Dan Faces Imminent Doom

As the title suggests, I am doomed. Why? Because I’m going to Basel on Friday. Now, before you begin to wonder what I could possibly have against the city or, indeed, against the nation of Switzerland, that could prompt me to fearfully anticipate my impending doom, let me announce that I have no qualms with the most neutral country of all time. I have never been to Switzerland before, and I imagine it’s quite nice over there. I should be able to let you know what I think of the city of Basel when I arrive. So how exactly is it that I’m experiencing this sense of impending doom? I’ll tell you how: by knowing that, on Friday, I will be boarding an aeroplane and, soon after that, said vessel shall be flying. And that is why I am doomed.

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Dan thinks about flying

As we have established in the past, I do not much care for flying. I would go as far as to say that I actively dislike it. It frightens me. Yet, as scared as I am, I know and fully appreciate just how irrational my fear is, but that changes nothing. When the subject of the fear of flying comes up in any context, people are quick to cite statistics which show that driving is far more dangerous than flying, and that people rarely worry about getting in their cars. This argument makes complete sense to me, I invariably agree with what they are saying. I know that cars are more dangerous vehicles than planes. But does that change the way I think when I set foot in an airport? Not one jot. Statistics mean nothing when faced with such irrationality as being afraid of flying. I will forever be one those desperately unlucky individuals who happen to be on that plane that, some day, somewhere, has a problem. I am convinced of this every time I fly, this Friday included. Yet, well aware of my irrational thoughts and just how improbable it is that they become a reality (namely that the plane will crash), I know that I will arrive in Switzerland on Friday unscathed… Me and my contradictory thoughts. Oh brain of mine, why do you do this to me?

Anyway, I am off to Basel this weekend primarily to visit my Dad, who recently moved over to Switzerland for his new job. He seems to get along fairly well there so I imagine I will very much like it myself. Joining us in Switzerland shall be my dear friend, Phil, which also happens to be my Dad’s name. Crazy, right? He will also be flying out (safely at that) to Switzerland because this coming week is when the group stages of the UEFA Champions League reconvene. Phil and I are both Chelsea fans, his family, my second family, have blue blood, and this year Chelsea were drawn in the same group as FC Basel in the Champions League. Next Tuesday, Chelsea are playing Basel away, at the Swiss team’s home ground, St Jakob Park. Conveniently, Phil and I will be in Basel, so we thought it best that we go to the game. What a coincidence! In fact what really happened is that out of the kindness of his heart, my Daddy-kins ever so generously bought two tickets for the game in Switzerland and thus my trip to visit him was planned around this important match. Cue Phil flying out from London to go to the game with yours truly… Chelsea had better not ruin our whole trip by losing, as they annoyingly did in the return leg, at Stamford Bridge of all places. A Chelsea side losing at home under Jose Mourinho? I see a pig flying past my window.

So here I am, sat in the living room of my flat in Barcelona, writing and thinking dark thoughts about the doom which is surely upon me and, simultaneously, about just how ridiculous I am for being nervous about my flight on Friday. How ironic it would be if there actually were an incident on Friday. Better not to even entertain such ridiculous thoughts, as they are unfounded and will only multiply in my mind until, on the day, I am left, curled in the foetal position in the corner of a Spanish airport, whispering ‘There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home’ frantically to myself. I imagine I will be just fine. But until that time that the plane lands securely on Swiss soil, I will know for sure that I am irrevocably doomed.

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Turning to the Dark Side: A Weekend in Madrid

Three weeks ago, I turned to the Dark Side.

Despite standing in good stead on the noble path of the Jedi (read as: Catalans) in Barcelona, I did the unthinkable last month and embarked on a journey not dissimilar to that of Anakin Skywalker (a.k.a. Darth Vader), towards becoming a Sith Lord… Darth Daniel… Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, but I’ve started this post with a good number of Star Wars references, so I’ll continue as such for the time being. ‘How exactly did you turn to the Dark Side?’, you may ask. More likely the case that the title of this post has completely given that away, as indeed, I did go to Madrid a while ago to spend a weekend with my Dad and my sister. Assuming, as I am for the purposes of this blog entry, that the Catalans represent the Jedi in this Star Wars setting and the madrileños, (i.e. citizens of Madrid) the Sith, then I did just about the worst thing that I possibly could, venturing to Madrid, towards the Dark Side. A cardinal sin; the one big no-no that the Jedi are meant to avoid at all costs. From the Catalan point of view, Madrid is bad. From the Jedi point of view, the Sith are bad. I suppose it works, more or less.

