Living in the centre of Barcelona has given me a distorted image of the city’s population. While it’s true that, unlike the centre of London, central Barcelona is populated by people – normal people, rather than millionaires and beggars – the vast majority of people in the street have arrived from elsewhere. Living just off the Portal de l’Angel, perhaps the city’s busiest retail street, it’s all too easy to see the Barcelonians as a shopping people, mainly concerned with the acquisition of clothing from the ubiquitous H&M, Desigual and their beloved Zara. This is a false impression, and a negative one, because shopping is an inherently stupid activity.
January is a prime month for observing how incredibly thick the shop-owners rightly suppose us to be. We have just spent all of our money on things for other people, because baby Jesus wanted us to, and now all that stuff is half price. Half price! So, that means it was never worth what they were charging, doesn’t it? It means the prices were artificially inflated, weren't they, to take cynical advantage of our Yuletide munificence? But rather than marching into the shop and saying, ‘you scammed us, you snakes, and we want our money back’, we march into the shop and get in a queue, and hand over yet more of our money for a new jumper or some pants. What an unbelievably stupid thing to do.
I should re-iterate that I am not saying that the Barcelonites are all shopping folk, much less that they are in any way stupid. It’s just that we live in an area frequented heavily by shoppers. Being constantly surrounded by shoppers makes it impossible not to notice that anyone who walks into a shop becomes a moron, for the time they are in there. It’s not our fault. The shops have us beaten. They have strange hypnotic powers, vast resources, and technology beyond our imagining. They will spread and spread, until every person in the world works for, lives and spends all of his money in a branch of H&M.
Having said that, living in an area where everyone comes to go shopping makes Sundays a real treat. All the shops being shut, everyone goes somewhere else and the wide avenues become empty but for a few families, strolling, devoid of retail intent. I love Sundays.
Some Reflections on a Bus
Last weekend a travel magazine editor who Will has been getting some work from was in town. It was the perfect opportunity for them to meet (I won't use the word 'network', I am not a contestant on The Apprentice). I tagged along and the meeting took place on Sunday. At 11pm. In a bar. These are either the best or the worst circumstances under which to present yourself, depending on your viewpoint.
Earlier that day, I had eaten some funny-tasting soup. I'd made it a couple of days earlier and I think the blue cheese had chemically reacted with the cauliflower because it tasted fizzy. I should have stopped after the first spoonful but I persisted for a bit longer, all in the name of frugality. Eleven hours later, my stomach began gurgling as we left the bar. It's okay, I thought. It's only five minutes on the metro, we'll be home in no time. But it was 2am and the metro was shut so I endured a 50-minute walk down Passeig de Gracia, with the onset of food poisoning creeping upon me. I said nothing of my predicament, lest I hamper Will's career.
"The first time we came to Barcelona, I got food poisoning," Will revealed to the editor. "We were on our way to the Sagrada Famila and Christina had brought some plastic bags for me to be sick in." When you're suffering from this kind of ailment, there is nothing worse than a) the smell of fried food or b) hearing someone else's food poisoning story.
We eventually reached Placa de Catalunya, where we would part company with the editor. By now, I felt delirious, faint, hot, nauseous and really, really in need of the loo. But there were no quick goodbyes. Will and the editor continued chatting for what was probably only a minute, but felt like an eternity. Come on! I wanted to shout at Will. I'm actually going to soil myself here! The editor turned to me and said "Christina, if you want to do any writing for us ..."
"Great, thanks," I said with all the enthusiasm of someone who asked for a Yorkie but got a Chomp. However, if it's a choice between sounding ungrateful and disgracing yourself in front of a potential employer, I know which one I'd rather live with.
*Footnote: I made it home without incident.