Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Catalan 4th of July

On my first morning (after being woken up super early by everything around me), Cindy told me over coffee that since it was Sunday there was no work. My official work schedule was to comprise of Monday-Fridays from 8am-noon, and then from 2-4pm. Pretty reasonable in my mind. After messing around watering some plants for a couple of hours, we went to David and Marta’s house for Marta’s 33rd birthday party. Marta is smart and beautiful. David and Marta are from Catalan, Spain, and are in the town of Las Galeras (about a ten minute motorcycle ride from the farm) trying to open a hotel—more on foreign (wealthy) people trying to make money in this country to come soon. Speak to David for a mere 30 seconds, and they’re not from Spain. No no, Catalan. [A sentence on Catalan as explained a few weeks prior by my Spanish friend Lisa: it has its own language, history, culture, etc., and under the dictatorship was suppressed. Now there is an uber conscious effort from the current government in Spain to appreciate everything Catalan not as worse, but as different and also part of the Spanish cultural, historical, and current fabric.] It should secede, David says after introducing himself and offering a round of martinis (at 12:45 in the afternoon; yep, it’s gonna be that sort of day...). Everything good about Spain is actually from Catalan. I’m from New York? An incredible city says he, but from where are its best chefs? Catalan. The famous modernist architect Gaudi? From Catalan. Conceding that I’ve never been, he runs excitedly into the house (we’re on the patio) and returns with a coffee table book of Catalan filled with indeed beautiful imagery. He later brought out more books of Catalan, too—one filled with pictures from the castle he built (I repeat, a castle he built), and one of Gaudi’s work. I tell David and his 20 year old son (from his first marriage) all that I really know about Catalan and Spain—that half of the national Spanish world cup squad is from Catalan to which David literally jumps with joy repeats it to Marta. It didn’t matter what I said the rest of the day because boy did win them over with that comment! [This too I knew this courtesy of Lisa so mad props there] While Cindy and I are scanning through it and Jose is starting up the grill, David informs us of a tradition ‘typical in any Catalan household,’ namely pouring whatever alcohol happens to be in a jug (called something awesome but I am forgetting now) from as far as one can into one’s mouth without spilling. A drinking game, hurrah! He passes the jug around the table and while he and his son are quite deft at it, the rest of us are a bit more cautious and sloppy. He repeated this process of jug passing every time new guests came, and I started to get quite good at it :)

Highlights of the afternoon: getting drunk with all the guests, eating great bbq’ed food, getting taught yet another drinking trick by an 80 year old grandpa from Las Galeras, and sounding off 3 different national anthems and 3 rounds of happy birthday.

Now, I noted previously that David and Marta are here for business. Las Galeras has a gorgeous beach that has not really yet been tapped by tourists. If one couldn’t tell by now, David also has a bit of money, to say the least. However, he is pretty frustrated because since he’s been here people have been ripping him off left and right, and the money simply isn’t where it used to be. And time is going by and he is still getting ripped off. And he is obviously a fluent Spanish speaker and a businessman. But, because he is not Dominican it doesn’t matter. As a non-native, it’s like he has a big ‘Gringo’ tattooed on his forehead. Cindy has explicitly stated similar stories time and time again and similar frustrations because she, too, is going broke here. Well, when the incoming mayor of Las Galeras (term starts in August) and his two pals showed up (invited? Uninvited? Unclear) and were given ample food and liquor, David’s already quite toasted Dario, also a Spaniard and hotel hopeful (although Dario is doing everything completely illegally—starting with the land purchase, the walls he’s putting up around his property, the sewage that will flow right into the ocean and so on) and David started railing to the politicians about how it was all unfair, etc. etc.

The point of this side story is simple. My friend Paola complained sometime back about how she hated being treated like a gringa even though her mom is Cuban and she speaks a real good Spanish. She found it offensive and could not believe that as a fellow Spanish speaker she’d be treated like the rest of us kids from the U.S. Apparently, if you’re not Dominican, good luck. Well Paolacita, I hate to say it but I (and really Becca) told ya so.

A second and final anecdote I learned that afternoon that also came from a side discussion about how us gringos always get swindled. Once Marta told a frustrated Cindy that there is one important thing to remember about Dominicans: the men are thieves and women are prostitutes. Lemme tell you, after personally getting robbed in Miches a few weeks ago by some punk with a knife and after seeing enough local bars and joints where the literally all of the women are ‘working,’ I’m starting to think Marta was on to something!

Definitely an entertaining 4th.


  1. dude you got robbed? how did i miss that? (or did you just throw that in there to see if people were reading? ) scary. not cool. stay safe.
    also though, how do you build a castle? you meet all the cool people.

  2. I was gonna wait to tell the rental units until I got home but then my prof was like, 'so Columbia is gonna contact all your parents..they know, right?' So I had to tell em before CU did haha.
    But yeah, this was my first official mention of it in any way and yep I was just trying to slip it in there (that's what she said)