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Calle Jaume Giralt

June 27, 2016

The week before I got a slip of paper from Natalia in Gatwick.

“Pssst!” Her hand waved backwards in beckoning, and she held up her plane ticket stub. “The address of Natalia’s sister’s place in Barcelona.” The paper was passed across a few lines of the queue before I pocketed it and saw my friends disappear through customs.

I continued to read my tattered copy of the New Yorker, but worried for a moment about the piece of paper—would I lose it before getting to Barcelona? Would I be able to enunciate the address to the cab driver, was it clear enough? I could get the address from Natalia again by WhatsApp, but that was assuming I had access to wifi at that crucial hypothetical moment when I realize I no longer have the address. Travel has a tendency to set you back at least a decade in technology—with wifi around, my phone was its normal old self; otherwise, I could reliably make and receive calls (though only to other numbers that look like mine), receive and send text messages (with about a 50% success rate), and use apps that don’t require internet, like, I don’t know, the Calculator app.

Needless to say, the simple solution of writing down the address somewhere else didn’t cross my mind. I stuck it in my passport, then transferred it to another book, then to a side pocket of a piece of luggage that I only used for things I wouldn’t look at for days or weeks.

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On the way out of Fes

It would’ve been a better story had I lost it. But at 12:30 a.m., when the RyanAir flight touched down at Barcelona-El Prat, it was there, in the reliable side pocket, in its perfect one-week-ago condition. I didn’t find it soon enough to fill out my customs declaration sheet so I made up the “Address in Spain” field by picking a street at random from Google Maps, then scribbling the address so it was half-illegible anyway. I did this with about 75% of the customs forms I filled out.

To make the story even more boring, the taxi driver figured out the address within a minute, though not before grabbing Natalia’s slip out of my hands as I tried to enunciate “Jowwmeh” and “Heerault” with whatever Spanish accent I could muster. I was impressed he found it, too, given Calle Jaume Giralt was a narrow side alley that barely even looks like a street, as it’s largely taken up by a long sandy park where kids played soccer. Though, then again, the driver had Google Maps, or the Spanish equivalent. So it’s probably not that impressive.

I rang the doorbell and introduced myself with clever self-satisfaction as “Senor Hhherminario” when I heard Natalia’s voice—before realizing that Natalia’s sister probably also has Natalia’s voice and no idea who Mr. Germinario is: “Who?” I sheepishly replied, “Jesse”.

Over cheese, croissants, and jugo de naranja, along with Moroccan dates and walnuts I brought from Fes, I met Gaby (Natalia’s sister) and Tom (Gaby’s husband). We went out to get Estrella Damm from the hawkers on a nearby square, buying them from older lady who had a five beers on a six-pack ring and a bunch of singletons in a green plastic bag.

After a certain hour, every decently sized square or public area in Barcelona will have people selling beers, invariably Estrella Damm or San Miguel. These hawkers, often immigrants, have some kind of arrangement that allows them to get papers into the country after working for a while. Tom, a social documentarian who runs his own production company, has tried to learn more about this benign-but-mysterious racket, but even hawkers he has made friends with remain tightlipped.

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Gaudi’s Caso Batllo by night

It was walking back that I noticed the night air in Barcelona—full of the same tungsten yellow that saturated Fes, but there was a magnificent openness that diffused the light at the same time, making it less claustrophobic and more cinematic, atmospheric. Few cities I’ve been to make you notice the sky in the way Barcelona does—the open plazas letting the sky in, the magnificent cathedrals and buildings pointing upwards towards the heavens. It feels both new and ancient at the same time, where everything is beautiful but beautiful without being superficial.

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