Roman Gardening (something we have not done before)

At the end of April we did something new and fun: we signed up for a Roman Gardening excursion. It took place in a Roman vila, La Romana del Munts, not far away from Tarragona (Spain). The two hour activity is geared towards the kids and grown-ups. We went with our children ages 6 and 4. The six-year-old participated fully in all the activities. The four-year-old enjoyed the activities such as gardening and skin-lotion making with a Roman recipe. The rest of the time he tried to reconstruct the vila and climb the roman walls. And, no, he did not do much damage to the original Roman construction and I was grateful for the patience the guide had with us. He did not even notice how our son built a small fort in the middle of the hortus, how he hung on the olive tree, and how he tried to hit the 2000 y. o. aqueduct with 2000 y.o. stones (we stopped him on time). Spanish people have an amazing way with children.

I am going to post some images and notes about the excursion and the activities.

Here we are at the beginning of the activity talking about the structure of the Roman vila and where the baths and the housing were located. In its time this vila was very rich, it belonged to the high official of Tarraco (Tarragona). It even had a private aqueduct for watering the fields and the gardens.
Termes. The “baths” of the vila. The baths consisted of dressing area, hot therms, and then cold therms. There was a marble incrustation along all the therms, a sign of richness.DSC_9408
The plants that Romans planted in this region and how do we know about it. DSC_9411
The guest-rooms in the vila. Each guest-room consisted of two spaces, entrance room and bedroom. You can see floor mosaics and some frescos on the wall. DSC_9412
The part of the guest-space in the vila.DSC_9416
Kids following the gardening trolley back to the garden area.DSC_9440
Walking inside of the Roman baths.DSC_9445
The Roman garden (hortus) viewed from the therms.DSC_9442
Hortus was a flower and spice garden that Romans planted close to the therms. They used it for relaxation and pleasure. DSC_9453
The leaves of acant. Many columns’ capitals were decorated with this plant. Below I posted an image of a column with the capital decorated with the acant leaves.DSC_9456
Screen shot 2014-05-03 at 4.10.16 PM
Working with lavender in the Roman garden.DSC_9473
Tables set with ingredients for making skin lotion following a Roman recipe. DSC_9454
The skin lotion was made of lavender, honey, olive oil, and clay powder. I tried the lotion on my face and hands. It is really sticky. Romans probably washed themselves throughly after using those lotions :).DSC_9507
Kids enjoyed forming groups and making the skin lotion. DSC_9503
My son having a blast with powdered clay.DSC_9518
The Roman vila is located in a small Mediterranean town called Altafulla. The beach was beautiful and peaceful that morning.DSC_9329
At 10am everybody was still asleep in this small town. Coffee at the empty cafe on the beach.DSC_9373I was surprised at the amount of nowadays plants that Romans used to plant. At the end of the activity each of us was given a booklet with the names of all the plants that Romans planted in this region.

Here are some of the plants from this list:

Loquats (Nisperos)


The happiest person in the house

With David May 2014 bn
“The kids are having a blast!” one of the guests said.
“I am having a blast!” replied David.

It was 8pm and the kids’ joyful screams could be heard all around the place. There we were twelve adults sitting around a messy table in the back patio. The party started as a lunch, then it smoothly merged into coffee & cupcakes, and then continued as an improvised dinner. A house of a school friend of mine. A small house in the upper side of Barcelona.

We were sitting around the table laughing and talking nonsense. We talked about work, going fishing, cooking, and food. In Spain you always end up talking about food.  Then David,  the younger brother of my school friend, now is his thirties, popped up and told something about the snails. And it was funny and we could not stop laughing. Then the kids came chasing him and he run with them inside the house to continue playing hide-and-seek-carnival-twister-indians game. We could hear their enthusiastic giggling and laughter.

We spent the evening sitting outside talking, eating, drinking, and trying to relax. The three kids and David would stop by the patio sometimes and grab a piece of bread or a cupcake and disappear again in the depths of the house. Shouting and jumping. When David would sit at the table with us for a minute or two, with my son on his lap (my son did not want to separate from David even for a second), I would look at his face and know that he was the happiest person in the house. He was the only grown-up who was not self-conscious.

Later that night walking home under the dark starry sky I thought about David and the rest of us. Too often we make ourselves believe that we are not self-consious. We try to appear in our own eyes as naive, genuine and happy. We sit still, relax, and smile when somebody takes a picture. Too often we do not play with the children. Too often we do not laugh wholeheartedly. Too often we are too tired to play hide-and-seek or to take time and listen what games the children want to play with us. Too often during the day we convert into self-conscious grown-ups.

