Thoughts & Rambles

Often, when I add entries to my blog, I write them as narratives of specific events, such as my weekends and my 21st birthday, for instance. But that format deprives me of the opportunity to pass comment on observations I might make on a daily basis. I’m a pensive soul and want a space to be able to record my thoughts! This page will be that space. Here I shall note all my thoughts and observations which come to me as I continue my journey in Barcelona.

  • The flag of Barcelona (30/03/2014): Thanks to a dear Spanish friend of mine, I have learnt today that the city flag of Barcelona contains two England flags, as it were. You learn something new every day, I suppose!
barcelona flag

               The Flag of Barcelona

  • Spanish flag on a balcony (08/03/2014): This one speaks for itself, really. The other day, walking home from the station after work, a Spanish flag caught my eye as it hung from a balcony. Nothing too special, you might think, considering that I am in Spain after all. Or am I…? That is the question of the day. Catalans are a very proud lot, as I believe I have mentioned on various occasions already. And with their pride comes their national identity, naturally. With that, of course, comes the zealous belief that Catalonia is its own nation or, in other words, is not part of Spain. This is typically demonstrated by your typical Catalan citizen by the decoration of the residential balcony with the region’s flag, more often including the blue triangle and a white star. This variation of the standard red and yellow stripes of the Catalan flag is that which can be seen hanging most often on the people’s balconies. So, for that reason, I was shocked to see the national flag of España hanging as I traipsed toward my flat on this crisply cool evening. Virtually all of the Catalan people I know count themselves as independentistas. Maybe this flag suggests that someone out there still believes in Spanish Catalonia…
  • Fast walkers (25/02/2014): From my frequent travelling – which I have made headway into coming to terms with despite being a nervous flyer (to put it lightly) – I have learnt various lessons. One of which, in fact, is more of a reaffirmation than a new lesson, and that is that I really cannot stand slow walkers. Do they not have places to be? From the many occasions in which I have found myself stuck behind them, I have to conclude simply that they do not. Over my many years of walking, I believe I have developed my optimal travelling speed: fast. Not quite fast enough to give the impression that I am in a hurry, yet fast enough to confirm to those around me – my fellow walkers – that I mean business; that I am walking with purpose. Why many others seem so incapable of mastering and tweaking their individual technique to the point of optimality is a mystery to me – one of life’s many. For example, if everyone were to walk at my pace, there would surely be no more congestion of bodies, no more traffic, no more delays. Above all, no more frustration directed towards the infuriatingly slow. But, as I said, I already knew that I didn’t count myself as much of a fan of theirs. What walking along the long, snaking metro stations of Barcelona, such as Maria Cristina and Sants, in particular, has taught me is that I really appreciate a fast walker. Better put, I feel a profound respect for them. They are obviously my kind of people. By and large, at my optimal walking speed, I am the one doing the overtaking, rather than having the overtaking done unto me. Yet, on one particular journey to the airport, I found myself trailing a gentleman matching each of my steps for length and frequency. I had met my match. There we both were, striding through the underground, looking authoritative. As I followed closely behind, I soon realised that this was a man who had this world figured out. He was a fast walker. And for that, I truly and deeply respected him. I almost stopped him just to congratulate him on being one of the normal few (i.e. brisk walkers), but, in hindsight, I’m rather glad I didn’t.
  • Footwear (14/02/2014): Spanish footwear is truly, shockingly awful. There’s no two ways of saying it. It really is bad. To be fair, this mostly applies to men, so I perhaps am doing an injustice to the women of Spain who, by and large, have a decent idea of what to put on their feet without looking hopelessly out of touch. Normally, of course, I would not care even in the slightest about the shoes which other people choose to wear. I am very much a ‘live and let live’, ‘each to their own’ kind of guy and fashion policing hardly plays a huge role in my everyday life but what I have experienced has been no less than a bombardment of ‘wrong’. I was aware of the stereotype of Europeans wearing ugly shoes but what I have witnessed reaches a new level. A culture