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.