My Barcelona Birthday



In Barcelona I lived in a little room that was also a house. It was connected to Ivy’s house, a regular house, through the back garden, and in the mornings I’d wake up later than I wake up in London but still pretty early for being a person on holiday, and I’d fix myself a cup of coffee and a bowl of Kefir & bran flakes and eat my breakfast outside, alone with my phone, the sunlight dissolving into my skin.

In 2016 my birthday fell on a Friday, which was also Brexit Day. I woke up and crawled across my mattress to go check my phone and the first message I read was from my flatmate Charlotte. She wished me a happy birthday and then apologized for her country being stupid, but my brain couldn’t understand what she was saying— I’d been so sure that Brexit wasn’t going to happen that my first thought was, “Well, Brexit obviously didn’t happen, but something else must have,” and then I looked at Twitter and realized that Brexit actually did happen, and I felt a lot of complex feelings at once, the most immediate being straight shock. I felt like a traitor for not being in England, which I realized that morning really has become my home. Then I felt a lot of personal feelings about Brexit’s relationship to my own moving back to London in the future, which were disturbing, and then I remembered that it was my birthday, and selfishly felt annoyed at Brexit for ruining my birthday. That feeling then mutated into my feeling perversely thrilled by the theatre of it all, imagining my future self telling an amusing anecdote about the time Brexit ruined my birthday, and then I felt guilty for being selfish enough to think such a selfish thought, and then I ate my breakfast and smoked a hundred cigarettes and settled into an awkward, hesitant state of acceptance. Then I went for a Spain-run. 

Spain-runs were some of the most beautiful times of my entire trip. I ran faster and harder than I ever knew I could there, I didn’t run I zoomed, a blur in the dry heat. The whole world flashed by me in a sassy color-wash of pastel peaches, seashell pinks & baby blues. I ran past orange trees and old people, I felt I was making a point about youth & the beauty of it: “Don’t worry, I’m appreciating this,” I wanted to stop and tell the old people, “My body is functioning marvellously. I am thirty-one years old today.”
        The whole world was so warm, the whole world had a tan. I thought, “This is why they named the Valencia filter Valencia.” The streets were made of sand. I thought about running forever, never stopping running, running til I died. I listened to Obviously Five Believers and then Otis by Kanye and, for my final leg, did the corny embarrassing thing of listening to Birthday by the Beatles on my birthday. I was in Spain. I thought, “This is why you have done everything you have ever done.” I thought, “Life has brought you here.” I thought, “I have brought myself here,” and then ruined the moment for myself by thinking, “STOP! Stop enjoying yourself. You’re not allowed to feel joyful. Think of all your friends back home in London. It’s grey and rainy there, and their entire country has just fucked itself; yours hasn’t, you're Canadian, you have a handsome young prime minister with a tattoo on his bicep that is ugly but hey, a tattoo’s a tattoo. His birthday is on Christmas Day, and soon you’re going to be able to buy pot at the liquor store, and it won’t say your gender on your driver’s license.”
       That was when I decided not to let Brexit kill my birthday vibe. I thought, “I’d choose Brexit Day being on my birthday over Brexit Day being not on my birthday,” and I felt grateful to have dodged the bullet of being in crap-vibes Brexity grey-day London for my birthday, and ran back to Ivy’s, and took a shower, and my hair looked fucking great that day. It had turned a little bit amber from the sun.

I got dressed in my birthday outfit of psychedelic fruit-print Speedo with white denim miniskirt, black Posh Spice tank top that makes my shoulders look cut as fuck, contact lenses and the black-and-platinum semi-cat-eyed sunglasses I stole from a chick who left them at my work. I watched her walk away and knew I could run after her but I didn’t, because I wanted to keep them, and was too lazy to run. I run enough.

