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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Guirilandia, BFE

A couple posing in front of the smoldering ruins of Sharm el Sheik.

Monday, July 25, 2005

My permanent vacation

No I ain’t going anywhere anytime soon because I’m earning Spanish wages. I love this place, but the work situation is a joke. I’ve done everything here from loading trucks to driving forklifts to teaching English to being a virtual pimp (and that’s not the half of it). Crappy, barely sufficient pay in each of these jobs. Oh how I miss the days when I was a tourist and had the mighty pre 9-11 dollar. I lived like a degenerate king.

Now that I’m living the quotidian Spanish life, all that has changed. The Euro hijacked our pocket books and suddenly we’re paying three times more for everything, even staples like coffee*. In 2000, a coffee cost 100 pesetas, or about 60 cents. Now that same coffee costs about 1.20 €. That is about 144 cents. An over 200% mark up and the café solos are still only a finger high.

And don’t get me started on the rent.

Wages haven’t gone up either. According to el Instituto Nacional de Estadística (National Institute of Statistics), Spain’s average yearly income is well below the average for the old EU, and even the expanded EU (with the new eastern countries). The average Spanish salary is € 19,802, although the most frequent average is € 12,503. Meaning, most people get paid this derisory yearly sum while a wealthy few earn far above that. People are surprised that so many people in Spain live with their families until well into their thirties – well, this is why. 12 gees a year is barely enough to go to the cinema more than once a month. I can attest to this. So can any waiter or truck loader.

You will see countless multinationals asking for someone with years of administrative experience; full knowledge of Windows Office environments (Mac would be a plus), fluent English, Spanish, Catalan; French and German a plus… and offering to pay 12,000 € (before taxes). I spent three years looking for a decent job and barely got by. No wonder you see so many prostitutes here (any local newspaper dedicates 3 to four pages to their ads). If you get paid like a crack whore to bust your ass in a stuffy office for 10 – 12 hours a day, that’s only a logical manifestation.

Now, the average yearly income for the expanded EU is € 24,000 a year (but, if you count only the original 15 EU members, of which Spain is one, that average jumps to € 27,000). And hey, if that wasn’t bad enough, we also work more: on average 23 working days of vacation (22 for the señoritas… gotta love those macho Ibericos) while countries like Germany have 29 working days of vacation. And eight hour work days? Let’s just say there’s an awful lot of leeway on that.

It’s no wonder people come here on vacation. They simply have more money, and more time. And hey, there’s the sun and sangria too. Plus, if you’re English or German, literally colonies of your fellow countrymen. That’s right, a trip to Spain won’t be any more stressful than going to you local Laundromat. I mean, who in their right mind would want to discover new things anyway?

Here’s a snippet from La Vanguardia (7/21/2005):

The number of tourists that visited Spain during the first half of this year reached 24 million, which means an inter annual increment of 5.7%, the largest augmentation since 2001…

At the current rate, it is predicted Spain will break its past record with 54 million annual visitors.

According to the Organización Mundial del Turismo (World Organization of Tourism), in 2004 Spain was the second country in the world for tourism-generated revenue, with € 37,355,000,000. Only the United States was ahead with € 61,983,000,000.

The absolute majority of these visitors are English, followed by Germans, and the French coming in third. The colossal number of English tourists is due in large part to ultra cheap airlines like Easyet and Ryanair, the scourge of our fair skies. Maybe this is an international white trash conspiracy. Hooligans are overrunning beautiful seaside towns shouting football anthems and getting belligerent as all hell. They stay within the confines of their pubs, perhaps make a little excursion to the beach. Hooligans of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your pasty complexions!

German tourists head to Balearic islands, where they are likely to find other German tourists. There they can eat bratwursts and drink hefeweizen and marvel at the total lack of Ordnung.

And, while Spain has record numbers of tourists, the revenue generated is practically the same as in previous years (according to the same article, citing the Office of Tourism).

Cheap flights and the promise of cheap booze and likeminded fellow countrymen. Who wants adventure when you got pay per view porn and your mates in a pub? Paco and Pepa don’t speak bloody English anyway.

The totally obvious becomes even more apparent: it’s the quality of tourist, not the quantity.

And, finally, our article in question goes on to state: Opposite this affluence of foreign visitors, the Spanish won’t go anywhere for vacation this year, according to the June survey made by Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas (CIS). The majority of those surveyed (50.3 %) cited the reason as being economic problems.

So, it looks like we’re stuck here with ‘em.


* The coffee here is superb. Go to any little mom & pop bar and order a café solo / cafè sol, café con leche / cafè amb lleche, cortado / tallat – or, if you feel like getting an instant heart attack, a carajillo (espresso with brandy, rum, or whiskey). You will not be going to sleep anytime soon, and if you’re American you will head to the nearest john to flush your uninitiated system. If you are American you are probably used to that piss water they call “coffee”. Starbucks thought they had the answer when they introduced all those fanciful flavors, but it’s still just masking the inferior quality of their product. That’s right, take that chai chai grandisimo and shove it up your American Pie eating ass. It’s got nothing on my carajillo de ron, baby.

