Monday, September 8, 2008


In August Marti & I got to spend some q-time with our extended families -- in Paris & in Spain.
With Nate, Ben & Trish in the Luxembourg Gardens.

Our friends Trish & Ben from Austin, Texas came to visit us again in Paris. This time they'd be staying in our apartment while Marti & I went to Barcelona & the Spanish Pyrenees.

Accompanying us on our flight to BCN would be our pal Nate, who was spending a few days with us in Paris beforehand.

At dinner the first evening Trish mentioned that she'd like to get her hair styled while she was here in the City of Light. I already had a scheduled appointment with Chanez, so we crowbarred Trish in that morning as well.

The five of us went to a free concert by Brooklyn-based funksters Antibalas in the pavilion in the Luxembourg Gardens.

The peaceful Medici Fountain in the Luxembourg Gardens.

Marti took a few vacation days while Nate, Trish & Ben were in town. One morning she took the three of them to the Louvre.

She also arranged a picnic at the Tour Eiffel that included her sewing student Sandra, Sandra's cousin Clara (visiting from Beirut) & Nate.

Marti & I had a super time with our visiting tourist krew. The highlight for 15-year-old Nate was probably being served a beer at a Parisian sidewalk café.

On the morning of August 7 Nate, Marti & I left Trish & Ben in charge of 85 rue Blomet, cabbed to Orly & flew to Barcelona.

We rendezvoused at the Gallery Hotel with Nate's parents, our longtime friends Gina & Aaron, as well as Nate's brother Sam. Key members of our extended family. We strolled down the Passeig de Gracia to Cuidad Condal, arguably the best tapas restaurant in BCN.

We chilled a bit afterward at the hotel, then the six of us went to meet more pals at the legendary cocktail bar Boadas. Sarai & her boyfriend Sergio, from our Barcelona family, met us there for a couple of rounds of mojitos.

The remaining members of our Barcelona familia awaited us at a nearby restaurant called El Convent. Left to right: Toni (Sergio's bro), his girlfriend Xenia, Carmen & Antonio (Sergio & Toni's parents), Marti.

Sam da Man, Aaron & Toni.

Nate & Gina.

Sergio & his homeboy Francisco. Marti & I just love this krew.

Well, maybe I love 'em a little too much. That's your correspondent molesting Sarai. You can't take me anywhere.

After a long, hearty & rollicking dinner, we stopped for nightcaps at a café near the Ramblas. Nate enjoyed a sophisticated digestif.

The next day the six of us went to the beach in Barceloneta. We had lunch outdoors at an oceanfront bar. Nate & Sam went swimming (& presumably explored the topless scene) while Gina, Aaron, Marti & I hung out there all afternoon. At one point a guitarist from Guatemala set up in the corner & sang quiet Spanish love songs. I got him to do a Spanglish version of "Hotel California."

BFFs pose before Frank Gehry's steel lattice fish sculpture at the Olympic Marina.

In the late afternoon Gina, Marti & I went shopping along the Passeig de Gracia while Aaron took the Boyz back to the hotel for showers & a costume change. We all went to dinner outside a tapas place on the Rambla Catalunya.

On our final day in BCN (at the back end of their trip Gina, Aaron & the Boyz would enjoy a couple more days in the city without us), Marti acted as guide on a Gaudí tour. (I chilled back at the hotel.) She took them to the Parc Güell.

Road portrait.

Conceived as a park for Barcelona aristocracy & commissioned by Eusebi Güell, Gaudí's creation boasts fantastic stone structures, extensive tile work & entrancing buildings.

Nate & Sam find their niche.

Chillin' like Magellan.

The park overlooks the city.

While the rest of our krew was checking out Gaudí, I went to the MNAC (National Art Museum of Catalunya) to see a marvelous exhibition of Dadaists Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray & Francis Picabia. The show explored the artistic & personal relationships of these three revolutionary artists of the early 20th century.

View from the terrace of the National Art Museum of Catalunya.

We all reunited in the evening & went for aperitivos at the Casa Fuster, Lluís Domènech i Montaner's art nouveau masterpiece constructed in the early 1900s.

Hangin' out in the Casa Fuster's Cafè Vienès.

At the Asador de Aranda we dug in like starving tourists. The roast lamb here rocks.

Next morning we went to pick up our rental van for the trip up to the mountains. With six of us & all our huge American luggage there was no way we could fit into the van. We wound up renting two VW Jettas, which worked out nicely in the end; having our own ride gave Marti & me more autonomy, allowed Gina & Aaron & the Boyz the freedom to go off to do family outdoor recreational stuff without us.

