London: Live Action Harrumphing

Thursday, September 26, 2019. London, England.
Soundtrack: Dropkick Murphys – The Gauntlet

England was a trip, man. I’ll need a few posts to get through all this, so I’m going to break this down into bite-sized pieces.

I survived the Ryanair flight, narrowly, and after the pilot landed the plane like a dribbled basketball I stepped out to the sweet solid ground. This particular solid ground, however, was British soil.

My last name is English. It’s not something I think about very often. I’m an American boy, and that’s as much heritage as I was ever given, beyond Ma’s painfully Irish complexion.

Now, I’m a firm believer that America is the greatest country in the world, despite our leadership, outrageously overpriced health care, disastrous system of cultural values, police brutality rates, test scores, lagging literacy, carbon emissions, obesity rates, car-centric comfort culture, academic debt slavery, intellectual cowardice, pop culture exportation, and humiliating representation on the global stage. I’m a patriot, and we’re still mad about the Revolutionary War.

I say this because it turns out, we modern Sons of Liberty aren’t the only ones.

The rest of the survivors and I were herded out into the little cattle chutes that led into the Southend airport, then divided into two groups: those with an EU passport, and those without. I was the only one without, and stood alone, like the cheese, until I was… regarded.

It’s said that the English take queueing (which is a special Metric system word for “waiting in line”) very seriously. I wasn’t prepared for quite how seriously.

It’s hard to picture this, but imagine a huge, open room with those little cloth bank turnstiles forming a maze. On one side of the room is everyone. On the other side of the room is me. I was being scolded for standing alone ten feet (that’s about 3 meters) of where I would otherwise be standing alone.

“How long are you planning on staying?” he asked, once he decided I wouldn’t experience the appropriate level of shame and started doing his job.

“Definitely not long,” I said. “I’m flying home from Dublin on Friday.”

“Enjoy your stay,” he said dryly, and stamped my goddamn passport already.

I left that charmer behind and found an ATM, withdrew a bunch of regal Monopoly money with one or more queens on it, then caught the train to the Tower of London (see next post). Then, I headed to my hostel, which was in a pub.

My first impression of London is that very few people there seem to be English. I mostly overheard Spanish. All the food stands were run by people from India or the Middle East. Both bartenders I encountered on my walk to my hostel were from Spain.

The people who ran my hostel were really nice, and really English. I chalked Angry Santa up to a fluke. In fact, all the English women I met on my trip were really nice and uniformly exuberant.

Four beers later, I discovered I was drunk! These are the dangers of eating one meal a day, friends. Man cannot live by a single burger alone.

The pub was starting to fill, and had collected a large number of Lads. I had been prepared for the Lads; I was informed that they would be raucous, perhaps cheeky. I did not anticipate them all being in their mid-thirties, or sitting at a table ten deep.

They were all ladded up, though, crowding the booth,shouting. I figured, if this was the rule, it must be real discomforting for British women. Maybe that’s why they were all so demonstratively bright and chirpy.

But that’s just at a glance. I would gain greater understanding of this great nation in the coming days. It was too noisy and ladly now, and I was full of beer. I slung my pack over my shoulders and stumbled out to sightsee.

Love,

B.

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Bilbao: 8 Incredible Reasons to Avoid Ryanair

Tuesday, September 26, 2019. Bilbao, Spain.
Soundtrack: Electric Six – Transatlantic Flight

That’s not “incredible” as hyperbole, but in the traditional sense, where some of this shit defies credulity. Don’t fly Ryanair. There are many reasons. Here are some:

