Barcelona Has a Party!

Responding to clamours for an update to the blog (my mum asked why I hadn’t made an entry in a while, I wish I had friends), I return to tell all of my experience of La Mercè, the parties I mentioned in my previous post. Having been told by my colleagues on a Friday afternoon that I would not be seeing them at work again until Wednesday, I was very much looking forward to seeing what the city’s parties had to offer. With no idea what to expect, I was at the very least enjoying the prospect of a 4-day weekend.

It turns out that the principal way in which La Mercè is celebrated is through music. The weekend consists almost entirely of massive outdoor concerts, to which thousands of Spaniards flock. Friday night, my flatmate and I took to Plaça d’Espanya to meet up with a few of his friends and to see the famous M Clan play in front of a plaza which, upon our arrival, was absolutely heaving! It goes without saying that prior to the night’s main event, M Clan’s big concert, that I had never once heard of them before. The flatmate and co informed me that they were a very famous rock band in Spain, but were past the peaks of their careers. They were not lying…

m clan

So they were getting on a bit, this did not alter the crowd’s enthusiasm one jot. As we weaved our way towards the stage, it occurred to me just how many people were here in the plaza to see this concert. Score after score filled the area and the atmosphere was just vibrant. Headed towards the stage, I looked back to take in the sheer volume of people in attendance and was amazed. What I’m getting at is that it was quite busy, if we hadn’t already established that. As we neared the stage, beer in hand, I was able to catch a glimpse of what all the fuss was about. The lead man (pictured right) was sporting a shorter, slightly greyed trim and some absolutely fabulous sideburns, capturing the essence of fashion (a cheap jibe, I’m just jealous of his sideburn-growing abilities)! The crowd was buzzing with anticipation for the concert to get going, all eyes fixed on the stage emblazoned with the title of La Mercè:

The crowd gets pumped for M Clan

The crowd gets pumped for M Clan

Admittedly, not my best work, but I did make concerted effort to capture how excited everyone seemed to be… to no avail. Once the Clan got started, it very quickly became clear to me that either their entire fan-base had turned up for this one concert during Barcelona’s festival or far more likely, that this was a very, very popular band. Song after song, the crowd were lapping up every minute of their performance, it certainly was a sight to behold. One of the girls in our group leant over to me at one point to ask me if any of the numbers being played sounded similar to me, to which I regrettably replied that they did not. With the truth being out that I was, in fact, a heathen and not a fan of M Clan, she explained that their music was great and very easy to dance to. She was not wrong. Arms were waved, girls were dancing on shoulders, it really was a fun place to be. The hits, including ‘Carolina’ and ‘Llamando a la tierra’ were sung by band and crowd alike as I was left to try my hardest to decipher the lyrics, yet more importantly to take in this amazing atmosphere and seemingly it all it meant to the citizens of Barcelona. As the music came to an end, and the masses began to filter out of the plaza, I without doubt counted myself a fan of La Mercè.

With another night came another concert, this time in the company of Allie’s English-teaching colleagues. Meeting first at Plaça Catalunya and with the English contingent (the majority) demanding beer, myself included, we met with a few others and headed towards the next concert. The more secluded Rambla de Raval, where we befriended a hyperactive magician and awaited the next band to start, provided a different scene to the weekend’s previous event. Equally popular, everyone was a bit drunker, a bit younger and treating the evening more as a street party than just a concert. The music was more experimental as far as I recall, with an English speaking MC claiming at one point that ‘we would all know this one’. We didn’t but I liked it regardless! I did on numerous occasion attempt to film various parts of concerts over the weekend so readers could get some impression of proceedings but none of my attempts really did them justice. I did enjoy this picture taken below purely for the expression of Spain’s answer to Johnny Depp as he unintentionally photobombed my shot of the stage.

IMG_0309

The chubby-faced Johnny Depp lookalike was shocked by my decision to take a photo of him!

The chubby-faced Johnny Depp lookalike was shocked by my decision to take a photo of him!

Each night of La Mercè offered something different, and the city came alive with the celebrations. I generally think of myself as knowing Barcelona fairly well but when it came to these parties, I was enjoying a completely novel experience which has reaffirmed to me that I made a good choice in coming out here (just as well, I’m sticking around for a while!). The weekend was a welcome break from work, which is proving to be more demanding than I had anticipated (in a good way, of course). When I was informed during my first week that I would be the sole author of an official IGS report examining key US health policy initiatives and assessing their transferability to EU systems, I began to think that I had been thrown in at the deep end of health policy research, unable to swim and without armbands or any sign of a flotation device! Now, feeling much more confident about my budding research career in Barcelona, I look back to La Mercè with great fondness as it proved simultaneously to be a lively and relaxing break!

