Friday, December 28, 2012

Swedish Christmas: God Jul!

I have celebrated Christmas in several places over the years - singing Koliadu and eating kutia in Carpathian mountains with the grandmas, opening up presents from a big red-hooded man and eating oysters, fois gras, and caviar in France with my mother, freezing by myself at the Monchsjoch Hut during my crazy solo stunt in the Bernese Oberland.  Different ways, moods, and aspirations.  This year it was time for something new again.

Jonas's family farm in Boviken, lived in for eleven generations

In my never-ending quest, I ended up up North this year, all the way in Sweden for this celebration. A beautiful winter tale for me, white Christmas, full of discoveries, new tastes, and inspirations.

One of the discoveries concerned the Swedish food - it is very good indeed, especially during this time of the year when stomach is celebrated as the center of the universe, the hero of the day.  I appreciated especially the fish very much, discovering such dishes as Johansson's temptation (Jansson's Frestelse with anchovies); a variety of herring preparations; Swedish orange-colored variation of caviar called Löjrom harvested in the Bothnian bay, and best tasted on the Ljusugnsbröd with cream, onions, and avocado bytes.  There is also the Röding, the best fish ever, also called arctic char, and not to forget gravlax, or raw salmon cured in salt, sugar and dill.  The word actually comes from the mix of grave and laks, salmon, as in the Middle Ages Nordic fishermen used to preserve the fish by burying it in sand at the seashore.  A similar dish, called lox, was popularized in New York by the Ashkenazi Jews in combination with cream cheese and capers.

Pickled herrings at the Stiftgarden's Julbord

All of these goodies can be tasted at a Smörgåsbord, or a buffet served at a restaurant or at people's homes with first a self-serving of cold fishes, then of meats, and then sometimes of warm food as well.  For Christmas, Smorgasbord becomes an even richer Julbord, usually started with bread dipped in ham broth (hard to really appreciate for not properly initiated foreigners like myself), that then follows the normal fish/meat/cheese/desserts order.  And yes, never to forget the desserts - in Sweden very well accompanied by various berries of the land, starting with the more well-known blueberries, raspberries, and black currant, then venturing into the unknown territory of Hjorton and Åkerbär that go very well with ice-cream, cheesecake, or a parfait, in color and in taste.

And if you are tired of cooking, invite guests for a tea or gluhwein or glögg ceremony, where gingerbread can be served with Philadelphia cream cheese and the ever-present lingonberry to everyone's delight.

Glogg and tea-time at Lindbergs'

The actual Christmas celebrations started with a sermon on the morning of the 24th, to be continued by watching Donald Duck at 3 pm - what I am being told is a very important Swedish tradition going back to the times when the first TVs were adopted by the households here in the 50ies.  And what Christmas could happen without a Santa, especially here up North, supposedly one of the places where he actually might live?  All three of them arrived to our house on...a snow-mobile (how else?!) and dutifully delivered all the presents except one still to come...:( (damned post office).

3 Santas delivering presents in Boviken

After having snowed for every day in Umea and Skelleftea since December 2nd, the weather finally changed for a day, and allowed us to go for a skiing trip with not-so-cold temperatures to Bygdsiljum.  The best Christmas gift happened when the sun came out to provide us with the much-needed Vitamin D and the beautiful views on the pine trees and the valleys below.

Mid-day northern sunset at Bygdsiljum

And the moon rise soon afterwards

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all from the North :)

All pictures (and inspiration) by Jonas Wiklund.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Bongo Bar Video

New video of an old adventure just came out:

By an ironic twist of fate today Dave, Helena, and myself are injured and very far away from that moment when our lives crossed for one summer trip up North, a moment in climbing career for one, a short moment of seconding Dave for the others.  Good memories, already slowly fading into the past.

I hope both of us will be back on to those big walls we used to enjoy so much, in one way or another.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Sunny Coronas

Nothing better than some crispy winter weather, friends, and good times on the rock.  Finally picked up my camera again - and despite its dismal quality, some pictures were taken.

