"Western Africa 2012" story # 4

Barcelona, Spain           May 1, 2012

In Barcelona, I got caught up on my writing and washed my clothes. And then, I turned my attention to maintaining my New Year's Resolutions.
     I wasn't doing so well at keeping them this year. The previous year, in 2011, I'd proudly put "check marks" next to all my fifteen or so resolutions. But in this year, 2012, I'd thus far made eight check marks ... and two dreaded "upside-down arrow marks".
     One of the resolutions I'd been unable to keep was: "Resolution # 11. Any time I realize I really like a girl, ask her out immediately - even for later that night." The idea behind this was that I should try to increase the amount of time I spent with girls who I'd be inspired to be with. Even though they might reject me, there was no shame in asking.
     But, when I met and adored a sunny, energetic, black-curly-haired gypsy jazz singer, the memory of this resolution escaped me. Okay, I could forgive myself for that. The next girl was my student, though, and I could hardly ask her out in front of her class. Yikes, this resolution was going to get me into trouble! And the third girl was an attendant on my bus to Austria; she'd given me no reason to believe she liked me, and there was no date I could've asked her on which we both could've attended.
     So, Resolution # 11 was a flop.
     Was it that my will-power was weakening?
     I hadn't been able to observe my "all-coldwater-shower" policy too regularly while in the Czech Republic this winter. And, after recently going two years without drinking more than a sip of alcohol, I'd given in and drunk a dozen dark beers this year.
     But, I had consistently maintained my habit of doing at least one of my favorite activities (one Act of Spontaneous Ecstasy) a day, for the past five-and-a-half years. It required a strong will-power to "climb a tree" every now and then. And ... I was on pace to fulfill my other resolutions. But, with the end of rainy April approaching, I needed to concentrate my strength on:
     "Resolution # 9. Designate one day a month, 'The Day I Try to Get a Kiss', and go out if I have to, and attempt a kiss."
     The idea behind this was that I should kiss a girl every month, and even if that wasn't within my power, I should at least try to kiss one. But, the wording of this resolution meant that even if I had kissed someone already during the month, it only counted if it was on the designated day. It had been fairly easy to try to kiss women on days of winter balls in the Czech Republic. But, I could foresee this resolution being problematic and stressful in the future.
     Friday the 27th was chosen to be the "Big Day" in April. I would go out in Barcelona.
     I was actually staying in Mataro, a town of 130,000 just north of Barcelona. I walked past the four-story apartment buildings, which were old and slightly crumbly and yellowish dirty, of this compact town. Flags hanging from the balconies advertised that the people of this area spoke "Catalan" and weren't happy they were part of Spain. The Catalonian flags were yellow and cut horizontally by four red stripes. The stripes memorialized a count who'd died in battle, after smearing his blood on his golden shield, using four fingers.
     Beside a blue-Mediterranean beach, I caught a train that would take me to the Placa Catalunya in Barcelona. At six-thirty p.m., I met my host and friend Xexi ("Chetchy"). His silly nose and thin head greeted me with the good-looking, fuzzy black hair and wiry beard of the Spaniards.
     We wandered around the gothic part of the city. Stone walls and fortresses - and a cathedral with its scary phantom-of-the-Sydney-Opera-House entrance - hung over us. A tiny skull, which had fascinated Xexi as a schoolboy, looked down from an overhead passageway. The narrowest alleys made up of brownish-yellow and black colors that never saw the sun, cut through city blocks, their paths jutting and contorting and avoiding opposing balconies.
     We took the metro and went to watch a flamenco show that began at nine p.m. This activity wouldn't give me much of a chance to kiss a girl. But, it was interesting. And free. And they served soft, fried balls ("croquetas") made of pigs' blood, meat, and yogurt.
     Percussion was played on a bongo, a hand-cymbal, and a wooden box the drummer sat on. This friendly guy, with his black hair and dress-shirt and leather brown vest, resembled a Medieval troubadour.
     Wearing a light-pink dress-shirt and vest, a floppy-haired guy played a bass guitar with very thick strings. It sounded slow and powerful during his one solo.
     It contrasted with the thin strings of the guitar. Sometimes carefully producing crisp sounds, sometimes racing, this instrument cut through the chests of the listeners. A guy in all black, with a short handsome suave haircut, played while seated.
     The harsh flat sounds of the guitar, in turn, contrasted with the sweet wavering voice of the female singer. One of Catalonia's "rubias" (light-haired women), her full body filled a brown dress that flowed to the bottom of her legs. Hearing her sing was like riding a car through an ancient sea-side Spanish village. She sang loudest: "Ay, amor! Ay, amor! Ay, amo-o-or, se fue, no vino!" (Oh, love! Oh, love! Oh, love, he left, he didn't come back!)
     Next to the singer, a woman with a long black ponytail sat and clapped her hands to the music. Her fragile jawline tilted upward, small and happy and proud of herself. When she'd caught the rhythm, she got up to do a flamenco dance.
     In tight brown pants and a black blouse, her thin, ungiving body resembled her fighting nature.
     She beat her chest with her palms lightly, like a peacock puffing itself up for battle. Other than to occasionally slap her thighs, she kept her arms at chest-level or higher. She kept her hands flat and straight like a butcher's knife, or else she opened and closed them like a handheld make-up mirror. She sliced one butcher's knife to the right, and abruptly turned her face to a profile, like a samurai. She squatted and put both butcher's knives out in front of her defensively, like a sumo-wrestler. Though she was small, her spirit seemed to rest higher than most people's. She moved her hands above her head elegantly and spread her arms out, as if angrily telling a story in which she was absolutely correct and all the other people were idiots.
