Monday, December 3, 2007

This is Spain! DAY 3 OF 10

Just so that we're clear, let me say that Spain wasn't all debauchery. This is day 3 and I tried to sleep through a semi-decent hangover.

Joe woke us up and said, "I'll be in the city. Call me later." Off he went down the chutes and ladders of Barcelona's superb transit system. Where he would pop up? I had no clue. Either way, his exit was my call to arise. I had a whole city to see.

It did us no good to try and wake up Miguel as the man was near death and in a drunken coma. The poor bastard really overdid it the night before with the boozing and he needed some time to sleep it off. I left him my cell phone on a piece paper that contained the numbers for Joe's and Gus's cell phones. Mike, Gus and I departed for the Sagrada Familia - a cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudi, the famed Spanish architect.

We found our way to the exit for Sagrada Familia with ease. It was almost impossible to get lost down that labrynth of tunnels. I saw the cathedral for the first time and it was just like it looked in the pictures - construction cranes and all. The beauty of it was overpowering. One can see the newer section, which was much cleaner than the older one, which looked old and weathered like much of the Gothic district. I prefer the dirtier side because it gives the building authenticity and stoicism and yet it is so unique with its design. The boys and I needed food first and so we found our way to KFC. Yes, that KFC. The one with the fried chicken and Colonel Sanders.

I sat down with my food, took a bite and was squirted in the eye by some unknown burning liquid. The worst chicken sandwich of my life. But that is where it ends with the American junkfood and thank God.

Back on the street, the crowds were filling along Las Ramblas and looking at the goods that were provided by several street vendors. It was like a flew market back here in the States. The sky was a deep blue and without any clouds. I stood back and admired the Sagrada Familia standing there amongst all of these buildings. It is true today as it was hundreds of years ago that the tallest building in the city was a cathedral.

The closer we got to the building the more beautiful it became as I was able to admire the intricate artwork festooned on the fascade. I clicked away like a madman with my camera.

It was five euros to get in. I would have paid thirty if they would have asked. A huge crucifix greeted us at the entrance and there, in all of His glory and piety was Jesus Christ with the biggest set of balls I've ever seen. They were so big that Gus mentioned that it would be a good idea to take a picture of them. When I showed the picture to Mike, he exclaimed, "Jesus! I thought that was his head." They were huge. I said that it was fitting for Jesus to have a huge set like those. If He's the son of God then he better be packing an elephant trunk to show the world that he means business.

Once inside, I realized that there was no way that this building would be finished by 2010 as it was mentioned in the book I had carried with me. Construction began in 1882 and was followed by a series of changes by its architect who had tried to perfect its design. Unfortunately, Antoni Gaudi was killed in 1926 in some strange accient. A tram ran him over and he died in pauper's hospital three days later. His friends wanted to move him into a more proper hospital but he said that he wanted to die amongst the poor where he belongs. In 1938, anarchists destroyed his last blueprint, forever erasing Gaudi's final master plan. [I later learned that the new projection date of completion is estimated to be 2026.]

As of today, the stairs are incomplete and no seats anywhere. Huge arcs led to where I imagined the altar will eventually be. Even in this primordial interior, one can imagine the beauty of the final design.

What is it about the Meditarranean, the jamon, the beauty of the Sierra Nevada or the Pyranees or the open plains of Spain that produced such wonderous artists such as Gaudi, Miro, Dali, Picasso or even Garcia-Lorca? What I think it is that these men understood life. If one would consider for a moment the complex and surreal evolution of our species, it may not be so difficult to understand how this art became what it has become. Giving birth, dying, murder, conquering the seas, religion... all of this is in the work of such artists. From Gaudi's ocean inspired cathedral with its barnacle looking decorations to Dali's Perception of Time. It's all there.

I stood inside the belly of this artist's imagination admiring with a blank mind of things I may never understand. The detail. The crafstmanship... What an impressive resume one must have to just etch the designs into the stone.

There was an elevator that takes people all the way to the top but the line was too long. We don't do lines and this wouldn't be an exception. We'd eventually find an even more amazing view later on during the trip.

Joe called and wanted to meet with us. We told him to meet us at the cathedral and tried our best to describe the location but it was useless.

"I'm at the cathedral," Joe said.

"Can you see the artwork on the streets?" Gus asked.

"I'm on the steps," Joe replied.

