Hello darlings, it's me LJ. Last week, I went on holiday to Barcelona: it was one of the best things I've ever done in my life. In Barcelona I ate a lot of food and drank a lot of wine and lived a lot of life and heard a lot of songs. Here is the scrappily-told tale of all of them.
BY LAURA JANE
The first meal I ate in Barcelona was a crappy chicken salad at a crappy coffee shop around the corner from my airbnb. Before I ate it I was so hungry I wanted to cry and after I ate it I wasn’t hungry and didn’t want to cry anymore- so I guess it was a success. But it was unromantic. I had just taken a taxi from the airport to the city and was worried that I wasn’t going to like Barcelona. It had looked very worryingly ugly from the back of the taxi; unless you think factories or blank brown boxes of buildings are beautiful, every city is at its peak ugliest when you’re driving into it from the airport. I was shaky and confused when the cabbie dropped me off on Carrer de Tamarit a half-hour early for my airbnb check-in, so I wandered around looking for a place to eat. If I'd only turned left instead of right, I would have figured out that Barcelona is beautiful straightaway, but instead I went the ugly way, where I tried to buy some sort of pre-made wiggly yogurt product and a sickly-looking cup of fruit salad at a dreary-looking cafe. But there was a problem with my bank card, and I didn’t have enough euros to pay for my meal, so I left and found a bank and then the chicken salad place. My inability to pay for my food nor speak Spanish at the wiggly yogurt place had been such an unpleasant ordeal that I knew I could never show my face there again.
A few hours later, after checking into my airbnb and doing whatever little things I needed to do to make myself feel like a human again, I decided to walk to a wine bar called La Vinya del Senyor, which I found out about by Googling “best wine bar in Barcelona.” I filled up my iPod shuffle with Blondie’s entire discography and set out on my journey, shortly into which I was overjoyed to discover that Barcelona is earth-shatteringly beautiful! The streets were dark and narrow but still so spirited, so enchanting, or enchanted. One of my favourite things about Barcelona is its commitment to the colour pale pink. Everybody has swaying laundry and expressive foliage hanging off their terraces. I listened to Debbie Harry sing Bang A Gong (Get It On) and felt about as happy as I know how to.
I walked past a tiny bakery with a display of technicolor marzipan fruits in the front window, and knew that if I didn’t eat a marzipan strawberry at that moment I would spend the rest of my life regretting it, and what’s the point of that? I timidly asked the baker for “one of those,” pointing at the strawberries, but he heard my “those” as “dos” and asked “Dos?” and I decided that, yes, dos was the perfect numero of strawberries for me to eat. What a blessing! I can’t believe how much my life would have sucked if I’d only eaten uno strawberry. I probably would have had to go straight back and buy another one.
The man wrapped my strawberries in tinfoil and I ate them in quick succession while walking through a square. There were palm trees in the square. The strawberries were airy and cakey and tasted like my favourite flavour: fake strawberry. The green tops were made of icing sugar, and offered textural contrast to the spongey marzipan, crackling between my teeth. I thought, “The entire point of my life is that I get to Spain sometimes,” and I imagined myself dying, watching a movie of the finest moments from my life in my head: those strawberries would be a part of it.
La Vinya del Senyor was the best wine bar I've ever been to. I sat out on a patio, across the way from an old crumbling church, and drank two glasses of cava, a 2009 Gran Reserva. The best thing about being a person who knows about wine is that, when faced with literally any wine list, even a mediocre one, you’re immediately able to deduce which wine is most to your taste, so you almost never have to deal with drinking wine that you don’t love. There’s probably no wine in the world I could love more than an aged high-quality cava; it tastes like champagne but is cooler, because it's not.
Cava's got this sort of sharp, yelpy briskness to it, zippy and nimble, like the sound and feeling of snapping a stalk of celery in half. Champagne is heavier, murkier, romantic but illegible, like an old person long-windedly telling you a story from their past.
After my second glass of cava I got up to go to the bathroom and I knocked over my glass and broke it. The staff were very sweet to me about it: “These things happen!” kinda vibes. They didn’t make me feel like I was stupid or drunk. We all just shrugged and got on with our lives.
