to the Catalans in Spain. And why wouldn't they be? There seems to be plenty of soul searching going on here, which has led to a very progressive society. Granted, Germany is facing some major problems at the moment, with the refugee crisis, and they seem to be looking at these issues straight on, debating what will be the future road to take. They are considered the leaders of Europe and the EU, with everyone watching closely on how to set a new precedent of action. 


The German elections are coming up and it's so interesting to see how they advertise their various parties (oh yeah, many, many political parties)The CDU(Merkel), SPD, FPD, LKR, Die Linke, Die Alternative, Die Grünen, NPD, The Pirate Party, the list does go on. The CDU, which is the current ruling party, actually describes itself with two words that would not be in the same room in the States, 
as Liberal Conservatism.
Impressive. The adverts address their parties' platform (imagine that) with witty phrases. I have not seen one personal smear advert out there.
Christian took this Pirate party picture. She's having fun!

And then there's their history. Ugly and dark it is, but not unlike other often forgotten human-made atrocities around the world. German history in Berlin is everywhere. 


There are reminders of WWII, the Holocaust and the Wall everywhere. It's in the form of some powerful architectural carnage, large open spaces where buildings once stood, disturbing old street signs next to regular street signs, site-specific memorials, my favorite the stumbling stones, public memorials, subway photographs of old Berlin, sections of the Wall displayed in the city, markings on the streets where the Wall once stood, signs denoting the old division between East and West Berlin. There is probably more, but this is what I have experienced in the month being here now. The Jewish Museum interior was built by Daniel Liebeskind and is one of the most powerful architectural memorials I have experienced. 


The Bunker Museum, in an old war bunker, asks the simple question: how could it happen? Inside are three floors filled with historical memorabilia and truly amazing and disturbing photographs with a focus on Berlin, and its role in both world wars, as well as the holocaust to the end of the war, the time of reckoning. The ticket stub has the word Hitler printed in all caps on it, and I had to throw it out when I got home, it made me so uncomfortable. 

And what would this look like in the United States! I can see artists tackling the darker parts of America's past, right there, everywhere, so everyone can see it. Peppered in amongst the memorials of victories and of the discoveries. The brutal colonization of the Native populations, about their displacement, slavery, the civil war and consequent racism, immigration and its consequent xenophobia.
Could be important for the politically challenged college students(!) in the States...




I'm imagining something way more inspired than a sign post by a road- side pull off. Show people their history in an all accessible, truthful, creative way, and would this not help in the healing of a nation so fractured today?

I'm sure one could add in the history of industry and technology and its subsequent affect on the well being of the planet. And the obvious link from our excess consumption to Global warming and the apocalyptic weather we are having.

What I find so inspiring in Berlin (and Barcelona, too) is that all these reminders serve the new generation to deeply know their past, and hopefully allows for a collective new way of thinking to emerge. The common thread for me, is the accessibility of these stories. It's relevant and within public space. Not only hidden away in a museum, or a remote landmark. And that it's creative- it should evoke wonder.

Indeed, "to know your future, you must know your past" by Spanish literary and philosopher, Santayana.


and lastly,
I took a picture of our desk/office area in our new apartment- a little old with the new.  I love that Kodiak will learn to use this extinct dinosaur of a phone!




Next up- "currywurst" (why mix those two?), the German Forests, and Berlin's amazing Graffiti!
'Till then, Tschüss!*

*adiós/adéu



Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Maker Faire Bonanza

We have been to three consecutive Maker Faire's in Europe now, staring with Berlin. We showed the Hand of Man at the Berlin Maker Faire, which is always a rewarding experience. One weekend later was Maker Faire Barcelona, and we hobnobed with several interesting makers and innovators, including the San Francisco Maker Faire elite, who were visiting their various European off shoots. 

A few weeks later we were enjoying community Paella and "un demi" at the Nantes Maker Faire, which was really impressive. Maker Faire Nantes was hosted by the mechanical art enterprise known as Les Machines
Les Machines take up a healthy section of the Isle de Nantes, an old industrial island now being gentrified, and are a huge artistic and cultural force with their mechanical contraptions and spectacular sculpted landscapes. Its a collective of hundreds of talented artists under the helm of Francois Delaroziere and Pierre Orefice, who build the dreamy animal and nature based creations that end up in an aquatic merry-go-round or flying wood and steel herons in a elaborate rain forest filled with mechanical carnivorous plants. It's awe inspiring. 
Les Machines grew out of the collective known as Royal Deluxe, also in Nantes, who perform monumental relevant street theater with their massive marionettes all over the world. They have a musical component as well, which we had the pleasure to witness and enjoy at RoboDock in 2007. It was a steam engine musical instrument, manipulated by a dozen musicians on various levers and attached instrumentation. The finale was an impressive steam explosion, shrouding everyone in a cloud of warm mist. 
Clearly Les Machines and their cohorts was a highlight for us...innovative street theater is bound to provoke and agitate.. both words I enjoy considerably.



