The Exclusive Account of a Fish Monger-Turned-Contraband Smuggler Pt. I

Dearest friends, I have a tale to tell. A tale relating to my stay in Switzerland this weekend gone. A tale of crime; a tale of intrigue; a tale… of seafood.

Allow me, if you will, to set the scene: Switzerland is a country with which I have become increasingly familiar over the past few months given that Basel is the city – a Swiss city, at that – in which my father resides and a place which I have visited various times for that reason. That, and I do quite like it there, just as I predicted I might prior to my first trip. The Swiss, as a people, seem to trundle along quite nicely in their lives, without even so much as a sniff of political scandal, for example, or a national crisis thrown in for good measure. MPs making trivial expenses claims at the cost of the honest tax-payers? Government officials accused of scandalous behaviours or corruption? The banking sector plunging the nation into dire economic straits? No, none of that, thank you. I mean, come on, this is Switzerland after all. They just all seem to be OK and they’re OK with that (obviously). But – as in all places, there is a ‘but’ – one shortcoming which my dear, old Dad has been quick to pick up on with regard to his new home is a distinct lack of supply in a particularly important area. You readers may, as well-read and learned individuals, have the thought occur to you upon reading this that, perhaps, Switzerland lacks oil reserves. Perhaps gas might be the issue, since, as we all know, these are the fuels which make the world go round. These, and of course, smiles… But no bother. The Swiss are quite fortcoming with their supply of the latter and the fuels are imported without too much trouble. So, what then, might be the commodity which they are lacking so badly? Well, as the title suggests, as does the fact that Switzerland is a landlocked country, it just so happens to be fish.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that one can purchase a fish in Switzerland. I actually have it on good authority (read as: my dad) that it can be done. In fact, coming to think of it, I have even seen somebody with my own eyes do it in a supermarket (a sight to behold if there ever was one). However, the problem for fans of fish such as my dad is that it is most difficult to get your hands on a nice, fresh bit of fishy produce. Most unfortunately, fresh fish is just not readily available in Swiss lands. I have said the word ‘fish’ quite a bit in this paragraph. Anyway, with his beloved and only son residing in Barcelona, as I do for the time being, Dad requested that I bring him some fresh bluefin tuna over from La Boquería. Importantly, he reminded me, I would need to ask for said tuna to be vacuum-packed so as not to ruin the rest of my luggage with the tuna-ish(??) odours. If anything, the vacuum-packing of the tuna was almost a more vital aspect of the transaction than the tuna itself. With that in mind, what happened when it came down to me standing across a counter in Barcelona’s most famous of markets, pointing at the tuna steaks which I so desired, can hardly come as a surprise.

That’s right, I failed. I bought my tuna steaks – all 2 kilograms of them, served to me in 2 slabs – only to ask after the euros had exchanged hands that they vacuum pack my produce for me. Some would say a rookie error, others, desperately unlucky. I count myself as a member of the school of the latter; it just so happened that, of all the fish stalls in La Boquería – of which there are many – the one from which I bought the tuna was one of an overwhelming minority which was unequipped with the appropriate machine to be able to carry out the vacuum-packing… My heart sank. Well, maybe not to Titanic levels of sinking but, using the sinking boat analogy, it would definitely have resembled a small dinghy which had taken on a fair bit of water. So, there I was, stood in the depths of the famous Barcelona market with a green plastic bag in hand, filled to the brim with two hefty fillets of tuna, hatching my next plan of action. I wondered around numerous stalls like a lost schoolboy looking for his mummy, with blind hope in my eyes. Hope that someone, somewhere might find it out of the kindness of their heart to vacuum-pack my fish. Off I went to start my strange conversations with the various vendors behind the counters of their stalls, which, by and large, went a little something like this:

Vacuum-pack my fish?” “No.”

This was a brief and blunt dialogue which took place all too often for my liking and soon prompted me to call it a night. I was on my own. I, the fish monger with a grand total of zero fish-mongering experience, would have to devise a way for the chunky slabs of tuna to be packed and shipped over to Switzerland in an appropriate fashion. This, I knew, would be no easy task. Imagine the loss at which I found myself as I walked along La Rambla, wondering what on earth I was going to do with my non-vacuum-packed fish.