We were a great bunch of relaxed adults that night. David was the only one who was truly happy and enjoyed the moment. I think that it is easy to sit and overview what the children are doing. It is easy, and tiring, and not rewarding. Getting really involved with the kids and being part of the game takes more energy. It is also magical.

Easter in Barcelona


In Spain on Easter kids receive La Mona de Pascua, it is a chocolate figure decorated with feathers and chicks. Those chocolate works of art range from simple chocolate eggs to elaborated chocolate scenes from Disney movies and Barca football players. The price of such chocolate gift also varies a lot, from 10 Euros for a simple egg up to 100 Euros for a nice house with couple of chocolate figures around it.

Apart from La Mona de Pascua the Easter sweet bread and Bunyelos de viento (air bunyelos) are sold. The Easter bread reminds me of Russian sweet bread (сдобные булочки) and there is a boiled egg placed in the center of it. Sometimes the eggs are decorated with a sticker. And yes, lots of colored feathers and Easter chicks accompany the bread.

Today all the children in Spain commenced their Easter vacations, the vacations always start the week before Easter. We strolled with our children through the city and looked at the Easter decorations of the cafes and at Monas de Pascua. We got an Easter bread at Crusto and it was really good. Here are some images of Barcelona’s cafes decorated for Easter.

Crusto, Carrer Muntaner 363, Barcelona
Easter Bread at Crusto, Carrer Muntaner 363, Barcelona
Easter bread with two chocolate eggs (instead of boiled eggs) at Crusto, Carrer Muntaner 363, Barcelona
Easter chocolate eggs at La Criolla, Carrer Muntaner 423, Barcelona
La Criolla, Carrer Muntaner 423, Barcelona
Chocolate figures at La Criolla, Carrer Muntaner 423, Barcelona
Monas de Pascua in a pastisseria at the cross of Carrer Muntaner and Ronda General Mitre, Barcelona
Monas de Pascua in a pastisseria at the cross of Carrer Muntaner and Ronda General Mitre, Barcelona
Monas de Pascua in BoPan, Carrer Muntaner 536, Barcelona
BoPan, Carrer Muntaner 536, Barcelona
Monas de Pascua at Canal, Carrer Muntaner 566, Barcelona
Monas de Pascua at Canal, Carrer Muntaner 566, Barcelona
DSC_8599Monas de Pascua at pastisseria Serra 9, Plaza Joaquim Folguera, Barcelona

Barcelona My Love


It was a perfect day today.

While unhappiness is complicated, happiness is very simple. It is visual, it is physical, and it consists of small acts that make us happy. I am talking about things like walking down the street, having a coffee with a friend, working on an interesting project, looking at the flowers in the flower-shop window, and talking to new people.

The day started simple, I walked down the Muntaner street all the way to Diagonal. It was sunny. I got a coffee at Le Crusto and walked with the coffee. Walking in Barcelona is a blast. It is one of my favorite cities to live in.

The streets look beautiful. I love the trees in bloom and the flower shops. And I like people who like flowers and flower shops.

I turned down on Passeig de Gracia and walked two blocks against the light. I stopped at a small store to get the rubber bands that my daughter is crazy about. It seems to be a fad in her school and in the whole city. All the moms, teachers, grandmas, dads, brothers wear those handmade colorful rubber bracelets.

I turned at the corner of La Pedrera and reached Pau Claris street. There was the cafe, Jaime Beriestain, where we held our focus group. The place was full of green sofas and flowers. The meeting was a good one, I learnt a lot, specially, I got a lot of insight on how to run a better focus group next time. When the coffee is good and you get to learn things that interest you, you are happy. At least I was.

Once done with the meeting I headed to Valencia street, where my favorite bookstore is located. Jaimes, the French bookstore. And I stood there and read the titles in the children section and held the colorful books in my hands. I got some books for my kids. The Barbapapa for my daughter and Boucle d’Or et  les Trois Ours (The Three Bears) for my son. He studied this tale in detail during the first term in his school. This book will be full of great memories for him.

Things are not always smooth in life. In the past years I realized how difficult the things can be. I went (still going through) the separation process with my husband. It is not a fun thing, and those who have lived it, know it. However, through all the pain we were able to stay friends and make it the best for the kids and us. Every day I realize how grateful I am for having him as a friend and as a father of my children. I also appreciate the patience and ability we both put in to make our relationship during and after the separation better and not worse.