 The La machine shop...we got to go on a tour and it was as incredible as you may think. The birthplace of the machines of La Machine. We were, truth be told, a little envious...




But back to Maker Faire. With the maker community growing globally, it can both empower and inspire new ideas as well as become a closed circuit of geeks producing the newest nic nac from a 3D printer or laser cutter. In Berlin I came across a project spearheaded by Sam Bloch, where a trailer was being outfitted to provide maker tools and resources for refugees in Europe, and in some small but significant way, address the humanitarian crisis going on here today. This maker-trailer was on its way to a refugee center in Greece, with the intent to provide tech and building resources for the people to gather and make something they actually need(solar powered street lighting for example).

I was struck by how important this link is for the maker movement to stay connected. Bridging the gaps between maker, tech, innovator, resources and addressing current crises is where it gets really exciting. 
With a minor reorientation of focus, the future of the maker movement could have endless inspiration from current humanitarian needs, and departing from inventing the next start up tech gadget would be refreshing and worthy growth. 
I believe this is imperative change for the movement to remain relevant and funded.


We were only in Nantes for a few days, so we did not get to visit ZAD, or Zone A Défendre. ZAD is a well established squatting zone protesting the planned construction of an international airport. "For over 50 years, farmers and locals have resisted the building of a new airport for the French city of Nantes (which by the way already has one). Now in these rich fields, forests and wetlands, which multinational Vinci want to cover in concrete, an experiment in reinventing everyday life in struggle is blossoming. Radicals from around the world, local farmers and villagers, citizen groups, trade unionists and naturalists, refugees and runaways, squatters and climate justice activists and many others, are organizing to protect the 4000 acres of land against the airport and its world. Government officials have coined this place “a territory lost to the republic”. Its occupants have named it: (Zone À Défendre), zone to defend." excerpt from Squat.net.





Now we are back in Barcelona, but just for a minute. I managed to go back to the Costa Brava with Kodiak, to a tiny town called Sa Tuna. While we were enjoying some time with la familia, Christian travelled to Berlin to secure the logistics of our next move. Looks like Berlin is calling! The next chapter of our expat adventure is about to start, and I'm very excited. 



Life is filled with new adventures and my heart is Full.





Monday, June 19, 2017

Urban Jet Setting

It's been a busy time here, organizing travel within Europe, meeting new mostly-art-related people and staying in somewhat of a daily routine, which includes a hell of a long commute to Kodiak's school every day. The school is a bit out of the city, but it's a good fit for him, so for now it's what's happening. My ideas about walking around the block to school where shattered by the reality that Catalan public schools are a tough sell for a monolingual mountain boy. The school he is in now is based on Montessori methodology and he is liking it, and he is learning Spanish and Catalan...slowly.

We are getting ready to find another place to live as I have way outgrown my rose glasses about living in the heart of the city, which is the tourist mecca of Barcelona. The city is overflowing with humans, and it's pretty impressive that one can squeeze so many people into this area. I sympathize with the locals about the increasing problem with tourism here. Out our front door now, is like walking into a human traffic jam(w/selfie sticks). I have slowly become less excited to go outside and thus feel pretty cooped up in an apartment (with no outdoor access). 


Before we left on this European adventure, my good friend Richard said to me that it would be interesting to see what I learned about myself during this time...and I think of this often, as it really has been a reckoning of my basic needs. Turns out I'm calm and happy in nature, and not so much in the urban jungle. I strongly prefer mountains and way less people. The cultural aspects of urban life are not that intriguing to me, rather something I would be happy to visit. The bureaucracy around everything(especially here in Spain)is stifling, and slow to change. To be fair Spain was under a dictatorship until 1976, and they have come a long way from that since. All these observations make it clear why Taos is my home. 
and...I do find time to go to a remote beach outside the city to play cello with my friend Evie...it was early morning and we played to the big ocean blue. It was serene and beautiful.


This adventure is a piece of a larger puzzle. The pay off in the long run for growing roots in Europe will be to access new ways of thinking and making art, free universities for Kodiak, excellent and affordable healthcare, and hopefully a progressive establishment to live within. Go EU!





