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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Passing conversation ... lost in the night

"Tio, do you know how much a paleta* makes in Germany?"

"Tio, like 2,000 ...."


Unintentional flashback to a couple years ago when I dismantled a perfect marble bathroom for Sr. de la Caixa (actually, the owner of la Caixa's son), hoed his garden, and carried thousands of shingles up to the roof of his useless new awning ... for 5 lousy Euros an hour.

I should've told the luckless construction workers that in
Berlin, at least, people are paying a 3rd of what we're paying for rent.

Yeah, tio, flipas.

A taxi driver told me the other day this place would "die" if it wasn't for the tourists that keep the economy afloat. German, American, English, Swedish tourists, no doubt.

Welcome to
Estrella, guiris, y mal marijuana

*Paleta – noun – A construction worker. Usually wears blue overalls, sings at 8 in the morning, and says charming things to 90% of the passing female population. Usually xarnego, or of mixed Andalusian and Catalan decent (I get along with most of them).

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The best Woody Allen film never made

No, I’m not referring to his future movie in Barcelona (which hopefully will be better than the vastly overrated Match Point), but a great short story of his from 1977.

Kugelmass - an over-the-hill humanities professor – is frustrated with his second marriage to an "oaf", and desires the rejuvenating spark of romance. A shysty magician named Persky comes to his aid by transporting him into the classics of world literature, where he wines and dines Madame Bovary herself. The problem is, can he handle his fiction and his reality at the same time?

She's young and nubile, and I'm here a few pages after Leon and just before Rodolphe. By showing up during the correct chapters, I've got the situation knocked.

Classic Allen wise cracks meshed with meta-fiction and a nod to Cervantes.

"Relax," Persky told him. "You'll get a coronary."

"Relax. The man says relax. I've got a fictional character stashed in a hotel room, and I think my wife is having me tailed by a private shamus."

You can read The Kugelmass Episode, here.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Random job listing on Craigslist Barcelona

Craigslist Barcelona is dead compared to its Spanish counterpart Loquo. Nevertheless, I popped in CL today to check out the job listings and found this (it’s a few weeks old):

Aspiring Pornographer wanted

A large and successful internet based adult entertainment company with an office in Barcelona is looking for an aspiring producer/videographer…

Then this:

Anyone applying should look for inspiration from Barcelona’s very own beast of burden, [WARNING: following this link could result in permanent brain-scarring] Carmen de Mairena, or Werner Herzog’s cult classic, Even Dwarves Started Small.

Good luck.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

La Maria no t’estima

… which means “Maria doesn’t love you", in Catalan. These posters are all over Barcelona:

Oh really? Maria doesn’t love me? I guess I know a different Maria.

This must be part of Jon Clos’s new civic ordnance campaign. The website is hilarious. It opens up with a crappy Flash animation that I suppose looks vaguely “trippy”. As in plaza del trippy. Then we’re introduced to an anthropomorphized Maria:

“Hi, I’m Maria. [It’s nice she introduced herself so politely! Most pot smokers forget to do that] I’ll be your guide on this website. I’m bad… and I don’t love you. And now, if you want, I’ll explain to you why.”

My conclusion, after surfing the website, is that Maria doesn’t love you only if you’re Catalan. And she really needs a little sol and playa.

But, I gotta say, these guys are about 70 years behind the times. The classic, ladies and gentlemen, Reefer Madness.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Unnatural habitat

While scientists search for unknown animals in the mountainous rainforests of New Guinea, two alien species roam the streets of Barcelona: the guiri intrepidus and the guiri clandestinus. You can read about them in my latest column, Beyond the cold front.

… But, some visitors do stand out. A few days ago, with the cold and the rain boring in, I did see one, quite out of season. This must have been the pervasive guiri intrepidus. There was a double-decker tourist bus swerving around the obelisk at Joan Carles I, through the elements, with one lone tourist on the upper level white-knuckling the railing …

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Scary buses

Well, not really. For me least. Here’s a letter from a frightened citizen to 20minutes.