The convenient and albeit biased comparison to be made between citizens of Cataluña and Madrid was part of the reason for me mentioning Star Wars today, but my real inspiration originates from my initial journey from Barcelona to Madrid: I had a train to catch and I missed it. Did I not leave myself enough time? Was I running late? Was I even vaguely concerned about the prospect of missing my train? No, no and no again. On a sunny Friday afternoon, upon reaching Sants Estació and a queue therein that, as an Englishman, caused me to despair (it was a full circle, snaking round the entire waiting area, with the end of the line starting where the front finished, at the ticket desks), I was feeling relaxed in spite of this flagrant lack of queuing prowess. With a good 25 minutes to spare before the train was due to leave, I hadn’t a care in the world. 20 minutes passed. No movement. Slightly more concerned, but soon thankfully passengers began to be let through to board the train.

But here began my strife. No sooner had I arrived at the ticket desk than I was turned away on the grounds that I had bought a young persons’ ticket (which allegedly I was not entitled to purchase) and needed to pay the difference between the price of this ticket and that of a standard fare… Most infuriatingly, having bought them online, I had seen on numerous occasion during my purchase that there was NO difference between the price of these tickets. Did I make this point repeatedly to the station’s staff? Absolutely. Did that fly with them at all? Of course it bloody didn’t. My complaints were met with blank expressions and resolute stubbornness in their refusal to accept that what I was saying was true. In sum, they made me miss my train and didn’t seem to care too much about it.

This incident, my friends, provided me with the inspiration to loosely base this post on my trip to Madrid on the iconic Star Wars franchise. Cast your minds back to the classic 1977 film, ‘Episode IV: A New Hope’, to one of the first demonstrations of The Force at work, and all shall become clear. On the planet Tatoine, Jedi Master Ben Kenobi, accompanied by one Luke Skywalker and his two droids, C-3PO and R2-D2, is held up by some meddling Stormtroopers. At this juncture, Master Kenobi uses the Force to subject them to mind control, allowing himself and the crew to pass freely. Oh how badly I needed his skills in Barcelona on this particular afternoon, confronted with this uncooperative staff! This is the fancy mind trick from Obi Wan which I’m referring to (3:00-3:45):

A quick wave of the hand and the utterance of a few words to be repeated by my subjects were exactly what I yearned for in face of this adversity. Manipulating the mind of one outrageously unhelpful man, the staff supervisor, would have provided me with much satisfaction after he all but offered me a giant ‘F you!’ as he ushered me out of the queue, helpfully reminding me on the way that if I didn’t get a move on I’d miss the train, which I subsequently did… Hijo de puta. His sarcastic comment of ‘Better luck next time!’ twisted the lightsaber in an already fresh and open wound, and stirred much hatred within me. Yoda would surely become deeply disturbed upon learning this.

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Perturbed

Alas, I have yet to master the ways of the Force and his mind was left unaltered. My time will come, of that I’m sure… Two hours of waiting around in the train station followed but, after a surprisingly pleasant train journey, I finally made it to Madrid to pursue my new life as a Sith, to the despair of my fellow Catalan Jedi I was leaving behind.

Much venting occurred when I first met up with Dad and Emm, as I was one stressed guy upon my arrival. I’m normally a fairly relaxed person and so this new Dan, effing and blinding til the cows came home, both surprised and amused the other two, who didn’t quite know what to make of all my new-found stress! We marched over to El Mercado de San Antón, a cool multi-storey food market, where Dad promptly ordered beers for the three of us (or rather, Emm did, as she speaks her fair bit of Spanish too, dontcha know) as we sat down on a quaint roof terrace, full to the brim with socialite-looking folk, and where I began to calm down a bit. I had arrived 2 hours late, but the important thing was that I had indeed arrived. We enjoyed a late dinner, during which time Dad attempted to enlist my services to flirt with the clearly gay restaurant host to ensure that we received quick service from the waiting staff. A father trying to pimp out his one and only son… I didn’t oblige his request but we did enjoy a very nice meal together regardless (good service and all). After that, it was back to the Hotel Preciados for some well earned rest.

