The second leg of my world conquering adventures (Finblog: Barcelona), began in a haphazard, if not typical Finbow style. Having lost my mobile going through Stanstead’s super new security, then gone to gate 34 instead of 4 with 3 minutes left to take off, I had to be chaperoned silently by a rubbery guard through all the back doors that said “staff only” until we emerged onto the runway, where a little electrically powered bus met us and carried us round the runway directly up to the plane , the Whitney Houston classic “I will always love you” bizarrely cutting through the awkward silence. The whole plane was clearly and unsympathetically waiting so I did that Wallace and Gromit half-grimace face and a jovial shrug and buried my face in Torso of the month.
Having thought that my little broken heart would never heal after leaving behind the white beaches and lazy daysof Cartagena, I suddenly realised that the sun also rises in Barcelona and my period of mourning has melted away into such excitement and impatience to do EVERYTHING. Where in Cartagena the people seemed to be satisfied with the very art of existing from one day to the next, here in Barcelona they seem to be jostling with one another to create something new and to not be left behind when something comes sweeping down. ..
Unlike Colombia where the sum total of my day to day activities seemed to be “having a nice time” I have been forced to do something productive in Barcelona and have enrolled at La Universitat de Barcelona to study Catalan Philology. All bar one of my classes are in Catalan, which is proving to be quite frustrating as I don’t actually speak it. At all. My Catalan language classes have only got me as far as being able to say that aubergine is my favourite vegetable and I have four of them in my kitchen, but that’s just not appropriate for debates about the true definition of literature. Imagine it, “Yes that’s an interesting point Professor, but have you ever considered that my mother is called Nina and in her free time she likes to read the newspaper and listen to the radio?” So for the hour and a half lectures I sit there quietly trying to pick out words. I’m pretty sure that they’re incredibly interesting because everyone else seems to be highly engaged, in fact in one class I could have sworn the debate was whether pornography could be defined as literature. But then again I usually emerge from the lectures with just the date written on my specially bought notepads, and maybe a picture of a stick man hanging himself with a rope made of Catalan words, so what do I know? I am also totally friendless at uni, because everyone looks at me like I’m some sort of freak, which I find ironic seeing as the majority of them have bull nose rings, impractically short fringes and fuzzy rats’ tails and wear the same sort of clothes as the kids in those GCSE French grammar books (think running trainers, too short jeans and a gaily coloured anorak). Hence: I am the Barca Loner.
I live in a 3 bedroom flat with Adrian and Meritxell, a couple of actors who sublet their spare room to students. My mum had great misgivings about the place before I looked around as the advert on the internet asked for “open minded individuals interested in the arts”, which she immediately assumed meant that they were lesbians. I use the term ‘actors’ quite loosely as I can see no evidence of them actually being on stage apart from some bizarre masks of their own faces, a mannequin in the hallway and a seemingly never ending stream of weekend guests who sit around the living room smoking through cigarette holders, listening to old French music and laughing heartily at extracts from a book about Barbara Streisand. We seem to be coexisting quite nicely, as although Adrian is eccentric, passing the days in a marijuana haze shuffling around the flat in his pyjama bottoms, pointlessly opening and closing doors, they are kind and definitely open minded.
The most wonderful thing about my flat is that it is located in the part of the city called El Raval, that having read a book called The shadow of the wind ,made me fall in love with Barcelona. Along with other areas of the old city, it is comprised of tiny winding back allies, where you always feel like you’re being followed and that someone is waiting for you in the shadows. Catalan flags and washing hang out of windows and balconies over streets dotted with pink blossomed trees and lined with scooters. Getting lost is a standard part of life in Barcelona, even those who have lived here many years, or their whole lives merrily resign to endless back tracking or asking the shiney-toothed and slick haired policemen for directions. But losing yourself is not an unpleasant experience, because although there is the disconcerting sensation that the streets might have actually changed or somehow moved since you last came (platform 9 and ¾....) , there is always the possibility of stumbling upon somewhere new and undiscovered.
El Raval is also the skateboarding centre of Barcelona, and so the whir of wheels on pavement sends me running to the window or outside to the plaza around the MACBA to watch them doing kick-flips or 360s or whatever those sweets little tricks are. The coolest thing is that EVERYONE skates around there, not just beanie touting, baggy trouser wearing stoners, but young boys, old boys, skinny boys, chunky boys, boys wearing loafers, cowboy boots, Allstars, Nikes, wax jackets, tweed blazers, hoodies, trilbies... even girls whizz around, darting in between tourists like seals cutting through water. By far my favourite ‘skater’ I have ever seen was a small Japanese boy dressed in all the gear of a Harlem gangster, on a micro scooter, joyfully singing Bob Marley’s “Three little birds” at the top of his voice as he sent flocks of edgey pigeons scattering to the sky. I saw the same small Japanese boy about a week later with the same clothes and hearty grin, minus the micro scooter, but an absurd full moustache and beard drawn on with a black marker pen. I would like to think that this little boy is some kind of metaphor for life, riding the scooter of happiness or something, but am yet to form a coherent philosophy. Watch this space.
Although being European Barcelona is much closer culturally to England than Cartagena, there are sometimes instances in which I am shocked by the differences. I was recently in an unsuspecting bar just on the border between the nice and not quite so nice part of town, drinking a customary San Miguel with a friend when a overly boozed tramp came in. The barman firmly sent him on his way, but moments later he returned, seemingly having forgotten his recent expulsion. Again, a little firmer, the barman pushed him outside. Oblivious to his unwelcome reception, the tramp came back a third time, and this time the barman physically dragged him outside and began to push him. A scuffle began, with the barman throwing punches and waist high kicks, while an elderly lady fascist screamed encouragement and suggested alternative boxing moves. It was all kicking off. The tramp appeared to realise he was beaten and stumbled off into the shadows. But just minutes later, despite the collective groan of the clientele, the tramp with a death wish came back for one final showdown. The barman decided that enough was enough and deftly pulled out a very man sized baseball bat from under the bar. I gasped, but everyone else just shrugged knowingly as the tramp was chased outside and swung at. There was a thud and a crash and the screeching of a cat and then quiet, and the barman strolled easily back in, rolling down his sleeves. “Same again?” he asked, with a jovial smile.
I must briefly quantify the title “Barca –Loner” because although not the most popular Polly in school I would hate to give you the impression that day and night I stumble alone around this gothic city, blinded by tears and loneliness, with only the taunts of gangs to count as spoken contact with the outside world. I have in fact a couple of acquaintances, some English, some Spanish, some of indeterminable nationality, and I sometimes get replies to those awkward friend of a friend emails which inevitably begin: “Hiya. You don’t know me but.....” Time to make some skater friends.