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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Rain is good

It forces me to blog and destroys the temptation to sit on a sun-bathed terrace and eat chocos and pulpitos and drink ice cold Moritz.

Here's a couple anecdotes:


From Real Academia Española


1. Protuberant mouth due to its configuration, or because of having big lips.

5. colloquial. Shamelessness. "You've got a lot of shamelessness."

8. colloquial. A shameless person.

This is a story of a jeta. There is no good English equivalent to this fantastic Spanish word.

Brits would probably say “cheeky bastard” and Americans would probably say “prick” or “jerkoff”. Admittedly, though, neither of these do the word justice. “Prick” and "jerkoff" are too harsh, and "cheeky bastard” is too light.

When someone says, “Tú tienes mucha jeta,” what they’re implying is that you act shamelessly.

My portero, or doorman, told me a story the other day which perfectly illustrates what a jeta is. It is a story of latin loving and double crossing; a story of blind lust and betrayal. It is also the story of the previous tenant who lived in our apartment. A fellow who left us with unpaid gas and water bills that we had to pay for, under threat of having both utilities cut off*.

That’s not the only thing. Before I get into the story I should explain the state the guy left the apartment in.

I think the reason we got the apartment was because it took a lot of imagination to see the potential in it. It was a wreck. And that probably cut in half the number of people who even considered it. It was painted in fluorescent green (no exaggeration), and had what looked like a DIY parquet job in the “lounge” area. Let’s just say the boards, which we can’t afford to replace right now, aren’t very straight. Our little 5 sq meter terrace was used for trash and discarded furniture, and the whole apartment had a kind of stressful, psychotic feel about it. I mean, fluorescent fucking green!

We always laughed about what this guy must have been like. Without ever seeing or hearing him, we had this vague ghostlike image of him. We called him a cutre**, as they say here. Just an all around louse. Every lousy bad-taste-having person I’ve ever known rolled into one.

So I was talking to the portero the other day and he told me about the guy that used to live in our apartment. He was a jeta, he said, while shaking a limp right hand, which is Spanish body language for implying that this guy was an extreme jeta.

What happened was this: about ten years ago a couple moved into what is now our apartment. The couple was a Cuban man and a Spanish woman. According to the portero everything was in the Spanish woman’s name. The apartment, in reality was entirely hers. All he said about her was, “No era muy agraciada pero eso no quita que fuera buena persona.” Translated that basically means she was not the most attractive person, but she was good natured. He said she was from a small town outside of Barcelona, and that she worked as a professor.

The Cuban didn’t do anything apparently, besides latin loving.

The portero shook his head at this point and told me what happened next. A mere two months after moving in, la no muy agraciada came home and found the Cuban “hasiendo” el amor in their apartment with another woman. That is, she caught him and another woman in flagrante. The poor girl left, shattered, and never returned. The portero has no idea what happened to her.

Ten years later the Cuban was still living in the apartment which was technically in her name. She never returned. He had, after conquering her heart, conquered for himself a nice little apartment in the Eixample.

“Es que el tío tiene mucha jeta,” said the portero.

This guy is really the best definition for this great Spanish word. We’ve all had experiences with jetas. Charmers in the guise of men or women who know how to talk themselves into advantageous positions.


* As incredible as it sounds, you can do that here. With complete impunity you can leave unpaid bills in a certain domicile, and be sure that the next unfortunate tenant will have to pay for them. Of course, you can have the gas or water company cancel the service and then activate it again in your name, but that costs a lot of money, and in this case, it was more than what this jeta owed. So I ended up paying for three months of his gas and water. I have no idea if this can happen in the States. I never had to deal with anything like it.

** cutre – another one of those cross-dressing adjectives which occasionally moonlights as a noun. It means shabby and tacky, and when you call someone a cutre it means that they’re a tasteless person. It’s one of those great inner-circle words you can use among friends, and, without really saying anything, mean a whole lot. That movie is cutre; that guy is cutre; my job is cutre … it’s not anything specific. Cutre is a way of life. For some people. Stay away from them.

