Girona, Spain

Things just get better and better here in Spain. The weather is balmy but cool, the skies are blue but gently kissed with clouds, and my posts are getting cornier and cornier.

Anyways, I'm a tiny bit tipsy from a bottle of cavas we had at dinner, so I'll keep this short. By the way, cavas--the Spanish version of French champaign--is far superior than its European counterparts, and I'm going to actively seek it out stateside.

We went to Girona on Friday. It's about 1 1/2 hours outside Barcelona. Inland, actually. It's a sleepy town with great food, only a few tourists, and surprisingly upscale shopping. I bought a ring at an authentic Gironas bijoux store. I'll write it in a Mad Style section later. For now, here's a few pictures of the straight-out-of-fantasy Girona, Spain.


Barcelona, Tarragona Spain

It's been a while since I've posted here (sorry), but there has been so much to do. When a city is this exciting it becomes difficult to peel myself away and update The Happiest Activist. It's even harder when I'm not blogging about style...

Yesterday we ventured out to a nearby city, much smaller than the Barce, named Tarragona. At first it was hellish. That is no exaggeration. We arrive from the train station and attempted a self-tour of the ancient Roman ruins scattered throughout the city. Well, it is still a city. And cities have highways. And the only way to get to the Roman aqueducts (something I'm still dying to see) we would have to walk on this highway. With impatient Spanish traffic, ghetto neighborhoods at all sides, and tired feet to cap it off. It was worst experience we have had in Spain, without question.

If you haven't guessed by now, we turned around in such a foul mood I was ready to call it quits and just head home. HOWEVER, we (I) called a taxi and FINALLY found the Roman quarter, sans aqueducts. Beautiful, sun-kissed buildings and red tiled roofs, children playing soccer in the street--it was idyllic. We ate at a rip-off cafe because everything else was closed, but as mom and I finished off an entire bottle of red wine (botella de tinto), the sun appeared from the gray abyss like a great travel guide falling from the sky when you're walking on a screeching highway in rural Spain, both literally and figuratively. Mom was drunk, which was far more disturbing than can be put into words, but we meandered around the stunning scenery and finished the day watching the sun set from an ancient Roman circus tower. The Mediterranean is far more beautiful in real life, with sunlight (lol) than in pictures. The day started out so bad, but ended up being one of my favorites on the entire trip.

We got home around 10 and grabbed dinner at a fantastic restaurant in the Catarina market. I had a chicken and tofu red curry, and as a self-styled Thai connoisseur I deemed it the best I've ever had. Seriously.

I'm off to see Casa Mila and Casa Batllo.


"You comprendo english?"

So, Barcelona (or "The Barce" as Bo and I have come to calling it) is amazing. Duh. But it's getting better and better every hour--because so few people speak English and the lifestyle is so dramatically different from that of the U.S. it takes a good while to get oriented.

The people are friendly, but not as much as Paris, in my opinion. I suppose that's simply my assumption because so few can respond in English. I'm getting along well speaking Spanish, however. I'm heading off now to see some of Gaudi's work around the city. Here are some pictures of yesterday.

These are all pics Bo and I think are "ballin'."


Carrer de Born, Barcelona

Stuff to come. Must. Get. Sleep.


New Shoes

I bought this new pair of Oxford-esque shoes from ******* for $**.**.

I'm keeping this one a secret! They're just too bad-ass!


Suitcase for Spain


I have to tell you about an artist my friend (and fellow blogger at justinrwright. blogspot.com) Justin turned me on to. Her name is Katy Perry. You might have heard of her on Perez Hilton or any other music blog that seeks out artists like Perry that are just having their first blips on the music radar.

In a word, she's fearless. Her musical style is not so unique, playing a line between Lily Allen and a hint of Supernature-era Goldfrapp, but her voice is a lean slice of husky voicesteak. Doubtless she's one of the best female vocalists I've seen pop up all year.

