Five Things I Loved in November

“It is good people who make good places.”
― Anna Sewell, Black Beauty

Time to run down the things that brought me joy this month in spite of some pretty crushing political and social disappointment, and not a little anxiety about the state of the world. But there are a lot of small pleasures and a lot of good art and creativity to be had. What got you through the month, kittens, and what’s worth sharing? Let me know in the comments.

Image via IMP Awards.
Image via IMP Awards.

Arrival. I’m not an aficionada but I do love smart science fiction and this film was nothing if not intelligent. So many sci fi films are silly or devolve into smashy smashy slugfests that aren’t actually very interesting to watch–not so this one. Arrival starts with a basic set of assumptions, that most scientists would likely cheer for, that rather than being humanoid, able to live in our atmosphere, and have similar social and communication structures to human beings any alien life we come into contact with is likely to be so fundamentally different from us as to make connection near impossible. So, how do we connect in that case? More I cannot say, since the plot and the theme are one and the same, but if you enjoy really thinking about movies, give this one a shot.

 

Image via Nars
Image via Nars

NARSissist Amour, Toujour L’Amour palette by Nars. This was a late summer beauty indulgence that I didn’t give a proper trial to until this month but this thing is gorgeous and is going to get some serious use this holiday season.

 

Image via Netflix.
Image via Netflix.

The Crown. Yep, another Netflix binge happened. The costumes are stunning, the set pieces grand, and the topic one of the most documented and simultaneously private families in the world. I have a few quibbles about some aspects of historicity but have mostly sucked down this gorgeous series in gulps.

 

Image via Heist Studios.
Image via Heist Studios.

Heist tights. Black tights are de rigeur in London this time of year and I inevitably run through a couple of pairs a season as snags and laddering regularly claims sacrificial victims. However I came across this brand through their (clever and excellent) brand campaign, read some reviews, and decided to give them a try. The options for higher waistbands sold me as there’s nothing more uncomfortable than than a waistband that either digs into your skin or, worse, goes wandering throughout the course of the day… Nope, I’m not being paid to rave about these tights, I just love them. Take advantage of the coupon code I got with my order to get 20% off if you are so inclined! They ship worldwide when last I checked.

 

rulers

Rules for Rulers, by CGP Grey. Another win for this YouTube creator, this video is a nice little primer for anyone thinking about politics right now (and we should all be thinking about it right now). The section around minute 10 is particularly cringe inducing at this moment in history. You want to rule? Are you sure? No man rules alone…

Required Eating: Cal Ticus, Sant Sadurni d’Anoia

“You can’t just eat good food. You’ve got to talk about it too. And you’ve got to talk about it to somebody who understands that kind of food.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Jailbird

If you’re feeling peckish but tired of the main city of Barcelona, how about–and I seldom suggest this–heading for the suburbs? Hop on a train and ride it to Sant Sadurni d’Anoia–the heart of cava country–and take the short walk into town. It’s not a large village and there are signs everywhere leading you to the most prominent sites. The fact that this restaurant is included among those sites is not an accident.

The lunch we had at Cal Ticus was easily one of the best of my life and at about 15 euro a person, a steal bordering on criminal. Don’t let the simple facade fool you.

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There was a semi-set menu but we could choose between course options and there was not a single bad choice to be had. The ingredients were seasonal Catalan selections and the emphasis on cooking technique. It sounds basic but was in fact pretty mind blowing.

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Mushroom soup with a slice of gooey cheese and Spanish olive oil.

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Handmade pasta. Technically Jeff’s but I ate a decent bit of it…while we’re being honest.

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A gorgeous slice of beef and perfectly roasted potatoes. Again, sounds basic. Again, could not further from the truth.

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And finally, a traditional Catalan desert of a type of cheese covered in local honey. Its taste and texture was was similar to a less sweet and more crumbly cheesecake and it was both dense and refreshing at the same time. Paradoxical, yes, but true.

Do yourself a favor on your visit to Barcelona and swallow the train fare for the ride out, or make a day of it away from the city and take in the vineyards and olive groves. But seriously. Eat here. I mean it.