My only regret came on the final day of the parties, Tuesday, when I made the decision to watch the boys in blue (Chelsea) run out in the League Cup against Swindon at County Ground, when my flatmates chose fairly understandably not to join me and instead go out to see the fireworks display marking the end of the festivities. The win for Chelsea was a fairly sure thing (in which Juan Mata finally got a game!) and whilst I was more than happy to see the team win, I knew full well prior to the game that they would. The opportunity cost of my decision was in that instance fairly high, but there was always the most remote of chances that Swindon could have emulated Bradford’s feat against Arsenal last season and dumped Chelsea out of the cup… I should have seen the fireworks! Regardless, I was thoroughly entertained throughout the weekend’s fiestas and I had the cherry placed firmly on top of the cake by seeing a Chelsea win!

As my working week began on Wednesday last week, I had to wait just one day before the arrival of my dearest girlfriend to Spanish shores. Tough life I lead…

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Cataluña and Spain Just Do Not Get Along

A mosquito has just bitten me on the face. ¡Cabrón!

This mosquito has gone to town, as I count at least 4 separate bites from the recent attack. Here is an example of the balloon effect which takes place following a visit from one of my least favourite beings on Earth:

IMG_0282

Take a moment to imagine such swelling (see left) located slap-bang in the middle of my face… Luckily for me though, they only swell temporarily and soon calm down, but still, a bite to the face! I wasn’t happy.

Anyway, enough whining about audacious insects, and onto the particularly salient issue of Catalan nationalism. I am still meant to be a politics student, after all…

I feel a change of name for my blog may be in order. Currently titled ‘Dan Makes a Friend Called Spain’, as readers may just be aware by now, it seems more appropriate that I describe my experience in Barcelona as making friends with Cataluña, since the clear majority of nationalists argue that Cataluña is not Spain. As time goes by I have to say that I am inclined to agree with them – insofar as Catalonian culture is vastly different to that of Spain – I stop short of becoming a separatist myself when it so very clearly has nothing to do with me.

In recent days and weeks, I have been presented with constant reminders of the Catalan independence debate, some subtle and others glaringly obvious. For an example of the latter, I need only cast my mind back a week to El Día Once de Septiembre (11/09), or the National Day of Cataluña, during which some 1 million Catalans took to the streets to join hands and form a human chain spanning over 250 miles, from the French border all the way to the southern border shared with Valencia:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mydy4FtG7VI

Furthermore, this weekend is to be a long one (happy days!) as Monday and Tuesday are regional holidays of the Patron Saint of Barcelona, las fiestas de La Mercè. What more sign do I need to confirm that Barcelona, and indeed Cataluña, is a very different to the rest? You might think that it is these clear signs which have prompted me to write this blog today, and you would have fair reason to do so. However, I believe I have been subliminally urged to write of Catalan independence today! Firstly, Catalan is spoken all around me (a tenuous case for subliminal messaging, I know)! During my early days at UIC, in which I invariably meet un huevo of new faces (literally meaning ‘an egg’ of people, but implying ‘a lot’!), I am often greeted with an ‘Encantat’ (‘Nice to meet you’ in Catalan) before whichever Catalonian I happen to be meeting soon comes to the realisation that my Catalan is even more hopeless than my Spanish! It is an absolute bitch of a language to understand, with the principal issue being that it is sounds so similar to Spanish, but of course is a separate language! I am currently uneasily toying with the idea of learning some absolute basics with which I hope to be able to get by, more on that to come…

More subtle than the fact that Cataluña speaks a different language from the rest of Spain is that national flags are everywhere. These are not just the traditional red and yellow stripes, they often include l’estelada blava, or the ‘blue starred flag’ which is used to support independence. On any given day out, it would in fact be strange were I NOT to see at least a few Catalan flags as I walked through the city. Indeed, the norm for me on my commute every morning is to see flags emblazoned everywhere! Apartments, windows balconies, the most of which showing that starred flag denoting demands for independence. A typical view from the train every weekday morning:

IMG_0304 IMG_0303

Catalan independence is currently also the talk of the nation, with separatists from all stretches of the region clamouring for its secession from the rest of Spain. The news is dominated by stories concerning Catalonia and its people’s persistent attempts to be granted a referendum on the issue of independence. The atmosphere in the city somehow feels different to Madrid, for instance (where I spent a long weekend at the beginning of the month), without even necessarily having to come across any indication of Catalan nationalism, be it a flag or an exchanging of a ‘Bon dia’.

