Wednesday, October 30, 2013

and next on the list ...

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What a ridiculous 3 weeks we've had. Papers and midterms, the final one (Financial Accounting) done today. Drained. But no rest, because I leave for London tonight. Out with classmates on a marketing trek to visit and meet with some companies there, as well as attend the Asia Career Forum hosted by London Business School. At least everything's in order. Got a haircut, napped, and now packed, I'm looking up cool places in central London to eat/drink.

You remember this plant. I bought it from Ikea just about 2 weeks or so after arriving here. And the main stem has completely died - rotted and black, the leaves simply fell off. But a small shoot was underneath it all, valiantly pushing upwards. Such a noble struggle. I will take care of you little one. Which is more than I can say for myself. Haven't been eating properly, exercising, or sleeping, for that matter. But it's ok. We have a (relatively) calm week coming up, time to get back to routine. And then the last push to finish off the term ...

To London!

DF

Sunday, October 27, 2013

in search of good beef

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What a weekend. And not in a good way. Friday, didn't come home from campus until late, doing practice accounting exams with my team. Saturday morning bright and early, back on campus for an extra Decision Analysis session. Then, stuck in the flat reading, working, and (occasionally) procrastinating. I was under no illusion that being a student again was going to involve this kind of work, but when you're actually doing it, it sucks big-time. One more day to prep tomorrow. At least the next two weeks will be good - London and then a week of the communications course.

Beef in this country has been (thus far) a huge disappointment. The Spaniards don't eat steak, don't interpret steak as we do. Everything's either veal here or so lean anything but the flashiest of grilling will render it inedible. It's not cheap either - at best, about 10-11€ for a kilo. I can't believe I'm about to say this, but I miss those simple, unfussy Costco 3-pack sirloin steaks. Apparently there are steakhouses in town, but on a student budget ...

In the meantime, this red meat lover will have to keep on trying different butcher shops. But for now, bed - it's late, I'm cranky, I'm anxious to get this over with. Living the student life! 

DF

Friday, October 25, 2013

acclimating with the first few bottles

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2008 Llopart Microcosmos Rosé Brut Nature Reserva | DO Cava
2011 Acústic Celler Blanc | DO Montsant
L. MMX Equipo Navazos | La Bota de Vino Blanco 44 "florpower"

Hard work breeds character and is the bedrock of success. Right. But just as I'm learning all this great new stuff, my bad habits from undergrad are resurfacing again. Oops. But it's a slow process to maximum productivity. I'll get there. Eventually. Hopefully.

This has been a rough two weeks. Fresh off of completing my first midterm of grad school this past weekend, another packed week of coursework as we prepare for the rest of our midterms next week. Not a single moment to take a breathe, to recover and reflect a bit. I have a feeling the program administrators and professors are trying to see when we'll all break, because at this pace, it's almost a certainty that it will happen. They call it a marathon, but what happens when you're made to sprint the entire way?

Resetting with some wine. Not anything I had recently, tristemente, but my first few bottles in Barcelona. The Cava and Equipo Navazos picked up in Vila Viniteca, a little gem of a wine shop just off of Plaça Sant Jaume; the Montsant from Plaisirs du Vin at Pedralbes Centre. Wine is not cheap in this city, first off. Sure, the supermarket has the 2€ bottles, but if we're talking quality - real quality - you're still looking at more than 10€. Starting with the Llopart Microcosmos, beautifully ripe and open with our seafood that night. Made for great conversation with the flatmates as well. Wine doing as it should - bringing light and joy to the dinner table.

The Acústic Celler Blanc, a really interesting garnacha blanca. I've been drinking a lot of Montsant here, and these (white) wines seem to combine a ripeness and power with superb elegance and finesse. A real tightrope they're all walking, but they pull it off beautifully. A 14% abv wine that I neglected and abused, leaving the open bottle on my desk in the sun for a week. But it keeps that floral quality, that sublime waxy texture, real balance and tension.

