The Terrible Towels

My abuelito thinks I’m gay.

“When I was your age I already had 7 kids!” He teased me in Spanish.

No gracias Abuelo.

But in his defense, it has been a long time since I’ve brought a girl around the family.

My younger siblings getting married and having babies doesn’t help.

Thanks a lot guys.

The final straw took place in January when I went home to spend time with family. Trying to show off my improved Castellano,  I made the mistake of lisping the “c” in Barcelona in front of the old man.

He slapped his knee and pointed his finger, letting out a laugh that I’ve never heard him make, like an ‘I knew it!’ kind of laugh.

I thought it was hilarious. 

Don’t get it twisted guys. This isn’t some homophobic rant, some of my greatest friends are gay. Like they say in Spain, me da igaul. But I know my old man doesn’t like his old man thinking his eldest young man is gay.

Ever-cognizant of this antiquated yet completely hilarious quandary I’ve put my pops in, I wasn’t going to tell ya’ll about what happened to me last month.

But here we goooo.

Sharing a living space is never easy.

After spending my first eight months living in the Barri Gótic with some of my best friends in the city, it was time for me to find a new flat. After a month of some serious searching, I finally found a room in the beautiful neighborhood of Gracia. Although Gracia is often considered the most gentrified neighborhood in Barcelona, a certain charm of authenticity remains. I hit the narrow streets during sunset as the locals take their evening stroll around the neighborhood. The paseo is a delightful tradition, bringing a strong sense of community to the barrio. Young parents chat as their children laugh and play in the street. Sometimes I sit and watch the old men play their pick-up games of bocce ball in the dusty squares. 

The neighborhood more than makes up for the size of my room. “Shoebox” is an upgrade. And I haven’t had a bed so small since I was eleven.

“We’ll share the shelter of my single bed?”

Bob Marley was full of shit on that one.

But I have my own terrace that gets amazing sunlight and a cool breeze. I even strung up lights and bought some flowers and aromatic plants from a local nursery. Please don’t tell my grandfather.

I share a wall and a huge bathroom with Melissa, a rad chica from the U.K. who’s in Barcelona for hairdresser school. Our bathroom has a bidet and I’m not sure how I’ve managed to live this long without one. So fresh and so clean clean.

My two Italian roomies, Franceso and Andrea, best friends since childhood, share a room and a smaller restroom down the hall. After about a week, I noticed that they had begun taking the liberty of utilizing our more spacious lavatory. ‘Not a big deal,’ I thought to myself, ‘mi baño es su baño amigos.’ I’m prone to fits of claustrophobia myself so I understood their need for ample leg room whilst handling their business.

I forgot to mention that our apartment is technically a student housing unit of sorts. I was leery upon finding this out, but essentially the title is just… well… a title. A way for the management company to assuage a community that has witnessed rent prices skyrocket in their neighborhood over the last decade. But the title does come with some perks. Basically, any appliance or piece of furniture that we need is a simple text message away. Need an iron? Text our landlord Sebastian and you’ll have it within a day or two. More plates and silverware? How about a fan in my room? No problemo.

When I noticed some new hand towels hanging in the restroom near the door, I smiled and thought, ‘Sebastian… what a guy.’ 

For about a week I used those lovely little towels with gusto. I preferred the green towel, which was bit more course, for drying my hands.  I reserved the white towel, which had a higher thread count and much finer fabric, for my evening face wash. One night, after plunging my face in that lovely white cloth, I noticed a hint of funky smell emanating from the fabric. ‘Hmmph,‘ I thought, ‘must be time for a wash.’ After finishing up with the green towel, which still had a sweet fragrance, I took the white towel, along with some other clothes that needing cleaning, and started up the washing machine.

A couple of hours later, Andrea returned from work after a long day at the pizzeria. He changed clothes and made his way to my (our) restroom, newspaper in hand. But before the door closed Andrea muttered something in Italian and remerged into the hallway, angry, quite uncharacteristic of the ever-chipper and gregarious Italian. “Aaron, what has happened to my towel? Have you been using my towel?”

Taken aback by his aggressive tone, I responded in a like manner, “What are you talking about, bro?”

“If you mean our hand towels in my restroom… then of course I have.”

Clearly frustrated by my response, Andrea barked back in Spanish (his Spanish is better than mine, another fact that would probably make my abuelito laugh and point in my direction), “you should not use other people’s towels Aaron.”

“Listen buddy, you and Fra have been using my restroom for weeks and I haven’t said a word. And now you want to claim our community towels too?”

“No. You do not understand. Those are our towels. From Italia. They are for the culo. You have been using our ass towels.” The anger in his voice had subsided into a menacing laugh.

“What?” I asked, feeling a bit light headed.

Apparently, a bidet is no mere luxury for Italians. Nearly every home in Italy has a washroom fully equipped with toilet and bidet. Next to each bidet you’ll find a rack with small “hand” towels. DO NOT use these towels. Like, ever. Don’t even look at ’em.

For Francesco and Andrea, pooping in my restroom was not about leg room. Utilizing a toilet without a bidet would be outright barbaric for them, and leaving their ‘booty towels’ on the rack near the bidet was nothing out of the ordinary, something they never even thought to warn their ignorant roommate from the USA about.

Awesome.

After regaining my composure all I could do was laugh and tell Andrea how Francesco’s booty had a much sweeter fragrance than his. Like fresh lavender and honey.