Pedro on a 7b+ in Coronas

 And again, my favorite model, Pedro on a 7b+, Coronas



And our warrior of the rock, JuanAn

Friday, November 16, 2012

Sunday, November 04, 2012

My Thirst

I met the  mountain spirit recently, and that is what it told me:

Water is taught by thirst;
Land, by the oceans passed;
  Transport, by throe;
Peace, by its battles told;
Love, by memorial mould;       
  Birds, by the snow.

(Emily Dickinson)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Eye of the camera

When you cannot do business, teach.  When you cannot climb, take pictures.  That is what I have been dedicating myself to lately, taking pictures and enjoying the company of friends and new acquaintances.  It is time to find new ways to enjoy these beautiful places where I have spent days on end with my own illusions, project drive, living my dreams in vivo.  Now it is time to dream the life in pictures instead.

Geir Söderin onsighting Aonvolsina, 8b, in Tres Ponts

During the last couple of weeks I have managed to visit several of the places I have enjoyed climbing at so much in the past years, where I have so many projects left, so many dreams to dream.  Felt like a deja-vu, felt like a thanksgiving time. Felt also sad and melancholic for me, but exciting for my friends.

Yamada Wataru on el Deute, 8a+, Can Jorba (after onsighting Oriol and Martina near-by)

Watching Jimmy work Zona 0, Jonas figuring out  L'Escamarlat in Siurana, belaying below L'Any que be tambe at Gran Boveda, giving beta on Nidra at Tres Ponts or Oriol in Can Jorba.  Going up the ferata of Calavera with one hand.  Flashes of good and bad, in focus, and out of focus.  And only one thought turning rounds in my mind: will I be able to come back?  Will I be able to trust my body again?  So far the answer has been a resounding NO.  Taking pictures is soothing in a way, converting immaterial passion into something more tangible, a fickle representation in pixels and colors.

Jonas on Oriol, 7c+, Can Jorba

Now it is time to go for a run, forget and remember, run a little more.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Prague in pictures

This is the result of two hours of free wondering and improvisation around the old city, oh so similar to my own old memories of Eastern Europe.  My old camera and some strange software on my PC seemed to make sense out of the strange bunch of my pictures and some skills acquired here and there - especially thanks to the advice by Jonas.

This last set of pictures is from a street performance advertising Dulux paint, of all matters...I learned it only afterwards, believing at first that it had something to do with more pressing concerns, such as environment, or other social movements.  But no, corporate branding effort it was, surreal nevertheless.

And to celebrate my photo-infatuation, here is my new Flickr account.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Prohibiciones a la Belleza

p. 239, Los Cuadernos de Don Rigoberto, por Mario Vargas Llosa

Nunca verás un cuadro de Andy Warhol ni de Frida Kahlo, ni aplaudirás un discurso político, ni dejarás que se te resquebraje la piel de los codos, ni de las rodillas, ni que se te endurezcan las plantas de los pies.

Nunca oirás una composición de Luigi Nono, ni una canción protesta de Mercedes Sosa, ni verás una película de Oliver Stone, ni comerás directamente de las hojas de alcachofa.

Nunca te rasparás las rodillas ni te cortarás los cabellos, ni tendrás espinillas, caries, conjuntivitis ni ( mucho menos) almorranas.

Nunca andarás descalza sobre el asfalto, la piedra, la grava, la loseta, el hule, la calamina, la pizarra y el metal, ni te arrodillarás sobre una superficie que no ceda como la miga del chancay (antes de tostar).

Nunca usarás en tu vocabulario las palabras telúrico, cholito, concientizar, visualizar, estatalista, pepas, hollejos o societal.

Nunca tendrás un hamster ni harás gárgaras ni usarás postizos ni jugarás al bridge ni llevarás sombrero, boinas o rodete.

