Friday, 20 November 2009

Week 8


After Will threatening to do away with me if I didn’t stop leaving dirty teaspoons in the sink, I’m sad to report there has been yet more cleaning-related conflict this week. On Sunday, we had a fight because I suggested (or ‘ordered’ as he puts it) that Will clean the kitchen while I took care of the other rooms; he was angry that I was being bossy, I was angry that he was angry and it resulted in an hour of door-slamming, furious mopping and heavy-hearted scrubbing from both parties. Yes, we argue about the really important stuff.
I eventually flounced out of the flat (more door-slamming) to go for a walk along the beach. Because if you’ve got a beach on your doorstep, that’s where you go when you’re in need of a think, isn’t it? Just ask anyone in Home & Away.
I’d just found a spot to have a nice sit-down and a meaningful gaze out to sea, when a man came into my line of vision. He was sitting a few metres in front of me, reading a paper and, apart from a shirt, he wasn’t wearing anything else. What is it with this incessant flesh-baring? I know it’s a beach but it’s not summer anymore, you’re not going to get a tan, you’ve gone to the effort of putting on a shirt, just put on a pair of trousers love, and stop terrifying the women and children!
I quickly moved on, but it wasn’t time to go home just yet. When you’re in a strop you want to string it out for as long as possible so I wandered around for a while longer, hungry as I hadn’t eaten since breakfast but adamant that I was far too furious to eat. I sat on the steps of Barcelona Cathedral, just around the corner from our flat, a bit like a child who pretends to have run away from home but who is actually hiding in an upstairs wardrobe. Eventually I returned, half-expecting the living room to be filled with heart-shaped helium balloons, roses and a string quartet. It wasn’t, but the kitchen did look really, really clean. Thanks Will.

A transparent cross-sectional model of Las Ramblas. I call him 'Lampy'.


Casa Batlló is a large house on the Passeig de Gracia, a long, wide street that runs north from the Plaça de Catalunya to the Avinguda Diagonal. It is instantly recognisable, because the windows are irregular, swooping and multi-coloured, flanked by bone-like struts and topped by a humped, scaly roof that looks like a dragon’s back. The inside of the house is an airy, spacious grotto of cool blue walls, swirling ceilings and abstract submarine forms. It’s a big place, but there are lots of nooks and crannies and clever cupboards, so it’s cosy, too. It is probably the nicest house I have ever been into, from a design point of view. The only thing ruining Casa Batlló, when we went there last Saturday, was me.
   “This must have been such an amazing place to live,” I droned, mooching from room to room with my audio guide stuck to my face like a big mobile phone. As the home of one of the city’s richest merchants, Casa Batlló was where the cream of Barcelona society came for parties and receptions, my audio guide told me. Wow! That must make me the cream of Barcelona society, because I was free to wander about the place as much as I liked, having paid my €16.50 at the door. I stopped to take a picture of the cosy, shell-like nook designed for couples who wanted to sit by the fire. Luckily for me, it is now roped off, and no couples will ever be allowed to sit there again, so I could get a proper photo. I shuffled into a small room which I think might have been a bedroom for one of Señor Battló’s ten children, but is now a gift shop, and then I wandered upstairs to take some more photos.
         Back in the good old days, Señor Batlló would probably have rolled up his sleeves and kicked this bimbling, camera-toting intruder out onto the Passeig de Gracia, but now any such behaviour would be recorded by the security cameras that adorn every wall in his old house, and I’d be able to sue him. The cameras are a feature Gaudí probably never thought about, along with the fire exit signs and the smoke alarms. That house was designed as a beautiful home for a big family and their friends, but now it’s full of berks like me. On the other hand, I got some cracking pics in there! Nice one!

A window. I call him 'Window-y'

Friday, 13 November 2009

Week 7

I have sad news: it looks as if I will have to kill Christina. I know, I know, she’s a nice girl, but once I explain, you’ll agree. You see, it has come to my attention that Christina is one of The Enemy. That’s right – Christina is one of those people who keeps all the unwashed dishes in the sink.

You know the people I mean: people who will put all the plates from lunch at the bottom of the sink, then put the previous evening’s curry pan on top, then run the cold tap on the whole mess for a bit, as if that’s going to help. You want to shout at them: stop, you fool! Those plates only had a bit of bread on them, and now you’re covering them with curry grease and bits of rice!  But they won’t listen, because they are The Enemy, and they want you to suffer. They want you to have to reach into a saucepan full of cold, eggy-smelling water in order to retrieve a teaspoon, which had only had a single tear of milky tea running down its surface, but was consigned to the manky egg-pan as part of some insane plan by The Enemy, a plan which has resulted in the teaspoon becoming dirtier than ever before! 

Worst of all, you both know that you’re going to have to remove all of this stuff from the sink in order to start doing the washing up, but The Enemy cares not a jot. All The Enemy cares about is short-term appearances: that the plates aren’t on a work surface. Why? Is the Work Surface Inspector going to fine me for a Cluttering Offence? The ineffective splash-baptism the plates receive is intended to make it look like the washing-up process is being taken care of, but all that’s happened is that the least dirty plates and utensils have been covered in the skanky stuff from the cooking pans.

In her defence, Christina tells me that she’s only adopted this practice because our kitchen is the size of one of Ronnie Corbett’s shoes. This is true. Also, she is a fine woman in every other respect, so perhaps I won’t actually kill her. Some sort of spring-loaded sink trap should do the trick.

Or I could just do the washing up.