  1. You have to print your own boarding pass in advance and bring it to the airport. They don’t do digital passes for non-EU passports. If you don’t bring your own boarding pass, they’ll charge you a €20 “reissue fee”.
  2. Do not take your bag off your back. If they see it, they’ll arbitrarily decide it’s too big, and charge you €55 “carry-on fee” at the gate. This didn’t happen to me, but it happened to the girl in front of me. She wasn’t even mad. Just disappointed.
  3. The instructions on the printed pass you had to bring will say, “take this to check-in for validation”. I waited 40 minutes in check-in, behind a group of people speaking in rapid, furious Spanish, understandably trying to argue one of Ryanair’s arbitrary fines. When I got to the desk, the lady said, “You have to take this to the Help Desk.”
  4. If everyone in the Help Desk line hadn’t also been in the check-in line, they wouldn’t have let me cut and get my stamp (took 5 seconds), and I would’ve missed my flight.
  5. The ticket said board at gate 6R. They were boarding the flight at gate 6. When I tried to go to 6R, a guard who spoke no English stopped me, said something in Spanish, and pointed vaguely the way I came. I’ve since learned I tried to go past the check-in without checking in. In America, I would now be dead.
  6. The flight was late. On the descent, the pilot plunged into a stormcloud, then just kind of hung out there. It was the worst turbulence I’d ever lived through. The old lady next to me was clutching the seat in front of her and hyperventilating. The plane convulsed like a wooden roller coaster. The charm of wooden roller coasters, what allows you to look past the way the lap-bar breaks your ribs, is that the ride is over in 60 seconds. This particular bout of turbulence took twenty minutes.
  7. The landing was less a landing and more a rolling crash. I’ve never been on a flight where the plane was Barkley chaos-dunked onto the runway like that before. Everyone screamed. Children started to cry in the back. I said, “Landed the shit outta that one!” No one was amused, despite my irreverent charm. This was due to their scrape with mortality.
  8. The pilot was standing with the flight crew at the front of the plane as we disembarked. He looked abashed. Good.

I’ll level with you: the flights are dirt cheap and you get what you pay for. In all likelihood, I will continue to fly Ryanair. But what you have to understand is I never grew out of my adolescent delusions of invulnerability, and even if I had, I place no value on my life! I have seen the time, place, and manner of my death, and it is not here, and it is not now. I have nothing to lose by flying in these cut-rate death traps.

But you, beautiful reader. You have so much to live for. You have people who love and depend on you. You have a whole future ahead of you.

Don’t fly Ryanair. Not flying Ryanair is self-care.

Love,

B.

Book Review: Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists, and Other Sex Offenders

Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists, And Other Sex OffendersPredators: Pedophiles, Rapists, And Other Sex Offenders by Anna C. Salter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A gruesome, harrowing book, but by no fault of the author. It’s a gruesome, harrowing subject.

Salter has worked with kids for her entire career. When she first started, she was surprised by how prominent sexual abuse was; for a while she thought that her little corner of New Hampshire was some kind of incest vein, the factory from which all the pedophiles in the world were manufactured. The longer she stayed in psychology, the more she realized there was nothing special about New Hampshire. It’s like that everywhere, and nobody talks about it.

Salter has interviewed hundreds child abusers over the course of her career. Her disgust is palpable, and her rage is contagious. She suggests that child molesters live deliberate double lives, pulling an elaborate con on everyone around them. Molesting kids is the only thing that matters to them, and they’ll put it any amount of work and deceit in order to protect it.

We can’t conceive of this for three reasons.
1) The concept of being sexually attracted to children is so gonzo fuckin’ bonkers to us that it doesn’t even process.
2) We think child molesters are visibly monstrous. We’ll be able to see them, they’ll give off an aura of evil, they wheeze and snivel when they talk. The cub scout leader is such a nice guy, he can’t be that kind of creature. We would have to doubt our personal radars and our intuition.
3) No one is that driven. We all have dreams, we go to work, we take vacations, we do our part to achieve our goals in dribs and drabs, we maintain a work-life balance and get cases of the Mondays. We can’t wrap our minds around someone who devotes their every thought, every word, every action to arranging a circumstance where they can get away with pedophilia.

But they’re out there, and they do. Doc Salter is trying to warn us. It’s nearly impossible to prosecute a sex offender, and even more difficult when they’re offending against children because nobody believes children.

The pedophiles have orchestrated their entire lives to put them in positions of power over children — the priest, the teacher, the loving father — and if a kid has the wherewithal to even understand what is happening, their cries fall on deaf ears. Most of the pedophiles Salter interviews were only caught due to increasing escalation. Fear of getting caught often adds to the appeal for the offenders, and they eventually became so brazen that they *were* caught, in the act, by the family. And the family still wouldn’t believe it. I know that sounds fake, but denial really is that powerful.

