Monday, September 28, 2009

Its official! The Spanish are just DANGEROUS!!!!!!

The main event of the festival. Human towers, pillars and castles. Runs for most of the days. Taken VERY seriously. Draws huge crowds. Teams from surrounding villages train together all year to compete at such festivals. And huge pride is at stake. Video clip is self explanatory. The tension during, and cheering afterwards was a surprise to me. Towers are judged by number of tiers and people in each tier. It is only recently that the young child who climbs to the top has started wearing protective headgear. And some do collapse. Hence the Red Cross tent and ambulances on standby!!!! In the clip the tower deconstructs itself to reveal a hidden pillar of people in the middle. This was a massive achievement.

I stumbled across this group of 'castelers' who were celebrating a historic achievement in the competition which hadn't been done for 11 years by any team. Only prob is I couldn't understand what the achievement was! Oh well! The were going bonkers ....throwing beer and generally hugging everyone in i just joined in. If You don't understand what all the fuss is about don't mock...just remember....we have cricket...and that takes 5 days!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

How to cook a Paella for 500 people!!

Foodwise, the festival promised a giant street-cooked Paella for 500, public breakfast celebration of tuna and snail stew, two different sausage festivals, a Vermouth tasting, a Vermouth and mussel tasting, a 150 meter long cake, omelette tasting, another sausage tasting, another Tuna and Snail Stew, a cheese and wine tasting, a Tapas tasting, and yet another Tuna and Snail Stew-off!! Damn! they love their Tuna and Snails!
So how to cook Paella for 500.
Step 1:
Light a gert big fire under a gert big pan. Tip in 25kg of shellfish and get someone to start stiring with and oar.

Step 2:
Get a man in a white jumpsuit to chuck in chopped onions, tomatoes and about 50 kg rice.

Step 3:
Lubricate Rice with buckets and buckets of hot stock.

Step 4:
Lubricated workers so they don't dry out!!!

Step 5:
Serve up to the waiting crowd

Saturday, September 26, 2009


Historic festival kicks off properly the day after I move in to the flat. Takes place all over the city for 7 days. Promises to include, human towers, pillars and castles, fireworks, The Hundred Year Old Spoken Dance of the Devils of Catalonia , Dancing Giants, Dragon of Sant Roc, Turks and Little Horses, Saint Michael and The Devils, and various acts that look like transvestite Iberian Morris Dancers. (Imagine hairy men in judo suits with ‘Priscilla Queen of the Dessert’ head-dresses and Swiss cowbells jumping around and knocking sticks and whacking people with inflated pigs bladders)

We also had the various pole and ribbon concept dances.....

And then what I can only describe as the dance for people who can't actually dance. It seemed to involve ordinary people forming a circle in the street, holding hands.....and then sort of jogging on the spot for 15 minutes whilst a band played for no apparent reason. I assume it was the precurser to the modern day aerobic class. All very cordial and pleasant and no doubt good for the circulation so who am I to ctiticize....

Friday, September 25, 2009

There's something about walking down a tree-lined rambla at 11pm in shorts, sandals and a t-shirt with a paradoxically warm/cool breeze blowing that makes me want to kiss strangers!! The paradox is, of course, that the breeze is distinctly cool compared to the heat of the day, yet by British standards it feels like a giant hairdryer on a low setting is blowing in from the horizon. Just went to Bodega, a bar full of wine barrels where u can take any old bottle to be filled from their selection of 10 generics for about 2e a litre. It’s not a wine get what u pay for, and the Rioja is definitely better than the Priorat....but you can't get a more authentic snapshot of Spain’s fundamental connection to food and wine as an integral component of every day existence. It’s a filling station for wine which happens to have some good things to eat. That’s all. But I definitely got the faint echo that places like this (like many a good English pub) provide people not just with cheap wine, but with an antidote to the often harsh realities of daily life. Dark wood, blue and white tiles, hanging jamones and chorizo. An austere glass chilled counter housing tortilla, sliced ham, anchovies and marinated squid. A bell jar of tanned, shiny, salty whole almonds. Now i've seen many of these since my arrival but most make my alarm bells ring when the ham is starting to curl, the anchovies look yellowish and the backdrop features a microwave. This one didn't. Can't tell you why. But I was right. For all its simplicity it was superb. The tortilla was at room temperature. Moist and tasting of fruity olive oil, sweet onion and soft potato. Spiked on a toothpick with a leaf of ruby ham. The almonds burst under your teeth with a salty, roasted explosion. Asked for a tapa of ham. Unusualy, she seemed pleased I'd asked. She rubbed bread with cut tomato and topped it generously as if she were feeding a son. The taste was wonderful, musky, sweet, soft, meaty, and moist from the tomato. Wow.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

I rent a room.

