Thursday, February 26, 2009

Carnaval: The Sacred Festival of Preparation for the Holy Seaon of Lent

...And by that I mean drinking and dancing on the beach, of course.

As all of you know, this past Tuesday was Fat Tuesday, the day to go wild and eat and drink and party before Ash Wednesday and Lent. Some of you may have even gone to Mardi Gras down in New Orleans. Well, that's basically what I did...except in Spain it is known as Carnaval, and the giant celebration spans the entire week, culminating on Tuesday night with a giant parade, fiestas on the streets, and the biggest dance party you've ever seen on the beach. And by that I mean the biggest dance party you've ever seen...which just so happened to occur on the beach. Not just the biggest dance party that you've ever seen occur on a beach. It's very important to note that distinction.

In addition to all of that, Carnaval is basically like Halloween in Spain, so there were people all over the city in masks and crazy costumes. I was also told that the city we were going to, Sitges, is the gay capital of Catalunya, the Spanish province that Barcelona is in. This was confirmed by the parade which seemed to be composed of about 70% drag queens. However, I paid little attention to the parade, which I slightly regret, as we made our way from the train directly to La Playa..the beach.

The city itself was a mess of confetti, glitter, trash, beer/liquor bottles, cops, and drunk kids. I'm trying to think of a good comparison, but unless you've been to Mardi Gras I'm not really sure how else to describe it. I'm sure most people who live in Sitges were partying as well, but I feel bad for anybody in the general area who was not in the mood to party, because their hometown was raging until at least 7 in the morning. And I can't imagine the army of people and the amount of time it would take to clean up the giant fi-mess-ta that was Carnaval in Sitges.

First off, we elected not to take the buses from Barcelona and try our luck on the train. In the end, we saved about $1oE, and the frustration after people's buses back did not show up and they had to take the train anyway. The train on the way was ridiculous. At each door at the major station where people get on, there were 2-3 police officers whose sole purpose was to pack the trains as tightly as possible. As we were waiting in the giant crowd pushing towards the door, I started asking people when the next train was coming, because there was no way we were going to get on this train. But oh, how wrong I was. Well, I actually wasn't that wrong, because I was literally the last person let on the train...rather forced onto the train. As the doors were closing I was pinballed back and forth between the back of the person in front of me and the cops hands pushing me, but I made it. I've never been in a more perfect situation to use the phrase "packed like sardines," but the train ride wasn't so bad considering i had a full flask to accompany me. I had gotten a bit split up from my friends...about one foot...which meant there were like 15 people in between us, but like I said it was fine. It was enjoyable when the whole train erupted into this Spanish drinking song:
In English, they're saying: "Alcohol, alcohol, alcohol! We came here to get drunk and the result doesn't matter at all!" Also, I still have a bit of a blood spot in my eye from the little incident I recounted in my last post, and two Spanish people thought it was some special contact lens to go along with my costume. I had to explain to them the whole story, but we ended up having a nice little conversation.

I probably should have said this earlier, but I was dressed as a pirate. For throwing it together in a day or so I think i looked pretty darrrrrrrrrrrn good. My costume consisted of: white button-down shirt, black vest (my senora's), gray pants rolled up a bit (capri-style apparently), a black scarf i tied around my waist to hold my sword (also senora's...the scarf not the sword), and this cheap pirate hat I bought at this shop around the corner. Now, you may be wondering..."Hey, Joe, what about an eye patch?" Well, I'll tell you. The eye patch was actually the whole reason I decided to be a pirate. I'm not super self-conscious about my eye, but it still looks a little weird with that big blood spot, so I thought having a costume that allows me to cover it up would be a perfect idea. Well, I bought an eye patch, and I brought it with me...but I somehow forgot it in my friend's room before we went out. An Alanis Morisette song comes to mind. Oh, well.

But, back to the action. We got off the train around 11 or 11:30 and I'd say by midnight at the latest we made it to the beach. Right on the boardwalk-type area, there were 2 giant with a DJ and some sound equipment, and the other that was selling drinks. There were also two..I think there were bottle and one can..20 foot tall inflatable Estrellas (one of the two most popular beers in Spain) and a pretty wild dance party going on. But, we didn't bother with those clowns (not necessarily people dressed as clowns, although that's quite possible, but just the way I sometimes refer to a group of people not associated with me) on the boardwalk and hit the beach (la playa). Strangely enough, out of the thousands upon thousands of people we could have run into, we literally walked right into a group of our friends who took the bus and we were set. At this point the amount of people was not overwhelming, but the beach filled up more and more until 2-3 blocks of beach was totally packed with crazy dancing was quite the jungle out there.

