2014 New Year resolution Part Two/Conclusion

I guess I should have titled this my New Year anti-resolution check-in/conclusion. Anyway, the original post is here, check-in part one is here, and this is part two, and actually the conclusion since it is now 2015 and there can be no more check ins.

In June we went to Aragon. A weekend riding little bikes and supermoto at the Motorland track and some site seeing around the old city of Alcañiz, which is a fascinating city. It’s worth reading about.

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Little bike in the garage

In July we went to the South of France to catch a few stages of Le Tour (that’s the Tour de France for the uniformed), plus Montpelier beforehand. I’ll admit, I was disappointed in Montpelier. Overall, I found it to be shoddier and dirtier than I expected, and the city relies entirely too much on cars for my taste, despite its overground tram system. It had some interesting historical monuments and relics though, including an enormous aqueduct built in the 1700s.

Aqueduct in Montpellier

Aqueduct in Montpelier

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Next stop was Nîmes, where we spent a day visiting all of the intact Roman structures all over the city. An entire, intact Roman amphitheater stands in the center of town and is used regularly–weekly–for events.

Nimes amphitheatre

GP riding toward his roots in Nimes

The Spanish influence is evident in this city, where local ferias, flamenco and Camargue bullfights (where the bulls are not harmed unlike the bloodthirsty Spanish version) are a regular part of life.

Nimes symbol - a croc leashed to a palm

Symbol of Nimes – a croc leashed to a palm

The ancient amphitheater, built in the the 4th century AD, is still in regular and frequent use. Here they hold the many, many bullfights held in Nimes, and also concerts, recreations of Roman games, city festivals and other big sho

Tour du France juxtaposition

Le Tour juxtaposition

Roman structures in Nimes

Riding around Roman ruins

Nimes river

Downtown Nimes river

Le Tour finish

Le Tour finish

After watching the Tour finish from Nimes, we took the train to Carcassonne, another historically significant city, this time for its intact Medieval city center. We stayed just outside the newer part of town, along with plenty of media and press people, and rode our bikes into town and up to the walled in city for a look around. It was a rest day for the tour and we actually saw a couple of riders touring around the tiny, ancient walled-in city.

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EPO, it’s what’s for breakfast.

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Pushing my bike through the slippery cobblestones of Carcassonne

The next day we saw the start of the Tour stage, then rode along the old horse trails lining the Canal du Midi. These are rooty, tree covered paths built for the horses that pulled the merchant barges from town to town. The trails are now bike and walking paths and the canals, that cover France, are now primarily used by pleasure boaters who like to see the country via the canals. Not a bad idea, actually.

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A boat waits for the water to rise at the lock

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Crossing a canal bridge

The next jaunt was to see the final of the big three bicycle races, the Vuelta de España in August. Taking our bikes by train to Pamplona was our first stop, where we had a day to ride around and found ourselves riding along the Camino de Santiago trail unintentionally but to our great satisfaction.

Camino de Santiago marker

Camino de Santiago marker, the shell

Bike trails just outside Pamplona

Bike trails just outside Pamplona

We had drinks with our neighbor in Barcelona who happened to be in Pamplona for work, then the next day we caught the stage start in a park at the edge of town. The city celebrated everywhere with decorations (though nothing like the Italians decorate for the Giro), including a display of Miguel Indurian’s time trail bike hanging in the Santander bank arches.

Indurian's timetrial bike

Indurian’s timetrial bike on display in the central Plaza of Pamplona for the stage start.

vuelta stage start

GP’s stage start selfie

Alberto Contador Pamplona

The Vuelta leader and eventual winner, Contador

We then headed to Logroño, where the next stage actually started and finished. We stayed in town and hit the famous Laurel street for some serious tapas and pincho eating two nights in a row, and got up close and personal with the riders at the stage finish.

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Everyone’s favorite personality, ex-mountain biker Peter Sagan.