Right, and then the Equipo Navazos La Bota de Vino Blanco 44 'florpower', which deserves its own paragraph. A wine for the nerds, the hipsters, the obsessives. The reason they label it as L. MMX is that the regulatory bodies haven't yet allowed them to label the actual vintage - 2010. This is 100% palomino fino from Sanlúcar. Aged 32 months under flor, 8 months in sherry casks, 2 years in tank, and left unfortified. Really pushing the boundaries of what sherry actually is, and what the region can produce. Read more here. Stunning. Simply stunning in that jaw-dropping, heart-thumping, appendage-raising way. Savoury aromas that remind of good fino sherry, that salinity, that minerality, that smokiness. Sublime elegance on the palate, with lift and fabulous dry extract. Tense and linear, chiselled and firm all over. An amazing experience that challenges you, baffles you, and ultimately wins you over with its strength of personality and conviction.

Can we carry any of this attitude over to the MBA? What I can say is that I'm happy to be surrounded by so many talented, smart classmates. So many of them are already so polished, so sure in their expertise and talent. And here I am, not getting enough sleep, not being productive enough, not having enough to contribute in class. We'll get there. I keep telling myself that, especially after the day I had today - a full day of classes, 2 hours of Spanish afterwards, then another 3 hours of accounting study with my team. Despite all the moaning though, this program has been fantastic. I mean we give professors extended ovations here at the end of classes. I've never, ever been in this kind of environment before, surrounded by so many bright people. And this is just the beginning. I'm excited ... and hopeful.

DF

Monday, October 21, 2013

tomorrow I'll do better

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Tomorrow I'll do better, tomorrow I'll do better. The more I repeat it, the more hollow it sounds. Is it a motivational way to look at things, in that let's keep raising the bar kind of way, or just an excuse, an exercise in self-delusion? I know exactly what I am, and I'm definitely in the latter category. Failing miserably at developing a good work ethic, something moving here and starting an MBA was supposed to fix.

Just had a horrible weekend - completed and submitted my first midterm of grad school. It was a paper for our Analysis of Business Problems course, a case about a Canadian mining contractor. Intense, the things I've picked up on in 4 weeks of class, but I still feel so behind. And while I'm getting better at it, the productivity just isn't picking up. Good study habits just isn't happening. Deep breathe, incremental steps, we can do this ...

Those aren't the real ones. Let me show you the real ones. So said my teammate from Girona about the pimientos de Padrón I was hyperventilating about. So when he went back home, he brought me back a bag of the real stuff. Same intense green colour, slightly longer and pointier than the ones I pick up at La Boqueria. But the real surprise was in the mouth. There's a famous saying that Os pementos de Padrón, uns pican e outros non, Galician for Padrón peppers, some are hot and some are not. Well, these were definitely spicy. An explosion of chili spice, a white hot burn that ends just as quickly as it begins. Leaves your palate smoking, and with that heavy salt, wanting more. I've gotten quite good at frying these, especially compared to my first time. You roast them in the pan over a medium heat in good olive oil, making sure they don't blacken. At the first sign that the skin is wrinkling, you take them off the heat - the residual heat will continue withering the skin, whilst leaving the flesh intact and fragrant.

It's all a balance here. Of flavour, of texture, of academics, career, and life. Tomorrow I'll do better. 

DF

Friday, October 18, 2013

keep on the sunny side

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It's been exactly 2 months since I moved to Barcelona. Two months of new experiences, new people, new city, new life. And it's been a trip. Been feeling the pressure, school is really starting to put the squeeze on now. And today, after a really, really tough week (combined 20 hours or so of sleep over the last 4 days), I feel destroyed. A good time for a reminder that we have to be good and take care of ourselves.
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Another weekend of shellfish last Saturday, probably the last weekend in a long while that I can do this. La Boqueria is wonderful for the heart ... not so much for the wallet. Starting with plump, fleshy mussels, singing of the sea ...
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... and although the sardines weren't top quality, a good bite of fish ...
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... before I was in absolute paradise with my berberechos ...
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... and my first taste of these tiny shrimp, reminding me of the tiny lake shrimps I love eating in Shanghai, stuffed full of roe ...
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... before ending with navajas and little 'snails of the sea', flash fried with green onion, ginger, and black bean sauce. A taste of home when I desperately needed it. Will have tonight to recover, get back some sleep. But tomorrow and the rest of this weekend, back to work ... a midterm paper due on Monday, with the rest of the midterms to follow in just over a week. No complaints, no moaning. Let's get to work.

