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Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Spain anymore…

It didn’t take a tornado to get me here – only a scenic two-hour drive with Pau, my flatmate – yet, like Dorothy, I know that I have landed in a whole new world. Catalunya.

Pau has invited me for lunch, a traditional Catalan feast, with his mother and his 80-something grandmother at her home in a tiny colonia textile – a village beside the river built to house textile factory workers and their families.

“You’ve travelled a lot,” he said to me one day over breakfast, “but you haven’t really seen Catalunya have you?”

This may seem a strange thing to say, given I have lived in Barcelona, the Catalan capital, for the past eleven months. But I knew Pau was right.

I have remarked elsewhere in this blog that, as well as one of the least “Spanish” cities in Spain, Barcelona is also the least Catalan city in Catalunya. But back then this was just an interesting fact, a shard of knowledge, gleaned from books and conversations. Now, as I near the end of my own yellow brick road, it is a reality I am finally experiencing first hand.

“My grandmother is very old,” Pau warned me on the way here. “She doesn’t speak Spanish very well.”

He paused for a moment and furrowed his brow.

“Well, I don’t think she speaks Spanish. I’m not really sure.”

In fact, I discover that his grandmother speaks Spanish very well – better in fact than Pau or his mother. She grew up under the early years of the Franco regime, in which Catalan was banned from schools, books and the radio.

Over lunch they speak to each other in Catalan, but address me in Castilian. It’s a habit many exchange students, and indeed Spaniards, find infuriating.

“Why can’t they just speak in Spanish?” is a complaint I’ve heard many times. At first, as a new arrival, with shaky Spanish and not a word of Catalan, I felt much the same way. But now I realise that the Catalans are not being rude, or trying to make some political point. They are just trying to be themselves.

Our relationships, I now understand, are formed in a language-specific context. Pau and his mother have spoken to each other almost every day of their lives in Catalan; for them to speak to each other in Spanish would be absurd. Rather than annoyed at being “left out” of their conversation, I am thankful that they speak to me in Spanish, and translate from Catalan for me when I look confused.

Hanging on the wall I notice a print of Guernica, Picasso’s famous artwork depicting the horror of the Spanish Civil War.

“Oh, I love that painting,” I remark. “I saw it in Madrid.”

Oops. I’ve said the M word.

“Did you know Madrid stole that painting from Catalunya?” Pau’s grandmother asks me. “Picasso said that he wanted it to be hung in Barcelona, but Madrid stole it.”

“No, I didn’t know that. How interesting.”

Later, I googled and googled in vain for confirmation of this anecdote. But, try as I might, I couldn’t find one single page even claiming that Guernica belonged in Barcelona. Picasso had two conditions for the painting to be handed over to Spain. Firstly, Spain a democratic government must be in place, and not look likely to be overturned. Secondly, the painting must be housed in the Prado, the Madrid museum of which Picasso had been named (honorifically) director during the Civil War.

***
In my first post on bilingualism in Barcelona I discussed the Catalan nationalists I had met, the waiters and fellow students unwilling to converse with me in Spanish even though they could speak it far better than me. Then there was my surprise at the hostility of the anti-Catalanists, people like Clara, the girlfriend of one of my flatmates. “They’re fucking animals,” she said of the Catalans. “When I came here they called me an imperialist because I couldn’t speak the language. They wouldn’t hire me; they wouldn’t let me rent a house. Catalan is only a dialect anyway!” Barcelona, I concluded, is a city in which competing visions of Spain collide head-on – a microcosm for Spain itself, where language promotes not cohesion but conflict between different social groups.

Over the ensuing months I have concluded that I was very right – and very wrong.

Indeed, the act of speaking is, at times, a very political act in Barcelona. For several days in November the big story in the Catalan press was not the War in Afghanistan or climate change or the global financial crisis but a visit by a small Nicaraguan delegation to the Catalan parliament. A special sitting of the Parliament’s Comisión de Cooperación y Solidaridad was held to inform the Nicaraguans about the state of affairs in Catalunya. What should have been an innocuous event turned into a national scandal when the Parliament contracted interpreters to simultaneously translate the Nicaraguans’ questions from Castlian to Catalan and the Catalan politicians’ responses from Catalan to Castilian – even though the Catalan politicians speak and understand Castlian perfectly. The event sparked much debate between the Catalan political parties, with the ERC and CiU nationalists defending the service, while the Catalan socialists and ICV leftists blasted it as a disrespectful waste of money. Even La Vanguardia a newspaper long supportive of the promotion of Catalan, criticised it as a “pantomime”. A campaign by the Catalan government encouraging people to always speak the “first word” in Catalan is an equally insightful example of the politicisation of language in Catalunya.

