The Rain in Spain: David and Dan in Tarragona

* Cats everywhere… No cats in Barcelona. Conspiracy theories? *

Well that is certainly an interesting way to start to an account of my exploration of Cataluña. The above comment is a note I left myself some time ago – when I originally intended to write an entry on my visit to Tarragona – to ensure that I did not forget to mention the cats. The all-important cats, of all things! Take into account my previous tale of a mischievous dog and the mention of a cat absentee conspiracy, and this all starts to point toward one seriously misplaced set of priorities on my part. I do wish to make some assurances; I am not obsessed with cats. Promise. Why did I not just delete the original comment and save myself this protracted explanation? Well, I say, the people need to know the truth. They both want it and – I believe – can handle it. The very simple fact of the matter is that there were a lot of cats around in Tarragona on this particular occasion. Right, is that understood? I do hope so.

OK then, that is the cat situation covered. Consider yourselves updated. On to the real subject of today’s entry, then: my expedition to Tarragona. Prior to this trip, I had had ample opportunity to get to know the Autonomous Region of Cataluña a bit better and yet, up until that weekend with my Spanish compadre, David, I had just about fully neglected that option. However, that’s not to say that I hadn’t been enjoying myself here. I developed a fascination with kettles when I first arrived, lest we forget. So then, there we were late one Saturday afternoon, the intrepid adventurers, described as such regardless of David’s mum hailing herself from Tarragona and him having spent much time there for that very reason. Quite frankly, for David, this trip was about as much of a novelty as it would be for me if I were to pop over to Essex to visit my family in Southend. Nonetheless, he seemed excited and hopped on a train that ran along the seafront – a pleasant route – although not before I took my chance to mess something up. In a moment of pure absentmindedness and outright foolishness, I managed to first turn up at the wrong station, waiting there, shifting about anxiously as David somehow failed to appear before me outside, as we had agreed. Predictably, he had gone to the correct station and was, therefore, the one waiting for me. He can be so irresponsible like that sometimes…

With David reprimanded for his failure to remind me to go to the correct train station and then having the cheek to not even turn up at the wrong place, we were on our way to Tarragona. We sat and chatted, as friends tend to do, catching up and discussing David’s careless antics until I was served up with my first real sighting of one of Spain’s many wonders; the Spanish answer to the UK’s beloved ‘chav’: the cani. Canis, my dear friends, are quite simply incredible. Prior to my first experience of them sat on a train in Cataluña, David had on numerous occasions told me tales of their legend, showing me YouTube videos such as this:

The cani really is a sight to behold, and a social phenomenon that really lives up to the stereotype. During our journey and after pulling up at a station about halfway to our destination, our attention was quickly caught by a group of youths stepping onto the train, who – and I never normally use this expression – stank to high heaven of certain memorabilia. The carriage was instantaneously filled with thick fumes of a herbal variety and soon I could see the eyes of fellow passengers beginning to glaze over. Elderly onlookers were not best pleased, mind, visibly huffing and puffing at this outrage, crossing their chests in the fashion of a crucifix, evidently looking to have a word with the Lord Almighty to both pardon and prevent the misbehaviours of these rapscallions. As for myself, I sat in my seat in amazement as these kids of surely no more than 15, in some cases, periodically began to fulfil each and every one of the ‘Cani Criteria©’.

It was amazing. Firstly, each of them, without fail, was dressed in the appropriate attire, the sportswear so characteristic of the canis (please consult above video documentary). All of them spoke in a near incomprehensible, slang-ridden manner that had me struggling to understand a single word and had even my Spanish companion straining rather more than usual to grasp the meaning of the animated chatter. Yet another stereotype dedicatedly adhered to: their choice of listening material, projected from mobile phone speakers for added quality and enjoyment. The ‘music’ they played can quite accurately be described as some of the worst known to man. It was brilliantly awful, delightfully terrible. ‘ElectroPop EuroGarage’, you might call it, but you’d most likely be wrong. You simply had to sit back and smile at the thought of their musical taste. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they were all clearly high as kites!

Onlookers sat back, passively inhaling the haze, looking disgruntled and yet, somehow coming eventually to feel decidedly more comfortable in the company of their younger peers. The heavily observed group of youngers was not aware of its majesty, of course, but these guys and girls were proving to not only provide me with my first experience of their legendary urban myth of a kind, but also an education. They were fascinating to observe. David Attenborough, as I have it according to my most reliable of sources, has recently spent considerable time in Spain pursuing footage for a new BBC documentary based unquestionably on the cani. They deserved all the screen time available to mankind ever. I really can’t recommend highly enough taking some time out in your busy lives to travel to Spain with the specific task in mind of observing this mysterious bunch. It is quite the experience.