That’s the take home of the book. We have to be vigilant, we have to be paranoid, because these animals are out there, and this is what they do. This is all they do. The author is so haunted by this knowledge, and her realization that she can do so little about it, despite her thirty year campaign encouraging us to pull our heads out of our collective asses and acknowledge the horrific child abuse statistics, that in her free time she writes mystery novels following the same theme.

She touches on psychopaths, sadists, and serial killers in the book, but they’re sort of an afterthought. They’re not her area of expertise, except where there’s an overlap.

There are wolves among us. She never said the word evil, but her description is as close to fairy-tale monsters as you can get. The book is thorough, well-researched, and heartbreaking.

She’s our voice. Our outrage. Our collective id that calls for blood, but even in the book she says that’s a cop out. Saying “they should all be killed” is a way of not thinking about the issue. That’s the exact ostrich syndrome negligence that’s letting them get away with it.

It’s not light reading. There are parts that might make you ill. But it’s an important book, especially if you work in psychology or social services.

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Bilbao: The Absolute State of the Guggenheim

Wednesday, September 25, 2019. Bilbao, Spain.
Soundtrack: Machine Head – Aesthetics of Hate

More like the GuggenLAME.
More like the Go-On-Home.

Photography was strictly prohibited at the Guggenheim. Fortunately for you, I took detailed phone memos about the museum’s handful of kept artists, because I’m so dedicated to my craft.

Allow me to preface this little romp with this disclaimer:

I want to kick every abstract expressionist square in the dick.

And we’re off!

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Richard Serra (blog fodder)

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The first exhibit in the museum was devoted to Richard Serra, an American associated with the Process Art movement. They gave him a huge hangar-bay room with amphitheater acoustics, and he filled it with slightly bent sheets of titanium.

I thought one was a maze, and followed the curliecue all the way to the innermost point. It was empty. The art itself was that the sheets of metal were very large curlicues.

They all bent in strange places. As you can see, some of them were almost halfpipes, but stopped short of becoming good for something.

I understand art doesn’t need to fulfill a why. Art is art for it’s own sake.

But like… why?

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Lucio Fontana (blog fodder)

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Golden boy #2 at the Guggenheim was Lucio Fontana, Argentine-Italian founder of the Spatialism movement and proud owner of at least one knife.

His entire gallery was full of canvases he slashed a couple times. In the 1950s, this was the height of modern art. They called him a genius. In 2019, they would just call you Kyle.

The entire room was full of these twenty-second masterpieces, as well as battalions of well-dressed Europeans stroking their chins and saying “Hrmmm” with a little R in there so you know it’s extra fancy.

Art is supposed to evoke emotion, and this very much did. I was livid. It cost me €10 to get in here.

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Jenny Holzer (blog fodder)

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Deranged American LED queen Jenny Holzer classed up the joint and redeemed the first floor with with her Installation for Bilbao. It was 9 enormous two-sided LED pillars in a tall, dark room. The English text in red faced out, while the Spanish and Basque text in blue was on the other side, and you had to enter the room to see it.

I scoured the internet for a transcript of the poems she had running up, but they’re nowhere to be found. I suppose that makes sense. It would detract from the incentive to go see the piece in person.

The sentences she chose were succinct, most not even filling the length of the poles before they disappeared into the ceiling.

I went up to the second floor. It was closed. “Coming soon.” All right.

I went up to the third floor, which promised pieces by the “Old Masters”.

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Giorgio Morandi (blog fodder)

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Most of the level was Giorgio Morandi.

Friends, do you like still lives? You know, like paintings of bottles and fruit and shit. No fruit this time. Just bottles. Would you like them more if they were kind of wobbly, and not very good?

Well, you’re in luck, because there’s a hundred of them! Some of them were next to Renaissance paintings by the Italian Masters, subtitled with things like, “the city skyline in the background of this piece inspired Morandi’s configuration of bottles in this other painting of the same twelve bottles he painted for his entire career.”

It wasn’t all bad though.

Most of it was. Very bad. But aside from Queen Jenny, there were two other redemption arcs.

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Jean-Michel Basquiat (blog fodder)

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There was only one painting by American painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, and it was explosive. Googling the rest of his gallery shows all his pieces are fraught with frenetic energy and anger. Shades of Steadman, too.

Basquiat was a political activist, as well as a neo-expressionist, a primitivist, and a street/graffiti artist. He died of a heroin overdose just in time to join the 27 club.