Locate viewing street. Shave. Nice shirt. They are looking for a safe tenant, so dress safe. Meet student in doorway waiting for same viewing. We chat. Owners arrive. We go up 6 floors in lift. Flat typical average Spanish flat. Dark, grannys' furniture, central well, roof terrace for drying laundry. Room ok, furnishings basic but ok. Single bed, cupboard, desk, drawers, ceiling light. Window onto central well. OK. Two existing tenants ….Anna…nurse approx 30 y.o. and Roberto, Brazilian approx 45 y.o. Decision time. Student viewer backs down and says it’s not for him. The owners like me, I can tell. Think quick. Nothing to lose. Cheaper than Hostal. I’ll take it. Perfecto! Deposit 1 month + 1 month advance rent, copy of passport, NIE (numero identificacion de extranjero). Read through contract with owners. Surprise myself at how much I can understand of the Spanish legal speak. Sign. Keys. I’m in! That was easy! I have a home! Feels good.
Fetch cases from Noria. Say my goodbyes to them but I’m pleased to leave. Unpack properly for first time. Actually feels like today I have arrived. My new flatmates throw an impromptu lunch for me. Great welcome. Thx guys! This is going to be OK!


Just love the buzz. It’s how food shopping should be. It’s so real… artifice. First the noise…..chaotic, uptempo, makes your heart beat quicker as soon as you walk in, then the smell…..fresh sea smells, cheese, jamones,…. Then the violence. The beheading, de-scaling, gutting, boning. The urgency to sell…to bargain…to get the best. My eyes are everywhere. I suddenly realize I’m smiling for no reason. Is that weird? Who cares! I walk around anonymous, watching, taking in everything, the prices….what could I sell a portion of squid for…the cuts… that ribeye? looks different….that must be tripe…’callos’…seen that on menus…now I know…. Chickens with head still on like in France…..que buscas carino? (what are you after, love?)....nada….solo mirar gracias!!! (nothing, only looking thx). I stand next to people straining my ears to try to understand. This is full speed, no-holds-barred real language...some Catalan, some Castellano. The best language lesson you can have and it's free!
Outside it’s like I’ve been to a rock concert, my ears are ringing. I head to basque tapas bar. Small beer in strange flat tumbler. Chistora sausage still warm, mushroom croqueta, tuna with padron pepper, fried cheese, pincho moruno. Would this work in UK? Keep thinking!

Nice Flat in Casc Antic

Went to see more flats in Casc Antic. First one really nice. Much better. I could quite happily have this one. Except 450 /mes....Next 2 back to 18c Paris ....musty .....creaky ....tiny....and I suspect rodent-friendly if u know what I mean.
After a bit of maths I realized that the only practical start up solution would be a flat share. Luckily saved some numbers from the local paper so made the calls. Determined not to use moblie so had to go back to hostal, get laptop, go across square to sister hotel for free wi-fi, then skype. Made appt to view room... Friday.
Hotel gets shirty with my constant usage of wi-fi. Need a lift so go to Central Food Market. Some people get their kicks out of window shopping for shoes or cars…..I do food markets. And this is a goodun!!


Went to school. Slightly dissap to only get 15 hrs. Still gives me opp to get other work. Did budget based on 900€ and realized sharing might be the only option. Still, went to see flat through agency reccommended by school. Modern, lift. All marble. Heavy smell of bleach made my eyes sting. Agent said it was the overzealous cleaner. Flat nice. Modern. But soooo boring. Don't mean to be fussy but it was so anodyne. Also area far and downhill from anywhere I would want to socialize. As the 'yoof' of today say..."I just wasn't feelin' it".
Went to Boronat, another agency. Said they had studio. Agreed to see it next day.
Santa Tecla fiesta week starting to kick in. It’s gonna be a week of street partying and historical celebrations. The Catalan flags are everywhere. As are signs of fierce brooding separatism. Weather thankfully cooler than last month.
Traipsed the gothic quarter and arranged to view more flats.
Guess what! First one was RIGHT next to the puteria! I couldn’t help but smile as we approached. Actually it was very cute.(see previous pic below) Absolutely perfect if you want to spend a year pretending to be Toulouse Lautrec....low ceilings...wobbly walls, mangy furniture and a pervading reek of mildew....and no doubt a neighborhood discount with " 'er nex-door". Throw in a free dose of 'consumption' and you could be well on you way to featuring in the Catalan re-make of Moulin Rouge!
I absolutely loved it. But it wasn't practical. The next 2 I saw were worse. Only in that they had all the 19c drawbacks but none of the charm. I was also slowly realizing I could not afford a place on my own.
Still I had some more viewings. In the Casc Antic (old part of town) as they call it. I’m beginning to love the area, and my newly ascertained prospective earnings add to the authenticity of living the 'impressionist dream'. Hopefully the STDs and ensuing madness will not follow. Went back to trusty old Hostal Nuria for a shower, then out to catch some fiesta. Live band in Placa de la Font....the locals turned out in force.The 'guiri' (foreigner) gave in at about 2am and hit the sack with earplugs 'a la Glastonbury'. Had a good nights sleep!!!

