So ok – I’m back at Bar Berlin, in the lengthy break between faraway classes I have every Thursday. These two, Abertis and Bayer Pharmaceuticals, are so far out (but in the same direction), that it’s not worth me going home for the two and a half hours between them. It is, however, an excellent chance to enjoy a cervesa in the sunshine, and write a blog post!
Today I’m going to try to recount the last week as a kind of diary. Many of the cast of characters in my life will be new to you, but keep reading – they’ll feature a lot! Tom you’ll already know, but there’s also Freya, mi amiga from the CELTA course, Patrick and Kim, from Barcelona’s bustling English language comedy scene, Leonor, my old Airbnb hostess… Don’t worry, later posts will introduce them in more detail. For now, let’s go ahead while it’s all fresh in my memory!
Friday 10 June
Friday’s a quiet day for me – I only have one class to teach, at Endesa in Arc de Triomf. That finishes at 14:30 (everyone tells time here using military format), and I usually recline on the park nearby with a couple of beers.
Not today though – there’s a comedy gig on later, and I want to pace myself. Knowing the guys from the comedy scene, it’ll be a night that involves a prodigious consumption of alcohol. Patrick Beverley, host with the most (height, anyway) from Atomic Comedy has invited me, and despite the event being sold out, reckons he can “get us in”. Of course it turns out that Freya is coming too, and Patrick only has one guest ticket, so we each pay half for the one ticket we actually have to buy – 2.50, not bad!
It’s the final show of the season for Hush Hush Comedy, and the venue appears to be a posh hotel. This confuses Freya and me, and we walk uncertainly through a very posh restaurant wondering where the comedians are at, while diners and staff look askance at us both. Then we realise that the venue is actually downstairs in a darkened cellar. That’s more like what I was expecting.
Even the cellar’s pretty high class though – you can tell by the price of the drinks. Patrick turns up toting a guitar and wearing a fancy dinner jacket, at which point Freya and I, whose outfits can best be described as “slumming it”, begin to feel rather underdressed. Fortunately, Tom turns up with his boyfriend Paolo, and both are wearing shorts and t-shirts. This makes us all feel better.
It’s a good gig – a variety of standup comedians take turns on the mic, and the hosts are confident and witty. I know one of them, Hannah, already, but this is the first time I’ve seen her own show. It’s good. Especially when the annoyingly talented Patrick takes the stage with his guitar to sing a comedy song of his own composition entitled “I’m a geek for you”.
Afterwards, it’s no surprise that we all adjourn to a nearby bar for post-show drinks. A lot of them. Tom and Paolo head off for some food, then sensibly go home – it’s 1 am by this point. Freya and I, less sensible, hang around drinking till after 3, at which point details start to look a bit fuzzy around the edges. People start to drift off, mostly in pairs; I stumble home on foot, as the Metro is closed after midnight. As far as I can tell, I’m the only one who left alone.
Combined with the booze, the fact that my recent ‘casual relationship’ is sort of on hold, and the knowledge that nobody on Grindr has been interested in me of late (at least nobody I fancy), this makes me a little depressed as I stagger past still-busy bars full of friends and couples. I foolishly try to get into one, then realise it’s not 2 euros to get in, it’s 20. Probably just as well really. I shamble the rest of the way home and finally tumble into bed at 4 am.
Saturday 22 June
Still rather down after the previous night, I realise that I’ve WhatsApp messaged my ‘friend with benefits’, even though our relationship (such as it is) is on hold. He’s nice and sympathetic though, so that’s ok.
After the previous late night, I don’t surface till lunchtime and decide to lift my spirits by hanging out in nearby Montjuic park. This labyrinthine series of gardens cut into the tall hill over the road from me is nice and tranquil, especially if you sit in the Greek amphitheatre that has presumably been carved into the hill for the purposes of bread and circuses.
The amphitheatre’s closed today though, in preparation for what looks like a show. This is the beginning of a long weekend – Monday is Sant Joan’s Day, by all accounts a massive party for the entire city. Fair enough, it’s probably been a few days since it last had one of those.
With the amphitheatre closed, I head up the hill a few levels to sit under a tree near the mysterious Obelisk. I don’t know what purpose this blue-streaked, pointy edifice serves (art probably), but it always reminds me of the alien obelisk in Star Trek episode The Paradise Syndrome. Tom’s even taken a picture of me hammering at it the way Shatner does in that episode. I doubt Shatner was quite so pasty white though.