This piece is called Man of Naples and according to the plaque, Basquiat made it because he was sick of his Italian patron, who had earned his wealth through selling meat. He referred to him as a “pork merchant” and sent him this, which is probably one of the most colorful and public two-weeks-notices in history.

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Anselm Kiefer (blog fodder)

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The last and probably best artist in the museum was Anselm Kiefer, a German mixed-media artist who made paintings of things that actually looked like things, and expressed meaning concisely without your needing to read his biography ahead of time.

Sunflowers, above, is done entirely in black and white, but communicates the interplay of life and death, mourning and rebirth, pretty clearly.

Kiefer had a room all to himself, and his paintings were enormous and ambitious, painted woodcuts or shellaced oil paintings. One looked like a photomanipulation he did by hand with a brush. Kiefer alone was worth the price of admission.

And a damn good thing.

There’s a quote by Craig Darmauer that goes like this:

“Modern art = I could do that + Yeah but you didn’t.”

That about covers it. Why would I paint exactly three stripes on a canvas and call it done? That’s a con. That’s playing on the self-aggrandizement of your audience; you provide them virtually nothing and they project these elaborate unconscious schema onto your work, then herald you as a genius when all you did was–

Oh. I get it.

That’s pretty punk rock too, I guess, but you’re still no Basquait.

Next stop, London.

Love,

B.

Bilbao: Gone to the Dogs

Tuesday, September 24, 2019. Bilbao, Spain.
Soundtrack: Die Antwoord – I Fink You Freeky

Bilbao is the largest city in northern Spain and the de facto capitol of Basque country. The construction of its downtown and its general vibe has a lot in common with Barcelona, although Barcelona is cranked up to 11. Bilbao is more laid-back, and absolutely swarming with dogs.

“Take Barcelona,” I told the lads in a transmission home. “Excise everything but the Gothic Quarter, snickety-snack. Cauterize the cuts by wrapping it in Wilkes-Barre (or some other desolate industrial city of your choice). This is the skeleton of Bilbao.

To flesh it out, turn your new city into a dog shelter staffed by retirees and teenage soccer hooligans. Then, make the whole big bastard directed by Die Antwoord.”

At first glance, this doesn’t seem like a glowing review, but I really like dogs and Die Antwoord.

Casco Viejo is Spanish for “old quarter”, and it makes up the downtown. You can see the similarity in with the preserved medieval construction. Casco Viejo is interchangable with Siete Calles, which means “seven streets”, and gives you some idea of the size of downtown.

Let’s talk about pintxos.

In Basque, the tx is pronounced like a sharp “ch”, so that’s peen-chos. It means toothpick food, and that’s its whole deal.

Tiny little impaled micro-sandwiches. These are spicy tuna and some kind of also spicy shredded beef thing. Pintxos are Basque country’s take on tapas, steering them more into bocadillo territory by leaning more heavily on bread than on potatoes.

Plaza Berria is Bilbao’s epicenter. At any given time, someone is playing accordion there. It’s never the same guy.

I followed a map to the start of Casco Viejo, which turned out to be a sprawling dog park.

Bilbao was crawling with dogs. Not strays, either. They were all exceptionally well-trained; I didn’t see a single on on a leash, but they all stayed at their owner’s side, whether in the park or the heavily peopled tangle of downtown.

Turns out, dogs are sort of Bilbao’s thing. One of the siete calles is called Calle de Perros. Noodle that one out. It’s got a thematically appropriate water fountain at the inner intersection.

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Dog fountain #perros #bilbao #bastardtravel #Spain

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Legend has it this 19th century beast was originally carved with the heads of Egyptian-style lions as the spigots, and the tub was used to wash animals before taking them to market. Rssident Bilbaoans have since decided, “Nah. They’re dogs. Everything’s dogs. And you use it to drink out of.”

Dogs allegedly drink out of it too, but I only saw people hit the button and lean into the stream.

I walked Casco Viejo until late, zonked out in my hostel and hit the streets in the late morning to make my way to the Guggenheim.

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Cool bank #santander #bilbao #spain #bastardtravel

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Bilbao is a beautiful city, if more retiring and demure than Barcelona. It’s not a fair comparison to make, and I wouldn’t be making it if I hadn’t come right from one to the other.