I stayed at La Vinya del Senyor writing for about three and a half hours. I wrote almost the entire India chunk of my novel. Post-cava, I had a glass of white wine called La Planetes de Nin, which I was intrigued by because the grape was listed as Carinenya, which is definitely a red wine grape. It was as weird as seeing a glass of white Cabernet Sauvignon.
I took a gamble on that glass, but it paid off: it was everything I love in a white wine— nutty, lean, a bit musty, bone-ass dry.
I spent like 50 euros on those three glasses of wine and regret nothing. After paying up, I went on a drunk and peppy wander around the city, looking for a perfect place to eat some dinner, and I was so happy my heart felt swollen. I wanted to talk to Joe Strummer about it. For dinner I had vermouth and empanadas.
I can't imagine myself ever becoming a good enough writer to do Spain justice in writing.
Maybe I love Spain as much as I do because I can’t express it in words; it’s too beautiful. I fell in love with London because when I experience it I need to write it down, I always know exactly how to write about it, how to describe the way the streets look and the way the air feels and the way it makes me feel— but with Barcelona, same as I felt in Galicia, I can’t even bring myself to try. I can tell you about the food I ate, the wine I drank, the things I did, & the songs I heard- but every word I try to write about Barcelona Itself is just not good enough. It's like looking at an unflattering photograph of a beautiful person.
On my way to go eat pintxos, I stumbled past a crazy-gorgeous and very famous cathedral at the exact moment the swayey, tropical first notes of The Tide Is High kicked in on my headphones, and then cried a little bit: because I’m sentimental, and it was just so fucking beautiful! Not a ton of things were actually pale pink but it was all very pale pink in spirit. It reminded me of the pale pink-ness of the cover of Blondie’s The Platinum Collection, a double CD I bought and worshipped and scratched til it couldn’t play anymore fourteen years ago. I never ever considered that I might need them again, but half-a-life later, here I am. Blondie make me think of shimmering gemstones and seashells and Barcelonian pale pink castles. On a personal level, they represent the pinnacle of my own femininity, which I’m interested in connecting with currently. And I can’t help but love Debbie Harry extra for being a Cancer, like me. When you’re a Cancer, it’s hard not to make art that reminds people of seashells a little bit.
Pintxos, with the x in it, is a Basque word; in Barcelona, Catalunya, they’re just pinchos, a word I love much less. Pintxos are like tapas, only they’re all stabbed through the middle with a toothpick, affixing the topping to a hunk of crusty bread. That’s what pincho means: not toothpick, but spike.
The pintxos ordering process was very confusing for me. It is, in my opinion, overly reliant on the honor system. Basically, all the little pintxo dudes are arranged in nice trays and platters at the counter, and you just take whichever ones you want and then find yourself a place to sit and eat them, and then when you’re ready to pay you take your plate up to the counter, with all the toothpicks left on the plate, and the cashier counts how many toothpicks you have, and then you pay. It struck me as being such an imprecise method of payment that I almost felt like throwing a couple of my toothpicks away just to prove myself right.
My pintxos were good, but not as good as I’d wanted them to be. But I’d wanted them to be the greatest thing I’ve ever eaten, which is a lot to ask of a poor pintxo. My favourite was the purplish one, which I mostly chose because I thought it looked pretty—I’m really not sure why it was purple. The only purplish vegetable I can think of is cabbage, which doesn’t taste like anything, so maybe it was cabbage-flavored. Then there was the creamy fishy one with the anchovy on top, which I can’t remember anything about, and then the crab one, which had cheese on it, which I thought I was going to fucking love, since it looked so mayonnaise-oriented and free of nutrition, but it was just kind of bland, and pointless. Eating it was a pointless experience.
While you eat your pintxos, some waiters come around with trays of other pintxos, and offer you those pintxos, tempting you. I said no to a bunch of them and then said yes to a croqueta, since lord knows I love a croqueta. One of the maybe top 7 bites of food I’ve ever eaten in my life was a croqueta. It was at La Carpinteria, in Galicia. But sadly, this croqueta did not compare. It was a whatever croqueta, stupidly toothpicked to a piece of bread that didn't enhance its beautiful croqueta-ness. I drank a glass of cava and finished the India chunk of my novel and left.
