Two old people in my building died over the weekend.
Both lived on the 6th floor, actually.
On Saturday, a note appeared downstairs. Written in Spanish, block capitals, blue ballpoint, it announced the passing of a woman named Hélida.
On Sunday, printed neatly in Catalan, we learned from another note that “Joan ens ha deixat”. Joan has left us.
I’m assuming that Joan is the guy I saw being carried out on a stretcher on Friday, and that Hélida is the lady I would see in a wheelchair, getting into an ambulance a couple of days a week. (I always thought they take – or took – her to the hospital for dialysis, but that’s just a guess.)
The ambulance company that works in the barrio is called Lázaro, like the guy in the Bible, which I always thought was a bit morbid – most people in an ambulance would prefer not to get to the point where they need bringing back from the dead.
So today there’s two notes, on two separate walls downstairs, announcing the deaths of neighbors. I attempt to read something into the fact that one note is in Spanish and the other in Catalan, but it’s all just an act of imagination. Who knows?
Then I head off to the park.
Monk fasting for spirituality and ripped abs
I’ve been monk fasting for the last several Mondays.
Fasting for 36 to 40 hours, from Sunday night till Tuesday morning, seems like a less painful way to keep my weight in check than counting carbs or something.
It sounds hard, but really, all you need for a 36 hour fast is black coffee and a bit of courage.
Your brain will try to talk you into eating something if you’re not fully committed. Sitting on the sofa, just a few meters from a fridge full of food, is a bit counterintuitive. So is going out for a walk past all the bakeries, restaurants, bars and kebab shops of the barrio, if you’re not eating.
Personally, once I get past about 16 hours, I’m not all that hungry. I just have some strange feelings. I can see why ancient cultures used fasting in order to bring on a spiritual experience. From Saint Jerome fasting in the desert, to Thai monks eating one meal a day (what the intermittent fasting community calls OMAD) it’s all over the world’s spiritual traditions.
Anyway, by the time I’m out, it’s been about 33 hours since my last meal, and I feel a bit dizzy. One black coffee later, though, and it’s like any other morning – no hunger, just a feeling of focus, like all my senses are heightened and I’m ready to take down that wooly mammoth.
Contemplating the Marian Dogmas of the Catholic Church
There are only a few people out this early in the morning.
I walk down to Ciutadella park, usually a big tourist attraction, now almost empty. There are a few joggers. A big guy in all black is jogging, for some reason, barefoot.
The refugee types are still in their tents, or they’re waking up to wash themselves in the public fountains. A few dozen people apparently just live in the park.
A few drops of rain start to fall, even though it’s mostly sunny. It’s hot, sticky, summer.
Things are extra quiet because today is a holiday. The Assumption of Mary, to be exact.
You know the Immaculate Conception?
Well, a lot of people assume that refers to the conception of Jesus while Mary remained a virgin. But no. Actually, it refers to the conception of Mary, free from Original Sin, inside the womb of Saint Anne. We celebrate that on December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. However, Mary’s conception eventually paved the way for the birth of Jesus, conceived without human seed, fathered only by the Holy Spirit.
Later, at the end of her life on earth, Mary “was taken up in body and soul to heavenly glory”. Presumably this was possible because she was free from sin, and therefore didn’t have to pass several eons in Purgatory. That’s the Assumption of Mary. Not to be confused with the Ascension (when Jesus went to heaven) or the Annunciation (when the angel Gabriel announces to Mary she’s carrying the son of God in her uterus). That Assumption is what we’re celebrating today, August 15th.
(I don’t know a lot of practicing Catholics these days, and I doubt your average Spaniard could give a better explanation than I just did of the Marian Dogmas as set forth by Popes Pius IX and XII, among others. Sorry you had to hear it from an unenlightened elephant-worshipper like me.)
Long story short, it’s the Assumption of Mary, and Morena is working from home. Ideally she’d be taking a day off, but payroll sales pause for no man – or woman. The team she manages is in the UK, and they don’t go in for big adorations of the Virgin Mary up there. So she’s got a few meetings on video.
I get home, decide to go out again, then go back home. Around 1 PM Morena’s ready to close the laptop and eat, so we make steak and eggs, potatoes, and rice.
Nothing makes your steak taste better than waiting a day and a half between meals.
Fun times in the Fiestas de Gràcia
After lunch, I lie around for a while, reading the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S Grant in front of the aircon.
Grant’s descriptions of the Mexican War are interesting confirmations of my “history sucked” hypothesis: his nonchalant descriptions of people being blown up are pretty grisly. Then he says, for example, that they all have to hurry to leave Vera Cruz before the yearly Yellow Fever outbreak decimates the army. Americans were tough people, back in those days, and used to seeing death all around them.
Around 5 o’clock, with Morena still in meetings, I go for a bike ride. I decide to turn north for a change – or, not north, per se, but what I call north. All Barcelona is arranged on a grid between the beach and the mountains, so most of the longest streets are parallel to the coast. What I call “north” is basically northwest, in the direction of the mountains, but living in Phoenix and Madrid I got used to calling things north and south, and old habits die hard.
Riding north, in any case, I’m soon in Gràcia, where they’re doing their annual neighborhood block party. It’s not really Assumption of Mary themed – mostly, it’s famous because the streets are decorated with large scenes made of papier mâché. There are also the typical “giant” costumes, occasional concerts, and plenty of public drinking. I guess it’s fun for some, but I’ve always been a bit underwhelmed.
