Architect Antoni Gaudi has without doubt, given Barcelona its unique brand. And as a person interested in cities, architecture and buildings, and what makes them work, I decide to check out La Pedrera…aka Casa Mila..an apartment building built by Gaudi in the early 1900s for the Mila family… – they lived in one of the apartments and rented out the others. The building is extraordinary, and attracted much ridicule at the time (including the nickname ‘La Pedrera’ – meaning ‘The quarry’). I don’t know much about Gaudi, but understand he was deeply religious, and believed that nothing we create wasn’t created by God first…and that nature’s way was the best way. Thus, since there are very few straight lines in nature, Gaudi built everything….curvy. I tried to think what God’s version of the mobile phone is…the original Greek marathon runner perhaps? And maybe the Pony Express. Yep, He got there first.
It’s been more than a week and I still have no hot water en me ducha. Before she left for Munich, Maria explained that in her accommodation, it takes 3 minutes for the hot water to heat up. Well…I stand under the cold shower for more than 3 minutes and there is still no hot water…nevertheless, I take on board Maria’s comment and the next time I need to wash my hair, I go into the bathroom, and let the shower run while I brush my teeth. It’s not hot when I finally get under the shower…but it is warmer…and then, about 5 minutes later…Yes! it’s actually hot. Maria, you are a genius.
I’ve been struggling a little in class. The teachers are speaking almost entirely in Spanish…for me it’s like being intermittently deaf…sometimes I completely understand …and I hear them speaking slowly, and repeating themselves in slightly different words. Other times I have understood barely a word..and I can see my bewilderment reflected back at me….I know they have spoken slowly and simply…but I have still missed what they have said. So, they do occasionally resort to English, supplemented by scribbling on the whiteboard. I haven’t missed everything, but sometimes I miss some crucial stuff. At the end of one lesson, I ask Valentina to explain some verb endings….and in another, the penny drops when she explains that ‘hace‘ simply means ‘ago’ when using the past tense. I’m learning from the young ones.
Profesor N, who runs the end of day informal discussion class, is funny and scary. Scary because he will ask for a voluntario or simply point and say ‘Tú!‘…and make someone stand up and write on the whiteboard. Today, he makes a list of all the nationalities present in the class: 1 x Australian (Emily), 1 x Dutch (Philippe), 3 x German (Miguel, Karl and Phillip), 1 x Chinese (Valentina), 2 x British (me and newly arrived 19 year old Tony from Manchester who gives me a cheery wave from the other end of the class), 1 x American (Drew, from California, who lives in Barcelona with his Catalan girlfriend and is in Spain mainly because it has the most difficult mountain-climbing routes in the world).
I’m sitting next to Drew. There’s something about him. Like all the 20-somethings he’s young and handsome…but there’s something. He’s distracted…and maybe melancholic…or something. There’s just a feeling of unease….like he doesn’t fit in. Profesor N proceeds to ask us to list all the positive and negative stereo-types about each nationality, which we must then write, in Spanish. Then we have to do the same for the Spain. There is a moment of awkwardness when we realise we could all land ourselves in hot water…but we come up with this: Germans: Efficient and serious; good at football and drinking beer. Dutch: Tall; flower-loving; multi-linguists. Brits: Often drunk; lazy at languages; arrogant; rich (tiene dinero)…but our education system is highly-rated. Chinese: Forever taking selfies; extremely hard-working; polluted cities. Australians: Barbeque-loving beach-goers; good at sport, especially cricket. Americans: Love guns and war; fast food; tall, obese people; loud; centre of the entertainment industry and capitalism; liberty. In spite of how this looks, all was conducted in a spirit of fun/jest. And Drew managed to hold his own…calmly stating that, yes, America has a very strong military.
For Spain, there is a very extensive list, starting with ‘siempre, ir de copas, ir de tapas, ir de café’ (always, let’s go for a drink/tapas/coffee); mañana; family-orientated; late eating; inefficient bureaucracy; love dogs; muchas fiestas; disfruta la vida (enjoy life). At the end of the class I add a few more bods to the Whatsapp group. Incidently, whatever class we are in, afterwards, Valentina will whisper to me (after encountering a new nationality), that she is most keen on German lads…or maybe French ones…aren’t Australians handsome…and doesn’t Tony look like Prince Harry? I vaguely remember that in your 20s, everyone is a prospect…
I decide to walk all the way home – should take about an hour. As I approach La Sagrada Familia, I joyfully remember I now have hot water…but the shower drain is running even more slowly, with water almost brimming over the edge of the shower tray and on to the floor. I pass a ferreteria (hardware/DIY shop). Blocked drains are something of a busman’s holiday for me..I know exactly what to do…and I take the initiative. I know that a drain is a desägue, having already mentioned it to Sñra T. What’s the word for ‘slowly’?…I remember Justin Bieber and come up with ‘Hola, buenos tardes. Hay un problema en mi ducha. Desägue correr despacito’. Amazingly, this is understood by the Asian chap behind the counter…but as expected, I don’t understand his response. He resorts to google translate (or similar) and types out that he has a very strong product, but it must not be used with other chemicals. ‘Acido?’ I ask. Sí. he says. This will likely be too strong. I say that I must pregunta (ask) la Señora de la casa first. Proud of having tried, even though I haven’t achieved anything, I decide that I will find the Spanish equivalent of Mr. Muscle drain cleaner in a largish supermarket if I can find one…and I do. And I take it home. And I tell Señora T (in mangled Spanish), that I manage property at home, and the shower drain has got worse, and I bought this stuff in the supermercado...shall we give it a go? Sí, she says. And I read out the instructions in Spanish, which she follows..and 30 minutes later…we have a clear running drain!!! Yay!