This morning, I sat through the last written test of my life.(*)

(*) Don’t get all excited now: I am far from done… Still got a couple reports and projects to hand in, not to mention thesis defense(s) in the coming months/years. Not to mention JLPT in December and any other such certification test I may ever be foolish enough to apply for… Still:

The last written test of my entire existence!

China’s recent efforts in Tibet to thwart the nefarious plot set in motion by that most infamous of evil-doers (Peace Nobel Prize recipient 14th Dalai Lama, in case you hadn’t seen through this two-faced monster for who he was) apparently seemed to have awaken some conveniently fast-asleep Human Rights concerns among nations taking part in the Olympic Games this Summer. News in France and elsewhere in Europe abound with competitors in rather forgettable disciplines (pole vault anybody?) voicing their concerns about the ethics of the whole thing…

Frankly, I find it all rather funny (or at least: would find it funny, if we weren’t talking about a massive PR operation unequivocally benefitting a dictatorial government).

If you still have some delusion about the International Olympics Committee upholding some sort of code of ethics or caring for democratic values and such, you have clearly been sleeping through the past hundred years.

Forget the widespread corruption, the notorious bribing, the less than inspiring list of IOC members (a good half of which sits atop one minor autocratic regime or other) etc. etc. For fuck sake, do you know who was the head of the IOC for more than 20 years until 7 years ago (still Honorary President for Life)?

Ask your Spanish friends what they think of Mr. Juan Antonio Samaranch. Ask them, for instance, how they feel about Juan’s former boss and good pal: el Caudillo de la Última Cruzada y de la Hispanidad, also known as the guy who butchered thousands and kept Spain in an iron fascistic rule for 40 years. Before his gig at the IOC, Juan Antonio was a prominent political figure in Dictator Franco’s regime (and stayed involved, long after joining the IOC full-time). Best to say that, despite an innate dislike for those dirty heathen Commies, there were certain Human Rights abuses he very much could live with.

The IOC is not a humanitarian organization, they are a for-profit corporation, and a very conservative-right one at that.

So, shout all you want about the World’s powers leaving their principled Human Rights concerns at the door in the name of Olympic Brotherhood and Coca Cola partnerships, but please spare me the part about how you’d expected better from the IOC. Chances are, the last time the IOC expressed an ounce of concern for the ethics of the Games, you weren’t even a glimmer in your dad’s left testicle…

After spending most of January and February in a sleep-deprived haze, working on half a dozen different scientific endeavours (to somewhat positive results, according to my advisor, so my liver shall not have died a painful caffeine-overdose death in vain after all), H’s stay gave me a chance to take a salutary two-week break before diving in again for the grand finale (24 days and I am a free man again).

Hammock In between miscellaneous artsy touristy stuff and random Parisian strolls, we eloped to Barcelona for a 3-day weekend. Considering how packed our schedule was already, it seemed we could have done without an extra travel: but honestly, after my 2 month anachoretic stint, it took very little to get me booking a flight and a room in that gorgeous boutique hotel S. had been telling me about.

No regrets whatsoever.

Unlike Paris’ usual February semi-freezing drizzle, Barcelona was a mild upper-teens (evening included), sunny most of the time, and still serving cava around every corner of the city. We started our first day by kicking it in park Güell, taking after Gaudi’s famous dragon by sitting in the sun until we had forgotten the mere meaning of Winter.

Park Güell Actually, we didn’t exactly start with the park, since we first dropped our luggage at the hotel, which lovingly had our room ready upon arrival in the morning: it took massive efforts of will not to just throw away all plans of outdoorsy activities to spend the entire stay between the room’s cozy bed and adjacent lounge room’s hammock… If I had any lingering hesitation about picking this over some standard high-rise hotel with swimming pool on top and fat midwest families crowding the lobby, they all about disappeared when the super-friendly staff showed us to the 24-hour free organic buffet. I know, I’m gushing (and sound like I’d be on the hotel’s payroll), but that place really made our weekend twice the fun (and it was pretty damn awesome already).

Casa Camper Miraculously we managed to extract ourselves from our room often enough to show H. a couple of the numerous architectural wonders that seem to make half the city: some Gaudi, of course, but also a couple more recent designs among my personal faves. Staying 2 minutes away from Plaça de Catalunya in Raval, we were within walking distance from both Barrio Gotico’s historical strolls and Passeig de Gracia’s tapas bars and clubbing.

On Saturday, we took a day trip to Figueres, where Dali’s humongous legacy kept us busy and amazed for the entire afternoon. Followed by dinner with my mum and her companion, who had come to meet us halfway.

By the way, on the matter of day trips and trains: may I use the occasion to emphasise how important it is to really check the destination of your train before you get on it. And definitely before it arrives to its terminus, 5 minutes later, in the opposite direction to where you intended to go. You may feel smug for flawlessly understanding the directions half-mumbled by the stationmaster: it won’t help all that much when it turns out your train is 5 minutes late on its schedule (seriously: Europe. What was I thinking?) and therefore the train coming up to your platform just on time is not actually your train. On a related matter, language was a much more frustrating experience than expected: while understanding everything came as natural as rain, trying to express myself often resulted in some comical mix of Japanese and Castillan, whence I had to dig another two or three attempts before coming up with the proper Catalan version. Still all there, just buried really, really deep under all those new weird sounds I’ve learnt since the last time I lived here. Priceless moments: H falling over laughing, each time I’d let slip an “ehh-tto” while looking for words in my discussions with local speakers.

Casa Batlló Anyway, after some late-night clubbing and some trendy electro beats at a nearby bleep factory (other priceless moment: realising I had not the faintest idea how to order the ‘cassis soda‘ H. had asked for, neither in Spanish nor, for that matter, in English), we capped the weekend by more lounging, more strolling and a last art excursion to see some Picasso. Although Barcelona’s Picasso collection is dwarfed by Madrid’s and doesn’t feature his most seminal pieces (it’s essentially centered around his early periods), I personally like its more subtle, slightly old-fashioned, figurative paintings (my favourite? Two nudes and a cat, a small sketch you’ll have to go check for yourself since I cannot seem to find it anywhere online). Also his fascinating obsession with Velázquez and a roomful of deconstructed Meninas

Less than 4 hours after our last drink at a Barcelonian sidewalk café, we were back in Paris. Special shootouts to the security troll at Barcelona airport’s security checkpoint, who unceremoniously trashed the two mini-bottles of cava H. had just bought at the airport’s own souvenir shop. The very same unopened, hermetically sealed bottles they were selling 3 feet after the checkpoint. I swear: I will smack in the face the next person who comes to me yapping about the need for more inane security measures at airports and how removing shoes or throwing away shampoo bottles makes it so much safer.

After that little episode, I could only agree with S. that private flights are the way to go. Well: that and her invitation for an overnight party excursion to Milan in her friend’s plane on a Tuesday evening. Back just in time to pick up some fresh bred and H’s breakfast on the way home the following morning. When exactly did I switch lifestyles from mad-scientist to jet-setter and what happened to that guy last seen sitting at 5am in the middle of his living room amidst 300 scattered pages of science articles, mumbling math equations in a rather demented tone?

Feeding birds in Rodin’s garden, bathing in light and learning a
couple fascinating things about gothic architecture in the Sainte
Chapelle, taking the perennial walk through Montmartre before heading
out for authentic swiss fondue with family and friends.