Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Barcelona: Another Day


Isabelle with her friend, Natalie near Montserrat.


Isabelle on the Mediterranean.


Natalie on the train down from Montserrat - Lee reflected.

After one week and two full days with Isabelle, she has packed up and headed back to Madrid. I am totally exhausted. She is relentless in her teasing and the rolling of the eyes. But we did laugh a lot. Yesterday we did a little shopping and she found the one thing on her wish list - a leather jacket. She has wanted one since she arrived; they really are kind of the perfect weight for this climate. We found her one for 90 euro - that is $135.00. Really. Hey, it's Spain and there is a lot of leather.

I guess there is a lot of leather because they eat a lot of meat - much of it raw. There is Carpaccio on every menu. Last night I just about knocked over my margarita at Hotel Omm when Lee ordered Steak Tartare. I know the guy likes meat - I just didn't know he liked it raw. I ordered a hamburger because I was so hungry for something familiar, and it was delicious, but I could only eat around it because the interior was as raw as I have every been served. I'm not quite there yet.

Two more days with Lee, which is quite nice. We are both ready to go home, but will do some writing here instead. I am in desperate need of a spa - my skin has been really awful - there is some kind of bug biting me in the night leaving red spots on my face that makes it look like I am going through a delayed adolescence. Covering them with makeup only makes them turn purple. It is not attractive. I also seem to have errant hairs - on my neck, over my lip - the sun shines so starkly on the bathroom mirror, I see things I never would see normally. I just need a full body wax and a good facial. Shopping with Isabelle did not help matters. I tried a few things on, but I have so outgrown the stage when I can wear poorly cut clothes (and almost all clothes are poorly cut now - especially the inexpensive ones.) I just look like an aging hooker or someone who lives in a trailer in these things - like I would wear slippers even to the grocery and leave my Christmas decorations up all year.

I need really beautifully tailored jackets - that is the one thing I look good in - and they are so hard to find at affordable prices. There is an Armani across the street with the most beautiful clothes, but we are not going in. It is just too seductive when I feel like a pimple-faced slug. Besides, Izzy reminded me that tuition is due. You can always count on children to bring you back to earth, no?

Here's a few images in honor of Izzy - and her friend Natalie - who are both so filled with the vitality, fearlessness, and hopefulness of youth. Kudos to them. I'm going to nap.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Barcelona: I have no idea what day this is.


The beautiful sculpture in the pool of coffee.


The Barcelona Pavilion by Mies Van der Rohe, 1929
Onyx, Green Marble, Travertine, Glass and Chrome.


Another view.


How good is this?



I just woke up in Spain. I have been here just over a week and I do not know exactly why, but it is the first day I feel normal. Now, to be fair, I caught a little bug – and that took me really off my game for a few days. Like, I had no appetite. I literally couldn’t eat without wanting to spit out every bite. This is great for losing a pound or two, but not so great for being on vacation while the rest of the crew wants to party in Barcelona. I was a slug.

But, really, yesterday was a Holy Day in Barcelona, the Feast of Saint Estaben or something like that and since our last name is Stevens we thought we should party. EVERYTHING is closed. Now, remember this is Dec. 26 and everything was closed on Dec. 25 too. So, for two days we had not had water except the tap, Lee ran out of Bombay and truly, we were down to peanuts, apricots and some random leeks and three eggs. But, we knew about the Hotel Omm, which had to be open since it is a hotel, so we walked there for a late breakfast or lunch – I am not even sure which meal we are eating here in Spain. I guess it was about 2:00 in the afternoon. (We awakened around 11:00 a.m. so is it a late breakfast or early lunch? The Spaniards would call it early lunch, I think.)

Well, it was fantastic! The very best thing about Spain so far is the orange juice. Now, this is a minor thing and not something I would fly across the ocean to experience again, but if you are here, you must partake of all the fresh squeezed orange juice you can get because every bar and restaurant squeezes their own orange juice and it is simply the best I have ever had.