Crum, Barcelona

“What I say is that, if a man really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow.”
― A.A. Milne

On the Carrer de Parlament is a delightfully hipster sort of joint that is worth checking out. Let me introduce Crum.

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The menu is in Catalan, but they do have English versions for those of us whose European languages veer a bit more northern. True, embarrassing story about how French functions as my default language pretty much all of the time and I had to bite my tongue all week to avoid saying “bonjour” when I meant “buenos dias,” and uttered “trois” instead of “tres” to a bemused waitress at one point before finally deciding to keep my mouth shut and let my more Spanish competent compatriots do the majority of the ordering. Setting self-consciousness aside, this place does one thing and one thing only: potatoes.

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Whoops, I lie. It does potatoes and sauces; you essentially order the type of spud preparation that tickles your fancy and the sauce that you want to accompany it. There are handy suggestions but you are mostly given free reign–though the staff will voice their alternative opinions if you ask for feedback.

We pushed the boat right out and ordered one of nearly everything. Patatas bravas is a local dish of thickly chopped potatoes, roasted, and served with a spicy sauce that any tapas bar in the city worth its salt will offer…but this was an exemplary specimen. And it’s a good thing we got a bunch of things as it turned out we were more than a little hungry.

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Pardon the dreadful photo quality but I had to move fast you see, because…

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…approximately seven seconds later.

Barcelona: The Food

“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.”
― George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

When discussing what we wanted to do on our holiday with friends in Barcelona, we narrowed it down to three major priorities: 1) eat, 2) hang out with them, and 3) precious little else. Tapas, traditional Spanish and Catalan food, seafood, random weirdness–we wanted to try as much as we possibly could.

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We were beautifully situated for local dining as we were in a residential neighborhood that had about a million bakeries and coffee shops, gastro pubs and tapas joints, and even a massive produce and meat market about two minutes away from the flat. We were spoiled, no question about it. But again, thanks to Kelsey’s boss travel prep skills, she had already mapped the gastronomic system of the city and we knew we had some spots that simply had to be hit, but we also knew where playing it by ear would most likely pay off in a fantastically good meal.

Welcome to Barcelona Food Week on SDS!

Carrer de Blai

This is a street full of almost exclusively tapas restaurants where a mini food culture or trend seems to have originated. All the food is bite sized and served on slices of bread, held together with a skewer. You can eat as much or as little as you want as you pay based on unit and your skewers are tallied at the end of your meal–prices can be indicated by different colored sticks–and you can either call it a night…or head to the next joint to see what they have on offer. Guess which choice we made?

It turned out to be prescient as we also discovered a bodega specializing in empanadas and indulged in those as well.

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Barraca on the beach

We wanted paella and we wanted it in the most appropriate setting: seaside. My photo quality may be lacking, but the food was not! Traditional dishes like gazpacho and seafood, expertly done.

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Pasapalo

I wasn’t blown away by this place, in spite of a plethora of good reviews, but I was also the lone group member to not have a burger and so my review may be suspect. The ambiance and style, however, were great!

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Street food

There is so much good and cheap food in this city that it’s almost unbelievable. On every street corner we saw sellers roasting sweet potatoes and chestnuts, to be wrapped in newspaper and taken to eat on the go. And on every street there seems to be a place where you can get an excellent cut of meat grilled or roasted up for your pleasure. Meanwhile there is no end to the tapas options, and you can wander into the vast markets and come away with cones of traditional cured Spanish meats and cheeses. I repeat, handfuls of meat and cheese. Nirvana exists, kids.

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Desserts

And finally: pudding! I shan’t overdo this one expect to say that there is a traditional dessert somewhat similar to creme brulee called crema catalana, and that your life is incomplete if you have not yet partaken of it.

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Weekend Links

“I have learned that to be with those I like is enough”
― Walt Whitman

There was a loss in Jeff’s family so he’s back in the States this weekend attending the funeral with the tribe. It was his grandmother, a gentle woman with a spine of steel and greatly beloved. I keep saying it, but I keep meaning it: 2016 has been rough and needs to go.

