Flying over the blue-pearl ocean with the sun dawning on the world. The horizon sizzles, reflecting off the wing of the plane that carries me across the coast of Barcelona. Bob Dylan sings “Boots of Spanish Leather” in my headphones while this first glimpse of Barcelona plays breathless with my lungs. The landing strip on the outskirts of town tans under the sun: rustic, sun gold, honey-baked. I ride a bus from airport to city center. My wheeled luggage bounces off the breaks of the cement. My eyes caress the streets slung with peddlers selling knock off purses and sunglasses spread over blankets, cars marinating in sunlight and shadows, and fountains sending upright water into the sensational Barcelona sky.
I find my hostel: bunk beds, lockers, a pretty girl lounging in the room with makeup and a mirror. I change while see watches me from the corner of her eyes. I pretend not to notice. Then I send an “I’m here!” email to my Paris-found American friends who caught a train here yesterday and booked a hostel near Sagrada Familia.
We meet in the commons area of their hostel in the early evening. One Euro gets us bottomless Sangria: pre-game, cheap drunk, buzzing hard by midnight. Then we cruise to Opium and pay the thirty-five Euro price to get past the bouncers and into the club. A flock of girls nearby look for foolish men to pay their entrance fee by skimping on clothing, blowing invisible kisses, and masking themselves with promising stares laced in unproven attraction. Electronica ensues. Flashing strobes. Vodka Red-Bulls. Alan and I crash the threshold of the front line near the DJ who pours liquor into the mouths of people around him: freeloaders, rave veterans, dance floor hogs with drug-induced pupils. Melanie loses herself in the crowd, Mark smokes cigarettes outside, and Olivia moves in wild dance, always with drink. Alan and I begin working the beach girls who look for a cigarette, for a dance, for whatever comes across the glazed-lenses of their 4am eyeballs. We refuse to pay for water at the bar (Alan chugs the cold clear liquid under bathroom faucets). Our impending hangovers stall for a bit, the carnage of the club confuses our senses, mushroom-like magnifications spill in and out of the flashing rays of fluorescent bulbs. Mark and I drop a few lines on some British girls. I speak with Melanie between songs, the older guys surrounding her like flies attracted to the golden light of electricity. Olivia brushes off the advances of a boy who has the kind of smile unattractive men hate. All the while the music flares, tickling us into neurological climaxes and embarrassing dance sequences.
The club’s vibrations abruptly crash around 6am. We lose Melanie in the shuffle and snag a taxi hoping she’ll find her way home. The hostel beds hold our dreams for a time, until we wake in the morning with daunting hangovers, cotton-mouthed, clothes flung haphazardly over the window sill and bunk bed bars. Water becomes the god we pray to. Tapas becomes the food that eradicates our afternoon booze coma: Iberian ham croquettes, patatas bravas, mussels, chilled gazpacho, fried calamari, prawns, sautéed asparagus, mixed olives and cheeses.
Later in the evening, we wait for a pho restaurant to open its siesta-closed doors. A server with disarming quietness brings us the food; his voice eerily soft, like a lone scream in a lampless alleyway. During dinner, we lament over the loss of Melanie’s passport – stolen out of her backpack, along with credit cards – in the metro earlier in the day. Hours spent in the police station. Report taken. Filed in the drawer of we’ll never solve this.
Finishing the pho, we cab it to the infamous shots bar, Espit Chupitos: sticky intoxication, alcoholic playground, inexplicable concoctions mixed for two Euro. Alan orders Marc the “Monica Lewinsky.” How to describe this shot? The bartender blindfolds Mark, then pulls out a massive dildo, hollowed out, beer bottle tucked underneath. The bartender slaps Mark in the face with the phallic contraption, gets him to mouth it a few times before stripping the blindfold from his eyes, forcing him into painful realization, then shakes the dildo wrapped beer bottle, causing an ejaculation of amber beer from the tip of the dildo that darts into Mark’s mouth. I know: expressive, literal, too much information. Bill Clinton might laugh if he knew he inspired such a drink. I promise Mark I’ll keep the damning video of his experience in the private confines of my iPhone.
