Thursday, December 30, 2010

Spain: Chelsea

Avenguda. Paral-lel, 172 bis
08015 – Barcelona - Espanya
93 325 34 47

by Beau Cadiyo

A few hours later, I was at Franco’s family’s weekly lunch. When I’d first met Franco, his family had a large garage near Placa Espanya which they’d used for giant weekly gatherings of their entire extended family. The city had used some version of eminent domain to seize the land, then built a small park and a large apartment building where the garage had been. The family intelligently purchased a far grander space with the compensation money they’d received. After five hours of eating, drinking, cigars and an startlingly Machiavellian version of Uno, we left and did what Franco does very well: we hung out.

I was hungry later – very hungry. Around 11 we went to Chelsea, a hamburger bar that advertises itself as being extremely American. When I lived in Barcelona, to be fashion meant to wear shirts with meaningless English phrases on them. My favorite was the five-year-old whose parents thought he should ride the metro with a shirt splashed with “Man rides 15¢ only.” Chelsea seemed to be cashing in on the idea that to be stereotypically American is cool: the walls were lined with phones from which to order extra dishes (I guess they think we’re too fat and lazy to flag down a waiter) and posters of MLK’s Dream speech, JFK’s picture with the quote, “Ask not what your country can do for you…” and 2Pac declaring that “Only God can judge me.”

We talked. I was struck by the similarity of Franco’s relationship to Maria and my relationship with Frank. When we told stories, the other had inevitably had almost the same exact experience. We compared notes on what we liked, what we didn’t like, what we fought about, what kept us together until we weren’t together anymore, and mostly the things we discovered about the girls and about ourselves. Everything was flooding back to me, but in Castellano; I found myself slipping into the common patterns of Spanish speech, and Franco used the opportunity to practice his English. “You know,” he said at one point, “my family has very much concern for me because they say I don’t speak English and you don’t speak Spanish. But you – you speak your Spanish,”

“- yes, but as one Indian -”

“and I speak my English. It is perhaps not so good as you, but they don’t understand that we, we have a language. It is the language Franco-Beau.”

“The thing most important is the communication. With the communication, the languages and the words are not important, they are not important,” I responded.

The Top Bacon was better than I expected: a burger as good or better than most places in the US, and thus far superior than what I would have normally expected from a Spanish place trying to be American. The meat was dense and cooked through completely, which was the only disappointment. While the lack of pink might have been frowned upon in upscale American burger joints, the meat here was very tasty and very moist, as if they’d ground bacon or pork into it. On top was an egg, fried just a bit too much so the yolk was solid, stacked on strips of delicious Iberian bacon and a cheese which was probably meant to imitate American cheese but failed in that it was actually very good. The end result was better than most American places because of the high quality of the ingredients. In addition, the blatant Americanness of the place meant that all Americans stayed away – they were all looking for “authentic” restaurants – and Catalans crowded the tables, young strumpets and urchins rubbing elbows with five of the surliest cops I’ve ever seen.

Franco went to sleep when we went back to his apartment, his television blaring a Catalan news network down the hall. I stood on the balcony for a few minutes, breathing in the air. It was dusty from construction, and a near-full moon was rising above the buildings to the left. I realized that I had no idea in what direction it was coming from. Unlike London or Cardiff, Barcelona is more or less a grid, and it’s easy to orient oneself internally once one knows where, say, Tibidabo is. I had not seen it above the buildings since I’d arrived, so I was lost.

I went back inside and sat on the couch. There wasn’t any heat in the apartment, so I was in my jeans and leather jacket. I was also on Cleveland time, so it was roughly 7 p.m. for me. The last time I toured a former haunt I used it to my full advantage, forcing myself up in the morning and then staying out late at night with ease, napping only occasionally and putting espresso into my veins with an IV drip. Getting back to Cleveland time at the end was easy because I wasn’t really off of it. I was hoping to do the same again, but I started thinking about how I’d only gotten six hours of sleep in the previous 68, and didn’t have anything, really, to keep me up, and I nodded off.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Spain: Bartolo

Carrer de Entença y Avinguda de Mistral
Barcelona, Espanya

by Beau Cadiyo

(Read Part I here.)

I landed on Saturday. Franco and his cousin, Marta, were at the airport to meet me; I recognized them immediately, even though Franco had shorter hair and Marta was older and prettier. We dropped my bags at his apartment and went around the corner to a bar, where everything was familiar: a long counter with plates of tapas, smoke rising from the glowing tips of cigarettes, an espresso machine, Barça half-heartedly destroying some other team 4-0 on the television in the back.

“Madrid is make shit in their pants,” Franco said. Madrid v. Barcelona, the biggest game of the year, was a week away, and the Catalans were in fine form.

