Posts Tagged ‘spain’

Ours and Theirs

Friday, September 13th, 2013


In Cordoba, Spain, away from the tourist clog around the Mesquita and the rambling alleyways of the whitewashed Juderia, there is a residential neighborhood that falls mostly silent after 10:00 pm, where the paint is a little cracked and the busses whoosh by a little faster, ambivalent to the cowering pedestrians on the street corners.

This is where we find the rock bar.

We are guided here by a pamphlet that D___ finds in the train station, a low-budget, hand-scrawled affair with a decent map and recommendations written in only passable English. It touts itself as the guide for the cool kids, and we are entranced.

We find it on the map, but also by following the thumping music, and the cigarette smoke of a few slumping locals outside. Inside, the mostly empty room shudders to the sound of Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough,” which is broadcast over a couple of enormous TV monitors. Pastel-hued prints of the Beatles, Aerosmith, and Zepplin cover the walls. Above the bar on a shelf sits a drum set, and above that, the words ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE lined up in block letters.

The beer is cheap. The wifi password is “IMAGINE ALL THE PEOPLE.” When D___ asks the bartender for it, he replies in English, “Imagine all de people,” and D___ isn’t sure which language, or which spelling to use. Our technology-obsessed, internet-parched minds compel us to figure it out, and we do, determined that those few minutes of flowing email, of Instagram that is truly instant, have made it worth the trip.

By our second beer, the bar starts to fill and the music changes. Baby-boomers in sundresses and loafers dance with their arms around each other. A girl saunters by wearing a t-shirt with an enormous jeweled butterfly on the front. Michael Jackson has disappeared from the monitor and gives way to bands we don’t recognize. One is shown in a video clip from the 80s, the lead singer dressed up as a mock version of an American teenager — letterman jacket, pleated jeans — and sitting in front of an enormous keyboard. The song is a play on 1950s doo-wop, sung in Spanish. Another band is called Tennessee, and they play in a Manfred Men-ish style, all of them wearing sunglasses.

“I think we should go,” says D___, finishing his second beer.

I check my email for another minute, not wanting to let go of that moment of precious connection.

Earlier, we’d eaten cheap tapas on the wide, square Plaza de la Corredera with a half-moon hanging over us in an empty, black sky. A passle of little girls raced around us, shrieking over a game with rules we didn’t understand, their parents nearby at metal tables, smoking and finishing their beers. Someone’s little dog, off the leash for a few minutes, panted for our leftovers. The houses along the Plaza were mostly shuttered, their owners on their late-summer vacations in France or Italy or New York, but the conversation hummed below anyway, for everyone left behind. In the rock bar, we wished we were back there. Or maybe we wished we could duplicate the feeling of that place and bring it everywhere, to the rock bar and back, and home again — a sense of the familiar and easy in uneasy places.

Barcelona in Six Square Meals

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Tiny Little Clams or Some Such

There was the tortilla in La Boqueria, jetlagged and with an empty belly. And how I pointed because I was afraid to say things in Spanish or in Catalan or in anything that wasn’t English. And I ate it standing up amidst the stalls of hanging pork legs and lanyards of chiles and wide-eyed staring fish. I thought it was the best market I’d ever seen — no small feat after Provence, after the strawberry sellers in Paris and the guys with tables of mangoes and coconuts halfway across the Pacific. But I liked this better, the colored glass and the narrow lanes and the candy sellers and the intricate sea creatures with spiny, spindly shells.


There was a baked piece of brie encrusted with pistachio nuts and a raspberry dipping sauce, and a sliver of pork loin on a little piece of toast with a chile pepper and a toothpick, and a salty piece of seared cod with chutney and there was beer. And endless little pieces of bread rubbed with tomatoes and olive oil and garlic. And outside the restaurant beforehand, C______ passed out cold on the sidewalk and I ran next door and got her the Spanish equivalent of Gatorade, which was predictably bright yellow in a bright orange bottle. When she felt better, she said, “How did you know that would help?” I said things about electrolytes and then our table was ready.


On the flight over, my foodstuffs are divided by a solid wall of mashed potatoes made from potato flakes. It stops the river of gravy from spreading across the little aluminum plate. The potatoes feel solid and inevitable. The vegetables can be counted on a single hand, and they’re incomplete, the shaved-down insinuations of carrots. Something shaved off a bigger carrot. A dismembered carrot.

Peppers in Long Strands

I go to McDonalds. Fuck everything, I go to McDonalds. Because it’s predictable and because the results are consistent, the whole world over. Because I am too tired from stomping around the city in flat shoes, from staring agog at Gaudi’s creations, to fish through a guidebook for something recommended. I don’t want a meal. I want fuel to keep seeing things. I order in English and sit on the bottom floor amidst noisy families and write in my notebook. The McDonalds is on the Passeig de Garcia, one of the most fashionable streets in Barcelona, near the Casa Batllo with its arched dragon back, its bones and scales. I sit in brown and orange familiarity in the basement with the kids, and I write in my notebook. A full third of the bun on each of my cheeseburgers is fully, undeniably stale.


At the restaurant that everyone recommends, we get a heap of slivered, fried baby artichokes, which are like French fries only made of artichokes. Their flavor is so delicate that it’s like eating fried air. We share plates of sliced meat and more brie with nuts and patatas bravas and when the bill comes, our only thought is that we should have ordered more.

The Beach

Me and C______ sit in a seafood restaurant by the port on a Sunday afternoon in winter and in the sun, it feels like summer. Or like some strange version of summer where people get sunburned in their heavy coats, where the breeze soothes and chills all at once. We get paella, which comes in huge metal pans with huge spoons. The yellow rice glistens. We chug sparkling water and talk about men, and after, we walk down to the beach. And over to the W hotel, which is shaped like a giant post-apocalyptic taco. In the lobby, we ask to see a room but the guy isn’t there, so we wander past the LEDs, past the mod fountain and the dumpling-shaped chairs and we walk on the boardwalk around the outside of the taco, which overhangs the ocean. What must it be like in summer, with full-strengh sun and everyone tanned and dazed from a day on the sand. Instead, it’s just us taking pictures, trying to imagine it, watching the sun set and pretending that it was June.