Why then, do I see so many people go to Starbucks? It is a true mystery of life. This bovine like laziness. I’m not going to say something anti corporate like boycott the evil, ulcer-like manifestations of Starbucks all over Barcelona. I could care less, honestly. No, go there and sip your vanilla flavored Leonardo diFrappuciannos. Meanwhile, I’ll be sipping the real stuff in a real bar. Please, keep going to Starbucks and stay out of the authentic establishments. Really, you’re doing me a huge favor.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Drench first, ask question later

Gotta say, the English have awesome come back lines. To illustrate, I’ll relate the following anecdote:

A friend mine is visiting from New York, and last Saturday night we were walking through the Gotic neighborhood. No, this isn’t a place where guys hang out wearing black dresses and have runny mascara and severe cases of ennui. It’s just one of the various names for the most central neighborhood in Barcelona (other names are: Casc Antic, Barrio Gotico, Ciutat Vella). It’s easily the most emblematic of Barcelona’s neighborhoods, with its twisting alleys, limned by multicolored garments hanging from balconies. Everything from Paco Lucia to Punjabi MC wafts through the soundscape, not to mention an impressive mish mash of languages.

It was about 3 in the morning and we were walking through the labyrinthine alleys of the Gotic: milky green light washed over stone alleyways that reeked of piss, random smatterings of people around every corner. My friend and I were excited to see each other (and slightly buzzed), so I guess we were talking a little louder than we should have been. Up ahead, coming towards us, was a group of English guys that were really trashed - staggering and laughing and totally oblivious.

So we were walking towards each other, and when we were about 20 feet apart this huge cascade of water came down right at the point where we were about to meet. A bucket full, to be exact. Had whoever it was who dumped it waited just a couple more seconds they would have drenched all of us. We all stopped and looked up into the darkness beyond the glow of the street lamps. We could barely see a silhouette watching us from a balcony four-stories up. Our alcohol impaired powers of deduction eventually figured out what just had happened: irritating tourists , angry tenant, bucket full of rag water … there really is only one choice.

Moments later we walked off in our separate directions and one of the English guys yelled up to the silhouette, “you missed!” Couldn’t have been better timed or in better form.

Just another episode in the annals of Guirilandia. The illustrious residents of the Gotic are fed up with drunk tourists, and have taken it upon themselves to mojar la fiesta (literally drench the party). My fellow yankee and I were lucky to escape this time.

I’m just pissed I didn’t think of that come back first.


Sometimes even I forget that this is not just Guirilandia, but a city where actual people live. I live in the center too, and just last night our drunken Swedish neighbors started pounding djembas. I have to work in the morning, and I have to say those arrhythmic Viking beats weren’t exactly sleep conducive.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Sweet oblivion

Here’s an aptly named “puticlub” in Barcelona. “Puticlub”, translated into English, means ”hooker club”; or maybe the more vernacularly correct “ho club”; or even “bitch club” – bitch* being one of the common translations I often see for “puta”, from which the diminutive “puti” is derived. These clubs are all over Barcelona and are easily recognized by their windowless exteriors. Many have mirrored doors, and some kind of flashy neon sign. Men, like fish, are attracted to shiny objects.

When I first got to Barcelona I had no clue about any of this. My Spanish was derived from Mexican restaurant menus, and my concept of Spanish culture was sketchy at best. What I knew came from Almaldovar, Buñuel, Dali, Picasso, Goya, National Geographic, Hemingway... in other words a totally romantic and misconstrued idea of what it really is like here.

I slummed it those first few months. I tried to discover dive bars and authentic Spanish characters, and one of those nights I ended up in a “puticlub”, thinking it was just a regular old dive bar. It was very dark and smoky, and at the other end of a bar there was a group of about five women in lacy clothing. The only other guy in there was the archetypal pervert looking type with a baseball hat, mustache, and thick rimmed glasses. I immediately knew something was up. But I still didn’t pick up on the vibe. Even after living several years in the Tenderloin in San Francisco, I had never seen anything like this. Sure there are bordellos and what not, but a bar out in the open that offers it, is, at least to my knowledge, unheard of.

So, I ordered a beer and this woman pulled up a stool and sat real close. Close enough so I could see how haggard she was. Definitely too old and too lumpy to be wearing that flimsy dress. Even in the dim bar light I could see her cracked and stained yellow teeth. She was wearing enough make up to put a transvestite on Polk to shame.

She asked me to buy her a drink – in Spanish, of course. I knew how to say “un cerveza, por favor” by rote. Then the bartender came with the tab. 1000 pesetas, which at the time came to the rough equivalent of 6 dollars. Five years ago, in Spain, a bottle of beer in a bar cost about a dollar, so the 600% mark up was steep as hell. Basically, it cost a cab ride across town, or a three course meal. I sucked it up and said something trite like, “wow, muy caro”. But my little straw brain still didn’t get it. I thought , ah hah!, this must be the set up. A bar full of women that sit down and give you company, only you have to buy them drinks that they get commissions off of. It seemed logical enough. The atmosphere was far from erotic - imagine spicy latino pop ballads and warm beer. She certainly was no beauty queen, but I figured what the fuck. I’ll finish this beer with her and head out. I found it all kind of humorous anyway. Possible short story material.