shock, without doubt. Everywhere I look I see sports trainers: Adidas, Puma, Asics, Reebok, Kalenji and Joma, to name a few. Of course, as sports footwear that they are being worn would be perfectly acceptable and, indeed, the norm. But when worn at all times, they start to become slightly jarring. Worse yet, these trainers don’t tend to be designed in anything less than a ‘colourful’ manner; they are often brightly coloured and garish – blue, green, red and all unreasonable. The problem is not that Spanish people dress badly as far as I can tell; I would describe their typical dress sense as regular. Nothing that demands outright attention. Apart from the shoes, that is. For example, on many an occasion, I have seen guys whom I would typically regard to be well-dressed… Again, that is, from the ankles up. What lies below is best described as a tragedy. In the odd moment that one sees a smartly dressed individual it’s quite reasonable to experience a hint of envious admiration as you ponder the ease with which they pull off their look. In the instances in which this has happened to me in Spain, I have been amazed to witness the almost universal phenomenon of men having no clue that Nike trainers are NOT the answer to all footwear-related decisions. There was even one occasion where one smart-looking gent strolled past wearing red trousers (wanker) and bright ORANGE kicks. I died a thousand deaths for him on that afternoon. Is there no awareness in Spain that shoes can look good too? Of course, I don’t mean to refer to every Spanish guy I know, in this most scathing of criticisms. Some are perfectly capable of picking out outfit-appropriate footwear without any trouble. But this norm which I have discovered truly is a puzzling one. I just do not understand it… Anyway, this is quite possibly the most metrosexual passage of writing I have ever written but, honestly, I am at a loss.
  • Animal cruelty (03/02/2014): This title is misleading insofar as it suggests that I might have witnessed animals being subjected to abuse somewhere along the line of being in Spain; I haven’t at all. Far from it, in fact. Quite honestly, it is me who is considering perpetrating such heinous acts against an animal, for the first and only time ever. Let it be known that I abhor all forms of animal cruelty, it is awful beyond measure. Yet, here I sit admitting to malicious thoughts towards animals. Well, dogs actually, and one dog specifically, at that. Just the one dog. Now, again let it be known that, typically, I like dogs. Better, yet: I love dogs. They are just great. In my neighbourhood, a quiet and residential area, people tend to have pets and these pets tend to be dogs. Coming to think of it, I have not actually seen a cat in months, as far as I can remember, which I find quite odd. Anyway, I digress. People have dogs in my neck of the woods and some residents on my road have dogs which I have come to recognise over time from my commute to and from work, seeing them on their morning and afternoon walks. For example, there is one elderly gentleman who goes as far to dress each of his own two in matching jumpers, which is quite cute, really. Dogs like these invariably seem lovely and I’m sure that, given the opportunity to spend time with them, I would appreciate their company. However, there is a dog from the apartment adjacent to my own which I hold in the lowest of esteem. I hate this dog. I have only managed a handful of sightings of it in the flesh but I know, beyond any doubt, that this dog is the spawn of the Devil himself. He is quite possibly the worst being ever (assuming, as I am, that it is a ‘he’). Why? Because he just will not shut up! Never have I known a dog to bark so fiercely and so relentlessly. I have been driven to the point of madness by this creature. On many occasions, I have willed his owner, my neighbour – an elderly woman who somehow stands for this racket without so much as cursing the heavens for bestowing her with such a noisy, little bastard – to tell him to be quiet. Yet my prayers go unanswered; she is the enabler of all enablers! Completely oblivious, it seems, to the fact that her dog needs to shut the hell up, she trundles along with the mutt going absolutely berserk for no good reason whatsoever, other than wanting to leave the building. His go-to moments for making a racket are fairly inopportune as well: he barks incessantly and wildly as the time for ‘walkies’ arrives and this is when shit hits the fan, as it were. From the moment he gets the idea that a walk is on the cards, he goes ballistic. First comes the muffled yapping behind the door of my neighbour’s apartment, then begins the real pandemonium as said door flies open and barks echo from the hallway all the way to my bedroom at 8:08am each and every morning, without fail. It is in these moments that I proceed to lose all faith in canine kind. To make things worse, this process repeats itself all over again as the little bastard lets all hell break loose with his howling when I am tired after a long day at work and he is also returning to his humble domain. Worst of all, this is of course not the dog’s fault as he isn’t to know any better. But I have had some dark thoughts, I must say. I don’t know how much more I can take of it before I snap, to be honest. There is a fiery hatred burning inside me which will lead me one of two ways: 1) to become the vile type of person that would actually take to hurting an animal or, 2) to self-harm, as, somehow, I need to release at least some of my hateful anguish!