Imagine two of these bad boys, each bigger than this

Imagine two of these bad boys, each bigger than this, sat on my kitchen table, presenting me problems

Fumbling with my keys as I stood at my front door, I knew that I would have to find a knife in the flat, sharp enough to slice up these sturdy steaks. I was, at that point, not optimistic. But, my heart – the same heart that had sunk moderately at the fish stall in La Boquería – leapt for joy as I found a triumphant looking utensil which, until this very moment, I had never before seen in my kitchen which would be perfect for the job. With the tuna steaks sprawled across the kitchen table, juices messing up the place and smells permeating the entire flat, my career as a fish monger began in earnest. I got to the chopping and practically doused the surfaces of the kitchen, as well as my body, with tuna juice. At first, I must admit, it was a struggle. I was out of my depth but, as time passed and I honed my skills, the process became increasingly simple and remained consistently fishy throughout. An interesting experience, indeed. My evening was spent entirely by chopping up tuna and employing copious volumes of cling film but, finally, I had amended my earlier failures and had now become an amateur/semi-professional fish monger. Now all I had to do was get my newly wrapped tuna to Switzerland…


Dan Becomes a Learned Fellow

Hola amigos! It’s been a while. Have you lost weight?

Before I get this entry up and running, allow me to address the elephant in the room which is my outright lack of words posted to the blog in recent times. I appreciate, firstly and most likely, that many of you don’t care all that much and, secondly, that your lives do not revolve around what is written in an unimportant account of one student’s life in Barcelona. However, knowing some of you as I do, I can only hazard the guess that, since you have not heard from me in many weeks via my bloggy musings, you must have assumed that I am, a) M.I.A. or, b) dead (probably the latter, let’s be honest). However, I can happily report that I am very much alive and that my excuse to you all for my recent lack of ramblings is that I have actually dedicated myself wholeheartedly (perhaps 3/4-heartedly) to my job of late.

Indeed, over the past month or so, I have knuckled down and become nothing less than a scholar in the field of American healthcare. I may be throwing the term ‘scholar’ around quite freely there… Notwithstanding, for all those of you out there who are genuinely fascinated by the U.S. health care system – its shortcomings (in abundance) or its surprisingly promising initiatives (which do exist) – and are yet baffled, frustratingly so, by the colossal complication that is the entire system: please, look no further. For I, Dan, the one who once so whimsically claimed to not have the slightest idea of what he was doing at work, have learned things. I have grasped a basic and, dare I say it, decent understanding of just exactly what is going on in health care administration on the other side of the pond. Now, with terms such as ‘Integrated Patient Units’, ‘scope-of-practice laws’ and ‘bundled payments’ to be boasted in my arsenal, I possess a long [scholarly] list to reel off to any passers-by who will kindly spare me the time of day.

The problem, as I have always known and fully appreciated, is this: who really cares about any of the things that I have learnt? Needless to say, I applaud each and every effort, wherever it might be made, to improve health care, a subject which I have now read about extensively. But I will be the first to raise my hands and admit that my newfound subject of expertise is hardly a great one for capturing the imagination. Nevertheless, I do have a great idea for an advertisement to get your pulses absolutely racing, which goes as follows: “Are you troubled by your lack of understanding of a health care system which has little to no effect on your daily life? Do you desperately need to learn more? Are you convinced that your only feasible option to better yourself is to ingest truckloads of information about American healthcare? If so then, boy, do I have the guy for you: Daniel Watson!”

