Monday, February 23, 2009

Catching up with an old friend in Barcelona

The boys had a half-term break, so we packed up the Focus and headed off to Barcelona for the week. With the help of our neighbor Carmen, I was able to track down the phone number of a dear high school friend, Miguel Nadal, whom I haven't seen in 20 years. Miguel came to the states as an exchange student and lived with one of my best friends, Athar Siddiqee for a year. Miguel and I bonded quickly at Homestead, and he is one of the primary reasons I developed such a passion for Spain, visiting him twice in Barcelona during post-collegiate trans-EU backpack trips. Miguel took no time to start giving me grief, saying, "Stevie...why did you take so long to call me?... and why the heck are you living in Javea? should have checked with someone who actually knows something about Spain!" It was great to see that after all this time and now that we were both family men, he was still the same "Quel" that I remembered from so long ago. When I saw him, I had to laugh. Nothing much had changed except our hair - his is grey and mine is almost gone - a far cry from the 3 inch high afro I sported in high school! We decided to meet up at the Delta de L'Ebre, about halfway up the coast to Barcelona, where Miguel had recently purchased a home on the delta that he was fixing up for weekend getaways with family and friends. The delta is a vast, marshy wetland, full of river inlets, wild birds and seafood waiting to be caught. His property is quite large and is a functioning rice farm in the summer. We met up with Miguel, his wife Laura and son David (his two daughters were in Barcelona for a choral recital) and got a tour of their new home. They then took us out to a great lunch of arroz with squid ink, seafood fiduea and other spanish delicacies. It is wonderful to have someone who knows the local specialties do the ordering! Then we said goodbye and headed off to get settled into our apartment in Barcelona. But sure enough, like one of our excursions (led by a typical male who figured he could finesse his way into the city center), I got hopelessly lost. After about 45 minutes of aimless driving, I got a text from Miguel, saying, "if you need anything, do not hesitate to call". I did not hesitate - "help, Quel, we are terribly lost!" For the next 20 minutes, Miguel played the role of a virtual GPS, instructing us to turn around immediately (we were heading the wrong way, out of town) and he helped guide us back into the barrio gotico, where our apartment was. Oh what a relief to find our place - yet another leisurely drive to a new town becomes a stressful adventure! Ostia! The next day, we were invited to Miguel's apartment to spend a nice relaxing Sunday with his family and have a traditional Spanish mid-day meal. They have a beautiful and large apartment right near the University, with a nearby park, private pool, playground and tennis court (fairly unique in the center of a large city) where the kids could run around freely. Harkening back to old times, Miguel took me out to school me in tennis - something he used to do quite often at Homestead when we were on the team there. It didn't help that I haven't picked up a racquet in over 10 years! Later in the week, Suzanne and I met Miguel and Laura for a late night on the town in the Bario Gotico. Once again, we were treated to many Spanish delicacies - tapas to start the evening, followed by fresh anchovies in garlic oil, baby squid, morcilla, and a delicious tortilla (spanish omelete) with bacalao, onions and potatoes, topped off with a catalan rice pudding - all of which were fabulous. Both Miguel and Laura have had fascinating careers. They met in the university here in Barcelona, but both went to the east coast for graduate degrees. Miguel spent 10 years in the Spanish government as deputy Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs - not too shabby for an ex-Homestead alum! He showed us photos of him with Bush, Cheney (boo!), Colin Powel, Arafat, Putin and many other fascinating people. He has since left government life and is now heading up international development for the Spanish Automobile Association. Laura has also done well and just started a new job heading up Oncology R&D for a major hospital in Barcelona, with over 100 international clinical and scientific researchers under her watch. Suzanne's ears pricked up as she learned more about this, given her significant experience at Amgen managing oncology clinical teams. I only half-jokingly suggested she send her resume along to Laura - who knows, perhaps if the US job market is still in the tanks, perhaps another year in Espana might be warranted?!?! Furthermore, Barcelona has made significant investments in biotech research centers. Interesting to consider the possibilities... On our last morning, I went to visit Miguel at the Mercato de Boqueria, one of the largest food markets in all of Europe. It is a visual feast for the senses, with brightly colored and varied seafood and fruit/vegetable displays almost taking on an artistic flair. Miguel comes here every Saturday and buys food for the upcoming week: Fresh caught bonito filets, Sepia for arroz or fideua, monkfish steaks to be lightly breaded and pan-fried were just a few of the many options that day. Not to mention the berries, asparagus and artichokes that were in season. This is my kind of place! One interesting side note: Miguel said he would be there at 8:30 am which seemed awfully early by Spanish standards. When I started to push back to propose a later time to meet, he smirked and replied in a tone that might be inferred as sarcastic; "okay, Stevie, now I understand. You worked very hard for 15 years and now you need to rest. Please, take as much time as you need!" Miguel has had a hard time understanding how (and why) we've managed to walk away from our jobs and take a year off - in Spain, no less! He's a smart guy, he'll figure it out one day.

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