This is going to be my lair once I'm evil

The trouble with working from home is that it’s easy to become lazy about your personal presentation. When I got up this morning I put on my running clothes and so I didn’t bother having a shower or doing my hair and make-up. It is now almost two in the afternoon, I still haven’t been for a run and I look like a sad ‘before’ picture in a magazine makeover. Will, too, is unwashed, unshaven and has just removed his glasses because his face is so greasy that they were sliding off his nose.

Happily, this isn’t always the case and we do make an effort when we venture outside. On Wednesday we visited Montserrat, a mountain with a monastery which is about 30 miles north-west of Barcelona. There are a few ways of getting up to the monastery - by foot, car, train or funicular. We decided on the Aeri de Montserrat, which transports you 544m upwards in a bright yellow cable car that dangles precariously over the river and valley below.

Reading the Wikipedia article now, I see that there are many fascinating things we could have done on our trip: we could have seen the world’s oldest printing press, works by Picasso and Dali or the Virgin of Montserrat. We didn’t see any of that but we did see a Spanish Ibex on our way back down from the mountain’s summit. This might sound like the name of a bank but it is, in fact, a wild mountain goat with huge horns. I have written that with an air of authority but at the time, I didn’t have a bloody clue and said to Will: “er, is that a ram?” Will replied, “no, it’s an Ibex. It’s a goat with massive horns!” We were both uneasy. Goats aren’t usually scary animals but you try remembering that when a be-horned beast is staring intently at you. We stood there gulping for a few minutes before deciding that the best thing to do would be to walk quickly and confidently past the animal. As we scuttled past, the goat gave a frightened little bleat and ran off, clearly more scared of us than we were of him. 

The monastery from above, some 4,500ft from the plain below. A place of goats. 

Friday, 6 November 2009

Week 6

You don’t see elderly people out and about that much in Britain unless you spend a lot of time on buses, in churches or shopping at Bodgers of Ilford. But old people are everywhere in Barcelona and in other parts of Spain as I discovered last week when I visited Rioja, in the north of the country. Its capital, Logroño, was swarming with good-time grannies and granddads out on the town quaffing wine and eating tapas with their children and grandchildren. And Barcelona’s streets and squares are home to benches-full of old folk watching the world go by through wise eyes and waving their sticks furiously as they make a point about something or other.

But it’s Barceloneta beach where they feel most at home: so at home, in fact, that they walk around practically starkers. On Wednesday morning, Will and I went for a run along the beach and we must have seen 20 old men wandering around in the tiniest swimming trunks imaginable: some of them were out for a swim, others were jogging or doing lunges, but most of them were just hanging out at the outdoor cafes, being very noisy, playing card games and drinking beer. This was at 9 o’clock in the morning. Will and I have just returned to the beach to try and photograph these scantily-clad octogenarians but sadly we were too late for them – they were probably on lunch or having a siesta – so you’ll have to make do with this fully-clothed old man’s club. The old ladies, too, are a source of inspiration and are snazzy dressers as demonstrated by this golden-shoed stylista (pictured).

It doesn’t feel very Christmassy here yet. It’s 6 November and I bet that back home in London, every shop you walk into has Jingle Bells blaring out at a hundred decibels and that shop workers are being forced to wear Santa hats against their will. I have seen none of this yet, but in a nod to all things festive, I have this week exchanged emails with a PR person named Natividad (Nativity) and met a man called Jesus.  

Those trainers are to die for!!!

    The first rule of Old Man Club is: you have to be an old man.
(Warning: the last word of this entry is a strong swearword.)

Last Saturday morning in the Plaça Carles Pi I Sunyer, the members of a local brass band were warming their instruments up in the fresh autumn air. Shoppers from the Portal del Angel stopped to look as they trilled up and down their scales. Some old ladies erupted into giggles when a tuba parped flatulently in their direction, the tuba-player waggling his eyebrows suggestively.
     But behind the band, a dull, aggressive music emanated from the Carrer dels Capellans. It was coming from Tommy Gun Sneakers, where the men in the shop had turned up their stereo to cut over the musicians. They weren’t happy that, for once, there was a sound louder than their stereo to be heard in the square. I don’t know what song it was; some American hip-hop, I think. To be honest, it sounded like a ringtone. The guys in the shop were doing their best to drown out the jolly, home-made music of the band, and draw attention to their display of Nike trainers. They were also standing in the street, jeering and gesticulating at the musicians.
    In the 1950s and 60s, while the rest of the world was undergoing a musical revolution, Spain remained under strict muscial censorship – even Cliff Richard was considered too risqué for Franco’s far-right regime. Back then, music-for-fun had to shut up in favour of music-for-your-own-good. Now, music-for-fun is blared over by music-for-money.
   After about fifteen minutes of my ruminating on the evils of American cultural imperialism and the like, I saw a young woman lean into the doorway of Tommy Gun Sneakers.

        “Shhh! Pajeros!” (“Shut it, wankers!”), she shouts.

And they did. So you can ruminate all you like, but if you want a pajero to shut up, you tell him.

    Incidentally, the fact that pajero is Spanish for ‘wanker’ is the reason that you’ll find it difficult to buy a Mitsubishi Pajero in the Spanish-speaking world. I love it when companies do that. Apparently the Honda Jazz was originally named the Honda Fitta, until it was discovered that, across Scandinavia, fitta is a popular slang word. It means ‘cunt’. 

Fans of last week's entry on specific shops will enjoy this, the globe shop.

There are drinking fountains all over Barcelona. You can drink from them, or just take a picture.