Overheard

[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, April 2022.]

Barcelona is a city where plenty takes place outside the home or workplace in full view of the public. 

The other day, on the edge of a hospital car park, I witnessed the awful sight of a naked young man, screaming and kicking as he was strapped onto a gurney stretcher by police and ambulance crew.

They are far less alarming but here are just a few of the conversations in various parts of Barcelona that you could have heard if you’d been with me at other times…

“And well,” the Frenchman said, “in our century how can you win? You and me, we are living in a country, it is called the Spain and about Spanish people there is one enormous problem. My ex-wife is Spanish. I understand this problem very, very well.”

His nose wrinkled in his conquered face as he went on.

“For they, the Spaniards, everything only is black or white. All things must be located on the extreme. Their opinions, their politics, their relations; nothing can exist in a middle. When I speak Spanish, I am like them and I use their extreme words all the days: nuncasiempretodoninguna: never, always, all, no one. I’m sure you know when they want to say ‘everybody’ they say ’todo el mundo’, meaning, all the world. When all the people of the town come together in the square, that is all the world!”

He shook with laughter.

“Yeah, that’s a strange one I agree, though I tend to speak better ’pain-ish’ than Spanish,” the Englishwoman said.

“But with the French, how different we are,” the Frenchman countered.

He straightened his posture and an index finger pricked the air.

“Yes, this is the truth: we are so happy with the ambiguous, we are in the deep love with the grey areas. We enjoy many exceptions because we are exceptional.” He chuckled again. “Nobody can fix us to a position because we change it in an instant. We evade you all.”

Overheard in a cafe on Avinguda Diagonal, the North American group leader, in clandestine conversation:

“You said we were gonna do this thing. Why you wanna back out now? We came here together and we gotta be strong. This is no time to be chicken shits.”

An English businesswoman talking to another woman standing smoking on Carrer Enric Granados (again, overheard:)

“I went to that plumbing company office again and had another big fight with the staff. I was told to wait but after 10 minutes they hadn’t given me the libro de reclamaciones [complaints book], as I requested. I told them I was in a hurry but they argued with me instead. I asked to see the manager, they wouldn’t do that either. I asked for the name of the manager, they wouldn’t tell me. I said that I would give them five more minutes only.” She looked across the traffic.

“They started to threaten me with getting the Mossos [Catalan police] to come. I said fine with me – they were breaking the law, not me. A staff member accused me of ‘falta de respeto’ [a lack of respect] because I didn’t use enough polite language with them. They threatened to call the Mossos again. I smiled at her and she took a photocopy of my factura [utility bill]. I decided to get out of there. My lawyer’s going to hear about this.”

Free entertainment is everywhere in the city if we just prick our ears often enough. For some time, maybe free entertainment is all that many of us are going to be able to afford.

[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, April 2022.]

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