You can laugh, just don’t tell my old man.

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Euronly Live Twice

I kind of feel like a cheater posting old material but I wanted to provide some semblance of a background for my upcoming trip. The following post comes from my old blog, Mytransistorsister, and was written after my first visit to Europe back in April. Although the trip lasted only a fortnight, I knew then, as I know now, that I returned to the States a different man. It served as a great impetus of change in my life, propelling me towards roads less traveled. The post has some tips for first time travelers(apparently two weeks in Europe made me an expert ha!) and even cooler pictures. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for some new stuff coming your way-  Aaron

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As I sit in my living room back in the States, I am surrounded by crumbled up piles of Kleenex, jet-lagged and sick as a dog. But the cold I caught overseas and 36 hours of grueling traveling back home could only distract me from my post-vacation blues for so long. The trip of a lifetime is over and it’s finally sinking in. My insides ache to be back in Barcelona eating paella and lisping my c’s. I close my eyes and think of the people I met, the food I tasted, the languages I butchered and I can’t help but smile.

In January, I went on a rant about New Year’s Resolutions but ended up making one anyway. My 2015 resolution was to travel and as I wipe the snot from my leaky nose and stare at this luggage that I don’t want to unpack, I can smile and say ‘mission accomplished.’

As I reflect on my travels, there are a few things I would have done differently and other preparations I am thankful I made.

1. First things first: Just go man. Travel. Save your pennies and do it.

I shouldn’t have to sell you on this but it took this guy 28 years to leave North America so… ya never know. Something special happens to you as soon as you’re on that plane. As I looked out of my window and gazed upon the Atlantic beneath me, anything seemed possible. Exposure to new people and their rich cultures throughout my trip cemented this new perspective. Back at home, it’s so easy to fall into the rut of monotonous routine. Creativity is hampered and options seem limited. Sometimes you just need to rise above it all and look at life from a new angle, and 30,000 feet seems to be the perfect height.

2. Do your research.

After flooding social media with posts about my upcoming trip (sorry guys), I got a message from an old friend who had recently returned from a European adventure of his own. My pal recommended that I go and buy Rick Steves travel books and I’m glad I heeded his advice. Well, I kind of listened. I hit my local library and rented a Rick Steves book from every country I would be visiting. What can I say? I’m cheap. Apparently you can rent up to fifty books at a time from the library, who knew?

Not only did the books offer great general information regarding the cities I would be visiting, Mr. Steves books guided me through popular and lesser known sites with ease. The books even offered advice regarding special deals and discounts, saving me both time and money.

Yup. That's a Rick Steves book in big Fraz's hand. It was our bible in Rome.
Yup. That’s a Rick Steves book in big Fraz’s hand. It was our bible in Rome.

3. Pack light: Less is more

I get it, it’s Europe, you want to look good and to some extent you’re right. Nothing screams American tourist like a baseball cap and shorts. Leave the yoga pants and hoodies at home and bring some collared shirts. But I definitely didn’t need the three pair of shoes I brought in my backpack. The more shit you bring the more stress you’ll have when you’re moving from hostel to hostel or going through airport security. The most important things you need to bring don’t even take up any space in your bag… a smile and an open mind. Plans will get fucked up, you will miss connection flights, and you’ll lose things. We somehow managed to lose our friend for twelve hours in England. Stay loose, it’s all part of the adventure. In the end, I did pretty well in this department. I lost a grand total of one sock, a pair of flip flops, and my six-pack (thanks Italy).

4. Enhance your experience: Stay in hostels

I must admit, I was a bit skeptical when I heard that my friends wanted to stay in hostels throughout our trip. Looking back, it is the best thing we could have done. Sure, sharing a bathroom with strangers is never fun and you get the occasional weirdo in your room. But the juice is definitely worth the squeeze. Not only are they cheap, but hostels offer you the opportunity to meet some really awesome people and have shared experiences that you never could have planned back at home. On a whim, I threw on my finest, caught a night bus to Monaco and gambled in the Casino Monte Carlo with two American girls studying abroad (shout out to my Seminoles)! We lost all of our money, but it is an experience I’ll never forget. In Rome, I danced the night away at a toga party with a bunch of German tourists. My German was limited to ‘hello’ and a couple of swear words so I didn’t bother to tell them that toga parties are actually Greek.

5. Embrace the local culture

Before leaving for my trip, I  heard a lot of chatter about European’s and their disdain for Americans, especially in France. Fortunately, I never experienced anything of the sort. Perhaps it was dumb luck, or maybe it was my willingness to ‘do as the Romans do.’ In Barcelona, I studied up on the history of Catalunya and did my best to lisp my c’s. My thank you’s in Spanish quickly went from “gracias” to “grathias.” You might feel like a total dork, and even though most Europeans speak some English, they seemed to appreciate the effort. If all else fails, just tell them you’re from California. It never failed, whether I was in Italy or Scotland, Monaco or France. Everyone loves the Golden State.

But it’s all over now. Back to reality. It hurts to be back, but that new perspective I alluded to also left with me a sense of gratitude. I am so fortunate to hail from the United States of America. I am lucky to call California home. I will never take my coffee maker for granted again (a dude can only drink so many espressos). God bless Chipotle.

Cheers mates. Here’s to getting those passports stamped.

Safe travels.

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