Barcelona Plates

Having now made two trips to Barcelona this year, I can firmly say I've made my mind up about the place. Firstly, there is much to be admired - the Sagrada Familia is astounding, even second time around. The world's only yet-to-be-finished cathedral is so beautiful and original in every way. The views from Mount Tibidabo over the city and the surrounding towns peeling off into the July haze. The Royal Palace, and the Olympic village behind it where the pool is now used by the general public (my first sunburn in about twenty years due to this..) The gothic old town, and the Roman ruins beneath which you can tour round. Hot chocolate at Cafe de L'opera. The MACBA gallery, etc.

But, for me, there is a lot about the city that doesn't make me want to rush back - getting ripped-off no matter where you go (not that I'm anything but a tourist, obviously, but still). The fact that most people my sort of age, and the bars etc they frequent seem to be these cosmetically grungy, trendy places. There doesn't seem to be any great music or culture produced there these days. People just seem content with their strange-fringed haircuts, their tattoos, and their skateboards. It all just feels so artless.

Like I said initially though, very beautiful city, but I'm guessing that one of the reasons it's so popular with the British is the fact that alcohol can be cheap, and therefore it makes the place an automatic Stag/Hen weekend target. I can understand the draw from this point of view, although I intend my stag night to involve zombies somehow..

We made tapas one evening: fried quails eggs on grilled peppers and tomatoes, Palma ham bites, fresh olives, patatas bravas, and sangria. It was immense. It was most definitely evenings like this which I went out there for. On the final night we went with a picnic to a late-night, open air viewing of A Clockwork Orange at Monjuic Castle.

Made a six-day camping trip to the Lake District before I went to Spain. That was immense. Second time I've been there in twelve months (it seems that I can't visit places once for some reason..) Being a bunch of students, everyone seemed to be keen to discover what it was about the Lakes that inspired so many writers over the years, especially Wordsworth, and the Romantics. I think the problem there is that firstly, those guys were going there in order to be awed by it where as these days people go there in order to feel what these writers felt. It's not the same thing. It's not a personal, first-hand feeling. It's in the shadow of several great wordsmiths' take on things, but it is in someone elses's shadow nonetheless.

Luckily there was plenty to say about the trip which were our experiences and our experiences only, like swimming daily in Windermere, being frightened away from breakfast by a swan and her four signets, taking tea in Hawkshead whilst a complaining pair of middle class tossers contrive to moan about a sparrow landing on the female tosser's cake ("It actually landed on the cake. Don't you think you should put a sign up, or something, you know, to warn people?") And of course, the climbs.

I think everyone just found the trip so peaceful. Any minor squabbles were quickly ironed out, I think mainly because everyone was so glad to be there. Sleeping under the stars, the great outdoors - all the old cliches fit fine here. The Lakes are so ancient, so un-disappointing that anyone would have to be working pretty hard to talk themselves out of being impressed, and not finding the same voice to be awed as the Romantics could get you on your way there.

I love the fact that it takes a moment to establish that this is in fact English soil. The sheer age of the land masses, and the way the sun dances over the cliffs, drops and peaks at such high speeds makes you realise that everything about Earth is the same age, if you look at its face close enough. And you can take the beaten path, or you can find a new way down, it's up to you. Only the centuries are watching.

And here we stood for a few days, to take in as much as our eyesight or our attention spans would allow. I feel like it would never be enough, so I'll back again at the next opportunity, not to find something new but to yet again find something ancient.

Read a couple of books whilst I was on my travels. After many months of persistent urging from a friend, I finally read Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Yeah, I can see why it was so highly recommended. It features a fictional religion called Bokononism, which, unlike the sinister trappings of Scientology, is in fact ironic and shouldn't be taken seriously, adopted, promoted, revered or practised..

..although, to be fair, given Vonnegut's humanist beliefs throughout his life and the positive affects achieved there from, it has to be said that Bokononism holds quite a few positive truths that probably wouldn't harm anyone to adopt and wouldn't cause much of a stir other than Vonnegut turning in his grave and calling you a mindless sheep.

But.. hmmm. Look, it's a short book, and it's more of a Bokononist's primer than a story (although the story is amazing also). It's one of those books where after you've read it, you kind of feel like you've shed something that was holding you down, you know? I'm sure you've had that feeling from a book before. Everybody has. And one of the most powerful, soothing aspects of this book is the idea that it's okay to not understand absolutely everything around you, particularly the often complex and destructive actions of others, whether they be murderous, baffling or personally heartbreaking. Stuff just occurs, even from one's self and beyond one's control:
Tiger got to hunt
Bird got to fly
Man got to sit and wonder 'Why, why, why?'

Tiger got to sleep
Bird got to land
Man got to tell himself he understand.

As well as feeling like I've learnt something new from a book during my travels, I've also leaned something from experience: if you want to be found in a new place, sit at the highest point in the town, and wait. They will come to you.