I also witnessed the power of language to promote divisions on a far more personal level. During the year I have been lucky enough to travel through much of Spain. Along the way I was struck by the lack of knowledge and interest many Spaniards have in those who do not share their first language. Many of the Spaniards I met from Madrid or Andalusia knew little about Catalunya and had, indeed, never met a Catalan. In Italy I found myself talking to two girls from Madrid who scrunched up their noses in disgust when I told them I living in Barcelona. “But the Catalans are so rude!” one of them said. “They only want to speak their language.” I later discovered they hadn’t actually been to Barcelona: their impressions had been formed from a short stopover in Barcelona airport. They then told me that non-Catalan speakers were not allowed to study in Catalan universities.

“That’s strange,” I replied. “I know that there are lots of Spaniards at my university who don’t speak Catalan. Anyway, it would be very easy for you to learn.”

Indeed, as I confirmed later, although useful given the amount of subjects taught in Catalan, it is not necessary to speak or understand Catalan to attend a university in Barcelona. I’d like to think this fact would have swept away their prejudices, but I doubt it. To them the Catalan language was like kryptonite; they wanted nothing to do with it. Stereotyping, of course, goes both ways. Pau’s grandmother had never left Catalunya and had little interest in the other regions of Spain: her apocryphal story about Guernica being “stolen” by Madrid shows how linguistic difference can be a handy fertilizer, feeding the growth of myths and misapprehensions between different cultures.

However, the role of bilingualism in promoting conflict is only one side of the story. My initial impression of tension and division was undoubtedly influenced by my initial shock at living, for the first time, in a bilingual environment. Over the ensuing months, as my language skills have improved and I have been able to interact with many locals, I have concluded that Barcelona is also a remarkable city of co-existence. I have sat and marvelled many times at my flatmates chatting, Pau speaking in Catalan, another in Spanish, both understanding each other perfectly. I have listened to people speaking on their phone in the metro start their conversation in Spanish but by the end, without even realising it, wind up speaking in Catalan. Some Catalans, I have discovered, have certain friends they speak to only in Castilian, others in Catalan – usually whichever language they started in.

By contrast to the politicians and activists – who use language as a political football – most ordinary Catalans are far more pragmatic, ignoring quasi-propagandist efforts to tell them which language they should converse in. I have been touched – and relieved! – by the willingness of Catalans (such as Pau’s grandmother) to speak to me in Spanish if I am not following them in Catalan. More than “proud” or “arrogant” about their language, I will remember Catalans as, above all, generous and flexible people – obviously passionate about the importance of Catalan, but untroubled by using Spanish when needed. Unlike other supposedly bilingual cities – such as Brussels, where the French/Flemish divide could almost be chalked on the ground, or Bilbao, where you’ll barely hear a word of Basque – Barcelona can be proud of its remarkably high level of social cohesion. Catalan and Spanish are a part of everyday reality for nearly all its residents, who enjoy a high level of freedom to choose which language they habitually use.

Thus, conflict and contestation indeed do exist in Barcelona. The Catalan capital, however, stands out as a city of extraordinary co-existence and co-operation between different linguistic and social groups; Catalan has flourished since the fall of Franco, yet Spanish is still spoken by almost every resident. Most Barcelonans, in my experience, are free to use whichever language they choose. Sometimes beguiling, sometimes frustrating, life in bilingual Barcelona is never boring.

In Search of Spain

The flight from Barcelona to Seville may take a mere one and a half hours, but don´t be fooled: these cities are so different they could be continents apart.

Venturing into old city of Barcelona at night – Barrio Gótico, for example, or El Raval – can be a sleazy affair. Nigerian prostitutes, buttocks bulging in their denim hotpants, strut up and down Las Ramblas like models on a catwalk; Pakistani immigrants tempt drunken revelers with their wares: “beer, somosa, marajuana?”; overflowing bin bags regurgitate rubbish onto the doorsteps. The smell of piss hangs in the air like, well, a bad smell; the ancient laneways are often used as public urinals by residents and visitors alike.