Espit Chupito specializes in crafting mischievous shots with names based on pop culture, trendy music and cinema, and mainstream media. The Pulp Fiction comes in a syringe. The Harry Potter sparkles in majestic flame. And, for the Boy Scout, the bartender lights a fire on the bar and gives you a marshmallow to roast and use as a chaser. Everything has a life of its own: Kill Bill, Dracula, Bambi, Diarrhea, Kangaroo, Big Papa, Princess, Bob Marley, Halloween, B-52, Sex. The bar captivates the intoxicated imagination of its youthful patrons. All the shot-takers break into the drunken atmosphere of bad decisions and hook-up regrets as the Barcelona moon- slithering overhead- keeps all the belligerent debacles and blacked-out mistakes hidden in darkness until the morning and its sobering sun come to call, reminding everyone of the night they sinfully sang under the neon lights of Espit Chupitos.
A few days later, the five of us meet at Park Guell: the intensely complex, Gaudi-inspired architectural garden slumbering on the hills of El Carmel in the Gracia district of Barcelona. Multicolored mosaics, dreamlike pinnacles, splashing fountains, colonnaded footpaths, free-roaming views and phantasmagoric designs reign supreme in the park, while the arching sunset trickles the sky with purples, deep blues, reds and oranges that highlight the peaks of homes in the city below as if decorating Barcelona, drop by shining drop, in candy-coated color. The five of us snap a few photos and walk around the artistic grounds before descending back into the city to find a metro station that will deposit us at the foot of Arenas de Barcelona, the old football stadium that was converted into a mall with restaurants at the top for tourists looking to take a historical bite out of Barcelona while enjoying uninhibited scenic views of the city. We order three bottles of wine, two paella dishes (seafood and chicken) and a collection of tapas. The cheap, savory wine goes down well. The tapas hums us into conversation. We reflect on our time in Paris, where we chucked reality out the window and dressed ourselves in whimsical laughter and hostel hangovers. We talk about the magic fountain of Montjuic, here in Barcelona, where we spent the early evening watching the acrobatically plush water display and light show near the Palau Nacional at the head of Avenida Maria Cristina. We talk about buying inexpensive fans from the Spanish women on the sidewalk, and about all the memories of our Eurotrip that have blanked themselves with alcohol’s bubbly eraser. There’s something special about being at the top of the stadium, eating our paella dinner, lost in serious conversation, like the moment should be chronicled in a movie montage that makes everyone tear up in happiness: inspiring background song, grainy narration, a black and white symphony of dust memories washed clean every time we watch the motion picture of our lives. It’s a priceless evening, a wondrous experience in the Barcelona night with the stars highlighting our humor. The resonance of this is something special coils us in optimism like an artistic portrait of how to live summer nights abroad.
I spend the next day with the girl from my hostel: brown-skinned brunette, atomic gorgeousness. We swim in the Barcelona beach, slip beneath the tiny waves, open our eyes underwater, and dry out in the summer sun. Water wrinkled. Infatuation accelerated to high mast. The makeup circlets dripping under her eyes overpower me. Sensationally natural. Elegance personified in the full-toothed smile she plants on me throughout the day. She reads the pages of my journal. I read the curvature of her beach body. We have a candlelit dinner near the ocean. The sand kicks around our feet, the Sangria fiddles us into laughter, and the girl takes a few photos of us while the evening plunges its moonlight over her brazen shoulders and suntanned chest. After dinner, she grabs my hand and we run on the coastline, temporarily footprinting the sand. She tackles me, then. Sandy roll-a-round. Grains in the places I never knew about. We become a twisting tangle of arms and legs. Lungs fatigued from all the laughter runs I’ve put them through. Then we walk back to Barceloneta station – sandman, sandwoman – where we partially fall asleep while waiting for the last train. Dehydration drains us of all the energy we have kept in reserve. A brutal climb up the hostel staircase. A beautiful collapse on to our hostel beds, completely satisfied with our walkway through this Barcelona day, and Barcelona night. A kiss goodnight. Fulfilling dreams and sand flakes finding a home in the bed sheets.
