Wednesday, August 31, 2011

One small step for Amanda, one giant leap for Amandakind

The past few weeks I have been slacking on the blogging but you will be happy to know I am still working on cataloging my happy memories albeit in a different manner.  Never being the craftiest girl, I have always wanted to preserve photos and memories in a scrapbook, but can't seem to dedicate enough time to making a lovely book.  So, I finally caught up with digital photo technology and decided to make a 'photo book'.  

I easily have thousands of photos saved on my computer, but rarely do I look at them.  Just from Paris alone I have 294.  Ridiculous I know.  I imagine Rome is even worse.  But, you get the point - so many lonely photos that never get looked at.  It's not like I'm going to whip out the computer every time someone comes over.  Nor am I going to hold a photo slideshow for my friends one Friday night (although we do share the trip photos at our weekly family dinners).  So, when I finally paid attention to these photo books, I realized its perfect!  I can make a coffee table sort of book that holds my favorite shots of each place.  From 294 photos, believe me, it was hard to widdle down to about 6 snaps of the City of Love, but I did it, and I love each and every one for its own reason.

In 1826 when the first actual photograph was 'developed' by a dashing French man, I highly doubt that in the year 2011 people would be 1) taking photos so easily with digital cameras and that 2) they could be printed so quickly and in such an appeasing format (as opposed to the pewter plate he used to produce his image).

As many of you know, I carry my camera with me nearly every day.  Although I have lived here for some time now, I still consider my time here more as an adventure - an exciting journey of sorts.  So, I've been inspiried by the Lao Tzu quote: ''A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step'' to name my books.  I figure each book can go along with a 'step' theme - A Step Back, First Steps, A Giant Leap, etc.  From the frozen lake in Sweden to the black sand of the Tenerife beaches or the narrow cobblestone feet streets of Italy and the stretching pavement of Times Square, my size 5½ feet have treaded over many beautiful places, and finally I will get to have a little photographic retracing of my steps. If you think of a good book title, please let me know!

While they are still in the works, here are two links to books I have been working on if you would like to check them out.  For my first year abroad I have named the book First Steps and my summer in the States I have named A Step Back.  Hope you enjoy!


Thursday, August 18, 2011

1 in 6 billion

Hello everyone!  How are you all today?  I am, in fact, fantastic.  Joseba and I just visited the San Telmo Museum, the oldest museum in San Sebastian that just reopened after about 3 years of construction and remodeling.  The museum houses a permanent exhibit about Basque culture and history, which one day I would love to see, but we went for the special exhibition at the moment, called 6 billion others.  I can honestly say it was the best musuem visit I have ever had. 

The project is a collection of videos - 4,500 hours of footage to be exact.  Yann Arthus-Bertrand has dedicated over 5 years of filminga long with his crew to conduct 5,600 interviews of people in 78 different countries.  With conversations in over 50 languages, him and 6 reporters were able to ask the same 40 questions to people all over the world and piece it all together in an amazingly coherent and heart-touching way.  The museum had set up different 'tents' with a video screen in each.  Each tent dealt with two topics that pertained to some of the 40 question interviews.  From the meaning of life, fears, differences, love stories, family, forgiving, leaving one's country, childhood dreams and more, the video presentations were clips of parts of these interviews.  The people - from Sweden to Mexico, from Tunez to Argentina, from China to France were all deadly honest and open while sharing thier deepest feelings and secrets and answering some of the most difficult questions you can think of.  To give you a taste - here are a few questions from the 40 question list:
 - What do you want to hand down to your children?
 - What do you find difficult to say to your children?  Your family?
 - What gives or what gave you the most joy?
 - Are you happy?  How do you define happiness?
 - How do you define love?  Do you think you give and receive enough love?
 - Out of all the days in your life, which could you not do without?
 - What would you not be able to forgive?
 - What does money represent to you? 
 - What for you is the meaning of life?

So, as you read these, I am sure you all each had something come to mind immediatley.  Now the amazing thing with this project is that not only do you hear one answer, but hundreds - from all different and unique people.  What someone in Rwanda wants to hand down to thier children is completely not on the same page as something someone from Ireland does.  Or how a Chinese woman defines love isn't so similar to how a Spanish man does.  And although we always expect that people across the globe think so so different than us, you would be surprised with how often we give related answers.  First, think of your answer to the question about how you define happiness.  I don't know all of your answers, but I'm guessing it has something to do with a healthy family, maybe success in your line of work, maybe continued learning, maybe being content with yourself,  maybe giving and receiving of love - a multitude of topics no?  Well, throughout the videos, those were very prominent themes, but then you come across some that kind of slap you in the face - a woman from Madagascar who said that for her happiness is water, and when it is in her life, she feels joy because it grows the crops and helps feed her family; or a man from Morroco saying that to him happiness is buying a new cow; and a chipper Chinese cook who said making delicious food is what makes him happy because it is his job in life.  Would you have expected those responses?  Probably not.  But then, you take a step back and see how happiness could be measured in a different person's life - because in the in end, our 1 answer was only 1 of the 6 billion people in the world's thought.

