Saturday, November 30, 2013

what goes in, what comes out

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Living the student life again! Ready to pull an all-nighter, because this paper isn't getting anywhere. Pain. So much pain. So much unproductiveness, so much slacking, so much laundry to do. I was so happy to find my favourite instant noodles in Barcelona. Even at 0.35€ a pop, which is theft. I go to the same grocery store all the time but the owner never acknowledges me. Come on. We're all Chinese immigrants here ... we have to stick together. Even if you are from some weird southern province, and speak an unintelligible dialect. A smile won't kill you, as I hand you money at the register.

This paper will be the life of me. So many options for this business problem, so many alternative action plans. Top of mind - hire a competent accountant. What goes in, what comes out. Shit in, shit out. Something to keep in mind. This is not going to end well.

DF

winter in BCN

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It's nearing December and winter is finally here in Barcelona. Getting real nippy, especially as we're dealing with boiler trouble in the flat, yet again. We didn't have hot water for 2 days, nor heat for nearly 2 weeks. Desperate, I had to ask a classmate if I could shower at her place. Love my classmates. Skies are still clear though. We get beautiful days. So even though I'm struggling with my paper, I'm feeling totally unproductive, and completely uninspired, it's good to remind myself how lucky I am to be here.

Nearly 10 hours in and I've done jackshit towards getting this thing written. Guess I'm not sleeping tonight.

DF

Better than what I was ... still a long way to go

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What makes a good gin tonic? The gin? The tonic? After exploring a bit, and drinking around this city, I think I've gotten a better sense of what this drink is, or rather, what makes the Spanish gin tonic so unique. It's that balance of opposites - simplicity and complexity. A minimalist drink that does everything a grand cocktail should do ... refresh yet excite you intellectually. The way the gin expresses a savoury or floral or fruit character, and how the tonic amplifies those aromas/flavours. The way the choice of garnishes bring all those elements together, enhancing taste in a visual way. As close to a perfect cocktail as I can imagine, replacing even wine on my table the last few weeks.

So simple, but how do we make great gin tonics? It's an easy cocktail, as far as ingredients and measurements go. But to make ones that dazzle require something that can't quite be written in a recipe. It's that feeling I suppose, of what you want to express. For me, the best gin tonics I've come across as yet are those with Xoriguer or Nordes gin. That beautifully floral and fruit character, balanced with great texture. Really plays well with fresh lime, and a tonic with good bitterness and a touch of spice. Elegance, with a firm backbone. My approach (or one I'd like to learn) towards everything.

This weekend has been all about our final paper for Analyzing Business Problems class. A tough one, with what seems like infinite variables. But it all boils down to simplicity, doesn't it, with good precision and focus. Narrow down your arguments, back them up, and present it lucidly, with good logic. As our professor likes to say, easy-peasy-lemon-squeezey.

Two weeks until our first term is over. The MBA is difficult. Sleep is as elusive as they said it was. And I've done NOTHING outside of going to campus, even on weekends now. We're supposed to take time to reflect regularly on our progress, and we've tried to adopt that through team feedback sessions. I hope my team sees progress in me. I'm trying hard. Working really hard on cases, on preparation for class. For myself, of course, but also so I don't let them down. In a lot of ways, this is so unnatural to me. I'm definitely out of my comfort zone, to say the least. But after talking to a few of my professors, I've really put an effort into participating more in class, being more vocal. A major weakness, but I'm trying. Two weeks to go. Not taking good care of myself, but, well, two more weeks to go.

DF

things happening here

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This was an expensive experiment, but worth it? Mini pineapples from El Corte Ingles. The dude yelled at me because you apparently aren't allowed to touch the produce - you have to let them handle it. Purely a novelty.
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They have good frozen pizzas here. Not that it justifies eating this junk, but when you've had a 15 hour day at school, yeah, this is la bomba.
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Caught a game Friday night. Barca versus Istanbul. Euro basketball is as advertised. Soft. But the atmosphere was out of this world. Two groups of Barca fans in the upper two corner, singing and banging on drums all game long. My Catalan teammate explained it thusly ... they do drugs.
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But my focus is all on school now. All on school. One of our classes was filmed for an upcoming MBA Admissions film. My team was selected to star in that film. So proud of us. K. Time to hammer out this paper.