Most disappointingly and altogether too quickly, our time with the canis did eventually draw to a close, with both David and I utterly enchanted. He seemed to have enjoyed the encounter nearly as much as I did. Not quite, though. Mere moments after bidding farewell to our social unicorns, with the both of us still reeling with delight at our recent sighting, we were in Tarragona. There, we were met by some blustery winds and the mission of finding our hostel for the evening. Leaving the station in our wake, we strolled off into the night. Now, I must highlight at this point that I regard myself as something of a rookie when it comes to staying in hostels. I have yet to dabble in a touch of inter-railing or something equally cool and so my experience with hostel stays is limited, at best. Thus, as David and I stood at a turning that led down a dark and narrow alley, along which he insisted our room for the night was to be found, I was sceptical and wary. The scene was quite frankly sinister. There was great potential for us, along this alleyway, to be assaulted, molested, robbed or killed, and probably even all of the above. We decided to tread with caution.

Now, I invite you to consider that I have watched and enjoyed many of the films of the Wrong Turn franchise. Typically in these ridiculously written ‘slasher’ films, the cast ensemble consists of a group of less than 10 and, by and large, there is only one lone survivor who remains at the end. The critical juncture in the case of each and every Wrong Turn film is, predictably, a crossroads or a fork in the road, one route leading to the guarantee of safety, and the other, to inbred cannibalistic hillbillies with a thirst for 20-something-year-old blood. Guess which route is always picked. So, with our party consisting of two on this dark and windy night in Tarragona, I ranked both David’s survival chances and mine as unfavourable, based on my viewings of Wrong Turns 1-5. Yet, as the naïve cast members always do, we ventured down this poorly lit path full of bad omens and suspense. The mood was not improved much as we reached what appeared to be an abandoned reception at the end of the alley. We opened the door and rang the bell. No response. We rang again. Nothing. I knew then that the time had come for my untimely demise via some poorly executed hacking of an axe from a bloodthirsty lunatic. I stepped outside to see if anyone was around – a rookie error by all accounts in such horror flicks. We had split up. As I waited in the courtyard, my eye was caught by what turned out to be a group of black kittens, the four of them huddled around something that seemed tasty as they all crouched together, gnawing away at an unknown object. It was probably David’s little finger by now, given that we had been apart for all of a minute and, if I was still alive, then surely the same could not be said of him at that point. Unnerved by the tiny felines, I stepped back inside.

Our prospects for the evening

Our prospects for the evening

As it turns out, we were not to be cast members of a gritty horror that night, as we did indeed survive without so much as an ordeal. David was alive and unharmed and a normal-looking man soon came and greeted us at the reception desk, handing us our room key and wishing us a pleasant stay. I did for a moment though, I must admit, make eye contact with the man in question to check for signs of depravity or murderous tendencies. Thankfully, there were none. Nothing doing. So with that, we dropped off our stuff and headed out for an evening of heavy drinking at, among others, a bar furnished inexplicably with furniture on the ceiling; a dinner of pinchos; and the company of a gay, naturalised Spanish Ukrainian man, his Argentine-Italian boyfriend and girlfriends of theirs who looked impossibly old in spite of their ages of 18 and 15(!) respectively. It was a fun night, indeed. We returned to the hostel, caring decidedly less about the sinister feel to the place, and agreed to set up with the sightseeing in the morning.

Early afternoon came. With our eyes bleary and heads aching somewhat, we stepped out into the light of day and slight drizzle of rain, found ourselves a restaurant and proceeded to enjoy a [candle-lit (lacking in candles, I just wanted to emphasise the ‘bromance’)] three-course lunch. I say enjoy, when really I mean endure. The fallen soldiers were suffering slightly from the night before. But that did not dampen our spirits. We were determined to the see the sights of Tarragona and nothing would stop us in our quest to do so. Nothing, that is, apart from the weather, which had taken something of a turn for the worst. It was bucketing it down with rain. Yet, dear readers, did this prompt us to call it a day before it had even begun? Did I lead us to thoughts of ‘oh well’ or ‘better luck next time’? No it did not. Bravely, we stepped out in to the falling water – the most dangerous of substances – and began our day of damp sightseeing.

Were it not for the rain, it would have been an excellent day. As it was, it was an amusingly different one. The streets emptied as the rain continued to pour, leaving David and I the town to ourselves. Onwards we walked, refusing to admit defeat at the hands of some precipitation. As it just so happens, Tarragona is a really nice little town; very picturesque and very Roman. David, being the well-read individual that he is, proved an excellent tour guide as we passed Tarragona’s port – which, according to David, often has moored one of the many yachts in the fleet of one Roman Abramovich – the amphitheatre and the cathedral basilica, all of which were simply charming. After all of this, we were absolutely soaked through. Dryness soon became a distant and abstract concept, illustrated as follows:

IMG_0866 IMG_0856 IMG_0865 IMG_0846

Indeed, there would have been glasses of water dryer than us on this rainy Sunday afternoon! Yet, on we went, still refusing to give in to the conditions until finally, David asked me if I wanted to get a churro, to which I replied that I most certainly did. Sat dripping in a café, and by that I mean dripping, as small puddles formed around the arms of our coats, we ended up ordering chocolate waffles and generally loving life for being out of the rain. Thankfully, as we made our way back to the train station, it subsided slightly and we were able to begin the drying-off process that would prove to take some days to be completed. The funny thing is that I’m not even exaggerating slightly when I say that. Nevertheless, as we sat speeding towards Barcelona, cold, tired and oh so very wet, we sat and laughed at what had been a great trip in Cataluña. So now we know, readers, the rain in Spain does not fall mainly on the plane. Rather, it falls mainly in a small Catalan town named Tarragona.