From where I am right now, I see that pain and unhappiness are small tunnels in our souls, that we dig ourselves. We are alone in those tunnels, we are the only ones digging them. And happiness is like sunlight. It is very simple, very generous and we want to share it with others. Happiness is walking down the street and stopping to look at the flower-shop window, and some times making a self portrait to make it more fun. Happiness is to just live and to enjoy small things. Like the fact that in ten minutes I will see my kids; and that my son got a haircut yesterday and I will probably almost not recognize him.

DSC_7834Walking down Muntaner Street.

DSC_7842On the corner of Muntaner Street and Diagonal Avenue

DSC_7844Walking along Diagonal Avenue

DSC_7846Diagonal Avenue

DSC_7851Rambla de Catalunya where it touches Diagonal Avenue

DSC_7852Diagonal Avenue close to Passeig de Gracia

DSC_7854Bus stop on Diagonal Avenue

DSC_7860Flower shop on Pau Claris Street

DSC_7888Cafe Jaime Beriestain on Pau Claris Street

DSC_7867Entrance to Cafe Jaime Beriestain

DSC_7868Inside cafe Jaime Beriestain

DSC_7875Our focus group meeting at Jaime Beriestain

DSC_7882Coffee and sandwich at cafe Jaime Beriestain

DSC_7892On Valencia Street

DSC_7895Walking along Valencia Street

DSC_7899A flower shop on the corner of Valencia Street

DSC_7900Flower shop on the corner of Valencia Street

DSC_7906Jaimes French bookstore on Valencia Street

French books March

DSC_7924Small rubber bands that my daughter uses to make bracelets

DSC_7907Flower shop on Valencia Street (right next to the French bookstore)

DSC_7909Cafe on Valencia Street

DSC_7910Houses on Valencia street (close to Passeig de Gracia)

DSC_7916Lamp posts on Passeig de Gracia

DSC_7921Passeig de Gracia

La toupie, la corde à sauter & les billes


These are the three games that my first grader constantly plays at school. Every day she drops in her bag a jumping rope, a bag of marbles and her wooden top. La toupie, la corde à sauter, les billes. La peonza, la comba, las canicas.

jumping rope

They speak French and Spanish in between of the classes. With two of her friends she speaks Spanish, with her other friend French. All the kids are bilingual; trilingual if you count Catalan. The game names are in French and in Spanish.

They share the patio with the older kids, some of them are really good at one or more games. My daughter says she watches how the big kids play top or marbles and learns. Then, she plays with her own friends. Myself I went to school in Moscow, Russia and as a kid I never played marbles or top. Thus, I am starting from zero here. My daughter showed me how to play marbles and we manage to play it at home. However, I can’t make the top roll as it should. Yesterday we had guests and they were able to show my daughter how to make the top roll. In Spain the kids games in school have not changed over decades. Everybody knows how to play marbles, roll tops and jump rope. I found it sort of cool.


I enjoy the games the kids are playing at school. Every day my six year old shows me the new marbles that she won from her friends, she is excited about those colored crystal balls. Les billes. She admires kids who can jump a rope for 20 times in a row or who can make the top roll and then pick it up on their palm while still in motion. For whatever reason I thought that kids did not play those games any more. And now, I am reverenced when my first grader, already dressed in her boots and winter coat, runs back to her room because she left her bag with marbles next to her pillow.

“Mon sac de billes!”

Las Montañas de Nieve

The salt mountain, Cardona“Where will we go today?”
Miro is three years old. It is August and we are in Spain.
“I do not know. Let’s look at the map and see what is around here.”
“Let’s go see another castle.”

After we pass Montserrat the main color is yellow. Sunburnt country. The hills before the Pyrenees are green. We stop at Cardona.
“What language do we speak here?”
Lorena is six. She has asked me this question many times this summer. Every time the car stopped in a new town.
“Spanish or Catalan. Whichever you prefer.”

“The fence is from the 12th century. The frescos have been removed, you can see them at MNAC.”
It is cold in the crypt. I sit on the stone and watch my children run around the crypt and the church. We are the only visitors here. The kids are playing horses. The guard, who opened us the church door and is standing next to it, smiles at me. The church is cool and empty. After the hot August sun the air inside is like water.

“The white mountains?”
“Yes. We call them Las Montañas de Nieve. What you see from this window is salt.”
We buy a card and a book from the guard and leave.

The entrance hall is empty. We are the only visitors again. We are charged 28 Euros to be taken inside the salt mine. The kids are excited. We board on a 4×4 and drive to the mine. The road is made of salt. Then we walk on salt.