Indeed, there are plenty of signs that I am, in fact, in Spain. Of course, everyone speaks Spanish for starters. Sat watching TV with my flatmate as the awful news of the Navy Yard shooting in the US capital broke, I made the comment that incidents such as this occur all too often in America. We proceeded to discuss the ease with which one can purchase a firearm in the US. I was unable at that point to express my dismay regarding the Senate Republicans’ rejection of wider background checks in context of gun controls proposed by the Obama administration dating back to April of this year. I am fully aware that full-scale constitutional reform with regard to the 2nd amendment would be nigh on impossible, but the proposed legislative compromise, blocked by mere bipartisanship, could only have made positive steps towards combating gun crime in the US… Republicans. NRA-backed Republicans.

I digress! Watching the story of the US shooting, my flatmate notes that if Spain had the same gun laws as America, then “we would all be dead!”. In other words, the Spanish are a passionate and occasionally hot-headed people (at least according to the stereotype); put guns in their hands and they are likely to get trigger-happy! I am immediately reminded that maybe the Spanish and the Catalans are not so different after all. Certain stereotypes of what it means to be quintessentially Spanish do apply to Catalans; they love football, partial to a bit of paella, as proud as they are passionate, and they do more often speak Castilian Spanish as means of common parlance. Yet, despite all this, it is difficult to group Catalan and Spanish culture as one (and unfathomable to do so for your average Catalan!). Bullfighting is banned since it is deemed cruel and barbaric, and they’re not much into flamenco dancing either. Catalan culture is best described as a defiant one, too, as it survived the oppressive Franco regime and his brutal attempts to suppress Catalan identity as much as the language.

Whether it could or should achieve its independence which its inhabitants so crave is a hugely complex issue, highlighted now by the fact that it would not be an EU member-state. Catalan grievances are mainly financial insofar as Cataluña is one of the most prosperous regions of a struggling nation and is charged with propping up the rest to the tune of some €17 billion, all of which going to the government of Madrid. Catalans are pissed, and perhaps justifiably so, but their situation resembles that of Germany and their burden of supporting the rest of the Union. They are in debt, which is the source of much anger from a Catalan perspective, but also perhaps a good reason for them not to become independent and need a bail-out further down the line. What is certain is that my entry to my otherwise ridiculous blog is not going to unilaterally solve the issue. Regardless, I am proud of my first pseudo-intellectual post, but am wary of losing readers’ interests if I carry on as such. I promise to get back to being hungover and finding myself in amusing situations soon!

For now, I am off to see what all the fuss is about with La Mercè fiestas. We are having a house party tomorrow to commemorate the departure of our comrade, off to pastures new by way of Köln, Germany. The prefix of the party, in his words will be for guests to ‘leave their livers at the door’… Interesting choice of words. Until the next update, I bid you all buenas noches and bona nit!

Tequila Broke Dan’s Spanish!

A week has passed since I last took to writing an entry in my trusty blog. My recent lack of activity is owed largely to the fact that my first working week was uneventful from a blogging perspective. By and large, it entailed meeting a lot of new faces, familiarising myself with the university and with the projects of the Instituto Global de Salud Pública y Política Sanitaria (IGS – my place of work, situated in the university’s Sant Cugat campus), and attending a few meetings in which I desperately attempted to grasp an understanding of all that was being said around me. The obstacle of the fast-spoken Spanish is one yet to be fully hurdled! It was a relaxed week by any standard but, come Friday, I was so inexplicably tired that, once I returned home, I took myself away to my room at around 7.30pm for what I presumed would be a power nap. I roused next at 3am, fully dressed and considerably disoriented… Soon falling back to sleep, I would not resurface again until 11.30 the next morning. Possibly the longest sleep of my entire life and that is by no means an exaggeration (a good 14 hours!).

With Friday being the sleep marathon that it proved to be I knew that Saturday had to be the day to go out. Of course, not before I watched my weekend’s supplement of Premier League football, which was this week returning following on from the international break. My beloved Chelsea faced Everton at Goodison Park and despite dominating for large periods of the game were so poor when it came to taking chances. Needless to say, we didn’t score. It was as if I was watching a Liverpool side of last season, unable to convert on any of their opportunities, and suffering as a result of their inefficiency in front of goal. Chelsea, to my dismay, somehow managed to lose the game 1-0, and so I was decidedly grumpy. Steven Naismith (Everton’s goalscorer), please… If you ever happen to be trawling through the cyber-world of wordpress.com and happen to stumble upon this blog of one student’s year in Barcelona… I implore you; stop scoring goals against Chelsea. It makes me sad.

So the disappointment of the day was served blue (ironically) via the northwest of England on Merseyside, but I could not let that dampen my spirits too greatly. Shortly after the loss, with my composure restored, my flatmate and I were on our way to Las Ramblas, in search of tapas, and later on, her Californian compatriot. Some beers, croquetas and calamares later, we embarked on our mission to find said companion… And so begins my fateful encounter with my old friend (or perhaps more accurately foe), tequila.

