Sunday, February 27, 2005

12 hours in Barcelona

Well, I landed in Barcelona 12 hours ago, straight from neat and clean Japan, and boy, talk about a cultural shift. After hanging around in Nippon for a month, where everything works, trains run on time and people are always clean and polite, it took no time to realize I was somewhere completely different. For starters, no one could figure out which belt the luggage was supposed to be on. The tv screens that were supposed to say which flights' luggage were on which belt kept changing. First, it was a flight from Dusseldorf, then Cairo, then Frankfurt. Anyway, all of a sudden, I notice my bag coming out. Great. I grab it and make my way out of there. Stick it on my busted trolley, and move.

Then, I am faced with a choice. Do I catch the train to the apartment I have booked, or do I pay a little more and go for the taxi. I make the obvious choice....go to the airport cafe and have something to eat and drink. I have been hanging out for some Spanish ham, Jamon Serrano. If youve had it before, you know what i mean. After being deprived of fresh fruit juice and real, crusty bread, (2 things the Japanese havent quite figured out yet) for the last month, I tuck into my mini jamon bocadillo (baguette) and 2 cups of freshly squeezed OJ with relish. People look you in the eye here...quite a change.

So, satisfied and ready to rock, I get in the cab and head for the apartment. The guy who is renting it to me is coming to meet me at the building, which is down a series of alleyways too narrow for cars. I know I'm in the right part of town. Massive graffiti murals, fresh dog turds and the smell of hash smoke side by side with the hip boutiques. Gentrification Barcelona style. The dude shows up and he is in his late 20s, and seems to know his shit when it comes to this town. He takes me up four flights of incredibly narrow stone stairs, sagging in the middle from the millions of steps that have been marched up and down on them, to the apartment.

We get there. Smells like someone has done some serious fish frying here, but hey, the wireless internet hub works, and toilet is clean, so i am happy. He fills me in on where we are, where to eat and shop, and what to tell the nosey neighbors when they ask who i am. I ask him where to go to listen to good music. He tells me that the latest thing in Barcelona are illegal bars that have sprung up in the Raval district, specifically along Carrer de Joaquin Del something or other. Anyhow, he fucks off, and I am finally alone in Barcelona.

So what next ? Food and drink seems the obvious course of action. No time for showers or any of that crap. Anyway, i'm on my own....cant imagine anyone burying their face in my armpit tonight, so fuck it, I hit the streets. 5 minutes later, I notice a basque tapas joint and i am there for my first pintxos (basque tapas). I get in the door, and for gods sake, the place is full of drunken pommy bastards. I knock back 2 glasses of Txacoli, a delicious Basque white wine and 2 tapas from the bar. They are cold and unappetizing. I am then reminded of what an Indian hash dealer once told me...."The English love shit quality. They hate good quality. They love the shithouse stuff". This is the shithouse stuff. I pay and get out.

Off to Irati, my favourite Basque tapas bar in Barcelona, where I know I will not be disappointed. I get there, and the place is packed out with gorgeous French 18 year old girls down for the weekend. A good sign. The French love good quality, and the food here is sensational. I stand at the bar, picking my way through a mountain of absolutely delicious food. The prawns wrapped in cheese and bacon, then crumbed and fried are sensational, as are the Bacalao (salted cod) Croquettes. The croquettes are so soft inside, that after you bite into them, the just seem to melt all over your hand. Yum. These miniature gastronomic masterpieces are washed down with ample quantities of beer and after an hour and a half of total indulgence, I stagger out into the crisp Barcelona night. Too drunk, tired and lazy to walk, I jump a cab and head home. Ten minutes later, I am asleep.

No more than a few hours pass when I wake up from a most disturbing dream. Something to do with licking out a girl with 3 clits. Strange but so are most of my dreams, especially when i am off the pot. I am fully jetlagged, and am fully awake. Its 4:30AM. What to do ??? Well, the beautiful thing about Spain is that 4:30AM is a perfectly respectable time to go out. So I go out. I try to remember the street that the apartment dude sent me to, but its hopeless. I remember that the Port Olympico was a pretty happening place, so I get in a cab and head for there. By the time i get there, its 5 in the morning, and all the bars are shut. About a thousand drunken 20 year olds are wobbling around the area muching on crappy old kebabs, and the place is obviously done for the night.

What now ? Well, I get in another cab and get him to take me to Raval. The cab driver starts freaking out, cos i dont know the name of the street or any details at all. Anyway, I go for broke, and tell him to take me to Raval Avenue. Lucky for me, there is a Raval Avenue. When we get there, though, everything is shut. There are small groups of people wandering around, though, so I just follow them and end up in a street were people seem to be congregating. I notice 3 guys go up to a door and ring the bell. Some guy answers the door and it looks like theres something going on inside. I tack on to the back of them and i have hit underground party paydirt. The anonymous doorway leads to an illegal bar of some sort and the place is rocking. This is the Barcelona speakeasy scene i was told about, discovered by accicdent, the way it should be. The house was packed with drug fucked hippys, punks and general underworld filth. Right up my alley. I get a beer from the bar, hang out for an hour or so, then hit the streets again. End up wandering past a small group of guys, snorting coke openly off a piec of cardboard, and once again I reflect on how different this place is to Japan.

After wandering through the back alleys lined with the most creative graffiti i have ever seen, i feel that urgent need to take a piss. Ahhhh, so nice to be back in a place where you can just pull your cock out and take a leak on a dumpster. I love Barcelona. Its ironic to notice that the most fantastic street art is spray painted on the walls directly facing the museum of modern art. Some of the art inside is the museum is really beautiful, but its not modern. The stuff on the walls outside is the really modern stuff. Real Art.

So I make my way around the back streets, and I realize I have stumbled into some kind of red light district. Every doorway is occupied by a black prostitute, who have adopted an unnerving habit of hissing at you as you walk past them. Scary. I get the fuck outta there. Luckily, this district backs onto the La Boqueria market, which is starting to set up for the day. In true Spanish style, most of the stalls are yet to open at 7am, but one cafe seems to have attracted a crew of after party customers, so i squeeze my way in and order a coffee. Havent had a real coffee for a while and it sure tastes good. The guys behind the bar are cooking up tapas for the morning punters. I cant resist the freshly cooked bacalao, so I order a plate. Delicious.

As I savour my breakfast, I notice that the stalls are opening one by one. First the butchers, then the green grocers, the fish mongers the cheese stalls, and finally the olive merchants. With a full belly, I make my way around the stalls, taking my pick from the days fresh produce. Ahhh, this is living. I cant walk past the Jamon merchants. The finest Spanish ham, known as Jamon Iberico Bellota, is carved off the whole leg, hanging there, hoof and all. The meat is cured until its almost black. The pigs that sacrifice themselves to make this delicacy live a happy free range life in the mountains of southern Spain, living on a diet of fresh acorns. It is incredibly tasty. It better be, at 150 euros per kg.

So, bags full, I make my way home. Satisfied.


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