The food up until this meal has been quite unremarkable. Unfortunately, when I pay for it, I have expectations that it will be fabulous and it never has been. It is overcooked and too salty and usually too oily. (I love salt but this is out of control.) So I would never, ever suggest that you take a trip to Spain for the food. Izzy says the same thing of Madrid. Not good. But, their capacity to nap is beyond anything we might ever master in the US, so I can imagine that you might want to come to Spain for the naps. And, this we did on the day we had an early lunch at the Omm Hotel. We had our delicious and beautifully presented meal (it is international, this is why) and then went home and napped from 4:30 – 6:30.

We did it again today. Got up at 10. (I went to bed around 1:00 and read for awhile. This is unheard of in the US when I am in bed at 9:00 and read until 10:00, then lights out.) Izzy and I zipped out to pick up groceries and café con leche and learned that, for the third day in a row, the grocery was closed. It’s a Sunday – after the Feast of St. Steven and Christmas Day. We found a coffee and croissant, thank god, then headed home sans groceries.

I have been saving the one tourist attraction for a sunny day and this was it. We went to the Mies Van der Rohe Pavilion built for the 1929 International Exhibition around noon. I share photos here of the details, the materials. It was impressive. It looks like it could have been built yesterday. The materials were quite different than I imagined. I thought it would be more glass, but the use of natural stone is so incredibly sensual, the whole thing made you want to dive in and swim in it – the marble, terrazzo and onyx.

What you cannot see from these photos that is so interesting: There are two pools – a large, main pool that I did not photograph, sadly, and a smaller pool within the main building with a gorgeous sculpture at one end. The larger pool is filled with milk. The smaller pool is filled with coffee!

Why do they do this? Originally, it was certainly filled with water. But, as Barcelona has always been a hot spot for new ideas, someone suggested this. There was a lovely essay written by a Spanish architecture critic about this quirky matter. The point seems to be that the home, even though it is 80 years old and built of solid matter, it still requires care and love. It is like the milk and coffee in your home, your lives. It is organic, it changes, it sours, it needs tending. It was a really lovely statement about the aliveness of this building.

From there, we meandered around the palace, a botanic garden and the Olympic Village, then made our way onto the Metro where Lee was accosted by a pick-pocket team – one of them faked dropping their phone between Lee’s legs, grabbed his legs acting like he was trying to get it – all the while locking Lee into position, while some other asshole tried to find his wallet in his back pocket.

You will not believe this, but when I realized the guy had Lee’s legs and had him cornered, I began thinking, hmmm, this is not what I would do if I dropped my phone. Lee was a bit disoriented as you might be if it were happening to you, but from a distance I could see what was happening. I lunged at the pickpocket and grabbed his coat at the back of the neck, started yelling at him, “What the “f” are you doing?” Then, I pulled him back, kind of choking him. I am not really sure I had the strength to pull him up and back but he was rather surprised that a wimpy looking 56-year old Americana was tackling him from the rear, so he got up, grabbed his phone without the support of Lee’s legs and got off the train. What startled me is that I did not think – I just reacted. I kind of felt courageous. I was happy to know that an asshole guy didn’t scare me in the least.

After surviving being accosted on the train, we had lunch around 3:00 at a lovely little back alley place that Izzy found online called La Luna. 12 euro PER PERSON for the best salad I have had in Spain, a vegetable lasagna and a café con leche WITH a glass of vino tinto. 12 euro for all that! So we all three were sated for 36 euro plus a few for Lee’s Bombay and tonic. Home in a cab, straight for bed at 4:30 – 6:30.

We are getting good at this.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Barcelona: Dia Cinco - The Rain in Spain


The alley to the Picasso museum.


Interior of museum - beautiful heavy iron balustrades.


Yep, this is Picasso. Seeing these makes me want to learn to paint even if I'll never be any good.


A charcoal of an artist friend from Barcelona.


And a balcony in Barcelona - isn't this amazing? Right around 1900, I think.

"The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain."

Not this week, it hasn't. It is all over this city - for three days and three nights, we are sloshing around in our leather boots, tucking under the single umbrella we bought because we are sure the rain will stop any minute now. But, it doesn't. But I'm not missing Picasso just because of a little rain, so out we go - once again, not having a clue about where this place is.