             Looking mischievous

Looking mischievous

Tequila (‘liquid death’ hereafter) is a sly mistress. The analogy to follow is by no stretch of the imagination my best but bear with me, it can only go uphill from here:

You’re hosting a house party, it is to be a fairly quiet affair in which you entertain close friends, have a nice evening, but no one is looking to go wild. Liquid death (tequila hereafter, to avoid confusion), who just so happens to be a beautiful girl, asks if she can come over for a while, as she misses you and wants to see you. Now, at this point you should think back to all of the trouble she has caused in the past and deny her request. You have heard so much of the disruption she has caused and have had a number of run-ins with her yourself. Instead, you are instantly under her spell after she promises to be on her best behaviour this time. Succumbing to her charm, you let her in. Within minutes, she has called all of her friends, they are all in the house, everything goes crazy and somehow the place ends up on fire.

Whilst I am sure that better analogies exist out there somewhere, the central message remains, that tequila is not to be trusted. On Saturday night, I all too willingly ignored this wise and most vital of warnings. What initially seemed an innocuous evening soon became messy. Walking along Las Ramblas, somehow still buzzing full of bodies in mid-September when, for all intents and purposes, I would say that summer was drawing to a close, Allie and I went about our mission of finding her new American friend at ‘London Bar’, a name which delighted her no end on my behalf (cue Dorothy clicking her ruby slippers singing ‘There’s no place like home!’). Why was our destination to be London Bar specifically when Las Ramblas is replete with establishments in which the objectives are indistinguishable; to get merry, all the while shouting ‘Salud!’? The answer lies in its history. In the early 20th century it was a haunt of some of the most prominent figures of the arts, including Hemingway, Orwell and Picasso, to name a few. Yet, walking in to this historic bar and resting our eyes upon walls adorned with metallic fringe curtains (a name I have never seen in all my years of speaking English – much time was spent researching this tacky decoration, which in itself is fairly depressing), we were to ultimately be left disappointed:

Not the most high-brow of decor

I never knew what this stuff was called!

Underwhelmed by London Bar, decorated with this green, yellow and pink sparkly stuff (see left), complimented primarily by a slightly drunk guitarist with long straggly hair, and deciding that the present company (with the greatest of respect to them) didn’t quite meet the exceedingly high standards of the 1920s crowd of Hemingway et al, we enjoyed a few Coronas and were soon on our way. As those of you who have had the chance to visit Barcelona will undoubtedly know, wandering aimlessly along Las Ramblas whilst so clearly being a foreigner attracts promoters in their thousands! Bombarded with offers from all directions, we eventually agreed to accompany one particularly persistent and rollerblading individual who promised us free entry to whichever club he represented. Whilst indeed there was no entry fee, this club also severely lacked party people. In other words, the joint was empty. More fun could be had by, firstly, setting out to find a tumbleweed and, secondly, rolling it about in the middle of the dancefloor, such was the disappointment that was this club’s attendance. So, following a brisk exit, we jumped next door to Boulevard,  where my night’s experience of tequila began in earnest.

With entry costing an extortionate 14€, I would have felt aggrieved if it were not for the promise of a free drink of my choosing that accompanied the admission. At the bar, considering my options, I made what would be prove to be a fatal error by asking for a tequila. Prior to my receipt of said beverage, I assumed and I think justifiably so that I would be presented with a shot glass of liquor, a pinch of salt and a slice of lemon, as would seemingly be the norm. Yet, what the bartender actually produced illustrated to me that she must have had something of a talent for interpreting drink requests creatively, as she picked out a tall glass and proceeded to pour this most dangerous of liquids within until what stood in front of me resembled a glass full of water (albeit with ice in the glass, but still!).

‘Careful now, Daniel’, I thought to myself as I stared potential catastrophe in the eye, ‘there is much potential for carnage within these walls’.  I must have been staring by that point because I was then promptly asked if I wanted my wisely selected beverage by itself, a question to which I recoiled and requested some limón to attempt salvage the situation. Those first few sips of ‘water’ were brutal, I have to say. Now, all that which has been described above as an isolated incident would probably have been acceptable were it not for the fact that my American companions had caught the tequila bug. From the moment they first observed my audacity in ordering a full glass of the stuff, which must have equated to a silly number of shots, they wanted nothing more than to drink exclusively tequila for the rest of the night. Salt, shot, lemon, salt, shot, lemon became all too familiar a routine and the girls showed no sign of letting up, not that I cared at all, of course, after making decent headway with the nightclub’s entire stockpile of Mexican liquor.

