December 2010

European currency

A note on the superlative that a previous post was missing (here): i.e. on the specialest Disneyest superlative, the greatest,
the happiest,
the biggest,
the longest rhumba line…

It, this use of superlatives, demands a complete subjection to the principle of the creator’s imagination. Not, emphatically, the creative imagination.

In this way, it provides a religious experience, through access to one of the most basic requirements of religion, obedience: it requires, demands obedience. Obedience to the notion that there is a religious experience to be had!

In other words, what we called to do is Celebrate Today! Celebrate Today! Hallelujah… Hosanna in the highest!

You’re not a cool outlaw, you’re simply somewhere you don’t belong.
– David Byrne, Bicycle Diaries

To anybody reading this, to you, dear visitor, dear repeat visitor, you who are coming again, to you who are asking yourself, What’s up with these posts from the world? With these banal journal entries, telegramming the events of single days, and yet arriving sometimes two to a day, or having time leak in between them, so that between posts belonging to consequetive days a week perhaps has passed? What’s up with that?

First, might I ask you to take advantage of the comment facility. I have tried to make it interesting to you, suggesting that you might like to append a photo of your chosen avatar to your comments, of your Gravatar, copyright, I’m sure. I ask you to ask me rather than leaving it to me, all up to me, to do your readerly duty, your repeat-visitorly duty and ask myself, answer myself. For as Stanley Cavell wrote: Narcissus can ask himself questions, but he cannot give himself an answer he can care about. I am not your proxy, ought not to have to act on your behalf, for having made the presumption as to what indeed is in your best interests, I might with good intentions pave our way to hell. Indeed, no promise is made that this is not. Is it even ours?

The tour gathered under the category on tour (here) came to an end with our return to New Zealand, with pangs – at the bad food experienced in LA and at having had to leave Europe – over a month ago. I’ve been catching up, posting the journal entries with the snaps – and nothing much else – since we got back. There’s your explanation.

And having devoted all this time time travelling to when we were travelling I have not had time to record our impressions on our return. I had an idea to carry on travelling, actually, if only in how I approached the writing and recording business. How posts looked. What they should say. Please avail yourself of the comment button to interpose the opinion of yourself and and or of your avatar, gravatar (here).

To keep up with a day by day dosage of journal and snappings. What difference is there between the daily negotiation of impressions away from these islands and the same on them? But of course, stymied from the start through having to get through the backlog, those initial feelings found no immediate expression. Well, not here. A couple of notes went thereto. And I kept taking snaps.

Now, having been back over a month, back in what most people I met would gleefully refer to as the ‘real world,’ saying, So, what’s it like to be back in the real world? I have some ideas about the differences, about the construction of preferences.

How Maui’s brothers hacked these islands up! The landscape is chaotic. Hacked up hilly.

But I think the first thing I felt was, How like an old people’s home it is, with people who looked like volunteers serving hot drinks to new arrivals; and how like a pre-school, with the immediate sense that all aspects of life come under the purview of the central regulator: we were stopped by the police on the way back from the airport to check our WOF and registration; how safety is a by-word for culture, a culture of ‘being told to be careful.’

The second thing I saw was how insubstantial the architecture is and how impermanent. I asked, Is it in the knowledge of not belonging that the buildings are not built to last even a hundred years? that we have impermanent cities? houses?

We return to materials out of habit and building methods that won’t make buildings that last. Auckland, in addition, has been gutted of the buildings that might have made it beyond a hundred.

The other thing I noted was something I’d been struck by on returning to the European continent after a quarter of a century: the currency of history. This, in contrast to its obsolescence or a senescence of traditional cultures. There are buildings and monuments and statuary and gardens and artworks all with things to say to the present. That don’t need to make their claim in order to be heard. (Unlike what I said above about latterday American puritan culture: the demand that it is attended to, that we attest to the creative genius.) The human past is legible in the inhuman present, in the beyond to which the senses are submitted – but not required to submit: cobbles, stains on stone, decay, attempts at renovation, those vain occupations of ancient niches in old stones.

Further, the construction of a preference for a milieu in which English is not spoken. I enjoyed that. It gave me work.

luz es tiempo
on tour
Trans-European Express

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From Main Place Mall to the pollutant effect of humans in a world built for dogs & cars, or the Real World, Welcome back

J: Everything is a substitute.

So we go from ‘everything is everywhere’ to ‘everything is a substitute.’

Substituting for place, reference; referral taking the place of deferral. Substituting for milk, dairy-free creamer. Substitutes for cream, butter, sugar, food. Food replaced by ‘what we crave’ – sugar, salt, the bare minumum of texture to keep the two apart. Pancakes. Donuts. A pure form separating these two simplifications made polarities for all food. Substituting for health, healthy substitutions: free of fat, sugar- and dairy-free.

On the back of a bus: Environmentality. A neutral and politic word. In connection with Disney.

Names: McCormack and Schmick’s, Fuddruckers, Knickerbocker Hotel – Anybody a fan of Marilyn Monroe? No?

Main Place Mall in Santa Ana was where we caught the 83 South. And back, the 83 North.

The mall, owned by a familiar name, Westfield, and Macy’s and J.C. Penny’s there. We ate sushi, watching the hispanic chefs doing yakitori, aka caramelised meat with sesame oil. Outlet stores over the road. And a bookshop, monumental in scale, Barnes and Noble. They didn’t have the new Andrei Codrescu.

Another crazy busride out to Terminal 2 LAX. The driver sucking on a suspicious bottle at every set of lights and blowing into the mic before every announcement – to the five people on the bus -, weaving increasing as we neared the airport.

Air NZ rep received us in a thick Russian accent. Security again of the reformed variety: pleasant enough. The terminus itself a tiny thing, an isolation wing for Air NZ. Boasting a couple of stores and Wolfgang Puck, where we ate pizza. Bloody Marys: worcestershire, tabasco, ice, juice from the olive jar, vodka, leaving a third of the glass for tomato juice. The contents poured back into a shaker, shaken and poured back in. Garnished with a wedge of lemon, a wedge of lime, a stick of celery, a large olive pinioned to it by a toothpick shaped like a miniature red sword. The option not taken: salted rim.

Orange Crush looked radioactive, containing natural flavours but nothing found in nature, including the absence of fruit juice.

The embarrassment narrowly avoided – after Orange Crush hit the tiles – of actually tipping.