What I realized is that (or I think this is true, but it is more likely that I just have not figured it out) the subway map does NOT overlay on the streets. So a subway map is useless unless I know where the subway goes! What street will I be on when I climb out of the bowels of the city? Also, they publish maps in multiple orientations - North is not always at the top. Sometimes the mountains are at the top of the map - which is west. Well, this makes me nutty because I tend to be pretty good at directions, but I cannot get my head around it here - not even a little bit, so I just take a cab. Besides, with four of us (Izzy's smart and adorable friend, Natalie, from first grade is here with us for the holiday since she would otherwise be alone in Madrid) it is cheaper than four subway tickets. But, at 40 degrees, the rain is a pain. I know...waaah, waaah, waaah. I could be digging out of 15 inches of snow in Minneapolis.

The Picasso Museum was really remarkable. 3500 of Picasso's works. Doesn't that seem unbelievable? It is housed in a beautiful, ancient building in the Barrio Gotic. In fact, it is on one of those little alleys that just make it all worth flying across that big ocean. Lee and I love that kind of setting - much more interesting to us than the broad avenues that remind us of 5th Avenue in New York - or filled with the shops they have on Madison Avenue (Armani, Hugo Boss, Zara, etc, etc.)

What I learned is that Picasso was classically trained early - and some of my favorite pieces were his early oils of the landscape around Malaga and Barcelona where he grew up. They are tiny and stunningly beautiful, slightly abstract.

Then, I loved learning about his joining with a group of artists in Barcelona right around 1900, only to move on to Paris for the same kind of intellectual and artistic camaraderie several years later. The whole story of his chasing after ideas is fascinating - from Barcelona to Paris to Rome to meet Diaghalev and the Ballet Russe. I have a kind of obsession with the early modernist thinkers - from fashion to the writers to the architects to the thinkers. If I could zap myself back in time, I would show up in Europe from 1915 - 1935 and peek in on Chanel, Fitzgerald, Hemmingway, Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Poiret, Rudolf Steiner and Maria Montessori, Picasso, Jean Michel Frank, Giacometti and probably Gaudi now that I have been in Barcelona.

Barcelona: Dia Quatro


Matisse, above.


Dali, 1923. Do you think he was channeling Matisse?


Izzy contemplating the installation.


Surrounding the car - golden statues. Loved these.


This is one of his more famous pieces. Quite funny.


LOVED the colors in this room- the mauve walls!


A bedroom installation of some kind - again, the color palette inspired me.


Some amazing Art Nouveau pieces.


He did a piece of Freud - who he thought was one of the geniuses of the 20th Century. Also did Picasso and I forget who else. Lee enjoyed this one.

First, Merry Christmas to you all. I have some catching up to do.

Muy male (though I may be mixing my Spanish and Italian here.) I got kind of sick on Tuesday, just queasy, then achey, then a little temperature, and when I sat down to write, all I wanted to do was sleep. But, we've been ping-ponging all around Barcelona. Because who has time to be sick on a vacation? So I'll catch you up with the Cliff Notes version....

Tuesday: Off to Fuegueres to the Salvador Dali Museum. I was not so hot to go - this is the day I got sick, but decided at the last minute I would. It requires some commitment; it is a 2 hour train ride on the most uncomfortable train - just hard, hard, hard seats that put my tush to sleep before the ride was over and made me think back surgery was around the corner for me. God knows why Dali put his museum here; I assume maybe he lived in Figureres. Well, the place was, as you might imagine...a trip. I am not a huge fan of Dali's work. It is fine. I am rather neutral, but I did discover that I madly LOVE his installations of rooms and sculptural pieces, which I didn't know a thing about. I simply have to show you the photos. I felt that Horst Rechelbacher from Minneapolis AVEDA fame and whose taste I have always admired, MUST have visited the Dali museum and used it for inspiration. (If you are ever in Minneapolis or I can get a shot, look at the statues on top of his Intelligent Nutrients building.) I simply loved it in the end, but would have been happier if it was a walk or a cab ride rather than four hours by train. By the way, it has been pouring rain and 38 - 45 degrees for three days. Not so great for touring a new city. We are drenched, but today, Christmas Day - it is glorious and a shining blue sky.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Barcelona: Dia Tres


Lunch - pan con tomate - toasted baguette with ground tomato, sea salt and olive oil.


Gambas al ajillo - shrimp in olive oil with garlic and pepper.
Ai yi yi!!!!!


