Tag: Expat

Friendships in Adulthood

“Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .”
― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

15 years ago I met a girl in an airport bathroom (a story that I wish I could say was more scandalous than this auspicious beginning implies). We were on our way to a week long political youth conference in DC and New York, along the lines of model U.N. but I maintain cooler, that turned out to be a great time and we stayed in touch afterwards. A decade and a half later, we are still in touch and make time to see each other whenever our travels take us into one another’s orbit. She’s come to London a couple of times in the last three years, including this past weekend, when she arranged a fab dinner party to introduce Jeff and I to two other couples as well as the guy she’s dating. No surprise, we loved them all.

It got me thinking about friendships, specifically friendship in adulthood.

We absconded with her and her gentleman friend for the better part of an entire day during their visit. Much cheese was consumed!

Growing up military brat, there was always a fluid nature to many friendships. Depending on where I lived I was surrounded with and went to school with other brats and, given the nature of the work, it was likely that one of our parents would be shipped across the country or the world in less than two years from the time we met. As a result, I and many brats I know tend to be able to make friends very quickly. We are more likely and able to progress through the phases of friendship quickly–we need to! The emotional intimacy and sustaining fun of friendship is a requirement of life, but we didn’t always have time to spend years and years cultivating relationships. We tended to single out the people we would get along with quickly, join forces quickly, and stay bonded until divided by circumstance.

On the flip side, when a friendship was broken up by a government directed move, it was often the case that it simply came to a successful end and didn’t continue. There has been an uptick in thinking and writing in recent years about “friendship breakups” but I’ve not really experienced this phenomenon in a negative way. Most of the friendships I’ve had that ended came to a natural and organic close as a chapter in life (shorter than most civilians due to the nature of our parents work) ended. I grew up partially before the internet and finished university before mobile phones became the pocket sized universes of information they are now, so this undoubtedly contributed to friendships winding down too. In an age of Whatsapp I imagine things are different now; they certainly are for my siblings–my 11 years younger than me sister seems to be operating in a totally different world than I did. I dread to think of the disconnect if Jeff and I have kids!

I don’t want to suggest that I grew up with a “disposable” attitude towards people, because that’s not accurate. But I am used to the idea that not all relationships are supposed to be or need to be permanent. Sometimes you need certain people at certain times (and vice versa), the need ends, and you both move on positively.

In adulthood, however, without the crucible of adolescence, school, sports teams, or other social tools made to get people together into groups, I don’t find as many opportunities to forge new friendships. I’ve stumbled into a few incredibly rewarding ones through blogging (hi, Caitlin!), work, and travel, but it’s a rarer thing now. It takes more work and effort than it did in a Department of Defense high school scene, and of course these days I have a partner, a full time job, errands to run. So do they! Adulthood is busy, and it can be hard to find the time to grown and nurture new friendships. On the plus side there are now more tools than ever to stay in touch with the people I already have in my life–it’s a rare week that doesn’t include a transatlantic call of some type. In my childhood, that would have been an expensive and complicated thing, these days it’s the touch of a button.

Alternatively, I have a handful of friends that I made years ago that were and remain the vital relationships of my life. My two best friends I made in middle school and, scattered as we are, I plan on them being in my Girl Squad until the day I die. One has asked me to be the executor of her will, she’s also been slated as godmother to any hypothetical children since before Jeff and I got married–before you ask, he’s 100% onboard. He refers to X. as his sister-in-law because he knows she is family to me and has been since I was 12 years old. Katarina is my other squad captain. We are the guardians of one another’s secrets, mutual cheerleaders, and constructive critics. We’ve been reading each others’ writing for the better part of two decades and one of the proudest friend moments of my life was being asked to be a first reader of the manuscript that landed her an agent. I am a ridiculously fortunate woman.

But I still appreciate the opportunity to meet new people and check in with pals who may only flit in and out of my city once every few years. We may not talk every day or even every month, but we bonded for a reason and can find a lot of joy in circling back to one another.

 

Self Care for the Perpetually Irritated

“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.

