2009 TNT Travel Writing Awards entrant
Author: Chloe Baker
“Coke?” the ancient man chirps in our direction as if he is a God we are lucky to have stumbled across. The petite Spaniard holds a six pack of Coca Cola, all tightly bound together, suggesting a slow evening. The closer we get, the deeper the whisper of “Cocaine… you want Cocaine? Hash?” becomes and in the dark of night it’s impossible to catch his eye. We laugh at his play on words and wonder if Coca Cola would appreciate this free publicity. The man looks content and we appreciate the colour it adds to the main square of Barcelona. Peering through the bushes, we spot a Policeman disappointed we weren’t enticed by the little man selling ‘cola’. The disguise of the situation represents deceit, a surreal feeling and a question of what else lurks the streets of this sultry city if you dare to dig a little deeper.
The town feels different in the evening. An intense stillness hovers. Darkness has ravaged the city and the sea breeze is crisp. The heat and ruckus radiating from La Rambla lures us in.
The street isn’t as I left it at 3pm. It’s erupted into the colours of the winning Barcelona football team. Between the royal red and blue flowing with enthusiasm, there are allsorts to be discovered. Old men, teenagers, children, dogs, tourists, and locals all litter the street. The melting pot is blanketed with a constant chant of “Barca! Barca!”
Diehard football fans are obvious. Without even trying they shift a curious eye towards themselves, stealing attention from the undeniable attractions of this famous avenue. The picturesque bars, markets, alleys, paintings and restaurants that bring the Spanish character alive are merely a scenic background to the mayhem. The continual fireworks exploding in the sky suffer the shame of being wasted. The real bang is going on down below, amongst a much lower atmosphere. The dogs don’t whimper the way mutts all over the world do at the hint of lightning. They stare mesmerised at the sight of expensive, ear piercing explosives sparkling in the sky.
I’m dazzled by the energy of these parading people. They are so present and rich in spirit that I wish it was contagious enough for the whole world to catch on. Olive women scream, men roar with passion and children embrace the commotion by circling the swarm. The people of Barcelona are so inviting and infectious, they want everyone on board. This street party is taking over the city and there is absolutely no stopping it. The desire to celebrate and feeling of pride that pours from the men of this town is so intense that it numbs and shakes you all at once. We wave the flags and big foam hands in the sky and truly soak up the moment as a once in a lifetime opportunity to get amongst this savvy European city. Did we really touch down from Melbourne only yesterday?
The crackling nightlife bleeds through the town. A salty smell fills the air and relaxes any soul craving the sea. We follow our noses and arrive at the esplanade which puts every other I have ever frolicked along to shame. The restaurants, the yachts, the vibe and weather compliment each other perfectly. This destination is in a league of its own.
Randomly we select a quaint, old, yet understated place to dine in and are more than welcomed by the proud, chubby Gentleman posing out the front. He throws menus at us whilst hollering his favourite dishes and as if robbed of subtlety, demands that we order what he says. The genuine appreciation of his local cuisine shines through and excites him, more so than the motivation of our business. His crooked smile and large chocolate eyes are so refreshingly honest. His familiar behaviour dominates this encounter so much I feel obligated to offer him a seat.
The restaurant is exactly what I hoped for. It’s typically European. It’s old and run down, the cutlery doesn’t match and black and white staff photographs hang lopsided above the bar, obviously mounted decades ago. We drink Coke (cola) from completely different shaped glasses indicating the sets of six were broken up lovingly through years of entertaining. Generations of men sit in the back corner, smothering a tiny screen that is replaying the match which now owns this city. Their faces flush and fists clench as the deciding goal is scored, apparently to their surprise. They applaud as if it’s the first time they have seen it and hug one another with such comfort, gratitude and happiness you can almost reach out and touch it.
The menu that has obviously been handled by thousands of hungry tourists over time is endless and exciting to read, from the house Paella to the dozens of Tapas that Spanish food is so defined by. The host pours Sangria for us “My treat,” he declares whilst snatching the menu from our clammy paws.
“I order for you,” he reassuringly announces as we obviously look a little astounded. He doesn’t disappoint. The variety of food that floods our cosy booth is the most satisfying banquet I have ever devoured.
I watch lights along the pier make the ocean glimmer and admire how the dimming evening slowly winds people down. I feel guilty that my sight seeing eye has been overtaken by my sixth sense. The local people have been my focus, not the Gaudi Cathedral, Olympic Stadium, City Square or art and fascinating architecture that is the recipe for Barcelona. This is a city where people feel things. They live, not to get through the day, but to enjoy the life they were blessed with. To show off their town and revel in the history, passion and beauty that those around them offer so generously. Oh, to be Spanish!
“Barça! Barça! Baaarça!” continues to ring in my ears. The honour of being here just keeps on bubbling.