The cleanest darn train station I have ever seen!


The train - look next to the track - NOTHING but clean!


Over one of the entrances at Familia Sagrada. This cathedral has been under construction for 100 years - like many of the great cathedrals of the world.


Just the cutest pair of tourists - don't you think they are from England? She just looks so English!


Warning: not for the feint of heart....


Easter Bunnys. :-(


The seafood here doesn't even look like seafood I have seen - so big and rich-colored.

Eeeek, we slept until noon. At ten this morning, I awoke. Lee said, "Honey, do you know what time it is? It's ten." So I said, "Well that is just about right. I sleep nine hours a night and I went to bed at 1:00." Then I rolled over and we both went back to sleep for two more hours. At noon, Izzy called in. "Mom, it's noon. Get up. We are in Barcelona. Are you going to sleep all day?" When was the last time my children had to tell me to get up? It makes me just laugh. I am so happy to be so relaxed.

So, we motivated and left the apartment around 2:00 - you can see we didn't motivate very fast. It is rainy and cold (39 degrees) and kind of yucky. We had to buy an umbrella because we forgot ours. How can a New Yorker constantly forget an umbrella? Then we headed to the Familia Sagrada, the Dr. Suess-like catheral by Gaudi started in 1909, but had lunch on the way, which was quite wonderful. I had shrimp with garlic and peppers that was outrageously good. Here are some photos. Lee and Izzy had fritatta, one with potatoes and one with sausage. We ate it surrounded by handsome Spanish men in beautiful suits, many of them smoking after eating.

On to Famlia Sagrada on the train - now there is a story. The trains in Barcelona are cleaner than my grandmother's bathrooms! They are amazing. I cannot believe how dirty and pissy smelling the trains are in NY and now it bothers me. Another function of socialism, I guess. I have pictures here, too. There was not one single piece of litter on the tracks. Not one. In NY, you might find a body or two, it is just so bad in some places. But, still, I love NY - don't get me wrong.

On to the Barrio Gotic (Gothic Neighborhood) but we couldn't get out bearings and mostly wandered in circles getting wet. Happily we found the market and, foodie that Izzy is, we spent quite a bit of time in awe of the meats, game, and poultry heads hanging about. The fish, fruits and spices were so beautifully presented, with a sense of pride.

Chilled to the bone by 5:30, we found a cab and headed back to the apartment. Lee and Izzy are napping while I write - life is good.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Barcelona: Dia Dos


The eel at the fish market. Looks almost as appetizing as the octopus.


Octopus, anyone?


My favorite of the day. Lots of older men sitting on park benches.
Benches are everywhere in Barcelona.


Typical kinds of buildings and street that we saw on our walk today.
Wonderful balconies and shutters and long tall windows. Sunlight surrounds us here.


Parakeets, for godsakes...they sell parakeets all over. Go figure.


Typical scene on the Ramblas - cars on either side of this wide pedestrian path.


At the marina. A Bob Dylan look alike. Such good attitude.


The boats. Guess it would be nice to have a boat ready to sail out into the Mediterranean, no?


Lee at the marina today.

Hola, again. We are quite the travelers. We took one outing yesterday - to the supermercat about a block away. That's it - nothing more. The market is really good - has everything including a full pharmacy with everything you would expect to find at your local Walgreens. It was really all we - and especially Lee - could handle after a night without sleep. So that was our big day in Barcelona. We ate jamon (ham kind of like proscuitto but more "hammy") and Manchego cheese and drank vino tinto (red wine) in the apartment for something resembling dinner, which is wonderfully quiet without a tv. Then we went to bed around 1:00 a.m. (of course we had napped for hours in the afternoon.) We got up around 8:00 a.m. and now I seem oriented to the time zone.

After another trip to the market for water and chocolate, we took a long hike to the beach - well, the marina, not the beach - through the Ramblas. What I most noticed on this walk was how pedestrian friendly this city is. There is a huge walking path (HUGE!) right in the middle of the streets, dividing the traffic. The walking area is as large as the driving areas on some streets. So far, the city is quite clean, and people look a lot like they do in New York to me, but not so intense, more relaxed. Probably because they have 5 weeks paid vacation a year and don't worry about health care. Dark hair, dark - especially black - clothing. The older couples are beautifully dressed in their tailored coats and sunglasses, walking arm in arm.

