Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Rainstorms and Rainbows

Barcelona weather these days has been pretty fantastic overall. That having been said, it's still spring, still April, and so there are still plenty of chances for sudden showers in the midst of a sunny day.

Monday evening as I was driving home from work on my scooter, it started to get dark and then the drops started. Slowly at first, but by the time I made it to the safety of my apartment, it had become a pretty serious downpour.

But about twenty minutes later I realized it was pretty bright in my apartment again and, looking at the sky out the window, I thought there must be a little rainbow somewhere. Barcelona doesn't do things halfway. There wasn't one rainbow, but two, shooting right out of Gaudi's La Pedrera. Guess that's where they put all the gold in this town....

Monday, April 28, 2008


Three years ago this month, we began work on a new version of Grand Theft Auto. I organized ten cars and guides to take forty Scottish artists all over New York City and parts of New Jersey. They went to the coolest clubs and the most dangerous neighborhoods and they photographed everything. I left Rockstar and New York a few months later to move to Barcelona and pursue an MBA and while my life has been very full and rich and exciting in these past three years, I have to admit that I feel a twinge of longing today.

Because tonight at midnight GTAIV comes out. Three years of incredibly hard work, which I know all too well because I went through it on prior games in the series, and now the game is getting awesome reviews and will probably break all sales records. I'm so excited to check it out, it's a little bit ridiculous. Congrats, guys!!!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

One Year Later

Hard to believe that it was one year ago today that we graduated from IESE and began to go our separate ways. In some ways, it seems like IESE was a lifetime ago, since so much has happened in the last year, and in others it seems almost like yesterday.

Since I'm one of the lucky few who got to stay in Barcelona to work after the MBA, I also get a few other perks. Like being close enough to the Costa Brava to go for a motorbike ride up to Fede's for the annual paella extravaganza.

Enough paella to feed a small army.
The post-paella, post-walk, pre-coffee dog belly rub session. The only three minutes this dog was not completely hyperactive and off the walls.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Bureaucracy

Establishing yourself in a foreign country isn't the easiest thing. Establishing yourself in Barcelona takes nerves of steel, guts of iron, and the patience of a saint. Apparently I have one or all of those things... or just enough anyway.

My plane from New York was delayed 2 hours on the runway at JFK (as if all the other nonsense hadn't been enough) and so of course I was late arriving in Barcelona and late to work. Knowing that the tax office is only open until 2pm - learned that last Tuesday when I tried to go there after lunch - I decided it would be a good idea to take all my paperwork straight there and then go to the office afterward.

I had already sought out the expertise of a professional, so I was sure that I had all my papers in order. And yet somehow I wasn't altogether surprised when the guy at the tax department on the third floor told me I was lacking a letter. You see, it's not enough to give them your contract, your residency card, and your social security number. You also have to give them a LETTER signed by your boss that REPEATS ALL THAT INFORMATION. But of course.

Keep in mind that in Barcelona there are two languages, so half the time you're being spoken to through all of this in Catalan, not Castellano. So you're not speaking in your second language, but a third that you may or may not (the latter, in my case) have ever studied. You know, just to add to the fun.

So I took all my paperwork and went to the office. Where I got many comments on my airplane face. I guess my showering and changing of clothing couldn't hide the fact that I'd spent the night on a cramped and frozen airplane, right next to the galley where one of the flight attendants actually got beaned in the head when a whole tray of glass mugs fell on her. And around our feet.

But I digress. My boss wrote the letter. Today I had a 9:30 meeting with an in-game advertising company and couldn't go straight to the tax office. So I went at 11:30. Oh it was also Sant Jordi, the big rose-and-book celebration in Barcelona. Traffic was a nightmare. And I guess 12 noon is THE time to go to the Hacienda because it was packed. Whatever, I went up to the third floor to see my old pal, who told me that I wasn't in the Alta. Whatever that is. I showed him a piece of paper I'd gotten months ago that clearly said "alta" on it. Nope, not from the correct office.

Go down to the ground floor, stand in line, get a number, wait in line again, and get yourself included in el alta del censo. I had to register for the census. So thirty minutes passed while I filled out more paperwork and then handed it over to a guy who only wanted to speak to me in Catalan. I noticed on the form that there were boxes for the census and also for if you get married or if you move. I am never getting married and never moving ever again. Anything I can do to avoid further bureaucracy, I love it!