I’m a self-described news junkie who has followed several platforms and branches of the news media closely for my entire adult life. And as a current American expat, a former military brat with both current active duty and retired military family members, a staunch feminist, and someone who works in a field intimately influenced by the finance industry (to say nothing of international policy in dozens of countries on multiple continents)…there’s a lot to follow! I consume a lot of news and these days, as is well documented, a lot of it makes my angry, nervous, and downright pissed. As Solange put it, there’s “a lot to be mad about.”

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Me during my first morning news check in.

That being said, one of the things that I’m really concerned about in the current American and British political moments is outrage fatigue. I’ve mentioned this in some comment conversations before, so I know I’m not alone in this worry. Anger is amazing fuel, it’s carried me through more than one challenge in my life. But I don’t believe it’s a perpetually sustaining source of power; it burns out. And it can occasional burn people out as well, when the burden of rising to every piece of bad news with rage simply becomes emotionally unsustainable and politically un-organize-able. I’m genuinely concerned that there are vested interests in the US who are betting that if they keep up a constant stream of conflict and splashy actions, people like me will eventually burn out–i.e., cease the opposition, allowing those vested interests to get away with much worse.

On the flip side, I also don’t believe that outraged reaction as a policy position is terribly effective–at least not in a permanent way, though I think it can be marvelously effective in the short term on the part of the citizenry! It may surprise some readers, but I am not in favor of single minded obstructionist strategies on the part of the left right now. By which I mean that if the president proposed policy broadly aligned with liberal principles, I’d expect leaders to support it (the trouble is that at the moment, the president has yet to put forward a policy I support, but I remain theoretically open to the notion). I railed against obstructionist behavior when conservative stoned walled President Obama, it would be hypocritical of me to support such behavior now. Being consistently against something is not the same thing as having a proactive platform of your own, something that I believe played out to Democratic disadvantage in the recent election. Anger fuels revolutions, but it’s usually taken cooler heads to turn revolt into civic progress rather than a short dive into tyranny or chaos. It’s not enough to emote in response to government actions we find immoral or unlawful, you have to mobilize. That takes organization, articulation of proactive positions and not just reactive ones, effort, and long term commitment…all of which can be difficult to sustain if you are operating from a place of near or actual burnout.

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Me checking in during my afternoon news-and-tea break after a few hours away from the internet.

I know for a fact that I’m susceptible to outrage fatigue. And I also know that I plan on being more political involved and engaged than I have been heretofore. Meaning that I’m going to need a thicker skin, a longer battery life, and several recharging stations along the way. To that end, I’m more committed than ever to emotional self care practices and keeping my emotional energy well tended and focused. I’m still learning, but if like me you’ve stared responding to “BREAKING NEWS” signs with cringes and expletives, here are a few things that I’ve found that keep me even keeled when I want to panic or smash things.

Top Tips Thus Far From Someone Still Figuring it Out:

Don’t pick fights for the sake of fighting. Plenty of people are doing that already. If you feel so inclined to join the fray, have at it, but know that you’re expending emotional energy that may be better served elsewhere and that you may need later. Personally, at the moment I’ve given up trying to change a lot of people’s minds through arguing. Where I can find respectful conversations, I engage. Where I find flame wars, I avoid.

Don’t be afraid to enjoy frivolous things that bring your pleasure–and don’t let anyone shame you for it. Yes, there’s a lot of bad stuff happening all over the globe at the moment. That doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to enjoy and share small things that make you happy. I remember a criticism leveled at me waaaaaay back in the earlier days of my blogging where someone informed me that I couldn’t be a “real” feminist because I mostly wrote humor posts at the time. A couple of years later, I was called a “stupid/shallow” woman for talking about my love of fashion and beauty. At the time, these (fairly minor) critiques caused me a lot of self-doubt…which was precisely their intent. Today my response is a bellowing, “Nonsense!” As if it’s impossible to have a sense of humor, and like lipstick, and have thoughts about the wage gap, parental leave, and social constructs all at the same time. Everyday pleasures are important and people interested in shaming you do not have your best interests at heart.