DF

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

growing up and learning new things

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2008 Pittacum Mencía | DO Bierzo

North American wine writers have written a lot about Bierzo. Old, ungrafted wines, completely unique ... a wine Eric Asimov has devoted a lot of column space to. Great. The wines are not easy to find in Barcelona. And the ones available are, well, forgettable. The Pittacum Bierzo, powerful and jammy. At least not in that Australian way, but amidst all the alcohol and sugar and round mouthfeel, something gets lost. The region (and its vines) are old, but it's only now starting to understand how to present its wines the world (if wine writers are to be believed). But is it on the right track?

The past 3 weeks have been a shitstorm. Winter is here in Barcelona, all gusty winds and chilly mornings. Which isn't so bad, coming from Toronto, but our flat has no heat. And when your legs cramp up from the cold because you didn't think you needed to bring sweatpants to Spain ... you get grumpy. And eventually sick ... again. It hasn't been easy. Lots of distractions too. For example, today, we (my class section and my team) were filmed during our session and team meeting. MBA Admissions wanted to shoot a new video showcasing the case study method, and while #TeamB5 is extremely honoured that we were chosen to be the subjects of this video, other MBA departments weren't. Definitely a sense of don't step on my turf, which extended to a rather testy exchange when we tried to explain why we missed one career services-organized workshop this morning because the film crew was behind schedule. Don't take it out on us. We're all trying very hard here to keep it together, and the snippy, self-righteous attitude isn't helping.

In the meantime, a few more team projects to hand in, lots of studying to do, and in about 3 weeks, finals. And then, Term 1 ends. Holy Mary it's been quick. Actually, not that much time has passed. It's all just been so compressed, so g/d intense. Trying to catch a second wine, but no way that's happening.

Fun things. Trying to think happy thoughts. I'm trying to create a wine & spirits club here. Maybe that's what I'll call it. The Wine & Spirits Club. The Wine Club. Wine. I'll think of something. Before we become official though, I want to host an informal tasting with the class. Something fun, something light. Something to take our minds off of all that bites. Talked to a restaurant, they've agreed to essentially rent out their space to us for 2 hours. Fantastic. Can't lose sight of all the possibilities here, outside of a case coursepack.

So, Bierzo. Of course we don't make a judgement on a few bottles. We don't do silly things like that. So we keep trying, we keep having an open mind. And hope we have enough rent money to last until the summer.

DF

Friday, November 22, 2013

Green Man & French Horn

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Our last night in London, I wanted some French food. And some French wine. And holy Mary, I got both. Green Man & French Horn, a charming, cozy little place off Leicester Square featuring Loire cuisine and wines, including a deep selection of natural wine producers. A brisk, rainy night, we started with the freshest radishes, sea salt and butter ...
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...  followed by a salad of foie gras ...
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... and continuing with a beautifully cooked, pink, roast partridge and chanterelles ...
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... before ending with our server's suggestion of Saint-Nectaire cheese.
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Top: Les Cailloux du Paradis L'Icaunais | VdF
Bottom: Puzelat Bonhomme Le Telquel | VdF

But what put me into hysterics was the wine. I was desperate for some French wine, something interesting, something inspiring ... something with deep, deep feeling. And it's amazing that I actually found it in not one, but two bottles in one restaurant. By far the most exciting, intense wine experience I've had in the past 12 months.

What is humility? Is it to deflect praise, to spread the credit, to be unassuming? Yes. But in wine, in these wines, it's a bit more. It's that indescribable, awe-inspiring way a winemaker totally subjugates himself (or herself) into the wine. They not only express what the wine is ... they become the wine. The two wines here are not correct. In fact, many people would probably find them unacceptable. But they are unapologetically true to themselves - true confidence. Look at the first bottle, the Les Caillous du Paradis L'Icaunais. It's from Touraine, made by Etienne and Claude Courtois. It's made from the gascon varietal, a completely native (and incredibly rare) grape. On flint soil, the wines are aged in old wooden tanks and bottled in the spring. Good brightness of colour, an immediate minerality and freshness, but what's most amazing is this feeling of purity. An absolute purity, in aroma and texture. Earthy but with great finesse - an excellent example that proves that elegance and rusticity are sometimes in union.