Reckless buses

The 4th of February at night, when we were driving on Aragon street, a bus, instead of driving in the bus lane, invaded the lane next to where we were driving.

What a surprise I had when I realized the driver was talking on his cell phone. On top of that, he smiled ironically and blew us a kiss in a disparaging manner when he realized we had seen him.

Autobuses temerarios
Y. B. Publicada el 15.02.2006

El 4 de febrero por la noche, cuando circulábamos por la C/Aragón, un autobús, en lugar de circular por su carril bus, invadió parte del carril contiguo por el que circulábamos.

Cuál fue mi sorpresa al comprobar que el conductor estaba hablando por su teléfono móvil. Para colmo, sonrió irónicamente y nos envió un beso de forma despectiva al comprobar que le habíamos visto.

This reckless bus driver might be a close cousin of the 34 line guy, who the other day had an interesting chat with a fellow off-duty bus driver about P2P downloading techniques - while recklessly driving. Incredible, this criminal behavior!

Another observation I made yesterday, and completely off topic, was this 60 year-old cigar-smoking guy playing a slot machine. Very common bar scenery here, by the way. So, the guy’s cell phone went off with a Madonna ringtone. Not just that, it sounded like he actually recorded the song, meaning this abuelo has Madonna’s latest CD, and made the conscious decision to pick the right track, adjust the volume, etc. etc.

That’s just wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Does he think he’s going to pick up chicks with his Madonna ringtone, with his latest 3GSM celly cell and his thrift store suit?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

No siesta, solo fiesta

Could Spain’s legendary siesta be on the verge of extinction? It seems like people are clamoring for an 8 x 8 x 8 schedule, which means 8 hours for work, 8 hours for leisure, and 8 hours for sleep. As it is now, many companies obligate you to take 1 ½ to 2 hours for your lunch break. That makes your average workday 10-11 hours long.

The lunch hours here are too long sometimes. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s true. My first job, working en negro, or under-the-table, or more succinctly illegally (without papers), was loading textile rolls into trucks. This was in a warehouse in the Marina district. There we had 2 hour lunch breaks. In olden times, this was so you could eat and take a siesta afterwards. At least I’m assuming so. But during my year at the warehouse I never once took a siesta. Not once. And 2 hours to eat is way too much time considering you can’t do anything while you’re waiting to go back to work besides re-read the newspapers - or waste your euros in a slot machine. And, on top of that, it induces alcohol consumption. After the vino con gaseosa at lunch, carajillo de cognac afterwards, my coworkers and I would drink canyas as well. There was nothing else to do. Then, when I was really good and ready to take a siesta it was back to work for another 4 hours. And a very unproductive 4 hours those were …

It was such a drag to work at that place from 9-7pm everyday. I felt like I lived in that warehouse. I did learn a lot of trucker slang though. That was a perk … my only perk.

Not that I want the 8 hour workdays with half hour lunch breaks. With that kind of shift you only have time to eat a hamburger, then sit in front of your computer and wonder why your ass is growing bigger. That’s not the proper way to eat. I’m all for 1 hour lunch breaks where you have time to disconnect and digest your menu. That means one more hour for your leisure. More leisure can never be a bad thing.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Robo en el metro

File under: Smooth criminals

Another peep in the void from an impotent denizen of this fair city, la Ciudad Condal, aka Guirilandia. This is a letter to the editor from 20minutos:

Theft in the subway station

This letter is to report the theft of a cell phone in the elevator that goes from the subway platform to the Clot station lobby, on the 2 line.

They took advantage of the fact that we were loaded with a baby carriage and the child to open our bags. It’s not just the cell phone, it’s that they were about to steal our bags, from my mother and myself.

It’s the rage some people give you that take your belongings. Watch out if they talk to you in a friendly manner. You can’t trust anyone.

Robo en el metro

Esta carta es para denunciar el robo de un móvil en el ascensor que va desde el andén hasta el vestíbulo de la estación de Clot, en la Línea 2.

Aprovecharon que íbamos cargadas con un cochecito y el niño para abrirnos los bolsos. No es por el móvil en sí, es que estuvieron a punto de robarnos los dos bolsos, a mi madre y a mí.