Lolling shirtless (and covered in Factor 50 sunblock) under a nearby tree, I soon start to feel better. There’s cervesa in my bag, Enya on the stereo, and screeching parakeets in the air. It’s hard to stay feeling down for long here.
And if I’m still worrying that I’ve lost my mojo where my sex life’s concerned, I get chatting to a cute guy on Grindr. Neither of us really has anywhere to go for a casual shag, but he’s a smart guy and fun to talk to, so we end up going for a beer. Neither of us has much money though, so said beer turns out to be cans of Estrella taken up to the park.
His name’s TiAn (an interesting abbreviation of Sebastian) and he’s a psychologist from Colombia, only in town for five days. We really enjoy each other’s company (despite rather differing views on authoritarian leaders like Trump and Orban). In fact, we enjoy each other’s company so much that I’m soon hunting down a nice secluded area of woodland where we can, how shall I say this… get it on.
I won’t go into detail on a family friendly blog, but suffice to say we were just really getting into it when a curious dog appeared on the ridge above us, peering at us intently. Where dogs are, their owners usually aren’t far behind, so we hurriedly pull our clothes back into some semblance of order and head off elsewhere. Anywhere, really.
Eventually though, I shrug and decide to make a precedent – so we go back to mine to hang out in my bedroom. It’s the first time I’ve brought a guy back to the raucous, noisy apartment I share with a loud Romanian family, but fortunately for us, they’re out. Fun is had – I’ll leave that part to your imagination.
Feeling much happier, I doze for a few hours, then meet TiAn again later for a few beers at a nearby bar. Five beers for five euros – jackpot! Well, with the caveat that they’re tiny bottles of Estrella, anyway. It’s been a good day, and any depression I was feeling is long banished. There might be stuff wrong with my life, but it’s hard to dwell on it and feel down around here.
Sunday 23 June
One more day to go until Sant Joan, but the madness starts today. From what I’ve been told, this festival involves fireworks. A lot of fireworks. With absolutely no regard for safety. I reflect on this as I sit eating a slice of pizza on a bench in Avinguda Paral-lel, watching eight year old kids holding lit firecrackers and throwing them in random directions with complete abandon. Fun? Yeah, sort of. Don’t fancy getting my eye blown out though.
Tom’s given my number to a couple of guys we met at Sitges Pride, and they message me with an invite to the gay nude beach, Mar Bella. Sure, why not? I head on down to a packed beach full of unfeasibly attractive naked men, to find the guys – Darren and Alex – already there with enough alcohol supplies to keep Don Draper happy for a week. I may not be unfeasibly attractive, but still don’t mind getting naked – with the urgent proviso that I cover myself in factor 50 sunblock. There are some areas of my body I REALLY don’t want sunburned.
After a while TiAn shows up too with his sister, and we all have a nice time drinking and chatting as the sun starts to go down. The bar we’re next to, the imaginatively named BeGay, is just starting its Sant Joan party – heavy bass thuds out from nearby speakers, the beat the only discernible aspect of each tune.
But I’ve promised to go and meet Patrick, Freya and Tom at Imprfcto, where there’s a pub quiz, then head off somewhere more tranquil to watch the fireworks. At a safe distance. In the middle of the city, on top of a hill, there’s the misleadingly named Bunkers – actually a bunch of anti-aircraft gun batteries built during the Civil War. From there, you get amazing 360 degree views of the city. So we can watch the fireworks from afar.
First though, there’s this pub quiz. After my sojourn at the beach, I arrive late and discover that it’s a bit… well, strict. I can’t join my mates’ team because it’s already started, though inexplicably I can sit next to another team and chime in answers for them (I was the only one who could recognise a picture of an ocarina).
Both Patrick and Freya apologise for the rather draconian rules, and Tom, not really able to afford the prices of Imprfcto’s posh Belgian beer, gives it a miss and heads for home. Fortunately it’s not too long before the rest of us head off to the Bunkers, courtesy of Patrick flagging down a nearby cab. It’s quite a way from the bar, so that’s just as well.
The taxi gets us fairly near, and we climb the remaining bit of hill to an astonishing view of the city from above. It’s like nothing so much as the opening of Blade Runner, all lights and sudden explosions (that’ll be the fireworks randomly bursting in every location). Well, like Blade Runner if there were a bunch of pissed partygoers randomly quoting Withnail and I at the tops of their voices (that’s Freya and me).