We await Isabelle's arrival this afternoon. It makes me tired to even think of keeping up with her, but will be so happy to have an interpreter. I am so lost with Spanish. I keep defaulting to Italian or stumbling and saying absolutely nothing. I am mostly saying, "Lo ciento. Non habla espanol." I am sorry. I don't speak Spanish. Stupida Americana.

Here are some photos from today's walk to the marina. As it is the afternoon in Spain, I'm going to nap. Ciao.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hola from Barcelona: Day 1


A corner of the apartment. I forgot to mention how incredibly LIGHT it is, which makes Lee very happy.


This is how we spend most of Day 1. Lee sleeping.


Ahhh, European architecture. View east off the rooftop.


Loved this co-existence of modern and traditional architecture. From the roof.


The view toward the sea - straight ahead.

Well, it's travel blog time again! And, just too long away from Europe, I can tell now that I am back. (But I have to say my New York minutes give me a heap of so much I love about Europe - architecture, art, fashion just the way people live - small apartments, being one of them and walking, walking, walking. But...this is about Barcelona, not NY.)

We flew out of NY at Kennedy and I was dreading it. My last JFK experience and one or two or three before that was just yukky. Dirty, late, crowded. Well, this was not the JFK I knew. It was clean, there were about 5 people ahead of me in security and the plane taxied away from the gate only 10 minutes late. What was most noticeable is the people who were getting on the plane. Lee and I both just kind of stared at these most beautiful, cool-factor people. All ages, but they all were just way cool and there simply is not other word. Probably 1/3 - 1/2 of the people on the flight were Spanish. Great clothes, beautiful children, not a lot of makeup on the women, lots of smiles, people talking on the plane after boarding. Seemed like someone might announce there would be a party on the flight. 7 hours and 27 minutes after take off and only 1.5 xanax (I am happy to report!) to help me sleep, which I really never did, we landed in Barcelona. You gotta love no connections! We landed around 7:30 a.m.

The airport was EMPTY except for our flight. It is new and crisp and sparkling silver mesh with terrazzo floors and lots of glass. Quite beautiful. Even the customs agents were scrubbed young men. It was all very nice

We cabbed to the apartment and here I go again...I just have the best apartment karma. We are doing an exchange for our apartment in NY (but our host is using our apt. at a different time - she had other plans for these 2 weeks.) Esmeralda met us and SHE IS ADORABLE with maps for us and her list of favorite bars (which means food, here) and the place to buy bread and food and coffee. She works in the field of marketing, branding and design and so her little attic apartment on Avinguda Diagonal is wonderfully modern. It is not unlike our apt in NY in size. She has a much larger kitchen and smaller living space, but they are just one room, open to the other. There is one bedroom - like NY. We feel right at home.

The best part of the apartment seems to be it's location on this lovely old street - she says it is like the Champs Elysee in Paris, where she lived before moving here five years ago. Well, I wouldn't know never having been to Paris, but it sounds good to me. The next is this: The apartment is in the attic - but nice high ceiliengs - I think by attic here, they just mean the top floor. This is about the 6th floor, though I took a hike up the marble stairs from the entry and it seemed more like the 9th. I don't think they count the same way we do. There is a huge wrap-around balcony on three sides. It is very deep - much larger than the apartment itself. And here, I have taken some photos of the views.

We have done only one thing since arriving and meeting Esmeralda. Sleep. I cannot manage without it and we didn't sleep on the plane. So I am now up from my "night's rest" at 4:00 in the afternoon and ready to head out to find some tapas and coffee!

Ciao. Yes, that is really what they say in Spain. Ciao.
Kiss kiss.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

From "W" - a nice little piece on quality


From Louise J. Esterhazy, who has been writing an opinion column for W magazine for years. I used to read it in the 1980's and just renewed my subscription again - because the interiors are always just fabulous (as if the clothes are not.) Unfortunately, the mag has gone celebrity, like everything in this culture....But, this article was rather sweet and I agree with it.

