Monday, September 23, 2019. Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.
Soundtrack: The Libertines – The Man Who Would Be King
Our new hostel promised authentic paella cooking instruction and all-you-can-eat while supplies last at 9pm. The empanadas would not bear the weight. A pregame dinner was in order.
In Spain, you don’t eat meals. That’s why everyone’s slender and 5’5″, and why I feel like some sort of yeti Gandalf in swarthy Hobbiton. You eat tapas. Tapas are sixish bites of food that you eat at one place, then move onto the next; the theory is you stretch the act of eating into an evening-long graze that you also spend drinking responsibly and socializing.
In Barcelona, this is easy, since every other door is a new and exciting restaurant. A butcher half a block down served more “ham scratchings” on baguette for next to nothing, which was exactly what the doctor ordered to hold us over.
We did another lap around the city and discovered more plazas that just emerged from nowhere. Every alley had one and they were all ideal. It boggles me, coming from a place like Philadelphia, that a city can be so effortlessly serene and pleasant and clean.
Clean especially. Not once did I see human shit on the sidewalk. Sidewalk shit is Philly’s principal export.
Back at the hostel, they were gearing up for the authentic paella experience. The rules were simple: you help cook, and you clean your dishes. The California girl working at the hostel explained that authentic paelle was made by pouring frozen seafood, rice, and canned vegetables into a big pot with fish broth, then covering it for twenty minutes.
We ate at a long table, like the Last Supper. The kid next to me was in Spain on some ritzy scholarship, parsing data for meta-analyses of schizophrenic treatment options. I tried to talk shop, and he complimented my “terminology” but wouldn’t go into details aside from the fact the he shows up drunk sometimes and has a reputation as a “party kid”, which he is not.
He did teach me, however, that the hostel was selling wine for 3 Euros a bottle. He was saving his for his head. I bought a bottle and split it with Ladygirl and a British weeb.
The paella was good, probably. I don’t know. The wine was potent. I didn’t take a picture. I’ll take a picture next time I make it.
Night fell, and the entire hostel emptied out to go on the 15 Euro pub crawl. I don’t like guided fun, and Ladygirl had an early flight the next day, so clubbing until 4 AM wasn’t in the cards.
We decided to go out and grab a drink, maybe another tapa. Little did we realize it was La Mercè, an excruciatingly Catholic feasting festival spanning four days. It’s undoubtedly related to lent in some way, but I refuse to research how.
This was sitting right behind the Arc.
I had a half bottle of wine sloshing around in my head. What?
We continued down the park and came upon a labyrinth made of lit-up bags of recyclables. It wasn’t a statement. It wasn’t the amount of recycling in a given period of time or anything. It was just “an art installment”, and that was as much information as was provided.
I was at a loss. What did this have to do with a feast day? What did this have to do with anything?
Barcelona was unperturbed.
“This is like a music festival,” I said, wonderingly.
We made a lap to City Hall, but nothing was set up there yet. It would be the next day. It was still filthy with humans, but they were the general Monday night Barcelona party crowd.
Unfortunately, I would only find out the exact nature of that set up secondhand. The 24th was going to be a fire festival described to me as “the devil parade”. I already got my ticket to Balbao. You can imagine my disappointment.
Ladygirl ate some sort of chocolate covered waffle and we returned to the hostel, withdrawing from the communal dream and dropping into a more individual set.
To be interrupted by the girls in the bunk across the room, who kept snoozing their max-volume alarm from 6 to 6:30 AM, as though there were no other people in the world.
C’est la vie.