Franco chatted with the barmaid and then we ordered. What did I want? There was no choice: a Spanish omelette sandwich and some fried potatoes.

Rather, a bocadillo de tortilla de patata and patatas bravas. She took the order, as well as an order from Franco for a cigarette, and we pulled tables up right in front of the screen to watch the game. Franco was preoccupied; it turned out that he had a problem, this one named Maria. As I learned about her, the food came: pig’s ears, croquetas, olives, the bravas and my bocadillo.

A tortilla de patata is, at its core, nothing more than a few common elements of a breakfast thrown together. Thinly sliced potatoes are first fried in olive oil in a small pan. Usually a sliced onion is thrown in and also browned. Then, a couple of eggs are beaten and added, and then you wait. When the eggs are brown on the bottom, you put a plate over the whole thing and flip it, so that the tortilla ends up runny-side down on the plate. You put the pan back on the burner and slide the tortilla back into the pan so that the uncooked side browns, too. It’s a delicate process and a rough one all at the same time. To make a bocadillo, a baguette is sliced length-wise. A tomato is cut in half and the innards are rubbed into the bread. Sometimes garlic is also rubbed in. Drizzle a little olive oil and sprinkle some salt on, slice the tortilla into pie-shaped wedges and assemble your sandwich.

There are some who cook the tortilla all the way through, but the general consensus is that the eggs should be browned on the outside and runny in the middle. The tortilla at Bartolo would have satisfied the majority: the potatoes were soft, the eggs both brown and runny. The bread was crispy on the outside and smoothly soft on the inside; while I’d been promised tomato, I found scant reference to it. The bravas were unremarkable – fried potato wedges, the likes of which one could find in the frozen food section of WalMart, with aioli and a mildly spicy sauce on top. I was hungry for Spanish food, though, and I polished off the bocadillo, two plates of the bravas, two plates of croquetas, one pig ear (washed down with half a beer) and more olives.

“It is not possible to get this food in Cleveland,” I said, thinking of Marbella.

“You do not have good food in Cleveland?”

“No - there is good food, there is very good food. The food in Cleveland is fantastic, is incredible. But there is not food like this food. There is food that has the face of Spanish food but” Barça scored again and the matter was dropped before I could talk gibberish. Seven to nothing. It looked like they were trying to avoid blowing this other team out, but they were so good that they couldn’t avoid scoring more goals.

After the game, Marta and her boyfriend Josep took me to a theater at the very end of the L2 metro to see a Serbian/Catalan rockabilly band sing songs in English. It was technically a theater and not a club, so there was no alcohol and no smoking. We went to a tiny bar around the corner to drink Four Roses with the bass player, a friend of Josep’s who had a beautiful pompadour and a girlfriend who knew English. Then we took the metro back into the city, met up with Franco at the bar where he works, and I got more drunk than I’ve been in years; at 4 a.m., when he finished, we went to a gay club with some girls he knew. Neither of us got anywhere with them, and on the Vespa ride home sunlight had begun to stream through the streets. I’d slept for three of the previous 44 hours and I wanted to go to bed.

Friday, December 10, 2010


by Beau Cadiyo

I remember the first time I saw her.

It was December 24, 2004, and I’d spent the evening with my friend Franco Betriu’s family. The Christmas Eve tradition in Barcelona is to eat dinner – a late, late dinner – and then the parents go to sleep while the children go out and party. I was gladly winging for Franco in a bar in Gracia, talking to an uncommonly underweight blonde, which is normally absolutely my type. What she lacked in personality she made up for in undemanding conversation and visible ribs. Then Francesca came in. She was a ball of fire and I was captivated. A few other girls were there, too, but I found myself gravitating to her; also, she spoke English. Franco ended up with the blonde and I got Francesca’s number. I sent her a few text messages, but only got short responses so gave up.

In April, I went out with Franco; he’d just gotten his first car and we were set to go to a fair to celebrate the month of April. We randomly picked up Francesca and another girl who I can’t remember, and again I found myself infatuated. This time, though, it was mutual. I remember almost nothing about the evening other than that I knew I wanted to spend every second I could with her, and at the end of the night, after drinking and dancing and cheering little girls parading in fancy April dresses, when she wanted to go on the Ferris Wheel and nobody else did, I went up with her, despite my paralyzing fear of heights. I just didn’t look down – I looked at her. I don’t think anyone was surprised when we got off and were holding hands. A few days later, we went to a movie – apparently it was Bride and Prejudice – and then walked down Passeig de Gracia, past the closed shops, through Placa Catalunya and then around…some other streets.

To quote my review of Marbella, “I’ve said “I love you” to a lot of girls in my life, but I’ve never meant it as much as when I said it to her, for the first and last time, before walking onto my plane.”

Like all things, this restaurant review begins with a girl.

(Read Part II here.)