November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving, how I love thee. Let me count the ways...

I feel like a kid in school the day before Thanksgiving; I can't concentrate on work, I am watching the clock waiting for early dismissal, and my desk is getting a quick straightening. I guess the only difference now is that there is no official bell (just the blessing of my boss) telling me when I can leave. I am giddy in anticipation of going home for my most favorite holiday of the year. It's funny because growing up it was always my favorite time of year, whether we were hosting in our own home or driving to my aunt and uncle's or grandmother's.

The idea of "home for the holidays" now has taken on even more special meaning for me as I literally DO have to travel home to see my family (though thankfully, not in an airplane on the busiest travel day of the year as my poor brother does coming from Texas). This year in particular feels extra great because I was abroad in Spain for almost three months and one realization I had over there is how important it is to have family nearby (or within one time zone)!

Since my brother and I both "flew the coop" and moved south (he a lot farther than I did), I think our family looks EXTRA forward to this one time a year when all of us are brought together. In fact, my bro and I have been talking about it for the past few months via the phone and email! I know it's more than my Mom's cooking (though that IS a main reason for excitement!). It's the tradition of getting together and seeing cousins and family who we don't get to see all year, sitting around the table and sharing what we are thankful for, talking about New England sports and politics and the latest movies, watching little by little as the number of chairs added to the table grow, and just feeling so warm because I am surrounded by the people I love and eating a fantastic meal!

So although the news may be depressing these days, relish in knowing you have your health, your friends & family and have a delicious Thanksgiving!

November 25, 2008


A creative-minded coworker alerted me to this book via an article from O Magazine yesterday afternoon and was kind enough to make a copy of it (the article, which was an interview between writer Daniel Pink and Oprah) for me to read on my travel home from work. Reading the article inspired me to a) want to buy the book and b) realized how exciting it is to be in the field of design. Though at this time in the world people are just thankful for having a job, I am hopeful for the future this book talks about – where the world is led by right-brained designers, writers and other creators! It is definitely going on my book wishlist.

November 21, 2008

Now THIS is How a Fashion Show Should Look!

I know this was in mid-September but since I was out of the country (that's been my excuse for not knowing some things) I was just alerted to Stella McCartney's fashion show for her Spring 2009 Adidas collection. My trend-watching coworker brought it my attention to it and we loved it! How clever to have some actual ATHLETES modeling WORKOUT clothes! No one really wants to see size 0 girls with no muscle in running pants and sports bras. Nobody's bodies really fill out workout clothes like that. I loved her new approach!

November 19, 2008

The Basics: Just a Notebook & A Pen.

One of artist Matt Mullican's sketches/drawings

One of my favorite things about being a graphic designer who had their teachings in the basics of art FIRST and then learned about design, is that I have always loved to draw. In fact, years before I learned about Illustrator or Photoshop (or back in my days of high school design, Freehand) I was mapping my paper with crayons and pens and paints; pretty much anything I could get my hands on that made a mark on my drawing surface.

This still holds true today.
My coworkers joke with me daily that I can't complete a story or idea without grabbing a writing utensil and post-it or piece of notebook paper. I try to start all of my design projects with a great pen that flows black ink from it's tip easily onto my blank paper. Notes, words, layout ideas, logos, photography layouts. All new projects MUST start with this basic idea of "sketching". Once these sketches are finished, I have moved to my Mac, and even after the project has been completed and out the door, I love to look back at my original ideas/plans. I think they show more character and purpose than the finished product (sometimes, not all) and so it is because of this love of not only the written word and picture on paper as well as the thought process that I also LOVE looking at other people's sketches. I think you can tell so much about a person and what their true intentions are. After reading this article about artist Matt Mullican's notebook love I am reminded of the basics of art and design and why I do love it all so much. And why making time for that pen and paper is so crucial.

November 18, 2008

Remember These?!

Tonight I am heading to the Society of Illustrators Children's Book Illustration show (which is by FAR my favorite show of the year which I have been attending for 6 years now) and so when my coworker asked if I would like to take a walk to Barnes & Noble and check out the kids books I more than happily obliged! What better way to get my excitement level up for the amazing art and kids' books I would be seeing later in the day? Well, imagine my pleasant surprise when browsing through the children's section and reminiscing about books of my past, when I came upon the newly designed Judy Blume books (published by one of my favorite children's booksellers, Scholastic)?! More specifically, the Fudge series which I absolutely adored as a child, ala Tales of Fourth Grade Nothing, Otherwise Known As Sheila the Great, Superfudge, and Double Fudge just to name a few. I love the clean simple, yet fun, colors and cute minimalistic illustrations popping out of the vertical striped bar!

