Monday, August 2, 1999

How to learn a language in 29,000 painful lessons, part 56

Dear Everybody,

Another week in the joint, er, paradise. I'm back in Barcelona these days, working on a project for the Generalitat de Valencia, the seat of the autonomous government of Cataluña in Valencia. What's cool is that this is a project to publish the annual budget, which is the project I worked on for Bill Clinton six years ago. Yipee.

I spent the weekend wandering around the Barrio Gotic, the old section of Barcelona which used to be surrounded by the Roman walls (Steve and Caroline, yes, those were the Roman Walls). I saw the birthplace of Joan Miró, one of the three artists associated with Barcelona (along with Picasso and Dali, and that's not counting Gaudi), and the steps of the Palau Reial Major, where Ferdinand and Isabel received Colombus when he returned from the New World.

I passed a very small street called the Carrer d'Avinyo, the home of a brothel which was supposedly the inspiration for Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon". I stopped off to talk with one of the current employees of the brothel, and asked her how she felt about working in a place of such incredible historic significance. Her response: "Well, si, of course I am feeling deeply honored to work in such a place, which is so well known, and which was inspiring so famouses works of arts, and of course where Picasso was spending so much of his free time. I feel, in a way, that *I* am a Picasso." I moved on to look at the Cathedral, which was started in 1298 but not finished until the early 19th century, which made me feel better about our National Cathedral in Washington. As I walked around the Cathedral, I stopped and talked for a while with a guy playing Flamenco guitar, and then a man and woman from Barcelona playing Australian Digideroos across the same square. And as I walked around the cathedral, listening the the Flamenco mixing with the Digideroos, walking past a place that was started nearly five-hundred years before there was a United States, I just started to laugh, thinking what a strange place I live in.

The digideroo players, Marta and Victor, were making their living playing on the street, which has to be hard... I love digideroo, but it kind of sounds like an Elephant after a big meal. They let me try out their digideroo, and they told me they lived near plaça de Orson Wells, but that everyone called it "plaça trips" after the amount of acid tripping done there. To which I responded, hummm.

Near the cathedral was the tiny Plaça de Sant Felip Neri. In it was the Museu d'Història del Calçat, which is, as you can see from the name, the Museum of Antique footwear. Unfortunately it was closed. The plaza is also the home of an elementary school. I noticed some deep pockmarks in the walls of the school. I found out that in the last year of the Spanish Civil War, 1939, a bomb fell in the courtyard during recess and killed twenty school children.

I wandered down Las Ramblas some more, worrying about my hair, which I haven't gotten cut since right after I got here for fear of Castilleon-based scissor mixups. The trouble is that, now that I really want to get a haircut, I've found out that the barbers here really only work one hour per year, you know, because of the union. The rest of the year they're on siesta, or they're just opening, or are about to close, or they're asleep in their chair and maybe it would be better not to wake them up and then have them cut your hair, grumpy. It's not that my hair's all that long, but I'm exceptionally vain.

All of this was parading through my head when I was passed by a small, fat, brown and white dog. This dog had short hair on most of his body, but the hair on the left side of his head seemed more ambitious than the rest of his less motivated hair, and his poor little behind had hardly any hair at all. Somehow the effect was that this dog was undeniably gorgeous. It occurred to me that dogs almost always look great, and they don't give a wet slap about what they look like, unless they're around another dog, and then all they care about is that they look bigger than the other dog. Dogs probably have the best self-esteem on earth. I bet there's never been a dog in history that looked at another dog and thought, "I wonder what that dog uses to look like that", or, "man, that dog's got it all together, I wish I were like that dog."

Well, enough of that. Better get back at it. Until next time... -Tim

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