Our destination was the Hotel Cardós in the village of Ribera de Cardós, high in the Pyrenees. A four-hour drive from Barcelona.

The terrace overlooking the hotel pool. I discovered this place 11 years ago when I was covering Phish's & Blues Traveler's first concerts in Spain, at a rock festival in these mountains. That's where I first met Sergio & Toni. In a happy coincidence they, along with Sarai & Xenia, were winding down a weekend visit nearby.

Soon after we arrived at the hotel they met the six of us for drinks before driving home to BCN.

Maria. She, her sister Sara, brother Cinto & his wife Luisa run the hotel -- they are yet another familia of ours in Spain! Marti & I have stayed with them several times. Their hospitality is so warm & so genuine that it always feels like going home.

As soon as we checked in, Cinto informed us that there was a festa that evening in the tiny hamlet of Surri, just up the hill across from the hotel.

The music & dancing didn't begin until around 1 a.m., but we were ready to rock.

After midnight mountain hop.

Los Americanos . . .

. . . they dance funny.

Luisa waltzes . . .

. . . while daughter Coloma rocks.

A few nights later Coloma produced & starred in a kids' talent show at the hotel. It was spectacular!

The show featured music, dance, magic, judo, gymnastics, theater. Luisa told us later that this is Coloma's shining moment each summer. What an impresario.

Afterward we went "backstage" to get autographs. Next stop, Broadway!

One day Gina & the Boyz went riding. The corral was across the street from the hotel. Here the horses are returning home after a long hard day at the office.

The horse wranglers appeared in a concert program held in the rec center behind the hotel. They sang Bob Dylan tunes in fractured Inglés.

Marti & Sam hit the dance floor that night.

On another afternoon Gina, Aaron & the Boyz went rafting on . . .

. . . and in the river.

Marti & I took the opportunity to go out to lunch at the Hotel Castellarnau, a favorite restaurant in Escaló, not far from Ribera.

The six of us took a picnic to the high mountain lake Sant Maurici, which is reached via Land Rover taxis.

When Marti does relaxation exercises, this is what she visualizes.

At the waterfall.

A happy hiker.

We all went up the road to Tavascan one evening . . .

. . . to visit the underground Hydroelectric Power Station.

From Wikipedia: Pumped storage hydroelectricity is a type of hydroelectric power generation used by some power plants for load balancing. The method stores energy in the form of water, pumped from a lower elevation reservoir to a higher elevation. Low-cost off-peak electric power is used to run the pumps. During periods of high electrical demand, the stored water is released through turbines. Although the losses of the pumping process makes the plant a net consumer of energy overall, the system increases revenue by selling more electricity during periods of peak demand, when electricity prices are highest. Pumped storage is the largest-capacity form of grid energy storage now available.

Our guide showed us the giant turbines. After the tour proper (which was conducted in Spanish), he was kind enough to spend some time with us answering questions in English.

The day before we left Ribera, Marti & I hit the butcher shop in Ainet de Cardós where we scored chorizo, butifarra & morcilla sausages, as well as wheels of local goat & cow cheese to bring home. We kept them overnight in the hotel fridge, then packed the goodies into an insulated bag to take on our flight.

One more night, one more festa. This time in the town of Rialp, a bit south of Ribera. The Anonymous Band was performing. I never did figure out who the hell these guys were.

Our six-strong krew had sandwiches & pizza, then Gina's gang went in search of carnival rides. Marti & I, however, walked up the hill to the church to attend a classical music concert.

There was no room to stow the road cases inside the little stone church. The double bass cases stood sentry outside.

Marti & I had lucked into the 8th Annual Rialp Music Festival. This night László Kovács would be conducting the Hungarian Radio Symphony in my all-time favorite piece of music: Beethoven's Seventh. We liked the serendipitous callback to our May trip to Budapest as well.

In the first half of the program František Novotný & Michal Kaňka performed the Brahms Double Concerto for violin and cello. We spoke with cellist Kaňka afterward. He mentioned that at the end of August his Pražák String Quartet would be appearing in concert at the Orangerie de Sceaux, just outside Paris. (Last weekend Marti & I went to hear them.) But on this night, in a lovely little church high in the Spanish Pyrenees, their sublime music helped cap another delightful family vacation.

The next morning Marti & I enjoyed a farewell breakfast with Gina, Aaron, Sam & Nate. Then it was into the Jetta, pop Michal Kaňka's new CD French Romantic Cello Sonatas in the player & begin our long winding descent to sea level. Looming ahead was the airport, a short flight home & an end -- for awhile -- to our wandering ways.

What was it that Garcia used to sing? Summertime done come and gone,
my, oh, my.

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