Day 9: Barça vs Madrid and Visiting Sagrada Família

by Eli Hodapp

Yesterday I had structured my day to work some pretty crazy hours in American time to attend a viewing of the soccer game that everyone here was talking about. Barcelona vs Madrid apparently has been a rivalry that’s been brewing forever, and I’ve been told that this game represents so much more than just a simple game of soccer for both people of Barcelona and Madrid. It’s been this way going back all the way to Catalonia’s independence, maybe even longer.

As an American, I know whatever the next microscopic level above “absolutely nothing” would be about soccer. Obviously we played it during gym class in school, but even then, my understanding of the game basically amounted to “kick the ball in the goal.” As far as soccer teams, players, rules, and strategy are concerned, I know nothing. Well, I knew nothing before last night.

The couple I’m staying with invited me to have dinner with them, and Samaneh cooked this ridiculously good thai curry for all of us. After that, we headed out, knocking on the door of our downstairs neighbor so he could come with and watch the game. We made our way into the tapas bar that we live above, which was buzzing with soccer fans there to watch the game. Ten minutes before the match even started we were standing shoulder to shoulder, crammed inside this bar, with everyone’s eyes glued to the huge projector screen haphazardly hung in the corner.

This tapas bar couldn’t possibly be more Spanish. Estrella Damm, the seemingly preferred beer around here flowed like water, and the single waiter could somehow navigate through the massive crowds with shocking speed, carrying plates of food up and down both arms. The pace that he moved, without bumping into anyone, or dropping anything was just superhuman. He looked like a short haired, slightly shorter, slightly heavier version of Robert De Niro. The resemblance was uncanny, and had me doing double-takes all night long.

Europeans typically seem to have vastly differing ideas of personal space compared to Americans, where you’d normally feel uncomfortable any closer than a few feet away from someone you don’t know. This was something else entirely though. Once we were finally seated, I was practically sitting in the lap of the dude behind me. It was one crazy soccer-watching mass of people.

Whenever Barcelona did good, the room would erupt into cheers. Whenever Madrid did anything good, a similar explosion would occur. I’m pretty sure I heard every Spanish curse that I know, and several I don’t, intermingled with “Pepe” and “Madrid.” It seems that the thing to do whenever the opposing team does just about anything is to extend an open hand towards the screen, and forcibly point with it.

The guy sitting across from me was incredibly animated the entire night, and would stand up waving his subway card around which I can only assume meant that he thought the referee should be giving a yellow card to a player. Also, I really had no idea this even happened, but I think my favorite thing about watching a soccer game is the sheer theatrics of players falling.

No one was really able to explain it to me in a way that made complete sense, but it seems that since the game is called on the field and referees aren’t allowed to watch instant replays, when a foul occurs the players ham it up to make sure that the referees see. This turns what would be into a player simply getting tripped, falling, and getting back up into a spectacular fall, filled with limbs flailing and an elaborate series of rolls across the field before ultimately grabbing a random body part and screaming in pain.

Better yet, it’s apparently a thing to fake these falls, something that the people broadcasting the game love to show over and over in slow motion- Especially when it’s a fake fall by Pepe, who is the star player of the Madrid team. It’s crazy how this guy will just totally fall over, and while it looks convincing from one angle, the multi-camera instant replay will clearly show him just taking a dive. So dramatic. I love it.

Overall though, even attending live sporting events back in the USA, I’ve never experienced an energy level like the tapas bar last night. I’m not sure if it’s just soccer culture, the importance of the game, or the non-stop nature of soccer (or a combination of the three) that got everyone so fired up, but the excitement was infectious. As mentioned, I am not a soccer fan by any stretch of the imagination, but I had an incredible time watching it last night and even found myself cheering for Barcelona by the end.

As soon as the game was over, the entire bar emptied out and we went home. I finished a few more things for TouchArcade, and fell asleep listening to an episode of This American Life, as I recently realized I’m behind to the tune of about twenty episodes.

This morning I got up nice and early, took, a shower, and headed out for some more exploration of Barcelona. I didn’t really have any destinations in mind, so I figured I’d walk back to the Nudie store to pick up the jeans I had bought that needed to be hemmed. It’s in Gràcia, which is around four and a half miles from Barceloneta. That sounds like a long way, but it really doesn’t seem like it walking around because you see so many neat things when you’re going anywhere.

So, I fired up Spotify, jammed my earbuds in, and was off.

The walk was fairly uneventful, although there was a time when I had four stray, or what I assumed were stray, dogs following me. There are a lot of dogs in Barcelona just wandering around without leashes. I’m really not sure what they eat, as there never is garbage anywhere, and it’s not like I ever see people leaving bowls of dog food out. But, anyway, along the way was an endless stream of shops to look into, and little grocery stores to check out- Which is another thing I love about Barcelona.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the sheer convenience of Super Wal-Marts and other mega-stores just as much as anyone else, but it’s really cool being in an area where those things don’t exist. Without Super Wal-Mart, it allows for all these super tiny highly specialized little grocery stores. For instance, off our plaza in Barceloneta we have a place that sells produce, a mind-blowingly good bakery, a butcher shop, and a few other similar outfits.