So we finished dinner - fantastic - and I needed to have another wine. The list has all these incredible old vintages from Chinon, but I really wanted to taste another natural wine. So we sat on the bar, and the bartender poured me a Puzelat Bonhomme Le Telquel. Mind blown. Made by Thierry Puzelat, the wine pours completely cloudy, a pale, faint colour reminiscent of my father's homemade grape juice project. You smell it, and the wine smells pickled. But on the palate, that beautifully floral fruit, those red berries, those fine, compact tannins that coat your mouth in the most gripping, interesting way. Pinned down and ravaged by a Rubenesque French woman - a life changing experience. Mon Dieu.

In a lot of ways, London was disappointing. But for this night, all was right. All was right. Inspired me all over again that I want to be in this business, I need to be in this business. Humility, honesty, authenticity, the holy trinity of what it means to be a true wine. Something for me to keep in mind as I inch towards my first MBA finals.

DF

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Nightjar

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Life through a mighty martini. Gin, good portion of vermouth, garnished with a lemon zest. Elegant, pure, and so, so powerful. You know who you are when you drink a martini.

The Friday night in London, after all our company visits were done, I met up with an old friend. She's doing her Master's there, having left for Europe around the same time I did. I've known her since junior high - lots of water under the bridge. It was so good to finally see a familiar face, to catch up, to share and laugh about all the new things we've seen/heard/done. We were talking about how difficult it was for people to understand what we were feeling as we do our programs, how you have to be in it to understand the pressure, the anxiety, the horrifying uncertainty of it all. Well, at least we have each other. She took us to The Nightjar, a speakeasy style cocktail bar in Shoreditch. Long queue to get in, but it was all worth it once we sat down in what looked like a WWII bomb shelter. A live jazz band playing surprisingly pleasant music - how often do you enjoy these live bands in bars?! - dim lights, pretty waitresses, people speaking English. I had a great, great time, and although it ended up being quite an expensive night of drinks, it was by far one of the most enjoyable bar experiences I've ever had.

Last week was terrible. And not because of the schedule. For the first time, I felt truly upset and frustrated. Maybe I'm not working hard enough, maybe I'm just resigning (already?!) to the fact that I just don't understand the material. Whatever it is, I need to get out of it fast. A terribly unproductive Friday evening, and entire weekend, for that matter. And it's nearly 4am, I'm still up, and guess what, still haven't finished working on tomorrow's cases. If this was 2 years ago, the cursing would be like commas. I'm supposed to be a better person than I was 2 years ago. How come it doesn't feel like it. The self-loathing is off the charts tonight.

You know who you are when you drink a martini. That night, I was relaxed, confident, happy; tonight, not so much. Much work to be done.

DF

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

getting some culture

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It feels so good to be getting some culture - my first art gallery visit since I've been in Europe. Saw (more than) a few posters in the London Tube for a Dürer exhibit at the Courtauld Gallery, so I popped in for a few hours on the free Saturday we had. The gallery is small, but has quite an impressive collection. Before getting to Dürer though, I was mesmerized by this. Apparently, this was the aristocratic pose. Taking notes ...
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... I keep thinking back to music. They say the classics are dull, are boring. But look at the drama and emotion, sublime tension in these pieces. How can they possibly be boring?!
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The best thing about these galleries is the sparse crowds, letting you get up and close to it all ...
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... to gaze and wonder ...
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... and be amazed to suddenly see that yes, even texture, is a dimension of the piece.
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I made it up to Dürer on the upper floor, and while his sketches and woodcuts were indeed impressive, what struck me was his 'AD' monogram. The first personal brand? At the very least, an incredibly stylish logo.
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But in the end, the most memorable, the most beautiful, was this quick sketch he did of his wife. Reminding me that of all the new places we may visit, the new things we may experience, sometimes it's our loved ones who remain the most inspiring and true.

Gawd I'm such a sentimentalist.