In Seville the authorities have banned the hanging of clothes from balconies, lest a beach towel or pair of underpants tarnish the city´s image. Spotless streets, houses painted in crisp whites and yellows, horse-drawn carriages clip clopping on the cobble-stones. Such unspoiled beauty can leave you dazed; there is an intoxicating unreality to the place, something Truman Show-esque, for in Seville the visitor finds the rarest of treats: a city more picturesque, more pristine, than the postcards would have you believe.

Barcelona pulsates with energy and activity; each week flies by in a stream of concerts, festivals, exhibitions, political protests and parties. Even a second´s boredom is strictly forbidden. In Seville life is slow and repetitive. Little varies from gorgeous day to gorgeous day.

In Barcelona, bright yellow posters proclaim CATALONIA IS NOT SPAIN and, in a way, the separatists are right. The Catalan language is increasingly prominent. Bull-fighting is about to be banned. Quality flamenco and tapas can certainly be found but both are relatively recent imports, not home-grown traditions.

In Seville all these Spanish stereotypes are gloriously, authentically alive.

We´ll skip lightly over bullfighting – I found the limits to my cultural tolerance in Mexico City after forking out good money to see seven bulls stabbed to death in an hour – but lest it be said that it is still an important part of the culture, not a mere tourist attraction.

Tapas, on the otherhand….well how long have you got? Seville has some 4,000 tapas bars – one for every 200 residents. Visiting them all would take a lifetime…but oh what a life it would be!

Each bar has its own vibe, its own regulars, its own specialities, yet certain commonalities stand out. Enormous legs of jámon dangle from the ceilings, fat dripping down them like candle wax; bull´s heads and matador memorabilia line the walls; the bill is chalked up on the bar in front of you as the night goes on. If you learn only one Spanish verb during your time in Seville, make it tapear – the act of sampling one or two tiny dishes at a bar (to be shared and eaten standing up) before moving on to the next and the next until your stomach cries out for mercy.

For although the tapas may be easy on the wallet, they are hard on the waistline. After pigging out for days on jamon my sister and I thought we had found respite in a tapa named “slices of eggplant”. Then it emerged from the kitchen. The eggplant had been sliced so finely it may as well have been potato. Then battered. Then deep-fried. Then drowned with honey. I guess at least we got dinner and dessert for the price of one.

One of the less guilt-inducing local dishes is salmorejo – a chilled tomato soup similar to gazpacho but thicker, given it is made with breadcrumbs. But vegetarians beware: even it is liable to be topped with shreds of acorn fed pig (aka jamon serrano). The best place to tapear is undoubtedly Calle Mateos Gago – with the solomillo al whiskey (pork in whiskey sauce) at Los Columnas a personal favourite. A few doors down, a shot of vino de naranja (orange flavoured wine) at Bar Perejil makes for a perfect nightcap. Chilled, dark brown and sweet, this local specialty has a flavour vaguely similar to Port.

Finding flamenco – authentic flamenco that is – takes more of an effort. All too many unsuspecting tourists are tricked by cagey operators into paying up to 20 euros for formulaic, passionless shows staged night after night. No: real flamenco is, by definition, a spontaneous affair, meaning if you want to find it you´ll have to take a gamble.

We hit the jackpot at Bar Anselma, across the river at Triana, only 15 minutes from the centre of Seville. The bar – which opens at 11pm – is a popular haunt for local flamenco lovers who want to practice their art. Anyone who wants to sing or dance can get up and have a go. Anselma is the owner, a stocky, vivacious woman with heavy-handed make up, a booming voice, and an eye on the bottom-line. “A la barra, a la barra,” she shouts after each song. “To the bar, to the bar.” Anyone caught without a drink in their hand will be threatened with expulsion. When Anselma is finally satisfied with the night´s takings, she steps on to the stage.

“Silence,” she demands. “I am going to sing.”

And sing she does, belting out a bawdy tune in her powerful, wailing, almost-operatic voice. Her hands gesticulate wildly, as if she were playing charades; she winks, rolls her eyes and bats her lashes, playing the crowd like a fiddle

To call what we saw that night a “show” would be at once to degrade and oversell it. Besides Anselma, most of the performers were far from professional quality – a fact almost entirely beside the point. Because what we experienced was something special. Something increasingly rare in an age in which endless entertainment lies only a mouse-click away.