First Day of New Year

First day of 'new year'. Ropey night in hostal Nuria. But absolutely typical of expectation. No air con, window open, noise from medieval streets. Mad sax player at 2am...argument in Catalan with neighbours. ..and nearly with me. Smoke-filled bar with local blue collars...Itchy bed, flat pillow...but nice bathroom. Traffic noise.... Back ache...fleas? Not sure. Maybe just my imagination. Check back on this point.
Everything as expected ...except feeling of vulnerability. (always thought I was a really resilient adventurer) Sadly this is overwhelming any sense of joy,liberation,excitement. Although I get by well I realize ...esp with the 2 langs that I am a COMPLETE foreigner. My notion of being a hispanophile is a joke. I'm a wannabe. It will take years.And does it provide any answers? Dunno. Although I already realize that to be happy you need good friends and family around you.
Went to main flat rental agency. They very aggressively pointed out I would need to give 6 mthd dep. And/or have a referee in order to get a flat. So reconsidering private paper ads. Decide take refuge in the joy of a Menu del Dia on Placa de la Font. Olives, ensalada, paella, postre, vino (bottle on table for you to help yourself) for 13e. Feeling better! Siesta needed. Made ap. to see a flat by market. Private ad. Quite hopeful. Sweet old couple meet me outside a typically dark dusty and depressing building. Show me flat of matching description. Big. With typical dodgy Spanish wiring. Depressing furnishings. Four bedrooms.....except one cannot be used because it is unsafe due to subsidence after a block of flats was built nearby 8 years ago. Still trying to get the insurance money. He showed me the huge cracks then shut the door and calmly told me to pretend that room didn't exist! Shame. Big flat. But no thanks!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

FIRST NIGHT....what's that red light...?

Did lizzaran. Great Basque tapas bar chain with realy good buzz and loads of tapas on the counter! Wandered the medieval streets. Great atmosphere.Still think this town amazing for a film shoot! Inadvertantly found brothel, complete with ropey old hag at bar who tried to entice me in. Little did she know.... See the pic above. It's the innocent looking bar with the nice planters above it and subtle red lights!!! I legged it back to Nuria, Got newspaper off bartender for accom leads. Hit the sack. Made plan for fire escape. Including radical jump to next balcony prepared. Hid valuables in random places.

Arrival In Spain

Arrived without incident. The heat hits. But I knew that. Calm down...walk slowly...relax! Accept that you will sweat, so will the locals, it doesn't mark you out as a foreigner!! Having done a reke. trip I know my way around. Always helps. Get train from Reus to Tarra. This is it now. Put my Spanish to the test. The realities of functioning in a foreign country on a day to day basis are upon me....and I love it! Best way to learn. Walk from RENFE to Placa de la Font. Uphill. Know the way. Still impressed by the 18c vibe. Arrive at Hostal Nuria, my budget accom. for however long it takes. They recognize me from my last visit. Reminds me of childhood holidays... noisy blue collar bar downstairs with the inimitable atmosphere that comes from the combination of utilitarian functional 1970's design, strip-lighting, thick cigarette smoke, the smell of a hot plancha grill, trash TV on the wall in the corner and a bleeping gambling machine. Toothless tattooed elders smoking and arguing, younger wideboys with earstuds and obligatory blue work trousers and shirts also smoking and arguing. Room small...basic...but newly modernized. I'd checked it out last time. Basic single bed, small table (no lamp) tiny cupboard enough for 6 hangers. Balcony onto medieval narrow side street. can almost jump to other side...(see later) Bathroom fully tiled and modern! Almost a shame not to have clanking plumbing, dripping taps and the smell of sewers. If i'd wanted functional modernity I could have checked into the Holiday Inn!!!!