If you come to visit Barcelona, your first concern will be to sort out the essentials of modern travel – a place to stay, a fistful of the funny foreign ‘money’ they use over here, and possibly some sort of amusing hat. Those sorted, you’ll probably want to try some local cuisine and have a drink or two before enjoying some drugs and, if you’re not too tired, the services of a prostitute.
‘Volem un barri digne’ is a phrase that can help you find these last two; in certain parts of town, the residents have taken to putting up flags bearing this phrase on their balconies. It means ‘we want a decent neighbourhood’, and it is intended to draw attention to the levels of drug dealing, prostitution and delinquency outside people’s homes. In the district of el Raval, where the flags first appeared, prostitutes and seedy bars have always been part of the landscape, but the locals say that huge increases in tourism and immigration have led to the development of a new underworld, one they find unfamiliar and threatening.
You’ll also see home-made flags. Over by the Plaça de George Orwell, there’s a banner that goes up on Friday and Saturday nights imploring people (in English) to stop buying and selling drugs. I can see what he’s trying to do, but this banner merely confirms to the prospective drug-buyer that the shifty-looking individuals hanging around underneath it are in fact drug dealers. The people in this flat need to do some market research, to make sure they’re not providing free advertising.
Speaking of terrible addictions, I have developed a mania for chocolate beverages. Very fine, thick, chilli-spiced cocoa is available from the various granjas, or milk bars. Most food shops sell three or four different brands of chocolate milk and chocolatey horchata. The churrerias sell churros y chocolata, deep-fried sugary dough strips that are covered in sugar and served with a cup of very thick hot chocolate, for dipping. For breakfast, only an all-brown cereal can satisfy me now, and I pace the room each morning like an expectant father, waiting for my Choco Krispies to turn the milk brown enough to slake my chocolatey thirst. It is only a matter of time before I am found roaming the streets, a brown moustache of shame upon my lips, belching cocoa at passers-by and roaring with choco-madness. Someone should put up a flag.
José, Ivan and Maria wanted the druggies out, but Gary wasn't too bothered.
Barcelona offers plenty in the way of retail therapy, thus keeping Barcelonians (Barcelonites? Barceloners?) looking stylish, from the jumper-clad dogs to the Penelope Cruz-alike women. Portal D’Angel is the city’s answer to London’s Oxford Street; head here if you don’t mind shuffling along in a big, noisy queue of dazed shoppers before hauling yourself into the safe embrace of H&M. Passeig de Gracia is a grand thoroughfare which runs north from Placa de Catalunya up to the smart neighbourhood of Graciá. This is where the designer shops are, but only 10 people in the whole world can actually afford to buy anything here. The Gothic Quarter is a mix of shops selling those trousers with pavement-grazing crotches that are favoured by many of Barcelona’s ladies, and beautiful vintage and antique shops where everything is so gorgeous that you’re absolutely terrified of touching anything. And El Born’s tiny streets are home to many independent, local designers whose shops are straight out of a fairytale.
But this all pales in comparison to the fact that Barcelona still has a C&A! Ten years ago, this budget retail mecca disappeared from Britain’s high streets to make way for the likes of Primark and its stampedes for 50p knickers. As a teenager, I loved C&A. I liked nothing more than spending a Saturday afternoon at the Ilford Exchange, trawling the Clockhouse section for something to wear to the school disco, such as purple Lycra bellbottoms which I sadly no longer have.
And the TV adverts! With the people skiing in the C&A ski wear! I had never even been skiing but those adverts with the jaunty music – which I’m sure was the Ski Sunday theme tune but internet research to verify this has proved fruitless - over images of happy people capering about in powdery white snow, made me want to tear myself away from the TV screen, go and buy a bright pink ski jacket and demand that mum and dad take me somewhere cold and snowy.
Christina's wardrobe is getting out of control.