Crime in Sant Pere & The Sick Obsession for Ordnung

A friend of mine from Berlin came to Barcelona a couple weeks ago. He’s free thinker, and is never bogged down by the usual preconceptions I find in so many people. That’s why I liked hearing his observations, brief as they were, about Barcelona.

One was about a visit he paid to my old neighborhood in Sant Pere. While walking down Via Laietana, the main artery which divides the Gòtic and Sant Pere, he heard a woman screaming.

When he told me this, I already knew what was coming next …

He turned around and about a hundred meters away there was a guy trying to yank a purse from a young woman who was on the ground screaming, yet still clutching her purse. According to my German friend she was dragged some meters before releasing her purse.

The snatcher then ran off, cutting across Laietana and into Sant Pere Mes Baix. At this point in the story I was guessing from there the snatcher ran down Verdaguer i Callís, then turned on San Pere Mitja. After two short blocks - past the Pakistani market and Cervantes elementary school - i imagined him ducking into a building right above the Halal butcher. Thing is, I’ve seen these guys many times from my window, taking this same route. But, of course, this is just past experience which in no way means this guy was part of the same group. In fact, my guess was probably wrong because this is what my friend said next:

He described the bag snatcher as “very sporty looking” (with a heavy enunciation on the “t” due to his German accent) - wearing a Nike track suit, or something like it, and “spor-tee” shoes. He was also “very blonde”. This certainly threw a new element into the equation. It’s been a nearly nine months since I left Sant Pere, so things might have changed. “Blonde” bag snatchers. Interesting. Of course, that could mean any number of things, from a guy dying his hair blonde, to a desperate guiri-gone-bad as my friend Kovaks would no doubt say.

Add this to the annals of Guirilandia.

My Berliner friend also told me he was surprised at how “popular” bikes seemed here. He astutely observed the fashionable element in all this. There’s definitely a bike riding trend, but the number of serious riders is probably less then it would appear. He noted how many of those collapsible bikes he saw, for one. Which is telling, because one only has to sit on a bench on Diagonal - that avenue that cuts across the Eixample - and watch how ridiculous people on those collapsible bikes look. Because of their tiny wheels one is obliged to pedal like a maniac in order to achieve anything like a reasonable speed. Now, anyone who's had experience with them will have to admit that these collapsible bikes might look neat and cute, but they are the most unwieldy and arguably dangerous of all types of bikes.

Yes, I digress! So my friend goes on:

He said he could understand, in a way, that some people were pissed at bike riders for not following “the rules”. There are a lot more bike riders in the city, that’s true. But he also said that breaking the rules is difficult to avoid in Barcelona; there just aren’t that many bike lanes, and where there aren’t bike lanes there’s the bus and taxi lane – but, sometimes, especially at rush hour, riding in a lane with psychotic, stressed-out taxi drivers and two ton buses isn’t exactly appealing.

He read my story about the bike vigilante in my neighborhood who viciously stabbed my tire (he struck again, actually, but I didn’t write about it the second time because I didn’t want to be a douchebag about it). He said the guy reminded him of the Ordnungsamt, which are a form of citizen’s police force in Germany. The Ordnungsamt are a truly despicable cross section of humanity.

The Ordnungsamt patrol the streets and have the power to stop you if they see you committing an infraction (jaywalking, for example). They can also fine you, on the spot. The Ordnungsamt stopped my friend for crossing a red light on his bike even though there were no cars or people around. The Ordnungsamt, incredibly enough, was staking out the intersection in order to catch law breaking citizens.

Of course, everybody’s heard the urban legend about Germans not crossing the street when the light is red, even if it’s three in the morning, the streets are empty, and there is not one car in sight (I’m talking about people on foot, or on a bike – not driving).

It’s not an urban legend.

People just don’t do it, and it’s largely due to the sick obsession of people like the Ordnungsamt. They fined my friend 15 euros for committing the grievous offense of crossing a red light – through an empty intersection - on a bike. A few months after this he and a friend were fined again for riding on the sidewalk (he said the road was obstructed, forcing him to ride on the sidewalk).

Menos mal, I thought, that I live in Spain, where hysterical ordnung maniacs will never become the norm. They’re out there, but they seem to be a radical minority.