When in Europa...we travel! The Venice Biennale was a recent stop, which has been on my to do list for many years, and it was really fun. The art and the happs are well documented on Christian's blog, so I will only share some of my favorite pictures here. 



















Venice is beautiful- the architecture is elaborate, and sinking...





Then we went to Berlin. I had not been there since the 80's, wall up and Checkpoint Charlie! 


Wow... what a difference 28 years makes! 
It's a booming metropolis of international art and culture. Other than the austere German and Russian historical monuments, the city is lively and very green. Berlin has parks EVERYWHERE- and they have rabbits, foxes and squirrels. And lots of bicyclists. The back round noise is techno, playing somewhere, at any time. All of Berlin is a compelling juxtaposition.





The more austere part of Berlin...



We showed the Hand of Man at the Maker Faire and we all had a great time. Kodiak got to play with the Hand with Claire giving tips(and yawning?). The Hand of Man was the grittiest thing at Maker Faire, which we are proud of. 

On the flight back, both Christian and I thought that maybe Berlin has a leg up on Barcelona as far as what we do creatively. It was a refreshing reminder of a city where art and freak community is alive and well. I stress the FREAK, as Berlin is famous for it's expressive diversity. Barcelona after Berlin seems downright conservative.


Next we are going to Nantes, France, for the Maker Faire, hosted by none other than Les Machines- the ridiculously incredible art collective that has built an empire of massive kinetic sculptures. I can't wait to see it all, meet them and show Kodiak!

Just a note on jet set travel in Europe. It's cheap. It's easy. And it works. It's really just an extension of local public transit and they have it down. There is no comparison with the States. Unfortunately with the detrimental decision to invest in cars (thanks a lot Henry Ford), highways and to subsidize gasoline instead of building railways and investing in public transit, America will be stuck in the past for a long time to come. Not to mention the effects this model has on urban development. I digress.

I will end this post with this sweet picture of two happy, grateful people, in Venice. Ciao baby!






Saturday, May 13, 2017

Space Travel into the Divided States.

The Hand of Man is coming to Europe! To be more specific, Berlin!

With it's car crushing abilities and fun for everyone, we hope that it will be a smashing success here. Booking it was more stressful than usual, with several gigs falling through, but in the end we got it to come to Europe.
This was our one chance to get whatever we needed in the shipping container with the Hand. And so on a two day notice I flew back across the world to my favorite little place on the planet and helped load the Hand and a few other important items heading back here. It was a quick turnaround and it was especially exciting to note the things that are so different between the two places I call home now...
Loading the Hand into the shipping container was the usual creative  hodgepodge with our heavy equipment...and it worked out fine, with Shay as the expert forkie, Oswald and Aaron directing the load, and me, happily handling the HIAB levers of our awesome crane truck, Atlas.

I managed to squeeze in a walk to the gorge, a moment with my dogs, the mesa and the Mountain.
My thoughts on returning to America are focused in a sharp critical light. Taos, however, is always a refuge.


My exit port was Paris, pre election, which felt a bit on edge, and upon return and after Macron defeated fascist right wing nut-job LePen, it felt much more relaxed, maybe even jubilant. John Oliver did an excellent piece on Last Week Tonight about what this election means for France and Europe, as a whole. France luckily did not follow in Americas footsteps.

My American entry port was Chicago, which was very sobering.                                                                                    I had barely left the plane before being barked at by TSA worker. As if I had broken several laws before I even got to passport control. The general unfriendliness and lack of basic decency is impressive. The crew members from my flight, all of which were EU citizens, rolled their eyes as if this treatment was all too familiar.                                                   I did manage to go to the city to see the Chicago Art Museum, which has some great works, but I had to run into this building first, which made me laugh out loud. Was this tower of shame always there? Jeez. And I did note the state of disrepair the city was in. The adverts plastered in the subway show a stark picture..."Depression? Suicide? Join a paid clinical trial for new drugs", or "Cheap Breast Augmentation Procedures", or the "New Underwear that can soak up menstrual blood".....wow. 
I don't remember having been more excited to land in Albuquerque, ever. 
I took a deep breath of relief as I drove up onto to the Taos mesa, noting how good the air smelled. 

I have to admit it was heartening to see the familiar neon dissent signs still present as well. The days flew by and the container got loaded. I had great food and conversation with a few incredible friends. I even got a few scrapes, blisters and splinters! Next thing I know, I was back on a plane, hurtling through space at around 600 miles per hour, heading towards Barcelona.