Dancing as a trusty trio, we were loving life #yolo. Unrelenting fun was the order of the night, apparently. All the while, as I danced in a crowd going wild to the most generic pop imaginable, I was so deluded as to believe that tequila was my best friend and always had been and, for that matter, I wasn’t even that drunk! Cue a few more shots, as requested by our diminutive and feisty friend from Los Angeles, and finally, when I came to appreciate how plastered I really was, it was too late. I knew I was doomed as I made my way home with Allie, with her sleepy head resting on my shoulder as I tried to comprehend the movement of the tube and why it didn’t quite feel normal.

Sure enough, come the morning or should I say early afternoon, I knew that this was to be a horrendous day of pain and regret. Buzzfeed offers an amazing list of all hangovers known to man, and yesterday I was experiencing a full number 8 – ‘The Apocalypse’:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/samjparker/the-9-types-of-hangover-weve-all-had

It was pretty awful. Dreading the day that I saw tequila again, I knew that it had tricked me once again into drinking far too much and paying the price the following day. Life was no fun at all, when hours beforehand, I was having the time of that very same life. What’s new about that story? We’ve all been there, done that – I’m nothing special! Allie, on the other hand, has the absolutely blinding luck of not experiencing the dreaded hangover. For that, I will be forever be jealous of her! Fortunately though, I was home alone for almost the entire day, so my flatmates did not have to witness my pitiful state. Yet when both of my Spanish cohabitants came home, eager to catch up on how the weekend had treated me, my honed language skills had completely deserted me. When I say ‘completely’, I really do mean it. Any attempt I made to chat with either Spaniard was doomed to failure before it ever began. I repeated the word resaca (hangover) time and again to convey my current chemical state, but speaking Spanish was completely beyond me at this point. This has happened to me once before in Tenerife, when I had a comparatively mild headache, but last night was something else. In fact, I was completely incapable of communicating in any language: even Allie struggled to fully understand me, and her first language is English!

Lessons learned from this weekend (notes to self):

  1. Tequila is not your friend.
  2. Tequila reverses all improvements made towards speaking Spanish fluently.
  3. Avoid drinking copious volumes of tequila wherever possible.
  4. If, in the event that you happen to ignore the first 3 lessons (see above), do not attempt to speak Spanish. Do not attempt to speak at all.
  5. You are silly.
  6. You will do this again to yourself soon, and you will feel equally horrific.

The Day Spain Gave Dan a Fine…

Today was a good day.

I started work early this morning only to find, to my surprise, that one of my former colleagues from my previous work experience in Barcelona had hopped ship to the International University of Catalonia (UIC) where I too am destined to spend my year working. I rejoiced (she is really nice lady).

Yet, prior to this pleasantly surprising moment at the university, I was feeling glum. ‘Why?’, you may ask. Because, my friends… today was the first day that Spain was mean to me. Call it a minor falling out, remedied only by a friendly Catalan lady with whom I had previously worked…. Today, Spain fined me, resulting from a train journey, no less! After dedicating practically an entire blog entry to gushing relentlessly about Barcelona’s fantastic public transport networks; the thanks I get! From here onwards, you might think that the love affair between myself and Barcelona’s metro service ends, but then you would be grossly underestimating how much I love it! Moving on quickly before I go down that road again…

I was fined €50(!!!) by the great city of Barcelona this morning. Imagine my face headed in to work this morning, eagerly anticipating this year’s exciting work ahead. In fact, why settle for just imagining it? This fairly accurately reflects my mood prior to the dreaded incident (see picture below):

Feeling good before work!

Feeling good before work!

Whilst the anticipation of going to work was some way short of killing me, so to speak, I was legitimately excited about the day ahead. I should probably have seen the writing on the wall when I missed the train I had originally intended to catch whilst standing not 5 metres away from its doors. Waiting at the platform, so polite was I to allow all the Spanish commuters to pass me by (thus impeding me from myself accessing the train) as they departed the train that I was to board, that I failed to actually do so before the train left the station. Mildly frustrated, I waited for the next train and summarily dismissed the incident in my mind. Nothing was to get me feeling down this morning.

Now completely ignore the final sentence of the previous paragraph! Even though I knew, my flatmate knew, and had previously told me that UIC was in a different zone to our own, I for some strange reason completely neglected to purchase a ticket which would allow me to travel through 2 zones. Instead, I more than happily travelled to work assuming, subconsciously, that my single-zone ticket would somehow work wonders and allow me through the barriers without problem. Once I arrived at the station and realised my hapless error, I was not quick to panic. I headed to a ticket machine on the platform presuming that I would simply be able to buy a ticket and go about my day. The ticket machine orders me to cough up €50… Compare the picture above with another accurate depiction of my expression, upon reading such an order:

Realisation kicks in...