All good things must come to an end though, and by about 2am we decide to head back to our respective domiciles. We’re playing music from the little Bluetooth speaker I carry around, and Patrick and I discover a shared love for the music of The Muppet Movie. Heaven alone knows what the locals think as two grown men walk down the street accompanying Kermit the Frog’s rendition of The Rainbow Connection at the top of their voices.
Monday June 24 – El Dia de Sant Joan
It’s the actual day of Sant Joan, and I wake up late. As usual. I’ve got things to do today – I need to find somewhere better to live, and I’ve got a room to look at over in the lawless dystopia that is Raval. That’s not till 3pm though, so I busy myself doing some exercise. Yes, folks, I’m actually trying to get fit (as opposed to just skinny) by copying the exercises that seem to have worked well for Tom – he’s looking quite toned these days!
Half an hour of press-ups, bike crunches and dumbbell lifting later, and I definitely need a shower before I go to look at the room. Feeling cleaner, I walk down to Placa del Pedro (only about 15 minutes away), and check out the room.
It’s a fourth floor room in an apartment block with no lift; the climb makes me wonder whether I really needed any other exercise. The main tenant, a handsome guy called Jordi, shows me the place, and it’s nice. What’s more, it’s 100 euros cheaper a month than where I am now. Great, I say, I’ll take it.
But Jordi says he has a few more guys to see, and that he usually shares with someone “younger”. I get a sneaking suspicion that he probably likes to have flatmates he can have sex with, which is an absolute no-no for me – worst idea if you want a harmonious household. Still, he tells me he’ll know in a few days. So maybe.
That said, as I sit in Placa del Pedro afterwards, I start getting WhatsApp messages from a previous, er, casual encounter, a Venezuelan guy name of Miguel. Am I available for a casual shag? Heh, well, I’ve got no other plans today, so why not? I head over to Arc de Triomf where Miguel lives, and spend a very enjoyable few hours getting jiggy with him. At one point we’re doing it on the balcony overlooking the street, as unsuspecting passersby walk along without looking up. Fortunately.
So what’s next? Freya gets in touch on WhatsApp – do I want to head over to hers in Gracia to watch Game of Thrones? (I’m helping her to catch up with it). But all this physical activity has really taken it out of me, and I end up dozing so long that I don’t get to Gracia till 9:30pm. It’s a sedate night by recent standards, but the late start means the Metro’s closed so I need to get the night bus back. That’s ok though, the air conditioned bus is a welcome break from the summer heat, and as we head down Passeig de Gracia, I’m strangely cheered to see a classic Opel Manta running alongside.
Tuesday June 25
My one Tuesday class has been cancelled this week, but I still need to go into the agency office. Because I’ve discovered that my wages for the last couple of months have been about 500 euros short. Surely some mistake?
Apparently not, as I was rather dreading. The bureaucracy of moving to Spain is quite complex, and apparently there are steps I still need to complete. Until then, I’m paying emergency tax – 24%. I can claim it back once this is sorted out, but not till I do my tax return. Which is the end of the tax year. Which (here at least) is December. Bugger.
Well, it’s a blow, but I start working on sorting it out. In the meantime, I meet Tom for a couple of afternoon drinks (cans of Estrella, naturellement), and he gives me what advice he can on the subject. I’m going to need the green Residency Card. For that, I’m going to need a Padron – a form signed by my landlord proving my address. Which my landlord will never sign. Since he’s illegally subletting to me. Fortunately various friends offer to help by pretending I live with them. I feel cheered by this.
Tom and I part company for now – I’ve promised to help my friend Àlex with his essay about the grammatical constructions in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. Àlex, who is thin, cute, and also Venezuelan, is someone I met on Grindr, but never actually slept with; it turns out our kind of fun is talking about English. He’s a university student studying about five languages, with the aim of becoming a translator.
So I spend an intellectually demanding evening with him analysing 1925 stream-of-consciousness prose, and offering suggestions as to how best to phrase his essay, while surprisingly huge glasses of beer are brought to our table. Yes oki, I would like to sleep with Àlex, and maybe someday I will. But who needs sex when you’ve got literature?