In the store: ubiquity of novels by Ayn Rand noted.

Just over twelve hours later, the sun having risen over the Pacific, NZ. Fresh air. A chill in it. The sun burning hot, not passing through it, the chill remaining. But no wind. No mistral.

Back into a codependent environment, an environment requiring input to function, in which you are not only a tourist but also one. Thinking of those places requiring no input, functioning without it.

Riverhead is a place built for cars and dogs. Human presence is self-effacing. Impact merely pollutant. English spoken.

on tour

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EVERYTHING is A SUBSTITUTE: the lie is that there is any real thing – keep it a secret!

the joke’s been made before: amplitude, volume. Fat and loud.

J: You can understand why Americans make big disaster movies. It feels like we’re inside some vast beast.

It sounds like it as well.

The ride to Universal Studios went like this – in a coach you couldn’t see out of because of the advertising that covered the windows, all of them, except the front windscreen, with from the inside a black holey gauze, from the outside King Kong crushing the bus, stuck onto the bus not crushed. Bad trompe l’oiel. Is there a category in Deleuze’s baroque, bad baroque? ad-bad baroque? baroque Obama? – which is not fair. Still… The folds of fat hanging off people that the people are. And if the soul is the body, then, a state of spiritual-physical apotheosis being reached… were it not for the mobility scooter, and the wheelchair, opted for, taken as an option… Many in these oversized perambulators could walk, resisted learning? Lived in a future where walking has become redundant? Lazy?

Try again:
Adult beverages – two bus trips, the first to the depot, with ‘Call me Jeff if you had a good time on my bus, Charles if you didn’t,’ send one of your group in, it gets real hot in the depot; patter about drinking bus-drivers: So I was at the bar this morning. You think I can drive with this traffic sobre?

Both bus-drivers, info about Universal revolved – pun? – around food. Where to get all you can eat. More than you can eat. Get the entree, it’ll feed a family of four. And as we’d found at Disney, a major proportion of the real-estate given over to eating establishments. Fat.

June gloom – that, according to the second bus-driver, ‘You know why most of our drivers are women? … [obligatory pause for comic timing] Because women know how to talk. We know how to talk real well,’ according to her: June gloom is the white stuff in the smog, makes it difficult to know if that’s a storm brewing, or just gloom of June in the grey-brown smog soup.

freeways, land of freeways and flyovers. J: Why would you build a flyover like that in an earthquake zone? Looking down on four layers of traffic from the graceful arm of a one-lane flyover.

freeways blocked with traffic for hundreds of kilometres on the way home, an always consistent spacing, in both directions, except on the carpool lanes, to qualify for the use of which all you need is two to a car. I asked. So I know. I said, That’s all you need?! Yes, it may seem like that’s nothing, but the fines for using it with one person in the car are very steep. No imaginative use of mannequins and dummies in the passenger seat here, the Americans are too literal? Result: hardly any vehicles using the carpool lane.

The Library Tower is the tallest building downtown, the Library Tower. It’s the first place the aliens attack. Is it full of books?

Let it be known that it was, is and always will be, in the Shrine Auditorium that Michael Jackson’s hair caught on fire.

And that the garment district rivals New York’s. It is not however a pretty area, being in an old part of the city.

The painted eyes of a massive figure on the side of a parking building follow you as you pass.

That film has gone to the $2 movie theatres.

Not me, uh-uh. No way!

Los Angeles was the second mission developed by the Spanish, San Diego the first.

The Church of Scientology, Tom Cruise.

Capitol Records might look like a stack of records, but the architect denies that’s what he had in mind. He simply submitted what he thought was an interesting design to a competition. Which he won.

The sight of Saddle Ranch Chop House greeted us on our arrival at Universal Studios. Make sure you get more than a couple of adult beverages in you before you try the mechanical horses out the front.

Universal was Peter Jackson land, his contribution – the largest 3D wrap-around screen in the world, wrapping around the tour bus on the tour, the medium for the King Kong experience – dominating all others. Well, the latest, the newest, the most popular.

Later, the kid from Seattle and his dad, on the never-ending aircon-chilled trip back to Hojo’s (You’ll never hear anybody calling it Howard Johnson’s): The Simpsons Ride was my favourite. And it was my Dad’s. It’s most popular which must mean that most people like it.

The Simpsons Ride was a dressed up over-loud – deafening in fact – flight-simulator experience, with big screen showing a cool Simpsons’ fantasia, with a logic to it, set in Krustyland, a ride that goes wrong – of course – badly wrong, the novelty consisting in the device by which you arrive in front of the big screen. You enter a small vividly cartoon-illustrated room, to climb into a car, four in front, four in back, which, when the ride commences, pops up through the ceiling of the room. Looking around from this vantage, I could see the other cars, that had risen out of the other rooms. And, which spoilt it, the edges of the wraparound screen, one clearly not as big as PJ’s, because PJ’s is the biggest in the world.

Consider the function of the superlative.

Scariest means ‘paid to be scary’ so if not scariest, not paid enough? Needing pre-emptive tips?

The House of Horrors was scary. The actors dressed scary jumped out of shadows. The actors came right up and did not stop short of touching you. They even chased you. I whacked one with a water bottle.

Jurassic Park dropped you vertically down an 80 foot drop.

We said to each other after that: You’re not in Disneyland anymore! No guarantees it’s going to be a nice ride.

The guy on the door at The Mummy said, Sure, you guys’ll be fine. It only goes backwards for a short while.

It accelerated at enormous speed, took us on a wild ride, stopped sharply then reversed back down the same route in practically its entirety, before grinding to a halt again, making a quarter-turn, accelerating as if to repeat the ride. A bang. A flash of light. The doors opening. You were out.

Lunch of filled rolls from ersatz Parisian cafe in International Street. Check out the signs. Places we’d been not so long before. Piaf’s Milord coming through the tannoy. Lucille Ball with Dezzie’s tombstone in the back of her pink convertible Caddy rolling by. A German accent on International Street: I SEE YOU LUCY! The Russian couple next to us with fond memories of I Love Lucy. How?

Sitting there eating the dry rolls with the tasteless tuna or chicken – the only flavour bread-and-butter pickle and ‘sun’-dried tomato -, a parade of obscenely fat… No. Fat is the wrong word. Distorted before fat. Bodies distorted by overeating. Fat then if the obscenity of this distorted flesh is understood by it.