Avoid toxicity. Sometimes we need to engage in hard conversations and go to tough places, usually because there is a reward to earn or a morally good fight to be undertaken. Sometimes, there is no discernible good in exposing yourself to certain platforms or people–sometimes being in those places can cause you damage. In those cases, do not give those people or platforms your time, attention, or money.

Maintain your internal bullshit barometer. We live in a consumer media world largely based on provocation and reaction, it takes effort to maintain a critical eye and perspective. Do not get worked up over, much less share information without vetting it first. If and when you find your control over your own perspective shifting to all-to-easily agree with the last article you read or pundit you listened to, it’s time for a break.

Actively seek out things that make you feel happy. Legal and innocuous, I stress! Whether that’s time with your partner or friends, reading a book, exercise, stand up comedy, podcasts, puppy videos…no matter. It’s ridiculously easy to feel like the world is a terrible place and the only logical course of action is to ball up in a corner by ourselves somewhere. Just remember,  that’s the argument that got us into our current political predicament! Go find things that spark joy and make them a part of your daily routine.

Unplug from time to time. Barring nuclear disaster (which, depending on your point of view at the moment may in fact be a credible threat), there will be more bad news coming down the pike shortly and, if you are committed to your cause, you will be required to act in some way in response. Allocate your attention accordingly.

Conserve your energy where you can. Not every tweet, pronouncement, or even action is a Defcon 1 level threat. In fact, some of the news right is laugh out loud ridiculous. Find the humor where possible, and allocate your energy where it’s needed.

 

What about you? What emotional habits have you had to cultivate in the 21st century news and political climate? What works for you and what doesn’t?

Incendiary Saturday: Religion and Immigration

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
– Constitution of the United States of America

Two posts in one day, you lucky darlings. But the news of the Executive Order issued by President Trump banning access to the country from several (Islamic) countries has broken and rather consumed our day here at SDS headquarters. He’s not calling it a #MuslimBan (though General Flynn’s son is, for what that’s worth)…but it’s a ban on Muslims. You know how we can tell? Because President Trump also directed that priority for immigration should be given to people from the Middle East…who are Christian. But let’s set that aside for a moment.

I’m not going to go into the minutia of whether or not the President excluded other “problematic” countries from this ban because he has active or prospective business holdings in them.

I’m not going to speculate on how much ammunition this will give to terrorist groups, some of whom have already apparently used the EO in recruiting efforts. Or how this might affect my brother and countless others currently serving in the armed forces.

I’m not going to touch the fact that this EO, steeped in racial tensions and fearmongering, was issued on Holocaust Memorial day.

Instead, I want to talk about some personal background, some legal realities, and the question of motive.

To recap.

On my father’s side, his mother was the daughter of immigrants from Slovakia. They were Roman Catholic at a time when Catholics and immigrants from southern and eastern Europe were viewed as suspect and fundamentally Un-American. My grandmother married a WASP from New York and bore three children, one of whom is my father who served most of my life in the US Air Force. One of my brothers has followed him into service.

On my mother’s side, I am descended from religious converts who came from Scotland and elsewhere to the deserts of the American West to join in a small and somewhat persecuted religious movement–Mormonism. This movement had an extermination order issued against them as a group at one point and were eventually driven out of what then constituted the boundaries of the country. My mother descends from this religious minority, now considered one of the most conservative and patriotic subsections of the country. My dad later converted to this faith and this heritage. I’ve left the former, but carry the latter with me always.

That’s my immigrant and religious minority legacy. Why do I repeat this? Because I’m not special. Most Americans have some kind of story like this in their background, this intertwining of minority and immigrant stories goes right back to our founding myths and has been our day-to-day lived reality for the better part of three centuries. Cracking down on immigrants, especially when you are using religion as part of your reasoning is fundamentally counter intuitive to our national history and story.

