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.

IMG_0433

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.

Advertisements

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.

yoda-perturbed-angry

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:

IMG_0383

View of el Palacio Real

IMG_0384IMG_0387

IMG_0396

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:

IMG_0390IMG_0393

IMG_0391IMG_0392

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.

The Mystery of the Happy Pigs

In recent days, it has come to my attention that my neighbourhood is replete with pigs. Before you begin to wonder what kind of area I live in or, indeed, about the state of my mental health, I’ll clarify that I am not referring to the mucky, farm-dwelling mammals that like nothing more than a good bit of mud or, equally, to some particularly abrasive neighbours. I am in fact referring to graffiti. Evidently, there must be a graffiti artist local to my neighbourhood whose signature tag is a depiction of a pink and smiley pig.

I first noted this when a friend visited the flat and pointed out one of these happy chappies outside my front gate. Since then, I have had numerous sightings of them dotted here and there. Scattered throughout Les Tres Torres and surrounding barrios, they have inspired the inner detective in me as I am drawn by the intrigue of the pigs. Who is the individual responsible for these tags? Why this neighbourhood? And perhaps above all: why pigs? It is now becoming increasingly difficult for me to mill around locally without encountering one of them. Questions aplenty and answers standing at a grand total of nil.

IMG_0379 IMG_0382

Should I decide to investigate further into this mystery of the intriguingly chirpy pigs, I shall keep everyone updated (I have just realised how crazy that sounds). That which strikes me most concerning these artistic depictions – opening up the graffiti debate of ‘art versus vandalism’ – is that prior to my friend physically stopping outside my flat, gesticulating towards the graffiti and saying ‘look at that pig!’, I had never once noticed it before. Does this mean that they are fresh from the spray can (my graffiti jargon leaves much to be desired), or that I am just one unobservant son of a gun? Probably the latter. In any case, I want to know where they came from, who put them there and for how long have they been there! Defamation of a few depictions suggest that the mystery pig tagger has been around for a while and that, supposedly, not all of the locals count themselves as fans.

IMG_0381 IMG_0378

Answers are unlikely to reveal themselves so I will have to live on with my curiosity eating away at me when it comes to these smiley bastards. It could be worse though, the artist could have chosen far more explicit imagery with which to work. The happy pigs remain just as cheerful as they do mysterious. If and when I receive leads on the puzzle of the pigs, I will be sure to return to the trusty blog.

Dan Turns 21!

On Monday 7th October, the man formerly known by some as Swifty (due to an ill-conceived nickname derived from someone once likening me to the pop artist, Taylor Swift) turned 21. My world has changed forever! Whilst the occasion of turning 21 is far less momentous in the UK than it is across the pond, it is certainly a reaffirmation that I am edging ever closer towards genuine adulthood, or perhaps an indication that I should have already reached that milestone by now. In any case, I am a year older and wondering whether or not to attempt to revive the old nickname, Swifty, now that I have it on my mind… Factors to consider: do I, a) in any way resemble the female, blonde and slightly framed singer, Taylor Swift? b) enjoy her music? c) admire her for anything other than being the inspiration behind the entertaining ‘goat editions’ of her songs? or finally d) wish to continue to be likened to her by endorsing such a nickname? Nope, that idea is well and truly dead and buried, but I had fun reminiscing in the process. Anyway, back to business… Right after this Swift number featuring a particularly talented goat:

Given that my birthday fell on a weekday this year, I made use of the weekend as my opportunity to celebrate. How did I mark the occasion? By having the family come to visit me in Barcelona! On the Friday afternoon, I left my office in Sant Cugat and headed to the Hotel Miramar in Montjuic, where my Dad awaited my arrival and where the family would be spending the weekend, with the girls due to arrive later that evening. After hopping on the tube (which I so love, lest we forget – you get signal down there and everything!) and arriving at Paral·lel, I embarked on my trip up a hill towards the Miramar. Note that with a successful ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro under my belt, I was not overly concerned about this hill leading up to the park in Montjuic. I should have been. It was steep. Clearly, it must have been Cataluña’s response to Kili; so I began my climb. The relief of arriving at reception eventually followed, as did the selfconsciousness given that I was more or less sweating profusely and most other guests, if not all, arrived by taxi and were looking far less like they had been caught out in a torrential downpour. I sauntered over to the desk and was promptly asked if I needed some water. Duly accepting the offer, I collected my room key and headed upstairs.