Her singles are brilliant. "Ur So Gay," about a boyfriend who wears "H&M scarves" and "chooses Myspace over me" but "[doesn't] even like boys," is a great kiss-off and was a well-orchestrated choice for first release. Her second single, "I Kissed A Girl" is the superior song, though, in my opinion. While I can see why she wouldn't have "Girl" be her first entry into the music world (she'd be pigeonholed as another Peaches with lesbian tendencies--not a safe place in pop music), it's a fantastic follow-up to "Gay." Electronic riffs and a perfectly layered vocal track make club play very likely. That is, if the guys in the clubs don't mind the threatening "I kissed a girl/and I liked it" chorus.

...and she's FREAKING HOT!


Leather Men's Bag

I'm an internet freak. I order crap online, I bid on stuff online, I use Bluefly (unsuccessfully). It's almost embarassing.

But on days like this, I realize why surfing the internet for clothing with good style is nothing to be ashamed of.

This leather bag is an Italian antique I ordered from a Frenchman in Montreal. He travels to Europe for Pitti Nuomo every year and picks up hundreds of leather bags, shoes, and wallets for men. Some of the bags are a bit rough, and thus are suggested for "viewing only." Yeah, because that makes a lot of sense.

The bag is exactly what I was looking for. Honestly, I wanted last year's braided leather Fendi executive bag, but that cost $2,700.00, which is a price I'll never pay for a likely machine-made bag that killed an animal in order to be made. Therefore, the bag I ordered has a few extra benefits, namely being it's as green as a bag can get (airfare not withstanding). This only cost me around $50.00 after bidding, which is nice--I'm assuming the internet was down in the majority of the world, because this bag is worth a lot more than that.

The color is great, but I love that I can carry it above my waist with my free arm. The clasp is really modern, too, and the roughed-up look makes me look really important, rather than someone who just spends too much money!

In exactly one week's time I'll be strolling along Las Ramblas in Barcelona with this bag in my possession. I'll post pics and blog every day if possible.

On another note, I just downloading Madonna's Music. Holy crap. What's so astonishing is how the album could have been produced last week--it's more cutting edge than Hard Candy, but it's almost nine years old. That's messed up.


Speed Racer review: A MUST SEE.

I am sitting here, telling any lover of art, film, or storytelling, if you do not see Speed Racer--the energetic masterpiece orchestrated by the endlessly weird Wachowski siblings--you are not a complete being.

The film is being panned by critics all across the nation, which is so bewildering. Snobby critics usually love self-consciously artistic films (No Country for Old Men, Juno), but I have to be honest here: the critics have simply got it wrong with Speed Racer. My instincts are telling me the film is simply too wild for the aged Times critics, but not all film critics are Roger Ebert (in other words...old). So perhaps it's simply a film that you either "get" or you don't.

But, throughout history, isn't media that is the most divisive always the most powerful?

Whatever the case, Speed Racer is one of the best movies I've seen in months. The kitschy characters, literally stunning imagery, and The Matrix-esque live action scenes add up to a fitting summer film in a summer all but devoid of anything nearing original.

The dialogue between the actors is perfectly trite: "Racing, speed...what you do is art," Mama Racer tells Speed in one of the more touching scenes. In fact, Mama Racer's part (played by Susan Sarandon) is the only casting choice I disagree with. Sarandon just can't play down-to-earth cornball. Her arrogance can almost be seen floating in vapors above Mama Racer's 50's-style beehive.

The rest of the cast is near-perfect for what Speed Racer aspires to be. Emile Hirshe captures the heartthrob demeanor of the animated Speed character and translates it into an energy that is infectious: a heroic energy, even. Christina Ricci, playing a line between dirty vixen and schoolgirl eerily well, traps the audience in the bubble of her perfectly round eyes and instantly transmits the anime-vibe the Wachowski's were obviously gunning for.

Surprisingly, the young Paulie Litt (the character of Speed's younger brother, Spritle) nearly steals the entire show. He is charming, and never overacts (a trait many child actors, sadly, do not possess). Even Chimp-Chimp, his pet monkey, is a blast to watch on-screen.