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Castelles – a statue of Catalan tradition

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Freight ships sailing out from the Tarragona port. Still no sight of Abramovich – updates to come.

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Dancing with the Devil: An Update on the Nemesis of Dan

Fair readers, the title of today’s entry may come as a shock to you. Rightly so, as I doubt many of you will have been aware that I have troubles on my mind. You all must have assumed, from reading how delightful my experiences of Barcelona seem to be, that my life here is plain sailing. Well, the fact of the matter, sadly, is that all is not quite that straightforward. I do, indeed, have a sworn enemy. An adversary who I cannot overcome and yet cannot overcome me. Here in Barcelona, I have landed myself a nemesis. For those of you who have browsed the archives or, rather, the second page of Dan Makes a Friend Called Spain, entitled ‘Thoughts and Rambles‘, this entry shall serve as an update rather than an introduction to my nemesis. For the majority, it will be just that; an introduction. However, in order for my blood pressure to remain at favourable levels, I invite you to have a quick peek at the thought entitled ‘Animal Cruelty’ to bring yourselves up to speed with the current state of affairs. I really do think it would be better for us all if I were to avoid launching into another full-scale rant regarding my nemesis, who shall hereafter be referred to as Lucifer due to his flagrantly evil spirit.

Right, so I imagine you’ve all done as I have asked by now and read up on my fierce feud with Lucifer. For those who haven’t, just for you to enjoy a bit of perspective, Lucifer is a dog. A real bastard of a dog, at that. He looks very much like this – deceptively cute – which leads me to believe that he must be an English Cocker Spaniel (of course his would have to be an English breed):

Lucifer

Lucifer

Due to my very infrequent sightings of Lucifer, I have yet to capture him on camera – which, in any case, would surely perplex his owners. Why, after all, should I want to take a picture of their dog? For depraved purposes, they would likely suspect. Might I add it to my shrine to English Cocker Spaniels, per chance? I don’t think so. The last thing I need is having my neighbours think that I’m a shifty and peculiar character whose life purpose is to take pictures of strangers’ pets. Hence, photographic evidence of Lucifer remains unavailable for me to add to the blog. Anyway, I decided to write an entry dedicated to him because, the other day, after updating the blog on my experience of tequila not breaking my Spanish (see previous entry), I suffered an encounter with him. Now, suffice it to say that he has caused me much anguish and, for that, I do not much care for him, to put it lightly. Again, if you after a more scathing critique of his character, please refer to Thoughts and Rambles, to the thought dated at 03/02/2014. He certainly does know how to enrage me with his barking, does old Lucifer. In fact, ah yes, there we go. As I sit here writing, I can hear his wild howling that so often causes me to cultivate a mad fury deep in the pit of my stomach, reserved solely for him. Today, I clock his incessant yapping at 18:55 – a very acceptable hour by his standards.

Indeed, I ran into Lucifer this week. Heading out into town, I bumped into a number of my neighbours in my apartment building, which for some reason is also a rare occurence. As I strode down the stairs, I was encountered with a gentleman dressed fully in lycra – a cycling purist – wheeling his bicycle in the opposite direction towards the stairs, necessitating a moment in which I would have allow him to pass. And then, I saw him. There he was marching confidently through the door at the bottom of the staircase as if he owned the place. There was Lucifer. He was being ushered, along with another canine companion, into the hallway by a black gentleman I have seen around only a handful of times. I only mention the man’s race, by the way, because it seems that him and the elderly Catalan woman who lives next door to me must share that flat. This comes as a pleasant surprise, simply due to my past experiences of Spanish people of her generation harbouring unsavoury views toward those of other races and ethnic backgrounds. All the better for these two that they are embracing a more progressive approach to life by living together (I am, however, totally speculating at this point). Regardless, that they are sharing an apartment by no means excuses them in my eyes from owning Lucifer.

Dan rages as he thinks about Lucifer

Dan rages as he thinks about Lucifer

Back to the case at hand, then: there we all stood, 3 men, 2 dogs and a bike, doing our best to navigate the staircase. There I stood, my eyes locked on Lucifer, realising who exactly I was staring at and feeling an anger beginning to bubble inside. We all smiled at each other (apart from the dogs and the bike, obviously) as we tip-toed around each other until I was directly facing Lucifer, as the man with the bike squeezed past me. In that moment, I contemplated dropping to my knees and desperately pleading with him to, please, shut up or, at the very least, to keep it down just a little bit. But I refrained, and kept my white flag safely guarded in my pocket. Instead, I smiled at the man holding his leash as, all of a sudden, Lucifer jumped up at me, resting his front paws on my legs, and stared intently into my eyes, as if to say, ‘I will break your spirit. If it’s the last thing I do, I will. Your card has been marked’. I matched the gaze of my nemesis for as long as I dared. We shared a moment of disdainful respect for one another until his owner tugged him off my lap, made his apologies on Lucifer’s behalf and disappeared up the stairs. ‘Well’, I thought to myself, ‘Lucifer is on to me. Game on’.