Realisation kicks in…

50 euros paid, walking to work from the station, I was decidedly less chirpy than I had been not 5 minutes beforehand. Luckily for me, everyone at work cheered me up no end as they were all friendly, significantly more helpful than this one ticket machine I came across once in northern Barcelona, and seemingly very happy to have me on board. Seeing my old colleague again was also genuinely lovely and I am very much looking forward to getting started with the new team.

A day full of new places, new faces and new opportunities, I shouldn’t complain excessively about one little fine. Spain was mean once but on countless occasions she has been very nice to me, so I shall not hold a grudge. It was very much an enjoyable first day at work and I look forward to many more like it!

Americans, Mexicans and a Little Bit of ABBA

The title sums up the weekend nicely, I think.

Friday: A bar full of Americans.

Saturday: A concert/party with some Mexicans

Sunday (early hours): Walking home, singing ABBA.

Firstly, Friday night: my American flatmate loves to dance. Her love for dancing seemingly knows no limits! She, like every other rational human being around, wants to do the things she loves doing as often as she can. Thus on Friday, discussing our options for the evening’s activities, clubbing was high on the agenda. Yet as it so happened, we ended up, her, myself and our Spanish flatmate who moonlights as the casual Swedish speaker, in a bar which was absolutely heaving!

It was on the recommendation of our Spanish companion that we went to this bar, namely due to the fact that its prices were very low (which I very much enjoyed, as did everyone else). What we didn’t realise until approaching the bar for a drink was that this place was absolutely full to the brim with Americans. Furnished with a beer pong table, a popcorn machine and drunk girls screaming and dancing on tabletops, this bar was born in the USA (and moved to Europe as a kid). Presumably a strange experience for our resident American, the three of us chatted away in Spanish all night whilst drinking jugs of cocktails and discussing a backstory in which she would cover her roots and pose as a citizen of Guam (her choice)!

Would Saturday be the night that our new friend from Guam could tell the world her story? Not quite, but it did provide us all with the opportunity to dance, which as we know is her favourite! Meeting up with a friend of hers at her flat, we were introduced to a burly Mexican flatmate, a really nice guy nicknamed Panche. He had a plan for us all for the evening, which was to go to a party, the details of which were a complete mystery to me. Arriving at the address he gave, it was not exactly clear that there was a party of any sort going on. It seemed as though we were lost, save for the fact that we could hear music playing. Climbing some stairs leading to what seemed like someone’s garden, and a chicken pen, morale was low. Yet persevering, passing the sleeping poultry, we eventually found what can best be described as a garden concert come party. It was pretty indie.

Dreadlocks aplenty and Spanish hipsters looking really hip, I knew that if we stepped any further we would soon fall off the edge (for being so edgy). A rock band played, they were really bad. We were disappointed. Another band played, they were completely different in style and genre and were infinitely better. Throughout the course of the night, we were introduced to some acoustic guitar, I believe a few mashups, some Ray Charles, some reggae, at which point the smell of ganja filled the neighbourhood, and finally, a man singing solo on stage with an electronica fusion(??) backing track demanding that the audience chant ‘Anabolix’ with him. No one around me knew what was going on, I still don’t know what I witnessed. The important thing to remember was that the dude was downright weird. Some of the audience actually responded quite well to whatever he was doing, which was the really worrying thing! All the while, we were introduced by Panche to some of his Mexican friends, and it came to light that he himself was a Salsa instructor, to the delight of my flatmate (we have been pencilled in for Salsa classes which I gather shall be taking place imminently!). A night of drinking michelada, dancing and fun, there was nothing that could have made it any better.

Nothing, that is, other than a bit of ABBA for our stroll home! With my American flatmate loving all things dancing and hailing from New York, the home of Broadway, Mamma Mia is a personal favourite. Consider too, that my Spanish flatmate spent a year in Stockholm, and happens to similarly enjoy ABBA (coincidentally?), the two were having a ball singing ABBA a fair share of the way home, which was incredible! One singing the original lyrics, the other a Spanish adaptation, it was an amazing performance.

All in all, an exhaustive blog entry on my first full weekend in Barcelona. It was a good’un!

Spain Hates Kettles!

Who knew? Most of us know enough about Spain to ascertain that, at this moment in time, the country is not without its problems. Namely, its unemployment rate straddles the 25% mark (on a good day(!)). Economically, my dear friend is in deep trouble which pains me greatly. Throw in a political scandal involving allegations of government corruption and it is fair to say that the nation has seen better days. Prior to reconvening my friendship with Spain, I was well aware of its turmoil; youth unemployment figures are dismal (56% as of a few days ago) and a new generation of Ni-Ni (ni estudian, ni trabajan) is coming to the fore, in which the nation’s youth do not study and do not work due simply to a lack of opportunities once they were to complete their education, leaving qualifications as close to redundant as they are ever likely to be. Generally speaking, the proverbial shit is hitting the fan.