DF

Monday, November 11, 2013

wandering London

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Keep your eyes open when you wander. Always keep your eyes open. Sometimes you see ugly things ... but sometimes you see beautiful things too, like this wood escalator at Greenford Station.
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Bone Daddies, a ramen shop in Chinatown. Terrible name, glorious tonkotsu ramen.
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I did miss this. Craft beer, an Indian Pale Ale from Partizan Brewing, a London brewery. Funky labels, absolutely stunning beer - citrusy and fragrant, slightly cloudy with the most beautiful orange colour. Dry and hoppy on the finish. Happiness in a glass.
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A bit underdressed, but I was in a Burberry trench coat. Good enough for the Royal Arcade? Unexpected to be wandering onto this, to say the least, but then again, we were looking for the Paul Smith No. 9 Albermarle Street shop.
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Inside, the shoes were beautiful, the coats tailored and stylish ... but I was staring at these the whole time ...
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... and this ...
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... but the highlight of the trip was, as always, the time spent with friends, both old and new.

DF

Saturday, November 9, 2013

5 days in London, a whole new perspective

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Sorry ... I've been negligent. Not that I've been so busy I can't find 30 minutes to write something ... maybe just feeling a bit out-of-routine? We just finished a week of an intensive communications course, so we're all buzzing a bit. No, they don't let us relax for a second here. Definitely an all or nothing attitude, which is a great thing.

I spent 5 days in London, returning to Barcelona last Sunday. The intended purpose of the trip was to learn more about various marketing roles in a company, as well as network. And to a degree, I accomplished that. But as these things usually go, the things you get most out of an experience often stray far from their intended purposes. We met with several multinational companies, a few that were leaders in their respective industries. Yet I didn't feel myself drawn to any of them. Why was that? The part of the trip that was most meaningful to me was 1) obviously visiting London for the first time, and getting a feel for the city and people, 2) seeing my friend (who just moved here to study), and 3) realizing how lucky I was to be living in Barcelona.

London is enormous. I roomed with a classmate in a house we booked over airbnb, and the size of the city was evident the very first day we did company visits (on 3 hours of sleep). We had just finished midterms and were on evening flights - he arrived first in Luton, and I didn't arrive until well past midnight in Stansted Airport. We paid our landlord to come pick us up, and the drive was ridiculous - motorways closed everywhere, and we didn't end up at the house until 3am. Living in Zone 4 in West London, with the companies we had to visit in East and Central London meant that each trip on the Tube took at least 75 minutes. Factor in the terrible weather (the city lives up to its reputation for constantly being grey and wet), and you have a cranky, muddy guy who shows up at presentations. After nearly 3 months of perfect weather, it's so depressing to only see grey, windy skies. Is that why Londoners always seem in a foul mood? And the drunks! My goodness, the abusive, racist, disgusting drunks. It's one thing to develop a culture of drinking (look at the French) - it's quite another to consistently see alcoholic behaviour being passed off as some sort of English charm.

But at least I did get to see my friend. So excited to hang out in another continent, another city - both of us on this graduate school journey. She took us out to this speakeasy-style bar called The Nightjar. Photos to come. We had a free day on Saturday, so I took advantage and got some culture. Went to a Dürer exhibit at the Courtauld Gallery, then walked along the Thames to see the Parliament buildings, Big Ben, and London Bridge. A great day, capped off with a wonderful dinner at a Loire specialist restaurant. Plates of traditional dishes, and most memorable, a few different natural wines from the same region. By far the most exciting wine experience I've had in the past 12 months.

Trying to select the cheapest flight option, I booked a 7:40 am flight with Ryanair. Since the Central Line was closed all weekend, I had to catch a bus to Stratford Station, and then a coach to the airport. And since I had no clue how reliable things were that early in the morning, and since I was desperate to leave London, I took a 2 hour power nap and got up at 2:30 am. Packed and left for the airport. And I was glad to leave that early - took me a solid 2 1/2 hours to get to Stansted, in 5C weather. Hung out in the airport for another 2 1/2 hours until I finally was allowed to board. Peace out London.

Arriving in Barcelona, coming down the ramp, I was totally basking in the bright sunlight, the warmth of the breezy air coming off the Mediterranean ... and I felt home. The first time I've ever felt that way about this place. I was home. Coach to Plaça Catalunya, and then a short metro ride home. Jumped into bed for a nap and damn, it felt SO good to be back in my own bed, under my own covers. This whole time I've been out here, I've never thought once about wanting to go back to Toronto. Is this to say that it's been replaced as my 'home'? Not at all. But we try our best to make we're we are as comfortable and as close to home as possible - we all want to be mobile and worldly people, but deep down, we all need a place to come back to. Travelling is exciting and eye-opening, but yeah, I'm glad to be home.

DF