In the morning I wake and catch the first train to Valencia to meet with Alan, Mark, Melanie and Olivia. I find proper sleep on the three-hour trip south. Sun spills sporadically between the curtained windows. The people around me speak in Spanish so it’s easy to tune them out. I arrive in Valencia and sweat my way to the hostel. One hundred degree weather liquefies my clothes. I check in and say a few words to my roomies before catching a cab to the coast, where the Valencia beach bakes in the oven of the sun. The coastline stretches down forever, peppered here and there by beach homes and resorts but mostly open-spaced, an expansive collection of sand and shallow water. I find my friends after an hour of cellphone-less searching: Mark laying on a metro map of Valencia instead of a towel, Alan angered by the burning rays of the sun, Olivia and Melanie chomping into some watermelon. After a few hours of rest on the beach, we head back into town, freshen up at the hostel and walk through the maze-like streets of Valencia until we find a nice paella place. We order a few bottles of wine, and simmer in the warm evening air until the paella plates – massively scrumptious, overwhelmingly delicious – are presented to us. We dine for the next hour, then head to a flamenco show in a dimly, red-lit bar. The guitar player sets the tone, making his guitar weep, insanely talented. The singer washes us all with his cleansing voice, and the woman dancing, dressed in black, flares her dress in a sultry dance that Melanie and I fall in love with.
The hostel “pub crawl” catches up with us after the flamenco show ends. We drink and barter with street vendors and drunkenly stroll through the romantic side roads of Valencia, where Spanish women with dark hair and dark eyes swing off of my arms as we dance under a moonlit sky. For whatever wild reason, Mark, Olivia and Melanie booked a 3am train to southern France, so Alan and I walk with them back to the hostel so they can gather their belongings and so we can take a few more parting shots. We all hug, and confirm our thankfulness that we met in Europe, drank without regret, saw the sights and ate adventurous food while sharing unforgettable minutes with the hypnotizing aromas of France and Spain drizzling us with intoxication.
In the morning, with my hangover intensified by the sweltering heat, I catch a train back to Barcelona, with the woman behind me coughing sickness into my back and the man next to me talking annoyingly on his cell phone for the entirety of the ride. Back in Barcelona, Alan and I decide to live his last day in Europe properly. We tour the city for tapas during the day, and visit Sagrada Familia. We take an evening paella cooking class at the hostel but are too intent on drinking the free sangria to notice how the dish is prepared. Our friends we met in Paris, Stephanie and Sam, happen to have a room in the same hostel and we drink with them for hours, taking shots of whiskey and vodka, washing it all down with the wonderful sangria. We go on the hostel pub crawl and make it to a few pubs before losing the tour guide, which is fine, because we make our own fun, and live by our own rules until Sam drinks herself into quite the stupor, enough so that we have to take her home in a cab while the driver constantly checks his rear view mirror to make sure she is not regurgitating the alcohol on his pitiful seats. We drop Sam off and make a late night stop at a McDonald’s near the ocean. Sometime after the hamburger’s and before the sun rises Steph and I lose Alan, who’s on a girl binge. My last image of him is watching his black hair disappear into a crowd of women, with that cheeky grin on his face, like he can do no wrong, invincibly content, remarkably coherent.
Stephanie and I find our way back to the hostel, and share a goodbye moment under the crystalized moon. I pay for her cab ride home, and sink into the folds of my hostel bed. In the morning I pack all my bags and watch the architecture and craziness of Barcelona drift away in the rear view mirror of the taxi that takes me to the train station, where I board the 11:00AM train to Madrid. More sleep. More dreaming. More checkmarks on the list things to do in life. And one more thought of the infamously fun, hysterically wild time I had while playing in the rampaging streets of Barcelona.