This wasn´t culture as a product to be bought and sold. This wasn´t about idol-worship. This was culture as a participatory act, as community creation: a chance to get swept up in the here, the now, the immensity of a fleeting moment: a reminder that what matters is not god-given talent but the willingness to have a go, to feel all that joy and that fear and that sorrow, to feel them and to know them to be your own, and then to see them escape, completely of their own accord, from your body – for suddenly your hands are clapping and your toes are tapping and your voice is wailing. That is the thrill of flamenco.

Emerging from Anselma’s we thought the night couldn’t get any better. Then, on the other side of the river, we found a churros caravan, serving Spanish-style donuts in huge spirals, like edible coiled-up snakes. “Should we buy some?” I asked. But the answer was never in doubt.

“Four euros worth,” I said to the churros-man. “And give us a hot chocolate as well.”

For we were young, not obese quite yet, and in sweet Seveeyah, one of the most delightful places to bite off more you can chew.

“Homaje”

By Juan Eduardo Cirlot (1946)
Translation from the Spanish: Matthew Knott

My soul is the window where I die.
My soul is a hand-cuffed dance.

My soul is a landscape with walls.
My soul is a blood-stained garden.

My soul is a desert amid the snow.
My soul is an orchestra of gemstones.

My soul is a restless wheel.
My soul is my lips that open.

My soul is a tower on a beach.
My soul is a flock of punishments.

My soul is the orange tree, blue and burning.
My soul is a dove that has gone insane.

My soul is a cloud drifting away.
My soul is my pain, mine, forever.

My soul is a boat that returns.
My soul is a necklace of glass and tears.

My soul is this thirst that devours me.
My soul is a devestated race.

My soul is this gold in which I flourish.
My soul is the landscape that watches me.

My soul is this bird that trembles.
My soul is an ocean of blood.

My soul is a virgen that embraces me.
My soul is your star-like breasts.

My soul is a landscape with columns.
My soul is a hell where it snows.

My soul is this world in which I reside.
My soul is a shout towards the abyss.

My soul is this song on its knees.
My soul is an evening and there is a river.

My soul is an almond tree of white gold.
My soul is a fountain that has fallen in love.

My soul is each dying instant.
My soul is the city of the cities.

My soul is a rumour of roses.
My soul is a transparent mill.

My soul is this ecstasy that sings
as it is fired forth from infinite guns.

Oh dearest friend of mine

At times
the distance between us

may seem

to    be       stretching           out

like a colossal canyon

 deep

and un bridge able

.

But

,

I have no doubt

,

if we keep catapulting ourselves
towards the sky

sparkling and sizzling like two stray fireworks

blazing our own paths across
the black of night

refusing to fizzle out

we will find ourselves
countless miles later

side by side

defying gravity
amongst the stars

fuelled by all we learnt through our fuck-ups fears and failures
on our voyage through the inter-galactic darkness

:

We are none of us alone.

Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.

So wrote Joan Didion, and never have I been more in agreement than the night I came home to discover three dejected housemates slumped on the couch,  their eyes staring blankly at the flickering TV screen, the air thick with misery and marijuana smoke.

¨Nos han robado,¨ said Will, my flatmate from Bilbao, a 21-year old medical student.

¨We´ve been robbed.¨

Gone were four laptops – including mine – 300 euros from another flatmate´s room and Will´s beloved electric guitar.

First reaction: fear. Did I leave the door open? Was I at fault? Was I – the newcomer of the house – the prime suspect?

But no.

When inspecting the flat a mere two weeks prior, I had enquired about internet and phone connections, the washing machine, the proximity to the beach. Unfortunately I forgot to ask whether my room had previously been occupied by a penniless drug addict still in possession to a key to the house. Given there was no sign of any break-and-enter, it was concluded he was the culprit.

Quite a bizarre end to a bizarre day – a day that personifies the life of the exchange student alone in a foreign land, unmoored from the certainties of the known, the trusted, the familiar.

The day began early, with butterflies in the tummy. Paula – a German exchange student – and I had an appointment at the lavish Catalan Parliament to conduct an interview with Pere Arragonés, a representative of the seperatist-socialist party Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left of Catalonia).

Conducting interviews is a scary experience even in one´s first language, but given neither of us spoke more than a few Catalan phrases – “Where is the toilet?” “I was born in 1988” – we were doubly petrified.