I lay in the hammock listening to Fourth Time Around over and over again and sent good vibes to London on Instagram. Toronto woke up and cared less about Brexit and wished me happy birthday and Ivy put out a plate of tinned white asparagus with salt & pepper on top and I ate the stalks with my fingers. I only ever want to eat food with my fingers, ripping off little pieces one by one, getting dirty. We opened up a bottle of aged Rioja and ate dark chocolate that melted in the heat and I had a bit of pasta, but not much, because I wanted to save myself for ice cream. We talked about I don't remember what and two-and-a-half hours flew by in about ten minutes. We didn't leave the house until almost five PM. I thought “This is Spain, this is why you need Spain"- in Spain, time moves both slower and faster. It’s always later than you think it should be, but it takes forever to get there, but you don't notice it takes forever, because you’re in Spain, and no one cares. In Spain, I felt like a “fast-paced London go-getter.” I tried, at first, to make time pass in the way that I felt like it should, but Spain didn’t care. I only kind of did.


We left the house and went to go get ice cream. It was a holiday, an actual holiday, because of course in Spain my birthday is a holiday. It’s a holiday about the summertime. 

We were worried that the ice cream place wouldn’t be open because of the holiday but the ice cream place was open. The walls of the ice cream parlour were the colour goldenrod, and there were green & black art deco illustrations of ice cream sundaes stencilled onto it. The cherry on top of the sundae in the picture was the colour black. I looked at all the tubs of ice cream and was so happy that they were ice cream not gelato. I wanted all of the milk, none of the shredded up ice. Ivy translated the ice cream names from Spanish into English and I asked her what Crema Catalana meant. She said it was like crème brulee, only Spanish, and I remembered that I’d made a rule for myself many years ago, that if I’m ever eating at a restaurant and crème brulee is on the menu I have to order it, so I had a scoop of that and a scoop of yogurt, spelt iogourt, with a hot swirl of strawberry jam mixed though, on a waffle cone, which came wrapped in a neon green napkin. Ivy had something in a cup, I forget, because I didn’t care, I’d made the perfect choice for myself, and nothing else in the entire world mattered, least of all Brexit, because I was eating ice cream in the summer sunshine on a bench in Barcelona, and I thought it was the afternoon but it wasn’t, because I was in Spain. 

We got to the beach around 6 PM. It was a little bit stupid, the beach; I’d forgotten that other people were going to be there. Ivy and I lay out our towel, which we’d been proud of ourselves for remembering to bring, and I drank a drink called Kiss, which was a cherry-flavoured cider. It tasted like a ring-pop. 
        It was colder at the beach than it was in regular Barcelona, and that irritated me. I wanted the beach to be the hottest place I ever was, but I'm not one to let a minor weather problem get me down on my birthday, so I decided to go sit in the ocean, and have my little ocean moment. I attached my iPod shuffle to the top of my swimsuit and thought I’d go sit in the shallowest part of the water and listen to Bob Dylan in the ocean, but the ocean didn’t care. It just wanted to be its own self and splash its salty body all over me and not give a fuck about whether it did or didn’t electrocute me to death.
        I got up out of the ocean and walked back to Ivy and our towel. “Listening to music in the ocean’s not really happening for me,” or something, I said, and put my iPod shuffle in my backpack. I walked back to the ocean and swam into it. It was cold at first, but then I adjusted to its temperature, and it stopped being cold. The wateriness of it made me need to pee but I decided not to pee in the ocean; I wanted to prove to it that I was a class act. I don’t know how long I spent in the ocean but it was longer than I'd expected. I couldn’t leave it. I kept thinking that I was about to leave it but then I couldn’t. It was green and glittery and viscous, like Jello. I wanted to cry because it felt so good, but I couldn’t cry, because I was too happy even to cry tears of joy. Tears of joy are for when there’s some element of tragedy permeating your happiness, but nothing about my life was tragic at that moment. I knew everything then. I saw my entire life in perfect perspective and the deepest truth of my life was that swimming in the ocean was a cooler and better and more beautiful thing to do than anything else I’d ever done. It was the opposite of transcending. It was the stupidest version of existing, so stupid and simple, it was nothing, it was absolutely fucking nothing. I wished I could stay in the ocean forever until I died of thirst or hunger but not in an eating disordery way, I wouldn’t even care that I was hungry or be proud of how cool I was for not eating, and I wouldn’t even notice if I died, because if dying’s all it’s cracked up to be it would feel the same as that type of living did. 