November 17, 2008

Get Happy!

As you might all know, I was pretty awe-struck by how incredible all of the design around Barcelona was. Well, not just their printed pieces had me smilin' but some of their video/TV as well. This is a TV spot they had there (though I had first seen the print ads in the metro which just had me grinning when I saw them) advertising for TMB (their transportation authority, essentially the company that runs their metro). I not only found the finished TV ad online but BETTER...the MAKING of the ad which is far more interesting (watch until the end, and you can see the completed version which is higher quality than this YouTube video I found). Enjoy!

I have also decided that I need to get the song from iTunes (but can't figure out who sings it!).

November 14, 2008

Back in NYC! And building Muppets!

What better way to start off my first posting in NYC than to talk about the New York City toy store FAO Schwarz and their fantastic and fun new product – build your own muppet at The Muppet WhatNot Workshop! I just made one online and then continued to laugh for about 3 minutes at my silly creation. The finished products are definitely a little pricey ($90) but I love the concept of combining creativity with personalization and toys. You can ALSO give the gift of making a muppet TO someone. What a fantastic gift for a little kid (err, or a 28-year old graphic designer!).

November 6, 2008

The Last Day. The Final Adios.

They just put these up on a bunch of poles down in Plaza Catalunya and I couldn't resist taking a photo as it seemed a perfect design way to send me off...I love the graphic icon of Barcelona (from left to right at the top of those globule things are the silos of: MNAC, Christopher Columbus statue, the "needle" on top of Montjuic, Sagrada Familia, two towers that are down by the water at Port Olimpic and the funny-looking Agbar Tower)

I am incredulous that I am sitting here in Aroma Cafe for the last time of my stay here in Barcelona; in awe, in fact, that I am typing what will be my last blog posting from Spain. I never thought this day would come, or I did, just not what seems so soon. When I first arrived and was looking out the window of the bus and thinking "how did I even GET here?", November 7th wasn't even a blip on the radar of "near future". Even a month ago, it seemed fairly close but not realistically close. Now? Well look what happened, my trip is done, my 79 day stay here is over, and I am off to the airport with my FULLY stuffed suitcase tomorrow morning.

Without a doubt I can say that this trip has been the experience of a lifetime and if I had second thoughts about it at any time during the year (which I know I did), I am glad I ignored them and decided to come anyway. The things I have seen, learned, heard, smelled and tasted have all been amazing (well not all, but MOST). The journey to a country where I knew no one and didn't know the language all too well was an experiment in mental toughness and I think I came out fairly unscathed. There were definitely times when I longed for things very American; a good brunch, peanut butter, English speakers at transportation terminals, warm water that I don't need to "heat" first, and a small myriad of other things I am sure I will notice once I get back.

In terms of getting everything I wanted out of this journey while being here, I can confidently say I have. This also seems like it has been the biggest "field trip" of my life. I just hope my memory can retain all that I have learned and taken in; especially my Spanish. Though I am definitely not fluent by any means, I feel much more confident about talking to people and asking about things; I've even been watching "Anatomía de Grey" with my flatmates and have come to understand MOST of what's going on (though its still strange to me not hearing the REAL Cristina or George's voice) though I'm excited to watch it in English.

A few people have been asking me what my feelings are about coming home. I remember right before I arrived to Barcelona and wondering that same thing, what would I be thinking on November 6th? Well, I can say that I am ready to come back to the States. I feel very fortunate that I was able to do this for myself and seen what I have but "real life" calls and I am ready to: go back to working fulltime, seeing my friends and Matt, picking up my cell phone to call people whenever I want (without having to do the math of the time difference), being able to dry my clothes in a dryer and not on a clothesline where I pray to god that the neighbors above don't empty their buckets of water, knowing how to read all of the menus in any restaurant I may go into, not having to inhale second hand smoke (like I am right at this very mooment) in all public places, drinking water from the faucet and overall living in New York City!

