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Oh Barcelona – Spain Chapter Two

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“So, will you go to a nude beach with me tomorrow?” , she asked.
You know folks, you really should not drink too much with a woman.
But then, I hadn’t. It was just my first glass, or so I thought and looked at my glass for an answer. The liquid sparkled in the blue glass, but did not feel in the least to help me out. Instead, I saw in it, all the people I had met in the last four days.
I looked up at her, and she smiled.
Somewhere in that moment, the city got defined for me. Oh Barcelona.
Silvia and I had met only a couple of hours earlier. I really do not know why. Two weeks earlier, I had put up a post on facebook about my trip to Spain, and she had asked me if we could meet up when I was in Barcelona. A luxury travel company wanted an Indian partner, and Silvia wanted to discuss if I could get the company where I worked, to partner with them. As we sat in the bar, I wondered if I should tell her that I had quit my job.
Two hours earlier, I was scampering across the road from my hostel, towards Maria Cristina station, to take the train to Parallel station where we were to meet. I was already fifteen minutes late. As I ran down the station stairs, I had no clue which metro line to take.
“Scusa?” I said, in my best Spanish accent, to a passing girl. When I had asked her, she told me that she was taking the same train line, and that we could walk together. In the twenty two minutes it took the train, and us, to reach Parallel metro station, we had figured out that we both loved writing. She told me she was an English language teacher and I yelled. My station approached, and as I jogged out, we promised to meet later for drinks. As I stepped out of the station, just like everywhere in the city, a man was sitting and strumming the guitar. Oh Barcelona.
No, we didn’t meet up later. Maybe some other day, some other train, some other part of the world.
When I saw Silvia, she was dressed in an Indian kurta. We greeted each other in the traditional European way of a kiss each on both cheeks. Her skin was light, and I would never have figured that she was Venezuelan had she not decided to tell me later on.
Presently, I was trying to decide if I should start wondering that when people asked you to accompany them to a nude beach, it could possibly suggest that they were hitting on you. Or maybe it was a Venezuelan culture thing, to ask to go to a nude beach together. In India, you ask for coffee, maybe in Venezuela you ask if the person would like to accompany you to a nude beach.
Of course, I had not drunk enough absinthe to come to such asinine conclusions. I looked across the dimly lit bar, and a couple of Germans were arguing about something at the far end. A prostitute stood at the door smoking a cigarette and Silvia smiled at her. She knew Raval really well, Silvia did.
“I don’t think I could do that”, I told her laughingly.
“But isn’t that what your trip is all about? New experiences? Trying out new things?”
She had a point. You know, I am quite sure she wasn’t hitting on me at all.
Let us go back two hours again. When we had met near the station, she had asked me if I would like to go to her favourite part of Barcelona. I asked where, and she had muttered “Raval”. So we walked from our meeting point, across La Rambla – Barcelonaùs most lively and touristy area, full of clubs, bars and performers – to Raval – the poorer neighbouring grotto with small shops and bars, dingy looking hostels, but ethnically Barcelona most diverse side of town.
We stopped at a bar to eat some rice and turkey. Of course with some Cerveza, the spanish word for beer.
“So, Neeraj, you like Barcelona?” I nodded, though I was desperately trying to work the knife through the hard turkey.
Silvia has been to over fifty countries. She left her house when she was 17. I asked her which was her favourite city in the world, and she said it was right there, in Barcelona.
Barcelona has glamour, you know. And it has personality. It has Gaudi, and it has people from all over the world. It has seventy year old women roller blading to the nearby grocery store, it has kids walking their dogs while they are skateboarding. It has men kissing each other on the streets, and it has people with every single hairstyle you could possibly think of. I was walking down the road on the first day, and there was a six foot three man, incredibly built, walking absolutely topless, a bag strapped on his shoulders, lugging another suitcase, on one of the busiest roads in the city. He did not care. Surprisingly, no one else did either.
The city has flair you know.
“Character”, I told her between mouthfuls. “Barcelona has character.”
“You must try absinthe, you know, especially since you have never tried it before”
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get drunk, but this trip was about trying new things so I agreed.
So, we left the place and headed off in search of the vile drink. Minutes later, we were inside a bar with furniture so old that it looked antique, with lights so dim that I would think that they were candles, and a bar table so big that I thought it would never end. “This is where the first bar scene of ZNMD was shot”, she told me and I rolled my eyes. We both laughed.
Minutes later, the barman served us two glasses of the much mentioned drink. To mix the right amount of absinthe and water, you first put a fork horizontally across the glass. Then taking two cubes of sugar, you place them on the fork and pour ice water on the cubes. The cubes melt and fall along with the water into the glass.
“That, senor, is how you drink absinthe”, she told me while raising her glass, following her tiny demonstration.
And that is probably why I like to travel. Maybe to have a Venezuelan tell me how to prepare a glass of absinthe. Or sit across an Israeli man in a bar and have him tell me how it is to come out of school and serve in the army for three years. I don’t want to spend half my life sitting on an office desk.
“You know Silvia, I think I can teach english langugage in Mexico for 6 months. And then South America.”
“Absinthe, originated from Switzerland in the 1800s, and became very popular in France, especially among Parisian writers in the mid 19thand early 20th century”, Silvia informed me. “Oh, Hemingway, Oscar Wilde, Vincent Van Gogh drank it regularly”
“To Vincent, Ernest and Oscar then.” I announced, raising my glass.
One day, we shall have a Neeraj next to their names.
And that is approximately when, two hours from when I first met Silvia, she asked me if I would go to a nude beach with her.
“I don’t think I could do that”, I told her laughingly.
“But isn’t that what your trip is all about? New experiences? Trying out new things?”
“Si senorita. But to be nude publicly. I don’t think I would like that too much.”
“You are on your way to become a traveller, my friend. And the first step is to embrace what comes your way. You don’t have to like it, but try it, and then know if you like it or not.”
We stayed at the bar for an hour more. And then, just like that, we bid farewell.
On the entire way back to my hostel, I pondered about whether I should do it. I had asked her at the bar where the closest nude beach was, and of course it was in the city itself. Though I wasn’t drunk, the idea started becoming appealing. Not to go with her, because I cannot imagine going with anyone I have ever spoken to, or known, or befriended. It sounds catastrophic to me to go with someone I am friends with. But it felt appealing, ony because it sounded a hundred times more dificult than running with the bulls.
When I got off the train, I was still thinking. Ahead in the distance, a man in white trousers and a white vest, held a mike and was singing a Catalan song. A system blaring music, and a small hat for coins, gave him company. Three women walked ahead of me, and as we got closer, one of them broke into a little jig. As we passed him, his eyes fell upon her, and he advanced. Taking the surpised woman into his hands, he drew her close to his body and started to dance. She looked shocked at first, embarassed next, and then started giggling. Her friends clapped loudly and so did I. The man continued to hold her close, and kept dancing, moving her around the small strip in the subway, much to her delight.
After about a minute, I walked away smiling. Oh Barcelona.
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Neeraj Narayanan

Neeraj Narayanan, a.k.a Captain Nero, is the founder of OHOT. In the summer of 2013, he quit his corporate job and went backpacking around the world. In a year full of (mis)adventures, he ended up being chased by a bear in a Croatian forest, being held at gunpoint by a mafia gang lord in Turkey, running with the bulls in Spain, and dancing in the clubs of Spain and Italy. A year later, he started leading group trips for people.

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