Oh, the storm and its fury broke today /
Crushing hopes that we cherish so dear /
Clouds and storms will in time pass away /
The sun again will shine bright and clear.

- Ada Blenkhorn, Keep on the Sunny Side (1899)

DF

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

all the way up

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The mighty Castellers de Vilafranca. Has it already been that long since La Mercè? This schedule they have us on has already turned me inside out. Barely sleeping, haven't shaved for 10 days, trying hard to still eat and exercise properly ... and that's just the simple stuff. Yes, classes have been rough, if only because I'm starting at such a basic level. But what's bugging me, and I know it's bad, is that my productivity has yet to get there. I'm lacking focus, lacking urgency, lacking something. So we take some inspiration from the castellers. One at a time, a hand, a foot, a shoulder. A steady, determined climb to the top.

DF

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Canadian Thanksgiving

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We're a small group. But we're a tight group. Celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving. Coming here, I never thought much of my home. But more and more, I realize how wonderful, how perfect Canada is. We indeed sang the national anthem tonight. My peeps, coming together. We're all from such different backgrounds, but we're all Canadian and that means so much, being out here all alone. Happy Thanksgiving!

DF

Friday, October 11, 2013

Mario Monti at IESE

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This past Monday evening, I was privileged to attend a session titled 'The Future of Europe and its Influence in a Global World', marking the 50th anniversary of Ermenegildo Zegna in Barcelona. The session featured the CEO of Zegna Group, Gildo Zegna, and the keynote speaker was Professor Mario Monti, former Italian Prime Minister and European Commissioner. Left inspired, and although it was a long day after the career forum, heady with ideas.
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What will our contributions be after our 2 years here? Will it be in public service? Will it be in developing countries? Or will we fulfill the worst stereotypes of business schools and think of nothing but self-interest, remaining dull and uninspired? I don't know what my contributions will be, but I've been thinking about it much more lately. It's been a long week, and yes, we're all screaming for sleep - I'm tucked in already on a Friday night - but we have to think about these things because we don't have much time here and it's so, so easy to get back into our old habits, our old mindsets again. We learn and change through osmosis, definitely, but we also have to make a dedicated conscious effort at it too ... we cannot simply pay lip service to 'self improvement and development'. And as Professor Monti and Mr. Zegna expressed, there is much hope for the future. That's all we need to change the world right ... inspiration and hope.

DF

Thursday, October 10, 2013

we are not chefs; a bite and a reflection

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You can see it in our eyes. In our shuffling gait. Hunched backs, sagging arms. We're all dead tired. That hellish first MBA term? We're now fully living it. 4-5 hours of sleep a night, and as scary as it is, I'm actually getting used to it. Unimaginable to a guy who used to sleep 9 hours a night.
/// Starting with pan con tomate ...
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So there's no point in complaining about it. Everyone's default answer now to 'how are you, how's it going' is 'I'm soooo tired.' But we asked for this, didn't we. We asked for all of it. No complaints here, because this is what I should be doing, what's the best thing for me. And with today's new full-time MBA programme rankings released by The Economist, all that has been validated, and then some. IESE has jumped in rank to 5th globally, and 1st in Europe. That's on top of Harvard, Stanford, NYU, and Columbia. Take from it what you will, but I'm in the right place.

/// and continuing with my love, los pimientos de Padrón ...
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Work is getting tougher. A lot more complex, more analytical. But my grad school experience so far has been amazing. Fantastic marketing lecture today, with lots of theory, but most importantly, grounded in real world practice. Learning from some great professors (and classmates).

/// I've never thought much of calamari, but this is so fresh the flesh squeaks in your mouth ...
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We just finished two days of our first Career Forum. Lots of things to think about, and although it's been really tough having to think and plan for career goals this early on, it's absolutely critical to keep thinking about what we're going to do after the MBA. Because like it or not, we all have to go back to reality after these 2 years.

/// gambas a la plancha, all the soup and magic in the head ...
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Signed up for IESE's marketing trek to London at the end of the month. Yes it will be expensive. Yes it will be a lot of work. But it's what I signed up for. For a shot to go around to Europe's best cities, to see different things, to see how things are run here. When else will I get this opportunity? So, we tighten up the belt, put the wine glasses away, and start looking for cheap flights.