     During a break, she changed into an orange-flowered flamenco dress.
     She stomped her heels on the wooden stage, to the guitar. It sounded like a horse-and-carriage chase. She raised her dress to show her stomping calves.
     Xexi and his friends imitated her dance moves, which looked silly. They taught me that you had to applaud this music by yelling as if you were in pain. Xexi yelled, "Ay!" I yelled, "Ouch!" and, "Oooooh!"
     I would've liked to date a flamenco dancer. She'd probably be full of passion and throw plates at me.
     But, the band, Tenderete, disappeared after the concert. So, I'd have to seek my kiss elsewhere.
     Outside, Xexi and his interesting Catalonian friends drank beers and smoked joints. One guy, Lex, had a big wad of dreadlocks tied up on top of his head, and on top of that he wore a straw hat. He'd been "squatting" in an abandoned house for the past three years. His girlfriend, Vive, spoke Spanish in that squeaky, cigarette-voiced way many Spanish women spoke. She yelled, "Muy bien!" and, "Estoy libre!" while we kicked a tennis ball around for an hour.
     We rode the night tramway together. My friends led me to a social dance studio which was having a "lindy hop" party tonight. They dropped me off. At midnight, I went inside.
     Okay. Who was going to kiss me? I deposited a piece of chewing gum in my mouth.
     I danced first with a long-haired, thin Taiwanese girl wearing a short, orange t-shirt. We danced salsa to the music, and she clung to me like a squirrel to a tree. She said she was a bit drunk, and her Asian face was reddening. Had I spotted an opening? No. She was there with a guy.
     I evaluated the dance studio, for potential openings. A girl who was here for the first time would be easier to kiss than a regular. I was hurt by the fact that I couldn't really dance lindy hop. I spotted a girl who looked like she'd probably dance with me because she was tall. And I led her as we did "West Coast swing" steps - which were easier and less cool than the lindy hop.
     Anna's scratchy Spanish voice said its "th" sounds in an agreeable way that seemed to lean into me. Her brown hair seemed grayish. She was getting her pHd. in pharmaceutical sciences and didn't know what to do next. She'd lived in Greece before and had had a Polish boyfriend. Tonight, she mocked me with an American accent because I was "too West Coast, man."
     We danced and talked some more. Once, she invited me outside with her to smoke. I didn't smoke! Wait a minute ... maybe this would be my opportunity? In the dirty and gray, Barcelona night. Just as I was about to say I'd join Anna, her friend Luiz volunteered to go with her. Oh, no. My chances were ruined ...
     Sitting on my chair in the dance studio, I observed the night ending before my eyes. I was going to be a failure. And I blamed it all on the lindy hop. What a stupid and difficult dance, that I wasn't smart enough to learn!
     Sitting beside me, Luiz - with his calm nature and shark-like head - explained the lindy hop steps to me. "Uno dos, triple-step, one two, bop-bop-bop ..." He said the quick-paced dance offered couples lots of freedom and creativity in their movements.
     Anna invited me to go with her and Luiz to a rave party afterwards. Sure, I said. Resolution # 9 still had life!
     My new companions walked through the city, as I rode Anna's silver bike with high handlebars. Pakistani guys stood in the streets, offering us cans of beer which they'd bought in supermarkets and kept cold in their nearby apartments. My friends bought three for us and we sat for a while. An hour later, we arrived at the techno club.
     I still had my beer. Anna wished I would stop being a non-drinker and drink with them. Luiz was away, locking up the bike. I mentioned that, in 2006 - due to a vow I'd had then - I would've had to kiss someone before I could drink. She gave me a shrug that said, "If that's what it's gonna take ..." I leaned in and attempted my kiss. Yay! And I met her mouth with about 80% accuracy. Success, success! Oh, where would the world of romance be without alcohol? I took a sip of beer.
     The music in the techno club was awful. We moved to a Turkish diner, where we ate kebabs. Just as poor Anna was about to begin eating, she got "hippo" (the hiccups). I tried to help her out with a kiss, this time with about 100% accuracy. But, her hippo didn't go away.
     Afterwards, she and Luiz and her bike descended into the metro. We said, "Adios!" and "Nice to meet you!"
     I walked down the street known as Las Rambles. African prostitutes were everywhere, discussing business with young tourists. I arrived at the Placa Catalunya and caught the 7:02 train to Mataro. I was exhausted!
     But, Barcelona seemed like a good city to have a "Day I Try to Get a Kiss" in. In the rave club, in the Turkish diner, and in the street, short girls with black hair and in black shorts and black nylons could be seen passionately kissing guys. Some of the guys looked like boyfriends. Others looked like new friends.

The following afternoon, I woke up to observe:
     "Resolution # 14. Learn a new recipe every month."
     I watched Xexi's friend, Fran, cook paella. Fran, like Xexi, had eyes hidden between black hair, a short black beard, and glasses.
     He cooked eggplant, zucchini, red pepper, and asparagus in a pot. He added grated tomato and onion, and chicken wings he'd fried. He spread this mixture over the bottom of a huge saucer. He put six handfuls of uncooked rice atop it. He poured vegetable broth on top and cooked the rice in the vegetable broth, on the stovetop over two boilers. His paella tasted vegetable-juicy, delicious with lemon squeezed over it.
     He also gave me instructions for making a seafood paella with "gambas" (shrimp) and mussels. Yum!

Thanks for the good experiences, Barcelona!
(And there were still more to come ...)
Modern Oddyseus.

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