In case anyone was wondering this is a quick list of things that I have accumulated since being here:

• 6 times I have gone to the Sagrada Familia
• 10 times I will have been to the Barcelona Airport (I am up to 9 now and tomorrow morning will make the 10th)
• 4 flatmates I have had since living here
• over 2500 photos I have taken since leaving JFK Airport
• 2 articles of clothing I have dropped from the clothesline - but retrieved with the handle of the broom
• 9 flats I looked at when needing a place to live
• too many to count are the number of olives I have eaten
• 5 friends/family I was lucky enough to see while being over here
• 1 trip I will never forget

I want to thank all of you who have been reading this blog since I came here. Thank you for your kind words in either the comments or in your emails you have sent me. It means SO much that my friends and family have been reading and 'seeing' what I have been doing; it feels good to have "been in touch" even if I haven't physically seen or talked to anyone.

Signing off from Barcelona for the last time...

November 4, 2008

Last of the Park...and Madrid.

Some more pictures from the park. The last one is actually a view through a cool railing that overlooked the entrance; which is NOT how I had entered, I came in through a much less perfectly manicured lawn.

Overall, I liked Madrid more than I had initially thought I would; it grew on me after I woke up my first morning there. I loved the energy of the people and I also liked that it sort of reminded me of a Spanish NYC, complete with people dressed mostly in black. It is definitely very different from the “anything goes” attitude of Barcelona but I still enjoyed my stay there.

Crystal Palace IN the Park.

These photos are ALL from the Palacio de Cristal inside the park. I couldn’t stop shooting it! I guess there is a “water exhibit” of some sort inside but alas, it was closed one day of the week – Tuesday (aka the day I was there).

Parque del Retiro.

The last sightseeing of this trip to Madrid was at the Parque del Retiro. I was one minute from not going to the park because it was just way too cold to be strolling around on the cloudy, raw day that it was on Tuesday but I decided to plow through as it was on my list of things to do, I love parks, and I would be in a warm airport soon enough!

Well, as with almost everything I have almost decided not to do, I was very happy I had that little pep-talk with myself because I loved the park and would have been sad if I had not seen it. I couldn’t stop taking pictures and I was even getting annoyed with myself each time I HAD to take a photo (which involved taking off my right mitten and exposing that hand to the elements); but there were such pretty things to take photos of! The park also re-reminded me how much I have missed running (there were a lot of runners in the park) since I have been here and made me for the only time jealous that I hadn’t chosen Madrid to live instead of Barcelona because I would have had a FABULOUS park to run in as much as I wanted.

The Barefoot Royals (though, it's cold in there, so I hope they have slippers)

Monasterio de las Descalzes Reales was started in the 17th century by a woman named Joan of Asturias who had been sadly widowed by her Portuguese husband at the young age of 19. Since she was part of the royal family of Spain at the time, she returned and with the means her family provided her she opened the monastery. It was also noted once we saw a few portraits of young Joan that from the time of her husband’s death she only wore black as a way of mourning forever.

The reason this monastery is a stop on some tourist routes is for its wealth of paintings and sculpture; mostly from the 15 through 17th century and many given specifically to the monastery (as prior the building had been a palace). Maybe it was because every other painting was of Jesus or Mary with child or St. Francis or St. Claire (the two saints from whom two different churches have nuns living there from) but I wasn’t overly impressed with it all. I mean all of the little chapels we got a tour of had small, great collections as well as the different other rooms we saw, but compared to what I had seen the day before it was a bit of a letdown. And it was FREEZING in there! I hope the nuns rooms are warmer than the rest of the monastery. The three highlights for me were a collection of tapestries which were commissioned by Joan’s sister and which were weaved outside of Spain and based on drawings from Rubens, a wooden sculpture of Mary which was the most delicate and beautiful I have seen her look in any works of art thus far, and the third best thing was an enormous painting of a huge ship docking into a port with small boats flanking it to the sides. All of which were FILLED with people. I know I am not describing it that well and since the monastery doesn’t know who painted it, I can’t even look it up but take my word for it, it was pretty good. Again, there was no photography allowed so I have nothing to show.

Third Day in (cold) Madrid.

This has nothing to do with the writing in this post, but I loved this sign that was up in a tapas bar I was in my first night. It translates to:

Singing is prohibited.

I didn’t get much sleep Monday night which I think was due to ruminating a lot about the election, life as I have known it for the past 2 months and three weeks, life as it is going to be after I return, and just thoughts running through my head at warp speeds until almost 3 in the morning. I tried reading (though had a TERRIBLE book which I have since abandoned after plugging through over 200 pages and convincing myself it would get better. It didn’t.). I tried watching/interpreting a terrible movie with Matthew Perry, Amanda Peet, and Bruce Willis. Nothing helped as soon as I would have liked it to but alas I did finally fall asleep; only to be awakened at 8:14 by that construction I mentioned a few posts back.