You will have to click on the link:

http://www.wmagazine.com/society/2009/12/louise_fads

Enjoy.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

When LIfe is Sweet


The bags of toffee for my clients.


In the cardboard box, ready for distribution.

Yesterday, late afternoon, I drove to Northfield, Minnesota to spend the night with my parents, Howard and Neidra Krebs, ages 80 and 79. They have been married for 58 years. Whose counting? I went alone. Lee, of course, is in New York City. And my children are scattered. But, I will not be spending the holiday with them this year so I wanted to spend a bit of time with them before I left. It was sweet.

We had potato and leek soup and corn muffins at the cherry table with candles. Mom had made an angel food cake. Dad defrosted frozen strawberries picked at the peak of summer. But, I couldn't eat dessert, satiated by the soup and pre-dinner crackers and cheese and wine. Before we picked up a spoon, Mom thanked the spirits for our gathering as we sat with bowed heads. She used to thank God, but she has become more neutral about religion in her older age. I still thank God for things.

After dinner, I had plans. I schlepped the fixins' for my annual batch (or four) of toffee, which I give to my clients and dearest friends. So, after Mom had her 20 minute nap at 7:30, we got to work. I stood at the stove and stirred 400 degree butter and sugar while she chopped walnuts and melted Ghiradelli chocolate in a double boiler. We talked and talked and talked through four batches of toffee. It took about two hours, but the time flew. Like a sewing bee, we just talked and worked, talked and worked. We talked about my writing. We talked about books, her book group, my children, our family, recipes, hairstyles for older women, graying hair and should it be colored, my grandmother's embarrassingly filthy carpet, my father's medications. Women's work. Women's talk. It was very, very sweet and so was the toffee.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

When Money is a Problem


Ivana Trump in Spain - looking like a milkmaid.

I came across this on the TMZ website looking for Tiger trash. It's been a long weekend and I just needed to kick back here in front of my fire. But, instead of much on Tiger, I came across this. (I swear I am not a regular on TMZ or any website, which is a little outdated, I know.)

You could hit me over the head with a 40 karat diamond and Donald's toupee, I would not have known this was Ivana Trump. Would you? Didn't she used to be really pretty? This is an example of when too much money is a problem - you just keep going back to the plastic surgeon and the hair dresser and they don't have the integrity to say, "No, you've had enough." They want to milk that cow till it's dry. (Sorry, Ivana, I didn't mean you....)

Anyway, in your mid-50's you do start to have those thoughts....but this is a good reminder to let well enough alone and just keep sending the money to your college kids.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Shameless Self Promotion

I got the nicest mention on a blog authored by a woman from Minneapolis, Michelle LeBlanc. Her upbeat blog is called myprettymommy.

Here's the link: http://myprettymommy.blogspot.com/2009/12/gift-guide-alecia-stevens.html.

She had a great idea - and emailed me earlier this week to participate. Well, I can't pass up an opportunity to fill out a questionnaire about what I was wanting for the holidays - so I did. And she will continue it with others.

Her questions:

What I want:
What I need:
What to wear:
What to read:

Fun! How about you? Fill in the blanks. But she gets full credit for thinking of it!

Enjoy your weekend. There are flurries here and it is cold. 12 degrees! Time to build a fire and make your Christmas list.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Never a Disappointment


Antique ikats and woven pillows from John Robshaw.


ABC - Throw for $95.00 = hand dyed. They are just beautiful.


John Robshaw collection: They are using his woodblocks on paper! Brilliant. $350 per piece or $850 framed. If you live in Minneapolis, buy the print and have Jim Ross frame it at Ross Frame for a lot less than $500. These are quite large - maybe 40 x 30. A lot of bang for the buck.


Alpaca crocheted throw. I think around $265? So soft and warm and big!


Phillipe Starck's newest chair. It reminds me of a Pac Man. Super comfy.

I had some shopping to do for clients yesterday. I was specifically shopping for those final special things that pull a room together - that announces that someone actually lives there. The throw over the sofa - the feather pillows to sink into, the crazy, but specially little chair in the corner. So, I started at ABC because it never disappoints. It is the most sensual place; I shop with both my hands and eyes I find - touching, touching, touching - especially on the 3rd floor - the linen floor.

Here are a few things I found. Enjoy!