Some highlights from my time en la playa:

-The various times I danced and pranced around in the Mediterranean. It seemed like a great idea at the time, which it was, but my black leather dress shoes surely paid the price. When I got home they were still pretty soaked and absolutely caked in sand. Whoops.
-Acheiving one of my goals of the night: Getting into a swordfight with another pirate. I told my friends on the way to Sitges that I was going to find another pirate on the beach and have a swordfight, and I did not dissappoint. I'm not even sure how it started, but it was up further on the beach. We were going for about a minute when the other guy..who I later found out was Italian..thought it would be better and more pirate-like AKA badass to sword fight in the ocean. I don't even need to tell you whether or not he was correct. However, I did fail at my other pirate goal, which was to call a girl pirate a wench and see what happened to me. My reasoning was, if they were truly in character then it wouldn't have phased them at all, but if they got pissed and walked away or slapped me or something, then they weren't worth my pirate time.
-Petting a baby goat. This was obviously not a goal or an expectation for the night. I'm actually pretty sure no one in the history of the world has gone out at night with their goal being to pet a baby goat, but that's neither here nor there. Someone told me that this guy was carrying around a baby goat and I had to go see. In case you don't believe, there is photo evidence of me petting it, and photo evidence of the guy whose goat it was looking like a real creeper. Apparently there was also someone with a rooster as well? Crazy.

I finally made it home around 7 am Wednesday morning, and got to sleep until noon or so. I felt great on Wednesday, but hit a bit of a wall today and I'm feeling pretty tired. Next week will be quite a a good way and a bad way. I have to outline a final paper for a class tomorrow, have two midterms and a presentation next week...annnnnd Sean's coming to visit Saturday-Thursday. Woooo! But once I survive that it's time for Dublin and my birthday, so some exciting times are ahead to say the least. I'll be checking back as soon as I can and I'll be sure to give you an update on the Brothers McNelis adventure through Barcelona. Here's hoping at least one of us survives to tell the tale.

Hasta luego! See ya later!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ouch! I Experience Barcelona Nightlife in Ways I Never Expected...