Back up to floor three, where I handed over my paperwork and was told that in two or three weeks I'd receive a letter which I have to give to my HR department which will cause my tax rate to drop by 17%. If it ever actually happens, it will be a beautiful day. And I'm going to use that first 17% savings on CHAMPAGNE!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Philly, Phriends, and Phlights

My full day of meetings behind me, Frenchy and I had some time to enjoy our weekend in the US. I decided that I'd spend a few hours taking care of something I'd not ever had time to deal with: one of my two NYC storage spaces. Ugh.

Knowing that you have a bunch of stuff in storage in another country sucks. Not having any idea what is in that storage sucks a lot more. The one thing I did know, however, was that I was going to clear out a lot of stuff and because I was short on time, I'd have to take care of it as quickly as possible. No excuses. Time to clear out!

Frenchy and I went to Hertz to pick up a car at 2pm. I forgot how slow they are there. Only one person working the counter at 2pm on the first awesome Friday of the spring. That poor woman. Anyway we finally had the car and were at the storage space by 3pm. I couldn't find my keys in my flat in Barcelona, so I had to pay them $25 to destroy my locks. Imagine. I have to pay THEM to break my stuff. Whatever. All you need is a HUGE drill. Keep that in mind.

By 4:45 we had some how cleared out my entire storage space (a surprising amount of stuff can fit in a 3 cubic meter space) and THEN somehow smooshed it all into a very small SUV and were on our way to dump everything on my unsuspecting sister in Philadelphia. Poor Nicole. Her house was so cute and tidy before Hurricane Noelle arrived. Now, in fairness to myself, I did make a bit of a mess, but I ALSO CLEANED IT UP! And got rid of a lot of stuff in the process. And left them with all my coolest belongings, like all my sporting goods, my samurai sword and my tsais (I figure you can't even check those in your baggage, so they stayed behind) and all my video games and DVDs. Hey, if you're gonna drop a load of junk on your sibling, at least make it QUALITY junk!

The rest of the weekend was a lovely collection of Philadelphia sightseeing (with shockingly warm, sunny weather), backyard barbecues, and tennis. My dad even happened to be in town for a night. I can never keep track of where my parents are at any given time, but they certainly turn up in the right place at the right time with shocking frequency.

On Sunday morning we took the train back to NYC. Impressive how a not-very-fast train can still get you somewhere in what would take 3 hours in a car. But this time, we were laden down with an extra bag thanks to my storage ransacking extravaganza. I told Frenchy as we got on the train: "Okay this train keeps going to Boston after we get off. So no leaving anything behind. NO DELIVERY SERVICE HERE." Everything was completely under control... until Frenchy decided he had to go to the bathroom 2 minutes before arrival at Penn Station.

At or around that time, we got separated by a wall of people who all wanted to get out of the train RIGHT NOW and Frenchy got stuck with the two big bags and me with the small ones. We were squashed on the super narrow escalator going up to to the main area of Penn Stations when Frenchy looked back at me and said, "Do I have the camera?" I looked at him and saw no sign of a camera. "No. And I don't either." And in a strange moment of zen, I said, completely relaxed, "That's it. It's gone. No more camera." Frenchy's jaw dropped.

Then the guy behind me said, "The train doesn't leave for like 5 minutes. You can go back and get it."

And that's when my second travel adventure of the weekend began. I left Frenchy with the pile of bags and convinced the woman fending off the crowd of people trying to get on the train that I just needed to go get a bag off the train. She let me pass and I raced down the escalator and realized I had NO idea where our car was. I was on the opposite side of the train and very confused. But then I found the cafe car and from there the car with the guy who had a cool bass amplifier, and from there the car with the sleeping baby in front and then... MY CAMERA BAG! Under the seat. How the heck did it get there? Never mind, had to get off the train before I got stuck en route to Beantown.

Good thing I got the camera back, too. Because after meeting my friends Ilmi, Melanie, and Philip for brunch at Schiller's in the Lower East Side for brunch, we headed to the Guggenheim and one of the coolest exhibits I've ever seen.

After something like that, you need a rest.
On Monday morning Frenchy and I packed our things and headed out for our last morning in Manhattan. We did some last minute shopping for our EU friends and had lunch with a few pals and it was time to head to the airport.

