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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The topless scandal

There’s been talk lately about the New York-ification of Barcelona, but will this entail a certain prudishness, a certain puritan paradigm until now absent in Spain?

Cosmopolitanism may create an almost morbid lust for all things exotic, yet it might also dampen our inner natures. My point is, coming from big cities I’ve been exposed to feminist dogma - as opposed to chauvinist dogma in small towns - which denies certain inherent tendencies in mankind. Such as, women going topless at the beach.

This concerned citizen writes to the editor in yesterday's edition of the Metro:

Top-less [sic]

I went to a beach in Sitges with a friend and, laying down in the sand, at our side was a top-less girl in the company of her [...] partner. Suddenly, he came up to my friend and said to him that if he looked at the breasts of his girl again he would break his face. It is indignant that in a public beach one has to constantly see semi-naked girls in g-strings going topless; more nude beaches should be allowed for those who wish to expose themselves. With this type of indecency the path of the woman to equality has even more obstacles.

"It is indignant that in a public beach one has to constantly see semi-naked girls in g-strings going topless ..."

Fui a una playa de Sitges con un amigo y, al tumbarnos en la arena, a nuestro lado había una chica en top-less en compañía de su compañero sentimental.De pronto, él se dirige a mi amigo y le dijo que si le volvía a mirar los pechos a su chica le romperia la cara. Es indignante que en una playa publica se tenga que ver constantemente a chicas semidesnudas en tanga y top-less; habría que habilitar mas playas nudistas para quien quiera exhibirse. Con este tipo de indecencias se obstaculiza aun mas el camino de la mujer hacia la igualdad.

Fernando B.

Dude, is this guy from Spain? And from Calafell? Isn't that where the Neng is from? Aside from the unpleasant confrontation with the Macho Iberico (who knows what stupidity buzzes in his foggy brain ... who cares?) what the hell is this self-hating man complaining about? What's with the pseudo compassionate line at the end of his letter to the editor? Women going topless is an obstacle to their path to equality? Let's make them have to go to nude beaches? Get out of all public beaches? Funny thing is, another letter to the editor right after this vindicated the woman's right to go topless, and it was written by a woman. And there's this letter in 20minutes, also saying what's the big deal with going topless - also written by a woman.

This flurry of concerned citizens writing into newspapers about the topless issue really surprises me. I thought this was a null issue in Spain – or in Barcelona at least. In the States a woman's bare breasts are shocking to the point where the repression actually makes people more lewd and obsessed. Mardi Graw, for example, where women flash their breasts to receive tokens and encouraging applause from drunken revelers. Countless Spring Break specials, wet t shirt contests, Hooters, whole subcultures centered around breasts. I can go on, but why point out the obvious? The US is probably the most breast-obsessed nation on earth. I know, I lived there. And this, in a place where it's illegal almost everywhere to go topless. A woman showing her breasts has become somewhat of a statement beyond the mere “show your tits!” at a Motley Crüe concert. It's become a stupid obsession and transgressive even.

I've always taken for granted semi-nude or even nude sunbathing in Spain (there are separate beaches for people that want to completely buff it). I never thought it was a big deal. Maybe I'm warped somehow, have somehow moved out of the American puritan paradigm, but really it doesn't faze me. Why should a man's pectorals be more acceptable than a woman's breasts?

This fetishization is what creates secretive behavior - like the obvious tourist I saw last summer absconding behind the porta-potties on Barceloneta, snapping photos of topless women too absorbed in themselves to notice. God. What a pathetic way to spend an afternoon, snapping photos of topless women! Get over it! Live a little! At least get to know the women and get over the natural biological fact that they have breasts, men have pecs and peckers, and that's just the way it's always going to be (unless we drink too much hormone-injected milk ... then we'll all grow man-breasts; become, as they say here, chicas con sorpresa – girls with a surprise. I hope I'm not around).

Friday, May 26, 2006

Whiskey Robber "light"

The real Whiskey Robber is a kickass modern day folk hero in Hungary – known for his lovin and cheatin, his ability to evade the cops, and his penchant for Johnny Walker Red Label.

But this guy, José G.P. of Badalona, might very well be responsible for my numerous hangovers these past few weeks.