Fat asses, fat haunches in the uniform of Universal Studios, the khaki brown shirt and black pants. The buttocks rising against gravity in bulbs out from the hips, as if double-buttocks.

Black Americans fat too. Young group, the guys following in oversized T’s and low fat-wear. Three girls, one chafing so badly, her legs bowed under her butts – bubble, if by bubble nothing fragile and ephemeral is understood, but proud from the body, standing up, a power of impertinent fat – barely able to walk.

And a statistically unlikely preponderance of mobility scooters. Scooters are optional. Mobility assistance. Not a necessary ride because I can’t walk but an I wanna ride because I’ll be damned if you’re gonna make me walk all that way! Mobility scooters and wheelchairs as a basic freedom and matter of individual choice. Go faster, Grandma! said the grand-kids hanging on, out for the day with Gran, their favourite, cos they get to ride along.

Self-induced mutations of the human body.

on tour

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nternational house of panicakes

Greeting you as you turn the corner onto the public concourse, We invented Must See.
Some visual cues as to what.

But like the injunction to Move forward,
it is a direction, is stated, without a,
without direction.

And We invented it.
Whereas we who are about to,
can go forward

secure in the knowledge that You
invented Must See. …

Day lilies

The happiest place on earth
(arriving early, we left

(and returned at 10
breaking the day with a swim)

Perfectly maintained entertainment machine

Dinner at Mimi’s cafe, a warehouse in a cottage
18 USD Sutter’s Pinot Grigio

Blackened Soul
Perfectly cooked salmon

Corn dogs

sugar, salt, heat,
unseasonal heat,
in the nineties, the thirties C.

on tour

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… what’s that sound? … I like that sound. I love that sound. … It’s the sound of my shoes …: barcelona-munich-tom bradley lax

A day begun in Barcelona and ending in LA, well, Anaheim, the magic kingdom of Howard Johnsons. A numb departure from BCN, somehow. The thought had been too hard to contemplate that we would be leaving Europe, so that when it came to actually going, it was as if we’d been let down, that the fates had not contrived to block our departure. The sun was rising. This taxi ride so different from the one that brought us into the city: the driver said nothing, solemn and silent, somehow fittingly; and the day dawning so brilliantly we would miss.

Our check-in time, hyperbolically early, left us with three hours or so to fill in. A final clean-out of change bought a snack. J. succeeded in last minute souvenir shopping but failed at the shoe-shop, where the service resembled our cafe guy of yesterday, throwing his hands in the air that a punter would have the gall to request a glass of water. The shopkeeper seemed to find it incredible that anyone might ask for service, grew even less helpful when the requested shoe was rejected, as if an act of gross inconsiderateness, nothing at all to do with the fit of shoe on foot.

I found Bolano’s Amulet, and the new Jasper Fforde, couldn’t commit. Spending on tapas satisfied the urge to buy something, at a cafe next to the outdoor smoking area. Patatas bravas. The classic tapa.

The flight to Munich went without incident. When we arrived, not finding our connecting flight on the board, we asked and were told the LA flight was on the other side of the world, would take 40 minutes to walk and involved an ordeal by security, down a long corridor… We had barely 30 minutes.

We got there well ahead of time, having crossed from one end of one terminal to the far end of the other. And were more or less waved through. No scan, one extra passport check.

Many Russians on the next flight. A baby intent on smashing someone.

Lufthansa again. Another surprisingly easy flight, twelve hours. Two dinners, at front and back of the flight. One screaming baby, a different one. Some Americans going home. Germans. Russians.

I caught Once Upon A Time in Mumbai, wonderfully cheesy Hindi film, badly subtitled in English. The male leads, three of them, ridiculously good-looking, intent on giving smoky eyes down the barrel at every opportunity. We synchronised playbacks for M.N. Shyamalan’s Aang The Last Airbender. A mistake to bother. Tension-less badly acted drivel.

I watched an hour or so of Thomas Grimm’s production of Cosi Fan Tutti, Salzburg, I think. An exciting production. Good voices. Nice naughtinesses, like the involvement of the orchestra in the action, the harpsichordist on stage for the recitatives. Costumes a bit questionable at times. But the camera was too close at times as well.

System-B was worth a listen from the 100 CDs and an excellent jazz trio: Wollny-Kruse-Schaefer – Em Live. The fluffage called Wollny a genius.

Was with trepidation that we entered Tom Bradley for the series of checks, security, bio-security. Since we’d packed a sealed packet of Iberian black pig sausage. And we had an apple.

Before we could ditch the apple we were told it would have to be declared. So, waiting for the queue to move, we ate it. Bad idea. On the brink of attaining the land of the free, we were told to queue up again for it to be incinerated. The apple-core. Can’t we just…? No.

The first passport check, we’d they’d done fingerprints and face shot, had said, something like jerky? Don’t worry. Here they were worried enough first to receive the apple-core on a proffered sheet of white paper – presumably for it to be submitted for tests, second to have us empty our bags, retrieve the fully sealed, dried, preserved salami-like sliced meat and confiscate it. So as to stop the spread of Foot and Mouth, we were told.

They were quite nice about it, if slow going about it, and we managed to have a chat with one of the guards who had been told that the reason NZ mutton is so good is because we don’t dock our sheep, so the fat doesn’t or does collect on the rump, one of the two. He told us that the meat in the US smells and tastes bad.

The long bus ride to Anaheim from poor Tom Bradley, freeways all the way. The driver, it being a Disney coach, did put on a DVD of Bambi, but only the small monitor above her head worked and the sound was crap. It was a gesture. Hardly comforting. I hope the Land of D. has not aged the same way.

Howard J.’s near the same as when I was here, about twenty years ago. Surface differences only. A walk up to our big room, with small terrace, and no offers of assistance with luggage. But with none of the people we’ve so far encountered, the security officials included, the brash loud fake obsequiousness I recall, of the Have a Nice Day era.