My dear father greeted me with a customary ‘Hello, homo!’ and welcomed me inside. Stepping forward, I was presented with a room practically the size of my flat! I knew from the moment I arrived at the hotel that we had chosen well, as this was a luxurious establishment, but I was very pleasantly surprised to find that my Dad had been on the charm offensive with the hotel staff and had subsequently been rewarded with an upgrade for his troubles (and a letter from the front desk?!). It was a beautiful room and I was already feeling spoiled the minute I set foot inside. As we sat and caught up, a huge storm began to gather and we started to wonder whether we would be stranded in the hotel for the night. A fair amount of thunder and lightning later, which we watched through the window with interest as it passed directly over the hotel, the storm subsided and we caught a cab over to none other than ‘La Cervecería Catalana´ for my second successive weekend. I’ve said it before and I will say it again; it’s a tough life I lead!

IMG_0340 IMG_0341

As always the restaurant was buzzing with tourists and locals alike, so we strolled to a local restaurant to sit at the bar, have a few pints and enjoy a large plate of jamón ibérico. I have already said my bit on La Cervecería, so suffice it to say that I was very pleased with the meal and even more so after the newly acquired taste of dry sherry (thanks for that, Dad). Back to the hotel, where I waited up for my Mum and sister, Emily. Their suggestion as soon as they walked through the door? Cocktails. Cannot argue with that. So I had a bit of a headache the following morning, but nothing close to the hangovers I usually experience after a night of drinking. Anyone who knows will be able to verify just how badly I cope in such cases! A quick fix of a hotel breakfast straightened me out and soon we were off to see the sights around the hotel, one of which was the beautiful view of the city.

Sat at a restaurant, sharing a Coca Cola Light with Emily and Phil (oh how I wish I was famous enough to be paid for an endorsement as simple as that), I looked over the city feeling glad for having chosen Barcelona as my home for the year. The three of us soon went off in search for mother dear to have some lunch poolside, which was predictably pleasant!

IMG_0337 IMG_0334

The ladies poolside

The ladies poolside

A 30-minute massage (yep, we were living it up) and some subsequently inappropriate jokes from Dad later, we began mobilising ourselves in order to celebrate my birthday as the sun set. A bottle of champagne opened, glasses full and raised to celebrate all things Dan, we stood on the balcony as I was presented with cards and presents. Thank you, family and friends, if any of you happen to be reading, for everything. Lots of love! Then, on to the surprise location for dinner. As we pulled up to the Hotel Arts, which I had never seen before, I had no idea what to expect. Walking in to a very grand-looking reception area, and into a lift of rich mahogany (‘Anchorman’ reference, I’m not starting to think of myself as a budding author just yet), I started to feel quietly excited. The restaurant was called Arola and as soon as we had been seated we were presented with an eager French waiter named Marc. He was a nice guy, anxious to impress, but then so would be anyone working at such a swanky restaurant as Arola. (Hotel Arts pictured below, right).

IMG_0345IMG_0346

IMG_0348

I would love to have dedicated my entire blog to the food we ate that night, because it really was outstandingly good. Simple tapas dishes had been reformulated to become more than just a plate of food, but a gastronomic experience. Prior to tucking in to each dish we would have to take a moment to reflect how brilliantly everything had meticulously been prepared. Minute cubes of Spanish omelette, for example, had resting on top of them reconstructed miniature egg yolks to create a mouthful of joy, which should give readers an idea of just how serious these chefs were about their food. Marc would come to the table and carefully describe how each dish had been crafted and we would exchange glances as if to say, ‘bit fancy all of this, isn’t it!’ But wow. It was just an incredible meal. The wine was delicious, the food even better and the company of my family topped it all.

The next morning, the family’s last in Barcelona, was spent discussing the meal of the night before. We couldn’t get over it, and I still can’t now over a week later. After a quick breakfast, we decided to catch the cable car from practically outside the hotel’s doors down to the beach. As we were carted across the city’s skyline, we nonchalantly chatted about our potential doom if the cable were to snap and our plan of action in case of emergency (you know, light-hearted stuff). Luckily for us, there was no such incident and we were transported safely back to ground level where we strolled to a beach bar overlooking the sea. It was all rather nice if you ask me.

IMG_0352

IMG_0353 Views from the cable car

Soon came the hour for the Watson crew to head back home, to London and to Basel, Switzerland. Not before, that is, they granted my request to visit one of my old haunts by La Plaça Reial for me to catch the Chelsea game against Norwich City. Clearly the East Anglian team took into account that it was my birthday and duly obliged by losing to Chelsea 3-1, courtesy of 2 late goals from my one true love, Eden Hazard and a fantastic Premier League debut goal from £30m summer signing, Willian, from the edge of the penalty area. All in all, that Chelsea win just about ensured that my birthday weekend could not have been any better.

