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Cascadia, earthquakes and Catalonia

This excellent piece from the New Yorker slipped under my radar when it was published (so you may already have read it). It covers the worrying evidence that the US Pacific coast from northern California to Vancouver Island, an area not known for its seismic activity, is actually at risk of a massive and devastating earthquake. The Cascadia subduction apparently poses much more of a risk than the more famous San Andreas fault.

This, coupled with last month’s tragic earthquake in Amatrice, led me to look up the seismic potential in Catalonia. Surely being so close to a ‘young’ mountain range like the Pyrenees indicates we’re at risk from earthquakes? The answer is: no. The Generalitat’s report into Catalonia’s seismicity found that while there have been a number of quakes in the Garrotxa region (its volcanoes last erupted 10,000 years ago), Catalonia’s a stable area. The Basque end of the Pyrenees is far more prone to tremors.

 

In deepest, darkest #Catalonia #valldellemena #rocacorba

A photo posted by Tom Clarke (@tombcn) on

We went to la Garrotxa at the weekend, celebrating ten years of marriage. We stayed in the Vall de Llèmena, just to the south. Llèmena is a real hidden gem – gorgeous forested landscapes and very little human interference. Much as I love the neighboring Empordà region, Llèmena has a lot going for it.

Of pans and eggs, the cooking thereof

I’m not entirely certain that there are health risks associated with Teflon coated pans. It might well be that the amount of Teflon we eat over the years pales in comparison to the plastics that seep into our food when we microwave Tupperware containers, drink from water bottles or inhale in the street. So I’m making no crypto-scientific claims about our plan to rid our house of them. I mean, I’m not this guy.

What I will say is that I’m sick of changing pans every two years. Even apparently high quality non-stick pans don’t seem capable of surviving regular use (or my mother in law scrubbing them with wire scouring pads).

So a few months ago, I bought a couple of cast iron pans, and last week a couple of stainless steel ones. The cast iron pans are good for cooking meat: pork chops and steaks in particular always turn out perfect, while it was difficult to get the temperature high enough in a non-stick pan (which are predominantly made of aluminium, with a copper core designed to make them work on our induction hob). Cast iron needs to be ‘seasoned’ – effectively burning a thin layer of oil onto the metal at high temperature, though god knows if that’s any healthier than eating Teflon – in order to make it less sticky. Once seasoned, you wash it with hot water only (never any soap), dry thoroughly and then rub on a few drops of olive oil to help preventing rusting.

I haven’t used the stainless steel pans as much yet, but made a decent vegetarian couscous the other day and had no real problems. But this morning, I ventured into dangerous  territory: frying eggs. Or I thought it was dangerous territory anyway. It turns out that common sense – using a little more oil and not getting the pan too hot – prevailed. In fact, it was bloody easy. It makes me wonder why Teflon pans ever caught on in the first place. I can only imagine that Colette Grégoire was an abysmal cook. Stainless steel pans, incidentally, need no seasoning and don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise. I still apply a drop or two of olive oil after washing and drying, to protect the metal.

On the big screen

The closure of Club Coliseum, one of Barcelona’s last ‘full size’ cinemas was one of the smaller news stories in the city this week. Even though I never went there, I feel that it’s a shame. I’m sure there are plenty of lazy sods like me who feel the same way and yet never went to see a film there. But who has the time, right?

Given that your cinema-going experience will soon be limited to tiny salas with small screens and digital projectors, why not just save yourself the hassle and set one up at home? You don’t even need to dedicate a room : a retractable screen and a projector fixed to the ceiling don’t take up much space.

So that’s what I did. In our spare room, used approximately 3 times a year, I’ve installed a screen and an Epson projector. And it’s fantastic. Such good fun. Seriously, every home should have one.

Larry, crate training and the Genius of Dogs

It seems like the goddess of spring had a lot planned for me this year. I’m no longer working where I used to work but instead have quite a lot of time on my hands. While looking into master’s courses at the local university, I’ve also been reading quite a bit about canine behaviour and intelligence. It’s a fascinating subject, but I’m probably over-fascinated because of Larry. He’s a Spanish Water Dog and he moved in with us around a week ago aged 8 weeks. Here he is with a toy I got him the other day:

Larry with his toy

While I grew up with a dog (Jack) and my mum has two dogs (Rosie and Skippy), I’ve never actually trained a puppy. It’s a big responsibility because I want Larry to be well behaved at home and outside, and a great walking partner. So before he arrived, I started to seek out advice and that’s when I stumbled upon crate training.

Crate training seems to be the big trend in the USA at the moment, and it’s popular in England too. Many of the kennel clubs and dog websites recommend it as a ‘must do’ element of training a new puppy. The amazing thing about it is that crate training really consists of keeping your puppy locked up in a small cage for hours on end and ‘rewarding’ it with moments of freedom.

I’m really quite shocked by how popular crating seems to be. As with many other barbaric ways that humans treat animals, its adherents are viciously defensive of the technique. Which reminds me of Louis CK’s story about pony punching  which ends with the delicious line: “People who don’t punch their ponies in the face make me sick”.

In my studies, I’ve been re-reading parts of In Defence of Dogs and I’ve stumbled upon The Genius of Dogs – and both make for good reading even for a non dog-owner. The latter’s updated theories about the process of how wolves became domesticated are particularly interesting.

Spring is as good a moment for changes as any other and dedicating time to reading, training a dog and considering my academic options seems like a good investment.

Summer birds

We moved house earlier this summer. We’re still in Cerdanyola, a town we love, and are living in exactly the district we prefer. The barri de Sant Ramon is effectively the casc antic – old quarter – of Cerdanyola and our views are now of cases de poble and a few factories, much as any Vallès town has to offer.

A new house means new views and new wildlife. While the exact species haven’t changed much – same old swallows, swifts, sparrows and magpies (and, thankfully, fewer damned catorras) – our view of the first two has improved impressively. While they don’t nest on our house, they do nest nearby. They swoop over our low terrace, buzzing us in a maverick way, and shitting on us from low heights.

We’ve just returned from two weeks’ holiday in Menorca – and three weeks ought to be the mandated minimum, if you ask me – to see our winged friends changed. Previously, they were still parents and a few adolescents, learning the ropes. One such youngster had taken to sleeping in the tree on our neighbours’ terrace. An independent mind, perhaps. Or maybe just not enough room at home.

Now, the adolescents seem to hold sway. They’re all fledged and practiced and they have doubled or tripled the number of birds – and droppings – we can see from our table. And in this newly augmented flock, we see the augur of autumn. I can’t remember the date they normally leave, but they arrived two days early this year.

I can’t make out the different species, beyond swift and swallow. Might there be some martins in there too? I guess so. All I know is that I have five days left to enjoy my summer vacation. I shall spend them sorting out the boxes that remain in the old flat, drinking a bit of wine, taking some sun and watching this ever-growing family of birds as it starts to prepare for its trip home to Africa. And cleaning up the mess as they perform their bombing runs on our laundry, drying in the sun.