Only resto we found open was Ihop – don’t ask me. Good service. Fat food. And already obesity rears its wobbly head. Some large persons to be seen here and there, like the curious group to our left, two big girls, one really BIG, with three skinny pome dudes. All eating up enormous plates of fries, T-bone steaks, repeats on the cokes. An eat fest? Or full figure fans?

on tour

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Amor de Barcelona: some images of passing adequacy & a relation from a board by night of regret & an ache at imminent departure

With vodka in mug, down Baluard, past the washing strung along the footpath, which I never snapped, to the almost hundred metre strip of sand beach, where I’m writing this, on the edge of a boardwalk. To my right, the D of the W building, the smaller sister of the hotel in Dubai, sail-shaped, a deco D, outlined in white neon. The beach cafe lit with magenta, where we tried to get breakfast this morning, but were going to be charged 13.50 for eggs on toast; and, to my left, the beach cafe lit with vermilion, where we ended up breakfasting. Our provisions let run low ready for the long haul to LA.

Breakfast consisted of stale croissant, tasty OJ and strong if old coffee, without butter or any other accompaniment, 5.50 each. We were offered croissant, chose it, were told there may not in fact be any, asked for it as a preference, and receiving it, perhaps we would have been better off choosing toast and marmalade. Service slack and mocking and playful all at once.

Two girls near us asked the waiter in Spanish for a glass of water in addition to the 5.50 set breakfast. The waiter conferred with the boss, who threw his arms up at the imposition. Putting his newly rolled ciggy down, he went behind the bar and got it from a tap.

Behind me, the ambience of language: somebody giving directions, a woman walking and chatting with her companion, a low voice rasping out something like tequila, a male voice laughing, possibly at tequila, a woman laughing, another shouting for her dog, but she’s in front of me, against the backdrop of the sea, the Mediterranean, the middle earth. And also the sounds of bikes, the rear ratchets clicking as they freewheel on the cycle track. And now a child’s voice. And in the distance a youth singing. A man whistles. The child’s getting closer.

She is walking with her very pregnant mother, taking the terrier out for a walk.

There are lights out on the sea, as well as the Evening Star, above, and aeroplanes’ lights winking. One crosses the sky; another follows. In fact I can see three planes at the moment.

The lights trail off into yellow at the Olympic end of the beach, down the coast, the end of the bay marked by a beacon flashing red and green. Towards the D, bright lights on posts, along the promenade leading down to it.

Today, the Born, the southern half of La Ribera. We walked up through the markets of Barceloneta, discovering where the locals buy their food. The old market building has been renovated and comprises both market shops, hams hanging in dozens, fish shops, with a black-fleshed fish from which it appeared the head had simply been bitten off, and crates of small squid, called after the ink they put out, and, new to us, a cooked bean and nut place, also displaying preprepared dishes, tomato chicken, lasagne, rissole-type things, and, as in a supermarket, a long counter selling nothing but frozen food, vegetables and prepared seafood, cooked prawns and shrimps, battered fish, fish sticks, spinach cubes, mixed vege, and boxes of imported seafood, these, as well as a supermarket of the common sort, split over two floors. Which, in fact, we revisited on the way home, the market market having closed. Wine at 1.89. The smell of bread pervaded the upper floor, but the bread itself was all cold. We put off buying that until nearer home, where we could have bought it from the general store – also called Supermercat, Spar -, the only good thing they sell at night, every night it comes in hot and fresh, but instead I bought it using the requisite Catalan words. The longest sentences in the language I have yet spoken. Little more than, hot bread please. No, not that one, the bigger one. That’s it. Thank you, good bye.

It is something that ought to be stressed about Barcelona, it is proudly Catalan and largely Catalan-speaking. Spanish of course is understood. But if like me you are not conversant in either, it’s confusing to know which to try when. Try a little Spanish, you’ll be answered in Spanish. Try Catalan, and by the time the words are out, you’ve probably already been picked as a foreigner. The etiquette of the language, therefore, is what I’m alluding to: whether Catalan is an ‘insider’s’ language, a mark of group membership and identity, and not open to the butchery of tyros.

There are four large groups of white lights on the horizon now, towards the D, beyond which Port Vell becomes marina; further beyond which, below Montjuic, is a harbour for passenger cruisers, called, I think, Europa Harbour. At one end, there’s a great white bridge that opens to let the tall ships pass. Beyond, again, container wharves and the working and industrial port of Barcelona. Hidden from the city, behind Montjuic now. Where it was President Companys, the Catalan, who was executed at the castle and is commemorated there.

We crossed over from Barceloneta into the maze of medieval streets. Still early enough for shops to be open. Jacaranda trees and as the day opened out, the heat of the sun increasing, a haze under trees, sending down shafts of light.

We circled Born, returning to the restaurant we’d seen advertising paella. Hugo. A street away from St. Pere’s church. (We didn’t enter. A mass was in progress.) Hugo told us he wasn’t opening until 1:00 for lunch. I checked my phone. 2:00. He showed me his watch. 12:45. We had missed the Fall back of the end of daylight-saving.

The paellas were delicious with the salsa served. Turns out we had picked a Chilean restaurant for our one and only paella experience. But they were cool. Happy to chat and only partially to be understood. We understood our host was from Chile and had been here for 24 years. He ran the restaurant with his amigos.

We crossed Via Laietana to begin our Ramble proper on La Rambla, from Placa Catalunya. Disappointing. So many people. But we ventured off the main drag enough to see more of the city. Particularly Placa Reial and, over the hill Carrer de la Comtessa de Sobrediel climbs, the Roman tower, dating back to the first century AD of the city’s foundation.

Back cleaning and packing in our house for the week. A sadder move than all the preceding now imminent, away from continental Europe.

on tour

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Camp Nou, Castell de Montjuic, Fundació de Joan Miró

We went seeking the Camp Nou Experience. Plus. First we had to get to Camp Nou, by way of Collblanc, Metro L5. Tourists flocking through streets where there were a conspicuous number of old people, to the stadium Barca’s home. Which, as it happens, is right next door to a cemetery.

We followed the crowds, many Spanish, young couples, middle-aged couples, groups of girls and groups of boys, families: every demographic seemed drawn by the magic of ‘one of the best teams in Europe.’ Through the gates, with the pilgrims, the queue for tickets came as no surprise, given the numbers we’d already seen converging on Camp Nou. Of course at the last, some official had to open a short-cut so that those behind could cut in ahead. I say of course, because the same thing happened at Sainte Chapelle.

Drawing close, we read that the final Camp Nou tour is at 13:30 and that the Megabotiga will close at 14:30. We ask at the ticket-booth, the woman gleefully tells us that we will get in in time but that those following us might not. Bank holiday. Her next statement is that will be 53.50, please.

