Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Barcelona Bits

I extended my stay in Barcelona by five days. Originally, I'd planned to cross Europe to Istanbul, but after looking into plane fares as well as how I might drag my large suitcase all over Europe by train, bus, and on foot, Barcelona looked awfully inviting.

My host Dalila and I had several excursions that were marvelous and gave me a taste of daily life in this city of 5 million people.

At Sta. Catarina market, a large area excavated
and exposed for public viewing.
As in most cities, places are defined by the neighborhood. The Born, where Dalila lives is one of the oldest. There was a saying among the sailors, "You will go around the world, only to come back to the Born." Beneath the Born is a Roman city, founded more than 2000 years ago. Archeologists have unearthed remains here and there, as buildings are torn down and others built up. At the market nearest the apartment, an entire room is devoted to the ruins underneath, where you can see preserved walls, inscriptions, and even crypts. Another old market building, Mercat Born, has been completely closed down and is being excavated inside the building's shell. It will reopen someday as a social center, never to be a market again. Walking past, the excavations are clearly visible through the windows.

One night, in search of tapas (you really don't have to search far!!) and some wine, we wandered all over Dalila's "hood".  On one side of Mercat Born, there is a wine school, shop, and warehouse. In a very large two-story room with wine cellars below, you can sample 16 different wines from a machine, the likes of which I'd never seen. It takes a prepaid card and deducts each glass of wine that it serves. The bottles are lined up with a hose and fittings in each bottle, the labels clearly displayed. You can select the amount you want and the price varies from 1 to 3 Euros per glass. There were no customers and the young man running the store was bored. Dalila is a striking woman, so the sommelier, smitten with her, gave us free samples, a tour of the store, and pointed out such things as a wine bottle with a round bottom that won't stand up by itself, a mere $155 Euros, and a bottle of WATER, for $250 Euros. It was a beautiful bottle, but still....

Around the corner, Dalila's artist friend has a studio with big glass doors that let in light and the occasional customer. He's quite good with his own impressionistic style. We stopped to visit with him and see his most recent paintings that will be featured shortly in a gallery opening. There were two I would have bought in a heartbeat, one was of the Mercat Born which is a beautiful building. In his painting, it was framed with trees and flowers, not the scaffolding it currently wears.

Dalila has several favorite shops for meats and cheese, vegies, fruits, and clothing. She teaches yoga and English, has only a bicycle for transportation, and lives up three flights of stairs. She stays in good shape. Across the major street Laietana, is a different neighborhood, Gotica. Home to an impressive stone cathedral and many buildings dating back a thousand years, it is filled with apartment buildings with stores on the ground floor. One is a pastry shop that had the most beautiful pastel hunks of "something" in the window. What else would you expect from a "pasteleria"? Of course I had to buy a piece. It's pure white sugar heated and whipped with artificial color and flavor to produce a sickly sweet stiff concoction that breaks up almost the moment you touch it. Dalila made a face when I showed it to her, not something she'd ever eat!

Dog, Duck, Man
Most of the people I met do not have "regular" jobs. I am amazed at the creative ways people stay afloat. Along the Ramblas, almost every neighborhood has a large walking street, people do all kinds of performance art. There are the usual musicians with a hat put out for coins. In addition, people dress up as characters and pose for pictures or act out scenes. One fellow dresses as Christopher Columbus on the Rambla that ends at the sea where there is a statue of Columbus atop a large monument. He's delightful. Other hawkers have a costume of sorts and sell street toys like the obnoxious mouth buzzers, spinning helicopter lights, and quacking ducks a kid can pull. Along the beach a lot of Asian women sell massages, which they do right there on the spot; back, neck and foot massages. Lovely! One fellow, who is essentially a beggar, sits all day with his large dog and a baby duck. People photograph them, and give some change.

Others engage in less than legal activities, selling knock-offs of Louis Vuitton handbags for instance, displayed on a sheet with ropes attached on all four corners for easy "lift off and run" scenarios. I saw five of them posted across a large sidewalk from one another. In addition to selling, they each had a direction they watched, on the lookout for the police. They were not too happy with me taking a photo of them.

In front of the cathedral, on weekends, a large antiques fair is held. People sell religious icons, hardware, books, dishes, and just about anything else you can imagine that's old. It's a popular destination for the locals looking to replace a door hinge in their three hundred year old apartment, or just looking for decorations.

Religious icons, nothing like covering all the bases!

Pedicabs and pedivans are a popular way to make ends meet. Several companies hire young men to peddle people around in futuristic versions of the rickshaw. For quick delivery of pizza or supplies, there are pedalvans, a bicycle fitted with a large rolling box behind, looking for all the world like a mini mini-van.

Christopher Columbus, in the flesh!