¨You´re living in Catalonia and don´t speak Catalan?¨ we could imagine him bellowing at us.

But no. Arragonés was a great guy, willing to give up an hour of his time to explain, in Spanish, the reasons why his party (and around 20 per cent of Catalans, according to opinion polls) want to break away from Spain.

We came out buzzing, as if on a caffeine high. That´s how I have so often found it this year: happiness, real happiness doesn´t come from gazing at an architectural wonder or dancing until the sun comes up. It is conquering fear. It is earnt.

And it is fleeting.

Within a few hours the sky had burst into shards of rain and I was wandering around the university like a lost sheep, feeling disoriented and confused and dejected for no logical reason. It´s a sensation I felt during rare, short and intense periods during my first months here: flailing, unstable, a plaything of the elements, blown back and forth between elation and despair by the fickle winds of fate.

Voluntarily torn asunder from almost everything you are good at, everyone who loves you, everything you have ever known: at times life abroad is liberating and exhilarating, at others I have felt like a living ghost, an empty echo.

For how many layers of your identity – language, sense of humour, relationships with family and friends – can you shed before you become a stranger to yourself?

Such were the unanswerable questions I tormented myself during those hours. But then, finally, the the storm clouds of self-pity began to blow themselves out and I remembered: you are blessed, you are strong, you are living in the world´s most magical city.

Such was my state of mind upon returning home late at night to discover that we had been robbed.

“Qué hacemos?” asked Will, breaking the solemn silence. “Emborracharnos?”

“So what should we do? Get drunk?”

And so out came the one euro wine, the sickly sweet apple liquour and the songs of Pink Floyd. Only two weeks ago I had been lugging my suitcase up the stairway, excited and nervous to meet my new flatmates; now we were drinking, chatting, laughing and cursing the hijo de puta that was probably out pawning our belongings as we spoke. Getting robbed was a pain in the arse but also a bonding experience (albeit of a rather costly kind).

And so I rolled into bed a little poorer and a little richer: laptopless but happy to learn that almost anything can be overcome with a bit of positivity and cheap liquor.

A state of grace

To wake up today was to find yourself floating, like a character in a Gabriel García Marquez novel, through a strange new world. Reality was magical; past, present and future had melted into one; all your pointless preocupations had been washed away like sidewalk paintings on a rainy day.

You had, somehow, by the grace of God, arisen from the coma of everyday life.

You didn´t know why. You didn´t want to know why.

To be alive today was  to be candle flame burning orange and blue, weightless and powerful all at once.

Hopes and fears churning in your gut like clothes in a washing machine. Joy, nervousness, a million other emotions we haven´t gotten around to naming yet kicking against your stomach like the restless feet unborn babies. The pitter patter of your heart.

To walk outside today was to gaze at some abstract painting: all colour, no form: blue bleeding into blue: the sea, the sky, the shiny skyscrapers running into each other until they were one and the same.

Sailboats bobbing on the horizon like toys in a bathtub. A man gazing out towards them, his penis dangling between his legs like an elephant´s trunk, stark-naked except for a pair of speedos tatooed on his butt.

Nothing was just “what it was”; everything was a similie, a portent of the future, an echo of the past.

Beneath your feet the metro slithering like an enormous red and white worm, stopping and starting, whining and wailing.

A grandfather and grandfather – the bookends of life – strolling along holding hands.

To look in the mirror today was to be shocked by the person staring back at you. A long lost friend. Your best friend. Yourself.

Were you escaping reality or discovering it?

You didn’t know. You didn’t care.

Perhaps it’s worth living like we do – sunglasses on, earphones plugged in – just to taste a moment as sweet as this.

I didn’t plan to watch the most important Spanish football match of the year – El Classico, Real Madrid versus FC Barcelona – in a grimy bar run by two Chinese immigrants and populated by bawdy, half-drunk, toothless Catalans.

I thought I would be in bohemian Gracia, with friends, in a more sophisticated locale. But reality is a selfish bitch, always pleased to piss over our carefully-made plans. Once again I have buggered up the transfer of money from Australia to my overseas account, meaning I must survive the next few days on loose change. Just buying a return metro ticket would leave me broke.

Thus here I am, running through the streets around my flat looking for somehere, anywhere, to watch the game (the big Spanish football matches are not broadcast on free-to-air TV).

