Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Serious Travel

Barcelona is such a haven of sophistication, that it's been hard to find hilarious stuff to make fun of, which after all is one of the great pleasures of traveling. So far everybody has been nothing but warm and welcoming, except a woman with a verbissener punim who served me a pork and cheese sandwich the day I did the Modernism pilgrimage. And even then she wasn't rude, just bitter.
I went to explore the beaches and happened into a choir recital in a tent as part of some Catalan cultural event. I should have suspected something was afoot when I noticed the director of the choir had hair like Paganini and a neck brace. There was a big audience of mostly elderly people, at a par with the mostly elderly singers on stage. The conductor gave a longwinded introduction in which he explained the order of the songs and what they were going to sing and why. He apologized that the songs were in Spanish, but quickly pointed out they were from Latin America, not Spain, as he is proud to have them in his repertoire. He could not remember exactly the name of the poet who wrote the first song, so someone from the exasperated choir shouted it out. A very beautiful song by Mario Benedetti, arranged, he explained, for four voices. I waited with delight, as I know the song well. After concluding his lengthy explanation of each song by saying that they were going to sing all the songs back to back to make things move quickly, he started calmly tuning the voices in each section of the choir. This reminded me of those bands that take longer to tune their instruments than they take to play their set at rock festivals. People who do this sort of audience torture should not be allowed on stage.
Finally, the song began. I could not recognize one note. Everybody was out of tune and the arrangement was some sort of baroque fugue that nobody could follow, a striking example of pretentious provincial atonality. I ran away, shaking my head, feeling sorry for everyone, and a little miffed at whoever was the cause of the neck brace. Clearly, they did not apply enough pressure.

Yesterday, as we walked in search of an open bar (it was a holiday, but never fear, in this city of bizarre opening and closing hours, you will never want for food or drink), we witnessed a theft. A guy on a bike swooshed by and nabbed something valuable off a tourist's arm. Brazenly, as the street was by no means empty. The couple gave chase on foot, screaming, but the guy pedaled away. Apparently, this is so common, that to make tourist lives' easier, you can now report thefts at the front desk of your hotel and avoid the snaking lines at the police station. Awfully nice of them, isn't it?

Barcelona is swarming with tourists. Doesn't anybody work? Not even June yet and everybody in Europe seems to be on vacation (or is it unemployed?). This includes young English lads and molls that either drink since morning or can't hold their liquor already early in the evening, Russians who stand in narrow alleyways as expansively as if they were in Red Square, oblivious to other human traffic; Italians, who in my experience, are people who tend to scream at each other; the French, who are rather discreet and well behaved, as if to atone for the punishment they unleash on the hordes that visit them; and drunken Visigoths of various northern stripes. I bet they come to Spain for the generosity with which the Spaniards pour a drink. In the puritan Anglo-Saxon world, a regular gin and tonic such as they serve here would be considered a triple, a bucket, God bless 'em. I also bet that if the waves of tourists continue swelling, by the time September rolls around, the natives may not be as warm and welcoming as they are now.

By the way, if I were Undisputed Ruler of Earth (I am currently volunteering for the post, you guys) the following would be banned:

• Buskers that don't move and then move
• Buskers in general
• Long haired Incas with pan flutes (these in particular gall me to no end)
• Homeless youth with dogs to elicit pity. You can be a homeless youth, but spare us the dog. 
• People standing in front of tourist traps trying to lure you in
• Tourist traps
• I am tempted to say tourists.


  1. tk_in_TO12:06 PM

    "I ran away, shaking my head, feeling sorry for everyone, and a little miffed at whoever was the cause of the neck brace. Clearly, they did not apply enough pressure."

    "Homeless youth with dogs to elicit pity. You can be a homeless youth, but spare us the dog."

    Totally with you on that one, I always want to go and buy dog food for the poor animals. These homeless people dont seem capable of caring for themselves, so how can they care for an animal?!

    By the way, as Undisputed Ruler of the Earth, your demands are amazingly reasonable and few. Mine would probably be a mile long.

    Enjoy your Spanish vacay.

  2. I love this blog, always a great read. By the way, in the case of the English lads, they've definitely been drinking since morning. They're famous drunkards, probably still trying to her over their lost Empire.