Warning: This post is more adult themed than usual; it also only chronicles about five hours of my trip, so you won’t miss much if you skip it.
Background: La Rambla is a pedestrian walkway in the middle of a boulevard in Barcelona. It runs in a straight line for about a kilometer from the docks area into the heart of the city. The walkway is made of masonry laid in such a way as to give an optical illusion of a sort of wavey pathway if you look at it at just the right angle. La Rambla never sleeps; you will soon understand why I know this.
I left Madrid (Madrid post soon to come) late in the evening Friday and decided that I would simply stay up all night Friday night in Barcelona rather than book a hostel to simply sleep in for six hours before catching my train to Montpellier. Like most of my trip, I had no plan for when I got to Barcelona. I checked my bag into a locker at the train station and set out for La Rambla as it was already eleven at night and I figured I would go someplace where other people would be--also the train station closes from 2 AM to 5 AM (as does the Metro--why? I don’t know). I ate a gyro, drank a San Miguel, and set out for La Rambla.
The first thing of note besides the tourists, was the vendors and peddlers. I suppose maybe this happens in some large cities in the US, but I can’t imagine it happens on nearly the same level as it does here in Europe. Basically middle aged men, usually of Southern Asian decent, peddle just about anything and everything. It starts with these incredibly annoying almost like turkey calls that you put on your tongue. They make a really loud shrill noise, and for some reason unbeknownst to me, everyone sells these things by blowing on them until they must be deaf. When the sun goes down, the whistles go away and are replaced with these sort of cool helicopter like thingies that glow in the dark. You sling them into the air with a rubber band, they go up about fifty feet, and spin to the ground gracefully. I actually kind of want one of these things. The funny thing about this particular merchandise though is that La Rambla is surrounded by trees. I saw at least a dozen of these thingies stuck in the branches of the trees. The activity for the next two hours of course becomes trying to shoot the stuck thingies down with other thingies. I did not witness a successful thingy rescue. Around midnight, the thingies go away (as most people out at this point are over the age of someone who would actually want to buy a thingy, except for apparently me) and are replaced with cold beer (specifically six packs of Estrella), the only thing that I’ve bought from a peddler. This is when the peddling takes on a stroke of genius. It is not exactly legal to drink on the streets of Spain, but when you are caught, you simply need to throw away your drink. This of course means that it is not exactly legal to sell beers on the street either. I seriously wondered how they kept the beer cold and hidden when the police walked by. The answer is that they hide the beer in manholes, the sides of trashcans, and other Easter egg like hiding spots. It sort of reminds me a bit of the stash houses in The Wire. Speaking of The Wire and stash houses, beer peddlers also indiscriminately peddle hashish, marijuana, and cocaine when they hold the beer out in front of you. We’ll say that beer peddling begins around ten or so and overlaps by about an hour and a half with glow in the dark helicopter thingy peddling. Around three, the beer peddlers dwindles by about half and are replaced by suppliers of meat filled pastries--okay, so I may have bought one of these also.
Overlapping with the beer peddling time (not with thingy peddling time though), the prostitutes appear on La Rambla. There are probably somewhere between one and two hundred, 99% are from West Africa. I guess it was my Irish rugby jersey that gave it away, but they only propositioned me in English. They are also very aggressive about it. First they make clicking noises, then they try to walk arm in arm with you, while discussing activities and rates and what not. There is no way to avoid them. Even if you are in a group or with a girl, they still come up to you. That is unless you’ve refused them on several occasions (I was in La Rambla a long time last night). One came up to me and literally just held a normal conversation for about ten minutes with me in between propositioning about a dozen other guys and girls. She was actually really nice. Eventually she walked off.
The last group of native people on La Rambla are the pickpockets. I met one of them as well around five as I was walking back to the metro. He was initially very nice, and then he almost grabbed my wallet before I realized what he was doing. I made fun of him for being a bad pickpocket. He was somewhat sheepish about it, but then he asked where I was from. I told him the states (he didn’t speak any English, so apparently my accent in Spanish isn’t too horrible). He accepted that for about a minute, and then he turned. He asked if I liked killing Iraqi babies. Then he began to slap me, starting jokingly and eventually becoming almost full-on slaps, while his friends got closer and laughed. He very much wanted me to throw a punch. Instead I threw a few Spanish curses at him and walked into the metro station while getting showered with Estrella cans by his friends.
There are many great things about Spain--I love the laid back culture, the food, the fact that everything (lunch, dinner, bedtime) is pushed back about five hours from typical American times, the public transportation (they have free rideshare bikes!!!), most of the people in general, but I have several grievances as well. The one example I have is that there is an entire industry of cleaning the streets and sidewalks every night. EVERY night they wash EVERY street and sidewalk with fire hoses because people pee anywhere and everywhere. There are also thousands of street sweepers--people with brooms and dustpans--because people drop their trash everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, I love that they realize how important city beautification is to tourism, but the fact that it is in their culture to simply accept this as a fact of life dumbfounds me. Do they not realize that they are paying an incredible amount of taxes because they can’t hold it until they find a real urinal or trashcan (which are everywhere)? It also has to kill the economy. I’m certainly not a neocon or anything, but having tens of thousands of government street-cleaning jobs has to be one of the least economically efficient things I have ever heard of (except maybe our handwritten census).
OK, so I’m on a train going though Western Spain and Southern France and I haven’t slept yet (it’s 8 AM). Thanks for reading my tirade, and I promise happier posts to come about Madrid and France.