The DougBlog
"Et sans savoir pourquoi, disent toujours: Allons!" —Baudelaire

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Barcelona Nights

…Finally, I went to my first international meeting for SUTENT—ECCO. This is the largest European cancer conference this year it was in Barcelona. I’d never been to Barcelona, and people always rave about it, so I was excited to see for myself what all the hoopla was about. Being a busy time back at work, I wasn’t able to add on any personal time, but I did manage to squeeze in a little sightseeing between sessions.

First, the lounge at JFK…and why ich liebe Lufthansa:

The meeting actually began on Yom Kippor. Michele Markus, her husband Ken, and I all attended services with a congregation (ATID) in Barcelona. It was certainly a different experience. They held services in a hotel where security was tight—the location was very secretive and I was almost strip-searched before they would let me in. But the services were certainly interesting: Hebrew, Spanish, and a little Catalan (according to Ken, who speaks Spanish—personally I can’t tell the difference). The crowd was very casual and friendly. Here’s the Amida in Spanish—my favorite part is that the “House of God” becomes a “Pueblo” (as always, click on any photo to enlarge):

We broke our fast with some decidedly un-Kosher tapas. Actually, first we broke it with the odd, individually wrapped jellybeans that were in abundance at our hotel:

In addition to Yom Kippor, it was also La Mercé, which is the annual festival for the patron saint of Barcelona. Needless to say, the city was hopping that night. We came out of the subway in massive crowds, which at that moment were enjoying a parade of fire-breathing dragons and firecrackers. Here’s a quick photo I snapped before we ran for our lives:

Finally, the tapas. Legs of Jamón Ibérico—a special, absolutely delicious ham available only in Spain—were hanging overhead:

Some other options:

Nothing like pork sausage wrapped in bacon to break the fast:

Random point…a lot of signs are bi-lingual in Spanish and Catalan. Barcelona is the capitol of the semi-autonomous region of Catalonia that sees itself as distinct from Spain (some even advocate independence). But “bi-lingual” signs like this really don’t help to make the case:

Then ECCO began in earnest—several days of morning-to-night symposia, sessions, posters, and spying. Here’s Michele, raring and ready to go. She’s the one on the high Cs…HAHAHAHAHA!!!!:

One day when I did have a few hours’ break, I went on a walk to some sights. The Barri Gòtic is the old section of Barcelona, filled with tight streets and alleys:

It’s a local tradition for businesses to paint their grates:

The one wide-open street is the famed Las Ramblas, a busy, wide, pedestrian thoroughfare with all the best and worst that Barcelona has to offer. Along it is Barcelona’s opera house, the Gran Teatre del Liceu:

There are a lot of street performers ready to take photos with tourists:

When I took the photo of the large “woman” he/she noticed me doing so. so I felt compelled to give him/her a coin…whereupon he/she treated me to a flash of his/her gigantic fake boob and then made lascivious gestures toward my ice cream cone. I was sexually harassed! But this wasn’t the only time this happened to me on Las Ramblas because on our last night there I was solicited by a prostitute. Good times, good times.

Time for some Gaudì…his famed apartment building, the Casa Milà:

And his most famous creation-in progress, the Sagrada Família. This massive church has been under construction for about 100 years and still has a ways to go. They’re hoping to have it done by 2028 but that already appears unlikely. As you walk around, it’s interesting and easy to tell which parts were completed in his lifetime and which were completed by subsequent artists (since he left no blueprints). The original façade looks like it’s melting:

…while the newer façade is much more angular (and clean):

By the way, I didn’t put the “ç “ in “façade” above, that was my spellchecker. Fancy! Anyhoo, that night we went out for anther tapas crawl. Along the way I noticed this random man in clown makeup leaning against a church and eating ice cream:

Me and Ken in cute little bar where we enjoyed a local drink whose taste resembled that of American lighter fluid.:

Michele and fellow CDM friend Angie Horn in the same bar, reflecting:

Odd store display of a headless baby:

A little fun with camera effects in the cab home:

Angie tries to get Michele on record with a saucy comment:

Back at the convention…here they are, ladies and gentlemen, the world’s most brilliant physicians and scientists:

One night Angie and I returned to the Teatre Liceu for a performance of Andrea Chenier. It was actually the premiere of a new production there. The interior was much more impressive than the unassuming exterior:

Bows at the end. The performance was musically well done, but the production was terrible and filled with symbolism that was heavy-handed to say the least. When the production crew came out for bows with the cast at the end, there were some rousing boos. Exciting!:

Back at the convention again. For those of you who think that it’s all fun and games, I made this short (1 minute) video to give you a little taste of the TRUE ECCO experience. Just click the little triangle in the lower left-hand corner to play:

As the convention neared its end, we needed to ship home all of the scientific and competitive materials we collected. FedEx has no facility in Barcelona, so we went to a regular old post office in a local shopping mall. Here’s Michele on the floor packing and labeling:

Of course with FedEx we have an account, but at the post office we had to pay out of pocket. The final shipping bill was over 1000 Euros—that’s nearly $1500!! And they only took cash!! So here’s me at the ATM in the shopping mall, maxing out my credit card cash advances:

But like all things, ECCO eventually came to an end. On the last night we went out for our final tapas, walking first past the Sagrada Família once again. Here’s Michele trying to bust in:

My favorite “water with gas”. That makes it much more fun (and Doug-appropriate) than calling it seltzer:

Another tapas favorite—patatas (potatoes) with a spicy garlic sauce:

The whole gang at our last hurrah:

I like this photo of me. I look strung out and/or anxious:

Sometimes when you bring a global cell phone to another country, you get a text message from the local service provider saying something like “Vodaphone welcomes you to Germany and wishes you a pleasant stay. If you need any phone assistance while you’re here, just dial blah, blah blah.” Well in Barcelona these messages came from a company called “Movistar”. And I say messages because instead of just one, they sent us literally 20 or 30 a day!!!! Here’s Michele trying to be a movie star herself:

Finally, we passed a lot of vendors selling a local ice cream treat called “Maxibon”. Angie seemed particularly fascinated by it and its inappropriately suggestive advertising:

In fact, I have a few photos of her at the Maxibon booth, so I put them into an odd little video I call “Angie’s Maxibon Dance” (again, click the lower left-hand corner to play):

So that was our time in Barcelona. I didn’t love the city like so many other people seem to, but I did like it very much and certainly had a good time with good company. And I’ll leave you with one more video. Not an original production, but certainly unrivaled: “Barcelona” sung by gay Queen front man Freddie Mercury and operatic queen/Spanish woman Montserrat Caballe—perhaps the oddest couple of all time:



  • The Romans didn't much like Barcelona, but they should have stuck around. This second city of Spain is now Spain's hippest town. Summer gives way to periodic lapses in sanity with week-long fiesta fun. But year-round the city cooks - it's always on the biting edge of fashion, architecture, food, style, music, lots of Barcelona hotels and good times. The buildings, featuring the work of an eccentric genius named Gaudí, will blow you away. The art, with significant collections by Picasso and Miró, will make you clammy all over. The people, with their exuberance, their duende, their persistent egalitarianism and clamor for a separate identity, will fascinate you. Barcelona is one of the most dynamic and exciting cities on the western Mediterranean seaboard, sedulously promoting itself as a European metropolis, a link between the sub-Pyrenean peninsula and the heartland of Western Europe. It is a city that is inconceivable until you get there, unbelievable while you walk its streets and unforgettable after you've gone.

    By Blogger Lucas, at 3:11 AM  

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