That night, I met Ivy. Ivy and I have known each other on the Internet for ten years and know a bunch of people in common but we never got around to meeting each other until yesterday, when were were thirty and thirty-one, when she lived in Barcelona and I lived in London and had recently fallen in love with Spain. I’m kind of happy it took me ten years to get around to meeting Ivy because I really fucking loved Ivy, and it’s good to end things— like the chapter of your life where meeting one of your OG Internet friends is still a thing that you could do— on a high note.
We went to a natural wine bar called Bar Brutal which is now my second favourite wine bar of all time after La Vinya del Senyor. They were serving an Anjou Chenin Blanc by the glass, and since there are few things in this life that I love more than an Anjou Chenin Blanc, we each ordered a glass of Anjou Chenin Blanc. It was straight-up ambrosial, as all great Anjou Chenins are, stupid-luscious and pudding-creamy but still elegant, and though as a rule I don’t love a fruity white wine, there were a few bites of food I had with it where the fruit just screamed, plush peach and sugary pear. After finishing our glasses, we obviously had no choice but to commit to a bottle.
We ordered four dishes to share, which I’d imagined was going to be no food, since I live in London, and I’m so used to paying £15 for, like, three prawns and a puree of something and one piece of fennel and a sprig of micro-green. But it was a lot of food, guys. So much delicious fucking beautiful fucking food: the exact kind of meal that you go to Spain to eat.
We began with an explosion of tuna: canned tuna in olive oil, which I’m thrilled to report was about 20% more delicious than a tuna-sweetcorn-mayo Brick Lane Beigel, something I must admit I doubted tuna could ever be. Maybe, like, five percent better, I thought, but I was low-balling Barcelona by thinking that. Dick move, LJ. And then we had a plate of mojama, which Ivy sounded really cool saying in her proper Spanish accent: it’s a Spanish style of cured tuna, like a fishier jamon. Because I’m me, I decided it was necessary to decide which Beatles each of our four dishes would be if they were Beatles; the mojama was definitely the George. So quiet, but so stolid— it took me until the very end of the meal to realize that it was the dish I’d loved the most. The canned tuna was the Ringo, obvs.
We also had a rilette, which our server— who was Canadian! A Montrealer, who used to work at Joe Beef, and was a truly amazing restaurant professional/human, and I gave him my email address and really hope he hangs out with me when he comes to London in March— had told us what it was made of really early on into the meal, but by the time we were eating it we were drunk and forgot, except I vaguely remember that he’d said it was some percent duck fat, or maybe pork fat— like, a really high percent. That dish was the Paul.
And then we had some octopus: the big show, the John. But we were full up to our ears by the time the John-octopus hit the table, so we didn’t pay very much attention to it: plus, in my memory, it has now been upstaged by later and greater iterations of octopus-eating in Barcelona. Though our server gave us a little dash of a super-funky Gamay to try with it, and it was a perfect pairing, the kind of thing that reminds you why food and wine pairing is a thing, something more than just a snooty and in my opinion pretty antiquated concept for boys-clubby fine-dining sommeliers to jerk themselves off to.
That night was also a very important night because, over the course of my drunk-walk home, I decided that No Imagination is officially and definitively my favourite Blondie song. I fell asleep trying to write a rhyming couplet as cool as “I don’t want to stay with you/I just want to play with you” and failing. But don’t worry guys: I’ll get there one day.
(Hi, me again. I didn't take this picture. Signed, LJ)
The next night, Ivy and I drank two vermouths apiece at La Confiteria, the most beautiful bar in the world, and definitely the number one place I went to in Barcelona that I would most like to chill with Ernest Hemingway at. I mean, maybe not chill- I don't know how chill of a duo Ernest Hemingway and Laura Jane Faulds would be, hanging out in a room together. Ernest Hemingway was my Barcelona role model- every time in Barcelona I was like "Should I get another drink? Should I eat that extra thing?" the inside of my brain was like "CONSIDER ERNEST HEMINGWAY," and then I always just ate or drank the thing.