Nunca almacenarás gases ni dirás palabrotas ni bailarás el rock and roll.

Nunca morirás.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

My life as a duck

Three months ago, my shoulder went.  I realized the seriousness of the situation only some days later, when the pain refused to go away.  The usual solution of resting a few days and a quick physiotherapy session did not work either.  The (semi-continuous) learning process had begun.

In my self-absorbed unconscious way, I first refused to understand, and pushed myself to the limit.  Familiar routes became my worst enemies.  The struggle against my own body, against my own rebelling flesh and blood.  It did not work.  I had to learn the meaning of the word patience all over again, letter by letter, sound by sound.

Work helped, having other things to focus upon, other windmills to slay, other countries to visit, other people to argue with centered my attention on other objectives, other proximate or far-away goals.  Summer slowly went its course.  People came in and out of my life, invisible and visible borders were crossed, missions were accomplished, others were failed.  Climbing was pushed to the background by the circumstances, by the impossibility, by the unbelievable but true unpenetrable resistance i found in my own body, my own flesh not agreeing anymore with my chartered path, that murky road i had subscribed to for so long.

Months since, i am still as unsophisticated in my understanding of my own body as before (?), i still make the same mistakes, i still try to overclimb, overachieve, jump above my head by the clapping of one hand.  That is not possible, constraints are all around, screaming out loud.  Mind can be strong, willpower can be infinite, but body remains the unperceived master, the submerged boss, setting its own rules, determining its own destiny.  Nothing to change? Nothing to choose? Comply and forget, rebel and remember?

Mushotoku del Andreu? Desapegue del Txema?  Or Borjes' jardín de los senderos que se bifurcan?  Will i ever learn?  Will i stop caring and finally grow up and out of the grade obsession?  Or is that the worst of possible sins?.. Only questions remain, only pain is real.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Summer Adieu

Summer is over, and not much to report on the climbing front for me.  Several months have gone by occupied by many activities, most not that much related to climbing.  And life still goes on in its own particular way despite that.  I am fortunate enough to have almost recovered from my shoulder injury thanks to the efforts of Andreu, and my own tireless exercising of shoulders and core strength.  Maybe this will help me in the future projects, maybe not.

The shoulder holds, pic. by Jonas

One of the activities I have been enjoying very much lately is taking pictures and learning to work on them (thanks, Jonas!).  One day my disposable income will be enough to afford a good camera, buy Lightroom, and devote myself to the contemplative, but also creative side of life.  In the meantime, however, I remain a proud weekend-warrior in most of the things I practice, last but not least photography.

Composition in the forest

Together or alone?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Summertime on the ocean

Changing mood, scenery, activity, family, continent.  Relax, the doctor said.  Enjoy life just a little bit more.  Simple, complicated.  Summertime.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Nostalgic taste of the US

Going to the MFA in Boston has woken up my nostalgia, reminiscing in the impressionists room in front of the Renoir's Dance, Monet's Peupliers, and Degas's Little Dancer.

The new, as always, impregnates the old.  Thus, MFA has built a new wing of American Art in my absence, to now proudly display several works by Sargent and Whistler, among others.  There is this portrait of daughters of Edward Boit, inspired by Velasquez or Degas, and accompanied by real-size vases donated by the family, now actually present in the room.  Loneliness but also magic transpire through the picture and make it a memorable object in the collection at the first sight.

And then the Capri landscapes with Rosina, the all-time classics, as always, beautiful and full of movement.  Dance, now immortal Rosina, dance!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Naranjo de Bulnes: Rabada-Navarro

another year is gone / a traveler's shade on my head, / straw sandals at my feet (Matsuo Bashō)

There goes another climbing trip to this amazing wall on the Iberian peninsula, Naranjo de Bulnes, or Picu Urriellu in Asturian (a language that exists, says the Wiki, despite local inhabitants arguing to the contrary when asked about it in the bar in Arenas de Cabrales).  The logistics turned out to be rather simple - after being kindly picked up at the Santander airport, my Swedish friends and I headed to Sotres, and then up to the Urriellu Refugio, to be greeted there warmly by Sergio and his hard-working team.

