Spain was an 8 year experience for me. Since I’ve now moved on, it’s time to list what I’m missing the most.
The Food. And not just the obvious stuff like jamon iberico or our CTO’s paella, what I really miss is the contrast between northern Spain’s wintery grub and southern Spain’s flavor. Most people don’t realize how varied Spanish food is. For me, some of the best stuff on earth is up north. Sure, I love what the South has to offer as well. But when it comes down to it, I gear up for Fabada, Cocido or Marmitako on a cold day much more than I look forward to Salmorejo, Migas or Tapas on a hot one. Favorite region to eat in? That has to be Galicia, best seafood I’ve ever had.
The Meals. It’s not just the food but how they eat it. There are two things I’ve love to bring back to the states, and both are things that restaurants can’t easily replicate. The first is the sobremesa, which simply means the conversation that people have (often for hours) after they finish eating. Spaniards are inclined to socialize more in a public environment, and the restaurant incentives also permit it as well: servers are paid hourly so if a party “camps” on a table for hours after eating, it won’t hurt their pay day.
The second thing i’d bring back is the menu del dia, which is basically a three course lunch for a very affordable price (11 euros is more or less a standard). Having been used to SF prices, I’ve often wondered how they pull this off, and I believe I have it somewhat figured out. Since Spanish kitchens only serve food from 2pm to 4pm, they can scale in all their resources for that time frame and prepare a limited choice of first and second courses before. It’s not necessarily top shelf quality, but the variety is so welcome, especially when comparing it to the same neighborhood options around work in San Francisco
The Spanish Bar: It’s a beautifully tacky thing. It’s full of things that would never work back home: gambling machines, napkins and crumbs all over the floor, a ridiculous amount of florescent light overhead, the smell of “frito”, dead pig legs hanging from the roof, and food left all day on the bar. Think about how an American health inspector would react in a Spanish bar. Just perhaps, maybe we are too health conscious for disallowing beautiful things like this.
It takes you a bit to get passed the above, but once I did, I realized the entire day can pivot around these spaces, almost like a club house. I went to a bar for breakfast, which was often just a cafe con leche and pan con tomate (this needs to be brought to the US urgently). You can go to a bar for a menu del fia and you definitely go to a bar for a caña after work. Quite often, you run into the same people, socializing with them along the day. And it´s the first place where friends and even families with kids meet and engage with each other.
Persianas: think of these like plastic curtains that you can roll over the outside of your windows. They “protect” the window, but really, they keep the sun out when you want to sleep in. You can’t help but have late nights in Spain, kitchens open the earliest at 9pm (many in the states close down at that hour). Saturday and Sunday mornings will see persianas down all over town until people start moving for lunch at 2pm.
The common thread between all these elements is the quality of social life. I don´t mean to give the impression that this is about raging each weekend, or sacrificing work for life. Life is most enjoyed with friends and family and Spain´s customs are built on increasing the natural repetition of that. The spontaneous beer with a friend in the end isn’t so spontaneous, people usually operate knowing it is a possibility. By contrast, meeting friends back home usually requires weeks of planning and approvals.
Now, there is a list of things I don’t miss as well. It would definitely start with the work day hours, small elevators and the customer service. But, and it’s not a big spoiler, there are aspects of both the US and Spain that I’ve grown very fond of, and the grass is always going to be greener on the other side.
If nothing else, I’m just very appreciative of having been able to get to know Spain for as well and as long as I’ve known it. I’m grateful to the all the friends and colleagues who showed me their home and I’ll be returning the favor (check me out on Nomaders for activities in SF).
If I didn’t work in technology, I probably would be an archaeologist, or maybe an historian. I was never sure which one. Back in school, I had a number of classes on archaeology, and what they always said might be very true: “the life of an archaeologist is really quite boring”. I can grant them that, most of the ancient sites I’ve been around are nothing but a scattering of rubble, and then, even the most magnificent ones leave me with more questions. I’m stuck having to go look up more Wikipedia articles or even pick up a couple books on a place I just visited. It’s as if I wasn’t prepared enough for the experience, or I wasn’t in a position to get more out of it.
I’ve noticed the same with the many documentaries I like to watch. One of my favorites, Byzantium: The Lost Empire, happens to be one that sparked my interest in all things Byzantine. John Romer is an archaeologist who hosts the series. At one point, when talking about the philosopher Plethon, Romer says that “people just liked to listen to Plethon, not taking a word of notice of what he said”. Sometimes I think the same thing can be said about Romer, whose enthusiasm about little Byzantine churches, interlocking cornices and old stones makes subjects seem almost mystical (if you like him, check out stuff by Michael Wood as well).