We spent over 4 hours in the exhibit, which in the end has 11 hours of video to see.  So although we didn't see even half of it, what we DID manage to watch was moving.  When we first arrived we headed to the Love Stories tent.  Being a crybaby to start, hearing love stories from all over the world of course started up the water works.  The pureness of love is universal.  From the Egyptian woman explaining the person she used to loved was someone she saw in the village every day and for years they only shared smiles and from that her love grew; or the Chinese woman sharing how as a matchmaker, she spent a lot of time looking for a wife for one of her clients when in the end he told her it was her that he was in love with; or the Australian lawyer lady who told us that one day in court she went up against an attractive defense attorney but figured he was married, when to her good luck, he had taken note of her too and called her office after the hearing to ask her on a date and now they are happily married.  With these stories, our hearts swell, and for me a few tears come too.  But then, there were sprinkled far and few between some stories that show people's lack of love:  an Italian stone-faced woman who said that her husband passed and took the sun with him and that she no longer has love in her life, only had; or the Romanian woman who said she merely married her husband to escape poverty and never loved him nor her second husband; or the Japanese woman who said that as soon as she had children she dedicated all her energy to them and now doesn't feel love for her partner, just her children.  Love works in mysterious ways it seems all over the globe. 

The themed tents went along like that - some stories ringing a bell to you, some touching your soul and letting a tear drop, some that you couldn't even empathize or relate to in any sense and some that make you raise your eyebrows in shock.  The project was created to promote living in harmony - because although yes we all live in different countries ruled by different administrative systems with wars, poverty and climate change, we are all somehow involved and should act together.  We may be different, but not as much as you would think.  Although American, and although I could easily understand the featured Americans opinions on racism, family life, early childhood memories and such, I most identified with people from different countries.  My heart swelled for the Hungarian (I think) woman who has spent the majority of her life in another country and although she is fully accepted into the society and has lovely friends, still is sometimes reminded that she is, in fact, an outsider.  Or the man from Burkina Faso who tells how he met the love of his life and that he tried to impress her by climbing a tall tall tree to grab her the prettiest flower of all and in the process fell and had to go to the hospital, but that it was all worth it because she came too.  Or the French woman who was the sole survivor in a plane crash who said after that ordeal was incapable for feeling joy for many years, and that only recently with the birth of her child was she able to regain that feeling again.  But the one story that immediatley and still brings tears to my eyes is one of an Argentinian girl talking about a day in her life that she could not possibly live without - and that was a day that her and her grandmother sat on her front porch and she taught her how to crochet.  I myself have some priceless moments with my Grammy - and would consider them among some of the days in my life I couldn't do without.  Tears just writing it. 

I honestly don't want to sound like a promoter for this exhibit but I tell you it is amazing.  I have posted some Youtube links if you want to see the footage on some of the themes.  The interviews are shown in thier original language, and here were shown with Basque and Spanish subtitles, but for you I'll let you have them with English subtitles ;)  haha.  I hope hope hope you enjoy them, and take a moment to think about your own answers.  They are questions we don't ask ourselves very often, and the fact of seeing some of these people answer so candidly makes you evaluate your life from a bit of a different perspective.  And watching them, I make a full disclaimer that 1) I probably remembered countries wrong when I just shared some stories above with you and 2) you MIGHT cry.  

And, if you feel moved enough, you can participate as well wtih your own answers to the questionarre at this website:  Here you can learn more about the project too.  The next stop for exhibition is Russia, but I hope that one day it passes through your town - wherever you may be - and you get the chance to see the world through someone else's eyes.  


Monday, August 8, 2011

Almost a #1 Tourist

Last week an article came out in the local newspaper stating the top most photographed places in Gipuzkoa (my county) for tourists.  Seeing as I am a perpetual tourist, I thought I'd see how my non-vacation-minded photos measured up.  Turns out for being a resident as opposed to a tourist, I still have 8 of the top 10 photo spots taken already!  Here is a LINK to the newspaper article if you want to try and decipher it yourselves.  If not, keep on reading and enjoy this photo tour of my county, through apparently my touristy eyes!