God I love drinking a vermouth, in the Spanish way, in a rocks glass with rocks and orange and olive. It’s like if drinking a cocktail and drinking a glass of wine had a baby.
Post-vermouth, we met up with Ivy’s boyfriend Breixo and the three of us smoked pot on top of a famous mountain called Montjuic, which means Jewish Mountain, where I connected with my Jewish heritage. That’s not true. Or maybe it is. I don’t know. I can’t tell.
It was the first time I’d smoked pot in several years. I never “quit” smoking pot or anything, I just had to stop doing it, since it started making me wig out all the time and see life from a really darkly negative perspective and what’s the point of doing that to yourself ever, there is none, but I had a feeling that it was going to work properly for me in Barcelona, on top of Jewish Mountain, which I was right about. There are a lot of uncomfortable circumstances surrounding my life right now, but my soul is pure. I know who I am and what I love. And if you’re sure about those two things, than what could there ever be to wig out about?
I thought I was going to get really stupidly high, since I hadn’t smoked pot in so long, but I just got normal high. It was a very cozy familiar place, the exact same high I would have gotten four or five years ago, before the wigging out started happening. It was non-profound. I didn’t want to think about anything challenging or answer any significant life questions. Breixo said his favorite silence in music is the negative space between the words Glass Onion and the drums beginning up again in Glass Onion, and then I spaced out and started wondering about Beatles-silences. It was a relief.
For 10 PM dinner (which is still a difficult concept for me to wrap my head around), we went to a tiny Galician restaurant called 13 de Margarit, where I had one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten in my entire life, and NOT just because I was stoned— sorry, I just had this vision of myself telling someone about how I ate one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten while I was stoned and some boring person being like “Are you sure it’s not just because you were high?” and I’m so irrationally annoyed at that fake person in my mind right now for being unoriginal. High people are obviously/definitely able to distinguish excellence from mediocrity.
Ivy and I shared a bottle of Galician white wine, a Godello-Treixadura-Some Other Grape blend. It was perfect and spunky, smooth on the tongue, like licking a marble tile. Spanish people sound so sexy when they say the word Godello, it’s like the ell syllable catches on something as it separates itself from the d, like a loop of yarn catching on a nail.
You know when food is so good that it just makes you giddy? Like, post-orgasm-level useless? This is why I could never be a food critic: any time I really love eating something, I just giggle, and will never be able to think of anything interesting to say about it, except that it was “good,” which isn't interesting: "The potatoes! They were good!" Cool food review, shitty food critic. But oh Christ they were so fucking good, texturally an absolute gift to sink one’s teeth into, and the meat on top, which is called zorza, and is chorizo-esque— though leaner, a bit drier, less oily— was also So Fucking Good, and the bites that were a piece of potato and a piece of zorza at the same time were Even Fucking Better.
Octopus is my favourite meat. The crunchy and oily skinniest end of the tail, the curlicue, is the best bit. This particular octopus, my second-favourite octopus of Spain, was served on top of the fluffiest mashed potatoes you could ever dream of, like cloud or inside-of-an-Ugg-boot level fluffy.
Another thing I love about Spain is how in Spain they always give you bread, but they give it to you dry: no butter or olive oil. I mean, I'd love it more if they gave you butter or olive oil with it, but I love that the way they don't is proof that you're in Spain.
For dessert Ivy accidentally ordered us three pieces of cake instead of one to share, which I was okay with, since dessert is the part of the meal I care about second-most, after wine. Third-most is quality of bread, and then in second-to-last place comes the food-food. Last place water. “What is this?” I asked about the cake, which looked like something a Fraggle would eat. The shiny gloppy chocolate sauce reminded me of mud in a Pixar movie.
