Friday, 26 March 2010

I always knew my mortal enemy was out there, waiting for the moment to emerge as my nemesis. And now I have met him: he works in the internet/photocopying place on Carrer dels Canvis Vells.  

Like any city where there are lots of tourists, Barcelona has a lot of rip-off merchants. Go into the Carrefour supermarket on La Rambla and you’re likely to see a bloke carrying as many frozen pizzas as he can carry: dine in a restaurant on the same street, and you can eat one of those pizzas for €12 or more.

The man in the internet shop is a thieving scoundrel of a different order, a black-hearted scumbag of pure evil. His racket involves writing his prices on a tiny sign at knee level, at the back of the shop where you can’t see it, then being on the phone when you try to talk to him.
Oh, he’ll cheerfully print your document, but then, like Satan, he’ll ask his terrible price: THIRTY-FIVE CENTS A PAGE. Is it printed on sheets of platinum, you may ask, or the canvases of Renaissance paintings? Is the ink distilled from the venom of some rare desert spider? “Printed already,” he said, unable or unwilling to engage me in Spanish, “good paper. Printed. You pay, eight forty.”

Unlike the poor diners of La Rambla, I was not content to munch upon my supermarket pizza. I refused to pay more than twenty-five cents a sheet (and even that, I informed him, was daylight robbery). The miscreant’s reaction was to issue a threat: “Okay. You will not pay it now,” he snarled, “but you will pay for it. Later in life, you will pay.”

And so it begins. The carefree days of my youth are behind me, and my life is now a mortal battle between me and the man from the photocopying shop. Each time I walk down a dark alley, I will sniff the air warily for the whiff of copying toner, and my nights will be sleepless for the imagined rustle of Post-its. I will not dare to enter a branch of Rymans unarmed. How long before I am wounded in a stapling ‘accident’, before I lose a thumb to a dangerous biro? If anything should happen to me, at least my readers will know: it was him. It was the bloke in RJA & Sons Telecom.

 Leave anything lying around in Barcelona, someone'll paint something on it

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven't read Carlos Ruis Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind and you don't want to know what happens, DO NOT read this blog entry. 

One of the nice things about living in Spain is reading books that are set here, as it's exciting when you recognise the streets and the landmarks described; it makes the book feel more personal somehow. Before coming to Barcelona, my friend, Fiona, lent me The Shadow of the Wind, an epic page-turner set in Barcelona after the Spanish Civil War. Will and I drove into the city on 26 September last year, and while he sweated over the terrifying traffic, I was gazing up at Mount Tibidabo which I instantly recognised from Zafon's descriptions.

A couple of months into our stay here, Will had started reading the novel and one evening, we decided to walk over to the church on Carrer de Santa Ana which the book's protagonist, Daniel Sempere, lives next to.

"Oh, that's the streetlight where Daniel sees the man with the burnt face," Will observed as we headed back towards Portal de l'Angel.

"Yes, Julian Carax!", I blurted.

Oops. Will hadn't got to the bit of the story where the man's identity had been revealed, so I'd ruined the entire novel for him which he won't let me forget in a hurry. Will is now reading another book I've already read: The Woman in White (just to clarify, it's set in England not in Spain), so I'm currently living in fear that I'll reveal all whether it be in my sleep or after a vodka drinking binge.

So yes, it's lovely reading books about Spain but only if you don't have a loose-lipped girlfriend who tells you what happens at the end.

Caterpillar plant, Parc del Garraf

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