Chapter 03: “We’re There!” – Lloyd Christmas

Hey Uncle Jimmy! So, how’s the plot?

In my original jaunt to Europe, I did something I thought was rather novel. Up until that time, travel had always been a simple path drawn between home base, a destination, and then home again. Like a boomerang. But after just a few weeks of living in Spain, I added this offshoot branch, leaving Barcelona for Morocco for a brief stay. And instead of returning to my original originating point as usual, I just stepped back and resumed my travels, to a journey already in progress.

I took a vacation from my vacation, to put it simply.

It was … a weird feeling. It’s hard to explain. Part of me indeed felt like I had just come ‘home’ from a grand trip. In no way did it feel like I was resuming one. And yet another part of me felt confused and guilty, because Barcelona was now disappointed that I had left her early to be with another, and now she didn’t want to be my friend anymore.

In a way, I just did that weird offshoot thing again. Only the step back this time was from the United States to Spain. My previous two years in Florida have seemed like that week in Morocco. Just a brief sojourn until I returned to the adventure. And once again, I’ve come ‘home’ to Barcelona.

Well, kinda. It’s apparently going to be a work in progress.

As I walked out of El Prat, the main Barcelona airport, I was hit with two very strong and conflicting emotions. One of the familiar and one of opposite. On one hand, I immediately recognized everything. Smiled broadly when I saw the hills all around the city. All of the usual landmarks were still in place. And yet, everything also just felt completely different.

OK, boring detail time before we head back to that subject.

First item on the agenda was to meet my “landlord” at the new apartment, sign away my life, and offer large sums of money. This happened completely in a daze. I was looking around the flat and nothing was making sense. Maybe it was the fact that I had zero sleep for who knows how long and my brain/body couldn’t figure out why the sun was up.

That task done, I next walked over to a market and bought bags of essentials, so I had at least something in the cabinet besides empty space. And all the while I was still trying to reconcile my place in the world, to no apparent success. Just moving on auto-pilot. Confused.

So with sanity in question and consciousness out the door, I did the natural thing. Napped. Probably for four solid hours. I awoke groggy, but at least words could now form in my brain. So with that little extra recharge, I set out to explore my old home. And to try and reconcile that earlier conflict.

There is a bar/restaurant here that I loved called Rebelot. They had the greatest octopus. It was perfectly grilled, along with chunks of crispy chorizo sausage, and served on a bed of pureed chickpeas. Oh man, just delicious. And one reason I picked the apartment we’re living in was because that restaurant is only a single block down the street.

So as we approach the place, I first noticed that Rebelot ain’t Rebelot anymore. Different name. And I am decidedly not happy. We decided to walk inside, and everything still seemed the same. Well, sort of kind of. Floors, ceiling, tables … nothing changed there. But hardly anyone was inside knoshing and drinking. They had apparently switched to being a “wine bar” and it appeared that the newly desired clientèle wasn’t quite with them in numbers yet. But still, that octopus was there on the menu board, and it would soon be in my stomach.

How was it, you ask? Well … it allowed Nikki and I to have a deep and philosophical discussion. I think she worded it best with “this is a different story”.

It’s funny, because I wasn’t really disappointed that my favorite restaurant had changed, and that the food wasn’t anywhere near as good. I was actually kind of happy, in a way. I hadn’t really known what I would experience when I (re)landed in Barcelona. Time travel and an instant return to the past, perhaps? Something entirely new? What I found instead was this odd mixture. Familiarity, but with a complete sense of fresh possibility. This was indeed going to be a completely different story … just in a place that I loved.

Well, after that revelation and my starting to put two and two back together, we decided that some strolling was in order. To check if our mental compasses were up to the task of finding anything. And to see if our legs could deliver what we needed them to do for the next few months.

(Spoiler Alert: Maybe not right away).

There is a neighborhood in the Old City called the Gothic District. Ever heard of it? Endless alleyways constructed of stone, rising to heights that block out sunlight (and GPS signals). Every now and again, you see a large castle-like structure looming out and running for a block or two. And no matter which way you turn, more narrow stone alleys full of shops, bars, and restaurants. Up is down, left is right, and the place just oozes with interesting and fun possibilities.

When I first explored the Gothic District during the original trip, my initial impression was that it was older than almost imaginable. It was like being in a walled maze that started two thousand years ago.

Well, we found it again, right away. Walked directly there with no ‘oops we’re lost’ turns at all. So, yay us. And it was again just as I remembered. And also just as new.

We eventually found a large plaza with cafe tables for some early tapas and beer, and proceeded to have our first real re-exposure to Spanish cuisine.