Honestly, though, go see this movie for what the Wachowski's have done. The film is so vibrant you can see the colors pulsing like the aortic valve of a living rainbow. (Yes, I just wrote that.) The visual effects, when not jaw-droppingly gorgeous, still maintain a level of artistry that will carry on when bigger, better graphics are integrated in the coming years. And, as a modest filmmaker myself (not to mention a rabid moviegoer), I can testify that the editing and cinematography is some of the best I've ever seen. Even the score is top-notch. Right now, stop reading this and download the over-caffeinated theme song "Go Speed Racer Go" by Ali Dee and the Deekompressors. Do it. Now. I promise, it will keep you up for hours (in a great way).

You must see Speed Racer. Sure, if you don't, I'll be part of a small, lucky group of people who got to experience one of the best films of 2008 (how special!)--but I'd rather this film go big. Hayao Miyazaki would, too.



Check out this awesome website that lets you tag any web page you want. Even MINE! The music on the site's pretty epic, I assume because they want visitors to buy their CD.

This is my first design. I'm calling it...The Activist of Death. (so original!)

Now it's your turn to PAINT THAT S*** GOLD!


White Polo/Black Denim

While I was in Austin last week I stopped by Barney's and bought a white polo for around $40 (normally like $80 or so--I wouldn't have bought it any more expensive than I did). I'm not a polo kind of guy by any means. I shy away from anything too trendy, like cargo pants, striped or colored polos, Sperry's, etc. But I wanted a simple white polo.

Like any good menswear fit, the polo gives me just a few inches in my chest and maybe one on each of my shoulders. It's rare to find a polo narrow enough to fit my body type and not look too tight, so I'm thrilled Barney's sells these.

My only problem is the collar. You can see it's a soft pima cotton--too thin to stay rigid like any good collar should, in my opinion. But the best part is when I combine this with anything black.

Therefore, I bought some ridiculously gangster black 7s, but the photos I took were either too blurry or blown out by the flash. I'll work on that.

On another note, I am extremely unimpressed by Santogold, some creepy new band Entertainment Weekly crowned "the next M.I.A." Sacrilege, in my opinion, and one more reason to dislike EW...they're lucky I forgave them for their pitiful review of Kanye's Glow in the Dark Tour...


Bad Style: Iron Man

Don't see Iron Man.

Well, okay, it's worth seeing. But only so you can let everyone know your disappointment is legitimate!

Robert Downey, Jr. is fantastic. Gwyneth Paltrow is very Pepper Potts. And Terrence Howard is cool, calm, and perfectly suited for his role. The problem is everything else. Choppy, nonsensical story, lackluster action sequences, and one joke of a "twist."

On a rank of things that smell, I'd give this 'salted eggs.' (I'm trying to be original here.)

[Ed. Note: Atonement would be the delicious scent of an authentic Pad Thai. Any Michael Bay film is something like...rotting corpses. There's the scale.]

Okay, I'm never comparing films to food ever again.


Review: Robyn, "Robyn"

I'm pretty sure any reader of my blog knows about Robyn, the 90's pop tart-turned-music mogul/femme thug.

Her new album, if you've been living under a rock for the past six months, came out Tuesday. The self-titled re-debut has been getting rave reviews across the board. Entertainment Weekly gave her album an A, All Music Guide an elusive 4.5 out of 5. So yeah, it's amazing.

I'll admit, I've been downloading her tracks for months now. The album is pretty much a non-stop onslaught of brilliant music; kicking off with the rousing "Curriculum Vitae," Robyn, in a chopped and slowed vocal track, lets her listeners know: "I'll do [anything] to get paid." Oh, and "Turn this the f*** up."

"Konichiwa Bitches" is a great starter, featuring at least seven or so classic lines other artists would die for. "Count you out like a mathematician"; "On the North Pole, I'll ice you son"; "I fill my cups no need to supersize them."