...and my heart remains here.







Monday, April 17, 2017

Pascua de Resurrección!


No joke! Easter in the Catholic world is not about bunnies, eggs and kids. Nothing like seeing a truly serious and dark religious parade to make you stand up straight and appreciate the American easter bunny. We live about a block away from the Ramblas de Catalunya, historically famous epicenter of the old city. It splits the Raval from the Gotico and is one of the most crowded streets in the city. Almost every day there is some parade, or manifestation(protest) going on somewhere along the 1.2 kilometer street. Also famous for the swath of tourists which I wade through almost daily, it's home for many restaurants, kiosks, living sculptures(street performers), pickpockets and prostitutes.
And a macabre easter parade.... even the cops look down.


Of course there is a drum corp, and bagpipes, to add to the austerity of the experience. And yes, they are barefoot in chains. 

In the week that was known as Semana Santa, all schools were on holiday, and many shops were closed. 
Of course we took advantage of the time spent together and visited Tarragona's famous aqueduct (really impressive) as well as a boat trip, and spend some time in the nearby mountains.
We rented a tiny zip car, which is a great little treasure in Europe- it costs €3/per hour and you can pick it up next to your house. We drove it out of the city going towards France, into the mountains. There we found beautiful birch forests and thousands of other people with the same hiking itinerary as us. There is a stark difference in nature here, as almost every place has been touched and cultivated by humans. 



We hiked all day to find a few places where we managed to take a picture without people in the backround. Nevertheless it was very good for the family to get out and enjoy some fresh mountain air, and we had a great picnic as well. 

I admit that I am happier with more nature around me, ocean or wood. Luckily for me Barcelona has beautiful parks, mountains and a vast ocean all within reach. In the end I am clearly a country gal, nothing in the city can change that. 






The boat Kodiak and I went out on is a beautiful older sailboat, now done up as a pirate ship. It's a great way to get out of the city and on to the wide ocean, and does a loop between the the Port and one of the rivers that boarder Barcelona, the Besós river.
Kodiak on the Pirate Ship! 

Skepp Ahoj!(in Swedish)
AND
We are all excited to go see our favorite musicians, Filastine & Nova play here in Barcelona, to kick off their 2017 tour of Drapetomania. They have been working very hard to make this album and it's so cool when your 6 year old notices familiar peeps on the poster bill tacked on a busy Barcelona wall! 



Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Springtime Hiccups

It's been a while since the last blog, and in part it's because I can't seem to un-busy myself. I'm like brand new fly paper- I just get covered (not in flies, per se, but in things to do)
Spanish class every day, applications for festivals, meeting people(which usually means a lengthy lunch meeting), cello class, and commuting to Kodiak's school somehow the days go by.
Springtime is always a bit bumpy for me emotionally and that is ringing true here as well. I fluctuate between being inspired to be here to feeling isolated and overwhelmed by the mass amount of people here at any given moment. It's fast paced, loud, obnoxious, dirty, smelly as all big cities are, and there is little room for being soft.
There is plenty of room however to get all minor health problems taken care of. We have very inexpensive health insurance here and I am taking full advantage of it! Just to compare, which is a bit depressing for people in the States, dental is included in our family plan, which costs us €90 /month. My $4000 implant procedure in the US will cost me less than a quarter of that in Spain. The difference is so stark, it's hard to understand. Repealing the ACA will put us back in the dark ages of healthcare. But I digress.

One of the hiccups has been some significant adjustment problems for Kodiak in school, (he is attending a tri-lingual school, with emphasis on English) which has made for an interesting observation. I initially thought that Language would be the most important component of being able to adjust within a school system- no matter how different the school system was. I now think that the System is of greater importance, and the language is secondary. From a tree hugging social emotional learning based school(Anansi) to a conservative authority driven school is quite a leap. My best example would be if I was dropped into a small village in Central Africa, where no one spoke my language, but I recognized the communal aspects of the village and the way in which people related to each other. How would I adapt to this situation versus for example being dropped into a Trump voting community in Oneida, Kentucky, where I would speak the language but not share any common values. I think I would be much better off in Africa.
I am going to tell the story of the past few months in pictures, as they often say more than words.

My friend Kath made sure I knew about a talk that was happening a block away from our apartment (everything is a block away from our apartment)- Brian Eno spoke with political master mind Evengy Morozov, and it was a memorable evening. This is when I loved the city. The access to brilliant minds and amazing art is of course very seductive.