My birthday itself was great, thanks to my colleagues at work and, in particular, to my housemates, who had balloons, a bottle of champagne and a cake waiting for me at home. Blowing out candles and being serenaded in various languages, I felt extremely grateful to everyone who had gone about making my birthday such a great occasion. I went to bed that night a very happy guy. I will sign off today by saying a huge thank you to everyone involved, to my family; I love you, and to my friends (old and new) the same! Not a bad way to turn 21!

Awkward?

Generally speaking, I am not an awkward person. Like most others, I have rarely in the past struggled with social cues. For example, if I make a comment which is immediately followed by a short but meaningful silence and quick glances around the room intended to avoid eye contact, I know I have done wrong and either need to a) acknowledge my faux pas and apologise, b) say ‘no offence’, which seemingly entitles people to do the exact opposite of what the phrase suggests and intentionally cause offence, or c) just leave the room, as the wound is too deep and far too fresh for me to even start thinking about apologising. Similarly, awkward silences – when, for instance, there is a distinct lack of connection between a group – denote that it probably isn’t worth continuing with the endeavour of engaging in small talk. Never before have I had issue with understanding social cues, until now. The language barrier, which in my case consists of a proverbially small shrubbery – considering that I speak Spanish and thus chose a shrubbery as the obstacle I must overcome – still occasionally rears its ugly head. How so? Namely, because I have done more awkward lingering in my time in Spain than I have ever done before in my entire life, due to struggling to determine appropriate moments to be on my merry way. At least, I perceive it as awkward, but then again, I really have no clue at times.

This issue mostly applies to my working life. At the IGS, based in the International University of Cataluña, I work alone in my own office, well, strictly speaking my boss’ office, but the fact remains that I am there alone. Thus when I have a question I want answered, I stroll down the corridor to seek the advice of my colleagues. They are invariably helpful and friendly and often have an answer for me straight away, which is perfect. Only am I ever presented with a problem when my presence in the office sparks a conversation between myself and my colleagues, in which I often assume the role of the intent listener as I set about my task of understanding everyone, all the time! At this point, I often bide my time to have my say on a matter, which is more or less always short and sweet, or alternatively an uncertain ramble riddled with ‘um’ and ‘como lo diría en castellano‘ (how would I say that in Spanish?). My colleagues actively encourage my involvement in their conversations and occasionally prompt me for my opinion, which I appreciate very much. Yet when much of the time they spend chatting to each other as if I were Spanish, I struggle to keep up with everything being discussed.

As good as I know this whole experience is for me to learn well, equally, at times, I am unsure of the appropriate moment to utter the words ‘hasta luego‘ and leave my colleagues to it. Whether they have noted this or not I have no idea, maybe I suspect that I appear awkward simply because I am so used to being able to detect social cues with English-speaking folk and here your guess is as good as mine. I am either very awkward indeed, lingering far beyond my welcome or an appropriate amount of time, or completely normal and simply listening politely! It remains a mystery. Time will tell how awkward I really am in Spain but at the moment I am still left to ponder it all.

Abby, Dan and their Good Friend, Barcelona

The weekends have been kind to me thus far in Barcelona. I am so lucky to have people flocking out to see me from various parts of the world. The extent to which people are, in fact, ‘flocking’ to see me depends entirely on how liberally we are to define the term. For the purposes of my dear old bloggy wog, who I have so cruelly neglected recently, let’s go with this idea that the people, they be flockin’! Last Thursday proved to be a difficult day for me to concentrate at work, and not only due to some goldfish having better attention spans than me. Thursday was the day that I was to be visited by my girlfriend, my bbygirl, my boo (I have literally never used the latter, but hey, live a little!). Yes, the old ball ‘n’ chain was en route as I sat at my desk persistently checking Ryanair’s flight tracker.

Background: Dan is afraid of flying. He used to be averse to the idea of needles but they don’t tend to faze him these days – he has now moved on to a far more ridiculous and irrational fear! Regardless, he hates flying, becomes sad when within a 2-mile radius of an airport or any people-carrying flying vessel and now, evidently, actually becomes scared on others’ behalf when they are to catch a flight (a new discovery for the man himself). Of all the bad things we may wish upon him, putting him in a plane for any given number of hours would rank up there with one of the worst outcomes for dear old Danny boy. In sum, he does not much care for flying.

