Writings about Some Trips in W. Europe
Travels--Intro Berlin, Germany Scotland In Ireland Kiev, Ukraine Barcelona Seville

Barcelona seems to me like an older brother to Buenos Aires--the older brother who stayed in the home country, near the parents. As Wittgenstein said about games,

"I can think of no better expression to characterize these similarities than "family resemblances"; for the various resemblances between members of a family: build, features, colour of eyes, gait, temperament, etc. etc. overlap and cries-cross in the same way."

And so with Barcelona: I have such an odd feeling of familiarity in walking the streets, going into shops--its like dropping into Argentina, the accents, the food, the air even seems like it draws from the same bottle. And that reminds me, as I'm walking, of how in some unclear way I have Argentina in my blood, from all the visits over the years. In Berlin, I felt at home because my mothers family welcomed me and we had proper German tea; in Barcelona, it is more like an old, comfortable coat that you left in the closet for a little long, and welcomes you like a good friend.

I had thought that our English word "gaudy" had something to do with Gaudi, the architect, but at least a web search tells me it has a different root. Gaudi has several buildings here in the city, and it would be rather mean-spirited to call them "Showy in a tasteless or vulgar way". I mean, he really is good (if you ask me): the architecture is colorful, fanciful, it soars, it stretches the sense of what building should do, can be. They are still working on his "Sagrada Familia" church building over 120 years after it was started; and I have to say, having lapsed in worship and interest, that's probably one church I would visit on a Sunday once its done, which is saying something. Outside, the spires crowd together and give the sense of compressed creativity; inside, the pillars tower and split near the top, angle this way and that, and one has the impression of a massive stone forest--Gaudi himself talked about using trees as an inspiration, and the columns really do call that to mind. That said, the profuse ornamentation in every cranny of the building leads me to believe that he was stoned out of his gourd most of the time; it has that shambling, rambling quality one associates with the later Jerry Garcia.

Now, toilets, or, more specifically, hostels. The hostel here has just one toilet for men and one for women. I don't mean just one bathroom--there is just one toilet. Its a tiny room ("where is he going with this?"), with a push-button timer for the light. I think its calibrated for 30 seconds of light, but sometimes it seems more like 20. Many of the utilities in the hostels are like this: timed lights, automatic faucet shut off, bursts of activity in the shower (I mean--bursts of water). But what on earth can one accomplish in a toilet in 20 or 30 seconds? Cold comfort, I say. Its the only private room in the building. Where is my throne? How can I finish this chapter I'm working through? Why are you so bloody cheap? What about my intestinal distress?

One could write a book about hostels; actually, someone already has. But to briefly address it--you have some that are like hotels, with elevators, card-keys, and no good place to socialize except the bar. One of the better ones in Scotland actually had a bar right in the lounge (so, a place to socialize and something to do it with). I've seen bugs and slime, and met many, many, let me tell you, many Australians. The more official, mainline hostels have rules posted on every spare nook, curfews, and chilly management styles. But they are usually clean and dependable. The independents are more easy-going, friendly, sometimes a little dirty: your college roommate who never grew up and moved out.

But the great differentiator is how much they facilitate interaction. The last place was huge, built for large school groups apparently, and I met no one. The current place I'm at has a rather uncomfortable lounging area, but the beer is about a buck, so one can work through this. And just today I met a Venezuelan woman and we got a chance to talk about the situation there; it was unexpected, as I haven't met any Venezuelans in years, much less on this trip. Venezuelans have, among other charms, wonderful accents in speaking Spanish. But that's one funny thing, going with hostels: there are multiple trips, the countries and lands you visit, and travel amongst travellers, "single-serving friends" in the words of Fight Club. You never know what you will run into.