Except this is no game. Lucifer and I have endured a savage feud for many months now. He refuses to back down and I simply have to put up and shut up with his perpetual barking. This brings to mind a favourite Spanish expression of mine: ‘ajo y agua(which translates literally as ‘garlic and water’), abbreviated from a joderse y aguantarse. This crude turn of phrase, for which I will refrain from providing a direct translation, but is essentially the Spanish equivalent of ‘put up and shut up’, describes my options perfectly in terms of dealing with Lucifer. He will one day be the death of me. Indeed, my mind was on him for most of my time spent out and about following on from our confrontation. That was, until I returned home.

Dear readers, I must now assume in earnest that my apartment building is home to demonic spirits, which serve solely to possess its canine inhabitants. Beyond any shadow of a doubt, evil forces are at work. I have reached this conclusion having witnessed another dog, upon my return, going batshit crazy. Just as Lucifer howls vociferously as he is about to leave the building, the dog I saw as I walked through the hallway was scampering dramatically towards the door and practically choking herself with her collar, such was her determination to go for a walk. The problem for the dog in question was friction. With the hallway of my building furnished with polished marble floors, the poor pooch was attempting to make for a swift exit but, hindered by her lead and a distinct lack of grip to the floor, she (assuming, as I am, that it was a ‘she’) achieved little progress. The result was her scuttling along with her legs in a wild blur, as she covered the most minimal of distances with her preferred technique. If she had simply walked in an orderly fashion towards the door, she would have easily halved the time spent sliding around the hallway that she did. The demons clearly wanted her to behave in a frantic manner to put the rest of us at unease. All of us, that is, apart from the dog’s owner who, again, appeared unfazed by the antics of his pets. These people! They simply must be in cahoots with the evil fiends that possess their pets. My next step must surely be to call an exorcist in order for us to be rid of this wickedness. If not, Lord knows what might happen.

It is in times like these that I miss my cat! Coming to think of it, where are all the cats in Barcelona? Maybe I am just beginning to make a discovery; beginning to uncover the tip of an iceberg. The iceberg that is the mission to exile all cats from the Catalan capital! Who knows how far this operation extends. Maybe I am too late, and maybe the cats are long gone. Then again, who knows if the plan really even exists… This could all be Lucifer’s doing. It probably is, you know, such is his treachery. He is a worthy adversary, alright. My tormentor. My nemesis… I will be back to you all shortly for updates on our antagonism if and when they develop.

 

Dan Reaches the Top of Barcelona

DISCLAIMER: In the latest instalment of Dan Makes a Friend Called Spain, Daniel writes in a far more sentimental fashion than that to which he is accustomed. Snide remarks come at a premium and he may even make the odd comment that is commonly regarded as ‘cute’. For this, he can only apologise but he did really have a very nice day on Sunday 9th March 2014. That which follows in this blog entry is a detailed account of a walk that Daniel took around the city of Barcelona. And some other stuff. On a side note, he would like to inform you that his legs now somewhat ache. Soon, you might just understand why…

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I had a truly excellent day yesterday. A very tiring day at that, but my fatigue did not at all detract any enjoyment from what turned out to be a fine Sunday in Spain. As I opened the blinds of my bedroom window in the morning, I noticed that the weather was great; the sun was shining, the passers-by were out in force, donning T-shirts and sunglasses, and there was but a cloud in the sky. Having spent all of Saturday sat at home watching football – a perfectly good experience in itself, as Chelsea thrashed an amazingly hapless Spurs side at Stamford Bridge – I knew that today would be my day. Today I would leave my flat (and return at a later hour, I don’t mean to imply that I would be gone forever). Quickly, I decided upon going for a walk. Now, generally speaking, I do not ‘go for walks’. If and when I walk, I do so with purpose, with a destination in mind. I have never been one to simply step outside and see where the wind blows me. But on this Sunday morning, that is exactly what I did. Oh, how Spain has changed me.

So off I went to see the wind would take me… albeit initially with a place in mind: el Parc del Guinardó. I had previously heard that some excellent views of the city were up for grabs at the park in question, so, with the weather as good as it was, I took off on my solo mission to find myself some breathtaking views. And breathtaking views I found. I ambled through the characteristic streets of my Spanish home and, after a lengthy stroll, reached the park. Only then did I appreciate that, in order for me to enjoy the views for which I had gone there, a little bit of hiking would be required. It was certainly a warm day for a hike but I thought myself up to the task. Off came the jacket and on came the steely determination to reach the ‘top’ of Barcelona. I can now confirm that the reports are true, that the views from the top of Guinardó are simply astounding. The park stands as a lone mountain of sorts in the middle of the city, meaning that an extensive view of Barcelona can be enjoyed from practically all angles, regardless of where you are stood. And I must say, it is just lovely up there.