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Sir, I for one am ready for the mic drop.

Great piece. I might have got a bit emotional.

Why Ms. Marvel threatens Superman.

One half of the former Civil Wars (still heartbroken about their band breakup) gives an ace Tiny Desk Concert.

Beauty therapy.

Old British houses are not exactly pinnacles of comfort and modern convenience.

Barcelona: The City

“Nature and man are opposed in Spain.”
― Gertrude Stein, Picasso

I am bad at holidays and relaxing in general. Most of our big holidays in recent years have been to visit family which, while always good, can still have stresses–trying to see and catch up with as many people as possible, major family gatherings, road trips, running practical errands like renewing drivers licenses, etc. It matters not that its been a couple blissful years since I had to brave the DMV, a visit always returns old angst with fresh horror. Even the one pure pleasure trip of recent memory (our visit to New York) was too short to be a real switch off.

Spain was the perfect learning experience. Having never been before, we were largely in the hands of our fabulous friends (who we love traveling with) and to say they didn’t lead us astray is an understatement. Spain is a delight! For a solid week we did what we wanted, explored where we wished, and were as busy or a lazy as we wanted. As always, food and wandering were the priorities.

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Barcelona is a crossroads city: Moorish, Mediterranean, and Northern European culture, art, architecture, and food all clash wonderfully. Having never been and therefore having no specifically Spanish frame of reference, I kept seeing traces of buildings and colors that reminded me alternatively of Italy and Paris, while Jeff kept getting flashes of California. It was an amazing combination.

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All credit in the world goes to our pal Kelsey who found an amazing place to stay near the Mercat de Sant Antoni. We were in a residential neighborhood rather than the typical tourist centers and so got to enjoy all the local tapas joints, bodegas, bakeries, shops, and streets. We were a reasonable walk away from the Gothic quarter containing the medieval heart of the city and near a metro station for the handful of excursions that required it. It was also Kelsey’s idea to do a bike tour of the city, which turned out to be a brilliant way to get the lay of the land. The girl knows how to travel!

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There’s a least two other posts coming so let me just summarize the overall experience by saying we had perfect weather all week–summer in November–and managed to really get around. We spent a day climbing over and around Montjuic (site of the Olympic park), another day taking a trip out to olive oil and cava country, and then made sure we did the required Gaudi pilgrimages and paid homage to paella.

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Gorgeous city.

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It was great getting a sense of the dual (and sometimes dueling) Catalan and Spanish identities. From an ethnically diverse modern population to a controversial statue of Columbus, an Italian who opened up the New World and flooded Spain with riches that eventually resulted in crippling instability, to 20th century upheavals, Barcelona really wears its history on its sleeve.

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It’s hard to convey how pretty this city is. Even the medieval streets of dark and heavy stone were typically festooned with street art, intricate architectural design, flowers, and decorations.

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Good bit of Gothic–fake as it turns out! Stay tuned…

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Color was everywhere and not subtle. I imagine this is how many ancient Mediterranean cities once looked, as we know that white marble was not how the Romans and Greeks rolled. They liked bright and vivid shades, sometimes the more garish the better. I loved it.

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There’s quite a tale to tell about the beach later as well, but we all of course had to spend some time on it.

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More posts coming but trust me on this: bump Barcelona up on your list of places to see. It’s worth it.

Mudlarking

“TWENTY bridges from Tower to Kew –
Wanted to know what the River knew,
Twenty Bridges or twenty-two,
For they were young, and the Thames was old
And this is the tale that River told:”
― Rudyard Kipling

Went exploring the north bank of the river for a change and decided to go rouge on a revealed beach at low tide and look for treasure. There’s plenty of junk to be found, but there are also the beams and wooden plinths of old docks, glass and fired stone, and the pulverized remains of an age old city to see if you keep your eyes peeled.

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Found a shard of blue and white ceramic, handfuls of seaglass, a bit of pottery, and a clay pipe stem, probably Victorian but might be older. Lots of history on these banks!