THE FAREWELL DINNER FOR THE GROUP is at the hotel, where
an okay meal is accompanied by entertainment, as the lights in the room
dim periodically and one of our wait staff begin serenading us with arias
or zarzuelas. It's incredibly tacky, and made even more so by the adoring
group of elderly Finnish tourists grinning beatifically during the singing,
and the ballots they distribute at dessert, which encourage us to vote
for our favorite singers. Dennis is having a hard time holding back his
giggles. At the other end of the table, Vincent looks like he's in pain.
Michael leaves first, and I hand him one of my business
cards -- it seems a small courtesy from one photographer to another. Angela
gets up to leave, but stops at our end of the table with a look of mischief.
"I came up with a name for you lot, back in Salamanca,"
she says, indicating Dennis, Bob and I. "I called you the 'Three Muskedildos'."
Dennis breaks into guffaws. "Very good. I like it."
I feel vaguely insulted.
After the group breaks up, the Muskedildos, plus Vincent
(an honourary fourth) head off for a final night on the piss. Dennis takes
us to a seedy little neighbourhood near the Plaza del 2 del Mayo, a bohemian-looking district full of punk rock bars and drunken students staggering down narrow streets. We bar hop for awhile till we find a congenial place with nice
tapas, where I treat myself to an absinthe or two. Out on the street, we
run into two young girls, one of whom has a fascination with Quebecois
cinema and attaches herself to Vincent, while the other one giggles and
makes drunken banter with us while leaning against Bob. Dennis tries to
coax them out to a further bar, but just as quickly as they appear, they're
gone, re-absorbed into the shifting crowd of young people. I feel suddenly
We finally catch a cab back to the hotel, and stand by
the elevator for a minute or two exchanging farewells. Dennis' room in
on the second floor, so he sees us off into the tiny lift. The doors close,
and we stop laughing for a moment.
"Who was that guy?" Bob asks us, earnestly. We're
VINCENT AND I CATCH A TRAIN to Barcelona the next day.
My friend John meets me at the station, and I bid Vincent adieu -- I've
given him John and Rosa's number, and offered to meet him for dinner, but
I'm sure he's probably seen enough of me, and everyone else in the group,
for the moment.
Hutton didn't think much of Barcelona. "...Alone of all
the cities of Spain, I found Barcelona hateful; and even now I can't think
of it without a sort of distress." Barcelona, to Hutton, was too modern,
too "full of restlessness, an unnatural energy, haunted by the desire for
gain." I find it charming and lovely, just enough like home to be comfortable,
just different enough to feel exotic. John and Rosa describe it as a provincial city, and express the good citizen's dismay at the changes to it. They talk about their trip to Rome, about the quality of the food, and the stunning antiquity of the buildings and streets. I laugh, and tell them that K. and I talk about Barcelona in exactly the same way.
nice and quiet at John and Rosa's. They're busy people, and while Rosa
spends the day in her office translating dubbing dialogue for Catalan television, John and I sit at either end of the dining room table, John busy on his new laptop with final touches on an essay he and Rosa have translated into English, myself with my maps and my brochures and itinerary, trying desperately to reconstruct the last week. At night, we head out for dinner and drinks. They take me to the Boadas, my favorite bar in Barcelona, a virtual New Yorker cartoon come to life. I love it here.
John takes me for a walk through the town to show me the
changes that have happened since I was here, two years ago. A poor neighbourhood near their street has been levelled, with a boulevard cut through and tidy new apartments built to replace the snarled streets and tenements that grew up there over a few hundred years. The face of the city has changed a bit, as well.
"Spain has liberalized its immigration policy recently,"
he tells me, and I notice that the neighbourhoods being razed and re-built
are full of Arabic street signs. The faces we pass are often black, thought
their Spanish sounds perfect. The legacy of colonies and dissolved empires.
"Of course, there's been a lot of fuss about it, but I
don't mind it at all," John says. "It reminds me of Toronto, really."
He takes me across the old town to the cathedral, and
past there across the Via Laietana to the poor neighbourhood where he first
lived when he moved here. It's also being razed, to make way for an east-west
boulevard planned years ago, supposed to cut across the Ribera to the park
and the neat, grid-like streets of the Eixample beyond. They've shut down
the Santa Caterina market as well, and in demolishing it came across the
foundations of a convent and a necropolis.
I come back a day later to take pictures of the half-demolished apartments nearby, then squeeze through the storm fencing around the ruined market to look at the excavations. They've been left half-done, a great pile or red earth by the former entrance to the market, and long, maze-like pits lined with crumbling brick fill the empty space, bounded by the still-standing walls of the market, some buttressed with steel I-beams. Around it, the tenement apartments with their spidery t.v. antennas and newer satellite dishes ring the site like a wall. It's chilly, and threatens to rain, the same weather I left at home in Toronto. They've opened a Pizza Hut at the entrance to the Boqueria, the grand old food market off the Rambla. My
train leaves tonight.
BACK IN TORONTO, I'm told that the big sensation while
I'm away is a show called "Survivor", where a group of people with little
in common are stranded on a desert island and have to vote each other off
each week, one by one. The simmering personal tensions that fester have
become major topics in the media, on web sites and around office lunchrooms.
I wonder why they had to bother with the desert island -- any tour bus
would probably do.