The beautiful view of the city #nofilter #quiteobviouslyafilter

The beautiful view of the city #nofilter #quiteobviouslyafilter

At the ‘summit’, joined by my fellow hikers and tourists, I hopped over a low fence to sit atop a raised platform that overlooked the city in an easterly direction, facing the sea and some of the city’s most iconic locations. A platform, I might add, that had no railing at its edge to prevent people from falling off and hurtling towards their imminent death, or at the very least, a severe injury. Meelie, my aunt and an impressive enforcer of Health and Safety regulations, would have surely reeled at such a sight. Yet my seated neighbours around me seemed largely untroubled by this hazard and I was fairly at ease myself. So there I sat, gazing upon such renowned sites as La Sagrada Familia, Barceloneta and some of the city’s finest and most famous hotels, listening to music which was perfect for the setting: the ominously titled Songs to Break Up to is a fine piece of work from Ta-ku, an Australian producer, and is certainly an album to evoke an emotional response. I will revisit this music shortly, but for the time being, I would like to focus on a pleasant discovery I made whilst sat overlooking these majestic views.

My discovery was that I had found myself a muse, and that muse was the city I live in: Barcelona itself. The proof lies in the fact that here I sit, typing away, when typically, it takes me a good few weeks to come up with any content worth harping on about. As I surveyed the city sites in all their glory, the thoughts came flowing in, ranging from the prospective to the nostalgic and I felt the sudden urge to document them all. Barcelona had inspired me to write! It was a nice feeling, to say the least. Now, if I were an author, I would undoubtedly have jumped for joy (and probably fallen from the perilous platform to my doom) at the thought that I had overcome my crippling writer’s block. But as it stands, I am but a lowly blogger. Regardless, it was an alleviating sensation. Barcelona has become my muse, and it is a beautiful one at that.

Nice day for a stroll

Nice day for a stroll

So these thoughts of mine then, inspired by the city I live in. Well, partly inspired by the city. Beyond doubt, the trajectory of my thought process was dictated, too, in no small part by the music which I sat listening to. Songs to Break Up to is an interesting title for an album, indeed, and a thought-provoking one. Each song is titled to describe a different stage of the break-up process and captures the essence of that title most fittingly. Ironically, I would suggest that it is definitely not an album to be chosen as listening material in the event that your relationship is brought to an end. It will leave you in pieces; a gloomy shadow of your former self.  Now, here is where the music I was listening to and the sights I was seeing combined to inspire me. Naturally, they made me think of the ‘relationships’ of my short life and, thus, of the ‘break-ups’ which I have experienced. I have placed both words between inverted commas because, as you shall soon see, they hardly count as valid experiences of each, respectively. Thus, what needs to be noted at this point is that I am absolutely not an authority on the whole business of break-ups. Maybe Songs to Break Up to, in fact, should be a go-to album when you regrettably come to end a relationship with somebody. Maybe you need to allow yourself the time to be utterly miserable if you are to truly heal, and maybe that means listening to a 10-track album that will surely compound your misery, leaving you in a self-pitying and equally self-loathing mess. Then again, I could be completely wrong. I just don’t know. Such were the thoughts that ran through my mind as I sat atop Barcelona.

The experiences which for some reason were most on my mind were those initial interactions with girls, in which I would typically employ phrases such as, ‘will you go out with me?’ and, ‘yeah, I’m going out with [insert name here]’. For me, the relationships and the break-ups came thick and fast during my early days at school, spent amongst my peers of my class, 7 and 8SL. A 12-13 year-old lothario, the modern-day answer to Casanova, I made quick work of courting the attention of numerous girls of my class in my early secondary school career. I smiled in Guinardó on this most beautiful of Sundays as this thought came to me and I looked back fondly on this period, during which I spent much time thinking myself something of a player. What is so funny and so very ironic about it all was that, upon achieving my initial task of grabbing the attention of the girl that I did so ‘fancy’ the most, who inevitably topped the prestigious list of my ‘Top 5’ – an ever-changing list devised, perhaps uniquely at my school, denoting each of our five most desirable boys/girls of the time, certainly not to be sniffed at under any circumstances in those days – communications would subsequently and immediately be cut to a minimum between us. This happened each and every time that I found myself in a ‘relationship’ with such lady classmates as Lauren, Lizzie, Freya and Shadi, among others. These are names from such great times in which I was ‘going out’ – again ironically, doing the exact opposite, and not going out at all – with girls, which had my confidence brimming, as I was clearly something of a catch (what happened…?). Quite the player, Dan, quite the player indeed. Defining moments that stuck out in my mind on this fine afternoon in Barcelona were as follows:

  1. When I made the claim to some of my classmates that I liked Lauren more than peanut butter – the highest of honours.
  2. When I bought Lauren the DVD of Mean Girls and she hugged me for the very first time.
  3. In the same exchange as that mentioned above, in which Lauren gave me some Skittles and a brimming pack of multi-coloured and personalised pencils, all of which donning my name, Daniel.
  4. When Shadi and I spoke over the phone about a wet flannel she had found in her bathroom.
  5. When Freya and I lay on the carpet in her living room and shared an awkward moment of almost kissing and then wisely deciding against it (we would have been ‘going out’ for many weeks by this point in time).

