Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Basil Fawlty often explains the odd behavior of his employee, Manuel, by saying, "He's from Barcelona." I've never ascribed any real significance to the comment, but recent adventures there have led me to think there might be something special about the people of this city. I spent most of last Friday finding architectural treasures in the Eixample section of Barcelona where they are thick on the ground. I wandered into an amazing building that houses a college of music to explore and met the group pictured above coming down the stairs. They took no particular notice of me as they continued their perambulation. I went from room to room, each more lavishly decorated in the Modernista style than the last. I have no idea why they were blindfolded but they weren't the only blindfolded people I encountered in Barcelona.

Later that day I was at the Correo to buy stamps. I dread the Post Office under the best of circumstances and the language barrier made me even more apprehensive. I took a number and then went up to the designated window. I ordered the post card stamps in my own unique blend of Spanish and Italian and the man at the counter responded with enthusiasm to have a non-native speaker to deal with. First he complimented me on my Spanish, then asked if I spoke English at all. He explained that he was taking an English course and would I mind if he conducted our transaction in English? We then went through a delightful explanation of the possibilities: would I prefer eight 31 cent stamps, or four 62 cent stamps? We discussed the pros and cons of both options and traded some questions about vocabulary. I left after ten or fifteen minutes with a line building up behind me, sure that I had just met the most polite and entertaining postal worker in the Western World.

Then on Saturday I got into a conversation with an older cobbler in the neighborhood of Grácia. He had two license plates from New York displayed in his shop. One said "Boss" the other "Godfather." Together we worked out good translations. We decided on el hefe and el pate. At least I think we did. He talked pretty fast and I only understood about 5% of what was said.

But my point is that the people of Barcelona are not overly inhibited. They are genuinely friendly and relaxed. At a busy cafe, waitresses don't seem particularly irritated by a group of foreigners, one of whom persists in ordering the "oven baked tractor" for lunch. It makes for a very pleasant city to visit and I hope I can return in the future.

In the meantime, I've had requests from more than one reader for more photos of the trip. I could only upload one image at a time with my mobile phone, but now that I'm back in Essen I can put more pictures online. For anyone who would like to see my Barcelona pictures, you can go here

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