The last time I roamed the streets of Barcelona, it was 1994. Hot tub time machine coming on here… When I returned in June, I felt like it was still going to be all tapas and unicorns, but what I realized was that no matter how much you want John Cusack to feed you dollar pintxos while mingling with the locals in a Spanish hole-in-the-wall restaurante, you’re gunna have to get used to the fact that you are now an American, and you must now eat Americanized pintxos on a street with dozens of super-sized pintxerias, served to you by slick, English speaking waiters who come around with trays of obnoxious, overpriced monstrosities that barely have a gleam left of their long lost brothers. Amy tried to warn me, “Shelly, maybe try to keep in mind that you went to Barcelona over 20 years ago…things might be a little different than you remember…” I brushed it off, and was sure that at least the pinxtos would survive. Sadly, I responded to the waiter in English (after my many attempts to engage in Spanish became futile) and thanked him for presenting such beautiful specimens for our pleasure—then turned to Amy and pouted in my most pathetic and whiney face. She just laughed, said she liked the food!, and we both sipped on our (Americanized) sangrias while firecrackers burst from every street corner celebrating the patron saint of something.
I got over my pouting fairly quickly after the pinxtos episode, and knew that I had to see Barcelona in a new way. No more time machines—I was in it to discover the new and unique—let’s do this!
Vermút! THIS was not a thing twenty years ago—at least, it wasn’t an obvious thing—but I was sure as hell glad it was a thing now! The Spanish are insane over this homemade aperitif drink made from white wine, sherry, and spices. It’s a pre-lunch/afternoon drink that you don’t have to feel guilty about ordering. Kinda like a mimosa at breakfast—”It’s a miMOsa! It’s TOtally fine to be drinking at 9 am on a Tuesday.”—Yeah, it’s like that except a few hours later. Each establishment seems to have their own “hecha en casa” recipe to share—some come in huge wine goblets, others in simple peasant style glassware. You can expect a slice of orange inside, and perhaps some olives on a toothpick. Then of course, there’s the free munchies that are served as a side which may include anything from a bowl of pork rinds to a full-on jamón ibérico and manchego with toast. I. Was. In Heaven. I am now experimenting with making my own Spanish Vermút (stay tuned for details!) and feel like this lovely tradition evens out the pity I felt for myself at not being able to relive my 1994 Pinxto past.
During one of our afternoon Vermút strolls, Amy and I met up with some of her friends and shared a table with a local man named Xavier. He was Catalán, spoke perfect English, and was happy to engage us with Catalonian history, modern Barcelonian tips, and just good plain ol’ conversation. Amy continued on to go Gin/Tonic hunting with her friends, and Xavier invited me to join him at a thing called a Microteatre down the street. Intrigued as I was, obviously I said yes & ended up having one of the best experiences of my trip. Always say yes. …Well, unless you know, they’re a creeper or it’s a Dungeons & Dragons club meeting. Xavier explained that the government had stripped the funding for theater away from the city recently, and in protest and solidarity, the actors and actresses of Barcelona banded together and came up with these mini theater productions: Basically, there are 3 shows of 15 minutes each, rotating every 5 minutes, with 5 blocks of shows throughout the day, each containing a slightly different mix of plays. The actors, he told me, are really quite famous—coming from tv shows, movies, and large theater. They do this without pay so that the city can continue to enjoy, despite the budget cuts. What struck me is that these venues are a place for people to hang out before, after, and during the shows, mingling with fellow patrons of the arts, and all kinds really. They are spaces besides bars or restaurants or clubs (even though they do serve wine and beer) which offer a communal feel, and nobody cares if you see one show or twenty—you are welcome to stay in their space as long as you wish. One of the best things about the plays is that the room is a mere ~10X15 feet! The max capacity for the audience was 15 people on small chairs against the wall, so the actors were literally an arms length away from you. It was dynamic, intense, and so much fun! Of course, the plays were all in Catalán, but I managed to understand the gist of them & was proud of myself for laughing on cue, and getting some of the small inside jokes. Probably my favorite play was one called Mujeros. It is set in a time where the government has outlawed anything female, because all women mysteriously and suddenly vanished from the earth. Spanish, as most of us know, is a language that is heavily based grammatically on feminine and masculine, with words ending in either -0 or -a. So, speaking in Spanish without being able to use the -a, and instead having to use -o is extremely unnatural. It was awesome to be able and pick up on the nuances of their ‘new’ language and understand the intricacies of meaning, and just plain ol’ appreciate how hard this must have been for the two actors to speak like that for 15 minutes straight! The far reaching meaning was not lost either, as this comes in the time of the #MeToo movement and women’s rights being manipulated by our leaders. Xavier took me to a restaurant after, where the tables spilled out on the sidewalks, full and bustling at 10pm. We ordered a bottle of white wine, some tapas, and who knows what else. All I can really remember from our dinner is that all of the sudden he asks if he can sing for me. Xavier told me earlier that he had been an amateur opera singer at one time, and loved to sing. Always say yes… Before I knew it, he was standing in front of me, on the crowded sidewalk, ten tables turning our way, looking down at me and singing an operatic love song at the top of his lungs. THIS, my friends, is why I love to travel.
Below: The posters from the three AMAZING plays I saw at the MicroTeatre with Xavier.