These are the 5 moments which propped up my very early history with the opposite sex, when I, along with many of my other male peers, was just coming out of my shell and striking up the confidence to engage in different conversations with girls. These were the moments that I looked back on as I cast my gaze across Barcelona, wondering how on earth I had got to where I am now, having come from such an uneasy and uncertain navigation of my early teenage years. Of course, I was dumped on various occasions by my early ‘girlfriends’, who realised well before I did that our relationships were farcical by nature, that we were still so young and needed not to be tied down by such serious commitments as these, but instead just to move on with our lives. Lauren thought nothing of the sweet gesture of mine to buy her a DVD that I knew she would so enjoy (such was the rave for Mean Girls at the time) and cruelly disposed of me. We were destined to be ‘just friends’. Regrettably, on one occasion I was the one to do the dumping, an experience which cut me to the core. In a swift and brutally executed conversation, I suggested to Shadi that, perhaps, we were also better off just as friends. In grown-up world, when the ‘just friends’ suggestion is made, it very rarely comes to fruition yet, luckily for me, Shadi and I remain great amigos to this day and she has become a far more successful young woman than I could ever dream to be (although I don’t dream much of becoming a successful young woman).

What a strange way of living in those early days of school, I thought to myself in Guinardó. A way of living not only considered the norm at the time, but one which was enthusiastically encouraged amongst each and every one of us. It was as if, collectively, we had indoctrinated each other to think that there was no more to life than having an impressive set of names with which to comprise your ‘Top 5’. How funny it all was at this formative and important stage of our lives. Needless to say, it all soon passed; we grew up, matured and have all since come so far. As I descended down the side of the miniature mountain in the park, I thought to myself, ‘I wouldn’t change a thing’. At that moment, a flock of birds, which turned out to be a group of pigeons, caught my eye as they flew past me and into the sun, overlooking the city. It would have made for a great picture that would have captured the notion of ‘Freedom’ perfectly, had it not been for their refusal to a) stay in the air long enough or, b) take flight again after landing in their preferred spots, cooing away. I tried some gentle encouragement for them to give it another go but basically just ended up mildly harassing some poor pigeons, as I intruded in their congregation:

Not quite what I had in mind

I spent much of the rest of my walk (towards the beach) pondering what had been a delightful experience at the top of a hill in Cataluña. The walk to come was a long one and afforded me much thinking time, which after a while came to focus less on my early experiences with the fairer sex (or lack thereof) and more on my dropping energy levels and increasing hunger. I strolled past my old neighbourhood, which again provoked much nostalgic thinking, past my old place of work, and eventually past La Sagrada Familia, which, as ever looked magnificent in the afternoon sun – but for a few cranes and scaffolding erected for the scheduled rennovations taking place. Walking on and on, I realised that I have so many great memories of this place and I was certainly justified in choosing it as my home for my Year Abroad. I continued past La Monumental, past the Hotel Arts – where I enjoyed such an amazing dinner on my 21st birthday with my family – and finally made it down to the beach, where I promptly took off my shoes, let out a sigh of relief and walked barefoot through the sand and the sea as I thought how dreamy the day had been.

I ended up in an old haunt, a pub on the corner of La Plaça Reial, watching rugby (which I enjoyed?!) as England beat Wales in the Six Nations, eating a well-deserved burger and getting tipsy off some potent pints of beer. I decided as I staggered up La Rambla that it would be perhaps be wise for me to catch the metro home after a full day of walking, in which I clocked up about 20km. A wise decision it proved to be, as I finally got home, slumped myself down on the sofa and promptly dozed off.

La Plaça Reial looking prettyIMG_0715

To you, an arbitrarily taken photo of a standard Barcelona neighbourhood. To me, memories of summers past

To you, an arbitrary photo of a standard Barcelona neighbourhood. To me, memories of summers past.

It was an excellent day.

I walked about 20km in total, over the course of the day

My route: I walked about 20km in total, over the course of the day!

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

So then, where were we?

The Fish Smuggler

    The Fish Smuggler

I believe I had just successfully achieved my task of chopping up large volumes of tuna and managed to get all of it to fit into one Tupperware container, which would prove to be most convenient for shipping it over to Switzerland. I know, I know… My life can get pretty wild at times. The things I get up to. I just take each day as it comes, you know? Accept the lifestyle on the edge, accept the danger. How else would I ever cope? Anyway, back to the matter at hand: following on from my operation with the fish, I had considered the possibility of running into trouble in either Barcelona or Basel airports’ customs – or both – given that I was attempting to ferry fresh produce across international borders. Yet, I had it on good authority (again, read as: my dad) that I would run into no such problems and that there was nothing to worry about in that respect. I trust my dad but I wasn’t sure of what to make of everything he was telling me, whether he was reassuring me in order to ensure that I remained a cool customer going through security checks, or simply, as he’d said, that there really would not be any trouble with me packing fresh fish in my bag and smuggling it into Basel.