Yet, away from such sobering issues as these, there exists yet another problem in the nation of Spain; it hates kettles!

IMG_0277

The culprit

Innocent enough to look at. What harm could a kettle possibly do? You may all think I’m crazy, but come my attempt to use said appliance this evening to make myself some dinner, I plug it in, push a button and immediately all around me descends into darkness! This kettle has singlehandedly caused a power cut in my flat… what a bastard! Much embarrassment ensues when I have to bashfully explain to my flatmate, who was understandably baffled by proceedings, that I had robbed us all of electricity simply by trying to turn a kettle on… All for a bit of boiled water. Never again.

After considerable investigation we did eventually manage to restore normality and recover the electricity from the kettle’s clutches. I hear sighs aplenty from my readers…

However, today’s post shall not be confined to more yet more drivel about tubes, or department stores, or solely a kettle! No. Today, I actually did something fairly cool. Upon the invitation of my flatmate, this evening I accompanied her and her German companion who was seemingly fluent in Spanish (of which I was very jealous; see lesson 1 from my previous post), to a bar which was tonight hosting an ‘interchange of languages’. The principal idea behind this exchange of languages was for people from countries all over to socialise, chat in whichever language they so pleased, and presumably to share their experiences of Barcelona thus far.

At first, I must confess I was apprehensive. Standing next to two tall and attractive blonde girls, I surveyed the tiny stretch of bar available to punters and assessed the likelihood of people choosing to talk to me over them. Average to low, I decided. But so pleasantly surprised was I, not only to find how forthcoming everyone was to chat, but also that the bar did indeed extend past the Suez Canal of all entrances, to reveal a seating area! Taking a seat facilitated far more chatting and from there the night was bound to improve. Admittedly, many at this social gathering were themselves Spanish and hailing originally from Barcelona, but so too were there Italians, French, Germans, a few English and even one Uruguayan guy… it turned out to be a very enjoyable evening. I gained the perspective of some independentistas, those who believe that Cataluña should be an independent nation, which is always going to be interesting, and everyone was just so friendly. We shared some laughs, some beers and had ourselves a gay old time!

So the story of the evening: once I had averted the ‘Krisis of the Kettle’ (I’m sorry, I had to), I had myself a highly enjoyable night. I will definitely be looking to do something like that again, if not the same thing given that it is supposedly a weekly gathering.

This has been the latest update from my friendship with Spain; she doesn’t like kettles but she does enjoy a good bit of socialising! Buenas noches.

… Lessons 2), 3) and 4)

And so it came to light yesterday that seemingly there is nothing more in this world that I would rather do than ride a Barcelona tube… I’m the first to admit that I may not be the most enigmatic of characters but I’d quite like it if people thought that there might be more to me than just a guy who enjoys a good underground journey.

I did indeed mean to mention 3 other lessons learned since my friendship with Spain began. The first of which, I’m sure we all remember, goes as follows:

1. I am not very good at Spanish.

Having been a Spanish student since the tender age of just 12, I might be at least in some part entitled to think that I should be able to do well in a Spanish speaking environment. Spending time in this very city just 3 short years ago, my spoken Spanish at the time was actually pretty good. Thus, bearing that in mind, I would call it fair that, on my flight over, I was quietly confident that I would do just fine when it came to speaking the language which I have learned and loved for so many years.

Oh how naïve was I! At this point in time, my Spanish leaves so much to be desired that I am on the verge of falling into a spell of deep depression from which I may never recover. Learning the language for so long, and still I struggle! Obviously, neglecting to speak it whatsoever over the summer months has contributed greatly to said struggle and there is no doubt in my mind that I will improve considerably in a short space of time. Yet, at the moment, as I write, tears stream down my cheeks as I contemplate my failure to speak Spanish fluently having done so well in the past. Melodramatic? Yeah, just a bit (I am not actually crying, rest assured). Moving on…

2. I have missed Spain greatly since I was last here.

This one is self-explanatory; I love my friend Spain, she is good to me. We get along very well and I had forgotten just how much I missed the old gal. Coming back to Barcelona has helped me realise how much that really is. May we be friends forever and ever!

3. El Corte Inglés is the key to all of life’s problems.

Here is an example of a completely new lesson from Spain. Granted, I have been aware of the large department store for some time, which is best described to those in England as Spain’s equivalent to John Lewis. I have, however, only stepped foot inside on one occasion. That occasion was this weekend. What I did not know prior to making my first trip within was that it really does hold the key to any door which life may spitefully lock in front of us.