“It’s a cookie-cake,” said Breixo, which was the best case scenario answer to any food-related question I could ask. There’s nothing I could imagine myself wanting to eat more in the world than a “cookie-cake,” except a cookie-cake that was strawberry-flavoured specifically. The cookies in the strawberry cookie-cake would be the kind you can only get in Canada I think, my favourite from when I was a kid: vanilla-crème filled vanila biscuit sandwiches with a circle cut out of the top biscuit, filled in with— not jam, it’s a gummier substance, like whatever a Sour Patch Kid is made of, only dusted with sugar, not gross synthetic sour-substance. I don’t remember what they’re called, or if they’re even called anything. I’m sitting at the Barcelona airport right now, sitting in this disgusting humid semi-café that smells like they’re having some toilet-related plumbing issues if you catch my drift, wasting all the data on my phone trying to find out the name of these cookies— I’m literally surfing the “Dare” brand website as we speak.
I hate Dare. They’re not pulling through for me. I don’t care about their stupid boulangerie fucking sundried tomato fucking baguette bites. I’m so miserable suddenly. I hate “El Prat” aeroporta or whatever the fuck. I just want to fly home on a plane to Canada and take a cab straight to a Loblaws and buy a box of those cookies and then finish writing this sentence by telling you the name of them and it would be as satisfying for you as it would for me, and then I’d get back in the cab and have the cabbie take me to a boy’s house, my man’s house, and I’d see him and be like, “Surprise! I'm home! Don’t even kiss me, I have to eat like three of these cookies first.” And then I’d eat four.
The next morning I hiked up Jewish Mountain and then met up with Ivy. We were going to go visit her house. On the way, we stopped into the Supermercat and stocked up on everything we needed to get us through a day: Vichy Catalan water, which is sparkling and salty, a bottle of Verdejo with a very well-designed lable featuring a picture of a hot brunet with a big smear of red over his face on the front, a bag of Haribo Fresones, two packs of gum, and then I also bought a watermelon lip balm, just for kicks.
When we got off the train, we stopped into a homely little place that I never learned the name of, and I wasn’t very hungry, a fact I shouldn’t have paid any mind, since the bites of food I ate there were the best I had all week, and then I ended up forgetting to eat any real food for the rest of the day anyway.
We each had a glass of Rioja Crianza, which was gorgeous but, weirdly, served cold. Ivy ordered a tortilla with mushrooms and pan con tomate, and then a thing of chickpeas and baby octopi in a sauce that was so warm and nourishing, it made me remember the feeling of being hugged by my dead French grandfather- that was my favourite octopus of Spain. We talked about how we’re both really bad at figuring out what herbs and spices are in things, unless it’s really obvious- coriander, mostly, is the only one that I can tell. I have no idea what was in the sauce, except for good vibes, and also tomatoes.
At Ivy’s I drank the white wine, which was perfect in the same way that the Godello had been perfect the night before, I ate some of my Haribo Fresones and started freaking out about how good they were: even better than the previous winner of my “best Haribo I’ve ever eaten” sweepstakes, which were the Haribo Orangina bottles that Matt King and I ate in Paris. Sorry, Haribo Orangina bottles— you’re out.
We left the house and took the metro to the record store, where I stood around and talked to dudes and drank a bottle of Estrella Galicia. Ivy bought me an electric blue t-shirt with a picture of a smiley face on it. It’s the logo of her new roommates’ record label. It was so nice of her to buy it for me. I love Ivy. When we were at Bar Brutal she asked me, “What’s your hair like?”— it was one of the best questions I’ve ever been asked. I love talking about my hair.
The last place we went to in Barcelona was called 33/45, only you say the numbers in Spanish cuz it’s Spain. We went there so I could look at the picture of the Beatles in India on the wall. I looked at it, and said what all the Beatles were “like” in the picture (“Paul is cuting it up for the camera,” etc), which is my favourite game. We drank one vermouth each, and then I had to leave. It was lame to say goodbye to Ivy, but we came up with some ideas for how we can see each other again soon. I left her outside an Indian restaurant— she was going in to eat some saag paneer. I would have gone with her, obviously, but I had a very important Skype date that I didn’t wanna miss.
My iPod shuffle played me Holiday Romance by the Kinks as I walked away from my friend and my week. I texted Ivy to tell her, “It’s our song!”
The first time I went to Spain, I wrote the sentence “Spain is my George Harrison’s India” down in my notebook, and then I tweeted it, because it was such a pretty sentence and less than 140 characters and such a beautiful truth to have finally figured out about myself. And I like to share things— mostly sentences— with other people.