But every bar – including normally deserted kebab joints – is jam-packed; the pavements are full of people peering in through windows, trying to catch a glimpse of the TV sets.

Then, next to the empty market, I see a dirty yellow sign: “Cal Tony Bar Restaurant”.

Cal Tony has slot machines and smoke-filled air and photographic menus of fatty, tasteless dishes: steak and chips, ham and cheese sandwiches, baguettes filled with potato omelette. In other words it is just like every other bar – except for one important detail. An empty bar stool.

I swoop upon it and order the cheapest drink I can think of, a cafe-con-leche.

“De donde eres? asks the man next to me. “Where are you from?”

With every raspy word I can hear his vocal chords, abused by a life-time of smoking, scraping and scratching against each other, on the verge of conking out like the motor of a rusty jalopy.

For a moment, I wonder how he knows I am not Spanish. Then I look around and see no-one else is six- foot-three or ghostly-white or wearing thongs.

“Australia.”

“But do you support Madrid?” he asks suspiciously, eyebrows raised. A seemingly banal question, but on this night, in this city, answering yes would be like driving through Tel Aviv in a car adorned with swastika bumper-stickers. That is to say, inadvisable.

For although football may now be a globalised game – with players born as far away as Brasil or Belarus – no-one on the pitch, or in the stands, or among the three million worldwide television viewers doubts what is unfolding: not only a square-off between clubs but between two competing visions of Spain. Not every Real Madrid fan is a Franco fanatic, nor every Barcelonese a flag-waving separatist, yet the historical divide between Madrid (a symbol of conservatism, centralism, Catholicism) and Barcelona (regionalism, republicanism, secularism) is still a powerful one.

“No, no, no, no,” I reply, shaking my head profusely. “I live in Barcelona; I support el Barça.”

He grins.

A moment later Real Madrid scores. The bar falls silent. My mate to my left is not grinning anymore. This may be the 158th Classico – and there will no doubt be 158 more – but no-one gives a damn: the present is immense and visceral; it throbs with possibility; it is what we care about.

Five games remain in La Liga. If the boys from Real Madrid win tonight they have a real shot at taking out the premiership. If Barça triumphs no-one, except in the case of a mathematical miracle, can overtake them.

Three minutes pass. Necks craning to see the screen, bums on the edge of seats, eyes darting back-and-forth in synch with the movement on the ball. Thierry Henry somehow, by some grace of God, finds himself unmarked in front of the goal.

He shoots.

He scores.

YEAAAAAAAAH!

The bar erupts in chants and cheers and smiles; my mate is high-fiving everyone; the despair of a moment ago is ancient history.

henry

Three minutes pass. Thierry Henry is on the ground, has been tripped up by a nasty Madrileño. Free kick for Barcelona. Pujol smashes a header into the net.

“GOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAL. GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAAAAAAAAAAAL” bellows the excitible TV commentator.

“Es maricon,” croaks my mate on my left, pointing at a dejected-looking Real Madridlista. “He is a fag.”

Another player, he explains to me, is an “hijo de puta” (a son of a bitch); another is a coño (pussy).

“Look at this guy, what a maricon!” he shouts when one of the blokes, thrilled with the sudden turnaround, starts dancing around and lifting up his shirt to show-off his pot-belly.

“Bahaha, what a fag.”

When the pot-bellied dancer is out of earshot, the man leans in and whispers something in my ear.

“That guy is my friend.”

Barcelona triumphs 6-2, each goal another nail in Real Madrid’s coffin, each one sweeter than the last.

celebration

I return home to my balcony and listen to the cars honking and revellers singing; I watch passers-by waving scarves and twirling fire-sticks. As Robert Hughes points out in Barcelona, understanding the Catalan character means understanding two, seemingly opposed, values: senys and rauxa. Senys describes pragmatism, common sense, measured judgement, while rauxa is a spontaneous explosion of energy.

Tonight is a night of unadulterated rauxa. The TV news shows La Rambla and Plaza Catalunya erupting into riotous parties; drunken fans dangle from the trees like orangutans. Something joyous and primative and a little bit unsettling has been set loose. It seems the whole of Barcelona is out celebrating, except for me, home alone, without a dollar to my name and only a bowl of muesli to eat for dinner.

I smile.

Sometimes happiness is not getting what you want but wanting what you’ve got.