We talked about British slang that I will miss. I said “Great shout,” and Ivy said, “It’s like good call, only amplified.” We walked through the fairgrounds of the ’92 Olympics, and I realized that the ’92 Olympics were the first time I’d ever heard of Barcelona. Before then, I’d only heard of one Spanish city, Madrid. Madeline from the storybook Madeline spelt out the name of the city Madrid in blocks, or maybe a dog did. I forget now.
        “On a scale of 1 to the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen, what would you rate that statue?” asked Ivy, and I rated it a 6.7, but she meant a different statue. She made a joke about a closed down restaurant named OMG BARCELONA and it was so funny I wanted to write it down but instead I forgot it. We took the train back into the city and went to dinner at a restaurant named Canete. It was all full up except for two seats at the bar so we sat at them. They became ours.

The restaurant was a classy proper restaurant. The floor was heart-print and I felt like it was the year 1942. It made me want to dance with a boy the way girls danced with boys in the year 1942. I wish we all knew how to dance that way still. I think about it all the time, how cool and fun life must have been when you could take a minute out of every social situation you’re ever in to get up and go have a dance. A cool jitterbug. Everyone would have their own little dance style and you’d know it about them, “This is how so-and-so dances.”
       The waiters were all wearing uniforms that made them look like they worked on a ship. Our waiter was old-ish, and reminded me of the minor Mad Men character Jimmy Barrett. He was a career waiter, and I wasn’t charmed by him. We saw him again, the next night, at a bar. He was wearing a Ramones t-shirt, and I still disliked him. I didn’t want to waste my time listening to him trying out his shtick on me, either in English or in Spanish, at either place. He was talking about my Beatles tattoos. He sang Penny Lane.

We sat in front of a glass cabinet full of fish. Ivy pointed at a raw scallop with an orange gallbladder attached to the side of it and said they were her favourite. I don’t know if the orange bit was really the scallop’s gallbladder but regardless my brain thought of it as such. We ate some of them. We ate them off of seashells, and they had jamon on top. “Great shout on the jamon,” I said.

We drank a bottle of natural Garnatxa from Montsant that tasted like how I wanted it to taste. We pretended we were the stars of an Anthony Bourdain-style TV show where we travel all over Spain and the world eating food and saying hilarious and astute things about it. We shared a bowl of salmorejo, which is my new favourite food. I don’t know why I like it, since it is basically just cold baby food made out of tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and stale bread, and I don't even like tomatoes. I ate it twice in Spain; I had it again the next day, and I liked it even better that time. My big project for August, along with learning how to play the bass and sing Subterranean Homesick Blues at the same time, is going to be teaching myself how to make salmorejo. It’s going to be my thing: “Laura Jane makes a mean salmorejo,” everyone will say. And then I will have a spin-off of Ivy and I’s pre-existing food travel TV show that is only about me eating salmorejoSalmorLJo


I got up to go the bathroom. At the back of the restaurant was a group of ten middle-aged men and one middle-aged woman. I thought they were German for no reason, but they turned out to be French. I felt sorry for the one woman, and made up a story about how the men all agreed to go on holiday and then the one wife, that woman, called up all the other wives and was like, “So, we’re going on the holiday to Barcelona with the guys, right?” and the other wives were like “Yeah,” so she bought herself a plane ticket, but then the other wives all flaked out one-by-one, came up with fake excuses so they wouldn’t have to go, and the poor one lady was stuck being the only wife on the lads’ holiday, but she seemed to have a pretty good attitude about it, so I respected her for that.
        All of the men were dumpy and ugly except for one, who I named Luc. Luc was literally the handsomest man I’ve ever seen. He was as handsome as a movie star, and if he’d been a movie star, he’d be one of the movie stars that I find more attractive than all the other movie stars, like Michael Fassbender or Hugh Grant.
        Luc was sharp-featured and a tad ferrety. He had ice-blue eyes and tidy salt-and-pepper hair and a plaid button-up and stupid sneakers meant for hiking. He was the silver fox to end all silver foxes. When I came back from the bathroom I told Ivy I’d just spotted the handsomest man I’ve ever seen so when you next get up to go to the toilet keep your eyes peeled.

