Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Week 40

I have sad news: it seems that I am now too old to deal with the consequences of a night out and must resign myself to a lifetime of afternoon naps and BBC antique programmes. Where once a hangover was cured by a bacon sandwich and a can of Coke, now it drags on for days where I'm confined to my bed like a Victorian damsel, swooning as Will wafts smelling salts at me. Or fetches me a bucket.

I have just emerged from a three-day, pastis, absinthe and kebab-fuelled hangover. This looks quite rock 'n roll written down - like I'm Lindsay Lohan - but the reality is quite different. I had one pastis, two absinthes and one kebab*, and have been put out of action for 72 hours as a result. 

On Friday night, we visited two of Barcelona's drinking institutions. The first was Bar Pastis on Carrer de Santa Monica. As the name suggests, this is a watering hole dedicated to pastis, the anise-flavoured liqueur that was introduced to France in the 1930s after absinthe was banned (they thought it made people go mad). Bar Pastis opened in the 1940s with the intention of replicating the bars found in the old port of Marseilles and in Paris' Latin Quarter. It's a cosy affair, with walls and ceilings that are crammed with pictures of all things French like Edith Piaf and the Eiffel Tower. 

Next up was Bar Marsella on Carrer de Sant Pau in El Raval. This absinthe bar has been going since 1820 - absinthe was never banned in Spain - where the likes of Salvador Dali and Ernest Hemingway came to drink and think. Here we got chatting to some British people who were celebrating a 21st birthday party. Or rather, Will got chatting to them. I sat nodding mutely: I couldn't hear a word they were saying because of the noise. Another reason to stay at home with a mug of hot milk.

*Okay, I also had two beers while watching football and red wine with dinner. Sorry mum.  

 The Tower of King Alphabeticus, which Christina knocked over on purpose

Having snapped the neck of my old acoustic guitar in a French campsite, I tried to repair the wounded instrument during our first week here. Unfortunately, the glue I used was too soft. “This is not glue, this is shit,” said the man in the guitar workshop on Carrer del Regomir, which I thought was a little unfair. I might be an idiot, but I wouldn’t try to fix a guitar with a poo. Anyway, when I could afford it I bought myself a cheap classical guitar, and since then I have been trying to learn some pieces by composers from Barcelona.
Modern classical guitars follow a Spanish design: they are all based, broadly speaking, on the designs of a luthier called Antonio de Torres, from Almería. Torres is sometimes called the ‘Stradivarius of the guitar’, despie the fact that Antonio Stradivari did himself make guitars, but you get the idea. Only a handful of Torres guitars remain, but his best work spent most of its life in Barcelona. In 1869, a teenage boy named Francisco Tárrega travelled the 600 miles from Barcelona to Seville to buy a guitar from Torres, who produced a modestly-priced model for him to try. When Francisco began to play, however, Torres was so impressed that he gave the 17-year-old guitarist his own instrument, a masterpiece which he made for himself a few years earlier and which, if you could really calculate such a thing, was probably the most valuable guitar in the world. Francisco Tárrega did not disappoint his benefactor, and became one of the most celebrated and influential Spanish composers.
In fact, though you may never have heard of Francisco Tárrega, I can guarantee you have heard a little bit of his work. In 1993, two executives from the mobile phone company Nokia were going through famous pieces of classical music to chop up into ringtones, and they heard a phrase in Tárrega’s solo guitar piece Gran Vals that suited their purpose. Bars 13-16 of this beautiful little waltz, composed in 1902, became the Nokia Tune: “duh-duh-doo-dah, duh-duh-doo-dah, duh-duh-doo-dah-DEEE!”
If Franciso Tárrega was alive today and earned a cent each time his phrase was played, he would make 200 Euros a second, or 18 million a day. Although, of course, he wouldn’t, because Nokia have trademarked the hell out of that thing and any long-dead composer who tries to get shirty with them is going to find himself in a world of legal pain.

Bernard Crabbins, hand explorer


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. It's Bar Marsella, not you Christina. I had one of the biggest hangovers of my life after drinking absinthe there, and I think I was about 23 at the time. In fact, I didn't know what a hangover was until I went there.