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In September I flew out to Rhode Island for a week to see my brother on his historical farm he is renovating, along with my father who met me there. I went to a dance performance on the grounds of one of the mansions out there, and crashed the after party. I had a nice long chat with the wife of the proprietor, a woman from Serbia, about Nikola Tesla, with whom she claimed to be related. I’m not sure I buy it but it was interesting none the less.

I then started to get quite busy with work so the traveling stopped until the years end (and yes, more or less broke my resolution to not ‘work hard’). We also moved and the new placed needed a LOT of work so that took precedence.

But for the last trip of the year, on December 25th we headed to New York. I had a real haircut in SoHo, visited museums, ate street food, finally saw the 911 memorial, paid way too much for a hotel room for six nights but didn’t am at peace with it because it was planned. (Next time I’ll stay at an AirBnB for half the price, and not in the theater district either!) New Years Eve we boarded a plane to Southern California for a week or two of sun (and dental appointments).

And that, my friends, concludes the 2014 New Year’s resolution updates.

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The Piano

My grandfather played piano. He had a stately, sumptuously decorated house in the wealthiest part of San Diego, with an elaborately wood inlay grand piano in his front hall that he entertained with when asked. I think he was self-taught, and I know that he didn’t read music. He played by ear and could play many popular tunes, and very well. I never knew how he learned, though I suppose if I had asked him, he would have been happy to tell me.

I played piano as a child, starting young in a children’s group class. The teachers name way Cindy, which I thought was the most beautiful name, much more becoming than my own, one syllabled name that was frequently stretched into two by my mother, a DC native who drew out the B so my name sounded like bah-ritt. Or my brother, who frequently toyed, not unkindly, with my name, turning it into buuurrrrito. When I imagined myself on horseback, loping across the golf course to my best friends house, I was always Cindy, a pink skinned, curly haired beauty fashioned after my piano teacher. Cindy sang in a soprano voice, and had cascading blond curls that fell upon her giant bosom She wore frilly blouses and pink lipstick and metallic eyeshadow. Jewelry adorned her fingers and I thought her the picture of feminine idealism. Myself, I was thin and tan, not pink and curvy (although I was only about 6 years old) and very self conscious of my long skinny legs. Though I did get compliments on my long finger –piano fingers the teachers called them—and learned to be proud of those.

A neighbor boy my brothers age demonstrated an amazing rendition of Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer to my astonished young eyes. Here was a boy, maybe 9 years old, putting forth a complex and raucous piece of music that I never imagined myself being able to play. In fact, I never thought any further than the lesson that I went to once a week and the practice I did each afternoon. I had no plans for becoming a piano player—though I must have indicated that I enjoyed it. But he impressed me and I frequently thought of him when practicing.

At the age of 10, I performed in recitals. Local, small town events, held on Sundays in an aging community hall with a stage. There, a grand piano was pushed onstage and student after student from the piano instructor who organized the event shuffled out, took a bow, and sat down to plink out some memorized tune. One recital, I was given two tunes to play back to back and, while I don’t recall what they were, I do remember receiving an enthusiastic applause after the first piece before launching into my next number. I wore a peach and white dotted skirt and dress combo, likely from Kmart, and knee high socks and white sandals. I must have played with feeling on this particular day because I received another resounding applause. I think I carried music sheets with me. Why I was allowed two tunes and a sheet music accompaniment, I don’t recall. But my mother told me years later how awed she was that I could get on stage and play, without nervousness or faltering. All I remember was looking forward to sneaking around with my friend back stage, getting into the dressing rooms and prying open locked doors. That old performance hall was built in the 1920s and was full of interesting nooks and crannies. For me at the age of 10, the performance was the price to pay to be able to poke around in the back rooms of that hall.

Of course, with puberty came the refusal to practice or do anything my parents wanted me to do. They were about to divorce and were already living apart, in fact had been for 3 years, and had new relationships of their own. My interest in pleasing them waned and I looked for a new identity. Out went the piano playing along with my childhood photos and other things I deemed reminders of my childhood, which was now completely gone. I burned all my journals and childhood school photos in a pile on the front porch. My mother asked later what the black mark was and I don’t remember if I told her what I burned or not. There was never another mention of it.