  • Pedestrian v. Automobile standoff (20/11/2013): This is a thought which has been brewing for a long while, and one which I have alluded to previously (see below, ‘Motorbikes and scooters’). After many weeks and numerous encounters with devilish drivers, I have come to appreciate that zebra crossings, above all, serve as a guideline for motorists. Thus, when I turn up to cross the road as a Londoner, sure of the outright obligation for cars to stop at said crossings for pedestrians, I am more often than not left confused and grateful to be alive. The game of ‘Chicken’ that takes place when crossing is ostensibly a norm to which the masses adhere. Essentially, pedestrians must assertively cross if cars are to slow to a halt. On the other hand, Motorists must continue driving if the pedestrian falters (read as: waits for them to slow down) as they clearly have every right to do so. Here lies the standoff. Stepping on to a zebra crossing now every time entails a leap of faith, in the hope that the car hurtling towards you will surely stop to allow you safe passage. Walking out in to oncoming traffic is not best described as a hobby of mine, yet it seems the only means to successfully crossing the road. Otherwise, you end up hopelessly standing and waiting by the side of the road, looking gormless and lost. That is until a nice old lady sat behind the wheel takes pity on you, smiles, and waves you across, as if to say: ‘I know, I know. Don’t you worry, you’ll get there in the end.’ 
  • Still Welcome… (18/11/2013): A full month on from my original comment regarding Vodafone’s hospitality, I am still receiving the now customary ‘Welcome to Spain’ texts from seemingly the friendliest of all network providers. How they have not worked out by now that I’m here for the long haul, I am not quite sure. The grand total of texts now stands at 12. To Vodafone, I have to say: thank you again. Moving abroad is often a daunting task, with all the acclimatising that needs to be done, all the anticipation prior to the big move, the apprehension upon the arrival of said move, and the new people to be met. Not a stroll in the park, as it were. If ever in need of a friend, I now know: I need not contact any of my friends back at home. No.  Preposterous the idea when I have my trusty emotional rock, the ever reliable, unflinchingly supportive, Vodafone. The message is often similar (i.e. always the same exact text), but that which stays with me in times of emotional need is that Vodafone reassures me that I am indeed still welcome in Spain. I have not quite yet outstayed that welcome. The day that these texts stop being sent to my phone, I will know for certain that I am forever alone. A sad thought, but one with which I shouldn’t preoccupy myself for too long as I know that Vodafone, my dear companion Vodafone, will always be there for me. In the good times and the bad, Vodafone, I’m sure, will be waiting in the wings to spontaneously utter those 3 magic words: WELCOME TO SPAIN. Thanks, Vodafone. You truly are my best friend… In sum, please stop texting me!!
  • Bluntness (05/11/2013): The Spanish by and large are blunt by nature. Maybe better put, Spanish is a blunt language. Punches are rarely pulled when it comes to describing physical features and characteristics. I have known this for a while, having been a Spanish student for quite a while, but it is one thing to be taught of such things in the classroom and another entirely to be subjected to such blunt descriptions. The other day, I went into work feeling a little under the weather and, admittedly, I was not looking my best. I strolled into work with my hair unkempt, looking tired and pale, sporting a red and an ever so slightly swollen eyelid. I have had better days when it comes to looking fly for a white guy, but I have definitely also looked worse. I walk into the office to wish a good morning to one of my colleagues, an Argentinian, who proceeds to greet me as follows, meaning no harm: ‘Hello Dan, I don’t like your face. You don’t have a good face today.’ Spanish: telling it how it is since the 1200s (thanks Wikipedia).