The waiter brought over a tray of all the desserts to look at and we chose one that when translated into English was called a “chocolate stick.” It had a hazelnut on top. I called the hazelnut my birthday hazelnut. I ate my birthday hazelnut and made a wish on it.
        Luc and his pals trotted up to the front of the restaurant with their waiter to sniff a bunch of expensive Scotches and decide which they were going to have as their digestif and I covertly took a pic of Luc so I could remember what his beautiful treat of a face looked like forever. His perfect face was a birthday hazelnut.
        We finished our meal and I made a big deal out of how cheap it was compared to how much it would have cost in London. It was a hundred euros. Ivy asked me how much it would have been in London and I said: a hundred and sixty seven pounds.

(Luc is the guy in the striped shirt OBVIOUSLY.) 

We went outside and smoked a cigarette next to the restaurant. Luc and his friends came out and a bunch of them smoked but I don’t think Luc did. That’s why he aged so well I guess. Luc and one of his dumpy friends came up to us and told us we were standing in front of the door to their casa and we giggled and apologized and ran away. Then they started laughing and it turned out that they were just pranking us. “You guys!” we shrieked, and I felt high off the thrill of having had an interaction with Luc.
       I pretended to take some pictures of Ivy that were actually pictures of Luc and then we went back to talking about whatever drunk thing we happened to be talking about. A few minutes later Luc walked up to me, looked me square in the eye and told me some sleazy thing like the night wasn’t over yet or whatever and I should go get a drink with him and his crew. All I could think was “Immerse yourself in the delight of looking at this perfect face, Laura Jane.” 
       I knew that if I wanted I could have fucked Luc in a hotel room that night. I could have drunk a lot of expensive champagne for free. I briefly entertained the possibility but ultimately couldn’t be bothered. It was midnight and I was sun-drunk and drunk-drunk and food-tired and tired-tired. I wasn’t in the mood to have sex with anyone, least of all a fifty-five year old French stranger with whom I would have had nothing to talk about except maybe wine, and Brexit.
        Luc fulfilled his function by giving me the validation of being hit on by the most attractive man I’ve ever seen in my life on the night of my thirty-first birthday. I couldn’t possibly explain how monumental that was for me without becoming very transparent about the extreme amount of shitty that my eating disorder consistently makes my life, which is a bit of a crap vibe to have to introduce into an otherwise light-hearted piece of writing, but fuck it:
       The drone of the eating disorder voice inside my head never goes away. It’s never not there. After twenty-five years of co-existing with it I’ve gotten pretty good at tuning it out, but it’s so persuasive— it would have been the captain of its high school’s debate team, if it had gone to high school. I’ve accepted, at this point, that I can't beat it, all I can do is try my best to “manage my symptoms.”
        I try to reason with it, and sometimes we’re able to compromise, but just as often, it refuses to back down. It’s so loud and attention-starved and horrible. Sometimes I have the energy to fight with it; more often than not, I'm too lazy
        I feel so silly admitting this, but this Luc thing, the stupid anecdote of the most attractive man I’ve ever seen hit on me on the evening of my thirty-first birthday, is some of the strongest ammunition I’ve ever had against my eating disorder’s go-to bone to pick with me: “No one will ever love you, because you eat too much food, and subsequently look so awful.”
       My eating disorder loves a stretch. Of course it'll mine its bag of tricks for some weakass comebacks to my reminding it about the Luc thing: “He didn’t really think you were hot. He was just a prankster. He was pranking you.”
        “That’s highly illogical,” I’ll tell it, and it will never listen to me; that’s just not its vibe. But sometimes I will listen to myself. 


My birthday is my favourite holiday, because it's only mine, and my second-favourite holiday is a tie between every single time I've ever gone, and will go, to Spain. 
        Spain is my place, my paradise. In Spain, I don’t have to worry about jobs, or men, or my eating disorder, or dying. I don’t have to figure my whole life out, because in Spain the answer's really obvious: all I have to do is whatever I have to do to make sure that I get myself back there, to the magical place where time doesn’t matter, where black-and-white switches to technicolor and mono turns to stereo, where every song is by the Beatles and Beatles songs sound so goddamned good that what’s the point, what’s the point even, of anything else, ever. I need to be back there, I can’t be sitting here, I hate my bedroom floor and I hate the grey sky and I hate everything I’ve ever loved. 
       I'll never live in Spain; I can’t ruin it for myself by having a job there. My heart would implode. I’d have nothing to look forward to. I’d die.