Then we flew to Sweden for a very sweet and memorable life event, and here are two pictures from Christian's brother Cles of my favorite place in Sweden- by the cliffs where I used to hang out with my grandparents in the summertime. We went in February, when the brackish water is half frozen, but the  landscape is kind of timeless, as are we.


We had just been visiting the Vasa Museum, which houses a real salvaged 17th Century Galleon, and Kodiak was finishing his very Swedish lunch of meatballs and lingonberry juice...Cles captured his mood and I love this picture.






Then, once back in Barcelona, it was full making stuff mode, mainly for mackettes for submitting proposals to various festivals. Looks like we will have a busy Summer ahead!


Every day in Barcelona there seems to be a festivity of some sort, whether Barcelona's soccer team won over Madrid, which causes a major hoopla in the city- parties all night long to random parades taking place seemingly spontaniously anywhere in the city, to giant puppets parading in the streets or people climbing on top of eachother to create an impressive human pyramid...One day I walked out of the apartment to enjoy this on our street!

...and now we are almost caught up- We went to see another incredible circus/dance performance by some very talented new friends, Sarah and Adriá, and in the beautiful historic building that housed the performance was also a very punchy art exhibit... here is one of the pieces by artist David Pérez.


Springtime is also marked by our visiting friends. It's such a joy to share some of our favorite things with our old posse- so here's a few of Cedar. He is staring into the eyes of an old Roman guy, who was uncovered under the city at some point- in the incredible Museum of the History of Barcelona... a few blocks from our apartment. It shows the city as it was in the early centuries BCE.
Below, we are visiting for the (5th?6th?) time one of the most incredible science museums in the world- Cosmo Caixa. Oh, and that would be free entry for those who bank at Caixa, which the vast majority of Spanish do..for the others it's a entire €4....!



Not bad for accessible science and culture.
And yes, that is Charles Darwin, Marie Curie, and Albert Einstein sitting contemplating in wax.

More soon!
Off to see a movie called Captain Fantastic, in it's original version(English) with Catalan subtitles. 
Abrazos.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Swedish Winter


Winter in Sweden is no joke. 
In Stockholm, during the darkest month of the year, the sky is light at 9:30am and the sun starts setting at 2:30pm. In those few hours of gray daylight, the temperatures are frigid. The Winter is long and if you are a Swede you go on with life in the dark. 






We traveled to Stockholm to check in with my parents and to take care of immigration related paperwork. I was born in Stockholm, and though my family traveled all over the world, I spent most of my childhood summers in the beautiful archipelago outside of Stockholm. I have a strong connection with Swedish custom and food, and am bizarrely familiar with the Swedish Way of things. 
Swedish cinema is good at depicting this cultural nuance. Some that come to mind are Let the Right One in, My life as a Dog, Bergman's Fanny and Alexander and of course the original mini series The Bridge. 



We boarded the 3.5 hour flight, which cost 34 Euros (one way) from a temperate climate to dead Winter. Stockholm is a bustle. Much faster bustle than Barcelona. The most notable trivial things where the speed at which people moved- much faster up North. They where also much more quiet and possibly quite grumpy in comparison to the Spanish. 



Christmas was upon us, and there were markets decorated with lights, saffron pastries, handmade toys, tree tchotchkes, and of course the iconic winter drink- Glögg, a hot spiced wine, infused with almonds and raisins. It's quite good in small doses.





This is in front of the Royal Castle in the Old City of Stockholm. The king still presides here, doing whatever modern Kings do. 
Kodiak secured a Swedish passport, which I believe is one of the best gifts I can give him- welcome to the European Union. This basically entitles him to work and live anywhere within the currently 27 countries in the EU (barring the UK now) I hope there will still be an EU when he is all grown up. 





I learned that back in the 1200's Swedes drank either beer or hot mulled wine(aka Glögg)because clean drinking water was a scarcity. The kids back then would eat a porridge made from beer. I imagine in the middle ages, the entire population was a bit tipsy giddy, and thus able to deal with Winters, "medicinal" blood letting practices, public tarring as punishment and the plague just fine. The Plagues, there were three of them, that wiped out about 50% of the population. I spent hours at the Stockholm Medieval Museum, which is fascinating.




One of the highlights was watching the Santa Lucia procession at the 13 century StorKyrkan (big church). The acoustics within those ancient walls was impressive, and the candles and singing together was timelessly beautiful. I love the many varied traditions around Christmas all over the world. The Taos Pueblo christmas eve procession (and fires) being one of my all time favorites. 

You can take the girl out of Sweden, but you can't take the Swede out of the girl.