The Experience doesn’t stop there. Another queue, to get in the doors. This one did the curious trick of beginning outside, passing through the building, turning a half-circle to come back in the same doors, before managed by the familiar zig-zag formation of seat-belt cordons. I’d sent J. and Q. on a recce into the Megamucha-merch store in case the Experience consumed so much time that the compensatory buy-up could not take place. Recall that we’d not gone to Saturday night’s game. Fools!

They were still absent when I came to the final turnstile – or ticket-check. I had to back track and wait at the pass, one of the zigs in the zag.

All present, we ascended onto an overbridge, below us bronzes of footballers in action, largely figurative, on an open square, to arrive at the Barcelona museum. It’s more than a club. It’s a silver mine.

A dark room. Light-tables with exhibits, a glass wall extending down one side displaying cups, on the far side interactive walls playing back video and giving vital statistics of BCN players. On the walls posters, two I’ve snapped: the Miro and the Tapies, displayed side by side.

Every room echoes with one name, the most requested name in the interactive displays with a face that is the most represented in the video material: Lionel Messi’s, Lionel Messi, Messi, Messi. Messi howling. Messi’s sweaty hair. Messi kicking a ball. Messi as peace embassador. Messi with his superhero pals. And later we’d see the homage descending into the bathos of posing for photos with invisible Messi against a greenscreen. Above the posers, screens showed inserted Messi. And it was Messi with few exceptions who was requested. The photographers had a singular grasp on the composition of the shot, and directed the arms and legs, the weight distribution of the fans around the absence in order to reproduce his presence in a convincing likeness.

From the museum we went out onto the grandstand. Looked out, wishing we’d been there Saturday, realising the view wouldn’t have been so dire from the topmost tier. Went down, through the press room, where another set of photographs could be taken holding the Euro cup. In facsimile one presumes. The dressingrooms, spartan. With spa. No curtains, said J. If they were Spartans they would also play nude, I suppose.

Out of the dressingrooms, down a corridor, rubber-tiled, steps, piped in the roar of the crowd: we were being ushered out onto the pitch by the route the players take. Down stairs. The roar intense now. To the right a chapel with the Montserrat Madonna again for a quick prayer, to the left a sort of post-op question room, like those in which they corner players who have left the pitch after the game.

Up stairs now, up to the level of the pitch. Which was being sprinkled and lay behind barriers. The walk in was the most effective part of the tour. Made the nerves tingle. Imagine if it was you the crowd was clamouring for. And after our experience with the arenas at Rome, Nimes, Arles and Stes Maries de la Mer, given a context in the history of spectacles.

It is a brilliant stadium. I couldn’t help but think it was fascism with a friendly face. But still, a place meant to evoke mixed feelings: not the certainty of victory, but its glory against the possibility of defeat; a sense of it being a contested ground, even if it is Barcelona’s and no other team’s. Perhaps there is something in that too. The more it is Barca’s the more profoundly felt a beating would be there. The number of games played there on viewing the stadium became confused with other numbers: for each game 99,354 spectators when full to capacity. The largest stadium in Europe. As if one would say to oneself, Imagine, how many games have been played here! Only to index the emotional investment of an audience of 99,354.

We were given a lift to take to the third floor, in which a doting Dad paraded his baby on his shoulder, entertaining those in front so effectively that we could not get out but descended again. To rise again, the lift opening to the attendant’s surprise still packed full.

We saw the press gallery. Another number, like 500 press at every game, and 80,000 minutes of footage per match.

We ate at Pans and Company, Spanish McD’s. Tasty. If nothing like the pictures. Hot sandwiches in the shape of baguettes. Salads. Chips of the tapa classic, potatoes bravas.

A strange sort of temple, Camp Nou. But it’s more than a club. It’s a lifestyle that thrust into it you’re expected to understand somehow. There are no signs saying, This is place of worship, we ask that non-believers show respect. Simply the assumption that all are believers. Or are able to be. Perhaps a sign of what is missing from the Christian church. Except in America, I would presume to say, where non-belief is not a tenable position or serious state. Like the old joke about gays.

We walked up through the university to where we’d been yesterday, on Diagonal, again. Caught the Metro to connect with the Montjuic funicular, which is a short cable car ride. Connecting to the Teleferic de Montjuic, gondolas. By this means we arrived at the Castell. A prison, with nothing to recommend it apart from views out over the port, the Port of Europe, the container port, the Auckland-like side of Barcelona. Nothing to recommend it. Except as a place of execution – until 1940 – and incarceration, of political prisoners under Franco.

We went down again, onto Avenue Miramar to the Joan Miro Foundation, who, we found out, went throught a kind of aggressive period before escaping into a self-generated whimsy-land of biomorphs, ladies, animals, symbol-like things. There was first an I wish I’d popped an E before I came exhibition called something like Electronic Sentiments by somebody whose name I didn’t bother recording, then Alexander Calder’s Font de mercure.

I’ve never seen anything like that. A fountain playing mercury not water. Outrageous.

It was designed for the Spanish Republican Government’s pavilion at the 1937 Paris World Fair. In the same room, where it was not cordonned off, were exhibited Picasso’s Guernica, Miro’s The Reaper (Catalan Peasant in Revolt) – which subsequently went missing – and Julio Gonzalez’s Montserrat.

That was mesmerisingly good. And then a massive Where The Wild Things Are hanging, woven from wool, huge thing, by Miro and another. Lots of Miros here. In this purpose-built building, opened 1975. Nice place.

Somehow the narrative of Miro’s engagement and lack thereof with his country’s tragedy, Civil War and then World War II, is not fully… engaged with. It is again an engagement and lack thereof. Miro is aggressive and escapes into an art for art’s sake… and, if the wall panels are to be believed stays in this Neverland.

Then odd anomalies like the burnt canvases of the 1970s. Literally, burnt. Surprising. If the spirit were so blithe as we were given to assume. Toile brulee, 1973, said the wall notes, expressed protest against the exchange value of art.

We went downstairs to the basement, works donated to the Foundation after Miro’s death. Here there was Balthus’s Tete de jeune garcon, 1947 and Tapies’s Pintura amb penja-robes, 1985 (a canvas featuring a stuck-on coat hook), along with a Richard Serra, Henry Moore, Dorothea Tanning. I like these small collections that circulate around the personality of the one-in-question. Like Peggy’s place in Venice.

