Barcelona is trying

I said,

I like it here.

Barcelona is trying.

but not too hard.

I talked with a local — actually a native of Venezuela but I guess she’s been here for a while — who said very vehemently otherwise.

said it with clarity, and texture, and substance.

but still.

I just watched a street sweeper spend several minutes going after a leaf.

I think it might be hotter than what you favor.

but I also think you’d like the way the food and drink are good without making a Thing about it.

there’s a G&T obsession — did you know this already? — and pretty much every dive offers vermut de la casa…which I guess means house-made vermouth.

I had such terrible coffee all throughout France, and it took me getting to Spain to even realize, consider my perspective legitimate, give it voice.

I said this to la patrona at the Basque B&B where I worked for a while

and she was like, “Well, yeah.”

“French coffee sucks.”

“Everyone knows that.”

(except she said it in Spanish.)

here, I’ve figured out how to order what I want, and it’s so consistently excellent and so cheap, and then I sit and watch the old hombres have wine and snails for breakfast.

Barcelona is trying Read More »

pathogens left by a stranger’s mouth on the lip of the mug

The man in a suit breakfasting a few tables down from me on the sidewalk just got up to get something from his car, and a man in a dirty shirt stopped to take a big swig of the café au lait left unattended.

This is someone for whom the 28 dirham prix fixe on a petit déjeuner – such a glorious steal to me – is prohibitively steep, for whom the antimicrobial fetishist horror of pathogens left by a stranger’s mouth on the lip of the cup that I am steeped in and rely on as an anti-half-drunk coffee theft device in the overdeveloped world is a non-consideration in exchange for its rarefied, steaming, bracing contents.

The first man started to yell at the second one, and the second one looked back at the first and picked up the glass to take another big, slow swallow, just about emptying it, and then set it down and sauntered away.

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the wandering yaya

I said,

The wandering yaya in a housedress who is the only other person in the breakfast room here in Hotel Kouros and whose spinal cord — the top half of it, anyway — is LITERALLY parallel to the horizon just came over to give me a pillow because I guess she didn’t like how I was sitting in my chair.

And then she came back a minute later and gave me what I think is some kind of candy — a chocolate ball in blue foil? — and then put a finger to her lips, gesturing to the kitchen where the woman who is working breakfast is, and I’m fascinated, thinking about what the secret is.

Is it that I’m not supposed to have candy but she’s sneaking it to me anyway?

If that’s what it is, Brava, Yaya.

My other idea is that it’s actually like some medication she’s supposed to be taking and she’s like Shhhh, you take it instead, and don’t tell Euphrosyne.

(Euphrosyne is the fantasy daughter-in-law cooking in the kitchen in my mind. )

I wonder if I’m a surrogate in some memory she’s re-living.

Now she has just come back and given me a ribbon that matches the foil on the chocolate ball.

He said,

I like the stories you tell yourself.

I said,


— get ready —

Yaya has brought me a clothes pin.

I thanked her in my limited Greek and clipped it to my knapsack.

She seemed satisfied and moved my bread basket and my salt shaker a centimeter each and went away again.

I think we’ve established something.

the wandering yaya Read More »

breakfast in pieces

My official hotel breakfast is in pieces and keeps coming and coming. A salad with what looks like pressed ham, huge olives, the local cheese, that heady goat schmear, plus a second cheese of unobvious provenance… A boiled egg… Yogurt topped with fruit… Some kind of fritter that appears to have been drizzled with honey and dusted with cinnamon… The coffee is abysmal — my cup’s content is basically hot coffee-tinted milk-water — and the juice I poured myself a generous glass of is super-gross, a sugared blend I can’t quite parse beyond orange and pineapple. But I bet the food is good, even though I don’t prefer an egg boiled hard.

Just as I was sitting down the French couple appeared to have their morning meal, too, and quick-quick-quick I pulled my things from the sprawling central table and went to a little one in the corner, saying, Pardon — je préfère être seule dans le matin parce que je fait l’écriture. I did it! I did it.

This fritter thing is turning out to be a banana pancake. I want butter for my toast, which is now cold, but the communal butter pot sits still on the communal table where the French people are now presiding, and I cannot reengage. And actually maybe I don’t want butter, or toast at all. Really all I want is good coffee, and to be doing this outside. Well. No place is perfect.

There are books everywhere here, which is great. I asked about a trade and Christos said, Trade? No. But you can read while you are here. Maybe a goal for today can be finishing White Noise so I can leave it with him when I go, to everyone’s betterment, enriching his library and lightening my load. The wall art is large printouts of color photographs and lithographs of ancient Greek art stapled to cardboard, and all of the tabletops are slabs of white marble. And I have gone ahead and opened the window by my table and now I can hear the waves again.

breakfast in pieces Read More »

halvah must at its roots mean something much less specific

I said,

This breakfast is GREAT except for the coffee

which is so bad I almost think someone is playing a weird joke

but is more probably a Greek preparer-of-morning-drink’s attempt at American filter coffee

without ever having tasted it

or talked to anyone who has.

The woman working the dining operation just caught me watching her bring Yaya a bowl of something brown, and she held it aloft and said to me “Sweet?” and I said “Okay!”

because what am I doing out here except saying yes to things I don’t understand

and she brought me a matching bowl and, setting it down, said, “Halvah”

which both pleased and dismayed me because I love halvah but definitely can’t eat eight ounces of it…

…and now I realize it’s not remotely a crumbly, flaky brick of ground sesame and honey

but some kind of semolina porridge

with cinnamon on top.

This is one of the things I find interesting in traveling and tasting the world in a linguistically anarchic way

that there are certain words I — we? — understand as evocative of a specific food item, and then you — we? — I — you — get to somewhere far away from where you started and find and ask for a food called by that word and what comes is something totally different, and at first you’re like “WTF this place has got it all wrong,” and then you come to understand that the *actual* word means something pertaining not to the product but to the process

or the texture

or the original ingredient

or some unknowable thing else that is broadly interpretable

and that you just happen to have come to expect this one certain version of

simply because it is the version that took hold in your particular sociocosm of origin.

I mean

“halvah” must at its roots mean something much less specific.

halvah must at its roots mean something much less specific Read More »

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