Friday, June 01, 2007

Gold, Frankincense and Pigeon

I arrived in Barcelona a day earlier than mum so I could get my bearings, suss out if our welcoming host was a psycho and make mum's arrival as easy as possible. The plan was to stay with a couchsurfer for the first couple of days and then switch to a hotel or pension (the mezzanine of accommodation between hostel and hotel - sort of like the casa particulars in Cuba, but with less I may get stabbed in my sleep feeling). When I arrived in Barcelona, I didn’t get the same buzz I normally got when I touched down in a new country. Sure the place has karaoke singing, abuse yelling taxi drivers, but it felt more like I was going somewhere for a conference or a business meeting than an extension of my travels. The next couple of weeks with mum were an unknown to me and I was a little nervous about how things between us were going to pan out. I hopped on th airport bus, made my way into town, met up with Pauletta, worked out what to see while in town and made sure the airport bus was a simple connecting journey rather than a Broadway stage production. Over a beer and paella, Pauletta prepared me for the journey ahead. I put myself into super tourer mode, pulled all the experiences from transit from the past year and focused them on making mum’s trip an easy one. I worked out an easy walking tour around the nearby area so that when mum arrived after her 30+ hour flight, we could tackle her jetlag without really challenging her physically. All that was left in the equation was mum.

The day arrives and I head out to the airport to greet mum. I’ve got times and plane numbers written down and discover her plane is delayed by 40 minutes. This gives me time to grab some bus tickets back into town, have a little food and make a sign saying “Mum” to hold up at the arrival gates. The time comes and I squeeze into a choice position right in front of the gates so the first thing mum would see is me and the sign. There’s the usual delay of baggage collection and eventually cases start coming out of the gates with her flight number written on them. Ten minutes passes. Twenty. Thirty. Forty. Hmmm.. where the hell is mum? Maybe she missed her connecting flight. I go over to an internet kiosk and quickly check my email to see if she’s sent me a mail. No mail. I send her an email asking where she is. I then hang out in front of the gate again. No mum. An hour after the plane touched down I still can’t see her anywhere. I venture over to the front desk for the airline she flew with and ask them if they can tell me if she was on the flight. They tell me due to privacy laws they can’t. I tell them that it’s my mum who is in Europe for the first time, show them the sign I made and give them my best desperate face. The woman behind the glass exchanges a look with her colleague, asks me to write my mum’s last name on a piece of paper, takes the paper and presses a finger to her lips. After a few seconds on her computer, she points to her name badge. THERESA and nods. Mum was on the flight. So where the fuck did she get to. I walk back to the gates and mingle a bit more, fidgeting with my camera I had planned to use to capture the moment she walked through the gates. Then a horrid thought crosses my mind. Maybe she doesn’t know to come out the gates and is standing by the luggage carousel waiting for me to pick her up. This is only 30 metres from where I was standing, but there's big red lines painted on the ground between me and the gates, with DO NOT ENTER clearly marked in several languages on the automatic doors leading to the baggage collection area. I try and steal a glimpse here and there. No good. Unless I go through the gates, I can’t test my theory. I pick my moment and just as a group of Japanese tourists come through the gates and a guy is being taken off in handcuffs in the other direction I slip through the gates and into the restricted zone. Within five seconds I find mum wandering around in a confused daze, looking stressed and worried. I suppress my frustration and wrap my arms around her, saying she's a silly sausage for not going through the doors. We go through the white, speak English express line in customs and jump on the bus headed for downtown Barcelona.

We’re off to a good start.

On the way back into town, I point out a few things I spotted on my first day and tell her about the next couple of days. Mum is tired from the 32 hour commute and a little dazzled at the busyness of Barcelona. We get to our stop and take a metro back to the flat, meet up with Pauletta and sit. It’s been a long way for mum and we take things slowly. My pace of travel needs to be hedged back so that she can keep up. Mum has a shower and understands why she must stay up until her normal bed time, but the lack of decent sleep on the plane means she’s been mostly awake for the last 45 hours and it shows. We wander around the back street markets, take coffee at a cafĂ©, stumble on a couple of street performers and mum passively soaks in her new surrounds within the confines of her jetlag induced concussion. Churches, buildings and houses older than the European history of our home country floor mum and I stand back, watching her rural Victorian perception of the world be blown apart by the history surrounding her on all flanks. Sure mum knows her European history, but books, TV shows and university lectures can’t compare to the experience of actually being there. Our wandering through the back streets of the old part of Barcelona suits mum's current mental state. She loves taking photos of graffiti. Not sure why, but every piece we come across she stops and snaps a few shots. Check out her flickr site and you’ll see plenty of graffiti she sees during her day. I guess when you live out in Salisbury, the shelter at the local bus stop is as close as you’ll get to a gallery. Some of the Spanish work is really ornate, with that look that you only get with the European brand of artistic vandalism. We stumble onto some markets I had found the day before, and with their likeness to the Central Markets, mum feels a bit more at ease. We check out the main tourist strip, but to my relief this doesn't appeal to mum. Later, we grab a beer and mum hits the wall at around 9pm. Rest at last.

Over the next couple of days, we toured around more of the old city, checked out some Gaudi buildings and did some much needed planning for our onward journey. The Gaudi Cathedral didn't do it for me. Sure it's different, but to me it just looks like a gigantic pile of gothic-styled bat guano. Give me Hundertwasser anytime. There were some tense moments where the gap between my pace and mum's had to shift on both sides. But eventually after telling each other to pull our heads in, the painful gap between reality and expectation is crossed and there is a truce. Our visit to the Catalaunian Art Museum was a fab experience. The buliding and view is worth the walk up the stairs, as long as you can prevent your mum getting abducted by the gypsies on the way. We grab our tickets and just as we go to look at the art, a small orchestra of wind instruments is preparing itself to start in a nearby hall. We follow them in and take our seats in a room fit for a 16th century king's dance party and the show begins. Still tired and overwhelmed by the experience that is Barcelona, the music touches mum and she begins to weep at the majesty of it all. I lean over and whisper "Just think. Every moment of every day of your life, something this beautiful is happening in the world. I wish I could give you what I've seen over the past year and a half." The rest of the day was full of these little moments as this was mum's first European art gallery. And even though a handful of the works inside carried big names, it was the shear size of the collection that blew mum's mind. After the gallery, we wandered around the surrounding gardens and also checked out the 1992 Olympics site, which is a quick walk from the Museum. Impressive looking monument thingo with the stadium's cafe showing the Monaco Grand Prix on the telly. I bought a hotdog, mum bought a beer and we chatted about the day's arty adventures to the backdrop of screaming F1 cars.

I've always wanted to see another person's Shibuya moment. You know those times when you wish you had a photo of yourself gaping stupidly at the miscellaneous grandeur before you? In 2005, I walked out of the Shibuya metro station in Tokyo, soaked in the view before me and my head promptly melted away. A true Kodak moment. But watching mum bounce between paintings and sculptures (many with dates proceeding white settlement in Australia), and seeing her sweet sentimental soul soak up a thousand years of history had a more sustained quality to it than a Japanese 23rd century culture shock.

This trip is going to be fun.


pipst*r said...


I'm glad that you finally were able to see someone's head explode because of a new place.

Every day millions of beautiful things are happening everywhere - even on the street where you live. It's just a matter of knowing how to see them.

sctv said...

Hey, I was in Barcelona, glad you were there just before i was. Would have been pissed off if i was there at the exact same time(went there 6th-9th June).
Take care, and if you get to Newcastle-Uk, you have a place to crash.