Twice in the last few weeks M and I have acted as Barcelona locals or at the very least "seasoned tourists" for some slightly lost looking visitors. By coincidence three out of four of them happened to be Finnish (make of that what you will in light of the current Brownlee upset ...) and the other German. On both occasions it took us all about 20 minutes to find that we'd bumped into those kind of people who you don't need to know for long or well in order to have a fun night out with them.
The first couple we only spent one evening with, drinking one euro cervezas from the "cerveza men" who sell beer on every corner of every central street after hours. Often these beer cans are extracted from underneath a grate or a manhole so it's a good idea to wipe them down before drinking - and of course I guess it's not what you would call legal, just as drinking on the street isn't - nonetheless they're popular with the Barcelona nightlife. Although, like all good salesmen, the vendors are sometimes persistent to the point of annoying. Anyway, the four of us spent a lovely evening on the waterfront talking and laughing and finding the similarities in lives that seem to be completely different.
A week or so later we met another couple cautiously eying Les Tapes, which was full to the brim with regulars. We took them to another bar for some tapas and formed a three day friendship that involved the first jug(s) of sangria we've had since arriving and a party that was shut down by police 20 minutes after our arrival (a complete coincidence, obviously!). Of course we took them back to Les Tapes (which is unmissable if you're ever in Barcelona) and had a delicious meal of gambas (prawns) and fish, which, for M and me, was our first time sitting in the low-ceilinged seating area downstairs instead of at the bar. Afterwards our hosts, the bar's owners, recommended another place to try nearby to round off the night with (as Les Tapes closes at 11.30pm, partly to avoid the neighbourhood complaints that lead to the type of police visits and fines mentioned above ...). They later joined us there after closing for a drink and to share some jokes. In other words M and I now have a surrogate aunt and uncle here in Barcelona and as you can imagine, this is one of the best things you could ask for after being in a foreign city for six weeks.
These are the sort of friendships I think are typical of travelling (at least my preferred way of travelling). They are necessarily short in nature, which may be why they seem to quickly reach a level of camaraderie we sometimes don't find with those we see all the time. Or maybe that is because (in the case of foreigners meeting foreigners) there is immediately a common ground to start from simply due to the coincidence of choosing, from all the cities in the world and all the years and months in our lives, to be in the same place at the same time.
These are probably all relevant, but I like to think friendships like this are also a natural consequence of having or taking the time to stop, ask, talk, listen to people who we might otherwise be too busy or frazzled or fed up to even look at. Goodness knows I can relate to that frame of mind and the accompanying cynicism. And of course, it would be unfair of me to omit the instances we have met people here in a similar vein and found that, in fact, under no circumstances would we normally (want to) associate with them. However ... insert cliche about no pain no gain, diamonds in the rough etc here. It is true though I think that once we get past that initial gathering of mental energy to make the effort we wouldn't otherwise, the good that we can find in and learn from people (hopefully) outweighs ... well, all those other people that we can choose never to speak to again.
(Having said that, despite Barcelona's 1.6 million population compared to Wellington's 400,000, it unsettling how often we bump into the handful of people we have met here just walking down the street, as you would at home. I can only surmise that this is because the city centre is, while much larger, similarly concentrated to Wellington's. In the end the encounters are less obviously because here I do not have 24 years of history with the city waiting around every corner.)
On a completely different and less meandering note, not just Barcelona but many other large cities in Spain completely shut down on Thursday. The March 29 general strike was against labour reforms currently being introduced to combat the country's rather horrific unemployment rate. I can't really enlighten anyone about the politics of it all, but we did wander down to Placa Catalunya to witness the thousands of people, the signs, chanting, police, random smoke in the air around the city ... we actually just missed the tear-gas part of the evening, which was probably fortunate. Going to school in the morning though most shops were shut or had their front grates lifted only halfway, only cautiously inviting customers because doing so was, I believe, a lack of solidarity and traitorous, especially as every business had been warned with flyers on their doors that on March 29 "nobody works, all shops are shut!".
Public transport also ceased, but the worst part was that rubbish collectors and street cleaners were also on strike. Rubbish bins overflowed and spilled onto the footpaths, completely blocking the way. The roads were littered with old fliers, cigarette butts and other random debris. The cleaning only stopped for 24 hours but walking through the city was like navigating through the gross aftermath of a massive party (despite the fact that, due to most places being shut, the city had been much quieter than usual ... apart from all those people protesting, obviously). I really felt for the cleaners who would have 10 times the work to do come the end of the strike. Yesterday morning though, bless them, the streets were back to their relatively clean state ... and that, I think, deserves some respect.
Muchos besos como siempre, hasta leugo!