The track is followed by the overrated "Cobrastyle," a Teddybears cover. I've owned the original for a few months beforehand, so that definitely dulled it's appeal for me. "Handle Me" and "Bum Like You" (they really complement each other) are two great tracks about relationships, the former quite possibly the strongest on the album.

After the less-impressive "Be Mine!," Robyn gets deep and introspective on "With Every Heartbeat," her ode to non-commercial electronica (a la Postal Service.). The last thirty seconds of the track are worth the album download alone, as Robyn repeats, "It hurts with every heartbeat" again and again until the end of the song.

At this point in the album, things change. Not necessarily for the worse or even for the better, Robyn (the album) takes a metaphorical breath of air on tracks like "Who's That Girl?" (my pick for second single) and "Crash and Burn Girl," both imbuing a Stefani/grunge lovechild vibe. Yes, that is a type of "vibe."

"Robotboy" sufficiently slows things down in preparation for "Eclipse," the only song on this album that doesn't meet the standards of earlier tracks.

The following track is sure to be divisive among fans and critics alike. Call it lyrical stupidity, but I call "Should Have Known" lyrical simplicity. "I should have seen it coming, I should have
f*****g known/ How could I let you play me, I don't even know" Robyn cries in this remarkably nostalgic track. Similar to the hits of Babyface and even recent soul-tinged R&B tracks, "Should Have Known" is a hidden gem on this record. In a poignant moment, Robyn reflects on one of the biggest failings of any relationship: "You broke the rules, but I should have known/You do it all the time."

From a commercial radio perspective, Robyn is bubbling just under the surface of accessible pop. As long as she doesn't mind getting "paid" less than pop-R&B superstars like Fergie, she should simply continue to do what she has done with this album. Unique and almost scarily persistent, Robyn has the ability to transcend musical borders. This album is a tapestry of that ability.

[Ed. Note: I almost titled this entry "Rocking Robyn." But even a few parenthetical "lol's" couldn't save that horrid title.]


Review: M.I.A. and Holy F***

If you have not already guessed, I am currently in Austin, my future home for university. The weather is flawless, although a bit on the hot side. The trees are the best part. They arch over the street like nature's own street tunnel.

With the heat as the sole exception, the M.I.A. show was in stark contrast to the beauty surrounding 45th and Duvall.

My friends Lauren and Julianne, along with my brother, arrived at La Zona Rosa for the show around 7:25 or so, expecting the crowd to feel like a sold-out show. It didn't. The crowd was kind of noobish, really, like the Glow in the Dark crowd. Where my hardcore peeps at? Do they even exist anymore?!?

No matter. I slipped my card into the ATM for some money (R2D2 has nothing on the money-printing pimp that is the La Zona Rosa ATM) for a tee, only to realize M.I.A.'s shirts were $30.00. I thought she was a Sri Lankan refugee, not Laura Hutton at Barney's. Suffice it to say I skipped out on the "How Many How Many" tee...it was hard...

Holy F*** (a name I will never print--it isn't creative, only a combination of two controversial words into one gross band title) started the show off decently. I'm not into instrumental-only music, which was exactly what HF was. Around the 30 minute mark my mild interest became dislike. I was just bored and hot and sweaty and surrounded by second-hand seed. As Bo would say, "It was nast." (note the missing "y")

Around 8:30 or so HF left the stage. We waited in torturous conditions for over an hour until M.I.A. finally came on stage, and I have a right to call that heat torturous. I've been to two Austin City Limits, more concerts and shows than I can count, and nothing compared to that stifling heat and sweaty body proximity. Once the show started, I found out for like twenty minutes I had been grinding the behind of a dude. Nothing against dudes grinding each other at an M.I.A. show, but the realization was just a little disarming when I thought it was a red-headed UT freshman female I had met earlier.