“All the mountain is salt. There is no rock or other elements inside of it. It consists of three types of salt, potassium, magnesium and the regular salt. Magnesium salt is mostly orange.
It breaks easily. Miners hated it,” Monica, the guide, is taking us on a walking tour inside the salt mountains.
“Can I lick the wall?”
Both kids are licking the walls with enthusiasm.
“Umm. I love salt.”

It is cold inside the mountain.
“We are 46 meters deep now, the temperature is stable at 17C here.”
“Was the temperature an obstacle to the mining?”
“It was, but not here. The mines go up to 1300 meters deep inside the mountain. It is all salt. The miners were only interested in potasa (potassium). It was used for gunpowder. In this mine about 30% of the salt is potasa. Every time there would be no more left, miners would go deeper into the ground. At 1300 meters the temperature of the earth is 50C. Miners worked at these conditions with ventilation installations. Also, the ground waters were dripping non stop and it required a lot of machinery and human labor to keep the mine dry and in working conditions. In 1990s the mine was closed as the operating costs surpassed the profits. Ten years ago it was opened for tourism.”

I ask Monica how did the city life changed with the mine closure.
“I think it is good that the mining was terminated here. Otherwise in 50 years there would be no mountain left. We would have lost all the resources and the scenery.”
“How do the people live here now?”
“Does it give enough?”
“Not yet. Tourism is a longterm investment. We are very young in this sense. We have the castle (Cardona Fortress) and the mines. In 20 years from now it will be better. It will give us profit while conserving the heritage.”

Living off the heritage. I fall silent. I look at the mines. They are beautiful and motionless. The quietness of not living. My eyes see people working. The effort and excellence of human mind and body created kilometers of tunnels, clogging the salt rock with the machinery noise and dust. You must be good! You must be damn good at what you do in order to do it! Otherwise you would not touch this mountain.

While we are waiting for the 4×4 Lorena talks to Monica in Catalan. I can’t hear her. I am surrounded by the absence of sound that comes from inside of the mountain. I can see Lorena hugging and kissing Monica on the cheek.

“I have seven horses. Come to visit me and you can ride there. I live close to Sant Llorenç de Morunys. There is a swamp called La Llosa de Cavall. You will find me there. There is only one house along the swamp, this is where I live. And I have a 10 year old daughter. Come over for a visit.”
“Can we visit Monica?”
“Of course.”

In the car I write down the name of the town and the place.
“You do not need my phone number. If I am not at home, go to the town and ask for Monica de las Casas, this is how they call me here. You will find me.”
“We will. We will come over next Saturday, will you be there?”
“I will.”

“Mom, I love Monica. What color do you think are her horses? Will she have white ones? I do not like white horses.”
“Neither do I.”
“I know. This is why I do not like them too. They are awful, right?”
I look at her and laugh.
“Nope. Some of the white ones must be fine. It is just the one that I rode was bad-tempered. Almost broke my hands once. Others must be good. Do not be afraid to ride white horses.”
“I am not.”

We drive in silence. Then kids start talking about the salt mountain. They want to go there again.
“Are you tired?”
It is close to midnight when we get on B-20 towards Barcelona.

Cardona FortressCardona Fortress.The church, CardonaSan Vicente church within the castle.CardonaThe view from the castle.Salt MountainThe Salt Mountains, CardonaInside the salt minesInside the Salt Mines, Cardona.salt mountainsSalt Mountains CardonaSalt Mountains.San Vicente churchInscription on the floor of San Vicente Church within the Cardona Fortress: Valer o Morir.

Where the Wind is Dry

Alquézar, Aragones, Spain

We stood on the top of the hill and the wind was dry. It was dry and it blew hard. The wind is never this way in the city. It was neither strong, nor noisy; you could not even say it was windy. All you knew was that it was very quiet. Just the burning sun over your head, and the wind that dried the hills in this part of Aragon. The Somontano region. Your skin was being burnt, acquiring the color of the red sandy rocks that surrounded you. The wind blew hard till you seemed to have no flesh left on your face and hands. You touched yourself: skin and bones. And the hot rocks under your feet. This is how the wind was in August in this part of the country. It made you become quiet and not feel anything except respect for this land and its people, it made you be strong.

You walk uphill. Burnt by the sun. The stone paved road to the castle is steep and hurts your feet. You turn again. All you hear is the silence of the dry wind. You want so much to walk this road.

This land is not mine, but I would fight for it. With no emotions, no feelings, no patriotism. I would fight for it willingly, consciously, with precision, like operating a delicate machinery. With passion for living. This is the only thing one can do under this dry wind and the burning sun.

