So sorry to leave you all hanging for a few days. I have been busy working on a novel and living like a Spaniard (up early, nap in the afternoon and out late). You may want to hold off on the Sangria as we will be switching to Cava in a few minutes as we gaze into the eyes of a younger man and stick our toe in the water to test the temperature….
A front desk person gave me directions to the Sant Antoni metro station which is a short two blocks away. I got on a train and emerged at the Placa de l’Angel in the Bari Gotic the oldest part of Barcelona. The first thing I did was go to a pastry shop and purchase a salami bocadillo and a pastry. At this point hunger was a motivation but also culinary adventure. Bread used to be an important part of my diet until almost two years ago when I discovered a gluten intolerance that causes various physical and chemical issues in me. My friend, Michele Humlan, a chef with a similar condition told me that European’s process their flour differently (Europeans leave their wheat un-genetically modified which keeps it less glutenous than wheat grown in the States) and that it might be fine to eat bread in Spain. So eating a crusty bread, for me is a foray into an unknown world filled with fear. Would it really be OK? Was this going to make me feel like crap? The cultural aspect of this experience is important as well. The bacadillo is a staple in the Catalunyan diet. They adore ham in any form and it is common to see people eating these sandwiches for breakfast, a picnic or for a snack at any time. I really adore this type of sandwich and the crusty baguette type bread from which it is made. I have missed it terribly as I have yet to discover a palatable gluten-free version. Throwing caution to the wind, I decide to simply revel in the crunch of the crust and the way it gives way to the soft airy soul of the bread. I allow the tastes of the salami cheese and butter to dance on my tongue giving each taste bud a turn to experience the combined sensation of texture and flavors. After the first fanstastic bite, my “movil” rings, it is Kirana, “I have just taken my first bite of real bread in two years. I am never leaving Spain!” I tell her.
After a brief “Welcome” chat with Kirana and the full demise of my bocadillo, I start walking to take in the sights and smells of the Bari Gotic. Unknowingly, I head west on Libreteria to the Placa Sant Jaume, the home of the Barcelona Ajuntament (town hall). There is a band playing in the square and many people dancing the sardana which is the Catalan national dance. It looks a bit like Greek dancing with people holding hands in a circle doing a little series of steps and walking from side to side. Apparently this happens throughout the town especially on Sundays and people of all ages participate. Catalans study this dance as it has many versions and they like to make statements about being different from the rest of Spain. It is while watching the sardana that Ricardo calls. He decides we should meet at the Placa de Catalunya. He googlemaps from his computer and gives me direction to go down Carrer Ferran to La Rambla and up to Placa Catalunya. On the way I stop at an adorable little shop called La Boheme at Ferran 49. It is small but bursting with colorful T-shirts, handbags, jewelry and other accessories. Barcelona attracts youth from all over the world and much of its local fashion is dedicated to bright colors and slim styles for twenty-somethings. I purchase two really cute typical Barcelona style T-shirts that I have seen young women wearing for my daughter which the shop keep neatly wraps as a gift.
Carrer Ferran is loaded with cute shop and small tapas restaurants. The streets are narrow and cobblestoned affording one the essence of an ancient place. La Rambla by contrast is a wide walkway going dividing two streets like a big median strip with pedestrians tourist shops and newspaper stands. La Rambla is famous for performance art and pick pockets. Crowds of tourists walk up and down this main thoroughfare. During the day tourists delight in the people dressed like statues, magicians and street dancers. At night La Rambla takes on a dark side with prostitutes, drug deals and guys that walk around selling “sexy” beers. Ricardo told me to meet him in the center of Placa Catalunya where there is a giant star set in marble. He is late but the evening is grand. Many people meeting and greeting in this central spot. Children laughing as they chase pidgeons. Lovers cuddling on benches. I wander around looking at the statues, enjoying the fountains and just people watching. When Ricardo finally arrives, we hug and kiss on the cheek then he kisses my other cheek and says, “two kisses in Spain.” I wonder what the evening will bring without reading too much into this extra kiss thing. We start walking. Ricardo is a football fanatic- football as in soccer. One of his favorite teams is playing in an important match tonight and he tells me we are going to an Irish bar to watch the game. Not exactly what I had in mind for my first night in Spain but I am open for whatever. Somehow it fits. I always end up in an Irish bar wherever I travel. At least the first night I am there – and not once from my instigation.
We go to the bar (I forgot the name- sorry) Italy vs Brazil is on the wide screen flat panel television on one side of the bar which has three separate bar locations. We attempt conversation in between goals over a pitcher of the most disgusting sangria (still mystified why we ordered sangria in an Irish bar) ever created on the face of the earth. It was obviously from a mix and for tourists which happens a lot in the bigger cities in Spain. If you want the real deal you must make sure to ask how they make it. It should be red wine, some fruit juice or orange liquor, fruit, maybe brandy but however it is made it should be real and not some sticky nasty red dye infused manufactured crap. But I digress…
Brazil wins and we proceed to the bar in the back for Sunday night kereoke. This area is filled with twenty-somethings from all over the globe singing kereoke, mostly in English which is the language used by tourists to communicate. A Dutch duo of girls dominate the evening singing ABBA songs, Ricardo does a great version of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, a guy from Mexico City sings “Ring of Fire” and Ricardo and I do a duet version of Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life”. At about 11:00pm we head out for tapas. My young companion is not the restaurant guide I had hoped for but we do manage to find bar stools at a tiny tapas place –literally a window of a four table spaced restaurant that serves mostly to about fifteen tables outside in this courtyard type area. We order Cava, the typical drink of Catalunya and some tapas all of which were fabulous but most memorable was the melt-in-your-mouth carpaccio with olive oil and fresh arugula. The evening is balmy, the food wonderful, the Cava is flowing and the conversation turns to expectations of our upcoming stay in Sitges. Not able to get much of a handle on what his expectations are I decide to cross a line and to observe his reaction. We toast Barcelona and over our flutes I lean in to give him what I think will be a kiss that will make him weak in the knees for the purpose of catching him off guard. Our lips meet and the tables are delightfully turned. This man has true talent- a gift even. He is hands down the best kisser I had yet encountered and I am undone. He is definitely willing to cross whatever lines there might be and then some much to my surprise, delight and…. horror.