There weren't any highlights of her show, per se, because it all blended into one big Brazillian dance hall frenzy. It was a blast, yes, but I wanted to see M.I.A., and I can't remember a single moment when I felt, "Yes, I've connected and I get it." More than anything, I remember what she didn't perform. No "Jimmy." No "Bucky Done Gun." No "Hustle." No "Comes Around." No "The Turn." No "Hombre." Not singing Jimmy was the most egregious fault--that was actually a moderate hit on some radio stations.

"Galang" was the best song of the night, with the booming base and tribal singing. She knows how to get the crowd going, for sure, but she caters to the front row of around fifteen people the entire time, ignoring the fans who would rather preserve their self-respect and not shove little girls and midgets out of the way to get to the front of the stage.

I'm not kidding, either: some of these "fans" literally shoved past a little Hispanic midget sitting next to me.

Overall, I was satisfied in knowing I have visually seen M.I.A. But for the rest of my senses, I felt a sweaty fatty in front of me, I heard a muffled warbling of bass and gunshots, I tasted my own salty sweat all night, and I smelled pot in all directions.

M.I.A. was better at ACL. But hey, it was $30.00 and I can now say I lived that scene in the Matrix, in the S&M dance club, when everybody is humping each other regardless of race, gender, orientation, or political affiliation (although I'm sure this crowd was of the Ron Paul-ilk). Just switch the black leather for pink and yellow linen and you've got the M.I.A. show.

Review: Kanye West's Glow in the Dark Tour

So I saw Kanye West, Pharell and N.E.R.D., Rihanna, and Lupe Fiasco Wednesday night in Austin for the Glow in the Dark Tour.

Words can't really describe the quality of what I saw. But I'll try to break it down for you:

The show started promptly at 7:00, which was an unexpected surprise. The crowd at the entire show was not up to par with what I'd expect for $100.00+ tickets ($300.00+ in my case, sadly); mostly there for Rihanna. Which is fine. But poor Lupe was performing an amazing set to an empty stadium.

While he didn't sing "High Definition," my favorite Lupe track, his finale made up for it. His back-up singers were actually quite talented...one in particular could be the next Keyshia Cole.

N.E.R.D. (my mini-highlight of the evening) came on next. Of all I saw during Glow, N.E.R.D.--with Pharell as their clear shining star--stole the show with the relatively small budget they worked with. "She Wants to Move" had me dancing into the aisles, and my brother was jammed inside with a fatty and his schizophrenic sibling gyrating insanely to his right.

A new track, "Spaz," or something like that, was unbelievable. Pharell literally commanded his audience stand up and go crazy with the chorus. Needless to say, I did.

Rihanna then came on, and no amount of costume changes or stage dancers could make up for her obvious lack of hip-hop credibility. N.E.R.D., Lupe, Kanye all have a sense of authenticity, something they've earned over years in the business. Rihanna is still young and impressionable. This was especially clear as she switched albums during the set. "Pon de Replay" (a lowlight, for sure) sounds elementary next to "S.O.S.," which is even more ridiculous after "Don't Stop the Music" came on. She sang well enough, or at least better than I expected; I am a Rihanna fan, mostly because of "Umbrella" and "Breaking Dishes," both of which she performed very well. Even if I won't remember the specifics of her set ten years from now, at least I can say I saw Rihanna live before she went global.

Kanye...I'm not sure what I can say that won't degrade the creativity, energy, and sheer inspiration his set brought to Glow. He actually had a narrative to follow throughout his set: he was crash-landed on a planet with his robot computer Jane as his only accomplice. We followed Kanye through planetary identification ("I Wonder"), reminiscing on "crashes" of the past ("Through the Wire"), exploring the power of shooting stars ("Flashing Lights"), and even his loner-induced horniness ("Goldigger," a highlight). If you weren't a fan before the show started, there's no way on earth (lol, lol) you could not worship the brilliance that is Kanye West by the show's end two hours later.

When he sang "Champion" halfway through the set, I finally bought into all the self-created hype about his fame. He really is, low and behold, a superstar. "Did you realize/that you were a champion in their eyes?/Yes I did."

So do I.