Some people may not be aware, but football (a.k.a. soccer) is big here. BIG big.
E@L arrived in
Taxi. €25. Whatever. E@L is rich. At the moment.
Hotel Catalonia Ramblas is round the corner from Plaça Catalonya at the top end of Las Ramblas, where pickpockets are thicker on the ground than anywhere else in the planet. But at 9am - hotel room not available until 2pm - it's moderately safe and decidedly quiet for the avenue that allegedly 'never sleeps'. But it's snoring right now. All the shops barred, most real restaurants closed (not Starbucks, not MacDonalds, not Burger King). The buildings are that Spanish Gothic, five/six stories, small cast-iron balconies, many with pink flowers in planters, don't drop one on E@L as he makes a turn up one of the narrow side lanes. A woman leans over a balcony from a high story, looks down and yawns. Way early to be up, she contains her impulse to smash E@L's skull with petunias and steps back inside,
E@L turns another corner (left, right, he can't remember), more closed cheese shops, more bodegas with steel shutters down, and up ahead he sees a waiter wiping down aluminium chairs on the cobbled lane. As E@L comes closer, around a small bend in the lane, he sees several groups of people sitting close to the cafe front, sipping coffee, drinking orange juice, eating things - croissants, pans?
It's a secret place, Bar Lobos, hidden in the forking paths behind Las Ramblas, a place for locals, for hipsters ("You've probably never heard of it") and artistes, for the cognoscenti, those in the know.
It's right next to the Le Meridien, you can't miss it.
English breakfast? Sausages, fried potato and an egg? Nah, ugh! Spanish omelette? Yep. Fried potato and egg, how nice is that! Inside, rather than gothic, it is decidedly modern, bauhaus in dark-stained wood, and E@L goes upstairs for a slash. Water in the wash-basin flows down a plank of black granite, not into a ceramic bowl. So 00's.
An elderly Asian lady in a white smock and wearing latex gloves like a surgeon - is everyone shit-scared these days? - is watering the small pots of pine-twigs on each table, E@L gets the waft of pine now.
OK maybe it's not so alternative, local, indie or such a secret place.
Even so, E@L feels it would be too pretentious to bring out his Xoom, so he scribbles these notes into a real pad, with a real pen. A group of similarly aged men, Brits, arrives at the table next to him, order coffees (cappuccinos will turn up) and an ash-tray and one pulls out an iPad. Well, maybe, like this big guy in the Man U shirt, he would look not so much pretentious as moderately foolish.
Back at Plaça Catalonya, an occupying force of protesters, (students from the nearby university?) are camped in small tents, many still sleeping (hey, it's only 10am) on the ground in expensive sleeping bags and on hyper-dense foam ground-mats. Protesting against anything and everything to do with the status quo, no doubt, as we all did a generation (or more) ago. Naturally, it's the way we are built, the need for flux, it's m-m-m-my generation who are the guilty ones, the ones responsible for - what? - everything, for not being young anymore. Every generation throws a hero up the pop-charts of revolution. We love getting fooled again, it seems to be our destiny, for every person to learn themselves what the older generations have already forgotten. And then forget it in turn. Sun? New? Under? Nothing.
The statues and trees are draped with hand-written posters, E@L has no idea what they say. He see a bronze bull on a platform with some naked people, also bronze, draped on it. A sign has been in the naked man's hand. It says...
E@L boards a tourist bus, glides around the city in a daze on the Red Tour, sees some Gaudi place on the left then on the right, the Olympic stadium on the right, ticks them off, nods off for a bit, feels the brisk wind and is glad his friend living in Lubeck (will be catching up in Berlin) told him to bring something warm, however that something warm is in his luggage, back at the hotel
They're tossing the FCB manager into the air to shouts and cheers as E@L types this, back in his hotel room not long after the match has ended, in Barcelona's favour obviously!
