Barcelona: City of Dreams

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.

Love,

B.

Dresden: So It Goes

December 2, 2017. Dresden, Germany.

FlixBus is a bunch of filthy, mouthbreathing animals. They talk a big game about their bus internet, but once you get onto it, you learn it’s an elaborate German ruse. For some reason, the trap didn’t spring until I got into Germany, but I think FlixBus had been plotting it the entire time I was in Europe, earning my trust by degrees. Toying with me. Then, once I was in for a ten-hour bus ride, the unwashed, skulduggerous, drug addict hyenas that orchestrate these bus routes like some dark and deviant god pulled the plug on the so-called “bus internet”.

Ten hours, I rotted in that cell on wheels! Ten hours I languished in an Amish diesel nightmare, not so much as a scrap of Wi-Fi to be found. I didn’t even have the map downloaded. You want to take a guess how long I tried to download the map?

I’ll find the miserable, hoary, addled son of a bitch who did this to me one day, and I swear before all the saints and angels that I will dance in his blood.

Anyway. Deutschland. Ja, das ist fuckin kalt. It wasn’t nearly as kalt in Budapest, so fool that I was, I thought I’d be fine in just a t-shirt and coat.

I was not.

Fortunately, Dresden is presently devoted wholly to Christmas, and you can’t walk ten meters without hitting a Christmas Market. I’m sure we have these stateside — we do love markets — but never anything like this. It reminded me of the church picnics that would paralyze the townships of my childhood and herd all the adults into parking lots to drink beer and eat pierogies, but pierogies were conspicuously absent.

(I know pierogi is the plural, shut your goddamn mouth)

Instead, there were brats. This would be a running theme throughout the whole of my stay in Germany. No matter where you went or what you did, your only hope for food was some form of wurst. It was usually currywurst, but sometimes, specifically in Christmas Market times, it was bratwurst. And oh, the glühwein! It flowed like… well, like you’d expect.

Tremendous MacBeth cauldrons of the stuff, manned by grinning German men in hokey holiday dress, the whole square stinking of cinnamon and cloves. Glühwein is a Germanic holiday drink, mulled wine everywhere else. You take red wine, you heat it up, you slam-dunk whatever incense your grandma smelled like in there, and then you drink it in the cold. Immediately, you’re warm. It’s a Christmas miracle. Ein Weihnachten Wunder. +30 Frost Resistance, effective immediately.

The other stands sold fried dough covered in sugar, as did every other building everywhere in Europe. They love baked goods so much it’s uncanny. There were also souvenir stands, weird little trinkets with city or religious significance, and a distressing number of puppets.

This is something that isn’t talked about often, but central and eastern Europe are absolutely nuts for marionettes. You can’t get away from them. You’ll want to, believe me. They’re freaky. Freaky and omnipresent and watching you, judging you, with their bulging, painted, sightless eyes. Wooden demon’s eyes.

In typically understated German fashion, there was also Der Goldenerreiter, a dude made of gold riding a horse, also made of gold, in the middle of the town square. His name was Augustus the Subtle.

Strong, sorry. Augustus der Stark.

It was a scenic river overlook of four buildings, churches and municipal dealies with breathtaking architecture that I couldn’t get a picture of because it was dark.

I wound up in a brauhause, hopeful that what I’d heard about German beer was true. Dark news, kids. The weizen is the best you can hope for. See, the Germans, strong traditionalists, have had this grim law in affect since 1516 called the Reinheitsgebot. In English, it’s something along the lines of “The German Beer Purity Law”, and it stated in a tone that brooked no argument that the ONLY ingredients that could be in beer were water, barley, and hops.

Absolutely brutal. Just like that Harry Chapin song about the teacher who won’t let the kid color flowers anything but red.

Don’t worry, they’re not that draconian. They modified the law in 1993(!). From Wikipedia:

“The revised Vorläufiges Biergesetz (Provisional Beer Law) of 1993, which replaced the earlier regulations, is a slightly expanded version of the Reinheitsgebot, stipulating that only water, malted barley, hops and yeast be used for any bottom-fermented beer brewed in Germany.”

What I’m trying to communicate here, friends and neighbors, is that I’m an American boy, born and bred, and I’m used to exciting shit in my beer like frosting and cranberries and whatever else they had lying around the microbrewery. I like stouts! They’re full of chocolate and espresso and smoke. That’s the trifecta, infinitely better than that hyper-bitter quintuple IPA crap everyone pretends to like.

In Germany, what you get is lager. Sometimes the lager tastes more like wheat, sometimes it tastes a little darker and heavier, but at the end of the day, it’s nationalist PBR and I’m not out here for it. Still, when in Rome, gladiate, and when in Germany, drink beer until it’s not cold anymore.

Unfortunately, it was cold. Forevermore. I tried to do the sightseeing thing the following day, but everything was way too far from everything and I could feel my bone marrow freezing. Less than ideal tourist conditions. I eventually found a restaurant that would let me steal WiFi, and I ordered what appeared to be a giant bowl of cheese.

24879426_1145573215578983_1126529097_o.jpg

The menu assured me it was a traditional Dresden dish. It was sort of like a French onion soup thing, only instead of French, German, and instead of onion, pork. But it was warm, and calorically dense, and you best believe I inhaled it.

I was on the first bus to Berlin the next morning. Dresden was nice, but even the locals I knew warned me that it was not, perhaps, the ideal portrait of Germany. “The most racist city in Germany” was how it was described to me, due to the massive refugee population. The refugees themselves seemed nice; they were piss drunk in the streets, blasting reggae and dancing as though it weren’t 4 degrees out. More power to them.

24946234_1145573212245650_1320542919_o.jpg

Be A Bandit, my hostel insisted on the morning of my departure. Well, I do try.

Love,

The Bastard