Well, we figured the steps of this cathedral but when we walked out we realized that there was no steps for this one. Joe was at a different location.
We agreed on a place to meet, which was where we Gus and Joe had departed from the night before. It was an easy train ride there. We found Joe sitting at Las Ramblas with a smile on his face and listening to his iPod. Just relaxing as if he was a native.

Joe was hungry and required food in a hurry so we went to the equivelant of a TGIFridays with Spanish food. We sat down and he ordered some pasta while we enjoyed some sangria. I had begun to feel worried about the state of Miguel. Was he dead? We tried calling him but no answer. Either way, it was time to move on.

No matter where we walked, we usually ended up in the same place. Temple was to the right of us, again and we continued up the street and into the plaza from the night before. The memory Joe riding on Mike's back and toppling over and the Internationals jumping on them returned as I looked upon these official buildings.

A group of clowns were trying to gain entrance into one of the buildings but the security guard just looked at them and smiled. They were crying and drying their eyes. I could tell that they were performing a satire. Their camoflaged clothing and military style marching that they performed indicated a silly and yet effective form of protest. I wasn't sure if this was about the Catalonian state being oppressed by the government of Spain or if it was just a coincidence. The clowns threw flowers on the ground and when they realized that they would not be granted entrance, they about faced and marched toward the other building but once there, they were rejected as well. Instead, they joined the guard and stood at the entrance not allowing anyone in - including cats as they said. I disregarded my fear of clowns and saw this as a clever performance.

Gus, Joe, Mike and I decided to traverse down a street that we had not yet been on. A smoothie stand had set up shop and I saw it as an opportunity to catch up on my very much needed vitamins. My strawberry smoothie was refreshing. I walked after the boys who were turning onto another street.

Joe had gone to mass that morning at this beautiful cathedral. He said that many people told him, "No, no, no" throughout the day and a few of the "nos" was at the cathedral. He walked in and they told him to quietly walk to the front but he went to far and almost ended up at the altar. So they told him, "No, no, no" and he found a seat. He took a couple of pictures and they told him, "No, no, no." The cathedral was in view from that little street and we walked toward it but instead of being in front of the building, we were in some other plaza. A couple sat on the steps of some great gray building of gothic architecture. It was just the two of them and I marvelled at the simplicity of the view.

There was an entrance to another building with huge arcs that we had to walk through. Inside, was an elegant fountain in a small man made pond. There were religious symbols everywhere. Some new. Some old. I walked up the steps and saw another floor that had the entrance locked. That place was really fucking old whatever it was. We walked out of that building and saw the corner of the cathedral. There was a man playing a bass guitar in a jamband style. I saw two girls sitting on some steps drinking wine. The four of sat down on some other steps and took it all in.

The acoustics in this small plaza were amazing and every one seemed to great a sweet contrast to the old gray buildings. I could hear the reverberations of footsteps going from this way and that. It was peaceful.

It was time to go and see how Miguel was doing. We called again but no answer. I was really worried. We passed in front of the cathedral that Joe was in earlier. He explained to us the dance that he saw take place in front of it. Tens of people gathered to watch, according to him but now it was mostly empty besides the passer-bys such as ourselves.

We found the train station and down we went back to Badalona. All the way to Badalona.

Went back to the hostel and if you’d believe it, Miguel was still alive. He wore his patented blue pea coat and black Fidel cap. He looked up at us, smiled and handed back my phone.

“You slept the whole fucking day,” I yelled to him. The poor bastard slept away day 2 of Barcelona but he still had time to redeem himself.

All we did for the next couple of hours was relax, listen to music and walk the facility. I went outside and heard the familiar sound of squeaking of sneakers and a thumping thing on a court. The building next to ours was some kind of rec center. I stood on top of a platform and peered through one of the windows and saw men wearing basketball uniforms shooting hoops. All the way out there in Catalonia were men playing this very American sport. There were very few people in the stands and I thought to myself that this is what the stands must look like during a soccer match between grade D teams in America.

After the needed session of relaxation, it was time to disappear into the city once more. Joe’s uncle had been dating a Spanish woman for some time and mentioned to Joe about meeting up with her niece to get some real Barcelona experience. Not like that. We needed some locals to show us the real thing. Miguel spoke with her earlier and told her something in Spanish that literally translated to, “Every one has to clean themselves before going out,” but in that context of Spanish it really meant more like cleaning a cat than cleaning human bodies.