In the early evening, around 8pm, the sun still up as it's Summer Time - the sun does as it's told here in Europe - and E@L wandered back towards Las Ramblas. The street outside his hotel was now roped off with yellow and red police tape. Vans of the guardia are a parked on the curbs, two brick shithouses in police uniform and those phrygian caps - a flap hanging down flat over the left (right?) ear - assigned to each van. They have arms like thighs - crossed to emphasize their massive biceps - severe miens, night-sticks, walkie-talkies and guns. And this one, the most tough, the one with the walk most like a battle-hardened soldier, the one with hair tied back, seems to have breasts.
Hudson: Hey Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?
Vasquez: No. Have you?
Las Ramblas is crowded now and E@L is trying to find something that resembles a pub to watch the football, which should be about to start. But Barcelona-shirt clad fans are walking this way AND that way. Which way are the pubs, the bars? He has no idea where his new favorite is, maybe the building has moved to another city, as in that curiously spooky China Mieville story.
Here's a small place, in a rambla very close to the hotel. There is tapas fermenting and germs cultivating in the bain-marie, no it's all looking tasty, joking aside and E@L hasn't eaten since Los Lobos (was it?) nearly 10 hours ago. He has a fierce thirst as well. People at tables of four are all looking back towards E@L, at something over the window - a big screen TV. E@L finds a table upstairs that has a view to another TV on the rear wall (a pregnant woman in a tight-fitting top, her belly, a swallowed football, bars his view the other way), but, as in the standard procedure for toady, he has left his new glasses (fuck, is THAT what the world looks like?) in the hotel room and everything is moderately blurred. He can tell white and red (Man U) from blue and red (FBC), and such details are what counts. Young men and women, a table of eight, are jumping and shouting in front of the other TV when FCB scores the first goal. It is decidedly quiet when Rooney equalizes - E@L has no trouble seeing the replay of ManU's scoring shot. Two more goals to Barcelona in the next half, everyone leaps up, chairs fall back, arms in the air, then hugs and it's a done deal with 10 minutes to go. And E@L has only had two San Migs.
Blink, did E@L shut his eyes? Have those beers, that 1/4 pollo detached both retinae? The lights ARE out, yes, all electricity is gone, no TV, nothing. The bar is completely blacked-out. There are ironic cheers, but no-one seems fazed about the TV, no-one is angry or upset, it is, as E@L said, a done deal...
Even the emergency lights are out. E@L has a glow onto his face as he was txt-ing a Man U fan back in Singapore at the time... (He has yet to receive a reply.)
Weird. Amusing, but weird.
The power came came back after three or four minutes and the score hasn't changed. E@L calls for the bill before the crowd turns crazy-ugly, but the noisy eight in front have gone, paid-up one hopes. No rush, but lets try and catch the celebrations at Plaça Catalonya.
He walks up the rambla toward the carrer of his hotel, not so far from the Plaça, but steel barricades and one of those severe-faced brick shithouses blocks his path. He speaks unknown words in
"Hotel" says E@L politely (who wouldn't be polite?) and indicates the corner ahead.
The brick shithouse says something else and gestures for E@L's hotel key. He looks at the card and lets him pass. There is almost no-one on this carrer. More pairs of bricks shithouses, barricades, tape, police vans, a few German, a few American tourists outside the hotel, on the footpath, warned not to go onto the road. They are expecting some sort of celebration, hoping some good-old-boy fun, but nothing can pass into here. At the far end of the block, a stream of red and blue seems to flowing but the shithouses are adamant. No, you cannot go this way to Plaça Catalonya.
Riots are subdued before force is needed, the place is way eerie. Something is supposed to happen here, there is static tension in the air, but it's not permitted. It's like a revolution and no-one is allowed in. The hairs on E@L's neck rise with each explosion. What is this sense of have missed something of significance, of being in the wrong place when the party of the century is elsewhere? He passes inside the hotel and the bar is closed.
It's a sign of the times.
* Four days in Barcelona, three days in Berlin, ten days in Croatia doing the Split to Dubrovnik run along the Dalmatian coast with my old flatmate, the lovely Izzy, and her Hungarian boyfriend.
Will try to keep blogging, but internet is unusual in some places - as is electricity - and the Xoom doesn't have 3G.