It was ten years ago since I last visited Barcelona. Then it was a week without sleep or seeing daylight. I started like a typical tourist, at a tapas bar in La Rambla, figuring I'd have a few beers before an early night and take in the sights the next day: the wondrous architecture of the 1600-year-old city, the Picasso Museum and The Gaudi Park. However, fate had different plans. During beer number two, I was approached by a seven-foot German built like a proverbial brick outhouse, wearing blue overalls, looking like some deranged Humphrey the Bear. He spoke five languages, English being his worst.
"Vhere you from?"
He suspiciously eyed me up and down, my long hair and faded black cowboy hat.
"Ah, Crocodile Dundee yes? Vhat you do now? You come wit me I show you de real Barcelona."
Throwing caution to the wind, I decided to take a walk on the wild side. Barcelona is two cities: the one by day and the one by night. Starting in a club on La Rambla, then an after party, later an after after party, until finally ending up at the tapas bar for sunset the next day where it began again – a delectable blur, a smorgasbord of sound and color. Beautiful dancing black girls in fluorescent hot pants, writhing bodies of Latino style transvestites in platforms, feathered and preened like peacocks would all appear and evaporate like apparitions in the smoke and laser lights. By the time I escaped the grasp of the hedonistic jungle, I was short a couple of million brain cells, but enriched in culture and festival of the loco la Vida that would stay with me for a lifetime.
Now, ten years later, I return, landing at Barcelona airport from Athens. I tentatively step off the plane in snake skin cowboy boots and faded blue jeans and faded genes. Today my even more decrepit faded black cowboy hat is pulled low over my brow. I am sun burnt, broke, on the run from a bad divorce, recovering from a five month "finding myself" stint across India. I hope my long time mate from Melbourne got my emails and is prepared to receive my jet set vagabond self. However, despite how good his intentions are, he is not the most reliable of characters, a predominant DJ in the Barcelona house music scene. He, to say the least, keeps unusual hours. I am hopeful though, as it is late afternoon. I figure my chances are fair he is up and conscious. I drop my last euro into a pay phone and pray I don't receive his voice mail. I am relieved to hear him in person,
"Hey mate, get your ass here like pronto."
Pulling up at his apartment in a backstreet behind La Rambla, I manage to squeeze one more payment out of my over burdened credit card. My amigo greets me at his front door wearing boxer shorts and munching on a bowl of cornflakes. Apart from his pale complexion, he looks in good form. He escorts me up a narrow staircase into a low ceiling apartment,
"Chuck your bags anyway and find a spot, there are two French girls surfing the couch and an Argentinean guy lives in the hallway wardrobe. Just stake out a patch anywhere. I think the laundry floor is free; I will put on some pants. We gotta go, got a sound check, we are late, and there is a party on the beach."
Moments later we are walking through the catacombs of narrow alleys, crossing the Plaza de George Orwell, or Trippy Plaza as the locals call it. Buskers perform to the homeless and party revelers. By the time we hail a taxi, snake our way through the streets to the beach, I am feeling positively over dressed in boots, jeans, hat and T-shirt. It is a hot August summer night and the music is pumping. Everyone is topless, guys and girls dancing manically in the sand under a setting sun. The games have begun.
Waking up on the wrong end of a good night, seedy, my tongue furry, sleep coagulated in the corners of my eyes, my back aches, not only from sleeping on the hard tiled floor of the laundry, but also from the punishment my liver received last night. I have no memory of how or when I returned home. I stumble into the lounge room to see my friend looking fine, again munching on cornflakes in the same dirty jeans. With a mouth full of masticated cereal, he thrusts the bowl into my hand,
"Here's your breakie dude."
In my other hand he places a mobile phone, set of keys and a piece of paper with an address on it. He picks out a chrome DJ record case and pair of Ray Bands,
"I gotta go to Moscow, like now. Runnin late for my flight. I got a gig for Russian super models on a rooftop in the Red Square, its gunna be wild. I told you about that yeah? Look my club opens tonight, can you run the bar. I forgot to organize anybody, you'll be fine, the joint runs itself, open at midnight, I'll be back tomorrow, cya."
As he spins around on his heels and marches out the door, I only have enough time to say, "But…"
Feeling like a mute, as I don't speak Spanish, I manage to make it to the bar. The mobile hasn't stopped ringing with lots of people speaking staccato speed Spanish at me. I keep saying "Si", it seems to appease them.
I open the place, security does its thing, everything seems fine. I manage to work out the till. I start to feel confident, I can pull this off. Then, disaster strikes, the customers come. In no time at all the place is heaving, full, wall to wall and it's sweltering. Everybody starts yelling drink orders in Spanish. I am losing control of the situation, so I rip my shirt off, jump on the bar, "Coyote Ugl"' style and loudly announce,
"Uno friggin memento senores and sanaritas, this gringo only speako cinco Espanola wordos, Si? Beer, whiskey, rum, vodka and gin, capice?"
That gets them in line. I am now accepted as the loco Australiano. By the time I am sweeping the floors at 6:00 a.m., I am totally beat, in need of sleep. However, my friend did not return for a week, so I keep opening and the customers keep coming. By the time he graces me with his presence from Moscow. I have a cowboy boot full of cash.
"Sorry dude, ended up partying with the Russian mafia, nice guys…"
I pour money all over his coffee table, he gasps,
"All that from one night?"
"No that's from every night this week, why?"
"Dude, I only open once a week, but like wow cool."
He gave me a fist full of Euros and that night I caught the red eye, the night bus to Madrid to get my flight to Venezuela. Still, I didn't see the other Barcelona, the one by day, hopefully next time, mañana, mañana.