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 contrasts

This week has been somewhat of a come down after three jam-packed weeks of visitors and weekends away. We have been so lucky to have many friends and family visit from Australia, and our little apartment and day-to-day lives seem a bit quiet and dull now that they have gone.

Quiet is not always bad. It’s nice to focus on the minutiae of life for a bit: making sure there is edible food in the house, finally cleaning some clothes, and getting stuck into bigger tasks at work. But it makes a stark contrast to the last few weeks of travelling and saying salut every night. I think we will feel somewhat lonely in the weeks to come, as autumn and winter slowly descend on the Ebro Valley.

Tortosa, in its special way, also managed to provide a lovely display of contrast this weekend, in the form of two little festivals (it’s been more than two weeks, right?!)

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The week of Festes de la Cinta

“What?!”, I can hear you spluttering at your screen. “Another festival? Is she serious? Surely after Sant Jordi, Sant Joan, Benicàssim, the Three Kings and the Renaixement Festival that is enough, at least for a little while. Do some work for goodness sake!”

That’s what I thought too. And believe me, I am trying to work. But this week, this was a big one. Possibly the most important one for Tortosa, because it contained two important days: the celebration of their patron saint, and a Catalonia’s national day.Read More »

The week of Sant Joan

This week brought with it a delightful mid-week fiesta, the day of Sant Joan. The Catalan holiday combines a celebration for the summer solstice with a day commemorating the birth of Saint John the Baptist.

If you are a boy lucky enough to be called Joan, then June 24 is your name day — like a second birthday, complete with gifts, family celebrations and maybe even cake. In fact, most Catalans that are named after saints have name days as well as their birthday, how great is that! I am yet to find a Saint Linden…

The 24th might be great for Joans, but it is the night of the 23rd that is the big verbena. Fireworks, bonfires and all-night parties happen on this ‘Nit de Foc’ (night of fire), welcoming the Spanish summer and symbolically burning the old to make way for the new. People get together to share cava and an oval-shaped traditional cake, the Coca de Sant Joan. In this region it is also common to snails, a local delicacy.

Apparently the number of fires has decreased over the years, presumably in response to safety concerns. I have to admit I stifled a gasp at a celebration that promotes fire during the summer! This would never fly in Australia. Nonetheless, the firework stores in Tortosa had queues coming of out their doors for several days leading up to Tuesday night, and children of all ages (seriously, I saw a two-year-old have a go) have been throwing noisy crackers in the street for a week or more.

But when the big night came, the fires in town were overshadowed by natural entertainment in the form of a huge thunderstorm that flashed and rumbled and drenched poor Tortosa for over an hour. The lightning was very spectacular, but it put a dampener on many of the parties in the surrounding suburbs. In the end we had to set off our meagre collection of crackers next to a supermarket car park that had become a temporary lake.

Fireworks
Our firework stash and subsequent display.

Wednesday, the public holiday, is a day for the beach. Rest and recovery after a big night. We had left the abuelos to their dancing at 2am on Tuesday, and so were up relatively early, ready for a fun day celebrating Sant Joan in Tarragona.

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Couples dancing to a band by the river at about 2am on the night of Sant Joan. Notice the drenched paper tablecloths…

Tarragona is a moderate city about an hour from Tortosa, rich with Roman history and a wonderful place to explore. We wandered around the old city walls before joining the throngs of families celebrating with paella by the sea. Later on we slept off the paella on the beach, as instructed, and then rounded out the day watching some castellers build their best human towers in Tarragona’s central square.

Paella marisco and a castell in Tarragona
Paella marisco and a castell in Tarragona.

I am now writing this in 36 ºC heat, with nothing but sunshine in the forecast, so it seems we have welcomed summer correctly.

The week I wrote about science instead

One of the reasons I started this blog was to share my experiences of living and working in Spain, hoping to fill the gap that I discovered when frantically Googling ‘how to live in Spain as an Australian’ before we left home. I enjoy sharing what we see, what we eat, and where we discover in this largely unknown region of southern Catalonia. It might be useful for others to know how we survived the administration process, and what to expect. I write for my friends, my family, for Past Me, and hopefully for future visitors.

One of the other reasons I started this blog was to tell stories and snippets from my research, which (until I got here) was mainly about historical weather observations in Australia. This topic is an amazing combination of history and science, of characters and statistics, and throughout my PhD I was determined to tell those stories to more people than my patient friends and obliging parents.

And so this website is a combination. Una mezcla. Part professional, and part…not. Sometimes I feel bad about this. I want to say sorry to those who have arrived here looking for info on Australia’s climate history, and are instead bombarded with pictures of Catalan booze. Equally, I want to apologise to my mates who want to keep up to date with our adventures here, but have to wade through the science stuff that they may find boring. I worry too, that when it comes time for me to find another job, this quasi-professional approach might bite me in the backside, as I have shared too much of my personal life.

But you know, most of the time I do not want to apologise. To take that young person’s phrase that I don’t completely understand, I’m sorrynotsorry. Just like any profession, scientists don’t do science all the time. Sure, we may appreciate the world in a different way, but we are still living in that world, and occasionally doing non-sciencey things, just as accountants do non-accountanty things, and waitresses do non-waitressy things.

And maybe one day a potential young scientist might come across this blog and realise that he can be passionate about clinical psychology AND about his random love of baking dog-shaped cakes, or that her love of physics with her goal of visiting every football stadium in the world can co-exist happily. Or perhaps a skeptic might stumble here looking for details about historical Victorian weather and find that the scientists who study this stuff are real, complex people too, and may think twice before publishing something hateful on her blog.

Who knows. But either way, this week I finally put together a small tale about Melbourne’s meteorological history. Light on graphs, but effective at making me homesick, this is a summary of some key sights to see in Melbourne if you are on a nerdy science tour. Enjoy! Or don’t.