Barcelona is a teeming, thriving, bohemian metropolis. It’s Florence in the days of Da Vinci. Art is the rule of the day there. The artistic spirit of the city is screaming, but not the way it screams in New York (at you, while flailing a knife) or in Berlin (dissociatively, into the void); it’s calling out, playful, almost seductive.

Bilbao isn’t about that. The genius locii aren’t frothing. It’s laid back, in that particularly Spanish way. Bilbao would have been perfectly happy living in its relative mountain seclusion with its many, many dogs, if not for the Guggenheim.

The Basque government decided a famous museum is just what the derelict port sector of the city needed for a full metropolitan revitilization, and made the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation a multi-million dollar offer that they simply couldn’t refuse. The Foundation contracted a Canadian architect Frank Gehry, for some reason. Six years later, the ugliest museum in the world stood proudly in the ruinous wreckage of portside Bilbao.

The revitilization worked, and the Guggenheim is now one of the city’s biggest moneymakers. It attempted to spread a new style of architecture out into the city, breaking away from the traditional medieval Spanish construction, but that never caught on. Wonder why.

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and uhh this thing #bilbao #bastardtravel #Spain

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#Guggenheim #bilbao #bridge #bastardtravel

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During the Black Plague, in order to mitigate the smell of the bodies, they would stuff the pockets with flowers. Plague Doctor masks are designed that way for the same reason, with the nose cones stuffed with rose petals in the belief that this would protect from the disease, along with hiding the smell.

I think Bilbao got the same idea when they saw what the museum was shaping up to look like. In 1997, artist Jeff Koons set up his monumental display “Puppy”, made of flowers meant to reflect 18th century European gardens.

I took some time to admire this handsome titan, then plodded down the steps into the underbelly of the Guggenheim proper.

Love,

B.

Barcelona: The Nightmare Gallery

Tuesday, September 24, 2019. Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.
Soundtrack: Burzum – Dunkelheit

My flight to Bilbao was cancelled due to a ground crew strike, but the airport set me up with another three hours later, ensuring I’d miss the fire festival. Ladygirl’s flight back to the smoldering ruin of Philadelphia (go birds) was not similarly afflicted, and she boarded a bus at the crack of dawn, leaving me to my devices.

I already got my cafe time in, and tickatacka’d plenty. What’s a boy to do?

Off I drifted in a weird, widening gyre through the Gothic Quarter, contemplating early beers or late breakfasts and declining them, sick of consuming, but still hungry for something. I thought about the Picasso museum, but looked at the line, and the screaming school children, and decided I didn’t care about Picasso that much. Picasso cared about Picasso enough for all of us.

gSome eldritch entity heard my plea and sundered the world. From that rending, nestled in the dark, bloomed the entry to the Museu Europeu d’Arte Modern, or MEAM. I stared into it, and it back into me. We could each hear the other breathing.

I went in.

Uno adult, general. Por favor,” I said to the demon behind the counter. I handed her coins. I’m not sure how much, but I’m sure its equivalence would be 30 pieces of silver. Her face split open like a shark’s grin.

Absolutamente.”

After my last brush with MEAM, also chronicled here, I wound up crouching in the alley with the homeless, chainsmoking my way through what may have been a panic attack or some kind of dissociation. Some sort of madness. I walked out unhinged, and it took me twenty minutes to rehinge.

It greeted me like an old friend:

“Other people mean nothing,” MEAM whispered its dissonance into my head. “Their words are cold wind, their applause the ghostly echoes of a long-empty mausoleum. Ascension can only be gained through power. Reach within.”

“Jesus, dude,” I said.

The first piece that really drove a chisel into my cerebrum was La paleta de olvido, which is appropriate, since that was its subject matter. It didn’t hit proper until I clumsily translated the title – “The Blade (or maybe palette) of Forgetting” — when figured out the sticky note.

“I’m me.”

Then came “The Process of Transformation of Fear into Art”. Perseus, bare-assed, vulnerable and exposed, swinging the still-screaming head of Medusa. One missed bounce, one unaccounted-for twist and the gaze will fall on him, petrify him on the spot. His horse is panicking, completely out of control. His only defense is his helmet, guarding the brain. Intellectualization. Plato’s Monster all over again.