Sure enough, when Abby landed safe and sound, as is always the case for everyone, everywhere, I had just about had enough of waiting. I left work a few minutes early like the badass that I am and made my way home to await her arrival. Upon said arrival, I eagerly strode through the streets of Barcelona (fairly dramatic, granted) to meet her by my local tube station and we headed over to the flat. What does the typical tourist do when in Barcelona? What does the typical Year Abroad student do in Barcelona? What does just about everyone do when in Barcelona? They go to La Rambla. 3 guesses where we decided to go for Abby’s first night of her visit… I had the impression when I first arrived that La Rambla would become less and less important to me as time went by, since it is such a huge tourist attraction and the main objective for us Year Abroad students seems to be to strive to appear as local as we possibly can in our new homes. To the contrary, it remains a social hub for me and looks like it will continue as such.

So down La Rambla we went, in search of tapas at one one of my favourite restaurants in Barcelona. With our search successful and tapas on the way, we sat in ‘Egipte’ and chatted about this and that, I told her about the time that my Dad once came to the very same restaurant and “got absolutely plastered” (he often enjoys recounting the tale to me whenever we speak about this restaurant). Within a few moments of our food arriving, we were been serenaded by a group of gentleman performing their rendition of ‘Quizás, Quizás, Quizás’ (Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps), and entertaining one woman sufficiently well for her to decide to join the band and instantaneously become their lead vocalist.

The night's entertainment

The night’s entertainment

Twas an enjoyable night, strolling along La Rambla and spending time in another Spanish city together (the weekend before I moved to Barcelona, we went to Madrid – it was nice!). The next day, following some miscommunication (read as: Dan forgets to tell Abby that she needs a 2-zone ticket to get to his workplace, leaving her unequipped to successfully get there) Abby came to visit me at UIC. Meeting my workmates was predictably difficult given the language barrier, as we soon arrived at the go-to subject when foreigners meet for the first time: how different our languages are, and the difficulties which follow as a result. Having established that English and Spanish are indeed different languages, we had lunch together, during which I spent my time firstly trying to understand everything myself and then posing as an amateur interpreter. Regardless of my severely lacking skill set as a translator, Abby was glad to have met them and vice versa.

And so came the weekend of shopping, wining and dining, and cocktail bars. The customary trip to ‘La Cervecería Catalana’, was, as always, brilliant. For anyone, who knows or has ever been to Barcelona and has yet to venture to this restaurant, there are few things in this world which I could more emphatically recommend. The food is invariably delicious and given its popularity and reputation, it’s always a great place to be. After a fair wait and trip to a nearby bar, we strolled over to the restaurant. Good food, good company (lucky Abby!) and a great city. Contrast the Daniel about to step foot on to a harbinger of doom (read as: an aeroplane) to the Daniel sat at a Barcelona restaurant about to enjoy some high quality tapas. The latter looks a little something like this:

IMG_0326

Happy Dan

Crema catalana

Crema catalana

Night topped off with Mojitos

Night topped off with Mojitos

The final day of Abby’s visit, which came all too soon, as she instructed me to write (in no way did she do anything of the sort), was characterised by much indecisiveness on both our parts. We eventually decided to head down to Barceloneta and stroll along the beach, which would have been great had we left ourselves enough time to do so. With her bus soon leaving for Girona airport, we realised that our initial plan would have to be abandoned. Instead we landed on the close-by Arc de Triomf (and no, I don’t mean that French one in Paris). Slightly hurriedly, we walked through the park to the Arc, which I had never seen before and provided Abby with the rare opportunity of being my tour guide in the city I’m meant to know so well. With beautiful weather, it gave the budding photographer ample opportunity to get snapping:

IMG_0317

Bit of a pro

Bit of a pro

IMG_0316

My attempts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A stressful encounter with Chinese waiters who took the Spanish mañana culture to a new level, in which they took a good half hour to serve us a sandwich, caused Abby to experience early onset heart palpitations as she began to explore the possibility of missing her bus and subsequently her flight. Luckily she had got her timings wrong and we had a leisurely wait at the station and reflected on the relaxed lunch that we might have had, had we known the actual time the bus was due to leave.

Waving her off, as she was bound for Bristol, I cut a happy figure looking back on a great weekend, and looking forward, to the following week in which I was to turn 21. More on that to follow… Adeu!

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…

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.