Anyhow, I wouldn’t let tiredness slow me down since it was my last day in Madrid and I had only until about 5 at night before I needed to make my way to the airport. So I started it yet again at ye ole’ faithful La Suiza for breakfast and some writing and then walked west again towards my first destination of the day which was Monasterio de las Descalzes Reales (which literally means Monastery of the Barefoot Royals). On the walk I passed a chain bookstore which I knew sold a good collection of books in English so I stopped in to remedy the book “problem” I have had for the past month and a half called “Night Train to Lisbon” by a Swiss author (I wasn’t going to mention it by name but if you happen to be darting around Barnes & Noble – or the library – and this catches your eye, I would like to save you the time, effort and 10Euros).

Armed with the prospect of a new book (which I must say I have already dove into 160 of its 540 pages and I am VERY happen with my decision. It is called “White Teeth” by an English author named Zadie Smith who won a few awards for it when it was first published in 2000. I will of course let you know when I finish it if I would recommend it.) I made my way to the monastery to find out they do indeed give tours in English (RoughGuides had told me only Spanish and that you could just walk around the monastery if you wanted, sans guide) and that’s the only way to see the place. I ended up having to wait 45 minutes but there was a Corte Ingles nearby so I popped in and just wandered around since it was warm in there until it was time to head back to take my tour.

November 3, 2008

The Tracks & Some Tiles.

Strange, but the very first thing I noticed about Madrid is that their metro runs in the opposite direction. Usually (or at least in Barcelona, Boston, and New York City) the trains pull into the station from left to right and so you are boarding through the doors on the right side. Well in Madrid it goes the other way around! Just a small observation I thought I would share. These pictures above are not of the subways of course but of some great tiles and restaurant fronts around the city.

Plaza Oriente.

Next stop for the afternoon was to the Plaza Oriente who’s highlight is 44 marble sculptures surrounding the gardens (don’t worry, I didn’t take pictures of more than 2 of them).

Royal Palace.

I then went 3-for-3 in my ratio of not finding major LARGE city monuments as I attempted to search for the Palacios Real (Royal Palace) – as you may or may not know, I couldn’t find MNAC in Barcelona and then the Alhambra in Granada and now the Royal Palace in Madrid. I wouldn’t feel so bad about this except these are all BIG places and take up good chunks on city maps that I have no excuse for NOT being able to find them. Alas, it is what it is.

Anyhow, I finally found it and am so glad I did. The presence of it from the street and just once you step into the plaza of the Palace is so overwhelming and just royal. It is still in use for the King and Queen of Spain when they have royal guests and other events so it made it even more interesting walking around the many, many rooms. I decided to take the audioguide tour – they totally hooked me with their advertising which was a big poster (in 4 languages) next to the audioguide rental desk asking “Do you know how many guests can be seated at once in the royal dining room?....Take the audioguide and find out!” Da*n, they are good. Or I am just curious but either way, I’m glad I took it because I learned way much more about each room than I never would have known otherwise.

So the rooms of the Palace. Wow. Amazing. Opulent. Artistic. Detailed. Perfect craftsmanship. Jaw-dropping. I sadly can’t show you any pictures because yet again, there were none allowed and if I slightly feared the guards working at Palau Musica, was a bit worried about those at the Picasso Museum, and fully feared the man working at the Sistine Chapel, then I was beyond fearful of the men and women who worked for the royal court of Spain! Alas, I did not even attempt a photo but am hoping my memory can retain it all for years to come because it was seriously incredible and I would definitely put it on my Top 10 of things I have seen/done since I have been here. Each room had the finest of silks and carpets and marble and commissioned paintings (on the walls AND many of the ceilings) and clocks and sculptures and furniture and floors and wallpaper and windows and the colors. The colors! Each room had a color scheme just a little different from the next but all so rich. The armory was also pretty impressive (where the kings had displayed all of their armor and swords and guns) and surprisingly, I loved the Royal Pharmacy. Just six smallish rooms but each containing shelves and shelves of ceramic urns and glass jars and some with rows upon rows of drawers all labeled with different medicines or herbs. I also found out (via my handy dandy audioguide) that there was a locked cabinet filled with poisons!

I am sorry I can’t show you anything but the exterior of the building but I CAN give you the answer to the audioguide’s intriguing question on their advertising. 140. Yes, one-hundred and forty people can sit around that royal dining room table for dinner when all of the leaves are in place and chairs are set around.

The Plaza Mayor.

