It’s the little things

It’s been over four months since we said goodbye to the sunshine and summer of Catalonia and returned to the changeable grey of Melbourne. It’s incredible how fast things disappear into the past, and already our flat in Tortosa seems like years ago.

We will always have a home in Catalonia, as it will always sit in my heart. At the same time, it’s nice to be back among the wide streets and wide accent under the big Australian sky.

As H and I have plowed on with work and friend reconnecting and getting married (!), it’s hard to find time to miss the big life things that we had in Spain. The freedom, the castles, the late nights and the history. It’s more the little things, the subtle ways that I have changed since we flew out of Tullamarine on the first day of summer in 2014.

Seeing as its 12 days until Christmas, here are the 12 little things I’ve noticed since coming back home:

The Accent

I now pronounce my Rs. You can’t help Catalans with their English if you speak with an Australian drawl (e.g. “ya English is geddin heaps bedda” helps no one), so I have learnt to deliveR my Rs.

The Bathroom

Almost all public bathrooms in Spain have sensor lights that automatically turn on when you walk in (more for economic reasons than environmental ones I think). This is surprisingly easy to get use to. After a few incidences of dancing in the dark trying to turn on a sensor light that didn’t exist, I now have to turn the light switch on when I go. I don’t like it.

The Cost

I have to pay $8 for a pot of beer now (rather that €1), and I don’t like that either.

The Dinnertime

This has been easy to get used to actually, and 7pm no longer seems like an offensively early time for tea. However I do miss the relaxing feeling of knowing that the shops are open until late, and there is no rush for dinner.

The Eating of Bread

Last Friday night I ate a hamburger and unconsciously turned it upside down, to avoid stabbing the roof of my mouth with hard baguette crust. This life hack had become second nature after 20 months of eating jamon bocadillos! Not really necessary for a hipster-friendly brioche roll.

The Fresh Food Aisle

On our first weekend back in Australia we went to a supermarket to get some vegetables. Apart from the heartbreak of seeing artichokes for $2.50 each (EACH!), I felt an extreme sense of guilt about not weighing and bagging my own vegetables and obtaining a sticker for the check-out guy to scan. Standard practise in Europe, I had forgotten that we don’t do it like that here.

The Gratis Water

It’s from the tap and it’s free at restaurants in Australia! I still find myself sculling all of the free water before we leave a table, just out of habit.

The Hourly Updates

In Tortosa we lived down the street from the town cathedral, which chimed every 15 minutes from 7am until midnight. It was sort of annoying at the time (particularly because the song on the hour went for about a minute) but now I really miss knowing the time without having to look at anything.

The Impromptu Celebrations

Last month I was in the city (as a free range researcher is wont to do) and I heard a big noise. Did I jump, or hide in fear? No! I automatically assumed it was a parade of some sort, and found myself looking for the marching band which would show up on the streets of Tortosa for celebrations large or small. In the end it was actually just a trolley.

The Joyful Disregard for Safety

There is a reason I don’t know the Spanish (or Catalan) words for ‘safety rail’, and there’s a reason why we loved visiting towers on our weekend. The freedom to clamber all over high, dangerous places is a wonderful treat that is hard to find in Oz. But that doesn’t mean we won’t keep looking.

The Kids Everywhere

I now expect children to be at every event and venue we go to, be it a 10am brunch or 10pm concert, because that was standard practise in Spain. There are plenty of kidlets at cafes here, but I see far fewer out for dinner.

The Love

Even after four months I have to stop myself from saying ‘Bon profit’ if I pass people eating their lunch outside. I’m still getting used to not giving ‘dos besos’ when saying hello. And I’m still missing the wonderful people we met on the banks of the Ebro.

More scientific posts will come in 2017 but until then, Bon Nadal!

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Merry Christmas from these two other little Catalan fellows!
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Holiday! Celebrate! By working?

This week, I have had the unadulterated luxury of being on holiday. And not a travelling holiday either: a plonk yourself next to the pool, sunset drinks, working on your tan, proper vacation. Although it’s been great, these kinds of breaks are not my usual fare. I am much better at seeing and doing than I am at sitting still.

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Not a bad place to sit still really…

Plus, like most scientists, I couldn’t quite shake what Dr Climate refers to as holiday guilt — the idea that I should really be working rather than lounging around. While I know this is common for most people, it seems particularly rampant in academics.

Obviously, too much work and not enough play is bad for your mental health and work productivity. But, if you have to address your gnawing conscience, is there some good that can come out of a little bit of work in between swims?Read More »

The week that was a year

This post is a week late because of a long weekend and a cold. Delivering something a bit later than planned is also an extremely Catalan experience (particularly when it comes to trains), so I think it’s sort of appropriate.

We have officially been here for a year now. Isn’t that crazy? It certainly doesn’t feel like a year to me, although looking back at the blog posts, photos and town maps that we have accumulated in the past 12 months the number of adventures we’ve had makes it easy to think that we have actually been here for longer.

Many of the things that seemed completely foreign to us when we arrived now seem common place. Of course you would not eat lunch before 2pm and all shops will be shut from 1:30pm until 5pm. Naturally you celebrate every religious, local or charity event with a parade through the streets featuring a marching band and some giants. And obviously you would not even consider eating any meal without bread, preferably bread that is rubbed with tomato.Read More »

The week of responsible research

Responsible research, sustainable science, aware academia. No matter which alliteration you choose, considering the environmental impact of your research sounds a bit meaningless, like dynamic synergy.

But is it?  If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense for climate researchers to think about the climate footprint of their research.  The two main pros for this are that:
a)  we obviously need to reduce global carbon emissions right now and everyone has to do their part, but also that
b) climate scientists will be more well respected if we lead by example. Wouldn’t you have less faith in your doctor if she was a smoker, or put less trust in your architect if he lived in a ugly house?

Read More »

The week of the cry

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Is it worth it?

A few days ago I came home for lunch and had one of the biggest melt downs I’ve had in ages. Not one of those little tearies that might happen after you stub your toe, but a full on, family pet died kind of crying session. Why? Because I could not solve a problem at work. All morning I had tried and tried to fix this small issue, and it simply would not budge. I was frustrated at myself and the world, and the only non-violent way to deal with it was to cry. Don’t tell Tim Hunt.Read More »

The week in the cloud

When I was at school, I would always take home what I now realise was ‘optimistic homework’. Two text books, two binders, my pencil case, the novel we were reading in English, three notebooks, my diary, and my calculator. You know, just in case. It was lucky for me that large, surfing brand backpacks were cool when I was at high school, because mine was chock-a-block on the bus almost every day, full of tasks that I ‘might’, but generally didn’t, complete.

During my PhD, I did all of my work on a laptop. It was connected to a large monitor most days (I’m not a complete posture masochist) but again it meant that almost every night I would ride home with my Mac Book Pro on my back, full of intentions to work. Inevitably, I would then drag it back again the next day having not opened it at all.

My current work situation puts me in the blessed position of being able to walk to and from my office. I can come home for lunch, nip back if I’ve forgotten something, and walk a lovely 3km everyday. But finally, I am getting a bit smarter. I take a small bag, my diary, a bottle of water, and that’s it. Why? Because now I live in the cloud.Read More »