A note called attention to the poetry of Miro’s titles, so it’s worth giving a sample here, not least because they belong to works that made us laugh: The diamond smiles at twilight; The lark’s wing encircled with golden blue rejoins the heart of the poppy sleeping on the diamond-studded meadow; and (my favourite), Hair pursued by two planets.

Not enough of the punters were laughing here. You think, If he’s not going to engage with contemporary atrocities, at least let us laugh. And I believe this is true of Miro. He does. Which is all the more comical when you consider the look of the man, his properness and seriousness. Who was it said to him, As you get older your work keeps on getting younger? And I love that Tapies considered him the master.

Downstairs to another gallery, where Marcus Coates’s Dawn Chorus was in full song. An installation comprising a dozen or so high-def screens showing disparate individuals embedded in natural environments alone, old man, beside fake fireplace, reading newspaper, for example; or dentist in surgery. The loops were staggered so that at any one point the minimal action, turning pages of newspaper, fidgetting, would speed up for some and remain at real-time playback for the others. The point being that in the sped-up footage the person would whistle. The whistling was timed to coincide with a soundtrack of birdsong, each individual in his or her cage matched to a particular bird. Now this was funny.

What was there left to do but ramble… NO! A bank holiday. We couldn’t commit to a mile-long walk with no shops. So Metro to Drassanes again and by the beautiful Barcelona walking spaces around the marina in Port Vell to home. On the way, a skateboard meet. All the little dudes dressed up. One in yellow and black horizontal stripes. One with Joker make-up. Another with fake bleeding gash in head. Thrashing it on the waterfront to Ozzy Osbourne. Don’t forget the really little dude, backwards cap and red T, about as tall as his board was long.

Attempt made at post-prandial promenading. Went sour. I didn’t want to walk on the sand. I didn’t want to be reminded of the beach. Not yet. Although Barceloneta is a place you’d want to be if you could only stay here.

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the decorative rules by which ornament proliferates on the surface that grasped like ideas by the generative depths become those structures on which whole works are made

We hired bikes and ventured once more into the arena of Gaudi commercialism. Although it took a long time to get to Park Guell.

We went via the Grand Gherkin, where we stopped, hoping to be able to get to the top. Entering through a full security check, we got to see an exhibition on water, the source of all … things? Forms of life, maybe.

It was good. There was an arch made of screens showing the water-life-cycle, with a thunder and rain and adequate accompanying sound. And models of a salt-water molecule and a rain-water molecule. Stills of various sorts and eras. Filters of various sorts, mainly of the modern era. And once through I approached the English-speaking attendant. No, he said. Above is all private, all offices.

So from the Giant Gherkin we learnt about water. Forth onto Diagonal, our old favourite, now taking advantage of the cycle lanes. An Autobahn for bikes, said Q.

Past Sagrada Familia, up and on and on, until we reached the university, where yes there was a park, with a fountain by Gaudi, but not Guell. I checked the map.

It was gone. Must have fallen out before the Gherkin, otherwise I’d have remembered it when I emptied my pockets at the security check. Relying on piecing together our itinerary with the help of two guidebooks’ page-size maps, we ascertained that we were some distance away from our chosen destination. Were quite some way away, in fact.

Back-tracking, we came to Augustus. Up him, to the Traverssera de Gracia, along that to the Torrent of Flowers, upstream to the park. Sounds easy, was largely at the end uphill and by the time we reached the park, three hours had passed. We were also suddenly surrounded by people, busloads, trucking in and out, dumb pedestrians, moving in such numbers they felt they could monopolise the street as well.

The Park Guell experience itself however was exciting and inspiring. And having cycled through so much of the city, one felt attuned to the Modernisme of which it is an expression.

After all, Gaudi’s context might not contain his genius but does provide a clue as to what inspired him to inspire us. If you take on the efflorescence of the decorative arts of the mid-nineteenth century in Catalonia, you might say that this surface proliferation, itself a product of variations in decorative means and modes, forms and materials, was then internalised. By a folding in of the outside to make an inside. Which isn’t yet a satisfying explanation.

Or: By taking what is happening on the surface as decoration, a decorative pattern, for a plan, a structure, the whole becomes decorative. As in, Gaudi’s Modernisme’s place in a decorative movement, which in his work takes a turn to the grotesque: structural elements are made to conform to decorative rules.

That, I hope, better sums up the thought, and explains the proliferation of axiomatic reasons, a whole symbology expressed mathematically, for the decorative rules determining the structures he produced and designed. As if the maths didn’t come first. And possibly just might not. But requires another level of patterning, of self-organising thingness occupying a surface before axioms can be drawn. The rules. And a new code born as it sinks into the folds of the cerebrum.

Such a great technique, putting things together according to decorative rules: whether mundane, rocks, or special, already produced, the collages of patterned-glazed ceramic, and plain-colour-glazed ceramic. Of course, with its commercialisation as a site with an arty aura inflicted upon it, you get, we got, the twee cello and violin duet playing movie themetunes, crowd-pleasers. And the happy duo I’ve snapped.

Park Guell is a happy land. It has a great view too. We walked to the top, having chained our bikes up. And hurried a bit to reach the bottom again, in the warmth of early evening. Downhill all the way to Placa de Catalunya. Through el Born and only one and half hours over time.

Tonight a nice vibe out on the street. There’d been a cool group playing Cuban music down by the marina. Crowds of people out, rambling. So we went out again. For dinner. For lunch, we’d made an emergency stop at a Turkish/Syrian place, part of a chain and eaten up large, halfway up to the Guell: we were not now incredibly hungry.

Hunting down the famous paella of Barceloneta we came to our neighbourhood’s market square. Two dinosaurs were battling. Brilliant mechanisms. A happening. For Halloween.

After that, up and down, back to some grungy places we’d passed and returned to because they promised a bit of life. Under absinthe lights.

One of them was called Absinthe. It was the other that had food. Confusions followed over what dishes we’d ordered, which were the kitchen’s mistakes, which we had to pay for, and what we’d said do not bring now that we’ve eaten the kitchen’s mistakes. Was not that good. I don’t know really what they were set up for. The two waitresses had halfway fuck-you attitude and half-way not. Were reserved and severe and smiley and apologetic, hard and soft. And the atmos was … missing. But in a better way than if we were at one of the many tourist joints down Borba or on the beach. Which latter were by this time practically deserted.