The following morning, at breakfast in a nearby cafe, I was formerly dubbed by my dad as the “Navigabado” (using his Spanglish to the best of his knowledge) for the weekend. Essentially, as I had been to Madrid before and spoke Spanish, I was the best equipped of the three of us to play the role of guide since the other two had never stepped foot in the Spanish capital. I did make the point that I had myself only been here once before, for just a weekend at that, but my protest fell on deaf ears. I was the Navigabado and that was final. I guess if I never make it as a Jedi Master, or rather, a Sith Lord, in light of my recent betrayal against my Catalan comrades, then I’ll at least have this as a consolation. And so my role of guide began…

Tourists through and through, we made our way around the famous sites of Madrid: La Plaza Mayor, El Palacio Real, La Catedral Almudena… I took a few pictures as we went:

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View of el Palacio Real

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Generic street – skilled photographer…

Furthermore, as is customary in the presence of my dear sis, we had to fit in some shopping during the weekend. Such a competent shopper is she, that when my dad entrusted us with his credit card for the afternoon, I feared for the health of his bank account. I say that, but I capitalised on the generosity of my padre just as much as she did and bought myself a new jacket. I left her to it after a while to go and watch Chelsea beat Cardiff 4-1, a result which pleased me. Hours later, Emm returned with not too much to show for her time spent shopping. She actively seems to enjoy it even if it doesn’t necessarily entail buying too much. A modern mystery. Soon after that, we were out the door again, heading to another food market called El Mercado San Miguel, next to La Plaza Mayor, which we all enjoyed greatly, ordering small plates of chipirones and croquetas, and glasses of dry sherry. Very nice indeed. After dinner we went in search of the mojitos served in the bar of the hotel where I had previously stayed during my first visit to Madrid with Abby, which was coincidentally across the road from our hotel. Predictably, the mojitos were delicious and we left feeling highly satisfied.

The following day was to be something of a cultural awakening for yours truly. For all intents and purposes, I am a cultural heathen when it comes to the appreciation of art. By and large, art doesn’t do much for me. Yet, in the city which is home to one of the most impressive and important art galleries in Europe, el Museo de Prado, I thought it best for the sake of my artistic sibling that we go. So off we went, first stopping off at the nearby Puerta de Alcalá:

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Strolling around countless exhibition rooms, such is the size of the gallery, Dad and I held our hands behind our back, sporting inquistive facial expressions in order to blend in with sophisticated art lovers. I quietly appreciated paintings from extremely famous artists whose names did not ring many bells for me, but not to any great extent. And then it happened… I came across one particular painting depicting a Roman naval battle being spectated in the background by a large audience housed in a Colosseum. The artist’s name escapes me (much to my annoyance) but, more importantly, this piece of work caused me to actively stop in my tracks and to have an emotional reaction. How did I respond to this unfamiliar feeling?:

So I guess I’m an art enthusiast now. An art enthusiast and a Sith, just from being in Madrid for a few days. Not bad. I’m even getting to grips with my use of the Force too… After saying my goodbyes to Dad and Emm on Sunday afternoon, I headed to the train station to see what troubles awaited me this time. To my pleasant surprise, I found no such troubles in passing security and hopped on to one of those moving walkways – the ones you typically get in train stations and airports – in good spirits. Until, that was, those in front of me abruptly began backing up for unknown reasons. It then soon became apparent that an elderly lady had run into considerable problems up ahead, as there she was, lying flat on her back and being carried along by the conveyor, at the end of which she got completely and hopelessly stuck. Being carried towards her myself by the conveyor, a collision between my feet and her head seemed inevitable. At the precise moment that I was practically stood over this poor woman, I was forced to hurdle her to avoid such a trampling whilst simultaneously grabbing frantically at another senior woman beside me who was in the process of losing her balance and about to fall directly on top of her prone companion. It was a slapstick moment and crisis was averted as I successfully caught hold of the falling woman whilst narrowly avoiding her friend on the floor, all the while using the Force, of course. This woman in question who had first fallen and had consequently sent luggage flying in the process was thankfully unharmed. A bit shaken up as she was helped up by concerned passengers, but alright… thanks in no small part to my mastery of the Force. We all safely made it on to the train and I spent the majority of the journey home, funnily enough sat next to a Catalan priest (read as: Jedi Master), thinking of all my excuses to get back into the good graces of those dear old Catalan Jedi.

‘Twas a good weekend.

Look how much fun I had

Look how much fun I had!

Dan Becomes Public Enemy #1

Three weeks to the day have passed since I last took to my blog about making friends with Spain. Rest assured readers, Spain and I are still on very good terms and we are very much still friends…. But three weeks without what has recently been compared by a friend to a fix of crack cocaine (i.e. one of my blog posts) has to be tough going. Thank you to that friend who once so aptly described them as such. But I must also simultaneously apologise, for at that time I did so irresponsibly claim, staying true to the drug-related comparison, that I would ‘never let you go cold turkey’. But I have failed him! I let him do exactly what I said I wouldn’t. Having allowed nearly a month to pass me by without so much of a muttering on the blog, I can only envisage a man at his wit’s end, hopelessly struggling to battle his cravings, yet to no avail. He must have succumbed to the addiction at this point and ventured to pastures new in search of another dealer (read as: blogger) who periodically will provide that which he yearns so badly: the crack (blog posts). He has surely by now metamorphosed into Ewan McGregor’s character in ‘Trainspotting’ and taken up a nasty heroin habit too as he struggles to come terms with life as an addict, the poor bastard… Lord have mercy on his soul. Let this be a lesson to me.

