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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Capital Letter

European Odyssey: Barcelona Journal

How many streets must a tourist walk…

Wrong shoes. Bad mistake. Barcelona knocked the stuffing out of my back. We walked and walked and walked and walked. Mostly in celebration of the freedom to walk the streets, which you can’t do in Delhi. BCN is a wonderful city, as we all know. A bit like Paris. Indeed the French were early settlers. Nice buildings, great cafes, superb metro, the buzzing waterfront, museums, surprisingly nice beer, awesome food and drink Sangria till the sunrise. 

Thought of the word “anomie” in trying to describe a tourist’s jaunt through this comely city. All the other times I’ve been here, it’s been on a mission: a junket, a conference, and several meetings. This was the first time I came here at a loose end. A quick search of the web told me my first instinct about the word was right. Wikipedia says that “in common parlance,” the word anomie is “thought to mean something like ‘at loose ends.’” 

And you don’t get much more common than a tourist, tramping the streets of this city of creative geniuses including Picasso, Miro, Dali and Gaudi. So anomie is the word.  Gilded somewhat from the Wikipedia definition, I extended it to mean “footloose and fancy free.” 

From our apartment in the upscale Eixample district, we walked everywhere or took the Metro. We went to the Cuitat Vella (Old City) and meandered through the byzantine streets of Barri Gothic (the Roman Quarter), spilling onto the tourist-infested Las Ramblas to the Paral-lel metro station and up the funicular to the Miro museum atop Montjuic hill. We wandered the narrow street of La Ribera to the Musee Picasso. Just north of Eixample past the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s famous church into trendy Gracia and beyond that into Placa de l’Angel, considered home to the finest of the numerous urban renewal projects the city is famous for.

But how much can you walk? With my bad shoes and my spasmodic back, I was often reduced to debilitation. Had to sit and down a beer, eat some tapas. So how much tapas can you eat? How much Sangria can you drink? Judging from my own record, a lot. It became sort of addictive; every hour my back would act up and I had to sit. A beer or glass of wine, grilled meat and all was well again. Back to the trudge. This worked the first day; after that my traveling companions, my wife and my New York daughter, got wise to it. And so I had to walk hours before relief. 

At times, my daughter, clever young woman, would back my complaint of deathly pain and sit down and have a beer with me. It was all very democratic. Sometimes two-to-one against me; sometimes in my favor. Sat in more cafes, I did, than even in Paris. Ate more, drank more, walked more. The only time we didn’t sit in a cafĂ© and chose instead to look at a map to find a recommended restaurant, we stood under a tree at the entrance to a park right beside the Miro museum on the Montjuic hill, a tourist trap in the southeast part of the city. We were all three of us, sprayed with what appeared to be bird poop. 

As we reeled from the violation, a woman ran out from the park and said, “Come, water to clean.” Gratefully, we followed her. But there was no water. A man appeared with tissues to help us clean the crap; another man appeared from the bushes with a bottle of water. “Such nice people,” my wife said. And asked where they were from. “Portugal,” the woman replied.

But the poop spill was substantive, so we hopped a cab to go back to the apartment to get cleaned up. “Obrigado,” said my Goan wife in farewell to the threesome. But clearly they had no idea what it meant.

In the apartment, I discovered I had been pick-pocketed. Fast forward to when we recounted this to our friends. “Chechens,” they said. Despite my sheer despair at losing all my credit and debit cards, money, driver’s license and what have you, I could not help marveling at the slickness with which the threesome had diddled us.

As if that was not enough, thanks to my research on my phone, we chose a Basque restaurant for dinner. The street number suggested it was close to our apartment, so we walked. For miles, back to the center of town. It turned out to be an expensive retro restaurant. It was good as we ate the food and drank the Rose Merlot. But as my wife said in a conversation much later, after we were back in Delhi, “I don’t remember the food I ate.” 

Between the loss of my wallet and the fine dining experience, I could not help but feel the jabs of tetanus-shot disapproval from my wife and my daughter. Later, on the flight to Paris, as our plane bucked like a startled filly in a thunderstorm, I thought to tell my wife she should consider forgiveness. But she was fast asleep as I, the original white-knuckle flier, contemplated a fiery death, convinced the plane would crash, crippled by lightning and high winds.

Hasta la vista, Barcelona!

This appeared on Capital Letter, The Times of India Blogs on October 11, 2011.