I find it eventually: a filthy pension up a dark and squalid alleyway. There’s no sign, just a doorbell to press. At the fourth attempt, a buzzer lets me in and I climb a stairway to a gloomy vestibule where the owner eyes me with a truculent sneer. A scabby dog snarls at me from under a table.
We waiting for you, the owner growls.
I eye him up and down, then sneer back even more truculently. I got lost.
This is not a lie. My talent for getting hopelessly lost has stood me in good stead over the years. This gift of not knowing where the hell I am or what direction I’m going has led me into some of the most interesting places in some of the strangest cities.
We waiting for you, he repeats and his dog bristles but I’m not fazed. If this mangy cur makes one twitch in my direction, he’ll be spitting teeth for a week, and so will his dog.
Some men I keel for money, I warn him, but you, amigo, I keel for nothing.
This is the only Spanish I know, but luckily it has the effect I wanted and he leans back, tugging at his sweaty vest. His left eye twitches in fear. Here! he tosses a key on the counter. Bathroom is down the corridor.
The place is filthy, dank, shadowy, crumbling and unfriendly. Much like myself.
I love it.
This is where I’ll hide if I ever assassinate a major world figure.
I’m tired after the journey because I am simply not made of stuff that can get up at four in the morning. I’m sleepy. I’m grumpy. I go out, and wander around the filthy alleyways surrounding my hovel, but discover in surprisingly short order that I’m near the most famous of Barcelona’s boulevards, la Rambla. I’ve been warned about this place, full of thieves, cut-throats, Lascar pirates and every opium den this side of Marrakesh.
It’s fine. Just a few tourists. Let’s see now. Why not go on a bus ride, and get some idea of the city?
There’s an excellent service from Playa de Catalunya at the top of la Rambla, so I do the real old tourist thing and climb to the open top of the double decker where I plug in my headphones and try not to doze off. It’s fine. We see all sorts of things from the top of the bus. We see some of the marvellous Gaudí buildings along the way, and we pass the Joan Miró museum, which I’d visit if I had more time. I always liked Miró’s ridiculous art and I’ll call in there when I return with less constraints on me. Years ago, I used to visit the Tate Modern in Pimlico to see works by the likes of Miró, de Chirico and Modigliani, but that was before I became the drunken, uncouth slob I am today.
I think I prefer being drunken and uncouth, actually. It’s more fun than being a precious aesthete, though it costs more and your life is shorter.
Shorter but more fun. This is a pic of the Miró museum and you can see how it echoes his pictures.
Did I already show you the big sculpture he made downtown? Well, what of it. Let’s have another look. Isn’t that fun?
Isn’t that the sort of thing we should all have in our cities, if only our city leaders had the sort of imagination Barcelona demonstrates.
But enough moaning. Let’s move on with the tour.
We pass the ultra-clean Mies Van der Rohe Pavilion, which I suppose is very nice in its own clean way, but that sort of austere formality never really appealed to me too much. I much prefer the thing across the road, with apologies for the blurry image.
That’s fine. I’ll stop and look at the Miró museum next time and the Mies thing, but the child in me demands a stop at Montjuic to ride the cable car. How could you not get off the bus for this? I’m a sad bastard, I know. I even love looking at the mechanism that pulls these little cars up and down the hill of Montjuic from where you can look out over all of Barcelona.
These cable cars never stop going up and down, and they’re just the cutest little fuckers you ever did see. You can almost hear the Ride of the Valkyries.
It’s a little bit freaky, though, when the entire mechanism suddenly slams to a halt and you find yourself swinging back and forth, high above Barcelona, wondering what the hell happened. Are two secret agents slugging it out on the roof? Did Clint Eastwood accidentally blow up the motor room while machine-gunning German soldiers? Or worse, is there a nationwide strike of cable-car operators and are you going to spend your last remaining week suspended here in this little pod in space with three Dutch people before you eventually die of thirst or relentless, tolerant logic?
Montjuic Castle is a brooding edifice that frowns down at the city, a bastion of oppression for centuries but now a centre for peace. You see those little windows at ground level? They have bars in them, and when you peer into the basement you can see stone beds and names scratched on the walls. Dates. There’s darkness, and a discoloration on the floor that could be blood. There’s despair. This is not a warm place to be.
The hill bristles with artillery, much of it fairly recent, and I’d love to have a go with one of these guns. I wonder what Franco wanted all this firepower for? Did he think someone was going to invade Barcelona? Maybe rampaging armies of anti-Catholic stag parties on Mediterranean cruises. Was that it? Did he personally stand on these ramparts and direct artillery fire at any passing ship he thought might not be full of committed Catholics?
Look! Ees another sheep full of Protestantes! Fire. Shoot now, I tell you!
There’s only one thing you can say when you arrive at the ramparts and look out at the view. Holy fuck! Let’s have another look at that cannon. Was I right or what? Maybe I could sink a cruise liner. We could have a competition to see who could sink a ship with the fewest shots.
Back on the bus, we swing by the seafront, which is a remarkable achievement. They turned it from a filthy, neglected docks area into a wonderful Mediterranean haven, complete with beaches, right at the bottom of la Rambla, and they achieved it all in the last twenty years when Barcelona decided to look seawards again after turning its back on the water for so long.
… and then we head on through the Barri Gotic which is transforming itself before your very eyes:
That’s enough tourist shit. I’m hungry and I want a beer, but I need to sleep, and so I must return and keel that feelthy peeg of a hotel-owner.
I’m a bit concerned at my lack of Spanish and so I’ve consulted a web site, hoping to learn the language in a couple of hours.
So far, I’ve learned to say Va al supermercado y pega un tiro al gerente. Entonces huye a Mexico.
This means He goes to the supermarket and shoots the manager. Then he flees to Mexico.
Sounds like my kind of Spanish lesson. Back later.
Also on Bock: