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Even the Escalators Take Their Time

I don’t have a very good response when people ask what I did on vacation because I didn’t really do anything. Maybe that’s the best kind of vacation? Other than paying for meals (which I’ll be documenting in the near future, despite no one I know sharing my enthusiasm for photographing and talking about things I’ve eaten). I barely even bought anything, just some rubber bands (I actually have enough hair to make a pony tail, which feels odd because I haven’t really had hair much past my chin in decades) and a green tea and 90% chocolate bar at Xocoa. But just because I didn’t do shit except eat, walk, sweat and take siestas doesn’t mean I don’t have a few less than stellar observations on northern Spain to share with you.

You can smoke and drink at any opportunity or time of day, duh. Any place and any time is appropriate for cigarettes and a glass of cava. I hate napping, but the siesta concept came in handy after over imbibing in the afternoon. With dinner occurring so late in the evening, it’s easy to sleep, shower and change before going out again and you’re totally refreshed. Too bad that here, having a job gets in the way of this lifestyle.

The 10pm+ dinner thing also was ideal for my favorite vacation past time: first and second dinner. You can eat in the early evening and then again late night. This was also de rigueur in S.E. Asia by eating around 6pm and then going to hawkers near midnight. Of course, no one’s stopping me from doing the same in NYC but two dinners on a regular basis could only end in tragedy.

I could also get used to a constant diet of Spanish food (it’s a nonstop pork fest) but inevitably I would miss tacos, Thai food and bagels. I’m dying for Mexican food this very second and I’m not normally a Mexican food fanatic (though it’s definitely somewhere in my top 5 cuisines). Now that I think about it, our first meal after getting back from Hong Kong last summer was Mexican. Bad Mexican, but Mexican (oh, we ended up at Mezcal’s last night—it’s turning into a post-vacation tradition).

There was a sandwich board near our hotel advertising a Mexican restaurant serving nachos and the like and that's the kind of scary food adventure I'd only be able to justify if we’d had more time to waste. Kind of like how I had to try Thai food in Hong Kong and pizza in Thailand, knowing fully how wrong that was (however, pizza in Barcelona was surprisingly good. Maybe that's not surprising since the foreign accent most frequently heard was Italian, followed by French, German and British. American, not so much. Where do all the Americans go on vacation, anyway? I never seem to see any when out of the country and it’s not like they’re/we’re known for being quiet or discreet).

Mullet_subway_adOk, the mullet. I know you've been waiting. I was completely baffled by the sheer ubiquity of this shlongy (I never hear the SHort LONG nickname these days, and I just now learned about the Kentucky Waterfall moniker) ‘do in Barcelona. Clearly, I’m not the only one—just Google Barcelona and mullet and you'll find all sorts of musings like this and this. I know, you're like aren't there youngsters in most major cities pulling off this same '80s kitsch in the name of style? Uh, no, not like this. I don't get the sense that the typical Spanish mullet wearer is doing so with an ounce of irony. Certainly, Barcelona has more than it's fair share of cool kids, it's that kind of city, but it's laid back, totally Euro and completely un-American in spirit. All of the rat tails, long wispy bits feel organic and natural not electro-clash hard edged. There were countless versions, but they weren't all fashionable and they definitely weren’t only on top of Hispanic hipsters’ heads.

City_worker_mullet The mullet spanned all social groups and ages. There were little kids with long chunks in the back, middle aged women with almost skin head looking hair, all cropped short and bleached with fringes all around the edges, sporty soccer, pardon me, futbol, curly mullets, hippy dread mullets, garbage collector mullets (see left) regular guys probably the equivalent of frat boys with an extra inch or two draped down the napes of their necks. Like I said, it's not always carried off or intended with an air of uber chicness. Our female cashier in the housewares section of El Corte Ingles, which is like the Spanish Macy's, meaning mainstream, not cutting edge, had super short, tight man hair with feathery layers sprouting down the middle of her back. Bizzaro. I can't tell if this is a recent phenomenon, completely new and they never had the original mullet wave of the '80s or if it just never went away. For all I know the mullet craze is totally played out and I was just catching the (rat) tail end.