Yes, on a serious note, I have not been great in the writing department of late. I have selfishly deprived all you kind people of news regarding my life, and for that I will be forever sorry. The trend which I have noticed when it comes to Year Abroad blogs is that the initial enthusiasm for writing fades dramatically quickly as the novelty wears off and us bloggers set about, getting busier with our lives.  A problem which I have come across, too, is that I am lacking sufficient anecdotes with which to adequately entertain. If I were to write on a more regular basis and inform you all what I’m planning to have for dinner, that actually, I have run out of food and need to go shopping or that I skipped breakfast this morning because I was running late for work, it would unlikely make for a good read (and yes, before you say anything, I am fully aware that I once all but dedicated a blog entry to a kettle!). So time goes by with me at work during the week, writing my report (or at least attempting to) and coming home feeling tired and not much in the mood for writing.

I do, however, have a post lined up which is to be published imminently and I hope shall be enjoyable. But in general, I am happy to report that life goes on swimmingly. I am still alive and well, still friends with Spain and having a great time with said friend. I’m going to Switzerland in two weeks’ time, which should be rather fun. I’ve never been to Basel before, which is my specific destination and where my papa lives these days, so I will be sure to report back on how it compares to La ciudad Condal, that’s Barcelona to you and me.

The purpose of this blog entry has been primarily to provide a quick update, but then how, you must wonder, did I land upon the bold title of ‘Dan Becomes Public Enemy #1’? This is how. What follows can and will only ever be described as the worst anedote ever:

Yesterday, I was very tired. Very tired indeed. I had been out the night before to go to see off a friend who was leaving Barcelona the following day, heading back home to London. That night, I left the flat late, we had dinner late and, considering it was a Tuesday, the majority of restaurants and bars were shutting up shop by the time we had finished. So, deciding that we weren’t done for the night, we made it our mission to find a bar that was still open and eventually succeeded after heading over to Gràcia. After a few mojitos to add to the drinks from dinner, a long walk home and getting to sleep around 3am, I knew that the following day would be a challenge.

Sure enough, it was. Up again at 7.30, I was hating life. Luckily I wasn’t hungover, which would have potentially spelled the end for me, but I was absolutely knackered and not enjoying the prospect of a day at the office. Minutes went by slowly, hours slower, but after a long day the time to go home did eventually arrive to my relief. I left the office and stepped out into the fresh air for my brief walk to the train station, which revitalised me a bit. And so, waiting for my train to arrive, feeling fresh, I decided I would read on my way home with this new-found energy of mine. On the train, Kindle in hand, my head nodded as I struggled to concentrate on the words in front of me, let alone maintain consciousness. It must have been fairly obvious to the three sat around me in our set of four seats that I could do with a siesta. At one point, I caught a glimpse of the woman sitting to my left, a petite middle-aged Catalan lady – looking sophisticated in a cream jacket and a green silk scarf as she read her hardback book – glancing at me, probably thinking what I mess I looked.

Soon enough, the train approached my stop, Sarrià, and with it my time to leave. I was feeling fairly disoriented at this point, having spent much of the journey fighting the urge to fall asleep, and fumbled with the zip on my bag to put my Kindle in it before I stepped off the train. I swiftly failed in my zipping mission, which was fairly embarrassing given that I had an audience, including the lady to my left. So I clutched on to my Kindle in my hand, stood up as the train pulled into the station to make my way to the doors, but cramped as space was between the knees of those sitting down, I had to unsteadily attempt to sidestep past my fellow commuters. Suddenly, as I stood there between two sets of knees, the train came to a halt, braking hard and causing me to swing my arm round in a desperate attempt to grab onto something. This swinging arm happened to be the one attached to the hand wielding the Kindle, which was to momentarily become a weapon. To my horror, the edge of the Kindle cracked directly against this woman’s head, prompting her to shoot me a look of utter confusion, anger and hurt all at once. Mortified, I apologised profusely, asked her if she was alright and ran for the exit before I could hear the probable ‘No’ that surely followed. She has got to think even now that I am the biggest tool she has ever come across. And that is how I became ‘Public Enemy #1’. Exaggeration? I’d say so, just a bit misleading.

Like I said, the worst anecdote ever.