1) The most photographed spot in all of Gipuzkoa is the Concha Bay.  With the conch shell shape of the golden sand beach and the island dropped in the middle of the bay, the turquoise blue water with the city in the background followed by the gorgeous Basque mountain landscape even further back is always a favorite shot.  I wouldn't be a Donostiarra (a Donostia resident) if I didn't have this shot!  While I have many a photo of this spot, my personal fave is this one, that I took while my friend Cassie was visiting and the weather gods blessed us with a perfect day!  If you have ever received a post card from me, it is completely possible that this was the image you got of my gorgeous little city.  It's honestly, corny enough to say, but breath-taking.  Beach, mountains and an enchanting city all in one shot - can't get much better, which I guess is why it's the #1 must have photo.

2)  A close second to the above photo session is the plethora of gastronomic delights.  From pintxos to the Basque ciders and wines, the mosts common photo is taken of a bar full of pintxo treats.  As you may already know, each bar here normally has thier ball packed to the brim of plates of mouth-watering pintxos.  The system is easy - you ask for a plate, or just pick one up and eat it with your hands, then tell the barman how many you took at the end and voila, happy belly.  Like an exhibition of pintxos, the bars normally have the bar full, and then some more higher plates 'displaying' more pintxos too.  More dangerous than grocery shopping while hungry, almost every pintxo is not only delicious, but also treated like a piece of art and put on the plate with a certain style.  Hence, many tourists can't pass up the opportunity to snap a photo before they gobble them up. 
Another to-do while in Gipuzkoa are the cider houses, here called sidrerías.  You might recall reading about the places I've told you about that are in the country-side and have alcoholic cider in huge wooden barrels and its an all-you-can-drink plus an enormous steak dinner shindig?  Well, there is actually a 'cider season' but tourists still always ask, even if out of season, where they can experience it.  Thankfully some of them are open year-round and happy visitors get to experience filling thier glasses directly from the barrel with this bitter apple drink and feasting like a real Basque.

3) The open-air markets round out the top 3 photo opps in Gipuzkoa.  Easy to understand, I too was enthralled with these markets upon first arrival.  To this day, I still find them charming and a bit old world.  From veggies and fruit to lovely flowers and local honey, the most popular market in San Sebastian is the one in the Old Part.  Set up every morning on the main street, this outdoor markets stands at ground-level, while below a maze of food stands occupy the lower level.  Also bursting at the seams, I love to pass this street scene on sunny days, and normally see atleast one tourist sneaking a shot of the hustle and bustle in action.  The article states that the markets in two interior citys - Tolosa and Ordizia are even more charming, and since I want to be a fabulous touristy resident, they have now been added to my to-do list on my never-ending stay in Gipuzkoa.

4) This list-topper is curiously NOT in the county.  People come from all over the world to see Gipuzkoa, but seeing how the Guggenheim Museum is only an hour away in Bilbao, the majority of Gipuzkoa tourists make the trip one hour to say they have seen this curvy and eye-catching building and to take the basically required shot of the huge flower dog at the entrance.  I took this one after only like 2 weeks of living here.  Now that it is off the check-list, I feel no need to take it again, but will admit anyone who comes to visit, I of course take, to make sure they also have this iconic photo of Bilbao, which is possibly one of the most photographed things in the entire city!
5) With MORE than enough of this category, I could make a list of just coastal photos - the #5 photo opp.  After working in Hondarribi, one of the most beautiful coastal towns is great in every photo.  With its skinny 3 or 4-story houses lining a street full of pintxo bars and terraces, the red and green Basque colors add personality to an already enchating village.  Apart from this lovely Gipuzkoa city, another top-photo is that of the 'flysch' in between Zumaia and Getaria.  This natual rock formation is a perfect way to use the landscape as a tourist pull says Iñaki Garamedia in the article, and it's true.  To get there, you need to go hiking or by boat, so tourists get a bit of outdoorsy experience while marvelling at this lovely but odd coast shot.

6) This shot remains undone for me.  A massive and astounding basilica in the interior Basque Country, I have wanted to see it for a lot of time.  Now that this list has come out and I realize I have yet to go, it is ranking even higher!  Guaranteed by the end of the summer you will see a blog about the Loyola Basilica.  Hold me to it ok?

7) Embarassingly, another must do for me is #7, which are the natural caves in the interior area.  You basically HAVE TO have a car to get to these places.  Since before knowing Joseba I didn't know anyone with a car, this one was a bit difficult to accomplish.  Now that I have informed Joseba about my 'need' to check this off the list, you can also count on a blog about some caves in the near future. 

