Just returned last night from Barcelona. Picked up the doggies this morning from Woodland Veterinary Hospital’s luxurious kennel suite, and they were healthy and happy.
Barclona is a really cool city,and the wife and I are definitely going back for a repeat visit sometime in the next few years. In a week we were able to do justice to the major Things to Be Seen, and didn’t feel rushed. Pics coming in the next day or so.
(Incidentally, I bought an 8Gb card for the camera for this trip. Taking almost 2000 photos — !!! — only filled it to just under half capacity. Kewel!)
Spain, of course, is a fully socialized country. Barcelona is one of the more leftist cities in Spain. Some observations:
1) It’s SLOW. Spain is known as one of the least-productive countries in Europe, and holy crap these people were inefficient. An extreme example: if you want to eat in your restaurant, don’t choose the Attic, on La Ramblas, a gorgeous place but so woefully slow that we were not brought menus for thirty minutes after being seated. Similar intervals separated beverage service, ordering the meal, food service, catching someone to ask for the check, getting the check, getting someone to take the credit card for payment, returning the credit card for signature. Even though by then we were used to Spanish meals taking a long time, we were stuck for more than three hours in that place. But see number 4, below.
2) Gorgeous trappings conceal ugliness. All tourist cities like to “hide the dirt,” and Barcelona’s no exception, but I think Barcelona likes to put a pretty face on things rather than actually clean/fix up/improve what’s being concealed. For example, the Eixample district, where we stayed, is composed of entire blocks that unfortunately resemble Potemkin villages — gorgeous streetside exterior architecture, but with hollowed-out centers in which the decidedly unattractive, often slumlike back sides of those same buildings are hidden from view. Wouldn’t take a hell of a lot of effort to pretty up those center areas — a little paint would go a long way — but instead it’s where the trash, wiring, and clotheslines live. Your intrepid
peeping Tom correspondent brought the binoculars, so I saw inside a fair number of residences, and many of them looked to be in various stages of ummm disrepair. (To be fair, I suspect the utterly tempting Spanish lifestyle has much to do with this — the streets are so freaking gorgeous, the dining at even the cheap places is so classy, and the nightlife is so vibrant, the only reason you’d need to actually be inside your home is to sleep. So why bother tidying up the part nobody looks at anyway?)
3) Make-work jobs don’t even involve work! Barcelona has construction projects all over the city, sometimes feeling like there’s one on every other block. However, the vast majority of those are public-works projects subsidized by the Spanish or regional governments. A big topic in the the local press was increased funding for such projects as a way to help a region shocked by a worse housing crisis than the US. We watched one such project while eating lunch at an outdoor cafe. A fellow on a front-end loader and a fellow with a shovel had roped off a section of sidewalk and seemed to be digging into the street in surprisingly industrious fashion. To casual passers-by, the machine was making plenty of noise, the shoveler was shoveling, etc. Only after watching them for an short period of time were we able to discern that neither were actually doing any work. The guy on the front-end loader resembled nothing more than a two-year-old on a toy CAT — brmm, brmm, moving it back and forth, thwack, thwack, hitting the scoop against the concrete. The shoveler helpfully scooped debris and moved it from place to place, but never to any effect. It was, in short, freaking hilarious. We watched them make absolutely no progress for about an hour. Great stuff.
4) I want to live like a Spaniard. I was warned about this when my friend took a business trip in 2000 to finalize a contract with the head of the Madrid Stock Exchange. “People get to work at ten or eleven,” my friend said, “then they work a couple hours, then take a three-hour lunch, then take a few hours for siesta, then work another hour or so, then get ready for dinner that doesn’t start ’til nine pm and lasts at least three hours, and then you party until at least two am.” I figured he was talking about the kind of lifestyle reserved for top executives like, say, the head of the Madrid Stock Exchange. But no — everybody does it — that’s the Spanish lifestyle. We had ample opportunity on this trip to see three- and four-hour business lunches firsthand. Restaurants don’t start serving dinner until nine. Many times we were dining in establishments with views of banks of apartment windows, and from nine to midnight or later we’d see a light go on in one of a hundred. Everybody stays out laaaate at night. Meals, even simple ones, are multi-course affairs that take significant time, and are meant to be savored. (One of the nice effects is that you feel satisfied after the meal, but never stuffed, as when overeating in the States.) As was the case in Paris, the food is beautiful — for even the simplest meals, chefs put great effort into presentation. Tableware, table settings, tablecloths are always good quality. We ate at some of the more expensive places in town, but we also popped into some workingmen’s joints and dives, and as far as presentation was concerned, it was always very good. The dining experience’s just classy.
Is it worth it? Would the sybaritic lifestyle, luscious exterior surroundings and wonderful food (not to mention socialized medicine) be worth living in a small beat-to-shit apartment and enduring ridiculous tax rates (don’t get me started on the VAT)? Well, I’ll quote Jeff Cooper:
I am totally opposed to socialism in any form, national or otherwise, but I feel inclined to point out how handsome its facade can be, especially when one does not ask about the price.
–Shotluck, 2006, p. 26.
Let’s just say that although I ain’t planning to live there, we’re gonna visit again. Barcelona’s an utterly kewl city and if you can swing it you should Go There.
(Oh, yeah, in summer bring shorts for daytime and reserve your trousers for nighttime. The guidebooks lie; everybody wears shorts. Be prepared to sweat continuously all day long; since everybody’s doing it’s not a big deal. And it frankly adds a layer of sensuality to everything. More on that in a later post.)