The neat thing about all this to me is that these shops just have what they have. The ultra-American concept of “I don’t care at all that it’s late January, I want strawberries every day” doesn’t exist here. Instead, you just get whatever is fresh and in season from local farms. This might mean that one day they just don’t have cauliflower. Or that the butcher only has pork, or other similar limitations.

Initially you find yourself thinking, “Well that sucks, what if I want to cook some steak and they just don’t have any?” but then you realize that the reason they only have pork on a particular day is because that’s all that was available fresh. The concept of shipping in flash frozen beef of mediocre quality just to satisfy the needs of people who demand it just doesn’t seem to be the way anyone thinks here, which is actually sort of neat. When you’re buying things that are fresh and in season they taste incredible and it seems like you eat less of it because it’s so good that you just don’t need to fill yourself up on crap to feel satisfied.

Sure, you can eat like this in the USA but escaping the system of processed foods, preservatives, and factory farms is time consuming and expensive. In Barcelona, you don’t really have a choice but to buy bread that was baked only a few hours ago, produce that’s still dirty from the fields, and meat that’s fresh that day. It’s a little tin-foil-hat-y, but it really seems reasonable to think that the reason everyone here just seems so much healthier is because this is what they put into their bodies on a daily basis, instead of a hundred different bastardizations of corn byproducts mixed with mechanically separated meat and enough preservatives to make it all shelf stable until 2014.

But, anyway, I made it to the Nudie store without issue and picked up my pants. I asked again about the selvage lab jeans I’ve been lusting over, and the guy working there today knew nothing about them but said “maybe this month.” So, fingers crossed for that. Afterwards it was still early enough that I had time to do something else. I hadn’t heard any news of my Dad’s status yet so I figured I’d keep myself busy by checking out the Sagrada Família.

It was about a mile walk to get there, and finding it was actually a little tricky because this area of Barcelona has grid-style streets and you really can’t even see it until you’re right on top of it. The Sagrada Família is without a doubt the most ridiculously over the top building I’ve ever seen. Like all of Gaudí’s other buildings, it’s something you really just have to see in person to realize just how crazy it is. Photos don’t do it justice, because every surface of the building has something worth looking at.

The exterior reminded me of… Surely everyone knows someone who just goes absolutely insane with decorating their Christmas tree and/or house during the holiday season. There’s something to be said about the understated elegance of a few Christmas lights rimming the roof of your house, a simple wreath on the door, and a tastefully decorated Christmas tree with lights and ornaments that merely accent the shape and color of the tree.

Comparatively, the Sagrada Família is like the Griswold house from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Lights on every surface that’d support them, a mess of extension cords, and no one to ever tell Clark (or, in this case, Gaudí) “Hey man, that’s plenty.” But, on the other hand, just like looking at the houses of people who go absolutely insane for Christmas, it was incredible to take in every carved surface, every small detail, and how everything seemed to clash… But at the same time, go together with this weird harmony that just works. I appreciate that there have been people out there like Gaudí, and that the city of Barcelona is still constructing the church.

Something interesting I learned about the construction is that its completion timeline was actually substantially moved up as modern construction technology advanced. Gaudí thought it’d take hundreds of years to finish, but the advent of things like remotely carving pieces of stone with CNC machines has ramped up construction to (if all goes as planned) have it done by its hundred year anniversary in 2026. Honestly, it’s hard to even imagine it without all the cranes around it. I wonder how Gaudí would feel about the rest of the cathedral being carved by computers.

I paid the €16 to get in, and sprang for the €3 elevator ticket to ride up to the top of one of the spires. I sort if wish it was like Notre Dame in that you needed to walk up stairs because things always feel so much higher when you climb stairs. The elevator was quick though, and only took a few seconds to get you to the top to have you looking out over the city of Barcelona. Unfortunately, today was fairly hazy out, so my photos turned out pretty mediocre. Regardless, it was still an awesome experience.

I got home just in time for the American business day to start, and called my Mom via Skype to check up on the progress of my Dad. It turns out they kept him in the hospital overnight, and after a few CT scans they’ve determined he has some kind of bowel obstruction that they’re now dealing with. I hate that my Dad is in the hospital and I’m over here, but I feel substantially better about the whole thing being reassured that while it is serious, it’s manageable. So, that’s a massive relief. I’d already mentally prepared myself to drop $3,000 on airfare to get home on short notice, so it’s good that I don’t need to do that as well.

Still, this whole experience has made me miss my family exponentially more than I ever do when I’m traveling, but I know my Dad wouldn’t want me to be bumming around over here when I’ve got the whole city of Barcelona at my doorstep. As soon as my Dad is well enough to speak on the phone I’m going to give him an ear full about not waiting until he feels like he’s about to die to go to the hospital, even if we have to pay for it. We can always make more money. That being said, I vastly prefer the idealized memories of both my parents that I have when I was a kid when I felt like they were taking care of me, instead of the other way around. But, that’s life I suppose.