Sunday, May 27, 2012

Els Encants Shopping with Teresa


"I go every Saturday to els Encants," my friend Teresa quipped casually over lunch one day. Els Encants intrigued me for two reasons: one, people always spoke of the this place as a vintage hunter's paradise. Reason two: on countless occasions Ace and I drove by the loopy intersection of Glories and saw chains of people disappearing into a place called els Encants tucked somewhere near the overpass and roundabout. 

Obviously, to get over my curiosity (Ace had no real interest to help me settle it), I asked Teresa if I could join her on her weekend ritual of visiting els Encants. I took the red metro line and got off at the Glories metro stop. I surfaced to the street without really knowing which direction to take. But being the savvy traveler that I am, I zeroed in on an older couple walking slowly up an empty and desolate street towards the overpass. They kindly told me that els Encants was at the end of the scraggly street we were walking on. I felt relieved to know my direction, but a bit uncomfortable walking ahead, all alone and encountering men walking in the same direction as me. We all walked parallel to the saddest and most decrepit park, enclosed by a tall black wrought iron fence. 

I walked on and stopped to snap a photograph of the lleig, lleig, park. An older man walking behind me asked if I was lost and answered him I was not. I quickly put away my camera and kept walking. Then  rogue vendors began to dot the edge of the street and I knew I was headed in the right direction and finally the overpass came into view.

When I finally crossed the overpass, I was amusingly informed by a sock vendor that I was at one of six entrances. Teresa had mentioned only one entrance. Yikes. I figured I would stay put next to the Encants Vell sign floating above me and wait for Teresa to appear at 10 a.m. I decided to take some entrance shots and hope Teresa would figure that this Americana was not going to budge from the official flea market sign.   I was relieved when she showed up with an ear to ear smile and waving her arms at me to get my attention.

We walked into the mercat and everything slowly began to make sense to me--I was at a swap meet, as these outdoor markets are called in Southern California, with the exception that this one has been around for 800 years and is free. I understood Teresa's draw to this place of new and used goods, vintage to modern, classy to kitsch, and moderate to cheap prices. I saw her bargaining skills in full swing, sometimes convincing a vendor for a good deal or forgoing haggling with a tight lipped vendor annoyed at being asked to come down on his price.

I bought pink nail polish for 3€, a wooden bead necklace and bracelet for 2€, two wood mounted  rubber  stamps for 5€, and a red titanium wallet case for 5€--super necessary to stash metro tickets and some euros when carrying a normal sized wallet is a bad idea. Teresa bought undergarments, two piece bathing suits, and sabates for a friend's daughter plus a garment for herself. She knew her way around pointing out worthwhile vendors and skipping stalls with little attraction.

Aside from showing me where to find bargains, she unknowingly taught me a photography lesson in street portraits. If you find an interesting person to photograph, walk right up to them and ask permission to take their picture. Just like that.

T: I love the hat that woman is wearing!
Me: Where?
T: There (she points). Take her picture!
Me: Too late, she's too far.
T: Take her picture!
Me: Ya se fue.
T: Give me your camera I'll take her picture!
Me: --Stunned, I obey her command and watch her trail after the woman wearing a big, stiff, striped black and white hat.

Teresa's first street portrait. Beautiful.

I pin my eyes on Teresa and track her chasing the Woman, wondering how she's going to pull it off.
T: Excuse me can I take your picture?
W: Why?
T: Porque estas muy guapa.
W: Vale.

Picture taken. Both ladies walk away from each other happy. And I'm happy to learn how she did it, so I can be slick like her when approaching someone to photograph by giving them a compliment when they ask why I want to take their photograph. I've missed countless street portraits because I was too chicken to ask. At the mercat, I instead took pictures of still objects and upset a vendor selling military regalia.

Me: Click, click, click, click, click, click, click.
V: Now move that helmet and take a picture of the sign.
Me: --I move the helmet and see his "no pictures" sign. Gulp.

Oh well, his fault for not putting it in a more obvious place.

See grumpy vendor?
Swap meets are not knew to me, I grew up with them in California. Outdated drive-in movie theaters were converted to swap meets to take advantage of the space, so a city could earn more revenue. I want to return again to els Encants without a camera, more money in my pocket, and walk out with bags of bargain deals like Teresa did. It's a place with a wide variety of items for sale: faucets, fishing gear, jewelry, garden supplies, furs, lingerie, shoes, toys, sundries, DVDs, clothes, electrical appliances, evening gowns and other knick knacks that would benefit a recycling bin. I guarantee you'll buy something you didn't even know you needed at  Els Encants VellsFins Ara!

