Sunday, January 31, 2010

Bienvenidos a Signal Mountain, TN

When first given the assignment, before watching the video material, as I started to construct within my head what I might include, I thought of all the touristy things that are advertised all around Chattanooga. A vision of "See Rock City" painted on the side of a barn might be popping into your head about this time. However, after viewing the materials and thinking about Chattanooga from the outside in, and comparing it with my experiences here in Spain, I came up with a very different picture.
The town of Signal Mountain (pop around 10,000) sits atop Walden's Ridge overlooking the Tennessee Valley and the city
of Chattanooga. To me and others around the area the idea of living on a mountain as strange never crosses our minds. But to someone living in say South Florida, it might sound pretty bizarre. But there are several places all over the world in where mountain communities exist. For example this past weekend I took a two hour bus ride from Barcelona up into the Pyrannese Mountains to a tiny town called Olot, which sits atop an inactive volcano. Naturally getting away from the coast and back up into the mountains again made me feel right at home. I came to discover however, through staying in the town and thinking retrospectively on the experience in regards to the course material how different the everyday life of the towns was. While I was there I met a few of the locals who were around my age, and it turns out we have a lot in common. But here are a few things they might find strange about my mountain town:

On average I would drive up and d
own the mountain at least twice a day. Though there are a few restaurants, a grocery store, some shops, a gas station or two, for the most part, if I want something, I have to go down the mountain to get it. Most stores and restaurants, entertainment, my high school, etc. are located in the valley. I guess Signal Mountain might be considered an "isolated suburb" as there's not much of a transition between the burbs and the city as there might be in other areas. The citizens of Olot however, have essentially everything they need. Electronics stores, clothing stores, dozens of bakeries, bars, banks, sandwich shops (more on this in a bit), and everything else one might need. If they were to come to Signal Mountain they might find it silly and impractical or inconvenient to have
to descend the mountain so often.
Along the same lines, one of them might find it strange how nothing from my town is actually from my town or even region. Or state. Often times country. Most of the food at the market in Olot comes from the region Garrotxa, or the state of Catalunya. The fruit, the vegetables, the meat, cheese, wine, bread - all comes from a local source. At the Grocery store up on the mountain, goods are shipped from all over the continent. There's no way that on my hamburger the bread, meat, tomatoes
, lettuce, cheese, and onions all came from within 50 to 100 miles of my house. For them it might seem quite strange that we import so many of our foods.
That's not to say that we don't have our own regional cultural identities. Apologies to South Carolinian barbeque, (can't comment on Korean bbq as I haven't had the pleasure) but you can't beat a good Tennessee pulled pork sandwich. Throw in a rack of Memphis dry-rub ribs and some baked beans and a glass of sweet tea and you'll never want a different meal again. But I think they would find it strange how many chain restaurants there are. They might see the food experience here as hygienic, with a sense of the word the evokes sterility or staleness, more of A Brave New World type of hygienic. They're more used to a more personal restaurant experience, one I was gratefully able to share with them this weekend.
We went out to find some dinn
er on Saturday night around 9:30 (they'd find our 6-8 dinner time absurdly early) and found a little place with comfortable room for about 10-12 people. Packed inside were over 20 people crammed in a 2 foot wide ring around the "kitchen" area of the establishment. This consisted of two flat top grills and a deep fryer
that had an area around that of a square yard. Laid out under a class cover on the bar were all sorts of meats - bacon, pork chops, ham, chorizo, foot-long hot dogs, hamburger meat - you know, all the "American" classics. The cooks methodically toasted butterflied baguettes on one grill, boiled dozens of hot dogs and pounds of onions in the vat of oil/grease, and cooked the bacon, ham, pork chops, etc on the other flat top, covering everything with grease while melting cheese onto the meets at the same time. There was no combination that wasn't available. One simply told the cooks what meats to cook, whether they wanted onions and cheese, and they cooked it and served it between the t
wo bread slices (which happen to be the perfect grease-sponges). After an experience like that I might be a little disappointed in the way the hotdog joint at the foot of the mountain works now. Where's the grease!? So although we might have some similarities in our mountain towns, the manner in which we go about everyday things can be totally different.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Uniquely Catalan

It's a paradoxical city, Barcelona, to be known as such a cosmopolitan city while still presenting itself as such a uniquely independent culture. As I watched this week's video installments, I immediately would see a connection between the ideas (nomos, etmos, archon, etc.) and the culture in which I'm living. It's a new thought that I'm entertaining, that architecture, the layout of a city, and the consequences of these, could teach me so much about the savior-faire of a culture. So being a student of architecture, I suppose the most logical starting point for this discussion would be archon. In my short tenure here (it's been 2 weeks today), I've visited quite a few sites and it's given me not only an understanding of the architectural feeling of the city, but the cultural feeling of the city. The purest example would be The Sagrada Familia.