I like to walk the roads that are hard. I do it purposefully. When I hurt myself, I neither complain, nor feel the pain; I appreciate deeper that I live, and learn to walk better. I attached myself to people and things, only to realize that I do not love people and things, I have nothing in common with them. They became a burden. When you walk uphill you know that the only thing one can be passionate about is walking. The dry wind and sun burn your skin; they also burn the grapes in Somontano. The wine carries the silky taste of strength and you are not thirsty or tired any longer.

Years before you came here, you knew you walked in the land where the roads are steep and the wind is dry.

AlquézarAlquézar townAlquézar rocksMonzón castleMonzón towerMonzón castle detailMonzón entranceVineyards in SomontanoPomegranate tree in Alquezar

Onstage you always smile

Lorena onstage b&w

“Remember girls, onstage you have to look happy. Always! You have to smile when you dance. When you dance here on a real stage, you have to forget about your tiredness, about your parents, about the public, you have to forget everything except the desire to dance well. Dance to your best ability, dance with joy, always with a smile on your face. Your hands and feet know what to do, now you have to dance your best and smile. It must be the smile of acknowledgment of your effort, of your ability. Your hardest work is the best celebration and joy you will have in life.”

“Please do not dance just to have fun, do not just do something for the sake of doing something. Always do the best you can, do it with purpose, with passion, strive, work hard. Now you have seen the lights turned upon you, wearing a beautiful dress, wearing makeup, may be for the first time in your life. Do you know what it means?”

“This beautiful dress is a part of celebration of your effort and your ability. This dress represents your purpose, it accounts for every hour your spent dancing to be on this stage, it is the beauty of your hard work. Wear it with pride! Wear it with a smile! You are the true owner of this dress now!”

“Today is your last rehearsal, tomorrow the public will be watching you. Forget everything except how well you can dance! Your chin always up, a smile, and only think about the best you can perform! In this accomplishment and in the celebration of it lies the happiness.”

Those were the words of the ballet instructor to the girls who were about to perform onstage for the first time in their lives. Skirts, tutus, little feet running behind the stage. People in black hurrying around, gesticulating, the dresses being steamed, girls rehearsing in the halls, makeup artists, voices. Music, more little feet running up and down the stairs. “The door one?” “Ready.”

I generally do not put the portraits of my daughter on this blog. However, I made an exception this time. I find these two portraits to be a reflection of what she was able to do. I did those shots behind the stage, at night, after the last rehearsal was over. She was very tired. I asked her if she was afraid of dancing onstage and she said she wasn’t. And added that she wants to go back onstage. She just turned six.

Lorena after her baller rehearsal

On the Road to Spain

“Lorena, Lorena,” the voice was intense and quiet.
“How do you know that my name is Lorena?” she asked.
“I know you. I saw you many times.”
“It is raining,” she observed.
“Do you know that when it rains in Spain it snows here?” he asked.
“Yes,” she whispered.
“And when it rains here it snows in Spain,” he said.
“It never snows in Spain,” she stated in a steady voice.
“Yes. Sometimes it snows in Spain,” the boy insisted quietly.
“It never snows in Spain on Christmas,” she said.
“Spain is the only place where it does not snow on Christmas,” he agreed.
“It does not snow in California on Christmas. California is in America. I used to live in California.”
“My dad goes to America a lot,” said the boy.
“May be he can come to my house in California next time he goes there,” she offered.
“He never stops in America. He just flies the plane there and comes back. He never goes to anybody’s house in America. He flies over the country, that’s all,” the boy observed.
“My dad works in Norway. He also flies there. Then he lives there,” her voice sounded even. She was merely stating a fact. Then she added, “What’s your name?”
The whispering stopped and there was silence. The bus was going at a steady speed through the hills of the Pyrenees. It passed green pastures, vineyards, villages with its churches and fields. Fields that were now bright green with patches of red poppy flowers sprinkled along the road.
“Pablo, Pablo,” she whispered.
“What?” he turned to her.
“I was looking for you,” she said.
“I saw horses.”
“I know,” she felt silent and then added, “My dad told me once that if my mom works a lot we will be able to buy a farm in America and five horses. All I want in life is to live on a farm and ride a horse.”
“My dad just bought a new car,” Pablo said in the same low and intense voice.
“We do not have a car here. We get one when we need it. We are going to move to another country soon.”
The bus crossed the Spanish border. Both of them felt silent looking at the road.