Teresa modeling a dress I really liked.

Sagrada Familia --visca el kitsch! 

Sunday, May 20, 2012


We should be at a football game watching the Pioners play against the Firebats. Instead, we are indoors watching the pluja and the calamarsa and I feel inspired to write a poem as I did years ago when I was a younger noia in California.

Pluja and Calamarsa
Thunder, the sky blinks,
rain spills like beans on the ground. 

We are quiet. 
Que silenci. 

We remain still for fear the soroll will stop. 
I hear Octavio Paz,

"Óyeme como quien oye llover,
ni atenta ni distraída"

But I am attentive to the moment,
and watch the pluja and calamarsa,
clash and battle.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Un Coach Americà en L'Hospitalet

When the idea surged to entrevistar Teo Polanco for my blog, I took the assignment on as something casual and informal for me to write about as a post. Then I began to research Teo Polanco on the internet, and santa fuma, I discovered he is a big man in the world of American football in Spain. Let me explain why I didn't know this about Teo Polanco, a person I have known for over five years. He is a modest man who is easy-going and consequently low key about his accomplishments. He is easy to talk to and makes you laugh no matter how bad a day you are having. So unless you dig around to find out who is Teo Polanco, you would never suspect that he has won two "triple crowns" for the LNFA (Liga National de Fútbol Americano) or that the team he coaches, L’Hospitalet Pioners, play in the Élite division.

Teo is a former cornerback football player from Iona College where he played and later became defensive assistant. This New Yorker came to Barcelona with the intention of playing for the Barcelona Dracs. Motivated his wife by Susana, a Barcelonese gal he met while teaching in New York, they decided to move to Barcelona and try his luck playing for a local football team. When the plan to play for the Dracs fell through, his wife encouraged him to seek out L'Hospitalet Pioners. In 2005 Teo made his debut as coach for the Pioners and won his first Triple Crown: The Spanish Championship, the Spanish Cup and the Catalan Cup. He repeated that success by winning all three titles again in 2008. In 2010 the Pioners moved up to number 10 in European rankings and Teo was named Coach of the Year in all of Spain. Teo's motivating philosophy and winning streaks caught the attention of Fali Asibar, president of AEFA (Agrupación Española de Fútbol Americano), who has been a source of encouragement. Fali Asibar recently named Teo head coach for the Spanish National American Football team and will play in Italy next year in the European League Championships. Impressionant!

Unfortunately, like many other people, I find myself knowing so little about American football being played in this country. It receives no exposure from the major Catalan news media (em refereixo a tu TV3). The news coverage the Pioners once received has disappeared due to budget cuts by the City Council and their decision to shut down TV L’Hospitalet, which stopped broadcasting on December 25, 2011. Gone also is the radio coverage and sponsorship they once had, hurting the publicity of the sport. It's a shame because it is a sport "anybody can play" as Teo explains: 

"There is a position for any type of body type like the kicker; the guy [who] is a runner, the guy who catches. The kid who can’t play soccer can come and try football and they may like it. They may go, "Oh man I can block, I can play a lineman, and I can run with the ball."

When I ask him the difference between American football and soccer he responds, “In soccer you must be good with your feet. In American football, different body types and skills can be highlighted. If [they] can run fast, they can play football. Anybody can play American football here in Spain."  

Els Pioners have players who come from all parts of the world. They come from South America, Africa, Spain, Europe, and of course the United States. I met one player from California, my home state, who quickly ran off to the field in preparation for a game against Paris Flash de La Corneuve. Teo’s philosophy for earning titles is simple, “[have] a winning tradition, [and] win in everything you can.” The team has made it to the semi-finals of the LNFA and play on May 20 at Serrahima Stadium in Montjuïc against the Valencia Firebats. I wish a l’equip molta sort. If you can’t make it to the field, you can watch it on live streaming TV on the team’s homepage. Sort Pioners!

Pere Fortuño and Victor Martin

Coach Teo Polanco
Last week's rivals Paris Flash
Willy Grande, Joan Barcelona and Juan Pa heading out to the field.
Pep talk before the game.
On bench #8 Luke Laolagi from California.