Welcome back...back to the time where I'd update more than once every 3-4 weeks. I'm a bit dissappointed in myself that I haven't been updating much lately...just chalk it up to half the time being a bit lazy and the other half being too busy..but either way there's no excuse for the delay. So, I'm sorry. Unless some of you were letting out a sigh of relief that you don't have to suffer through my crazy ramblings just to find out what's going on in Barcelona. So, I guess I'm sorry you folks too...'cuase I'm back.
I hate to come back on an ugly note (literally and figuratively as you'll find out), but I feel like it's necessary to tell everyone this story, because I know there's some people at home who only know some of it or half of it or none of it all. It was quite a horrible occurrence, quite possibly the worst I've experienced, but I made it out alive and I'm far enough removed from it that I can blog about it at this point. For the first few days I was pretty down and out about what had happened, but I turned that frown upside down and try to look positively at the rest of my trip. I didn't want an already awful experience to ruin the rest of my time here in Barcelona.
So, this was Friday night, February 6 I believe. It started out like any normal Friday night for me in Barcelona. I took the Metro to the Residencia Del Mar, where a few of my friends live and many others congregate to do a little pre-gaming and hang out. 1.50E for a litre of beer and 1.09E for a litre of Sangria sure beats going to a bar and paying 3.50-4.50 so it works out nicely...good times and monies saved. But anyway, we hung out there for a bit and then stopped in at our favorite or most regular spot (I don't want to speak for everyone when I say favorite), Travel Bar Port, a mere 10 minutes walk from the Residencia. So we do the norm, hang out, get a few pints, shoot the breeze, all is well. At around 2:30 or 3 in the AM, word is going around that people want to hit up the cloob (Spanish for club, nightclub, discotecque, what have you).
I almost went...bad decision in retrospect...but I decided to do the more responsible thing and head home, because we had a program day trip the next day. I ended up missing this trip, as you will learn, which was basically an all day food fiesta. I missed 5 or 6 courses of legit and delicious Catalunya (the region the Barcelona is in) food and a ton of wine. I've heard its about 50E per person too so you can imagine how much/how awesome the food is. But anyways, I decide to head home because the day was going to be long and start early so I wanted to get some sleep...and boyyyyyyyy did I get some sleep.
So, on Fridays the Metro is only open until 2AM, so I was forced to take the NitBus home to avoid the large cab fare. I almost did take a cab because I was flying solo, but I made the choice (another regretful one) to take a stroll up La Rambla, a long, wide street that is a tourist hotspot by day with shops, restaurants, museums, a market, etc. and apparently a hotbed for shameless criminals at night. Unfortunately, yours truly ran into one of those shameless criminal...except not really because he snuck up on me like a little Sally...and then proceeded to grab me by my coat and slam me down on the pavement. This is really the last thing I remember until two hours or so later, but I can only assume that my forehead/right eye smacked the pavement and I was immediately knocked out. This immediate knock out turned into +/- 2 hours lying unconscious on the sidewalk of La Rambla and I'm pretty sure no one gave a care about me...although I'm sure a few other people rooted through my pockets to find they had already been picked clean by my attacker.
It is a bit scary, but this part doesn't anger me so much. I've been thinking, and I feel like if I was someone face down on the sidewalk of La Rambla I'd mumble something like..."freaking drunk" and keep walking, although I may change my tune after this. So anyway, at some point I must have woken up, although I don't really remember much the actual waking up. The first thing I remember is stumbling (literally) upon Plaza Catalunya, which is more or less the Times Square of Barcelona...except more literally a square. So at this point I was still pretty hazy from the blow to the face, and all I can remember is feeling really overwhelmed by everything, and it seemed like the whole plaza was kinda spinning around me...looking back it kinda reminds me of the Times Square scene from Vanilla Sky, but in a more upsetting way I guess. But either way, I made it there and was still really hazy.
I had no concept of cell phone was gone..but my first instinct was to go to the Metro and try to find a way in..although I had no money..and my MetroCard was long gone with my wallet. I made it down there and was wandering around trying to figure out a way in when a group of kids who seemed a bit older than me happened upon me and I'm sure were a bit horrified by my appearance..I can only assume I was pretty bloody and the right side of my face was quite swollen. Despite my pleadings to just give me a Metro swipe, they thought I should go to a hospital and they took me to the office inside the Metro station. From there I got picked up to go to the hospital, but I passed out almost immediately on the way. What this meant was...I arrived, an American, at the Spanish hospital, unconscious and without any form of ID whatsoever. To make it worse, I ended up being out until about 2pm the next day and I just remember waking up with an IV in my arm. I'm not even sure what they did to/with me, but I assume not much because I didn't get any stitches or anything like that.
They kinda rushed me out of the bed a half hour later, and I began the awful process of trying to contact my senora who was not listed and find a way home without any money for a cab or a MetroCard. Well, let me tell you...if you think hospitals are depressing in general, you do not want to be stranded for 2 hours in a foreign hospital after being attacked/robbed without knowing how you're going to get home. But it was OK, because a magic unicorn showed up...and some butterflies and leprechauns and teddy bears and rainbows..and I rode him home while eating a giant lollipop. Well, not really, but I thought after that awfully depressing hospital description I should try to pick everyone's spirits back up. What actually happened is after a while the nurse got tired of me asking her to look up other numbers and other names for my Senora because I thought maybe I was spelling it wrong..she just gave a single-ride Metro card to get home.
So that is more or less the end of my sad, sad story. When I got home (about 5 PM the next day, Saturday) my senora was a wreck, as you can imagine. She called the program at some point during the day to see if I was on that trip and she just missed me coming in and leaving, but no one there had any idea where I was either. Apparently there was quite a phone chain going on, but no one really knew what had happened, so I caused quite a stir I'm told. Oops.
Well, I've learned that I should never walk alone up La Rambla alone in the middle of the noche. Stupid! I had heard this before, but I think living in the Bronx and coming home myself some nights sort of desensitized me to the reality of theft and violence in big cities. I was also told that mostly in Barcelona there's theft but no violent crime...boy, was my program wrong. Alot of people are saying, though, with the economy the way it is every country is feeling from the bottom-up, and people are getting more and more desperate. Desperate enough to bash someone's face against the pavement (this is not conduct becoming of a police officer...haha old Mock Trial joke just leave it be..I hope at least 1 person gets this though) in order to rob them.
So I ended up losing about 180E or so, with the amount of cash I had and this 3 Month Unlimited MetroCard that cost me a pretty 112E as well as my driver's license, student ID from here, and other assorted things that go in wallets. There's also a good chance I could get some or most of it back with Theft Insurance..apparently that exists.
But all in all, I made out sort of lucky (although the pictures I'm about to post...oh yes I'm forcing you to look at my ugly right eye...may make you think otherwise). For one, I didn't die. I survived, so I can't take that for granted. Also, no damaged/chipped teeth, no concussion, no stitches, just a big ole swollen black eye. I'm also kinda glad he came up from behind me and took me out all in one fell swoop...if I had seen him or had still been conscious after the first hit I probably would have fought back...and most of these dudes carry knives..sooooooooooooo yeah. Well done, me on minimizing the amount of damage.
But I guess the part you've been waiting for or dreading or both is the pictures...I wish I had taken them the day of but the only think I was thinking was...1 not really that straight and 2 give me something to eat god damnit and 3 i want to murder that goddamn (insert bad word here) 4 let me talk to everyone and let them know im alive and sleep forever. But these pics are from the next day I believe. Added bonus...they're sweet MySpace mirror pictures. I am no longer a virgin to this phenomenon. Oh, the things Barcelona does to me.

The next day...the bad bruising began the next can almost see it starting.

This is how I kept the ice pack on my tying a big pillow case around my head like a bandanna. Pretty badass, right? I don't know if any gangs wear orange but if so, I'd definitely be running the ish on that block.

One week later...getting better. The Little Eye-ngine that Could, if you will? Haha..awful.

Well, there you have it. This will hopefully be the only post I'll have to make on a negative note. Wish me luck with the rest of my trip, and I've learned my lesson so I'll stay safe. AKA I'm trying to find a way to register my 9MM in Spain. It's harder than you'd think. Ever since Charlton Heston died, the NRA's foreign influence has really been lacking. Oh well, there are other ways.

But like I said before, expect more posts to come, I promise to stay up on it. I want to. Although these aren't all stories I should tell my grandkids, I might want to have them around when the 'ole memory starts know, to remember the glory days. When I was getting accosted by prostitutes and violently robbed..those kinda days. I think that's what Bruce was really singing about.

Ah, to be young.