Now, it’s possible our family tradition of celebrating birthdays to abandon has become a bit exaggerated over the years. Maybe the day is worth remembering, but whoever decided that a birthday includes the weekend before, the week of, and the weekend after…should be properly thanked. The celebration of my 24th vintage was a roaring success and I’m grateful for the opportunities I had to gather my dear ones around me.
It all began the night of Thursday the twelfth, when I took a long overnight bus to Madrid. I had been once before to the Spanish capital, but with three more years under my belt and a couple good friends in the area, I decided to be more ambassador than tourist. Luckily, a new acquaintance from my Catalan class is originally from Madrid, and as I was asking her logistical transport questions, she graciously offered to host me for my first day. This is more than token: she was home visiting friends and family and celebrating her birthday, and in the midst of it, she managed to find time to meet my 8am bus, feed me breakfast, provide amenities for freshening up, and guide me around downtown. We returned home at midday (remember, 3pm Spanish time) and ate a fantastic lunch with her parents who are originally from Galicia in northwest Spain. Thus lunch included octopus and hake, a very popular and succulent fish. The meal was incredible and the company better, and throughout the day I got to visit the historic center, the main Plaza del Sol, the Royal Palace and Cathedral, a free exposition on women in painting, and the rooftop of the Royal Academy of Fine Art. On top of it all, it was the Madrid city festival, La Fiesta de San Isidro, and there were many special events and people dressed in traditional Madrileño outfits eating churros (think elephant ears but in ropes) and chocolate.
In the evening I collected my bag and went to stay with Alberto, a techie friend who I know through my roommate from last year, Victoria. We spent the weekend visiting: the Thyssen Museum, which is right across from the famous Prado Museum and is a fine and varied collection; the large Retiro Park; the Telecommunications Palace, where all mail used to be sorted; the Rastro street market; and not to miss the late Madrid nightlife. It was exhausting and fun, a great visit to a great city. It’s true what they say: the downtown feels like a small town.
I returned from Madrid on Monday just in time to ready myself for a presentation at my host Rotary club, Condal. The meeting was jovial, and I added some of my own Catalan-Spanish jokes to win over my table of businessmen. I had been a bit intimidated by the prospect of this meeting, because at the Christmas dinner with this club it seemed there were nearly a hundred members. However, at the dinner last Monday we filled three tables and there was a friendly family atmosphere that put me and David, the other scholar, at ease. Here we are with Club President Casajuana.
I went with a colleague from my masters program, and the visit was part professional part leisure. Back in January, we attended a presentation on Catalan sociolinguistics by two professors teaching at SUNY-Buffalo, and there we made contact with a couple researchers in the area. The one teaching in Vic—who has written about the motivations of foreigners learning Catalan, my proposed thesis topic—invited us to come visit the campus, the town, and have a coffee. After about four months now, we finally took advantage of the offer! We also managed to visit on the same day as an English doctoral student, and so we were allowed to tag along on her scheduled visits. This included a presentation about the Catalan educational system and a visit to the local center for Catalan classes. It was all interesting, and what a stroke of luck! The first presentation helped put many things in perspective. For example, you might have the impression that Catalan is a minority language; while technically true, it should not be considered a small language, as there are more Catalan speakers (13.5 million) than Greeks (11.8), Portuguese (10.5), or Swedish (9.3). As I’ve referenced before, the population of immigrants in Catalunya has soared in the last 10 years, increasing from 2% in 2000 to 15% in 2008. Surprisingly and likely thanks to the all-Catalan educational system, children of immigrants use Catalan (over Spanish) up to 86% of the time when interacting with friends, watching TV, or reading books. This is quite an amazing recovery and regeneration for a language that, only a generation ago, was banned.
So, a weekend in Madrid, a Rotary presentation, an enlightening visit to Vic, and then with the B-day approaching, the week culminated in a Southern belle-themed dinner Saturday night. Although I as a Midwesterner perhaps cannot create an authentic evening in the old South, I certainly gave it my best shot. On the menu we had: biscuits, sweet potato fries, chicken salad, delicate cucumber sandwiches, zucchini fritters, peach crumble, apple pie, and sweet tea. I had pearls, white gloves, and a parasol just for the occasion. Friends came from all the diverse groups I know and we had plenty to eat, a birthday cake at midnight, and drinks on the upstairs terrace with a view of Barcelona by night. It was the perfect ending to an excellent birthday week. As I began with thanks I will end: to all those who have made this year successful, entertaining, bearable, and lovely.