Nevertheless, I’ve always had a problem with documentaries, and its related to something mentioned before: it is just very hard to follow up on things that documentaries refer to. I’m stuck having to look up more info on something I just watched.
Romer goes through this documentary visiting parts of Turkey, Italy, Syria, Greece, etc. and every time there is a new site, he briefly mentions it, neglects to show it on a map, or doesn’t provide nearly enough detail to satisfy my interest, however personal it may be.
It’s a problem with video too, there is just no way to interact with it (besides pause and play). You can tell this story to the startup world and they would call this a “pain” or a “problem”. This forms the basis for the semi-famous concept of an elevator pitch, which hooks in a “solution” for all the misery. The great news for me is that I’m working at a startup that has such a solution for my personal pain point.
I joined The Mad Video because I recognized the sheer amount of value interactive video brings, not only from a general perspective (it’s easy to say “look at all the people using Youtube”) but from a pretty personal history, one that you can see detailed above. I’ve heard investors often mention that they only make investments in products they’d actually use: which requires a special mix of product and personal interest. That’s obviously a theme I can identify with.
We’ve been in a beta phase for a couple months now, trying to improve the platform on a daily basis. And we just got to the point where it’s easy to tag an hour long documentary, and link in maps and basic Wikipedia articles - something I was obviously pretty happy to do for first part of Byzantium: The Lost Empire, now interactive - which I’m glad to share here (if you haven’t seen an interactive video before, just roll over when the video is playing to show tags).
I’ll also embed the video here - just as soon as Tumblr lets me ;-)
I had been to Philadelphia before but during a recent trip I began to notice the sheer amount of Benjamin Franklin references all around the city. They’ve named stadiums, bridges, colleges, ships after him. This, combined with all the statues, busts and quotes (I was around UPenn, which he founded) got me interested in finding out why Ben Franklin got all this recognition. And why visitors to Philadelphia are subject to such Franklin overload.
I picked up a book by Walter Isaacson, the same guy who wrote the recent bio on Steve Jobs. Only about 100 pages in and I’m already thinking that I should have paid way more attention to my grade school U.S. History classes.
I won’t go into too many details about Franklin’s life, which anybody can look up on Wikipedia, but I wanted to share something that really caught my attention: the rules he made for himself to live by when he was only 20 years old.
These weren’t rules that he created for any religious reasons (the book so far makes him out to be a deist). It seems as if his religion was “practicality” - these were just the outlines he observed that can lead to success in life and society. He knew he also couldn’t live by them all the time. So, he did the next most practical thing, he made a calendar to devote each week of his life to executing on one of them, “leaving all others to their ordinary chance”.
The one that stands out to me so far as I’m reading the book is his frugality, probably the one rule that he mastered quite early in his life (many other rules he would need to work on).
I’m looking forward to reading about the details of his adult life. This is all rather new to me because all that I knew from before was the Founding Father stuff, that he seemed to love French prostitutes and that he discovered that lightning is electricity.
So far, its been a great read on a quasi-philosopher, scientist, journalist and entrepreneur who could be a great model for these times. You can see elements of these fields in pretty much everything he does.
The US Government ended the space shuttle program and along with a number of Americans, I’m a bit disappointed.
I work in tech, I love the sciences and I think that when institutions promote these kind of activities it inspires future generations. Countries need dreamers, it is at the core of entrepeneurship and innovation. With all of the arguments for the diminishing role of the US amid the recent political mess and credit downgrade, the fact that the US cuts down investment in space shuttle program is telling. To me, its the biggest indicator that these arguments may be true.
Neil deGrasse Tyson points out in the video above (in reference to the spending cuts on space exploration) that “we have stopped dreaming”. Its not all bad news, there are still more discoveries, moon landings and giants leaps to be taken. Its just that now other countries will be taking them, and new generations abroad will be doing the dreaming. Maybe in this global world it was probably bound to happen anyway.
Interestingly enough, Tyson will be hosting a new series that will build upon Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos”, which is a personal favorite. Both Sagan and Tyson are the kinds of popular scientists that both relate to their audience and have the ability to explain complicated things.
Sagan’s series, broadcast over 30 years ago, was incredibly optimistic. To him we were “just wading into the shores of the cosmic ocean”. I’m looking forward to Tyson’s upcoming series, and I hope he finds a way to inspire us to keep dreaming. However, I think it will be tough to match Sagan’s optimism in this current climate.
SIDESTORY - Video - Tyson talks about Carl Sagan’s influence on him, and about the responsibility of fostering the new generation to study the universe.