A lost Pakistani encounters the Catalan capital

Imaduddin Ahmed

The Friday Times blogs | Feb 13, 2016

Offered a flight and three nights at a four-star in Barcelona if I spoke at a conference, I found myself alone in a city which perhaps enjoys the highest per capita number of stunners.

Equipped with no Spanish as I boarded my plane, I downloaded on my Kindle “One week Spanish Mastery: The Complete Beginner’s Guide” by Erica Stewart (86pp, EUR 2.99, Kindle) to learn essential phrases. Downloading as well Hamlet in bilingual English and Spanish may have been overkill. But it did teach me that the word ‘gaudy’ is not derived, as I was once told, from the name of the Catalan architect who died almost a hundred years ago, writing as Shakespeare did, at the turn of the seventeenth century, ‘Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy, But not express’d in fancy, rich, not gaudy, For the apparel oft proclaims the man’.

Thanks to Google Maps and Translate, the Spanish crash-course, as well as the delay of my luggage, was I able to expense new apparel to the purse of Lufthansa. By the accounts of colleagues, they haven’t proclaimed me gaudy.

My accommodation was comfortable but bland. When you airlift a nondescript American Hilton chain hotel to an historic city, who would you expect to encounter? My first morning, I overheard (how could I not?) loud inhabitants of the Red States who pronounced as they were reading for their first time Wi-fi as “wee-fee” and inquired what “mobile phones” were.

The conference was odd. Imagine this: a room full of London City financiers clad in suits waving their arms in an American hotel in Spain to an African ex-child soldier turned musician-cum-actor with introduction by Alicia Keys explaining that electricity is the key to peace after he narrowly escaped becoming a cannibal who feasted on his best friend thanks to a crow dropping dead from the sky. Confused? So was I. Quickly as was permissible, I set out in search of the real Barna.

After taking a 27 euro bus overview of the city’s sites, the best thing I did was to tour Antoni Gaudi’s Casa Batlló, the former house of a well-heeled family of the city which now serves as a museum. It is amazing to see how the applied visions of psychiatric inpatients – the house’s roof is styled in the shape of a dragon – have been hailed by his adopted city as that of a genius. One walks through the Casa with a device which, when pointed at a particular spot on the house, superimposes an image of the inspiration. A fish therefore appears when the device is pointed at vents; a mushroom when pointed at the fireplace.

Midnight flamenco on La Rambla, daylight street music by Catedral de Barcelona, tapas at el Nacional with its iniquitous share of head-turning beauties, paella on the Barceloneta sea-front served (and cooked by) Pakistanis, the city’s largest foreign community, veal and Crema Catalana at El Disbarat in the Gracia neighbourhood, owned by my friend’s uncle Guillem and street after charming street of architectural pearls –  t’ have seen what I have seen!


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