Years later, I longed to play piano again and moved the old upright piano I had practiced on and stained with hot cups of soup into the house I had just purchased on my own at the age of 29. I attempted more lessons but only found lonely old men who required more commitment than I was willing to give, or awkward gay men in sweat pants with electronic pianos with the volume far too low in their crappy carpeted apartments. I became busy with other things.

Fast forward a couple of years. I have a broken leg and a new relationship with a man that would become my husband. I sat with my broken leg and slowly learned to plink out a version of The Entertainer. I picked through the music, note by note, my ability to read music not any better than it had been at age 10 (I still had said acronyms for each space and line to figure out which note was shown on the music). But I learned to play that tune haltingly, to my delight and surprise. Shortly thereafter, the husband moved in a nonoperational organ that had belonged to his great grandmother into our place, and I sold my piano to make room.

Now, a decade later, I live in Europe in a tiny apartment that couldn’t house a piano even if I could get it up the three flights of stairs to my floor. But I need a piano now. I need to master The Entertainer. I need to be able to sit down play for that wide eyed 6 year old whose photos and diaries I burned. So I am looking for a place where I can give a piano it’s own space. A place big enough for all of me.

New Year resolution check-in part one

At the beginning of the year, I stated that I intended to spend all my earnings on travel this year. So far, the spending all my earnings part is right on track, but while much of it has been on travel, much of it has also been on dentistry and dog surgery and tedious (and expensive) travel to the US for said things above, plus fun tasks like renewing passports and collecting tax documents.

But the trips for enjoyment and improvement have been numerous and yes, enjoyable and improving. So far this year, outside of two trips to the US for the above listed reasons, I’ve made some trips. Let’s start with…

Madrid, where I essentially ate my way through the city until the final day when we rented bikes from our hotel and rode through the fabulous and giant park that goes along the Manzanares river. This is the first thing we should have done, and I will return with a proper mountain bike and spend at least two full days exploring the awesome expanse that is the Casa del Campo on a bike that does not weigh 75 pounds.

Fried octopus and calamari in Mercado Sant Miguel. Where I ate a lot of food.

Fried octopus and calamari in Mercado Sant Miguel. Where I ate a lot of food.

My favorite dish: Tapa of tiny, pickled green eggplant.

My favorite dish: Tapa of tiny, pickled green eggplant. Discovered in a 150 year old bar.

GP offroading the hotel bike.

GP taking the hotel bike on an excursion.

Barolo, Rivarolo Canavese, Agliè and Oropa (Italy) to see various stages of the Giro d’Italia. Impressive and I’ll do it again next year. We saw the time trial stage between Baresco and Barolo, the end of stage 13 in Rivarolo Canavese, and the start AND finish of stage 14 which was from Agliè to Oropa. We rode our bikes between the towns via a ‘shortcut’ that took us 5 hours through the backyards of tiny hillside farms, roads so steep that deep cuts in the pavement were needed for vehicle traction, and up hills where even the triathletes of the group (there were three of them) had to push their bikes.

Somewhere in Northern Italy

This is steeper than it looks. And full of holes.

Riders cheering on the real racers at stage 12. It had hailed–hard–40 minutes before the stage passed through.

We also spent a day spectating an off road team endurance race–for scooters. I have some video of this here. This was not quite as spectacular as the Giro, but it was possibly more entertaining.

Offroad scooter endurance racing.

Off road scooter endurance racing.

