C/ d' Aragò 235
932 720 059
by Beau Cadiyo
It was not a good sleep: it was still late, the dust had gotten into my sinuses and clogged them, and the apartment was freezing. Monday was rough. At 8:30 I was wide awake, and Franco woke soon after. We went into the center of town.
My first test was by iron: get copies of Franco’s keys made. Franco was sure that El Corte Ingles had a key-copy center, and after a few stops for help I was standing behind an unusually tall, unusually slim Catalan girl with one of the most perfect asses I’d ever seen, framed by jeans that appeared tailored to accentuate that little round bit just at the bottom. When she put her boots back on – the key-maker doubled as a cobbler – and turned around, I was looking at what God is capable of when he puts his mind to it. When I walked up to the counter, the cobbler said to me, “I am from Cuba. I have been all around the world. The women most beautiful in the world are in Barcelona.”
“God mine,” I said.
Second test: by plastic. I walked up to the Orange store on Passeig de Gràcia, took a number from the dispenser and waited for 30 minutes to talk to someone about getting a SIM card; within two minutes of meeting a salesperson I was walking out, having forgotten from five years earlier that I needed a passport in order to get a SIM card. It was one of the hard and fast rules of the Spaniards that I could understand but not support. At least it was law, though, and not one of the far more annoying and less rational social conventions that sometimes govern their daily lives.
With time to kill, I walked up Passeig de Gràcia on the wide sidewalks with intricate brick patterns, dodging through thick crowds. Some of the people were Catalan; they usually walked short distances between businesses, greeting each other in the street with handshakes or little kisses. If they were young students, they usually were carrying folders full of papers and fashionable backpacks and moving as if they knew that they would never be as hot ever again. If they were middle-aged or older, they moved more slowly, smiled at each other and were impeccably dressed, even if they looked slouchy. Most of the crowds, though, were tourists. A group of Italians walked around without looking where they were going, getting in the way of other pedestrians, talking loudly and condescendingly about buildings, people and Spanish society in general as if nobody could understand or be offended by them. Two of the women had cameras with giant lenses with which they got up close and, with impressive lack of self-consciousness, took pictures of children with their parents, beggars in the street and diners in the streetside cafes.
Most of the young Americans were girls, nattily dressed and slightly chubby to tubby, with giant purses pinched tightly under their arms and cameras wrapped either around their wrists or bouncing off of padded stomachs. The older Americans inevitably wore khaki hats, cargo pants and button up shirts covering even more ample stomachs than the teenagers. A shocking number had those large, thick glasses with the plastic which automatically darkens when exposed to sunlight. These were often perched inches above a slack jaw and meandering gait. Many just stood in the middle of the sidewalk staring at things - lampposts, parked cars, doorways. I imagined them throwing up into their own mouths, chewing and swallowing again, and silently prayed that they'd see me as a local oddity rather than a compatriot.
Further up the street the groups of pedestrians thinned out. I noticed that there weren’t any Gypsies, Africans or Asians selling DVDs or CDs on giant sheets on the sidewalk as there had been before – maybe there had been a crackdown, or it just wasn’t profitable anymore. I crossed the street and was reminded of the way that drivers in Barcelona are incredibly aggressive when they have the right of way and entirely deferential when they do not, and how they are careful to let pedestrians cross the street. I started up again toward Gràcia, passing Diesel and Lacoste and Zegna, and crossed Diagonal, and then passed the store with the religious icons. I turned around and walked back down until I was almost at Plaça de Catalunya. There was no chance I was mistaken; I was on the side correct of the street. I walked back up once more, already knowing what had happened.
“Excuse me,” I said to two middle-aged Catalan women, “But on this side of the street was a store of pipes five years ago. Do you know if it is closed now?”
They looked at each other. “I do not know. Need you a Tabacs? There is one…” She put her hand to her mouth, trying to remember.
“No, that is good. Thank you. I wanted that store in particular, with the windows, the pipes, and the olds inside. Thank you, thank you.”
As my grandfather might have asked, “Is this progress?”
I touched my fountain pen in my pocket to make sure it was still there and walked up again to where the street curves and narrows and then becomes single lane going towards Tibidabo. The burrito shop was also gone and I walked up further past the rows of motos and then finally saw Dir. I remember when it represented the pinnacle of health clubs, a virtual spa compared to some of the places I’d been working out at in America. I learned to swim kilometers in its pool from the sister-in-law of a European champion, and learned the rough translation from pounds to kilograms by lifting in the upstairs weight room; I was tempted to walk through the sliding glass doors and see if I could get a day pass or just a tour. I took a picture of the façade instead and then took a left and walked through the streets, past groups of school children talking about playing games on their phones, past myriad shops where people ostensibly sold furniture or cosmetics or Brazilian waxes but never seemed to have customers, and past cafes and restaurants without anybody drinking or eating in them. Then the street opened up onto the little park in front of the Ferrocarril station. I walked up and saw that Paul was still in business.