Years later, I’m now an immigrant in a Western nation at this very moment. I followed all the laws to legally enter this country and work here, and I have the paperwork to prove it. That is how international immigration and laws work. I’m lucky. I’m white, educated, English speaking, but I’m still an immigrant. My life is here and it is dependent on the goodwill of two governments. If I boarded a plane in the US and arrived in London only to be detained at the border because the Prime Minister had decided that in defiance of laws and regulations in two countries, my right to entry (again, documented in two countries) was suddenly invalidated, I have no idea where I’d be. Catatonic in a corner perhaps. Propublica estimates that up to half a million people are potentially in this situation now. The Washington Post is reporting that the language of the recent executive order that has brought this mess about also applies to people with dual nationalities…aka…citizens of the US. Huffinton Post reports ditto for Green Card holders. Representatives of the government under which I currently live are also reporting that they could not access the US under this EO, which doesn’t make me overly optimistic for continued operational goodwill across borders.

Why do I bring all this up? Because, like me, we are talking about people who have already passed multitudes of tests and requirements to gain access to the country.

There a lot of genuinely necessary conversation and work to do to create a safe, viable immigration network in the 21st century world. But do you know what really is pissing me off? It’s that the basis for this EO is due to fears and anxieties concerning illegal immigration and religious backgrounds. People who have the paperwork to get into this country have, in many cases, already passed a vetting process far more grueling than anyone currently being considered for a position in Mr. Trump’s cabinet! And freedom of worship was one of the first things the Founding Fathers enshrined.

And so, people who voted for this–including some of you who told me that these kinds of actions or bans would never come to fruition: do not tell me that the problem is illegal immigration, and then turn around and start detaining or denying entry first to those who already legally live and work in the US, including citizens. Do not tell me you consider the constitution sacrosanct but then impose a religious litmus test on entry in violation of the Bill of Rights. Do not cite the 9/11 attacks or recent lone wolf actors as a basis for this ban and then apply it to countries who citizens didn’t participate in those atrocities.

You’re either delusional about your motives, or you’re lying.

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Weekend Links: The OK Ladies Now Let’s Get in Formation Edition

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”
― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

In case you missed it, the Womens March on Washington (and sister marches around the world, including the one I participated in in London) might have made some records. The coverage is still coming in and it’s amazing to see — more amazing to have participated in. You can see some my images here, but this is a story worth following and watching. To say nothing of joining in. Welcome to the Grab Back.

Oh yeah, and the US has a new president who doesn’t seem to be “pivoting” from his campaign persona in any way. Shock, surprise. I watched his inauguration because I’m a citizen and think it’s important to support the process of free government. The new First Lady looked absolutely lovely, and I thought it was gracious and correct for Secretary Clinton to show up in spite of how awful I expect it felt. The speech was Orwellian, but bang on from the tone of his campaign. The next day I laced up my shoes and hit the streets to make it clear that he was not elected with a mandate and I will be supporting the issues that I care about with my time, my money, and my voice. Because again, I think it’s important to support the process of free government. This is how it works.

Here are your links, kittens. Tell me what you got up to this weekend.

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I found this piece at Politico a very timely read. It opines that President Trump’s hostility towards the press may be a blessing in disguise. If the traditional lines of communication between the administration and the media are clipped, the press can and should (this writer argues) fan out to the myriad unofficial lines instead and take up the opportunity to do more and more extensive investigative reporting.

Also, what did the administration do on Day 2? Malign the press in the face of documented facts and figures, and talk a lot about himself in his “reach out” to the CIA.

Don’t let anyone say the Women’s March doesn’t matter. 2.9 million participants is not a “tantrum.”

An interesting piece on the physical logistics of changing over an administration.

An important reminder about some of the realities of race and privilege, especially when it comes to assembly. I for one, know I can do better and I intend to.

This SNL from Asiz Ansari was great and nicely nuanced against hysteria. We’ll be fine and the people ultimately set the tone for change, and if yesterday is any indication…

Shut up and take my money.

A bit more fashion levity and some street style.

STOP. I swear every time I read an article like this, my heart breaks a little. I know there are more important immediate issues, such as the civilian lives in the crosshairs right now, but this hateful and deliberate dismantling of human history is also hideous

Album of the week: Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool

Politics and Money

“The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.”
― Albert Einstein

For obvious reasons, politics is on my mind this week.