The Sagarda Familia has come to be a representational landmark of the city. If you were to
receive a post card from Barcelona (and some of you will!) chances are likely it's going to have either the Sagrada Familia or another Gaudi work. Work on the structure was begun in 1909
and completed in... tbd (expected 2029). Throughout the 100 years that it has been under construction, the building has evolved from a house of worship to the symbol of an entire culture. To state it simply, there is nothing like it elsewhere on earth; it is purely Catalan. The Catalan native Gaudi drew his inspiration primarily from studying plant forms, all of which were native to the region. The building employs local sandstone and rock from around northern Spain and southern France. When the final tower is completed, the structure will thrust 170 meters into the sky, a monument to Catalan ingenuity, and a representation of the pride and independent spirit of the Catalan people. The facade of the building also shows the rich artistic heritage of the place, supporting a cast of statues that range from a classical style, to a series of modernly artistic sculptures constructed throughout the 1990's. The building, like the city, has managed to adapt to the changing of the times, through scarring and formative times like the Civil War (the interior of the building was razed), and through cultural shifts such as the modern art movement, while still maintaing its unique sense that it is proudly unique.
Most of the architecture built before the 21st century had this quality of being Catalan, something the city prides itself on. Now however, the city has begun moving in a different direction, causing much controversy. Barcelona has now become known as, "the city where all the star architects come to build their worst building." The city has also chosen to tear down certain established neighborhoods in order to make room for denser housing. While development is not a bad thing, the way the city is going about it is where the controversy lies. In one particular neighborhood, a low rent community, the established tenants are being evicted and their houses torn down for highways. The people are given an opportunity to move to the new flats, however the structure and community, or the subculture that exists there, is slowly being destroyed and replaced with something that completely disregards that this culture ever existed. Perhaps the worst part is when the tenants are moved into the new building, they now have a perfect view to watch their old houses demolished from the tiny balcony which has now replaced the open squares and public space that they once enjoyed. Although the city is making mistakes in areas like these, in other sectors it is making great strides in opening up public space, which is where all of the culture of the city is enacted.
Before coming here, like any other traveler, I researched the culture and geography of the region where I read that the primary national language was not in fact Spanish, but rather Catalan. I assumed that was just for historical significance and that it was an afterthought to Spanish. Upon arriving here I was shocked to see that all the signs, directions, etc, were written not in Spanish, but in Catalan. Barcelona and the Catalan people really pride themselves in their language. Everyone here does speak Spanish, (and usually English), but Catalan takes first chair. From this I learned a lot about the spirit of the people. They are open to the world, and are quite friendly, but it is clear that maintaining their own identity is of top priority. Movies are dubbed from English to Catalan, a language with less than 10 million speakers; this isn't even done for Dutch or Danish. Here, being Catalan is a "whole way of life." Barcelonan food, the architecture, the city- all of these elements have outside influences, but at their core they are Catalan. The people here are quite able in finding a way to take something from outside the culture and integrate it into their own in a way that not only preserves the Catalan core, but transforms the new influence into something new, and therefor Catalonian. Through looking at this etnos, I have quickly had to readjust the manner in which I think about Barcelona, the people here, and how I understand their customs. Knowing of this independent pride enables me to interact socially with the people here better. Rather than approaching the trip as if I were a tourist visiting simply another part of Spain, I know try to think of myself as someone who is living in Catalan, thinking about what I can learn from the Catalan culture and how I can place myself into that culture and work within it, rather than to observe it, and make it my own.

Friday, January 15, 2010

a sense of online community

I know I had a blog running already, however I have decided to post to two sites; this blog will be for completing class assignments for the CLAM course, while the other site will be a place where I can share my personal experiences abroad with friends, family, and my fellow CLAMers, found here.  This move will enable me to separate the fields of work and play, while still maintaing a strong link between the two sites as I foresee that much of the material will overlap.  Links between blogs of a different nature such as this are my way of attempting to structure the online community in which I am involved. As I am one of the millions who suffer from the affliction known simply as "facebook addiction," I look forward to coordinating by blog with my facebook community.  This community represents for me a way to expand the social network that I have established in the public world into my private life, not in a sense that it may feel like an invasion of privacy, but rather I can continue to contribute and build this community from my home or from a distance, even as far a distance as say Barcelona, Spain for instance.  As far as other forms of online communication and media that I have explored are twitter and myspace, although I never got too into either of those, and have since abandoned them.  Apart from facebook, the other large part of my role in the online community consists of my membership to several sites concerning music.  I am a member of a number of fan sites for certain bands, and the message boards on the sites are like mini communities for people with a very particular interest.  I also have recently discovered a site called bandcamp; here artists and bands are given a site, free of charge, to upload their music for other users to download, while simultaneously providing the artists with information about who is listening, what they're listening to, and how often each song or album is played or downloaded.  Within this site I have found many new bands, as well as many new friends willing to help and collaborate to create a positive movement in the music industry. All this being said, I am really looking forward to getting into the material of this course and learning about some fantastic ways of better communicating with the communities with which I am familiar, as well as some newly discovered sites.