In other words, time for one more airport comedy show! On Sunday afternoon I had spent half an hour on the phone with Delta in order to request upgrades for Frenchy and myself (because I'm a fancy medallion member), and the woman told me I'd just have to ask about it when we checked in the next day. So check in we did, and we were told that Frenchy had been upgraded but not me. Strange. Never mind, the woman assured me that I was 2nd on the waitlist and would surely be upgraded as well, particularly since I'm the Medallion member.

Great, so we headed straight for the gate to get our new boarding passes printed. At which point the guy at the desk looked at me like I was speaking Chinese and insisted he had no upgrades and no waitlist. Now, I could get into the details that followed here, but honestly I'm exhausted just thinking about it. Fortunately Frenchy decided that, for the first time, I should have photographic evidence of one of my travel nightmares. (He also said I should try to get a job negotiating such things because I've become so good at it apparently... I didn't manage to get the upgrades, but I did manage to get 3000 free miles from Delta after I complained, so maybe I should just get a job as a part-time negotiator.) And like the say, a picture is worth 1000 words. So here's 3000 for you:

Thursday, April 17, 2008

La Grande Pomme

Imagine the following. Frenchy and are I on a flight from Barcelona to New York. I have to go for some meetings and he has just finished his last MBA class so it's time for a trip! Because I'm with Frenchy, all goes smoothly. No delays, no strikes, no lost baggage. In other words, nothing interesting AT ALL to write about my trip.

Frenchy seems to realize this as we are getting off the plane and so decides to leave his carry-on bag on board. Keep in mind that this is a carry-on that looks like so many other small black rolly suitcases that we purposely carried it on so it wouldn't be picked up accidentally by the wrong person at baggage claim. We go to our separate lines at immigration: me to the super speedy Americano line and him to his "Foreigners and Thus Clearly Terrorists and Other Scum" line. Which obviously moves a lot slower.

I have thus already pulled my bag off the carousel when I realize that I don't remember Frenchy pulling a wheelie bag behind him after we got off the plane. I jump up and down and finally spot him on the other side of the immigration plexiglass and then make the international sign for "WHERE IS YOUR BLACK ROLLY BAG???" He responds with the international facial gesture for "OH MY GOD THE BLACK ROLLY BAG!!!"

And there goes the smooth sailing. I run around frantically trying to explain my plight: I went through the line, I have my bag already, my toxic foreign (even worse... FRENCH!) boyfriend is still waiting in his line and forgot his bag on the plane, please help! Of course everyone is friendly, more or less. This IS America, after all. So they are rather kind as they pass me off from one person to the next. Meanwhile, Frenchy has gotten out of his Miscreants line and is asking some poor terrified woman ("Is that a TERRORIST accent???") how he can get his bag back. Which is clearly a bomb, after all.

Finally I manage to give Frenchy the frantic international hand gestures for "Get back in line, I have taken care of it," and he does as gestured and 15 minutes later is finally through immigration with a sheepish look on his face. Not 60 seconds later, a man in a JFK uniform comes toward us and says, "Sir? Ma'am? Your bag?" And Frenchy turns to me and says proudly, "See? I didn't even have to carry my own bag off the plane!"

Hmph. We've been on American soil for not more than 45 minutes and already Frenchy has made the system his own. Ten minutes later we're in a taxi to lower Manhattan, driven by a man who is nearly comatose. As tired as I am, I have to stay awake in case I have to pull a Jackie Chan and leap into the front seat and drive the car with my teeth.

Finally we arrive safe and sound at the Millenium Hilton, which was closed for a long time after the attack on 9/11. Having lived close enough to the towers to see people jump out on that beautiful late summer day, I had never felt the need to go down to Ground Zero to gawk at the gaping hole. So I'm a bit shocked when I open the curtains and look down at this.

But the thing is, I'm obsessed with construction sites. The bigger the better. So after 10 minutes or so of abject horror, I got over it and instead became rather obsessed with what each little ant-sized person was doing down there. Two guys just hose the whole area down. What a cool job!

And and it's so pretty. And loud. Those little tiny people can sure make a hell of a lot of noise. All. Night. Long. Yeesh!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

You know it has been a tough year when...

...the easiest thing you've done since New Year is hurl yourself out of a plane from 9000 feet. Okay, so the only hard part was the 5 seconds before where I actually said out loud "OH. MY. GOD." But then it was that special now-or-never moment, where you tell yourself, geez, that Japanese girl who was totally freaked out just did it, so I can too. And off you goooooooooooo!