Nonato, a decaying giant of cast bronze grows from the floor, grasps at his own pedestal. He’s pushing himself out. The rest of the way into our world.

Do you remember when you were a little kid, and you’d walk down a dark hallway or go into a dark room, and you’d know something was in there with you, watching you? And you’d ride that thrill of horror as far as it would go, just to see how long you could stand there, staring into the melding shapes in the dark, before you had to turn on the lights?

Maybe not. Maybe that was a me thing. Either way, that’s what it was like getting close to this sculpture. It was real enough that it looked like it was breathing. I was especially cautious of this after that Galileo the other day.

Found the plaque. It’s on the bottom. Whoops. The title was something like “Fig0315”, not sure on the artist.

Diana herself, done justice in the best artistic interpretation I’ve ever seen, and wearing Chuck Taylors. There’s an incredible amount of detail in the rock surrounding her, with hidden faces, shapes, and symbols. All sorts of subliminal seeds, slithering in and taking root while you’re distracted.

No opaque horror in this one, but something was going on somewhere in the earth tone frenzy and soft, sweeping curves. I kept staring but couldn’t make sense of it, but the implication of sense is there, like having something on the tip of your tongue. Just out of your mental reach.

“All men will be forgotten,” the MEAM burbled telepathically, like black tendrils in my mind. “Most are already dead and haven’t realized it. Scrabbling for praise is the pathetic pursuit of the doomed. Immortality is thankless, but the only noble pursuit.”

“Okay,” I whispered, and fled into the streets.

Neither were they safe.

I don’t think I dipped into Lovecraftian madness on this go-around, but I suppose the insane never realize they’re insane. Either way, my faculties were well-enough operational to get me to the airport, and put me on a plane.

Hurry hurry hurry.

Love,

B.

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.

Barcelona: La Rambla Möbius Market

Monday, September 23, 2019. Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.
Soundtrack: Ram Jam – Black Betty

Take a moment to appreciate the Ram Jam video, if you’ve never seen it. Magnificent bastards.

The Gothic Quarter abuts La Rambla, and you know you’ve crossed the threshold because there’s suddenly enough space to move around. At least, there would be, if not for all the damned humans.

These two sections are the primary tourist attractions in Barcelona, and while the Gothic Quarter squeezes you in its tight, spooky corridors like a Halloween-themed sardine can, La Rambla offers the space necessary for a bit of perspective on the sheer concentration of virulent humanity in Barcelona.

It stretches for eternity in either direction, an unbroken line in the true geometric sense. Along this infinite parkway you can find anything you can imagine, so long as you’re imagining fifty identical tchochkes mass-produced in Bangladesh.

Each stand has the same items, but the prices vary by up to a Euro. An Euro? One Euro. When you walk far enough in on direction, the veil begins to thin, and the stands branch out into selling genetically engineered bell pepper seeds that will, eventually, look like wieners.

But the legimate stands aren’t the true draw.

These fine and fragrant gentlemen set up their wares on blankets, and they just pitch these displays up like an Amish barn-raising. It’s spectacular to behold. It’s like those cup stacking competitions on Japanese game shows.

I was privileged enough to be passing through when one of Barcelona’s five total cops came a-ramblin’ down La Rambla, and the resultant hive-mind communication among these young entrepeneurs was truly something to behold.

In near unison, they grabbed the ropes on the corners of their blankets, pulled, and swung, securing the whole of their business on their back — and hidden from prying pigs peepers — like a big ol’ Santa sack.

Absolutely breathtaking.

We hit the outer reaches of La Rambla, where the simulation begins breaking down, far beyond the penis peppers and into the realm of street performers and statuary. By design, they make it difficult to tell one from the other.

I would never have known that this Galileo had an art degree if he didn’t start friggin’ around with his little telescope after a child popped a Euro into his globe.

We abouted-face and went back to where the ley lines were stronger, where a man could get a half-recent Catalonian flag keychain made out of beads, then pulled off to the side and rolled into La Boqueria.

La Boqueria is an elaborate indoor food market reminiscent of the Grand Bazaar, but in Spanish. You’re crammed in elbow to elbow, and you have to mosh your way from stand to stand, but it’s worth it once you get there.

The origin of the name is thought to come from “boc“, which is Catalan for goat, and thus: a market where goat meat is sold.

