Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Across the South – Part 1: Spanish Eyes

The return to Barcelona, though not unexpected, has certainly come as shocking. I was supposed to be there hours ago, but I missed my train. Migraine headache. Couldn’t be avoided. Spent the day locked in fetal position, this after borrowing a car and driving someone to the hospital, learning how to drive stick-shift on the way. Unlicensed, and with my rather slip-shot skills behind the wheel, things could have gone far worse.

One of my best friends is waiting for me in Barcelona. We were supposed to see a futbol game - a real slaughter as it turned out with Barcelona thumping poor, and now for the better, Ronald Cumin-less Valencia 6-0. I miss the game because my head is splitting and I’m on the train. Feeling weak, half-blind and otherwise bloodied.

The train slides across the French border into Spain, and the quiet French crowd begins to thin out. While the French chatter in code, brief sentences tucked away, they are replaced by the Spanish who spout Latin cluster. Almost magically; conversations explode into a patois of Catalan with the occasional Castilian accent ripping through the din. I change trains to a commuter train tied to the Barcelona metro system. It fills immediately – old women and children fighting for seats as the train hurtles down the track. Wall to wall Catalan. Barcelona won tonight I hear. The city is happy. Celebrations crackle on the train, everyone seems to forget about the ugly business of getting along until manana. I try not to stare at the beautiful Spanish girls who look through me, reducing me to a permanent evanescence.

I jettisone the train at the Passagia de Gracia – feeling somehow sanctified – as if baptized by Spain and stumble into the hot Barcelona night. I am ravenous and stumble into the first tapas place I can find, wolfing down a plate of seafood and making small talk with a Mexican communications engineer sitting next to me. I can’t find the hotel I’m supposed to meet my friend at. There are apparently two and I end up wandering to the wrong one and spending a half hour trying to explain the problem to the doorman in my broken Spanish. He doesn’t speak a word of French or English and to call my Spanish (let alone my Catalan; which to call it primitive would be to give insult to Neanderthals.) Eventually my motive for polluting his lobby with my silly anglo mannerisms becomes clear. A cab is called and I leap in.

The driver and I manage to communicate in a sort of broken French on his part. We are stopped before we leave by two North Africans demanding directions to Portugal. My cab driver precedes to have an argument with them, in French, with me providing useful vocabulary for the next twenty minutes before we set off. We are then followed by the two, who continue to ask directions at every traffic stop. While this sort of schizophrenic conversation my driver seems perfectly at home in. I correct his grammar for him at his request, which is the first time, I think; I have ever spoken better French than anyone. The whole experience leaves me feeling, as P.G. Wodehouse once put it, as though hell’s very foundations were quivering.

Finally, the two pull off in their dilapidated Reno filled with baggage onto the highway that will take them to Portugal, a ride they have apparently made in a cot fueled two day sprint. (Cot is a nut that serves as a powerful upper, but takes hours to take full effect – popular in North Africa and in the Eastern horn – and having previously served as fuel for Jihadists the world over similarity to the way Eastern Europeans, and soccer militias, fuel their militants with vodka.) We reach the hotel, which ends up being next door to the Sagrada de Familia and I spent my evening drinking cheap beer on the balcony of the hotel and arguing about determinism – eventual nodding off just as the sun comes over the smoggy Barcelona horizon.

We get a relatively early start, sleep-deprivation aside, to discover everything of cultural interest closed on a Monday and end up going back to France that evening. Tortured pulls of whiskey and mega-doses of caffeine keep us moving.


JL said...

Hey Alex, i'm thinking of you! Is this Matt whom you met up with in Spain?


Champagne Socialist said...

"...reducing me to a permanent evanescence."