Wednesday 26 June
Back to actual teaching with a bang today – the first class is at 8am. This means I have to be up at about 7 to get a shower and shlep myself over to Place Espanya. Fortunately, this class is with a senior business executive who just wants me to listen to English versions of his financial presentations and correct his pronunciation and grammar where necessary. It’s no strain for my sleep-craving mind.
A doze and some exercise later, and it’s over to Arc de Triomf to teach my two-strong group at Endesa. They’re a mixed one – Carlos is good but not all that interested in learning, while Juan is eager to learn but nowhere near as skilled in English. Finding the right approach to teaching the pair can be a real balancing act.
Also in Arc de Triomf is my friend Leonor, who’s asked me to help out with a voice over for a commercial she’s working on. Leonor was my first Airbnb host when I moved here, and we bonded over our fanatical love of cinema and 90s music. She’s a filmmaker who always has several projects on the go, while funding herself by renting out rooms and delivering packages on bikes.
She thinks I’ve got a good voice for narration in English; I’m also a reasonable writer, so I help her and her editor Marco translate the spiel into more poetic English. It’s a commercial for a cetacean boat trip in Tenerife run by Leonor’s friend Mika. Turns out he loves my delivery of the voiceover, and I find myself with a standing invitation to go out on his boat and play with dolphins. If I can ever afford to get to Tenerife, I’ll probably take him up on that.
Several beers later, and Leonor has to start going out on Deliveroo jobs. Hoping she’s not too wobbly, I head back towards mine, and end up having a few beers with TiAn, on his last night before going back to Colombia. He’s mournful – says he’d really like to stay in Europe, and hopes to come back to live. I hope so too – he’s a nice guy, and fun to spend time with. We’ve only known each other a few days, and he’s already worried about my incipient alcoholism. Perceptive guy.
Thursday 27 June
I wake up with a hangover, thinking that TiAn had a point about my drinking. Luckily, my morning class has been cancelled as the business exec has popped over to Lisbon for a meeting. What a life to have.
There are still the afternoon classes, and Thursday is a busy one. It’s a long Metro ride out to Palau Reial, where I teach a small group of Advanced students at Abertis for 90 minutes. Then there’s a slog further out to Montesa, which involves a tram, to teach at Bayer Pharmaceuticals for two hours. Add in the prep for the lessons and that’s a pretty full day.
Plus there’s two and a half hours between those classes, but it would be pointless to head home – I’d have to turn round and go back out after about half an hour. So I’ve taken to having a quiet beer at the nearby Cerveseria, and, of late, writing these blog posts.
The Bayer class doesn’t finish till 19:15, and then it’s a 45 minute journey back home. As ever, it’s been a tiring week, so when I get back slightly after eight, I resolve to have a quiet night catching up on some TV.
Then at 21:30 Tom messages me to say there’s a Pride party in Placa Universitat. Well, this is Barcelona, when isn’t there a party? But it sounds like fun, so my resolve goes out the window and I head over to Universitat. The place is teeming with people; before I even find Tom, I bump into Miguel (see Monday).
After a while, I find Tom and his bf, Paolo – they’re with his flatmate Xavi and their friend Emiliano. They’re a fun bunch to hang out with, and we dance for a while in the crowd. I foolishly purchase a beer from a street vendor which turns out to be so chilled it’s actually frozen; at least I can use it as a cooling device for my overheated body.
Later, we go for a wander into Raval to get something to eat. I’ve had a boccadillo already so I’m not particularly hungry, but Paolo gives me nice pizza that’s hard to resist, while Xavi offers bites of a delectable shwarma from the amusingly named (if you’re a Queen fan) Bismillah café.
We sit down to eat, like civilised people. At a school desk left incongruously at the centre of the big skating area near the modern art museum. It probably looks a bit odd, four grown men squeezing onto a desk meant for two 11 year olds in the middle of a crowd of shirtless, sweaty and incredibly sexy skateboarders. Especially when we realise that the skaters probably put the desk there to do jumps over. Ah well, nobody seems to mind.
Tom’s finished teaching for the summer now, but I haven’t. I’ve got a class the next morning at 08:30 am. Paolo, who has a real job, is also working, so we call it a night about midnight and I head for home, fifteen minutes walk away.
And that’s it. Another eventful week in Barcelona. It’s not even that unusual – there’s always plenty to do here. At some point though, I should try and find some time to catch up on that backlog of TV I haven’t watched yet 😊