8) While on vacation, you can never throw out a good museum visit.  One of the most photographed used to be the Chillida-Leku museum.  In Basque that roughly translates to Chillida Space/Spot, and is a sculpture park filled with works by the Basque Country's famous artist Eduardo Chillida.  However, just a year ago the guide books had to stop recommending it because of it's closure.  I managed to see it before it closed though.  Lucky girl!  Now that musems that top the list are San Telmo (which just opened like 2 months ago) and the Balenciaga museum dedicated to the famous fashion designer from the coastal town of Getaria.  The San Telmo museum is dedicated to the history and culture of the Basque Country and with free passes from my work, Joseba and I will definitley be going soon.  As for the Balenciaga one...sorry guys, I'm not fashionista enough to have been.  And honestly, it's not on the list.  Hope I haven't disappointed you.

9) The 'every day life' photo comes in at #9.  Depending on the time of the year you come, this photo could be anything.  From street-filling protests (very Basque) to full-costume dances or a Basque handball game or seeing a txalaparta being played in the street, just living here has exposed me to much more than a normal tourist would see.  I normally carry my camera in my purse even to this day, because although I am now a real resident, I am still tickled pink by all the action in the street on any given day.  This shot is a photo of some Basque dancers on a day I just happened to pass through the Constitution Square in the Old Part one sunny day - one spot that surely never lets you down!

10) Rounding out the list is a photo of one of the many festivals in this small city.  With live music at the Jazz Festival in July or the 'Semana Grande' (Big Week) in August complete with a national firework competition for 7 days straight or the star-studded Film Festival in September, there are many a photo opportunity for tourists that happen or plan to be here during these times.  Three years now, I of course have a few photos from each.  The one I will share with you though is the first one I took - my first film festival.  This one is me, standing in front of the Kursaal, the convention center/concert hall/place where they have all the famous actors and actresses arriving spot.  Taking this photo about a week into being here, I had no idea I would become a constant tourist with a resident card.  For me it's the beginning of my many a touristy photos...and of course many more to come!


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Tops optional

After a lovely day at the beach, I realized that after about 3 years here now, topless sunbathing has no shock affect on my anymore.  In fact, I participate the majority of the time!  Depending on who I am at the beach with.  Friends (certain ones) - yes.  Joseba - yes.  A big group (no way José).  If you would have told me during my first week here that I'd sometimes go to the beach without even bringing my bikini top, I sure wouldn't have believed you, but alas it is the truth.  I guess that classifies me as a European? 

While in the States, topless suntanning is 1) illegal and 2) looked at super sexually, here in Spain, it is completely normal beach-going behavior.  And there is no beauty code for who can go topless - tall, short, fall, skinny - its everyone here.  But how did that happen on this continent and not on ours?  As is now accepted, tanned skin is more beautiful than a pasty white color.  This happened after the 1920s when magazines started advertising women with bronzed skin.  This was only helped with the release of the scandalous bikini in 1946 - now all of a sudden women could cover themselves but still get a great tan.  But bikinis were quite risque for that time - think 'itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini' style - and women were still quite modest.  But that went out the window when women, who by the mid 50s had learned the secret of silver reflectors and baby oil to maximize thier tans, realized how much they didn't like tan lines.  Solution?  The monokini.  Developed by a man named Rudi Gernreich, this design was basically a one-piece swimsuit, but from the belly-button upwards, it was held up by two straps that exposed the breasts completely.  Easily unlatchable, the straps made 'no tan lines' very attainable.  The summer it was released, the monokini sold like crazy and even hit the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle.  But this liberal boob business was of course met with some opposition.  Fines, condemming and bans were all part of the reaction to this strange swimsuit.  But with the women's movement of the time, French cities like Saint Tropez and Cannes, were made popular when stars either wore a monokini or took off thier bikini tops to women's liberation.  For many years after, these places are still well-known for beautiful women...topless! 

Once popular in France, the topless movement caught momentum and now in many European countries is very acceptable.  Spain is one of those countries.  Now though, it is not about women's rights or anything like that.  In fact, women in France, the famous topless instigators are staring to cover up.  In Spain though, it lives on. 

Don't worry, I would never throw off my top in the States, where I'd get a 'indecent exposure' fine.  Curiously enough though, women have been granted the right to be topless at the same places where men can be topless (pools, beaches, parks) in DC, New York, Hawaii, Maine, Ohio and in Austin, Texas.  So, if you want to feel oh-so-European, head to one fo these places...or come and visit me - but remember, your top is optional!