Saturday, May 12, 2012


Today's soundtrack*:
"Silver Platter Club" by John Grant
"Your Head Is On Fire" by Broken Bells
"Hypnotised I" by Alamo Race Track
"Me and Lazarus" by Iron & Wine
"Don't Carry It All" by The Decemberists
"Coronado" by Deerhunter
"Evening Kitchen" by Band of Horses
"Walk Around the Lake" by Lost in the Trees
"More Ways (Offside)" by Balthazar

It's a big number.  21 was fun.  I was in Italy and, really, what does 21 mean other than one's ability to drink in the States?  It's a milestone in the way that turning 16 is a milestone:  there's all this stuff I can now do legally.  And 21 is that last marker of adulthood.  Twenty-one is that final stamp that says you've arrived and you're all growed-up, so time to strike out on your own and learn to cook something other than Kraft Dinner.

Thirty isn't like that, although maybe it should be.  Thirty is met with dread.  It's the first signifier of mortality.  You're 21?  Party!  You're 30?  Have you thought about life insurance?  RRSPs?  What do you mean you don't have a car? 

There are innumerable lists of what I should have accomplished by this point in my life.  Partner, kids, job, house, car.  I should exude self-confidence and be rid of all awkwardness.  I should have a wardrobe of professional work clothes and use various wrinkle creams.

You know what?  Those lists are crap.  I don't feel any less awkward now than I did as a teenager.  Lord knows my skin still acts like it's a teenager, why shouldn't my social skills follow suit?  And everything I've supposed to have accomplished by now?  Well, none of these lists account for graduate school, feminism, and persistent awkwardness.

All that being said, my twenties were fantastic and completely unpredictable.  When I turned 20, I imagined I'd finished by B.A., get a B.Ed, and teach high school on Vancouver Island for the rest of my life.  By 30 I'd have a house, car, kids, job, the lot.  Instead...  I went to grad school.  Met some amazing people.  Met some crazy people.  Met my partner.  Lived in two different provinces.  Moved across the Atlantic.  Travelled.  So it's not as though I haven't accomplished anything... just nothing on those Cosmo lists.  And maybe Lady J's friend was right.  I mean, I think I was pretty damned interesting at 21, but I've got much better stories at 30 (social awkwardness aside, because that isn't going anywhere).  And while I can't say with any certainty that I'm any more mature now than I was 5 or 10 years ago (okay, 5 years.  I'm definitely more mature than I was 10 years ago.  Shudder), I think I have a pretty good sense of who I am and what I stand for.

But this idea that at 30 I'd've accomplished x, y, and z and therefore be finished evolving is just folly.  There's so much I haven't done yet, aside from the kids, house, car, and job.  That doesn't mean that I don't have my life together - I just don't my Cosmo life together.  And what a horror that would be.  No Spaniard.  No grad school.  No Scotland.  No knitting.

30 is not the beginning of the end.  I haven't even finished the beginning of the beginning yet.  30 doesn't mean I should start wearing professional work clothes, using wrinkle creams, and moan about RRSP contributions.  

No, 30 is when I start to get interesting.

* is brought to you by Yvon's superior musical taste, the number 30, and the letter T.

Friday, May 11, 2012

madrid in march

Today's soundtrack:
"Drunk Trumpet" by Kid Koala
"Kiss Cam" by The Arkells

At the end of March, Miguel and I travelled down to Madrid to visit family and friends, and the trip started out brilliantly.  On our flight there were a group of fellows returning to Spain after a stag weekend in Edinburgh.  The groom was dressed up as a matador and did a pass through the "plaza" to a chorus of "olé!" whilst his friends filmed him.  Definitely the most entertaining flight to Madrid I've ever been on.

The next morning, and after a bit of a lie-in, we visited the Hermitage exhibit at the Prado.  Originally, the exhibit was to close the day before we arrived, but it proved so popular that it was held over for a few more weeks.  We saw Caravaggio's Lute Player, Matisse's Game of Bowls, and Rembrandt's Portrait of a Scholar.  There were beautifully intricate broaches, combs, and jewelry from the Bronze Age.  I expected the highlight for me to be all the Flemish art.  I was wrong.  It was Kandinsky's Composition VI.  At the very end of the exhibition, just when I'd hit art-overload, it took up the entire wall and if I'd had the chance, I'd have stood there all day.  Instead, we met up with Salva for a quick drink in a barrio that has apparently escaped the crisis altogether.  We didn't stay too long, which suited me fine because I'd had a miserable headache all day.

On Wednesday morning we met up with Jorge and watched Beatriz's production.  The work was a collection of vignettes of couples immediately before and after sex, and Beatriz's was by far the best.  And that's not only because her vignette was the only one with nudity.  After the production, which was also Beatriz's final exam, we went out for a bite to eat.  Still with a miserable headache and cursing my lack of antihistamines, we spent the rest of the afternoon with Miguel's family and doing a bit of work.

Funny story, part 1:  A few weeks ago I read this article about caffeine naps and how people would drink a cup of coffee, then take a quick nap.  In 15 minutes, when the caffeine kicked in, they'd wake up überenergized.  So after lunch and coffee at home, I told Miguel of my plan to take a caffeine nap.  2 1/2 hours later, I woke up feeling not at all energized.  And worse, my headache had not shifted one bit.