Either way, on the Friday that I was due to fly, I grabbed my bag laden with the potentially illicit tuna and rushed off to the airport. I hopped on a train, sat back and relaxed. Drawing ever nearer to my destination, I honestly hadn’t thought too much of my contraband in tow. After all, I figured, even in the absolute worst case scenario, what were airport staff likely to do; cuff me, inform me that I was ‘nicked’ and then march me off to a Spanish or Swiss prison (or both… somehow) after discovering my banned cargo? No, they would most likely give me a slap on the wrist, if even that, confiscate my contraband and send me on my way to Basel minus one Tupperware container’s worth of Barcelona’s finest tuna. That, I thought to myself, was an outcome I could live with. So, yes, in a way, I was relaxed about pursuing my new career as a smuggler. Nothing to it. Any drug lords, leaders of rings or cartels, or even small-time dealers who happen to be reading this blog and are currently looking into the recruitment of a mule: sign me up! I’ve got this smuggling business all figured out. Send me over to Colombia, Thailand (etc.) or wherever you want and I will get the package to your business associates. I’m that much of a pro these days… What’s that? You want to see some of my qualifications? Well, I’ll have you know that I smuggled some fish from Barcelona to Basel once and no one even asked me about the contents of my [hand] luggage! I’m not quite sure how I’ve suddenly started applying for more smuggling jobs from the leaders of the criminal underworld, but hey: C’est la vie, or es la vida, should I say.

Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, the recently arrested Mexican drug lord, or me after a few years in the smuggling game?

Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the recently arrested Mexican drug lord, or me after a few years in the smuggling game?

Moving on, I did indeed manage to fulfil my smuggling duties without even so much as a hiccup. Granted, I had a moment of brief nervousness as I set down my belongings, bag included, at the El Prat airport security check and saw them all disappear behind the rubber curtains of the X-ray machine. Trying my best to appear calm and collected, I am almost certain to have failed as I could feel myself acting in a shifty manner, eager to collect my bag full of the contraband. The alarm went off as I stepped through the detectors myself and I was searched. Standard procedure, of course,  but I suspected that my card had been marked. It hadn’t. After a few nervous laughs as I attempted to exchange a casual joke with the staff member responsible for frisking me, I had made it through security. I had made it through with my tuna! Like I said, nothing to this smuggling game. The only problem which I would now have to confront was more of psychological one as, lest we forget, I am still afraid of flying.

Don’t ask me why but on this particular evening, I was nervous. That doesn’t quite do it justice, I was really nervous. Really, really nervous. Perhaps with all the excitement from the smuggling gig I was undertaking, I had let my imagination run too far ahead of me, always a dangerous idea for me prior to a flight. As usual, I had entertained thoughts of catastrophe, doom and all the others which I tend to associate with flying. Only on that day, these thoughts would simply not cease and desist, they were all that was on my mind. As I boarded the plane I began to feel deeply unhappy, as I typically would, but normally I would expect this to subside after a while. Certainly before take-off, only for me then to begin a new process of freaking out. But on this Friday night, it did not and was only confounded further by waiting a good half an hour on the tarmac in anticipation of take-off. I literally died. *Note to self: develop further understanding of the term ‘literally’*. Waiting around watching other planes take off from the very same runway which my own flying vessel would soon be using to lift off the ground is my personal hell. You may think of the Catholic depiction of Hell, with demons poking out sinners’ eyes with fiery pitchforks, but if that’s where I end up when the time comes, I know exactly what I’ll be doing. The fear I experience in the aforementioned scenario is like no other I’ve experienced. I do not like it.

Anyway, there I am on the plane, fearful for my life as ever as we finally take off, at which point – and I have no shame in admitting it – I buckle under the pressure of it all. I leaned over to my fellow passengers sat beside me, and asked them that, kindly, they take a moment to talk to me, so that I do not have a full-on meltdown. They turned out to be a very likeable Catalan couple who made it their mission to ensure that I was OK, which I appreciated very much at the time, as you might imagine. Soon, I was calm for having spoken to some rational folk who obviously knew that we were going to be fine. I thanked them for their time, slumped back in my seat and remained diligently nervous and alert, of course, to ensure that the engines didn’t fail. This is my rationale, question it at your peril. As you may have ascertained by now, flying brings out a deeply troubled, and frankly, disturbing side of me and I am not proud of that. I really must remind myself to fly less. Either that, or simply, to man the f*** up!