She was overly friendly as par for the course. When she found out I couldn’t speak any Spanish the conversation devolved to crude gesticulations. I said, “Me, tourist. Americano. Gringo.” She found that incredibly funny, and said something to the old cow behind the bar. I couldn’t understand her, but she probably said the Spanish equivalent of “what a schmuck this guy is”. Then, she put her hand on my leg and I politely removed it. Unperturbed, she said “five thousand”, made an “O” with her mouth, and with her right hand made like she was plunging it. Ah hah! I thought to myself, she’s a hooker! Yeah, I’m slow to catch on sometimes. She took my arm and tried to take me to the back of the bar, where I suppose she wanted to do the deed. I said “No dinero,” got up, and showed her my outturned pocket. I got out of there fast before the pack of them devoured me alive. I mean, she was a serious wreck, and that place reeked of nagging regrets.

I guess mine was a pretty typical lost tourist story. It’s like you lose your logical compass. Like the drunken tourists of the “borachera”, you end up acting the fool because none of your peers are around. Now I know better and there is no way in hell I’ll ever go into a place like Amnesia. One word. Desperado.

On a side note, I read in the newspaper the other day about a recent spate of bizarre deaths in some of these puticlubs. What happens is this: guys are basically in flagrante delicto when they kick it. They apparently start convulsing, foaming at the mouth, and then pass out, forever. The police believe it has to do with an unfortunate combination of booze, sex enhancing drugs, and amphetamines. A one way ticket to sexual oblivion.


* This, I imagine, comes from the derogatory term “son of a bitch”, which in English means, literally, “son of a female dog”. The Spanish equivalent of this term is “hijo de puta”, or “son of a whore”. Many Spanish people think that bitch means whore because of subtitled movies, where they hear “son of a bitch”, but read “hijo de puta”. The logical deduction, of course, would then be that a bitch is a puta.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

No more cheap tickets, please

July. 27º. Beautiful sunny Catalunya. Cheap ass flights courtesy of Easyjet and Ryanair. Plane loads of drunken English hooligans lousing it up on the streets of Barcelona.

From La Vanguardia:

With almost three hundred flights a week from the United Kingdom and Ireland (the majority operated by low cost airlines), Catalunya, and especially Barcelona have become one of the favorite destinations for drunken British tourism and their stag and hen parties.

[They] buy tickets on the internet with companies like Easyjet and Ryanair well in advace so that the cost of the cost of the trip is almost derisory, thus making enough cash available to get completely wasted and raise all hell.

[ok, I took some liberties with that last one – but how do you translate para beber por todo lo alto y montar una juerga de aúpa ?]

Oh what fun it is. A year ago I wish I had my camera to show you exactly what I mean. I was walking through the Raval with my girlfriend when we came across a group of blokes. They were mesmerized by a group of Spanish girls passing by in tight pantalones.* I don't blame them because the caliber of women here is pretty damn high.

One of the blokes called out to the girls. What he actually said I don't remember, but it was irrelevant. Just a prelude to what I suppose is some kind of English mating ritual. He dropped his jeans and exposed his pasty ass to the girls. He started slapping his cheeks. Then he leered at them and burped.

People on vacation think they have a special license for stupidity. As if acting like a louse was a badge of their personal freedom. They hang out only with fellow countrymen, and don't bother to learn even the most rudimentary vocabulary of the country they visit. They sing football pride anthems like anybody cares. They go to pubs as if they were some strange wonderful anomaly they just discovered.

Houellebecq, the great French novelist wrote: The English only go to a vacation spot because they are sure to find other Englishmen there [...] It's perfectly clear, the English aren't exactly dying to discover new things.

We Americans must have inherited some of that tradition, because not a day passes by that I don't see groups of yanks filing in and out of Hard Rock or McDonalds or some other chain crap like that.

People, what is the point? Are you really that dimwitted? Variation keeps the blood healthy. Otherwise you become a slope headed knuckle dragging drunk staggering out of a pub starting fights, or some fool wearing a sombrero on the Ramblas. Think about it. Would you did this shit at home? No wait. Don't answer that. Some of you probably would.

The solution? No more cheap tickets.


I'm bracing myself for August. Along with the sweltering heat an event of near catastrophic proportions will happen: August 7th, Bonorrhea and his Edginess will be rocking in Barcelona with über group U2. A deluge of zombies will warble "limón" in unison and raid the pubs and hostels of this fair city proclaiming they are "the greatest band of all time."

* pantalones are the Spanish variation of pants. Being skin tight is essential. Spanish female posteriors seem to be particularly well suited to their use.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

copy stuff and don't get busted

In Confessions of a cut & paste artist author William Gibson talks about the merits of re-appropriating writing, mashing it up, changing the context, and creating something totally new. We internet neophytes might think we're pretty nifty, but long before Ctrl/C/V there was Burroughs and his tape recorders. By rearranging conversations by randomly splicing reel to reel tape, he effectively destroyed what he called the word virus, bringing new meaning to old words. He transposed this techinique to his writing, and that was the start of his infamous cut up technique.