The Train in Spain, and living with a dick- Barcelona, Spain


As my time ended in Barcelona, I was sad to not really make any acquaintances, not be able to have one decent conversation. The closest I got was late the last night, talking to a Jamaican who was trying to sell me pot. The morning I was to go east of town to work at a wine touring place I spent over 3 hours running around to various stations trying to figure out even the basics about getting there. The train in Spain lies mainly in…where? What?? THREE different types of stations, with a couple of other exceptions…..the Spaniards, it turns out, are insular even among themselves: many important travel facts are explained nowhere- one is simply to have the basics explained I suppose, and then it’s fairly straight-forward. They have 3 different types of ‘tren’ (trains) (short/longer/long), with three different types of stations. The natives themselves have no idea how it works often, and I was given completely wrong, costly advice twice because, unless it’s a train you take all the time, it’s unlikely you have any idea how to get anywhere. Once you’d had the chatter-at-you, wave-away thing experience so an English speaker was fetched, you were told ohhh, no, dees ees not that ehKIND of estacion. Yet somehow, when it came time to get a little further, like where the hell is it then??, the answer was always cursory and incomplete- sometimes because they didn’t know, usually because they couldn’t understand being confused. So I’m late, and I’m calling Anthony, the fellow I’m supposed to meet, telling him I’ll be late, and he’s irritated because he’s waiting at the station I was supposed to already arrived at, but I can’t figure out how to add money to the call so I can stay on to ask for his advice or give him a decent estimate even. SEVEN 40-secondcalls, two ‘oops I’ll be more late than I thought’, two illegal jumps over the stalls to make tickets work right, and FOUR different train stations later, I was finally on the correct train.*


(One of the four train stations was ‘the tren estacion’. Except that it was an OLD station that’d been converted to a health club they just still called that. I made the mistake, when I knew it was close, of asking a local where the ‘tren estacion’ was, and I guess the local figured, with my travel stuff that, you know, I needed a workout before I go somewhere…that was about midway through the 3 hours).**


*This may be a good place to interject that, contrary to a couple of comments, I don’t exaggerate my numbers, or anything else about this travel escapade I’m on. Sometimes I do little funny quotes that people might’ve said if they were slightly more idiotic- but hopefully those are obviously not actual sentences they said…so yes, SEVEN 40 second calls, et cetera. I mean, travel is so strange there’s no need to lie. It’s embarrassing enough just dealing with the bare facts]


**However, it wouldn’t be full disclosure if I didn’t say that I absolutely SUCK at taking directions verbally. So ok, it’s probably the ACTUAL truth that YOU would’ve got the 1 mile to the right station in- 2 hours. OK, maybe 1 hour. Fine, but I take comfort in the fact that you still would’ve missed the train. And you’d’ve been making those 40 second phone calls too, trying to talk fast while you watched the second hand counting down; the whole bit.]


I plunked my stuff down once I was on the train, slowly stopped sweating profusely, drank two beers on the sly, watched the mountains in the sun as we rode, and quickly got over it all. Why be in a hurry to show up for work anyway?


When I got to the nearest large town, Anthony was long gone. I grabbed a cab and had a delightful real conversation, my first in Spain, with a Moroccan who urged me to visit his country and expressed a wish to do something like the Peace Corps. Fifty bucks and several wrong driveways later I was dropped off at Anthony’s home, where I was to stay for 10 days and work part-time in databases and miscellaneous grounds work in exchange for room and board.


I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t what I got. It was a regular home, with piles of construction waste all over, and the house was filled with dust, workers, and general bachelor-like mayhem. Anthony gave me the most lukewarm greeting I can remember. Anthony, it turns out, does NOT have a pool for me to work out in as stated, which was a major reason for me to choose here. He does not have a part-time position: he expects you to work full time and then some, and was quite explicit about it in a rude way. He does not have database work for me to do: he wants me to copy email addresses from web sites for him to market to wineries. He only rarely does wine tours: he has a home business coordinating 4 annual small conferences of wine buyers and medium-to-small size wineries. And Anthony is a dick. An English, removed kind of a dick, with enough Spanish in him (he’s been here his whole adult life) to be a jackass effortlessly, without ever trying. He has an 8 year old kid who’s a weird combination of spoiled and shy, and Anthony can be quite bizarre with his son, though it’s essentially an exasperation that comes out all the time in, I think, the voice of his father, at least someone much closer to the lower classes up north in England than he purports to be. He’s rubbing off on his son, as fathers do, so the son is a bit clipped at the wing: bored, impulsive, scintillatingly demanding at times, only fleetingly displaying the normal curiousity of someone his age.


So my strategy has been to drink a LOT of his wine, work 7 hours a day while I drink it, and be a dick to him if it makes me feel better, which it occasionally does. Fortunately, the region is freaking gorgeous, great for biking, and I’m in this sort of Buddhist mood where I enjoy pretty much every kind of work nowadays, be it dish washing, copying mindlessly email addresses, or wall painting: lucky for me, and especially lucky for Anthony. At one point, he offered me a permanent job there with him that’s hopelessly below me, and I just kind of sat there looking at him like he’d just shat on my shoes. The cheeky fooker knows my background (not that he asked, as he has little natural curiousity- I foisted the information on him), and he can’t have a decent conversation about anything that matters: instead, he offers me a job working for him, giving me his snaky smile while doing it (his smile is what I’d imagine a guy looks like who’s finally accessed all your account numbers online after hacking you for days). Probably would offer shit pay. In Spain. Now, the Spain part may be alright, I don’t really know- hell, I may never know since I don’t speak Spanish- but the idea of hanging out voluntarily with this guy for longer than my 10 days is a joke.