Something I’ve probably not spent enough time thinking through is how politics affects my money choices. A lot of the “big” purchases normally associated with American politics are simply not part of our lives at the moment. We have only ever bought one car and that was from a family member, we have never bought a house, and the biggest choice we’ve made is to live and work abroad which obviously makes an impact in our taxes and expenses. I know that political policy informs my life day to day, but I’d never really really done an examination as to how or how intimately.

That started to change last year after the Brexit vote. It was a political decision that had and will have enormous consequences for the industry I work in, to the tune of millions and perhaps billions of pounds. Of course I know that every budget the US Congress has passed in my lifetime has affected me, but this was the first time that I felt the financial implications of politics hit my work and wallet directly since the Great Recession. It was sobering and it changed several of our potential futures.

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We love living in London, the idea of ever leaving cracks my heart…but we do occasionally take a look at career opportunities back in the States where we’d be likely to make larger paychecks (Jeff in particular). Meanwhile the exchange rate is now much less favorable to us than it once was, with more uncertainty in the forecast. Given these financial realities, influenced by international and local politics, it’s not inconceivable that we may move back to the States or to another country at some point. If we do our taxation will change, so will other political realities.

As the future of the Affordable Care Act is currently in a state of limbo in the States, I just had the cervical exam I’m entitled to as a person who pays UK taxes that funds the NHS–I won’t call it “free.” I’m also provided access to regular birth control at no additional cost to me and regular dentistry (joke about UK teeth care all you want, I still get mine checked out every six month and it costs a fraction of what it would in the States). On the flip side, there are legitimate critiques for a system that many find bureaucratic and overstretched, and that some people dislike.

Money and politics are a constant trade off for what we have, what we want, what we are able to provide for ourselves, and what we deem that government/society/employers should provide for us. The financial choices I/we have made are personal ones, but they are political as well. As the saying goes, “The personal is political.”

But we’ve not yet really parsed out how politics will affect our desire to invest, to save, to retire. These still feel like “far away” problems, even though I know they aren’t.

So, wiser, older, and more experienced friends, talk to me about how politics has affected your money choices. What decisions did you have to make under the past administration (if you’re American), and what decisions do you think you will need to under the new one? Brit friends, ditto your experiences under recent governments?

Money Matters

“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”
― Epictetus

Welcome to money month on SDS. In keeping with my 101/1001 goals I’ll be keeping a spending diary and reporting in weekly on where my money goes so that you, faithful minions, will keep me honest. There will also be posts on the subjects of money, spending, and adjacent choices. I’m curious to read your thoughts and feedback.

We the Small Dog clan have an odd sort of problem. We aren’t bad with money, but we’ve always made just enough to not have to worry about it. Hurrah for you, check your privilege, you might respond–which would not be an unreasonable admonition–but it has had a curious side effect in that we have never prioritized saving as much as I think we should have. Between rent, groceries, cars and subsequently travel cards, etc., most of our money has always been spoken for the moment it arrives in our pockets. We’ve always had a bit extra…and instead of saving, we’ve typically spent it.

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There are some socioeconomic factors at work here. Jeff and I are millennials and like many of our generation we are paying off massive student loans. We were fortunate in that I had a job through the recession, during the worst of which we lived in a cheap university town, but it’s still had long term impact. Our savings from my first job financed our move to London but for several years we were paying over $1,000 a month towards student loans which was, in a word, backbreaking. We’ve also tended to prioritize personal goals over financial goals (one of the key insights that came out of an Edelman study looking into generational behavior) such as living in a major city abroad rather than buying a house and preferring purchasing experiences to stuff. We’re not extravagant, but the fact is that there have been times that we’ve overspent or life has been more expensive than anticipated (losses in the family requiring international travel, for instance).

