Saturday, December 12, 2009
A SURREAL TRIP TO BARCELONA
Had the wierdest trip to Barcelona the other weekend. Took late train after work at 9pm. All good. Nodded off with Ipod. Woke up when gang of 8 noisy yoofs bounded on board and chose to sit next to me. Actually they surrounded me as it were. Last time this happened (25 years ago in Paris) I got mugged, so felt a prickle of apprehension. The guy opposite me seemed to have the role of ringleader/court jester and was talking non stop and making his mates fall about with laughter. He kept trying to catch my attention but I resisted his attempts. I noticed he had the end of a joint in his hand which he seemed quite happy to flaunt. I then witnessed him openly and overtly chop cocaine on a cigarette packet with a credit card and snort it .....twice in 15 minutes. This explained his manic chattering and fidgeting. They eventually disbanded and I arrived in peace (un-mugged!). Had booked a very cheap but centrally located Hostal. And therein lies the tale. Readers please take note that the classic combination of "very cheap" and "centrally located" invariably, by definition, without exception, inexorably means "shocking quality". So as i dodged the prostitutes and pimps of the upper Raval, and breathed in the perfume of urine and garbage that pervaded the alley in which my Hostal resided I did indeed ponder the notion of the proverbial "false economy". I pursuaded myself, as I had done before that I was at least getting an unsanitized (literally), authentic, street-level view of one side of the true Barcelona. I was officially "keepin' it real" as they say in street-parlance. Once inside, the hostal was ok. Honest. It was. Just about....Would I stay there again?? Ermmm.....well....errr....no. But that doesn't mean that I wish I hadn't had this experience. It's one of those character-building experiences that makes for great repartee....and blog material! I really should have known better from the name.....please don't laugh....but what do you expect from a Hostal in the middle of Barcelona that calls itself Hostal Miami! I mean please...! At least they didn't have a plastic palm tree in reception.
I explored the Raval area which was a relevation. If anyone is looking for a snapshot of 18th century Barcelona, all you have to do is wander the Raval at 3am, and squint your eyes so you can blur out any 21st century references like shop signs/clothes etc. The rest is all there. The maze of menacing dark narrow alleys formed by the tall blocks of gothic flats which seem to lean towards each other. The laundry hanging from every balcony. Dripping drainpipes, smelly sewers.The murky, shady, freaky creatures of the night who loiter in groups, beckon from doorways, shout, fight, laugh, scream. The transvestites, the African street hawkers, the tramps ferreting through the rubbish bins, the party-goers swaying and staggering through the darkness. All to a soundtrack of leaking nightclub music,restaurant kitchen noises, leary crowds of partygoers, distant screams and breaking glass....there's ALWAYS breaking glass. Maybe i'd had a bit to drink, but I felt like I'd gone back 200 years. It was uncanny. And then the rats....
As I made my way back to piss-alley Hostal I saw a family of rats at work. There were 8 of them running in and out of a drain grate in the road and they were climbing up and down a shiny metal rod which formed part of a large restaurant dump bin. I have never seen rats climb anything before, let alone a shiny narrow metal rod, but they zoomed up it like it was a ladder. I was quite mesmerised by their skill and lack of fear. The street was busy with people and we were only maybe 2 feet away from them.
My nights sleep was punctuated by the usual sounds of urban Spain. Banging, shouting, barking, refuse removal lorries you name it...i'm quite used to it now. It's just part of the night here. The next day I wondered if I had dreamed my medieval fantasy. I felt a bit like Mr. Ben in the cartoon. Had it really been like that? As i walked the streets, daylight had clearly contemporized them, the creatures had changed into normal shopkeepers and punters although the hookers and pimps were still around. But I'm convinced that come nightfall the Raval will transform itself once again into its sinister, but irresistible medieval alter ego.