Majestic Naranjo coming into sight on the approach 

The approach is one of the more beautiful ones I have done in the mountains - it is flat enough to make it rather painless, and the scenery, especially in the cloudless evening light, is breathtaking.  Appreciating beauty is something mountains teach the lonesome traveler over the years.  It is worthwhile to stop and take one more picture, one more fleeting memory of the light and darkness, mist and transparency below.

Mist coming up the valley on the approach 

Then at another turn of the road, the West face comes into sight, in all its majesty and towering preponderance.  It made me think of the Civetta region in the Dolomites, and the Torre Trieste in particular.  Long time ago, in that long-forgotten other life, I climbed a route there, the proud Cassin route, where we had to bivy on the painful descent, but what a route it was!  With memories of trying to free the key 6b pitch low down on the Cassin, I was contemplating Naranjo, and wondering about this new objective, Rabada-Navarro.

The second part of Rabada-Navarro in the evening sun on the West Face of the Naranjo

A beautiful day was waiting for us, giving us all the time, all the chances on our side, to go up.  Jonas easily led up the hard 6cs at the start, while I tried to follow with some remains of dignity and perseverance.  Oh yes, it's been a while I had been on the long route, carrying the heavy backpack, jamming and pulling the tired body up.  My spirits lifted when finally arriving at the famous 6a+ traverse.  Jorge told me I had to take a picture there, just for him.  So here it goes, traversing all the way:

Leading the traverse pitch, Rabada-Navarro (picture by Jonas Wiklund)

The feeling of control, something I already encountered on Blamannen last year, came back while we scaled meters and meters of easy-ish terrain higher up.  The epic of bivying on the Cassin was not to be - in a couple of hours after the traverse we were already sitting on the top of Naranjo, that is after I almost crawled on the last looooong pitch to the top.  After a peaceful descent and some simul-rapping fun with Jonas, we were down. A lonely missile, a stone fell from the top, just as we were about to touch the ground.  It broke off into thousands of pieces a couple of meters away, a warning, a sign, a reminder back to reality.  Mountains are dangerous, although sometimes they let you pass without a scratch, they let you forget about mortality, about futility, insignificance, and the lack of permanency here down below.

Having accomplished the big objective of the trip on the first day, there was not much left to do for the remainder of the trip.  As Jonas fell ill, paying the tribute to the mountains that allowed him to do so many routes in so few days, we scaled a couple of pitches on Leiva with Joakim, and then went down due to bad weather.

Joakim following the first pitch on Leiva

Thus, another trip came to its end in Valdegobia, where we had to beg for food in this scarcely populated Basque village, living in the haunted mansion all to ourselves, sharing the space of a mystic religious abode in Angosto.  While everyone returns to their homes around Europe, memories (and a blog post) tentatively remain.

Statue of a melancholic raquero watching the weather and the sea in Santander

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Picos de Europa

My first visit to Spain, 5 years ago, was actually on a climbing trip with the objective being to visit Mallos de Riglos and Picos de Europa, two very coveted objectives by long-route climbers, to the crowd of which I used to belong.  Although I managed to get as far as Riglos, Picos had to wait, and wait some more.

Maybe now the time has finally come to see the famous Naranjo by myself, and in nothing else than a Swedish company.  And not any company for that, it will be my pleasure to climb with Jonas Paulsson, the director of Crackoholic movie on Bohuslan climbing around Gothenburg, Joakim Söderström that I have seen on many a memorable fotos, such as this one by the other Jonas, and that has inspired my climbing on Gullknausen in Norway last year, and my friend Jonas Wiklund.

Let the adventure begin!