After having eaten, Q. having kicked a ball and been totally seduced by late-night Barcelona life, we went for more rambling around. Bumped into an impromptu Brazilian style percussion band, with horns. People gathered. Girls were dancing. Some guy sprayed beer on everybody. And the local pub brought out a special loving cup which resembled an alembic for the players.

Down on the sand, the sand sculptures were still around, even if most of the sculptors were tucked up elsewhere. Halloween theme guy, whose stuff I didn’t snap – it was kind of boring, except for the flaming eyes of the skulls, which the camera doesn’t really like -, and his girlfriend, had all their gear under a beach umbrella, even though the sign read to please clear the beach by midnight for cleaning to take place.

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La Sagrada Familia, greater than the cult of Antoni Gaudí, Vinçon, Desigual, Entrevidas by Anna Maria Maiolino at The Fundació Antoni Tàpies, La manzana de la discordia

Out into sun, we followed the edge of the marina around to Port Vell, cutting in to catch the Metro at Drassanes, connecting, and popping up at Sagrada Familia. It had crept up behind us, the massive biomorphic slip-cast of Gaudi’s still unfinished Last Citadel of Christendom. It is almost horrifying, this many-spired thing. Seems risen out of the mud and running and dripping with it.

The queue time went quickly with chestnuts, trips up and down the street. The queue stretched around the straight Neo-Gothic side of the cathedral. We told off some pushy Spanish ladies who insisted on bumping forward into us, judging the distance by feel more than sight, and had a go at two queue-jumping Italians. Who got in anyway, several rows behind us.

The Passion side, dominated by Josep Maria Subirachs’s expressionist sculpture, under spidery buttresses, pulls you in, past the flagellation of man, tied to pillar, and through the doors made of letters. Into the alien. It is an alien but also so human as to be as close to music as I have experienced architecture. Like walking into a polyphony vast and unearthly, that one knows has numbers behind it, engineering, and numbers in the sense of numeralogical variation, but is, like music, the incarnation of number, has digested ratio and numerical relation and measurable proportion, embedding it in a mad inspired structure. Seeing it you can only feel that sense of powerful relation to what architecture is, i.e. structured materials. The pillars dividing at carved out ellipses into four is really an extraordinary innovation.

Having seen that the madness made music inside, the outside mattered less. And the fact that it is a building-site, almost always depicted with its cranes constantly tending it, this adds something. Like – more similes – seeing the orchestra playing in rehearsal, hearing the mass come together.

I loved every minute of the noise of polishers and cherry-pickers, and hoists, the warnings beeping, the engines droning. Albeit, that the imminent arrival of the Pope meant preparations had obviously accelerated and that there was less floor space for us to visit. The inner space of the building convinces you it is the Last Citadel of Christendom. It is staggeringly good.

I needed convincing. The cult of Gaudi is too much, I think, has become silly. Not that he would disapprove. He allegedly peddled the dream himself out on the street. He wouldn’t mind being made part of this publicity machine for the sake of the project, to get the necessaries. To finish it in 2040-something.

I hadn’t realised how much was lost during the Civil War, 1936-9, how much was smashed and burnt. The work of reconstructing Gaudi’s intentions is inextricably tied, sometimes controversially, to the job of building the crazy thing. Not very Christian, in that sense. In fact, something has gone awry when the cult of the personality of the artist, genius, architect, visionary – or not – overrides what may be in the best interests of it being a building and a sacred place.

A fascinating thing. I had also not known he was hit by tram and died having committed forty-three years to the project. We saw him down there, in the crypt, through plastic windows, in the shadowy vault. If only the Sagrada Familia could extricate itself from the cult of Gaudi. It is too great to need the pathos of his human story.

We lunched on Diagonal. Salty tapas. Made us thirsty the rest of the day.

Down the Passeig de Gracia, Vincon was an ultra design warehouse offering the prospect of better living by design, designed, all of it, with an eye for mass-production meets design. Very designy. Even the counters. Industrial scale check-outs with huge rolls of ribbon built into ribbon-applying desks and commercial-length wrapping paper – all branded – on overhead looms. Fun: a white translucent trout lampshade, the wire the line it dangles from; useful: if you’re local for Christmas catering, ham leg holders, with clamps for the bone and spikes for the meaty end.

Past Gaudi’s Mila building, impressive when at a distance for the tiled chimney whorls, and roof-line like a dutch bonnet, we turned off Passeig de Gracia, where on the corner, the fashion at Desigual caught our eye. Tried on some things. Most exciting fashion we’ve seen – for colour and design – but produced in bulk and sold at what is probably a reasonable price for euro earners, but not for us.

Visited the Antoni Tapies Foundation, where I got to see more MORE Tapies, and a compellingly worthwhile exhibition by Anna Maria Maiolino. Of poohs. Not really poohs. More sausages, rissoles, thumb-pressed waddings, loaves of clay. Part ephemeral materials; part permanent. But why not poohs? repetitive organic, products of the body of the artist, different and… A major source for her Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition. I don’t think this was a curatorial addition. I also don’t believe the citation of this source does her any favours. The ontological status of the art goes without… needing such an explanation or justification, or any legitimation. Her investment is in the series, the series of growing differences, making difference… Yeah. But standing surrounded by the thumb-pressed clay nodes on floor-to-ceiling wire-netting – a nodal growth, algal – with, on pallets, fluid rolled pooh forms reclining one on another on top of another on another, recumbent poohs, poohs like you can do in Hong Kong toilets, where they are couched in pools, unbroken, fragile meshes of waste organic matter, standing there next to these, there was a vibration – not a pooh-like one – of life or virtuality, of what art is good at giving – energy. (Do you think it is just warmth? Or the implied warmth of a piece that has only just left the body of the artist? So that the ephemeral or fast work, either Anna Maria Maiolino’s or Antoni Tapies’s retains exactly this aura about it? Is the work of any hand, any body? Or as Tapies said of Breton in the video, magic? This energy?

(Magic would be an impersonal warmth: a gift passed from my hand to yours, with the potential always there that it might be passed back between us?)

By the time we left it was almost seven. The light was fading. Luckily the Casa Batllo was lit up, like a gorgeously curvy and spiralling pastel lolly. Less fortunate but more accessible was the Casa Amatller, by Josep Puig i Cadafalch, where I took some snaps in the entry way. Less fortunate again and tenanted by Guess on the first floor, the Casa Lleo Morera by Lluis Domenech i Montaner. Together these houses by three different architects comprise the Manzana de la Discordia, each constituting a variation in approach to Catalan Modernisme. Not to be confused with modernism, more like a Jugendstil.