/// pulpo á feira for the first time. Poached octopus in the Galician tradition, seasoned with salt, olive oil, and pemento picante ... 
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So, taking a moment before bed, I want you, dear reader, to think about something. Is the term 'chef' used appropriately anymore? Is it not the most abused word used to describe anything culinary-related? Anyone who can tell the difference between a spatula and a large spoon is instantly branded a chef nowadays, without a thought as to what the word really means.

/// sepia a la plancha, all firm and delicate, simply exquisite ... 
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And no, I'm not deriding those who love to cook (and eat). I'm simply suggesting that maybe we ought to think of another word in description. Because the word 'chef' should be reserved for those who truly deserve the title, those who actually run kitchens and have shed vital bodily fluids in pursuit of the perfection of this noble craft. We are not chefs. We simply love to eat, and want to devote our free time to learning all we can about it.

/// gambas poached in olive oil and garlic. 'Be careful it's hot', he said. 'Don't worry', I replied ... 'I have thick skin' ...
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I hate the word 'expert'. We show an interest in something, we have a burning fire for something ... but we are not experts. No, yet again, that word should be reserved for something higher. Maybe it's just a matter of words. But words are important - if you cannot say what you mean, you will never mean what you say. Who said that?

/// rib-eye of veal, seared. They eat a lot of veal here. And truth be told, I'm getting a little weary of it all. It's beef, but so unsatisfying. Never thought I would crave good, honest, American corn-fed beef from Costco so bad ...
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Late. So a final thought. Living in Barcelona, as much as I complain about how things work here, how expensive things are, how inconvenient it all is - living here has been a dream come true. I need to cherish this time, because damn, it's mid-October already. Time goes by quickly - 19 months isn't all that long. I've felt a change in my demeanour, in how I process things already. I'm taking all this self-development/improvement thing very seriously. So good night all ... thanks to my friends for your words of encouragement, for all the love.

/// and they eat a lot of foie gras here. Simply called 'foie'. Sliced far too thin, a disinterested, uninspired thing on the plate ...
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/// ending with a dessert that reminds that the Catalans have a lot of French in them. A Catalan twist on the crème brûlée, the crema catalana. Sweet and inviting, a good way to end the meal ...
- Taller de Tapas, C/ Argenteria, 51 

DF

Monday, October 7, 2013

tapas?

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It's a lifestyle, after all. Tapas, that is. A little plate of this, a little plate of that. Never really filling you, never really satisfying in a way that a big, proper meal can. But it does have its charms, its pleasures. A little fling if you will, a flirtation. A lingering kiss, before she disappears into the night.

The Career Forum kicked off today at IESE. A mad scrum for consulting and banking presentations. They tell you not to fall into the trap of 'banking fever' - that is, applying to banking/consulting just because that's what everyone's doing. So I'm not. Team meeting in the morning, before I went to C/Mallorca to pick up my NIE card. And finally, finally, now that I have all my documentation ... I'm settled in Spain. Dam, I'm pretty much a local now. Quick nap at home (and of all times, our idiot neighbours decide to practice piano, badly, at noon), before heading back to school to catch some industry presentations and take part in the Career Fair. Attended a fantastic IESE alumni event tonight. The school invited former Italian Prime Minister, Mario Monti, and CEO of Ermenegildo Zegna, Gildo Zegna, to share their insights on the topic 'The Future of Europe and its Influence in a Global World.' Fascinating to hear the insights of a man who was instrumental in shaping Italy's economic policies, and who has first-hand knowledge of the role that Germany has played in Europe's economic recovery. Overall, a tone of optimism for the future, as well as support for the steadying hand of Germany. Feeling privileged to have attended, the exact kind of event I was hoping for when I decided on this school. Excellent.

We try and do the best we can with what we have. No more, no less. And so although we experience things here that are new, that are unfamiliar, and that aren't altogether comfortable, we plow through because these experiences will make us better people. And if you can't find pleasure or meaning in a plate of berberechos a la plancha ... I feel bad for you son, I got 99 problems but tapas ain't one.

DF