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Photo-shoot at Senglar

Jaume who now also - and finally!!! - has his own blog, took me up on the proposal to have immortalized a little Senglar project of mine.  Thus, crazy people, we went up on the hottest day of this summer to shoot a couple of pictures for the project, como no!

But first things first, the first-ascensionist - all this would have been impossible without Kim Santacatalina.  Below, the main protagonists of the 20-year old story, in my more humble company:

I could not resist the temptation to fly up and down, once again, on this perfect route, the longstanding project of mine, which I still can hardly believe i managed to climb, the Sprint Final:


And down (Pedro's draw still holding the fall...)

And back up again (whatever way one can...)

And last but not least, Oriol, who belayed me on the red point, and also came up, as usual, taciturn and accommodating, the man of the mountain, if there ever was to be one.

Thank you all, my dear friends!!

All good pictures by Jaume, climbing by myself, and belaying by Oriol.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Encordades, the video

Only recently someone told me that "oh, you will stop climbing, just wait and see, all girls are not that serious about it, they all stop climbing".  Funny, machismo still going on today.  Well done, the protagonists of the Encordades documentary, reminding ourselves - and our male counterparts, that girls can do it well, very well indeed.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Up Nanga Parbat

Wishing all the best of luck, good weather, and endurance to Cathy O'Dowd and her Nanga Parbat expedition, attempting to climb the Mazeno Ridge.  Expedition blog and news here, let's hope all come back safely.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Things to say

During the last two weeks of my classes i have had an interesting experience - i realized that, for once, i had things to say to my audiences.

The interesting part about being a Professor is that through convention, norms, and rules of the trade, you earn the right to talk by default: the moment you enter that classroom, those people in front of you become students, and you have to play the role of the teacher.  By default, you get that ominous silence, that air heavy with expectations for you to open your mouth, to express THE TRUTH, to teach, to impart the wisdom to the crowds awaiting. It is funny in a perturbing way how by default they assume that you know, that for some reason you hold the keys, the solutions, the answers to all the questions. And then, in the beautiful tradition of paradoxes, what you first learn upon entering grad school is that......
no, we do not know, we cannot know.  Maybe the kitten is dead.  Maybe it is alive.

Throughout those years of training the frontier of knowledge is made palpable, the uncertainty is increased with every day in the program, with every additional reading, with each discussion and attempt at philo-sofia. Again and again, you are confronted with everything that we actually do not know, worse, confronted with the actual impossibility of knowing.  Exposed to the concepts such as causal ambiguity or incommensurability, relativism and subjectivity, the exceptionality of social sciences.  Oh you, beautiful friends, strategic conundrums.

And then you have to somehow figure it out, find your own voice, and say something out loud to the world, write your own thesis, take a position, convincingly argue for it. On one side you are supposed to be objective and critical, but then, the moment the deconstruction is complete, you are immediately thrown into the soup and asked to swim: to contribute, to have an opinion, an idea, a research statement, a position.  Somehow, it is assumed that after all the deconstruction, after swiping the ground from below your feet, after realizing that there is no center, that even gravity is relative, that life is not unique, that all strategies are imitable because designed by human beings just like you, somehow, you are supposed to get right back up on your feet again, and defend the opposite, argue for your own immortality, carve your own niche of infinite glory and pride, say something new, something different, something outstanding, - while at the same time, if not totally blind, you have to acknowledge your similarity, the infinite similarity of human beings, of our brains, of what we do, of what we aspire to, of how we try to survive, of what we all dream about at night.  To be liked, to live a complete, a meaningful life.

How, how on earth is one supposed to reconcile the irreconcilable, to solve dilemmas and annihilate the trade-offs, the same ones that we all know to have no solution? To promise, and to sincerely try to give what does not exist, what is impossible from the start.  That, they do not explain how to do in grad school.  How to deal single-handedly with Sisyphus's paradox, paradox of being, of writing, of living.  To be different while staying the same, to take a position, to argue for it forcibly; to be convinced. While at the same time knowing the impossibility of conviction itself, the futility of arguments, the surrealism of attempts, of achievements, of goals.  Staying sane in the madhouse, staying happy in hell.