After I was caffeinated, I made my way west through Plaza Sol (which is the center of the city and where you really must walk through to get to any other part of the city as it seems almost all roads lead to Sol) and then onto a much prettier and quieter square called Plaza Mayor where I took a stroll around, inspecting it from all sides and then headed out one of the arched entryways. These all seemed to have a great sideways view down a street which emptied out of the Plaza.

La Suiza.

The second day of my Madrid trip began with a stop at a really cute café called La Suiza which was in the Plaza next to mine. It was exactly what I was looking for; a place with SEATS (as it seems that since arriving I hadn’t sat down much since everywhere I went had no chairs) where I could do some writing, a good café Americano and good croissant with minimal smokers.

November 2, 2008

Yes, This IS Where I Stayed in Madrid.

One quick note has to be written about my hostal accommodation. It was in a perfect area as I was able to walk everywhere from it without having to take transport anywhere. It was in a small plaza-walkthrough and close to many restaurants, bars, and stores but wasn’t loud at all for sleeping (except when I was awoken Tuesday morning at 8:14 on the dot by the sound of sawing metal from construction nearby). I would recommend it for anyone. As long as they are not staying alone and ARE slightly claustrophobic. I don’t know if these photos show it well or not BUT I am pretty sure my room was no more than 6 feet wide as the bed took up the entire width from head to foot and when I was laying in bed I couldn’t stretch my legs completely without hitting toes to the wall. Also, and this was the funniest thing to me, I had a shower which opened up RIGHT next to the door with only 3 sides covered (no curtain, no door, nada) which combined with REALLY strong water pressure made it difficult not to get water all over the floor and my things. Oh and I had a sink (right next to the shower as you can see) but no toilet. I knew this before I signed up for the room, but still found it funny that I had 2 out of the 3 bathroom components SANS the bathroom; just sitting in the room like they were a desk or chair or some other furniture (of which there wasn’t either).

These pictures weren’t easy to take either, as I couldn’t get far enough away to get the WHOLE room in the frame. Hahah. I am laughing again just thinking about it. The first was taken while laying in my bed and yes, that’s my blanket and no, the zoom isn’t on nor am I using any photoshop techniques; the room really was that small.

So many much art!

A few hours later I went back to “museum row” and headed to the Prado Art Museum as it is also free on Sundays (but from 5-8). It seems a lot of other people in Madrid decided to do the same because when I got there I saw a sizeable line which I waited (through the cold) in front of 4 eager American college kids here on a study abroad and behind what I thought were two Americans possibly here just out of college and traveling around. For about twenty minutes the line moved little by little by little (though we had entertainment in the form of the guy in the photo above playing the violin and his buddy – not pictured – playing the guitar) and then I finally found my way to the spot where the line turned towards the museum (picture an “L” shape) and all of a sudden a foreign couple appeared in front of me as if they had been there the entire time. The woman had her back to me so I tapped her shoulder and rationally told her (in Spanish) where the line ended and where SHE was and should not be, and where I was and should be. She answered me in some other language and didn’t seem to have any care about common courtesy and ended up cutting the eager college students behind me without hearing a peep from them.

The two in front of me made a sarcastic comment about the rude couple and I smiled, which prompted them to ask if I knew English. Which made me laugh and tell them I was American! Anyhow, these two were pretty funny and were actually Canadian (but without the “eh”s peppered in their speech) AND graphic designers just graduated from college in the spring AND on their way to Barcelona the following day during their 2-month European trip. How coincidental? I ended up walking around the museum with them for awhile and parted ways giving them a small list of things to they must see in Barcelona (strange. It was my first time giving a recommendation and not taking one).

So the art in the Prado was all incredible and so wonderfully done by mostly 17th and 18th century painters – Velazquez, Rubens, Goya, Zurbaran, etc. There were a lot of well-known ones which I definitely remembered from college and overall just quite an impressive collection. I did have a couple of complaints and that was that the museum REALLY packed the exhibit rooms with their paintings; one after another and in some rooms one above another. Also, I thought the glare of the light shining down on many dark backgrounds of the paintings made it a little difficult to really take in the WHOLE painting.

All in all, it was a super art-filled day – about 5 hours in total – and a good first one in Madrid in hindsight. I must admit I wasn’t enthralled with the city the way I was when I first arrived to all of the other Spanish cities I had been to. I had heard that Madrid wasn’t all that aesthetically pleasing as most other cities are so I was prepared for that. I think maybe the cold had soured my view though.