I bought a chocolate croissant and a peach pastry with a name that, as far as I ever knew, was “that one,” then sat in the park to eat them both, joined by pigeons looking for a spare crumbs. Across the street was where I had first met Francesca. I took a picture of Paul and then walked to the phones right in front with my spare Euro coins. It was time to make some expensive phone calls.
First I called Franco and explained the situation with the SIM cards. He told me that he would get one for me and I wouldn’t have to worry. Then I called Francesca and said that I would call her when I had a functioning phone. We would eat something later that night and then I would have a meeting at seven or eight o'clock - I did not know which – and she would go do her thing. If it was the only time I saw her, it would still be nice.
I walked back through Gràcia, through streets that have not changed in hundreds of years. I passed Caprabo and saw chocolate and suddenly thought of Frank. In the States, it was difficult to get away from her – songs, restaurants, coffee shops, gas fireplaces, toilets, foods, spices, smells, times of the day, and even some ideas were painful reminders. I’d been thinking about doing an entire series chronicling our breakup through sandwiches, but it never seemed appropriate. Here, though, I hadn't thought of her much. I was reminded more often of more painful memories: those of trying to fit in. Barcelona, for all its beauty as a tourist stop, is a difficult place in which to live. The Catalans are cold; they do not like foreigners, and don’t trust you unless you’ve proven yourself. It takes work to develop a relationship with them.
Earlier, I’d discussed this with Franco. He’d laughed and said that perhaps it was difficult for foreigners to live in the city, but that it was even more difficult for Catalans to live there because of the pressure to succeed. Maybe that reinforced my innate need to accomplish things, to be active. I thought of a girl I dated in college who went through NOLS. She said that one night they slept in a muddy field that was made of knee-deep cow shit. After that, nothing she did could be as bad.
I suddenly had perspective that I should have had a long, long time ago. Breaking up is hard to do, but it doesn’t have to be the end, and I’d been through far worse and been hurt far more. There was a big world out there, and who knows who I’d meet, or who I knew?
I met up with Franco at Gauchos, an Argentinian restaurant, for lunch. My rule for Spain was that when there was a sandwich I asked for it, and when there wasn’t I deferred to my companion and asked them to get me what they thought I should eat – a “sorprisa.” Gauchos had hamburgers on the menu, so by my rules I had to order it while telling Franco to choose everything else.
The problem was translation. These weren’t hamburgers at all – they were fried patties of ground meat served on the plate with a relish on the side. With the appropriate bread these would have been superb – the meat was dense, almost steak-like, and on top was some incredible melted cheese and bacon strips. With the fries, they formed a very nice (if non-hamburger) plate.
I realized later that I shouldn’t have chosen it at all – when I eat heavy quantities of meat I end up feeling really, really ill. Hotdogs are the worst for me – I get violent. Perhaps it is a result of spending a third of my life as a vegetarian. Regardless, I knew that I’d be seeing Francesca later that evening, so I should have avoided eating meat at all so I could be at top form. Hours later, I was dreading seeing her and having to spend time with someone. Anyone.
She asked me to meet her outside of the Hard Rock Café. I stood there feeling angry toward the tourists and beggars clustered around the entrance, and then a wave brought my attention to a short, blonde figure streaking through the Placa Catalunya crowd, her smile suddenly making me feel normal. Not normal – better than normal. Cliché.
We walked almost as we used to do, just not holding hands, first to a café and then, when I learned my meeting was postponed, up to a museum that was closed and then a random bar. I slouched in the couch, and suddenly needed coffee. I was struggling in a true, physical sense, to stay up; this was an opportunity to see someone I cared about as deeply as anyone I’d ever cared about, perhaps more, and I was falling asleep.
She noticed and suggested that I go home and she would go home and we’d see each other later in the week again. We paid up and walked down to Catalunya, then she jumped on the Ferrocarril and I grabbed the metro to Espanya.
Only later did I think of how nice it was to say goodbye to her like that. I was tired; she was tired. We were probably both overwhelmed. Instead of pushing through, faking it or using chemicals, though, she was fine with just letting things be as they were and letting me be as I am; she didn’t push me to drink coffee or stay awake, and she wasn’t offended that I didn’t find her so captivating that her mere presence overcame jetlag (she didn’t know about the meat coursing through my veins). She also didn’t judge me; fatigue was fine. I was human.
When I got back to Franco’s, he was sitting up smoking in the living room with his Italian roommate. I thought of telling them about the Italians I saw, but thought better of it. Shortly after, he went to bed, as did she, as did I.
The next day, Francesca told me that her mother had asked if she’d recognized me. She didn’t mean to, but she’d inadvertently admitted that she’d been talking to her mother about us.