In all honesty, I do my work an injustice by writing so snidely about it (‘snide’ being the tone which I have found, worryingly, to come most naturally to me). It is meaningful work I am doing here and I am very much enjoying myself doing it, despite my best efforts to make you believe otherwise. I have been dubbed, affectionately so, as ‘El Consentido’ by my colleagues which roughly translates to ‘The Spoilt One’ and I have even taken a step closer to fame during my time at IGS:

A number of weeks ago, I was given the responsibility of narrating an introductory Institute video into English. Hailing from the blustery shores of the UK, as I do, I have become something of a prized asset in the office, given my superior handle of the English language amongst all of us (groundbreaking news, I know). With my impressive skill just about mastered over the years, I was quickly entrusted with this narrative task and subsequently met with the appropriate powers that be to get the production of my narration underway. Feeling like an artist who recently had signed a multimillion pound contract to a world-renowned record label as I was led through the doors of a fancy studio, I sat down, put on my headphones and let the magic commence.

No sooner had I finished up the recording than my colleague informed me that my predecessor in this very studio had been something of a celebrity. In this room full of expensive equipment and the expectation of the masses lay the echoes of the stars who had generously graced it with their presence, my own now to be included to the illustrious ensemble. He who sat in the chair (read as: throne) before myself, I was told, was kind of a big deal. This was no ordinary man. This was a man whose legend needed no introduction for it was none other than Pepe Mediavilla. The one, the only, Mediavilla; Spanish voice actor responsible for the dubbing of many works of one Morgan Freeman and the not insignificant roles of Mr. Spock from Star Trek and The Lord of the Rings’ very own loveable wizard, Gandalf. I was preceded by the Spanish voice of Gandalf, bitches! I know you’re all thinking it, but I’ll say it anyway: I had reached the big time.


My predecessor, Mediavilla

Here’s the great man at work with the classic line, “You shall not pass!” (No puedes pasar!):

So Pepe Mediavilla, eh…? His were the standards which I was expected to live up to. Thankfully, following my day’s work in the studio, I was informed by the very same, very likeable colleague who had told me about Mediavilla in the first place, that not only did I have a very ‘commercial’ voice but also that, with this commercial voice of mine, I could very well pass for a German(?!). I have no idea how that second compliment – if I can even describe it as such – ties in to what we were trying to achieve, but suffice it to say that, prior to that moment, I had been blissfully unaware of any notion that my voice could somehow resemble that of a German… You live and learn, I suppose. And with that old adage in mind, what I can report to have learnt from this experience is that I am but a few steps away from becoming the German answer to the popular and bearded wizard from Middle Earth, despite having no prior knowledge of magic and a fairly unwavering certainty that I am, in no way, a German person… Seems legit.

Further to my pursuit of fame and scholarly development, I am also becoming quite the well-travelled fellow. My struggles with the concept of flying remain forever strong, yet surmountable, as I have learnt with ongoing practice. Next weekend, I once again make my way to Basel, Switzerland to catch up with the old man and, but a few short weeks ago, I was spending a very pleasant weekend in Bristol with Abby to celebrate her 21st birthday. She seemed pleased to see me when I arrived, which is always an encouragement, and I remain fond of her myself. Upon my arrival in Bristol, and with me revelling in my new circumstances of once again being on land, we drove off into the night to have ourselves a ball of a time for a few short days. I returned to Spain all too soon, but I was grateful for the time spent with Abby and catching up with friends in Bristol who were doing their best to forget about me. Back in Spain, I was more than happy to be in a more Mediterranean (read as: acceptable) climate. My God, it is cold in Bristol (something which I had quickly forgotten)! Furthermore, on the day of my return, I had the great excitement of the match to be played between Manchester City and Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium to look forward to, a daunting game for Chelsea fans worldwide. Deliciously, Mourinho masterminded a great win for Chelsea, I screamed like a little girl to my heart’s content and the boys in blue have been going strong ever since.

And so here I am now, sat at my desk with my thoughts fixed firmly upon the day in which I have a grand library built into my home, filled with leatherbound books and stylish refinement throughout. Maybe I’ll buy myself a tiger, just like Mike Tyson did. Maybe I’ll keep my tiger in my library. So many possibilities… I think I’m letting this learned, well-travelled and famous idea run ahead of me, or maybe I’m not letting it run far enough. What I do know is this: I have learnt a thing or two since I first arrived in Spain, I enjoy every minute of it and I am determined to get back on to the righteous path of blogging. Looks like I have work to do yet… Hasta luego, people.