By the way, I'll totally go again, too. It was AWESOME. 2 seconds of insane stomach-turning free-falling madness, followed by 58 seconds of terminal velocity "are we really going anywhere?" thoughts, followed by 7 or 8 minutes of magical floating. Except for the 30 seconds where my partner decided to put us in a very tight spin toward the fabulous swimming pools of Costa Brava. That wasn't magical. That was just barfy. And he thought it was funny until I said, "No, seriously, voy a vomitar." End spinning!

Monday, April 07, 2008

IESE Open Day

Today I went up to IESE during my lunch break to participate in an Alumni Panel for prospective students at IESE Open Day. These Open Days are held every month or and each time the admissions team tries to assemble an interesting and diverse group to answer all of the possible questions that might spring forth from potential candidates. It's a great way to catch up with fellow classmates you haven't seen in a while (even though we live in the same city!) and also to connect with students who graduated in years prior.

But mostly it's a chance to reflect on IESE in particular and grad school in general and think about the experience and what I gained from it and how my life has changed as a result of it. I don't often have the time to sit and think about things like that (nor is it usually my natural inclination), so it's kind of cool every once in a while to step back for an hour and savor the memories a little.

It's also great to meet future IESE-ans. I answer a lot of out-of-the-blue emails (partly because of the blog, I guess) from prospective students, and it's so cool when I get to meet these people face to face and know I might have helped them in their decision to choose IESE. So if you're a reader of this blog, please don't be a stranger!

Unless you're a stalker, in which case please totally keep being a stranger. Stalking is MUCH better from afar.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Mini Reunion in BCN

A cool thing about staying in Barcelona after the MBA (aside from the great weather) is that people often drop into town for various reasons. Some for work, some for fun, whatever the case, it's always great to see my old IESE pals when they cruse into town.

This weekend brought Hurricane Juha and some perfect spring weather, ideal for enjoying with friends. Friday night we staged a mini-reunion to get our drinking muscles ready for the real deal in one month's time. Diego, Juha, Alex, and Nuria and I got together with friends and significant others for dinner in Gracia, followed by a late night at my former home-away-from-home, Sutton Club. I hadn't been there in nearly a year, and when I woke up Saturday morning - uh, afternoon - I remembered (vaguely) why.

Sadly I have no photos from the event (imagine that) as I couldn't find my camera on the way out the door... And what's frightening is that Juha was snapping away like crazy with his camera. Hopefully his photos will never see the light of day. Or glow of the internet.

So Saturday was a wash... though we did manage to drag ourselves allllll the way to Calatrava in the late afternoon for a birthday BBQ. It's really strange for me to go back to Calatrava these days, especially for events like this one, which was virtually all first years, a few of whom I know but many I don't. It's weird to go back to your old house and find your old terrace full of strangers. It was nice and all, but... well it's just not the same.

Saturday evening Frenchy and I went on a photo-taking adventure at Cerveceria Catalana at the request of Chris, who is now living in Houston. That place is amazing. Even at 8pm (really early by Spanish standards), the line is out the door. But the food is good, so it's worth the wait, as long as you don't chew off your own arm in the meantime. Post-tapas, it was time for the first of many going away parties for students from the class of 2008. These are strange times for those finishing the MBA - fun and sad at the same time. I'm glad that part is behind me. I think I had enough wistfulness last March to last me a lifetime.

Cerveceria Catalana

Gosh, and here I thought I didn't accomplish much this weekend, and I'm only up to Saturday night! Sunday morning Frenchy and I went to see an apartment in Gracia which I know all too well because it's Ian's old place. We're thinking about taking it over in a couple of months. Yes, I might be going back to having a roommate. A French roommate. Frequent updates on how we confuse each other, slam our faces in refrigerators, smash bottles of olives in the checkout line in grocery stores (that was Friday evening), and nearly kill each other skiing are certain to come.

Anyway, after that we went to play squash. And NO ONE WAS INJURED. Though Frenchy did hit me in the head with his racket once. Hey, at least he didn't smash it on the door of the squash court this time. Post-squash, it was time for the beach and, in a very athletic mood, we went by bicycle. The idea was to read on the beach. Hmmm. I think Frenchy read 2 pages of his last-IESE-case-of-all-time and I read the inside of my eyelids.

But wait, there's more! Then we had a Guitar Hero party with Muktambar, Edwina, Juha, and Amaya! And then dinner at La Gavina in Gracia. And you know what? I'm exhausted just writing about this. I need to go to bed.