We also live in one of the most expensive cities on earth. By choice. But nearly everything is more expensive for us than it would be most anywhere else. There are endless think pieces and reporting on Londoners moving further and further out from the city in order to afford rent. Expats without UK driver licenses, we need to live more centrally as we rely on public transportation to get around. Rent is, as a result, our biggest expense by far and followed closely by food. Would we like to own property someday? Sure, but it seems like a very faraway goal. It’s not outrageous for a good but basic house in a well connected part of the city to cost over £1m. For a central London home, a deposit of close to £100k is not atypical and, according to this piece in The Telegraph, if we were able to set aside £500 a month towards a down payment, we’d be able to save up to that…in about 16 years. Yikes.

Years back I made it a goal to put a specific sum (nowhere near the £500 mentioned above) in savings monthly and have mostly kept to it. But in six months of freelancing it has been hard to keep that up and some of those unexpected life incidents have periodically depleted or swallowed our savings over 7.5 years of marriage. We’re fortunate to have not really struggled thus far (written with the biggest knock-on-wood possible), but an unexpected side effect of this making of enough-to-get-by-comfortably-but-not-much-more has been an attitude of living in the moment, financially speaking, and not really thinking as much about the future as we should.

Which is why I’m making savings and budgeting a much bigger priority moving forward. This is part of my Year of Less, in that I want specifically to cut down on casual spending, consume less in general, and budget more closely. But overall, I want to start cultivating a saver’s mindset. It will be a shift, but as I start thinking about the second two thirds of our lives, it’s one I want and need to make.

What has had a significant impact on how you think about money–a book you read, an experience you had, a relationship you’ve been in or witnessed? What were the immediate effects? The long term ones? And how have the past few years changed (or cemented) your ideas about money? 

Barcelona: The History

“History is a set of lies agreed upon.”
― Napoléon Bonaparte

If you like places that wear its history on its sleeve, you’ll adore Barcelona. It’s a perfect mix of Roman, medieval, and modern and you can find traces of era all over the city.

For example, in the main square, we stumbled upon some traditional fall festivals that included large “giant” figurines that are paraded in the streets on holy and fest days (and seem to have some Celtic or pagan origins, at least according to some historians) and acrobats which seem to a Catalan tradition.

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For those into conquest, trade, and epidemiology, the court where Isabella of Spain supposedly received Columbus in audience before his voyage is a nice check in.

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And the architecture everywhere is fantastical…until you start to learn how much of it is a lie!

What I loved best about visiting Barcelona and hearing about its history is that the people of this city seem to have been amazingly inventive and innovative with their town. No precious nonsense about accuracy here, what they want is good show. So for instance, when there was a grand exhibition being held in Spain, they thought their cathedral was a bit drab. Romanesque architecture is by definition bulky, angular, and squat. This simply would not do. The enterprising populace decided to commission a faux gothic facade to the entrance in stead. It looks like it’s from the late medieval period, but in fact dates from the 19th century.

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Glance down the side streets and you can see the original, rather less impressive and unadorned walls.

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This triumphal arch is a great might-have-been because it was the original site for an edifice deemed so ugly that the people refused to allow it to be built. And so the Eiffel Tower was erected in Paris instead. Oops.

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The sand was perhaps my favorite story. The Spanish coast on the Mediterranean is rocky and not particularly good for holiday postcards and so when the Olympics were held here and a great influx of tourists expected, our proactive natives again rose to the challenge. Tons of sand was imported from the Middle East and palm trees from Hawaii–none of the tropical foliage you see in the city is native to the area, according to our guides. Marine sand is also different from desert sand, with a different texture and feel due to the polishing of waves rather than wind–meaning the beaches are rather rough to walk on. Doesn’t deter people, though.

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And finally, the iconic Sagrada Familia is an absolute hodge podge because the original plans by Gaudi were lost in a fire. Rather than give up, dozens of architects and artists have been involved with the project and instead of trying to replicate the style of the master, they each have left a different and unique stamp on the area of the basilica they were assigned to. Far from Gaudi’s entrance opposite to this which commemorates the birth of Christ, this doorway memorializes his death in a darkly modernist style. My impious observation was that the statues of Roman guards looked like Cylons from Battlestar Gallatica…but I stand by this observation.

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A completely mad and constantly evolving city!