Miguel and Joe left before to meet up with Eva and her friend Nudia somewhere in Las Ramblas. Gus, Mike and I met up with them just a few moments later at some bar right off the street. The girls took us to a tapas bar. We had to stand in the hallway while all the wait staff and customer walked through us. I was tired and didn’t have the stamina to put up with this.

We finally received our orders – patatas bravas, jamon and something else that was pretty tatsty but the customers kept trudging in and out. Passing through us as if we were polluted air. I saw a fat couple about to enter the restaurant. Joe heard me say, “Oh Jesus Christ.” At risk to sound like a jerk, I have to admit that there really was no place else for me to go if they were going to pass through that hall. It was either I leave the restaurant or they didn’t enter, which is exactly what happened. They left.

The waiter teased us a few times with a table that was supposedly empty and each time disappointing us while we held plates of food in the air. Finally a table had become available. It was all ready three plates of tapas too late but it was better than nothing. Miguel and I ordered a liter of sangria for ourselves. I had to squeeze a seat at the end of the table between another table, which sat two girls about our age. I had to say, “excuse me” too many times just to sit.

I could sense that Eva and Nudia felt awkward. They had never met us before and I’m sure they felt that it was their duty to entertain us for the night. I speak very broken Spanish and Joe doesn’t speak a lick and Mike’s was very formal and often confused certain words but otherwise did very well. Gus and Miguel had no trouble. I also wasn’t sure what to think of them at first though they seemed nice enough.

I asked the girls next to our table if they could take a picture of us. We began talking with them. Their names were K and A and were from Canada. K was a DJ and A was a graphic designer. They wanted to meet with us later and have a drink. It was their first night in Barcelona.

Eva and Nudia had to work the next day and so they left our company. The boys and I had no desire to be there any longer and so we left too. We walked the streets and ended up on Plaza Reial. Right there on the corner was the hostel we originally wanted called Kabul and it was right next to fucking Jamboree. Unbelievable. It really did exist. We decided to stay in Barcelona an extra night and we all agreed to stay in Kabul. So, instead of leaving on Tuesday from Barcelona, we would leave on Wednesday.

I received a text from an unknown number. Turned out that it was from K. They wanted to meet up with us for a drink. We told them where to go. “Meet us by the fountain at the Plaza Reial.

The Plaza was also a beautiful sight but I had read that this is where trouble goes when it’s no longer safe to continue its activity on Las Ramblas. Fortunately there was people everywhere as well as a pair of police cars on temporary patrol of that area.

We decided earlier that no one could say, “You’ve been jamoned!” except for Mike because no one else could make it sound funny. If any of us besides Mike said it then we had to buy a round for every one else. Man, I couldn’t stop saying it before then and I needed my fix. I begged Mike over and over, “Please say it, man. Please fucking say it or I will explode.”

Mike said, “What do you guys think? Should I say it?” Of course every one said no but I had it. I said, “Ok, I’m about to buy all of you a drink. You’ve been jamoned!” And away went forty euros at the next bar, which was called Soul. Expensive drinks but damned good service and the music wasn’t bad either. Latin and American Jazz. There was a huge projector screen with interviews and performances with Jazz greats. I even saw Dizzy Gillespie's face appear on it.

I wanted to get a pack of cigarettes but the machine was between the doorway of the bar. I walked in between and took the opportunity to call Malena and see how she was doing. I put some money in the machine but nothing happened. The bouncer walked in from outside and pressed a button, which released my cigarettes. I thanked him and walked outside to better hear Malena. She was feeling sad and I wanted to comfort her. After we finished talking, I walked back inside when the bartender yelled over to me from the doorway and pointed to the bouncer who had my wallet in his hands. I fucking forgot my wallet on top of the cigarette machine. All of the stories I heard about pickpocketers and thieves lurking in the barrens of Spain and there was this good man who had considered the quality of my trip. I gave him a few euros after he refused a drink. He deserved it.

I had a good time talking with my friends and our new Canadian companions. A told Joe a story about how things went a little "debauched" (her words) back in Germany. She told him that she and some friends went back to their apartment. Got fucked up and fooled around. She didn’t divulge more than that but he got the picture.

K and A seemed nice but I was feeling pretty beat from all of the walking and drinking and so it was time to call it a night and try to sleep away the trip. I hailed a cab and off I went back to Badalona.


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