Having said all that, I like the guy in a way. Yes yes, it’s paradoxical. Let’s just say that I understand him, that I respect his narrow but well-focused business acumen, and that I understand well his cultural descent, so similar to my own because of the English side of my family. He can’t help that he got handed an upbringing that made him pretty much incapable of human warmth, even when he tries. Deep down is a bit of human, though so far I’ve only been able to access it by teasing him pretty much mercilessly.


Oh, and there’s the ‘I’m a wine guy, so I must be a helluva chef’ thing, which apparently is an international phenomenon. ‘Would you like a cooking lesson tonight?’, he says to me shortly after arriving. Uh. Sure. Anthony. In his usual taciturn way, he fits and starts his way around the kitchen, always navigating with the handicap of a giant, basketball-like fat protuberance (some guys don’t get to be just fat, they have to store their ass fat, and yea, even their father’s and his father’s ass fat, at their navel). Not a word of instruction- I’m apparently to learn by absorption and by deign of his pronouncements. It dawned on me that this was a form of exciting drama for him, that he was providing me the tension and mystery part of the great tale of the meal. So uh. Anthony. What Spanish delight are we making. I mean, why did you just pour a liter of non-cooking extra virgin olive oil in the frying pan. He gives a long pause (I’m breaking the rules, apparently). Spanish omelette, says he. Really, says I. mmm, says he. I wasn’t going to get anything more. Then- he gives me my first instruction, very exciting…OK, I’ll pick out 6 potatoes for the meal that I haven’t a clue about. Then another…Oh…uh, sure, I’ll peel all 6 fucking giant potatoes with a potato peeler…ok, done!…OH. Yeah. Sure. I’ll cut all 6 potatoes into little shreds for you using the potato peeler…each piece of the plot unfolded so mysteriously, so interestingly for me. Thanks for the cooking lesson. you dick.


The potato scallops or whatever are obviously going in the frying pan, and they are going to be fried, so I’m getting pre-sick. But it’s ok, he’s a professional, a wine man. I’m sure this culinary edifice really will require a 2:1 potato-to-oil ratio…and that’s what happened. At the end, he murmurs something about a bit too much oil- it turns out that the potatoes are ‘absolutely’ not to be fried, they’re just to cook, and there’s supposed to be just enough oil for it to cook and generally be delightful. I think he was off by about 7/8 of a liter. Then you make a SPANISH OMELETTE de la ANTHONY by throwing 5 beaten eggs on the top, turning it over (only he could do that part because it required a wine guy’s skills, thank God with a capital G, the guy flips it and gets it on a plate with gobs of hot olive oil drizzling onto his forearms, shuffling unaccountably across the kitchen to the sink and back while doing it), and then turning it over again after it’s cooked to brown ‘absolutely for appearance only’ (more human forearm sacrifice- no Scott, I’m a dick, I’m fine, I must be fine), back over to the good-looking side.


Are you getting all this? You’re not getting this. how’re you going to serve me a Spanish omelette when I get back.


So it kind of looks like a collapsed pie when it gets to the table, heavily gravity-fied, slushy potatoes oozing out the sides, tiny pools of oil on top. There’s not a spice in sight, never was, nor are there going to be any provided as a condiment, apparently. I go to the cupboard rather ostentiously and pull out dill, tarragon I think/hope, even freaking OREGANO, and go and get the salt. Oh, and some chili pepper. Anthony slices the first piece and pulls it out for himself of course, and all the pent-up olive oil says to itself in Spanish something like o-la!, mira, it’s a leetle ahplace at bottom of eh-plaita-eh that nosotros can vamanos to, andale!, and the oil leaps into the chasm. It forms a lake, and dares me to cut a piece next to the lake and engineer lifting it out without ruining the unfinished tabletop like Anthony just did. I got it out with a combination of two utensils and paper towel, and set about, in front of Anthony, trying to give oil and cooked potatoes flavor. Which I failed at, no matter what I tried. Too late to save it from the wine genius.


Could somebody please find out what an ACTUAL Spanish omelette is? I have to believe it could be a good thing. I used the leftover plate, with the potato/egg slop still on it, to soak bread in the pool of olive oil for about an hour the next day for lunch. I guess cooking olive oil like that doesn’t ruin it- good to know.


A stupid dick that thinks he’s smart. He sits at meals grabbing at various wines, depending on what he’s eating at the moment. I just drink the most expensive red he has, no matter what we eat. If it’s vegetarian, you see, he thinks it’s all white or cava baby, so I’m the worst form of heretic, I stick with 1) red, and 2) costing him money. I think in his world there’d be no cause for me to ever drink red, I’m not sure. I know that my wine ‘choices’ irritate him though, so I’m happy. Hell, it’s the best wine he’s got so I drink it, it’s not complicated.


So far, a few bits of Barcelona and the beautiful countryside are all I’ve really been able to appreciate about Spain. This seems a shame. It’s probably my fault. I’m kind of homesick for Ireland, what can I say. I feel like a lousy tourist at the moment. But hey, I’m not spending a penny, I’m enjoying the work and the biking, and on Monday I get to chainsaw trees all day.

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