Because Miguel's parents don't have the internet... or a computer... we took our laptops over to the local mall to use the free wi-fi.  We nestled into the Starbucks, I grabbed a decaf latte (as it was late in the afternoon and I wanted to sleep at some point in the night) and a copy of El País.   Despite the 2-day headache, I was thoroughly enjoying our trip to Madrid.  Even Miguel was amazed at the lack of crabbit Kate.  I think it had something to do with everything being in bloom.

Funny story, part 2:  Over dinner, Miguel told his mom about my oh-so-funny caffeine nap misadventure when, suddenly, she looked completely aghast.  "Es descafeinado!" she explained.  All the coffee I'd had at breakfast and lunch for the past 2 days - decaf.  No wonder I had a monster headache.  But what was really surprising was that my mood, in spite of it all, was much better.  Believe what they say - caffeine is a depressant.

Newly caffeinated, we visited the Palacio Real (finally)

which was pretty impressive,

before meeting up with the family for lunch.  Afterwards, we met up with more friends for sidewalk pizza.

Late March and people are out on the street, visiting until 11pm.  Sure, they're all in parkas (except for me and my t-shirts), but they're out and about.  I hadn't realized how much I missed life on the streets at night.

On Saturday, we spent the afternoon playing boardgames with Beatriz and Jesús before heading over to Club Clamores to see a flamenco show.

This is the kind of place where a cup of coffee costs 10 euros.  But you don't go for the food or drinks.  You go for the music.  We were supposed to see José Menese, but two songs into his set, he had to stop.  He'd hurt his arm and the pain was simply too much.  The host, however, had a back-up plan.  In the front row was a young flamenco singer who'd come to see Menese, and the host cajoled him into performing.  It was literally a case of "is there another flamenco singer in the house?"  So up comes Paco de Soto (or del Soto - we can't remember which).

Now Menese, being a legend, was amazing; however, because of his age, I found him very difficult to understand.  Paco de Soto had all the passion and talent of Menese, but I could also understand him.  Well, maybe 50%.  Still, I had chills.  Miguel and I swore on the spot we'd make going to Clamores a tradition.*

After the show ended around midnight, we met up with another friend of Miguel's, who in turn took us to meet up with even more friends of Miguel's.  So that's how we ended up going from a flamenco show to a heavy metal bar within the space of an hour.  By 2am or so, Miguel was flagging (I ask you, what kind of madrileno is he?  Can't cook a lobster, can't ir a la marcha...) so we headed home.

But not for long!  Because the next (and last full day in Madrid) we went to watch a procesión de semana santa with Jorge.  I tried not to be creeped out by grown men wearing pointed hats, but I've seen too many movies set in the Deep South...

After the procesión and a brief introduction to vermouth, we headed off to Meson de la Guitarra.  It's tucked away just off of Plaza Mayor, and probably 90% of people walk past without giving it a second thought, but it's the local for a group of tunas.  Right.  Tunas.  Not fish.  Tunas are basically modern-day troubadours.  They used to be ye olde troubadours, as well.  They've been around for centuries.  They still wear the traditional outfit, even when only hanging out and performing for tourists in their local.

Jorge belongs to this particular group, although he's not in costume in the photos, and you can hear them here (pick the letter "F", then scroll down to "Funiculí", then click "descargar").  That night, guitars were passed around, everyone joined in singing (save for me, because I didn't know the words), and the sangría went down way too easy.  Can't you just imagine yourself in this tiny little bar, drinking and singing the night away?  By the end of the night, Jorge serenaded Miguel... and the rest of the table... but mostly Miguel.

I still cannot decide which night was more fun - flamenco or tuna?  Regardless, I feel like I delved more into Spanish culture this trip than ever before.  Sure, it helps to have an in with the locals, but every time we come back to Madrid, I feel more and more at home there.  I also realize now how much I missed out on the first few times I visited.  It's just impossible to really experience this city in a few short days.  There should be a minimum required stay in Madrid of two weeks for every tourist.

Anyway, past trip to Madrid has been my favourite thus far.  And with ham and pacharán (PACHARÁN!) in hand, we headed off for Paris... eventually.

* Of course, this wasn't the first time Miguel had been to Clamores.  Back in Miguel's typico teleco days, he performed here as part of a Battle of the Bands.  Take him out for a pint and he'll tell you the whole story.

Thursday, May 03, 2012


Today's soundtrack:
That damned bird that sounds like an alarm clock.  At 4:30am.

I know I owe you all a lovely post about Madrid and Paris, but it's been pre-empted by an important public service announcement.

Miguel and Uta's FatFonts are featured in this week's New Scientist (Issue 2863).

When Miguel first told me about his FatFonts idea, I thought it was ludicrous.  I couldn't understand why numbers needed fonts.  They're numbers and purely practical.  How could numbers convey more information than the basic numerical kind?  But Miguel and Uta kept working on it, reading a mountain of typography literature and building four different numerical fonts.

I still didn't get it.  Aesthetically, sure.  But functional?

And then, about six months after the idea first sparked, Miguel showed me how the fonts worked as infographics.  Just check out this map of Sicily.  Numbers, normally plain and equally weighted, are reverted back to their symbolic meanings of weight and quantity.  There is a weight to numbers that regular fonts cannot convey.  I finally got it.

Now, with New Scientist article in hand, Miguel has physical proof that I was wrong.  There'll be no living with him now.

For more information about FatFonts (along with some pretty nifty visualizations), visit Miguel's page.