France: Paris and Cannes (Disclaimer: Cannes was not my idea). I met up with a dear friend for a repeat trip we did last year. She flew from California to Paris and I from Barcelona. We planned to meet in the CDG airport as I would be arriving 20 minutes after her. Of course, phones did not work so we spent 2 hours trying to find each other until I got smart and bought 15 minutes of internet and called her through Skype. We stayed in a tiny (what else?) hotel in the 10th arrondissement and had a fabulous time, as always. I love that city and would live there if it were near the sea. Forget about the old reputation of rude Parisians – people are lovely there: friendly, helpful, playful and engaging. Quite the opposite of how the locals treat non-locals where I live…that’s another topic though. We went to a classical concert the first night in a beautiful cathedral. It was fabulous- except for the dang nuns blocking my view. We crashed a fancy party next door afterwards. I have no idea what it was for.IMG_0588We used the awesome shared bike program Velib and road all the way to and through the Bois de Boulogne where we saw hookers on their lunch break. Then we rode through “Little Africa” and along the river and damn near everywhere in Paris.

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Velib steed in the park. Shh, don’t disturb the hookers.

We ate good food our few days there, spent a lot of time walking around Le Marais and then went South to Nice and over to Cannes where it was really boring. I did find us some bikes and we rode up to the old town which was the only cool thing about Cannes other than some great food and spending time with my friend. Oh and all the old men smiling at us, I guess.

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Old village on the hill above Cannes. The bikes were partially electric so really, we cheated on the climb part.

Riding to the top of the old town hill, a workman flirted with up asking if we were training for the Tour de France.I answered that yes, in fact, I was (in a sense).

Next up: A weekend riding motos in Aragon and our Tour de France bike adventure.

 

Brain drain in Spain

A friend in the US asked me today “so what have you been up to?” and I immediately panicked because I did not have an exciting answer. I am always conscious of how my life looks to the outside, as if that mattered in any way. And I am reassured that I am living a worthwhile life if I have plenty to report on, and even more reassured if it sounds exciting, though I rarely feel excited about the “exciting” things I do, more often I am bothered by the amount of time and effort it will take to prepare for and to get somewhere. Either that or I am terrified of the task ahead. Doesn’t it sound fun to be me?

So of course, having nothing to report off the top of my head had me reviewing my activities of the last month, which at first depressed me because 1) It’s winter and I’m always depressed when it is cold and dark out, and 2) the majority of my activities have been focused around working (from home), bottomless spending on a property I bought in Rhode Island, locating receipts for taxes…you get the idea. Stuff that make you want to curl into a ball and weep.

But then I had to acknowledge a couple of interesting outings I’ve had thus far this year. First, I’ve been hitting the dirt track every other week at the old Kenny Roberts Ranch at Montmelo. This is adjacent to the Catalunya circuit and is specifically for small displacement dirt tracking. There are races ranging from 4 hour “endurance” team challenges to shorter sprint races most weekends. I hardly qualify as a dirt tracker, but it is pretty good fun and all the pros come out to play too.

KR ranch

GP hand builds pipes, and he made one for my bike. This pipe has saved me a lot of embarrassment on the track because it makes the bike so fast. Of course, the pros took notice and wanted to it for themselves, thus we have Aleix Espargaro preparing to mount my steed:

Espargaro_xr100And then a line up including Ferran Cardus, Ricky Cardus, and Luis Costa (the girl is Costa’s girlfriend and we might ride together for a team challenge).

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Needless to say…GP sold a couple of pipes that day.

The other thing I have been doing is trying to forge some new friendships. Motorcycling helps, of course, but I need other expats and people with similar life experiences I can relate to. In the last year and half  so many of my expat friends–and even native countrymen who have lived outside Spain–have left the country because of the economic situation here. And it seems like every time I meet someone new with whom I can have an intelligent conversation, I learn that they, too, are leaving in the near future.

The economic situation doesn’t affect me because my clients are in North America. I’d like to stay, but I’m feeling ever more isolated because it seems like something familiar is happening. There is a “thing” that happens in Hawaii. The locals call it brain drain. It is a phenomena where all of the intelligent and motivated people leave to find opportunity and education, because, as you can imagine, Hawaii has a dearth of prospects when it comes to careers when compared to other states. So the people who remain are…well, you get the idea. I hate to say it, but it appears that a brain drain is happening in this city.