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turn up to my flat over the weekend, very pleased with my set-up, but unfortunately find that there is no bin in sight. Where do I throw my rubbish? El Corte Inglés knows the answer to that one; in this bin that it will more than happily provide. My flatmate cannot find a hairdryer. Where does she dry her hair? El Corte Inglés knows the answer to that one too. Shower mats, pillows, and pretty much everything else that the flat seemed to be missing upon my arrival were available in abundance in this bountiful land known as Corte Inglés. It even has its own supermarket; the whole place is absolutely massive. Maybe one day I will set up camp there and see how long I can live within the different departments without security realising that I have become a squatter… Probably an ill-advised move, but if things don’t work out in my flat, it might just be an option. 

I want to take the opportunity to apologise here for the lack of actually interesting posts. I don’t start my job til next week, and so far have spent much of my time revelling over this whole blogging business and becoming hopelessly stressed by European football’s transfer deadline day (yesterday). Outside time has been limited! I promise I will venture outside soon and report back to you with some interesting stuff. Until then, a bid you adéu (that’s Catalan, I’m not ignorant of how to spell adieu)!

My friend and I play catch up

A few days in, my old pal Spain is already quickly teaching me some valuable lessons – albeit some which I have learned in the past and simply forgotten – and some which are completely new to me:

  1. Public transport in London is insanely expensive.
  2. I am not very good at Spanish.
  3. I have missed Barcelona greatly since being here last.
  4. El Corte Ingles holds the key to all of life’s problems.

Firstly, the metro: accompanying my dear flatmate to her place of work this morning, I looked back with fondness on all of my previous experiences of Barcelona’s bustling underground as we strolled towards our nearest station. So much of the fun I had here during some work experience of summers past, I associated and continue to associate with the metro.

Accustomed to the inhospitable and generally unfriendly London underground, I am more than happy to jump onto a London tube, mind my own business and keep my head down throughout my journey, just as the overwhelming majority of Londoners do. It goes without saying that the dreaded scenario goes as follows: that I may on the off chance make prolonged eye contact with a fellow commuter, with the logical progression of course being that unbearable awkwardness shall ensue immediately subsequent to said exchange of glances.

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Making friends with the metro

Whilst I am reluctant to say that nothing could be further from the truth in Barcelona (it is not a wild party from the minute you set foot below street level) during summers’ evenings it was astoundingly easy to meet and chat with people as we all more than likely headed to Las Ramblas, such a novelty to me that it has stuck with me. Yet most importantly, why I hold the Barcelona metro in such high esteem is because, compared to London, it is unbelievably reasonably priced.

Conversely, it is that the London underground is ridiculously expensive, which I know is the most accurate of the two! Whilst I have appreciated this for a long time, never have I done so as much as when today I bought a ticket for 10 journeys for 9,80€. With each journey costing me less than 1 euro, it caused me to despair at the soaring prices of the London tube which I pay without so much as batting an eyelid on any given day.

Take into account that Barcelona tubes are also air-conditioned, and that leads me to appreciate the Barcelona public transport more so than I do that of London. I do have to thank my good friend Spain for reminding me that the metro in Barcelona is a part of the city which I very much enjoy!

I realise that this post has descended slightly into me waxing lyrical about a tube service, hardly the most exciting of topics, but I feel the need to confess to the world that I think the Barcelona metro is really quite good!

Lessons 2), 3) and 4) shall be dealt with imminently… In sum, I just love tubes. And that’s ok.

Spain becomes my new friend

Flying yesterday morning towards my new home, I wondered to myself; ‘what will it be like when I get there?’, ‘Will Spain even like me?’, ‘What will happen if we don’t get along?’ and ‘Spain just might not be that into me!’, and so forth… Luckily, since the first moment I arrived, such preoccupations deserted me as I can now say with confidence that Spain and I are going to be very good friends. Perhaps premature considering I have been here less than 24 hours but there is no doubt in my mind that all shall go swimmingly.

In such a short space of time being in Spain, it is a tricky task to write a post that is going to instantly captivate the imagination. I imagine that what I am writing now lacks a certain value objectively, but hey ho, I have to start somewhere!

Anyway, the purpose of this blog is for me to document all of my experiences here in Barcelona during my Year Abroad. I’m sure this year is going to be a great one and I thought it best to make sure that I don’t forget it anytime soon, hence this blog was created! I do also have to note that this idea of mine, is not original; I have been inspired to do so by seeing a number of friends doing the same. I just thought that it was such a good idea that I couldn’t afford to not write a blog myself. So here it is, for any of you out there in the big, wide world who might fancy having a look at what I’m up to. I look forward to writing all about my time in Spain and telling all about my latest friend (albeit a country!).

Hasta luego!

Dan