A sting operation has just uncovered José’s whiskey bootlegging empire (20 minutes via Barcelonareporter):

The accused, José G.P., a resident of Badalona, was able to attain the original materials thanks to his contacts in local bars and clubs, who sold him empty bottles with the original seals and containers. The man also bought bottles of low quality whiskey, distilled water and alcohol in supermarkets and was subsequently able to produce a mix similar to the original whiskey product.

I myself have bought bootleg absinthe back in my days of (heavier) dissipation. I suffered the inevitable consequences the morning after a not-very-hallucinogenic night. I had no inspiration; had no momentos dalinianos; I didn't talk to Hemingway or the lovely Lady Brett Ashley; I didn't see cubism. I only nursed my pounding headache the next morning.

Bootlegging is generally not a good thing. In the States we went through terrible years of prohibition which gave rise to Chicago gang bosses and organized vice. Liquor quality suffered as a result of bootlegging and hangovers increased, no doubt exacerbating the already deplorable effects of the Great Depression.


Despite my lapses of consciousness due to José’s trickery, I have been real busy.

More next week. Until then, most estimados amigos ...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Why can’t I be cool?

The BBC may try to interview Bob Marley 25 years after his death, or succeed in interviewing the wrong man on live television, but they actually did something right with BBC Languages.

If you want to be “cool”, you have to check out Cool Spanish. You have to learn the lingo of the hipsters, chicas y chicos in Spain.

Like Woody Allen in Play it Again Sam, I often wake up in the middle of the night thinking, “Why can’t I be cool?” I have found my answer. Cool Spanish from the BBC baby.

Complete with audio samples and helpful contextual information.

For example, to win an argument with someone in Spain, you need not have the force of logic behind you. One technique I’ve learned is to simply speak louder. Totally ignore your opponent. But there is a “cooler” method, a la Tarantino. You say “Como no te calles, te voy a dar una hostia.” [by the way, that doesn’t mean “Like not you streets, I am going to give a wafer to you.”]

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Coffee with ugly

I cannot function without two or three cups of coffee in the morning. And I prefer my first cups with stomach-soothing milk.

This isn't percolated Mr. Coffee I'm talking about. Diluted and brown coffee-like substance. No, the coffee I brew is black, real black, powerful as four Starbuck's dopio dopio or whatever the hell they're called. Drinking this without milk wreaks havoc on my poor stomach ...

Sadly, this morning there was no milk.

So I stumbled out the door to the paki down the alley, but realized when I got there that they don't open until 9. I wandered down to Sant Pere Mes Baix and nothing was open there either, so I entered a café. I asked the camarero for a "Café amb lleig".

He squinted and cocked his head, looking at me like I had a Real Madrid emblem stamped on my forehead. He responded in Spanish, enunciating leche.

Only later, after getting my caffeine fix, did I realize I had mixed up Spanish and Catalan, inadvertently ordering a "Coffee with ugly".

Actually, I made up a new word … somewhat. You see, leche means milk in Spanish, and llet means milk in Catalan. The combination of the two – which sounds like "yech"- unfortunately means ugly in Catalan.

Lleig, that is.

I may have started a Cat-ellano revolution.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The nomenclàtor

This is kind of cool. Very brief histories of every street in Barcelona. Too bad it's a not a little more detailed like "This is the street where so and so got robbed/was filmed/murdered/urinated etc...".

Carrer del Malnom: The Street of the Bad Name

Malnom, Carrer del Descripció: Sembla que substituí l'antic nom del carrer, anomenat "Tifella", perquè es considerava malsonant i ofensiu. (RiC; FiH). Segons Joan Amades, "el seu antic nom era d'en Titella, com ho demostra un document de l'any 1624".

In English, the above basically means that the original name Titella - which means Marionette – sounded bad and was offensive, hence the name change to carrer del Malnom or "Street of the Bad Name". Go figure.

Titella or Marionette, as I undersand it, is a disparaging term if applied to someone in Catalan.


"Hey, Pepe, you’re marionette."
"Why you ..."

Calling someone a Titella is the equivalent of saying "you’re a copycat/follower" or something like that.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Homage to Spanish waiters

Camarero en Guirilandia (aka Barcelona)

I am astonished at the forbearance of Spanish waiters.