Es la rabia que te da que unas personas te quiten tus pertenencias. Tengan cuidado si les hablan amablemente. No te puedes fiar de nadie.

I’ve seen so many variations of this. Just last week I was in the Plaça Catalunya station when this evil midget with bloodshot eyes approached me and asked me for directions to Terrasa. As per the pickpocket m.o. he was uncomfortably close, and lo and behold his snaky fingers were reaching into my pockets. I swatted him away and he walked back to his triad a few feet away, around the corner. Funny thing, the pocket he was reaching into only had a lousy 4 year old cell phone with a cracked face. Would have suited him better than the brand new Nokias he was intent on robbing.

This is a typical "maneuver" by these guys, who operate in the three central stations of Plaça Catalunya, Passeig de Gracia and Universitat. They ask you directions and try to distract you with a newspaper, or a map - and they always work in groups. But to differentiate them from other, innocent people, these guys are extremely annoying and they get right up in you face. It’s happened to me here several times, and once in Rome, and luckily they never once lifted my wallet. But I know plenty people who have had this unpleasant experience.

They also scavenge in Estació de Sants, where many backpackers drop their guard for one quick minute, and poof their laptop with their dreamy memoir goes bye bye, off to the nearest fence.

And obviously there’s the unpleasant question of race. Who is it that’s snatching bags off of café chairs, wriggling their little mitts into tourists’ pockets, robbing old ladies who can hardly even walk in Barrio Sant Pere? The truth is almost all the petty thievery I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a lot) has been perpetrated by Moroccan youth.

My eyes are doing the talking here, and in no way is this a blanket statement condemning an entire race of people. But the time I saw an old lady dragged down some church steps and fall flat on her face was when two Moroccan kids with bloodshot eyes yanked her purse from under her arms.

The time I was on the metro and an Italian tourist caught a guy with his hand in his pocket it was a Moroccan (who spit on him afterwards and called him a racist). Every time (once or twice a week in peak guiri hunting season) I hear someone yelling the linguistic variants of "Stop thief" and look out the window it’s a couple Moroccan kids striding with the utmost of ease down Sant Pere Mitja around the corner to their apartment above a Halal butchery.

It’s hard not to notice the common denominator in all this, and it’s even harder to say something without being called a racist (I’m of a mix, by the way, that people can never figure out what I am, and have been mistaken for everything, even Moroccan. I notice the way some women pull their purses in closer to their bodies when they see me approaching …).

But it’s obviously more a cultural divide than anything else that determines who these street hyenas are. They are the trash of their country and do what they do here out of their own miserable necessity, and probably because they have a certain impunity that is lacking in their home countries. The trash of all countries behave in a similar manner, depending on their degrees of need. The trash of England go to Lloret and steal ambulances when they’re drunk (that’s just on lark and isn’t for "necessity"). The trash of the east bust into houses and hold families hostage. The trash of Catalunya rob jewelry stores in Casteldefells. The trash everywhere do trashy things regardless of skin color.

If people start acting suspicious because of the way someone looks, it’s not just the color of the skin, but the sartorial style of the individual in question. A Moroccan guy wearing a business suit wouldn’t raise alarm, and might even blend in and be mistaken for a xarnego, but some kid with a Ronaldo style tuft of hair protruding from his forehead and reflective Nike sneakers da el canto de ladrón from a kilometer away. These are the guys that walk up behind you when you’re exiting the metro and reach into your backpack. If people are suspicious of these types of people it’s because it’s reinforced on a daily basis. The best thing to do is to look at it for what it really is and deal directly with the situation, instead of prolonging it with hypocritical compassion. You see someone looking like this watch out, that’s all I can say. And I tell everyone who comes here. Just be realistic, is all.

And you have to remember that even these proud Spaniards and Catalans were shining shoes in Germany a generation ago. Now Spaniards are quaint and exotic, but before they were cheap manual labor.

