The Natatorium

An emporium of oddities from around the world, complete with somewhat informative plaques that almost never match the item they are meant to be describing.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Paris is Dirty, You're a Racist

(If the title doesn't make sense to you, go watch "L'auberge Espagnole." Right now.)

Wednesday, May 6, late night

When we last left our heroes, they were in search of salsa (the dance) and much merriment following an exhilarating victory for FC Barcelona over Chelsea. Stephen, Gabrielle, Meaghan, Daniel and I set out in hopes of finding some Barcelona night life.The city was pretty vibrant, even though it was around midnight, and as we headed for the towers on the beach (where we'd been told we'd find good clubs) we met people on wheels chanting "Barça Barça!" and encouraging us to do the same. Unfortunately, the night didn't really live up to expectations. We had a hard time finding a decent club, and I'm pretty sure it was because we had no idea where to look. *I* wanted an authentic hole-in-the-wall bar where the locals went for some poorly lit but thoroughly enjoyable cramped and sweaty salsa. What we found was... pretty much emptiness. After walking the several kilometers from the hostel to the beach (it was too late for the metro), we found the overpriced and uncomfortably swanky clubs mostly empty, save one which was full of idiots (mostly tourists, I think) dancing to an exceptionally bad DJ.

We gave up around 2:30 am, I think, and decided to head back to the hostel together. It was about a 45 minute walk, and the entire distance was crawling with Cerveza men. The Cerveza men are basically guys who walk around EVERYWHERE with cans of beer and sometimes bottled water, calling out "cerveza beer" like the most faithful of broken records. Some of them have coolers with a variety of drinks and some semblance of legitimacy, but most of them are just carrying around a warm six pack, dangling from their fingers by the flimsy bird-killing rings, trying to charge you double or triple what they paid for it at the supermarket. I can't really believe anyone buys stuff from them, but hey, Barcelona is a young party city full of young party tourists. There must be enough vapid Cancun rejects roaming the streets in order for their labor (of standing around) to pay off. Whatever. I just ignored them and was glad they weren't trying to rob us (wait for it) but Daniel would get progressively more annoyed each time one of them started to step in front of our path.

I should mention at this point that we had been using the same street, Carrer Sant Pau, to go back and forth between our hostel and La Rambla, the main drag in town. Since we navigated almost everywhere else by using La Rambla, we ended up walking down Sant Pau almost anytime we went anywhere on foot rather than taking the metro. It wasn't until we'd been up and down Sant Pau several times that I started noticed that every time we passed a certain corner, there seemed to be women standing around... in shorts and high heels.... doing nothing... but texting.... it wasn't until I saw a police car there that I finally gave up my benefit of the doubt and admitted that we'd found (at least a little niche of) Barcelona's red light district. Still, the area didn't feel particularly unsafe in the daytime. I'm sure it wasn't really that bad at night either, because after all we were still in central Barcelona, and as a rule the center of European cities tends to be pretty free of violent crime, if not of petty thievery.

So. We turned off of La Rambla into Carrer Sant Pau, which is really pretty much a long alley, and were thankfully free of the Cerveza Men. Unfortunately, before we got to Parallel, the main road at the end of Sant Pau and just a few steps away from our hostel, we made some new friends. A group of teenaged boys appeared and started harassing Stephen. Daniel and I had been walking a few paces behind Stephen, Gabby, and Meaghan, and we watched for a moment to see if things would get serious. We didn't want to react too strongly and end up escalating things, because at the moment it was only one or two of the kids who were doing anything, and they were both pretty skinny. Touch one skinny kid, though, and you can bet the whole group would come out with guns blazing (thankfully, in Europe this phrase is almost always metaphorical). Stephen and the girls started to get (understandably) freaked out as one of the kids kept trying to trip Stephen, so Daniel stepped in and took on one of the wiley kids, mostly by staring him down and not looking scared, but also by eventually twisting his arm a little. For my part, I stayed close to the others and starting running through my meager self-defense moves. We were approaching Parallel, so we walked quickly into the open, well-lit space of the intersection and our new friends fell away. We were all very glad to get back to the hostel, I think. I was slightly shaken up by the incident at the time, but really only out of anticipation that it might turn into something worse. It's easy to get spooked by strangers in an alley at 3 am, but there's a difference between dangerous thugs and mischievous kids, and fortunately we had an encounter with the latter.

Thursday

We slept in (surprise), and after a fruitless trip to the train station (for future arrangements) headed for the beach. We didn't stay too long, but I think I got evenly cooked on both sides. There were plenty of Cerveza Men there annoying Daniel, but there were also ladies walking around calling out "Insalata di Fruita!" which sounded *delicious.* I think I didn't have any money or I would have bought one. After laying in the sun for a while, I dipped one toe in the water and decided that was adventurous enough. We went back to the hostel and had yet another Boxmaster while waiting for the evening's free meal. We made more friends at the meal, two French girls and an American cousin. The French girls and I chatted mostly in French with Stephen (though his Canadian accent soon became the topic of discussion) and the American and Daniel had their own conversation in English. We all talked together, switching back and forth between languages and conversation partners for hours, until Totti's dad finally begged us to go to bed because our talking downstairs was too loud. It was one of those amazing hostel evenings where people from different countries and points of view sit down and talk about culture and politics and traveling and language. Evenings like that are easily my favorite part of traveling, hands down. A good hostel can teach you more about global culture than any book or college class ever could.

Friday

We finally felt compelled to see some more sights, so we walked to Sagrada Familia, the famously unfinished Gaudi cathedral. It's still a work in progress, and while I find Gaudi and his Seussical designs charming, Daniel tends to mock them at every opportunity. Personally, I don't see how Gaudi's whimsical sweeping lines are that different from the Art Deco Parisian metro stops that Daniel professes to love so much, but that's a debate for another day.

After Sagrada Familia, we had a tapas-esque lunch, then headed down to the beachfront to go to a shopping complex and... you guessed it... see Star Trek. It was awesome.

After the movie, we took the metro to Olympic Park, reliving the sci-fi amazingness all the way. The main entrance to the park was blocked off for an event, so we surreptitiously followed some other tourists, from across the street and half a block down, all the while pretending we were secret agents tailing them undercover.... yeah, our geekiness knows no bounds, but it was *highly* amusing. I don't know what I was expecting, but I wasn't that impressed by Olympic Park. The views were nice, but I'd seen a view from Parc Güell. I didn't even really get a climbing level workout in, because it had outdoor escalators everywhere (which, admittedly, I was happy about at the time).

Eventually we made our way back to the hostel, then ventured out for some pizza a few blocks away. We spent the night in, watching videos on Daniel's computer before we decided to go to bed. He had an early flight the next morning to Italy, and my flight to Paris was in the afternoon. It was our last night together, and I was wilting a little. I don't think I slept at all that night, because besides the fact that I was sad we were going our separate ways, I was nervous about going to the airport and such the next day, because that's what I do. Also, the room was about a thousand degrees that night, because for some reason the balcony door (our only source of ventilation) was closed.

Saturday

In the morning I went downstairs with Daniel to say goodbye, then trudged back upstairs and curled up dejectedly. I tried to snatch a couple of hours' sleep before I had to get up and check out. I made it to the airport without incident and almost two hours too early (as usual). I was soon on my way back to Paris, then Berck and my tiny apartment. When I finally got there, I was relieved and grateful for my bed, but still unsatisfied. My slightly extended stay in Barcelona hadn't been long enough.

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