I worked up an independent hypothesis which I told to Ladygirl as though it were fact, in which the root word is the Spanish “boca“, or mouth, making the area “the mouthery”, so named for the fact that everything there goes in the mouth.

Especially the Sucs Naturals.

We got some empanadas and some Sucs Naturals, then realized we had been walking pretty much nonstop since waking up and decided to touch down in the hostel, maybe read books or something.

The new place was right next to the Arc, and much bigger than our last one, which is both blessing and curse. On the terrace we encountered a charming British girl who claimed she hadn’t slept in days (a popular passtime in Barcelona), made vague mention of a sex museum in Amsterdam, then immediately lost consciousness in a sunbathing chair. She remained in her li’l restful torpor until a handful of Australian bros came outside to chainsmoke and shout.

There are three types of people that you meet when traveling.

But that’s a post for another day.

Love,

B.

 

Barcelona: The Gothic Quarter and Other Medieval Crap

Monday, September 23, 2019. Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.
Soundtrack: Blind Guardian – The Maiden and the Minstrel Knight

An Australian joined us for tapas the night before. Over mojitos, he and I commiserated on the ennui that first drove us overseas.

“I’m a month into it now, so I’ve got about two months left.”

“That’s a long haul.”

“Fuckin’ right,” he said. “I miss it back home, but I just gotta power through it.”

“When you’re here you wanna be there, and when you’re there you wanna be here,” I said.

“Exactly.”

Ladygirl sipped at her oversugared mojito.

She and I dropped off to resolve our sleep debts; Australia also hadn’t slept in a few days, but said he was going to head out for a few beers before turning it.

The next morning I was tickatackin on the terrace and he bodily dragged himself out in a demonstration of top-of-the-line ragdoll physics.

“Did I wake you two coming in?” he asked.

“Naw,” I said. “I was out by midnight, so it must’ve been after that.”

“I just got in at 7, mate.”

I looked at my watch.

“You’re talking like, fifteen minutes ago?”

“Yeh. I went on the pub crawl, then we wound up at this club. Somebody gave me a pill. I only took half, figured I’d be good. I wasn’t good.”

“What kind of pill?”

He looked around, visibly insane, but I would look visibly insane if I had his week too.

“Ecstasy,” he said.

“So much for a couple beers.”

He exploded with manic laughter, then announced he was going to bed and disappeared. I encountered him again when I went to get my stuff from the locker. He was snoring like a backfiring chainsaw. I’m glad he found peace.

We would have liked to stick around Gracia, but the hostel was full up. We booked one next to the Arco de Triunfo, gathered all our stuff, and made our way across the city of dreams.

The city of dreams was drowsy this morning. The demographic had changed. A lot more oldos were puttering around, wearing more clothing than the established average. The oldos in Barcelona have no sense of spatial awareness whatsoever, and will attempt to hip check you off the sidewalk or drive a baby carriage into your leg.

I was sad to see Gracia go. The tapas were all $2, and it was far enough removed from the tourist sites that you were only occasionally swarmed by teenagers screaming in English. Still, I wasn’t disappointed for long.

You know you’ve hit the Gothic Quarter because evil wizard castles start growing out of nowhere, but the deal is really sealed in the twisting, labyrinthine side-streets that make up the medieval district. You never know what’s around the next corner, but “weird tourist shops” would be a fair bet.

Who is this handsome gentlemen, to be placed in the pantheon alongside Einstein and Obama? Could this be the Christmas Lad of Iceland, prior to his scientific gelding?

The Caganer is a popular figure in Catalonian culture, associated with the Nativity. Yeah, the Christmas one. With Jesus in it. His name translates to “the shitter”, and most families will pop his figurine somewhere clandestine in the nativity scene, whereupon the children will try to find it. It’s like a little Where’s Waldo, but with shit.

“Why?” you may be asking. “Isn’t it kind of blasphemous to have a dwarf shitting next to Jesus?”

That’s a reasonable conclusion to draw, but nobody knows. There are a bunch of possible explanations for the Caganer’s presence and symbolism, but it’s empty conjecture. I’m partial to the Jungian representation of Caganer as “the Other” myself, but I’m also certain it’s a load of psychobabble cagada and 17th century peasants just thought poop was funny.

I know you’re wondering. No, I didn’t buy it. But only because his little red cap clashes with my office.

