Home of tapas, conquistadores, and plains with rains, Spain (en Español: "España") is a big country with a lot of contrasting regions. Since it's where most of Latin America's pioneers and conquerers came from, it's also a fascinating look into the origin of so many cultural and social nuances to be found across the Atlantic. Particularly so for me, since I've enjoyed so much of this year in the Latin world. I spent one week here in Spain, to celebrate the start of 2008 in a place where they party like no-one else knows how.
Along with various other new arrivals, one of the people that I met at the much-frequented Kabul bar this evening was a guy from Sicily! This fellow's in his early 30s: and although all his family are from Sicily, he's now living and working in Ireland. He was very impressed when I told him about the Great Sicilian Ride that I did; and he was even more impressed with the fact that I knew where his home village was! He said he was from "near Caltanissetta"; to which I replied: "ah, Caltanissetta! It must also be near Pietraperzia, and Piazza Armerina — I rode through those places." The Sicilian came with us to the Flamenco encore this evening.
Last night's Flamenco was so good, I just had to go see it again. The fact that it was still free, and still next door, also provided plenty of incentive. My friend Deanna (and her buddy Jenny) left this morning; but I had a new crowd to take along to teh show tonight, including my mate the Sicilian. Tonight's show was very similar, but somewhat different: about 2 of the 5 performers were new; and most of the songs and dances were also new. However, the style and the ambiance were identical to that of the first performance. Once again, great fun and a very impressive show.
To continue my wanderings in Barcelona, this afternoon I took advantage of the improved weather, and I decided to go for a walk up to Montjuïc. This hill — literally meaning "hill of the Jews" — holds some of the city's most important landmarks; and from its slopes and peak, it affords gorgeous views of the whole of Barcelona. I started by walking west up Las Ramblas, and by then cutting south, along the main avenue that leads to the hill. I passed between the two towers that guard the main road up to the hill; and I ascended the lavishly decorated hillside that faces this road, and that's flanked by numerous museums, sweeping stairways and grand fountains. After, I wandered further up the hill, getting quite near to the 1992 Olympic Stadium, before wandering down past the teleférico (cable car) that straddles the eastern hillside, ahead of the onset of dark.
I think that my experiences as the victim of theft have finally driven me to the edge of insanity. This afternoon, I was about 15 minutes' walk away from the hostel — on my way to go exploring Montjuïc — when I was suddenly seized by a flash of paranoia. "Oh s$#%", I suddenly asked myself, "did I shut my locker before I left the hostel?" I knew that this random, irrational fear was most likely unfounded: but I also realised that so bad was my paranoia becoming, that if I didn't turn around and return to the hostel straightaway (to check the locker), then I'd have no peace of mind for the rest of the afternoon. So I walked briskly back to the hostel. And, as I suspected, I had indeed remembered to shut my locker, and it was locked safe 'n' sound when I inspected it. Dear G-d: what on Earth is this trip doing to me?!
Over the past few days, I've been developing a bit of a cold. The birthday runs yesterday didn't help, either; although I was already coming down with something before that happened. Anyway, I guess all that partying over Christmas and New Year has finally caught up to me: I am officially sick with the flu now. Mainly just gunk in the 'ol nose and throat — hopefully it won't get any worse than that. So I'm going to have to take it easy, until I shake off whatever it is that I've caught.
This evening, Deanna and I went to see a Flamenco show here in Barcelona. Flamenco is that most famous of Spanish dancing: you know the one, with the Riverdance-like foot-tapping, and the women in long flowing dresses, and the hairy guys twiddling cheesily on their guitars. It was very convenient — it's right next door to the Kabul hostel — and what's more, the show is free for all Kabul guests! The performance was beautiful, dramatic, stern, and yet fun — a combination that nobody can pull off quite like the Spanish can. The jug of sangria that we ordered wasn't bad, either. We caught the 9:30pm show, which was just as well: because the 10:30pm one was totally packed-out.
Facebook: the great online social networking success story of 2007. A few years ago, Facebook was a small and elite little community of American college students, largely unheard-of by the Net at large. Today, it boasts over 60 million users worldwide, and it seems that nobody is free from its ever-expanding influence. I joined Facebook during this trip, in March last year — a mere one month into the voyage — and since then, it's become an ever-more important part of my online life, as well as (surprisingly) an indispensable aid to travelling. It's now reached the point where Facebook has become quite a significant element in the story of this trip. Which is why I feel that the time has finally come to blog about it.
For my third foray into the delicious world of Spanish tapas, today I decided to try a dish called Pimientos del Padron. It's quite a simple one, really: just baby green peppers (i.e. capsicum) lightly pan-fried, and served with a sprinkling of salt. Reasonably filling, and quite tasty; although not the best value-for-money I've ever come across. But then again, value is a rare find indeed, here in Barcelona.
It's downright impossible to believe, but as of today, my life as a 21-year-old has officially come to a close. Today was the big day, Jan Third: happy 22nd birthday to me! I didn't do all that much to celebrate: just the usual hanging out, grabbing dinner, and shmoozing down in the Kabul lounge and bar. I didn't even partake in any birthday drinking: seeing as I was still recovering from an unfortunate lunch, I elected to just sip on water all evening instead. Birthdays are always good: but I must say that as birthdays go, 22 really is something of an anticlimax after the feistiness of 21.
There aren't nearly as many Aussies here at Kabul as there are Brazilians, but there are still quite a few. The two that I got to know the best were Deanna and Jenny, two Brisbane girls with whom I'm sharing my dorm room. Deanna and Jenny both have a biting sense of humour, and they're both here for a short vacation, before they do "that Aussie thing" and head over to England in search of some long-term work. There are also a few other random Aussie guys staying here, and I've seen them down at the bar on most nights. There are some nationalities where no matter where you go, you're never alone — and mine is sure as hell one of them.