  • Puente (03/11/2013): The concept of ‘puente‘ (literally translated as ‘bridge’) has been a difficult one for me to get my head around so far. Yet worry not, dear readers, for I have finally worked it out! The term ‘puente’ typically gets thrown about in conversation when national and regional holidays approach (such as ‘Todos los santos’, ‘La Mercè’, ‘El día de la hispanidad’ etc.). Essentially, the Spanish are fairly partial to a day off work or two, which is illustrated perfectly by the idea of ‘puente’. When I had my extra days off for La Mercè, I assumed that it was due to Catalan festivities. I was wrong. The actual explanation has only recently revealed itself to me: If, for example, any one of these holidays falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, be it La Mercè, be it any other holiday, the Spanish ever so conveniently decide to ‘coger puente’. This means that they treat the Monday or Friday of that week as a bridge, and take that day off as well, giving them a blissful 4-day weekend every time! No wonder the nation’s in a bit of trouble; they take national holidays around their national holidays. But am I complaining? Not one bit! 
  • Conkers: (02/11/2013): Or rather, perhaps, castañas as they are known over here. 1st November is an important day in Spain called ‘Todos los santos’, literally meaning All the Saints (thus All Saints’ Day), celebrated traditionally by commemorating all the Saints who died as martyrs in the name of their faith and by remembering loves ones who have passed away, a far cry from Halloween to say the least. On this day in Cataluña, the festivity of La Castanyada is held, which entails eating bags of roasted chestnuts and drinking sweet wines. What I failed to take into account on this day is that I very rarely come across chestnuts as a foodstuff and would better think of them in any case as a conker. Spanish people eat conkers! More than just that, they are considered a real treat. Handed my bag of roasted conkers, I took a moment to attempt to explain to my colleagues that they are considered more of a toy in England than a delicacy… Suffice it to say that I didn’t get too far with that… Anyway, who knew, eh?
  • Vodafone (21/10/2013): As far as network providers go, I am led to believe that Vodafone care an awful lot about their millions of customers individually. At least this is the impression with which I am left after this morning receiving no less than my eighth ‘WELCOME TO SPAIN’ text message on my English phone. Why are they so intent on welcoming so incessantly to the point that I could not possibly feel any less isolated from and/or neglected by them? Customer satisfation? Almost certainly not. I haven’t got a clue, to be honest, but equally nor do I want to have one. I am perfectly happy to intermittently have Vodafone check in to let me know that indeed my presence is still welcome in Spain in their book. Unfortunately, it is reaching the stage now that when I hear that I have received a text, I am almost certain before I even glance at my phone that a) it’s going to be Vodafone welcoming me to Spain again, and b) it is almost definitely not one of my friends. Vodafone, I will take this opportunity to thank you for so diligently welcoming to me to Spain, but I must say that I am now feeling sufficiently at home and feel that any additional texts containing the same message would be unnecessary and bordering on excessive. Thank you for the concern, but I am as welcome as welcome can be.
  • Motorbikes and scooters (18/10/2013)Everyone rides them here in Spain. Everyone. Despite having been brought up to appreciate the many dangers associated with driving them, I can fully understand the appeal for the average Spanish resident. Ostensibly, typical traffic laws which apply to car owners hold no bearing over how scooter riders conduct themselves on the road. Traffic lights are interpreted creatively at best, with a very liberal understanding of what the green man means. With that in mind, crossing the road is a perilous task. So, too, in the case of zebra crossings. Many bike drivers choose to pass as if you had no intention of using them, others – the particularly kind ones – actually stop. But by far the worst are those which fall somewhere in between and slow as if to let you cross and then wait for that opportune moment when enough space presents itself for them to squeeze through. This leads to many near misses and a considerable drop in my confidence when crossing the road. To top it all off, pavements are absolutely fair game for scooters and the like, and it is invariably the fault of pedestrians if a lack of space for all to pass develops. All a bit baffling, really.

One thought on “Thoughts & Rambles

  1. Pingback: Dancing with the Devil: An Update on the Nemesis of Dan | Dan Makes a Friend Called Spain

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