Trans-Atlantic Travelogue #8

The Joker From Berlin

Barcelona, Spain

May 24, 2001

Scoreboard: 11,135 miles; 5 Countries, 20 states

I admit that from the looks of the scoreboard, and the Trapp-tracker (map) it doesn’t look like we’ve done much this week…don’t be misled by unduly temperate readings.

The Joker from Berlin

The Joker from Berlin
Click on the image for a larger view

We got a VW Joker (van)! It’s a wonderful pea green color, has a bit of rust, several significant dents, quite nearly ubiquitous scratches…she’s about perfect. A wonderful couple from Greece and Australia were very patient as we put together financing (the reason that writers are always looking for advances is because no one ever pays them on time), tried to figure out the bureaucratic gymnastics required, etc.

The Joker’s papers are from Berlin, and it has several stickers pertaining to Germany’s capital as well. Of course none of us has ever been to Berlin. Even when I lived in Germany for 13 years as a kid I didn’t go there because you had to go through East Germany. Now we have a Joker from Berlin. Makes as much sense as anything.

Now onto the big road around Europe.

Before we go there, however, I should share some of my impressions of the small roads around Barcelona.

Myles at the wheel

Myles is one of the better drivers in Barcelona

“If I was a…now this one is going to take a bit of imagination…if I was the police chief of Detroit,” I told Theresa last night over a very good $1.25/bottle of Spanish wine, “and I had an overly zealous rookie cop enforcing the traffic code…I would send him to Barcelona in a cop-exchange program.”

It’s impossible to count the myriad violations in any snap-shot of Barcelona traffic. It’s not just that traffic lights are considered hints, or that the roundabouts don’t have lanes most of the time (which is fine because everyone ignores them when they’re there anyway), or that insane Vespa drivers dart in front of you at 12-second intervals…the main problem probably isn’t that half the drivers in town are apparently suffering from their failure to make the Formula One race team….yet somehow in even such a milieu I’ve managed to distinguish myself.

My two goals for today were to (1) pick up the Joker as soon as I picked up a wire transfer, and (2) sell our enormous antique trunks because they’re way too heavy to drag around and too bulky to fit anywhere in the van.

They’re great trunks, big old ocean-liner style from the turn of the last century. In other words too new for the upper-crust antique dealers on the side streets off La Rambla (the very nice tourist avenue), too old for the wood shop guys, and too beat up for the pretenders. Eventually we found a nice lady who was favorably enough impressed from the jpegs on my PowerBook to let me show them to her this evening.

Of course the trunks are enormous, and her shop is down a series of streets too thin for anything but an insane Vespa driver.

Fortunately I’d formulated a plan. I didn’t really explain it to Theresa much, so she was as flabbergasted as the amassed tourists when I drove across a sidewalk café and the pedestrian way in front of Barri Gótic Catedral onto an open area that was only a few hundred meters from the alley of the shop.

I threw on the flashers and jumped out the door. “Don’t worry hon’, it’ll be fine, everyone parks like this here!” (which is almost true)

The nice lady came out and bought the trunks, and I was then faced with the formidable task of trying to figure out how to get out of there. The café and pedestrian route had concluded with a leap over an 8-inch curb, which isn’t so bad going down as it would have been going up, so I was eyeballing the Vespa paths seriously.

Then a motorcycle policeman came out of that alley and, surprisingly enough, drove straight over to us.

Barri Gótic Catedral

Barri Gótic Catedral

You have to picture the scene: We’re in a big pea-green van on a pedestrian area in front of one of the most famous and beautiful churches in Europe, our papers (in German) have to be linked together in a rather pathological manner for anyone to understand that the Joker is ours, and my Spanish is improving but still pathetic.

A polite conversation ensued in Spanish in which the officer suggested that it was impossible for me to have reached my predicament through any legal manner. I nodded wisely, and made a series of hand gestures designed to indicate my utter confusion as to how any of this could have happened.

Finally he asked, “What are you trying to do?”

“We want to go camping at The Happy Whale.”

He agreed that that was just the thing to do and stopped pedestrian traffic so we could cross the plaza towards the real street.

We really like the Spanish. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed Barcelona. We’ll be back, and we’ll again stay at La Ballena Alegre.

Tomorrow we’ll head north into France, and then west to Lourdes. Tune in next week to see if I can keep the Joker away from the famous grotto, or off Roland Garros Centre Court when the French Open starts on Monday.