While I'm on the topic of style, you never feel more American than when you're not in America. Or in Europe, to be more precise. My limited experiences in Asia weren't that incongruous with what you see people wearing in NYC (no, I didn't spend time in rural China or anything). Hong Kong isn't so different. Spain is dizzying. To generalize, I think Asians embrace American culture where Europeans deride it. To generalize even further, it appeared that all men in Barcelona dress like gay men in NYC, or maybe there are just a lot of homos in Spain. All the guys are clad in tight tank tops or sleeveless tees, snug cropped pants or jeans with pockets in odd places and are frequently sockless. And I couldn't tell sexual orientation from mannerisms or vocal affectations either because my rough understanding of Spanish isn’t that nuanced. I’m not still not whether or not some of the bars we were in were gay or not (despite women and hetero couples as clientele, there were packs of men together and I totally couldn’t gauge if they were buddies out and about or interested in each other).

I keep mentioning S.E. Asia, I suppose, because it's my favorite area to visit. If I'd had my druthers that's where I would've been last week so my brain can't help but compare Singapore to Spain despite the two obviously being very different places. Total opposites. This was exemplified by the speed of the two country's escalators. I was thrilled by Singapore's being faster than NYC's even though transplants didn't seem to notice. Spain, where our broken hotel internet never got fixed, no one seems to work, meals last for hours, stores and restaurants close in the middle of the day (you know, many Asian countries have six-day work weeks. I was reading an article in the Financial Times while on the plane about how Korea is loosening up on this and how everyone is spazzing out over too much leisure time and not knowing how to fill it) and their escalators move at a snail's pace. Despite being sedentary and slothful, I do love walking fast. Strollers and dilly dalliers make me violent and it was very hard to suppress this outrage in Barcelona.

So, I hate lollygaggers who waste my precious vacation time, but I love lying on beds and watching TV (it was very disturbing that the B&B in Wales didn’t have the TV in the same room as the bed. I’m not going to crash out and watch bad U.K. sitting in a rocking chair—the only other option in our room). The Spanish news (or at least the channel in our hotel) spent hours and hours just on segments about what residents were doing on vacation. There was like 20 minutes devoted to senior citizens taking siestas at the beach. Oh, my favorite was how restaurants and shops were banning decamisar (sp) (shirtless) and had these stickers with a line-drawn naked male torso with an X through it. I’d been repulsed by the amount of topless men in shorts I’d seen about town, so I was glad to see I wasn’t merely being a prudish American. But I almost shit myself when Threshold, my favorite cancelled show in recent history, came on. There’s nothing like indie dwarf Peter Dinklage speaking in a deep dubbed Spanish voice. They also played Zoe, Duncan, Jack & Jane, a blip of a bad show that I never really watched, but it did have fatso Sara Rue (who really was fatso in the late ‘90s, not Less Than Perfect fat) playing a fat meanie in a wheelchair.

I totally didn't fulfill my promise to take lots of photos. So much you see is pretty but could be better represented in a postcard, so why bother. And what's truly interesting is hard to capture either because it's fleeting or would invade personal space and I'm not an in your face photographer. I did put up some shots on flickr—just ignore all the family-ish stuff.

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  1. Jane Minty #

    I should have warned you about the Euro-mullet beforehand.

    August 17, 2006
  2. lisa #

    The long skinny shellfish on the mixed seafood platter from a Kiosko Universal/Boqueria stall is a razor shell, I’m pretty sure. (It resembles an old straight razor…)

    My god! I just realized I’ve never seen one over here on the left coast…. It must be a UK shell. I collected bucketfulls of them on the shores of not-sunny Cleethorpes, amidst the used condoms and broken beer bottles…

    August 18, 2006
  3. You’re right, they do seem to be razor clams. I asked the cook what they were, but he answered in Spanish: navajas, I think. I had no idea that’s what razor clams looked like.

    August 20, 2006

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