This isn’t happy news, because it makes living here far less enjoyable. Thus I find myself at a crossroads again. Do I want to stay? Where do I want to go?

Some racing around town

There is a famous 24 hour race that happens just outside of Barcelona in a village called Lliça D’Amunt. This race has been going on for 32 years and it has put this little village on the map. I’ve been meaning to check this race out for four years. This year, I finally went.

What’s unique about this 24 hour race is that it is an offroad race on 50cc MX bikes, primarily single speed two strokes though a few with gears and 4Ts thrown in, and a course is built every year because there is no track in the town. Teams of four riders begin the race at 7pm on Saturday and end at 7pm on Sunday and are required to switch riders every hour. It’s approached as a “fun” race, and indeed the atmosphere is that of a big party and there is lots of drinking and live music…hence the Saturday evening start. But what happens in between is pretty heavy duty stuff.

Racing is taken pretty seriously here. Sure they have a lot of fun and there is the camaraderie you find in any paddock, but it’s always full of professionals and teams who put it all on the line. This race is no exception, and for as lighthearted and crazy as the race sounds, it is seriously tough. There were 41 teams from all over Europe and a few heavy hitters in the ranks, including  the Spanish MX Championship multi, times champion Javi Garcia Vico, MotoGP (and Gabri’s former) rider Aleix Espargaró and other famous Catalan Motocross and Enduro riders. There was a conspicuous lack of media, (what I thought to be a news helicopter circling at the start was in fact present to give helicopter rides to attendees) which could be explained by saying that a race like this is unique but racing events like this are common.

I did nothing more than spectate, but that in itself was an experience. Here is a little pictorial for you all, enjoy.

24 hours lliça d'Amunt

A quarter of the pit lane.

GP’s rider Aleix from last year was raced it for the first time. And probably the last. He could barely speak on Sunday at the finish.

Team Italia’s camp.

 

Team Italia crew and riders. They quit at noon on Sunday due to fatigue.

Some of the team camp area.

View of the course from the pits. This is normally a flat field and part of a park.

Riders waiting for the start

Did I mention it was a Le Mans start?

First lap.

First lap mud pit.

Long shadows in the first hour.

Hay bale tree bumpers.

Some announcements

I’d like to announce the re-opening of Little Big Racing Services. This is something I have been working on for the past three months and we finally have all the logistics figured out, the agreements signed, and the website done (by me, so if you find anything lame, let me know).

My partner has been doing engineering, testing and development for Microtec for the past 7 or so years. You might know Microtec if you have or have had a Ducati or MV – the best Plug&Play ECUs are from them and make a big difference in performance. Well, all of the 2 stroke ECUs, along with Moto3 pipes, were engineered and developed by my partner and have been used in MotoGP World Championship. We are currently testing and developing Moto3 ECU kits, pipes, and Accossato parts for use in the World and Spanish Championships and also for sale on the website, along with every product that Microtec makes!

Currently we are testing and developing Plug&Play ECUs for Kawasaki, Yamaha, and Suzuki 600s, to be released ASAP (though Yamaha will likely take a while). Please check out the site and spread the word to your riding brethren. In keeping up with all that is contemporary  we have a facebook page too.

Another project is Ciclo Italiano–Vintage Italian bicycles and parts. Lots of new old stock Campagnolo and Italian racers from the 70s and 80s. I have much but not all of our stock online as I am taking all the photos and doing all of the parts and bike research (not to mention building the ecommerce site), plus I am always sourcing new old stock Campy parts and worthy bicycles. There is of course a facebook page to support this site too.

And finally, I am spending my blogging time over at Spain Expat Blog when I am not working on these site/businesses or working on instructional design/elearning contracts to support myself.

OK that’s the end of the self promotion! I’ll still  keep this blog for personal and non-Spain stuff and I promise I won’t turn this blog into a spammy website pusher.