Cruising at 38,000ft, I was more comfortable than I had been prior to or during take-off. Still getting over how on edge I had been previously, but settling down at least. That is, until I heard the pilot’s voice come on over the tannoy, at which point, as always, I removed my headphones from my ears, leaving my music to play without an audience in order for me to devote my full attention to this most important of professionals. A note to this man and to pilots in general, for that matter, in the interest of passenger wellbeing: please, for the love of all that is holy, do not under any circumstances begin your opening sentence of your announcement with the following:

Ladies and gentleman, we are struggling…”

That was it. I knew it, I was finally on that flight! My worst nightmares had now become a reality.

“…to serve you your requested drinks and snacks as the cabin crew is running low on loose change[!!!!!!!!!!!]”.

I was most vexed by proceedings. If ever I were to seek reassurance from someone during a flight, my first option would obviously be the pilot, and for this individual to start his sentence so carelessly as he did… Well, needless to say, I died again. Literally. However, sure enough, despite my conviction that we were doomed, we proceeded safely, only for the flight attendants to be donated the change they needed from the passengers and for the next incident to illustrate to me that, surely, I had actually lost the plot; that my nerves were shot and my fear had caused me to become delusional. A brief 30 minutes before landing, the tannoy sounded again, only this time for the voice of a member of the cabin crew to be projected:

Ladies and gentlemen, with 30 minutes remaining of this flight the crew will shortly be passing through the cabin, offering you the chance to buy boutique items”, exclusive this, top-of-the-line that, the usual, blah blah blah… “Cigarettes, fragrances and CHICKEN FILLETS…” Pardon me. Come again? What had I just heard? I’ve been partial to the odd piece of poultry from time to time, but offered some on a plane??? Don’t think so. Equally, I quite enjoy the effects of the silicone breast-enhancing tools oft used by women these days but surely, there’s a time and a place! Of course, I’m sure I completely misheard but this led me to wonder what had actually been said in the first place. I was honestly ready to be cuffed by men in white coats and driven off to the nearest Swiss institute upon landing. After all of this, mercifully, the flight came to an end and I decided that, in hindsight, I thought myself quite silly for being so scared, as I always do.

Notwithstanding, waiting at a Basel bus stop to be taken into the city centre, I was sincerely shaken, relieved and, above all, confused after all that had occurred during the flight. As I stood there slowly recovering my status from ‘nervous wreck’ to ‘gratefully content’, a duo in uniform awaiting the same bus as me, I assumed, caught my eye. It soon occurred to me that these two must have been the pilot and co-pilot of the plane that I had myself just been on moments beforehand. Using my considerable powers of observation, I deduced from each of the pair’s blazers that the man stood directly to my right was the pilot, based entirely on the greater number of accolades decorating his arms. What I noticed next shocked me to the core. Bear in mind that I view the professions of pilots and flight attendants as those that, of all vocations in the world, tempt fate most. Don’t these people doing these jobs realise that they are putting their lives at risk each and every flight? I mean, I’m aware that the popular daredevil, Evil Knievel, was prone to a fair amount of danger in his life but, really, he had nothing on the brave (crazy) men and women who make a living from being on a plane all day, every day.

Onto the shocking sight, then: the pilot, the man who so daringly carries out his work, was stood casually at the bus stop with his colleague looking generally at ease – chatting, smiling and… smoking! There he was, equipped with a lit cigarette, dragging away and apparently thinking nothing of it. Well, I thought, this man clearly did not value his life as I do, as many other non-smoking, non-pilots do. What a truly audacious individual. In the initial moment that I noticed the cigarette between his fingers, I could feel myself screaming (internally) at him, “What?!” What do you think you’re doing? Don’t you think you’ve got enough on your plate as it is?” I was unsure of whether to condemn or applaud this man’s life choices. Beyond any shadow of a doubt, he must have been one crazy character, what with all these perils that he would inevitably confront on a daily basis. That was about it for me after all of the evening’s events. I officially gave up. I stepped on to the bus and proceeded to have a great, danger-free weekend with Dad and Emm.

Based on all that went on cruising through international airspace and, subsequently, at a Swiss bus stop, I consider it safe to say at this point that, perhaps, contraband smuggling may not be the career for me. Whether that contraband might be tuna and/or cocaine or heroin. What a promising career prospect that now lies in tatters. Oh well, I’m sure something will come along eventually. Maybe I’ll look into training as a pilot…

EPILOGUE

Just so you readers know, I sat writing the final sequences of the second instalment of The Exclusive Account of a Fish Monger-Turned-Contraband Smuggler (Watson, 2014) aboard a flight to London, where I am currently to be found for a few short days. A flight that, might I add, I seemed to actively enjoy! What is it with me? I have concluded that I quite simply must be a strange person. I imagine that many of those reading this who happen to know me arrived at that same conclusion long, long ago, but at least now I can finally acknowledge it myself. I really have no idea why, on one flight I can fully lose my cool and, with that, evidently my sanity and on another I can grit my teeth and bear it (or even enjoy it). I guess that’s just the way I is.

Well friends, thank you for accompanying me on my emotional roller-coaster that was travelling from Spain to Switzerland with a few lumps of tuna in my bag. It’s been a blast. Until next time… Hasta la próxima.

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…

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:

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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.

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.