We scrounged up some beer and bocadillos at a cafe not far from the Cathedral. While there, we had to move to another table because a waiter had to open an honest-to-yog trapdoor and descend into the cellar for more wine.

There was a sign over the door that I managed to noodle out despite my at-best halting Spanish. It said:

Bienaventurados los borrachos, porque ellos verán a dios dos veces.

Blessed are the drunks, because they’re going to see God twice.

Love,

B.

 

Barcelona: La Sagrada Familia and Park Güell, or Gaudí’s Greatest Hits

Sunday, September 22nd, 2019. Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.
Soundtrack: Bad Religion – Slumber

We made it to the airport with time to spare and were then loaded through a plastic tube, not unlike at the MacDonalz playplace, into a cozy little Vueling that doubled the leg room of Icelandair. I fell asleep sitting up almost instantly, as I tend to on red eyes. I wish I could fall asleep that easily under any other circumstances. It’d especially come in handy at hostels.

A nonstop from Reykjavik to Barcelona turned out to be 4 hours and 20 minutes. That’s as much sleep as I got that night. It was 5 AM in Barcelona, and check-in wasn’t for 10 hours.

I’d never seen the Arco de Triunfo in the dark. It was right next to my hostel, and I used to go there first thing in the morning, when no one was hovering around but the joggers, and stare at it until I wanted coffee.

 

 

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Even the joggers weren’t out this early.

Well, there was nothing else to do. Even the chain sandwich shops weren’t open yet. It seemed as good at time for Park Güell as any.

Last time, I made the egregious error of hiking all the way up Park Güell. It’s a three mile climb, steeper as you get higher. I learned nothing, and made the exact same error this time.

On the way to my folly, we swung wide to look at La Sagrada Familia.

 

The Basilica de la Sagrada Familia is the brainchild of Antoni Gaudí, architectural golden boy and patron saint of Barcelona. His influence can be found on virtually everything, and it tends to be hard to miss, all bendy and emblazoned and vajazzled as it tends to be. The gods are cruel and his name is a pun on his style.

We made it to Park Güell with nothing in the tank, so we wound up doing a whole lot of resting.

It was well and fully morning, and the tourists were out in droves. With them came hockers and grifters, all desperate to move their bottled water or back-of-a-truck refrigerator magnets.

Park Güell was originally set to be a little neighborhood for the embarrassingly rich as a means of repurposing the barren hilltops, exploiting the access to fresh air, and making use of the spectacular vista. Count Eusebi Güell deicded this was a goldmine waiting to happen, and contracted everybody’s favorite Catalonian architect to design the citadel.

Gaudí was deep into his naturalistic period at the time, and wove together a gorgeous arboreal tapestry shot through with winding staircases and serpentine walkways, complete with plazas for taking a break, having a smoke, and appreciating the sprawl of Barcelona, stretching seaward beneath your feet.

Then they started building the villas proper. Count Güell moved into one to lend further legitimacy to the project. The second was a showhome to field all of their buyers.

Except there were no buyers.

Well, Count Güell didn’t take it too hard. He was an industrialist and a count, and the proud new owner of a Catalonian mountaintop dragon hoard. They pulled the plug on the villa. The count convinced Gaudí to move into the showhome, where he lived for the next twenty years with his family.

Güell sold the plot to the city, and it has since become a World Heritage Site.

We soaked up the ambiance of this monument to failed capitalism for about an hour, then toddled back down the mountain until we found a restaurant where we could gorge on tapas and morning beer.

Olives, fried bread, and brandy and rosemary chorizo. They gave us more olives than you could get at a grocery store.

Heartened and reinvigorated, we made our way to our hostel, Sant Jordi Gracia, and arrived with too much time to spare. We were sleepless and filthy. We sat in the common room in the corner, staring at the floor like catatonic refugees until the dude at the desk said, “Hey, do you guys wanna shower while you wait?”

We did. Oh, god, how we did.

Everything in Gracia cost half of what it costs in the real world. It was phenomenal. After I took a three-hour death nap, we went up to a swank Syrian restaurant and housed like $100 worth of food for twenty Euros.

I hadn’t seen chicken in a week. They haven’t discovered it in Iceland yet. I wept at our reunion.

Love,

B.