Home too late to get the coquilles for the risotto, but asparagus and the baguettes that even the smallest Supermercat’s here have warm in the evening, plus dodgy Spanish vodka. We could neither get the TV to work, nor find a site streaming the game between Barca and Sevilla – or as Q. put it, Messi vs. Oetzel. Hard call to miss a 300 euro match – damn near what it would’ve cost us to see it. Still … the beautiful game.

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the temptations of football, arms, in the cloisters of water-closets and geese

Sinking in: slowly. Which is how the decision whether to attend tomorrow night’s game between Barcelona and Sevilla had to be approached. Ten at night. Seats started at 74, for top and back of the stand; went from there to 86 euros, for goal ends; and thence to 106, shoulder seats. This was an agency, mind you. Officially, there were only singles left. Guessing that the agencies buy bulk and sell at premium. The small print read: to guarantee your seats are together, add 19.90 … to each ticket! While terms and conditions stipulated that no such guarantee could be made.

The chance of a lifetime to see the world’s best footballer, Messi, who has only just succeeded in scoring a goal, for over 300 euros for us. At ten o’clock. In the rain, well, forecasted.

Or, the chance of a lifetime to visit Camp Nou, home of Barca, and buy merch.

Later. And Q. finally made it. Merch won over falling asleep at the top of the stadium, wet, poor, frustrated at the non-appearance of Messi, who is probably going to be held back for the BIG game, Real vs. Barca.

But if we can watch it on TV, hoorah.

Venturing out into the sunshine, the day well aired, a dusty southern light. Our quarter 7 or 8 storey low-rise domiciliary blocks set in a grid, with businesses on the main drags. And the beach bordering one side, the marina another, in a triangle, base to the city. Through secret placa, one with a church, where we looked in. Domes. Statues of Madonna and Son, the latter nailed up, the former in signature floor-length robes. Must’ve tripped.

To the old railway station. Frank Gehry set to do a number on it. Into Santa Maria del Mar, a theme for us, these ladies of the sea, where we entered through the apse a vast volume, no transept, Catalan Gothic style. Q. remarked, If all the air in the world was used up, I’d come here and shut the doors. It was that airy. Beautiful copy of the Montserrat black Madonna.

Up into the Barrio, and stumbling upon Galerie Maeght. I’d just read about the Antoni Tapies foundation up by Gaudi’s house, and here were real Tapies. I’ve snapped the scary eyes of an Antonio Saura, an Antoni Tapies, and a Joan Miro, or two, back to Tapies for some arms.

The books, particularly exhibition catalogues, were really tempting here. Lining the entry-way and side alcove, with a ladder up to reach the high shelves. Nearly bought a numbered print by Tapies, with a big A on it, and some formula involving multiplication and a half. 25 euros. Instead bought catalogues by Tapies and Miro, both with 6 euros written on stickers, which together somehow ended up costing 30 euros. I don’t care; I don’t care.

Back down the way for lunch at Tapeo, our first tapas or tapac experience here. Deep-fried anchovies the winner. Fig salad not bad, salty cheese and redcurrants. Soft-edging the day with a dry white Catalonian wine, recommended by our host, his place new, reviewed in a street mag we picked up. Which, in keeping with long-haul taxi-driver’s info regarding Catalonia’s liberalisation of laws surrounding prostitution, had reviews of escorts at the back. Gabriela could talk dirty, even in English; Eris loved to indulge in foreplay for hours, hours.

Popped in for a squizz at DHUB, Design Hub of Barcelona, at wallpapers. They have never been interesting or even so interesting. A find-a-word wallpaper is a good idea; so is a post-it wallpaper; so is a heat-sensitive wallpaper which when activated by a hair-dryer strips gay clichees down to their knickers. And a shop with gas-cannisters on trolleys which open to be suitcases, with plastic robed Jesuses – see signature robes, above – which when twisted grind pepper or salt. And small plastic plates with rings to fit on your finger, balancing bits of tapeo, finger food literalised.

Escaped the labyrinth of el Gotico via the OTT Palau de la Musica Catalana, thence, where we did not enter at the 12 euros proposed, to visit Barcelona Cathedral, where a lesser entry-fee was charged – the riches of the side-alcoves unaccountable. I’ve snapped two: the Altarpiece of St. Clair and St. Catherine by Miquel Nadal and Pere Garcia de Benevarri, 1451-1458 and the Alterpiece of St. Martin of Tours and St. Ambrose of Milan by Joan Matas, 1415, tempera on wood.

The cloisters were unlike any I’ve seen, a caged garden within, containing a pond and carp, and geese, and greenery, and a fountain, with potable water, and toilets, for men and women. Seems the Catalonians are more liberal with their supply of places of relief. Physical, rather than spiritual.

The museum contained astounding medieval, 13th and 14 century, paintings. One of which told a bizarre story about a hairy man who became a saint. Was it St. Jerome? Another showed Jesus learning to walk, with a kind of wooden tricycle walker, his mum in the background cutting cloth to make him some clothes. The work the museum claimed as exemplary was an extreme pieta, Mary’s mouth lipless, downturned in grief, shadowed almost as if she had a moustache, her face the focus. But on either side of her figures who looked like they’d been added in photoshop, the Bishop of Barcelona, and I can’t recall who the other was but he was tonsured and wore round glasses: three distinct time periods. The Bishop resembled Keanu in Bill and Ted, totally awesomely hanging with Madonna and Son.

We made it as far as Placa Catalunya and stopped for a refill of tapas for Q., caffeine for us. Disappointing espressos made up for by old empire cafe styles, dark wood and red leather, a leadlight illuminated dome in the ceiling, tapas displayed on the bar counter. To El Corte Ingles, a department store, we found largely pretty dowdy fashion-wise. But it did have a supermarket in the basement where we shopped up large. A largesse extending neither to the trees of jambon hanging in bags nor to the brains and other vital organs in plastic boxes.

Our first Metro here went well. Remember hearing tell of its similarity to Berlin’s. With our 5 day passes bought – no problem. Except the weight on the back of shopping.

Amazing what an industry Gaudi is. His name everywhere, at the Diocesan Museum beside the Cathedral, on the screens on the Metro, in signs on newstands, Barcelona’s golden son… like Lionel Messi!

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