They earn roughly 6 euros an hour, in the great majority of food service establishments. I mean the bars and the cafés all over this city; the average joint where you’re likely to find a greasy copy of Metro or yesterday’s edition of El Periodico, minus a few torn out pages; where the waiters are Galacian and Andalusian, or descendants of Galicians and Andalusians.

Waiting in the average Spanish bar* is slightly more desirable than paleta work - or unskilled construction work. As with construction work, there is no requirement to be bilingual (in the strictest sense), like so many of the higher paying jobs.

But for six euros an hour you’re busting your ass for 960 euros a month, before taxes. Why do people live with their extended families, packed into 50 square meter apartments? Because on average this is what people earn (working class, I mean).

And the average apartment goes for about 600 euros a month. At least the ones I’ve seen.

(You should know I make no pretensions about this being rigorous reporting. But a quick check on Infojobs or the classified section in la Vanguardia will confirm what I’m saying, I’m sure of this)

An essential part of waiting tables is the service you provide to the customer. At least in the States - I can’t speak for countries I haven’t visited yet - tipping is a must. Waiters and bartenders make their living off tips. Therefore they smile and try to give reasonably good service. They earn the minimum wage, but pull in many times that amount in tips, which they are required to divide up among the staff according to degree of responsibility.

Tipping isn’t customary in Spain. I don't think it ever has been. I often see people swiping up a measly 5 cents after getting their change ... leaving nothing. Rarely have I seen anything approximating the standard 15% in the States.

I asked a waitress the other day why she does what she does for so little money. Her answer was she simply "liked it" … "Yo me paso bien." And she was serious. I admire that philosophy, but am afraid I would never be able to adhere to it. It's obvious she didn't really like mopping up spilled beer, she just knew it was one of the only options she had.

It’s not entirely a cultural "fault" that there’s no tipping. The fact is, many simply can’t tip. Wages here don’t permit it. She told me that most of the people that go to her bar are pinching pennies at the end of the month. That’s why she doesn’t make a fuss when at the end of the day she’s earned approximately 5 Euros in tips.

But, even so, it can’t hurt that much to leave some change. I mean, I do, and I’m earning average wages.

What I find incredible is the people with money that don’t tip. The pijos from Pedralbes for example (I work up here, amongst them, so I’m merely stating this based on personal observation). Many don’t even tip, say 25 cents after a €1.75 canya. They conveniently conform to the non-tipping tradition. Obviously they’ve never had to work in the service industry.

(By the way, if you're a non-tipping pijo, you'll never be my friend. Just thought I'd let you know. You make my head hurt)

So I see these guys waiting tables, their often times rude behavior, their ho-humphy Spanish pride, their spontaneous good humor and cliched jokes, and I have to admire their resilience. It’s a smelly, tiring job. And when I leave a 25 cent tip they’re genuinely appreciative.


* In average Spanish bars the waiter is also the bartender, is also the guy or gal that mounts and dismounts the bar stools and tables outside and inside, that mops up the place, that prepares bocadillos.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The picture show

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Un buen bar

They say in Spain you can judge a bar by its floor. The filthier the better.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Here they come

Guiris. According to Kalebeul, roughly one in five of them will get robbed.

I found this page, chock-full of first hand accounts of robberies and known scams in Barcelona.

There's an extremely creative one which I'll call the Pigeon Crap Con.

As I was walking with my parents along an escalator near the Olympic Stadium, a man either spit or threw lotion on my jacket. He tried to tell me in broken english that a pigeon had crapped on me. The man had a kleenex tissue and kindly offered to clean it off. I knew this was a scam and I told him in spanish to keep his distance. I knew that if I took off my jacket, he would reach into my pockets and steal my wallet. He, like the Gitana, was again shocked and surprised and quickly left just as two Guardia Civil officers drove by. I informed them of what happened, but by this time the man was long gone. I was very upset that this happened, especially while my parents were visiting. It seems like these predators were targeting tourists, and unfortunately were having great success.

It really perplexes me. The amount of time and energy spent thinking up these cons. Not to mention actually pulling them off. Couldn't that energy be funneled differently? Something a little less ... illegal?