All this rambling to say that during these last two weeks I have had a small revelation in my teaching - I realized that while in research I am supposed to say something new, in teaching it is most meaningful to simply explain well both points of view.  While the student prides herself on arguing for something, the teacher has the "permission", no, the obligation, to argue for the opposite.  Dialogue or dialectic, Socrates or Marx, but that is the power of THE teacher - that is the ultimate fun of the profession - you are "allowed", no, you have to, argue the opposite.  That's actually when the students have the "a-ha" moment, that's when they might learn just a little bit more, that's when they can surpass their horizons - because you show them that the world is just a little bit broader, just a little bit larger, just a tiny little slice more infinite then they originally thought.  And in these (rare) cases i enjoy my right to speak, i actually have fun - I do not check my watch every five minutes and try to make the class end with all the power of my intellect.  I enjoy it, like climbing perfectly my favorite line, I argue, I take the opposite position.  Do they get it?  Does it matter?  Useless questions.  But I have fun.  Teaching - another strange profession, another surreal, useless undertaking.  Will i be able to find my place in this little world?  It is as surreal and senseless as others - but if I can carve out a couple of minutes of enjoyment here and there, maybe it could just be worth the effort.  Or maybe it is just for the money, and everything else is rationalizing.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Taking lessons in overhangs

Climbing, always keeping it real.  Although like anything, it is transformed into a habit: go to a crag, find a route, try it out, top rope, commit.  Send.  Will it one day become a boring habit?  But then there is the adrenaline.  There is the challenge.  There is overcoming oneself.  There is always the beauty of the place.  Open your eyes, breathe it in.  You are alive.  That's what climbing brings to the table.  Most other activities make the "alive" feeling so much duller, so much more ambiguous, so much more virtual.  For me, only in climbing time disappears, time accelerates to the speed of light and then stops. King time itself becomes invisible.  There is the route, the moves, the rope.  The fear.  The fall.  There is everything one needs from the moment.  Give it all you have.  Fail, succeed.  Have fun, cry, kick the rock, struggle, smile down at your partner.  Go on.

Up on Nidra, 7c+, Tres Ponts, picture by Elias

And the overhang-times are rolling in - what better to do in the summer than work the muscles, try those dynos, and face the challenge: overhangs versus me.  My scared self contemplating the air bellow.  Facing the challenge, taking it up to the next level.  And enjoying very much these special places, Masriudoms, Tres Ponts, Rodellar, - with an abundance of awesome rock, friends, figuring out the moves, and flowing up the lines that gave me the chills for years in the past.

Sticking my mini-dyno on Nidra, picture by Elias

But Tres Ponts is a give-away, nice version of the Tufa-paradise monster that is Rodellar.  Rodellar is not Catalunya anymore, but nevertheless the village has an awesome atmosphere, a relaxed aura, it is a "total" vacation spot, every time making me wish to stay there for just a little longer, to sip another cafe con leche and have another pastry at the Camping Mascun, or another abundant lasagna at the Kalandraka.

Learning the tufa tricks on l'Any que be Tambe, 7c, picture by Raul

Despite the pictures above, it looks like sending an overhanging 7c is still some time away for me, although I am optimistic for this summer.  I did finally climb my 2nd 7b+ in Rodellar, the nice and joyful, although rather airy Maria Ponte el Arnes (thank you Novato for bolting the line).  It took all I had, in terms of energy, biceps, and screaming.  The painful reality is that sending routes in Rodellar - first pitch of Ironman earlier this spring, and Maria now, costs me more than sending (harder grades) anywhere else.  Good lessons in humility, but also good vibes and motivation to try again and again those 7cs this year.