The following is a collection of “quick takes” that I jotted down or committed to memory during my trip to Barcelona.
The Quick Test. If you want to quickly determine whether a person in an airport (or wherever) is an American or a European, check out the footwear. This method, which works for men and women, has, I believe, a reliability quotient of greater than 90%. Obviously, Europeans are well aware of the reliability of the Quick Test, which accounts for them immediately speaking English to you before you open your mouth.
This really is nothing new, as the Quick Test was just as accurate when I lived in Europe in 1969-1970. The fact is that Europe tends to be a year or so ahead of the US in terms of footwear style. By the time Americans get around to adopting European styled footwear, the Europeans have moved on to something else.
Bad Idea. A fairly raucous and feisty group of Italians, who appeared to be students in their late teens or early twenties, thought it might be fun to try to make an ass out of a TSA Security Guy at Newark Airport. The officer’s facial expression and the words, “Are you people looking for a problem?” obviously needed no translation.
Smoker Fairness. The airports in Duesseldorf, Munich, and Barcelona all have designated smoking areas, unlike many American Airports (such as Newark), where one has to exit the airport to have a smoke and proceed again through security to return to the gate. Europeans have not been afflicted with the anti-smoking hysteria and insensitivity to smokers that have become the norm in the US.
Cell Phones. If you are a Verizon customer, you can leave the phone off during your trip and save the battery for when you return home. It doesn’t work in any of the three cities mentioned above.
Gasoline. We are knocked to our knees around here with gasoline hitting the $3.00 – $3.25 per gallon range. When one converts liters to gallons and Euros to dollars, the folks in Barcelona pay about $7.00 per gallon, which, in no small measure, accounts for the many downsized cars and motor scooters seen in Barcelona (see below).
Kamikaze Motor Scooter Drivers. If I remember the numbers correctly, Barcelona has 600,000 cars and 300,000 motor scooters. It is common to see people (men and women) in business attire blasting through the streets astride motor scooters. Their apparent fearlessness in weaving in out of traffic and cutting in front of cars, buses and trucks was something that I had a hard time becoming accustomed to. I guess people who drive cars, buses and trucks in Barcelona expect to see these death-defying mosquito-like maneuvers. I also saw a motor scooter guy with a passenger on the back; the driver had a guitar between his legs and the passenger had a guitar between her and the driver. Amazing.
Languages. I never cease to be amazed and frankly humbled by the number of Europeans who can effortlessly slide in and out of three different languages.
Barcelona Buskers. Three come to mind. First, there was a trio in the plaza in front of the old cathedral comprised of a banjo player (yes, a banjo!), a trombone guy, and a piano player. They sounded just like a New Orleans Dixieland band. For a moment I had wondered whether they might actually be displaced New Orleans musicians turning a buck, but it became apparent that they were locals. The people in the plaza were loving it, and one Spanish gentleman who appeared to be in his nineties hopped out of the crowd and did an impromptu buck and wing. I thought it was great.
I also spent about twenty minutes listening to a fellow play exquisite classical guitar. It was as good as I have ever heard, and the guy’s payment consisted of people tossing money into his open guitar case.
Finally, at a traffic light, a juggler leapt in front of the bus on which we were traveling and did a bit of juggling with those things that look a bit like bowling pins. He dropped the pins on several occasions. In his defense, I would guess that he had to keep one eye on the traffic light so he could avoid being run over and to be able to stop his act in enough time before the light changed to run to the waiting cars to hold out his hat for payment. Unfortunately, he was dressed in a clown suit, and I hate farookin’ clowns – even juggling ones.
I hope to have a bit more to say about the wonderful city of Barcelona in the next day or so as I continue to collect my thoughts on the matter.