I booked my plane ticket to Barcelona the day I got back from my trip to Galicia: I’d needed to know that I’d get to go to back to Spain again. I think I’m going to go to Granada next, because Granada was Joe Strummer’s favorite Spanish city and, in addition to being my George Harrison’s India, Spain is also my Joe Strummer’s Spain. But I’m not going to book a ticket to Granada when I get home in a few hours (I’m on the plane right now)— I’m not too worried about it. I know for sure now: I’ll always go back to Spain. I’ll go to Granada and Madrid and Seville and Valencia and San Sebastian and Bilbao and I’ll come back to Barcelona. But most of all, I’ve got to get back to Galicia. I left a piece of my heart there. I’ve got to go back and pick it up.
After Holiday Romance was over, I pressed forward forward forward forward forward forward forward on my iPod shuf until I got to 11:59 (the most poignant, the most sophisticated Blondie song, in my opinion)— I needed to listen to Debbie Harry sing “Today can last another million years” and think about Spain at the same time.
I realized, then, how drunk I was. Not, like gross-drunk, but I was on my way to go talk to a boy, a man I mean, and I wanted to be good for him: non-slurry, and intellectually on point. I wanted to sober up a little bit and then go back to drinking— I was still carrying the bottle of Verdejo in a cat-print tote bag that Ivy’d lent me, and it was beginning to feel like an extension of myself— I popped into a Supermercat to buy myself a snack, but I felt intimidated by the alien environment, and I didn’t know what to get myself, and I started to leave because it was stressing me out, but I knew if I left I’d suddenly be on a distracting mission to find something amazing to eat, and I was too excited to talk to him, I couldn’t bear to spend a single extra second devoted to this new other task.
So I decided to buy myself an ice cream cone, a Cornetto thing, since I’d been seeing them advertised all over town all week and the advertising worked on me. I didn’t even bother with choosing a flavour, just grabbed whichever one was closest to me. It cost one euro.
I ripped open the paper packaging with my teeth. The ice cream was stale, because it’s winter, too cold for ice cream in a Spanish person’s opinion. But it was definitely ice cream-eating weather by Canadian standards. I didn’t run home, I power-walked, and my iPod played me Common At Noon by the Real Kids and I didn’t want to listen to it because it’s too sad, but I also didn’t want to waste the time it would have taken me to find a more appropriate song, so I rolled with it.
When I got to my building I ran up four flights of stairs, and then put the end of the Cornetto cone in my jacket pocket while I unlocked the door. I said hi to the German teen making pasta and then ate the end of the ice cream in my bedroom. Don’t worry, it didn’t get any lint on it, nothing gross like that.
I already don’t remember anything about what my Cornetto cone tasted like but I will always remember everything about what it felt like to be myself that night. I was one of the sweetest LJs I’ve ever been, scarfing down a pre-packaged ice cream treat while booking it through the streets of Barcelona, which I knew could floor me with their beauty if I’d let them— but I wouldn’t. All I wanted was to make it home in time to sit cross-legged on the airbnb floor in front of my gunky MacBook air, look at the pixelated picture of an amazing person's face and tell him all my stories, watch him look at mine, and listen to his stories too.
And that’s what I love most about this story: that I cared more about a person than I did about the city. I’m proud of myself for being too smart to fall into that same old trap:
I always used to try and make a city be my answer. New York was supposed to fix everything, and London was supposed to fix everything, but the only thing that ever fixed anything was me. I don’t want to move to Barcelona; I vow never to ruin Spain for myself by living there. I just want to go back home, to Toronto, hang out with my parents and my buddies and those cookies and my man. I want to find out the names of those cookies and eat them on the regs. I want to make a cake out of them.
I want to learn Spanish and decorate a new apartment and dream about marzipan strawberries. I want to go back to Spain once a year every year. I want to get good enough at writing to write a Spain novel and I want my Spain novel to win a prize. I want some writer in the future to fall in love with some other country, France or Thailand or Japan or wherever, and I want her to wander the streets with hearts for pupils like I did, and I want her to think, this place is my Laura Jane's Spain.