Friday Night in the Barrio Gotico

Everything seems larger when you’re a stranger. Even the sinewy corridors of the area surrounding La Rambla, packed with tourists, Indian men selling cans of beer and Spanish youths sharing cigarettes or urinating on garbage bins give not the impression of claustrophobia but of an universe expanding into the small hours of Saturday morning.

I take a caña at a few bars in the salubrious company of Carlo – an Italian gynaecologist whom I’d met in the line to apply for an NIE. Thanks to our mutual frustration we’d hit it off and decided to celebrate the inadequacies of the Spanish public service with a few tapas and beers. There is no other (graceful) way to cope.

Una caña is a glass of beer, (around 300 millilitres I guess, but it varies) and the easiest way to ask for a drink if cerveza is too much of a mouthful for you. All around you there are the party goers: the intimates, the relaxed diners, the timid backpackers and the insanely intoxicated.

The reality that this city is a weekend retreat for other European nations hits me like a cold Cornish pasty as, walking past a group of British tourists dining al fresco in Plaza Real, I see that the only woman among them is painting the pavement with her dinner and presumably the fifty beers she’d have previous to ingesting it. The waiters displays a comprehensive detachment from it all, either demonstrating tacit contempt for the inebriated tourist, or perhaps deliberate omission of duty due to his being privy to the sub-standard level of food preparation in the kitchen. Speculation is all you have when the world moves at lightning speed around you.

Like all tourist magnets, La Rambla is offensively expensive compared to places only a few streets away. A beer at the Hard Rock Cafe will sell for at least double the price of something from a smaller, local bar. The same goes for coffee, food and standard goods such as umbrellas, dancing puppets and live chickens: all of which are available for sale on La Rambla all day and throughout the night. Of course, tourists willingly pay these exorbitant prices. Why? Who knows. It happens in Sydney, Paris, London, Rome and anywhere there’s a major international airport. It’s clear that it would make an excellent PhD thesis.

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