Here’s some snippits of responses to "Robo en el metro":

… I have the luck that no one has ever robbed me, but you must feel terribly impotent and enraged when they rob you, and furthermore, surely it was a Romanian boy or someone from that ghetto (which are abundant in Barcelona)

… tengo la suerte de que no me han robado nunca, pero tienes que sentirte terriblemente impotente y rabioso cuando te roban, y además, seguro que fue algun niño rumano o de ese guetto (lo que abunda en Barcelona) …

… Watch out with what you say, because they’ll chalk you off as a racist …

… Cuidado con lo q dices vero, q te tacharan de racista …

… I already know it, I was going to include in this letter that I suppose that they’ll call me racist, but that’s what there is, there’s a lot of hypocrites on this subject … I only know, that "by coincidence" all the quarrels that I’ve been seeing during the five years that I’ve been in Barcelona, on the street, in the cafeterias in the center, in the train, in the subway … aren’t provoked by "people from here", never have I seen it!

... ya lo sé, iba incluir en la carta q supongo que me llamarían racista, pero es lo que hay, hay mucho hipócrita en cuanto este tema...yo solo sé, que "por casualidad" todos los altercados que llevo viendo durante los cinco años que llevo en barcelona, por la calle, en cafeterías del centro, en el tren, en el metro... no son provocados por "gente de aquí", nunca lo he visto!

… every person that wants a better life, a better job, a better house has the doors open to them, he who is not ready to work like everyone else, TO YOUR HOME.

… Toda persona que quiera una vida mejor, un trabajo mejor, una casa mejor tiene las puertas abiertas para venir, el que no esté dispuesto a currar como hacemos todos, PA SU CASA.

… The truth is that the problem of delincuency is in all the country, but no one can deny me that it has been considerably augmented since the rise in immigartion.

... La verdad que el problema de la delincuencia esta en todo el pais, pero nadie me negara que ha aumentado cosiderablemente desde que ha aumentado la inmigracio.

… Hi, I’m a security guard in the subway and I feel really bad for what happened to this person, but it’s that it doesn’t stop there. It turns out that the people that are dedicated to petty thievery in the subway know the laws perfectly. In this case surely it’s someone younger that will sell the cell phone after unblocking it, but there’s even more, there are group of people that go in two groups of three and are well versed in petty thievery, one of them pushes you on one side, while the other lifts your wallet, and the third who is in charge of finishing the job takes the wallet, and here nothing has really happened. In the supposed case that they are caught, they are not arrested because the majority of the times the petty theft isn’t even 401 euros (which would be a crime instead of a misdemeanor), if the police catch them they only pay miserable administrative sanctions, and I’m talking about the police because they’re the only ones that have the possibility of doing their duty while dressed in their street clothes. The security guards with our uniform are very visible to this type of person and when they see us they don’t rob in front of us. I only would ask that the people in general don’t have fear and to denounce this type of act because if not what we are doing is making the delinquents' work easier.

security guard

… Hola, soy vigilante de metro y siento mucho lo que le ha pasado a esta persona, pero es que la cosa no se queda ahí. Resulta que las personas que se dedican a los hurtos en el metro conocen las leyes perfectamente. En este caso seguramente será alguien joven que venderá el móvil después de liberarlo, pero hay más todavía, hay grupos de personas que van de tres en tres y lo de hurtar lo tienen muy entrenado, uno de ellos te empuja por un lado, mientras el otro te hurta la cartera, y el tercero que se encarga de tapar el tema recoge la cartera, y aquí no ha pasado nada. En el supuesto que se les pille, no los detienen porque la mayoría de las veces lo hurtado no llega a 401 euros (lo cual sería delito de hurto en lugar de falta de hurto), si les coge la policía sólo pagan míseras sanciones administrativas, y digo la policía porque son los únicos que tienen la posibilidad de realizar el servicio vestidos de calle. A los vigilantes de seguridad con nuestro uniforme somos muy visibles para este tipo de gente y cuando nos ven se cortan de hurtar delante nuestro. Yo sólo pedriría a las personas en general que no tengan miedo y denuncien estos hechos porque si no lo que estamos haciendo es facilitar la faena a los delincuentes.