Am I the only one who thinks Barcelona is overrated?
Probably not. But “Barcelona Truthers” are certainly in a minority.
Michael Booth, whose book about Scandinavia I read for my recent trip to the Swedish Utopia, says, for example…
“All those lists of the best cities to live in are always made up of places with clean streets, cycle paths, and touring productions of Phantom of the Opera, like Bern or Toronto; it is never the really scintillating, stimulating places like New York or Barcelona.”
Scintillating and stimulating places like New York and Barcelona, huh? Not sure what to make of that.
It’s mighty scintillating, I admit, stepping through puddles of old urine every morning when I leave the house, worrying I’m going to get pickpocketed or worse, wandering between dilapidated buildings in search of overpriced coffee, sweating through two or three t-shirts a day.
Maybe I’m the wrong person to talk about it, but people ask me all the time: having lived in both, do I prefer Madrid or Barcelona? And the answer is always Madrid.
Up in Gràcia, someone’s spraypainted TOURISTS GO HOME on a lot of the busiest streetcorners – some Catalan kid who spent his whole allowance on spraypaint, presumably.
I always wonder about the mental gymnastics that the “tourists go home” people manage to pull off – have they never been on vacation? Or are they special little snowflakes who somehow manage to blend in with the locals wherever they go?
A few blocks uphill, near Parc Güell, there’s a casa okupa – an old Guardia Civil barracks full of squatters, who have put up a banner saying: “Ni turistes, ni especuladors, ni rics. TOURISTS GO HOME. REFUGEES WELCOME.”
I don’t like it when signs tell me what to do. Then again, as a six-foot-tall bearded ginger immigrant business owner, I’m not really sure where I fit into the leftist hierarchy of bad guys ruining the city. Most people who see me probably think I’m a tourist, but I may, in fact, be the evil capitalist oppressor. Or maybe I’m giving myself too much credit, here sweating through my second t-shirt of the day.
Back in Gràcia, they’re about to start a parade. There are the gigants, some guys dressed all in white, with bells on their espadrilles, bagpipes, drummers, and (for some reason) several people on horseback all waiting around for police to close off the street.
I walk my bike through all the pedestrians and the huge piles or horseshit, past more TOURIST GO HOME graffiti, then hop back into the saddle and coast down to my favorite bar in Born.
The worrying decline in public nudity
My first few months of sobriety, I didn’t realize most places serve alcohol-free beer. But they do, and it’s not bad. At least part of the reason I spent so much time drinking was because I wanted an excuse to be outside – and one can only have so much coffee in a day.
Born is empty – a lot of people are probably on vacation, celebrating the Assumption of Mary at some remote beach, or in the pueblo, or ruining someone else’s city with their evil tourist euros. The rest are up in Gràcia.
August is always a quiet month – a lot of things are closed for those famously long European vacations. Even the news is boring. This week, things are so slow that I’ve seen several articles about the decline in nudism on Spanish beaches. It’s even gotten to the point that the nudists are offended by people in normal swimwear invading “their” spaces.
Officially, you can practice public nudity wherever you want. It’s constitutionally protected free speech – at least according to the legal interpretations of online nudists.
(I’d try to independently confirm that before just walking down the street naked, if I were you.)
But in practice, legal or not, naked people want to be naked surrounded by their own kind, and that flimsy piece of nylon covering your junk is ruining their vibe.
I wonder if the fact that everyone on the planet is now carrying a high-definition camera with them has something to do with the decline in nudism and “topless” on Spanish beaches. In any case, younger generations just don’t seem to be interested. Or is it that young people aren’t excited about “being natural” in the same way people a few decades ago were?
Or – here’s another hypothesis – is nudity just a completely different proposition now that there are are 7.2 trillion hours of new porn available online every day?
I don’t know. I briefly consider riding down to the beach to see if I can spot some geriatric Catalan wang – purely for journalistic purposes, you understand – but looking at my watch, I see it’s almost time to go home for dinner. Morena’s making her famous coconut milk fish curry, which is a big event for me.
Lacking any other way to end this series of random thoughts, here’s the recipe:
How to make Coconut Milk Fish Curry
Sputter some mustard seeds in a little bit of coconut oil, then add a couple of slivered onions.
Sauté for a few minutes, then add a tablespoon or so of tomato paste. Mix that up a bit. Add some turmeric, pepper and paprika. Then add your fish. We used salmon this time.
Cook the fish for a couple of minutes on each side, then add a cup of coconut milk, and simmer for a few minutes more until the fish is done. Serve with rice.
I’m not sure if this is an authentic Kerala recipe or what – they don’t have a lot of salmon out there in Trivandrum. But it definitely works with salmon, as well as mackerel, and (probably) other types of fish.
I bet you never thought you needed your salmon floating in coconut milk before now, but try it. You’ll see.
Anyway, Mark Kurlansky in The Basque History of the World just drops fish recipes into several chapters of his book. And he’s a serious writer. Not like me… I’m barely a writer at all. Just a hungry wanderer through piss-filled alleys, recording my random thoughts while on a constant search for coffee or other hydration.
That’s all I’ve got for today.
Hope you’re doing well, wherever you are.
Daniel AKA Mr Chorizo.
P.S. Why do you think public nudity is on the decline? As I wrote in my article about Romantic Love, technology is changing people’s relationships in a lot of ways. Presumably it’s also changing the way people see themselves naked. But I guess that’s a big topic. Leave me a comment, right here, with your thoughts… Thanks!