I guess I should ask at this point. Do you know what tapas are? No? They’re small dishes, perhaps a single bite of something, maybe three. Very light, but extremely tasty. And they can be just about anything. Anchovies, shrimp, veggies, meats, cheeses, all sorts of goodness. Sometimes on a hunk of bread. Sometimes eaten with a toothpick. (To tell how much to charge you, but that’s a story for later).

Let’s see … there were incredible Spanish olives. Cod fish croquettes, a wonderful sheep cheese with peppered grape slices, and this bread that is purely Catalan. Basically a slice from a loaf, rubbed with a tomato and a garlic clove. And oh my goodness, it was all delicious.

That was a great “well, this didn’t change” moment. The food, I mean. But it was also a “I guess I forgot about this” one as well. I had completely back-burnered in my mind what fresh, perfectly proportioned food was like. You don’t eat much, but there is a flavor explosion in your mouth that makes it just right.

Another semi-culinary metaphor I realized that night, as I was drifting off to sleep, was that I basically had a whole elephant to eat this trip. And I wasn’t going to consume him in one sitting. I was already starting to feel like I needed to rush to re-explore, or at least to start starting stories. But that elephant was going to go down in a hundred thousand bites, over a very long period of time. So I thought that just being in the moment and enjoying the trip slowly was to be the order of the day.

Anyway, back to the story. I then retired to our rock-hard bed and slept for a solid twelve hours. Awoke to a misunderstood time on the clock, and haze and fuzz in my brain.

Jet lag is hard. I never get used to it.

That weird awaking was this morning. It’s now six in the evening, nine weary hours later. Whatever the hell that means in here-time. And so, as I’m sitting at the dining room table in the new apartment, with pen in hand and resting my aching legs from today’s ‘stroll’, I wanted to share a little more of this afternoon’s sights and sounds before I let you go.

We’ve already re-connected with an old friend here. Two years has passed since last we saw each other, but it feels like yesterday. We explored several new places with her, ate yet more tapas, and visited museums. And we also did something that I had no idea that we could even do.

In the middle of this major roadway, as part of a large traffic roundabout, they have this giant monument to Christopher Columbus. We’ve used it as a beacon many times, always knowing that when we see him, we need to head off in a certain direction to get home. The monument has a large round base, and then an extremely narrow spire that rises up to a statue of the man on a pedestal, maybe six stories in the air.

And apparently, you can somehow ride up to the top of this thing and take in a sweeping panorama of Old Barcelona. Yes … ride.

So our friend walks us over to the base of this monument, and I’m still puzzled. It’s a statue in a traffic circle, for gods sake. The spire can only be maybe six feet across at its widest. I can almost hug it. There is no way we are going ‘up’ in this thing. But as those words left my brain, we suddenly saw stairs leading down, under the base of the statue. Into a large circular, subterranean walkway with gift shops, a bar, and a very tiny elevator that just barely squeezes inside the spire. Three people max can ride at a time, and they need to be close friends.

The elevator opens to the narrowest of circular walkways, just under the platform that Christopher is standing on. From the ground, it’s impossible to see the windows because of the ornate ironwork. But from up there, a gallery of maybe eight squeezed-in people can just sidestep around and see the entirety of the old city. I must have walked by that monstrosity dozens of times in the past, and had no idea there was an ‘up’. So that was a very cool experience. It really helps to have locals as friends.

OK, one last topic before I sign off. I know that way back when, before you became joined with the no-longer-living, they did not have all of the magical devices we now take for granted. But these days we have these things called ‘smart watches’. They connect to your mobile phone, which everyone carries and rarely looks up from. And they seem to do everything except make coffee. One of the things this watch has in its bag of tricks is to count the number of steps that you’ve walked each day.

Now bear in mind that I am seriously out of shape at the moment. I knew that there would be a period of time where life was miserable as I re-acclimated with strolling everywhere. But now I have actual metrics to mark my pain and misery.

Yesterday, between walking through two airports and the Gothic District, I took 11,083 steps. Today was 12,953, and I have yet to go to dinner. To put that into a better known measurement for you, one mile equals 2,000 steps. So, between today and yesterday, we have each walked just over 12 miles. So yes, my legs are made of vulcanized rubber right now.

Anyway, I think with that, I must bring this opening letter from Barcelona to a close. Because between my jet lag and these wobbly appendages, I need a serious siesta. And also because my ‘new story’ is just beginning and I can’t wait to take another bite of my elephant after I awake.

So, more soon. Much more.

Love, Rick

PS: Oh, those toothpicks I mentioned? They are stuck in certain tapas called pinchos. One toothpick each. And there is a little jar in the middle of your table. You eat, drop your toothpick in the jar, and repeat. They count the number and shape of the toothpicks at the end to know how much to charge you. Yes, you pay by the toothpick.