Sunday, 26 September 2010

"Think Less, Stupid More"


This is what Diesel's appallingly written advertising campaign urges Spaniards to do every time they walk past the shop on Passeig de Gracia (one of Barcelona's most important streets, home to two of Gaudi's architectural masterpieces and a whole lot of sandwich shops). Personally, I was not aware that "to stupid" was a verb in the English language, unless it has become one in the three weeks I've been away, in which case Britain really has gone downhill since I left (still, at least Ed Balls didn't get the Labour leadership-can you imagine having to tell all and sundry that your prime minister's name is Mr Balls? We'd be the laughing stock of Europe, or at least, moreso than usual). In a roundabout way though, what I'm trying to do here is justify my degree-the world needs good linguists to avoid such translation abominations as this, and I'm afraid this is what you get when you put an mediocre Spanish graduate in English in a room full of excitable marketing types who all have compact dictionaries in front of them and lock the door. It was very satisfying to hear an Argentinian say the other night that "I've never met an Englishman who can speak so many languages", although this does also make me worry about how people from other countries perceive Britain and the English-speaking world. It concerns me that people no longer expect others to learn their language, in much the same way that some Brits abroad expect everyone to have learned perfect English. Still, rant over, and back to what's been happening over the last however long it's been since I last wrote on this blog. I'm now (finally) living in the room I actually pay to rent. This is a definitely positive development, I can now dump all of my stuff in wardrobes, drawers and on the floor without the fear of having to pack it all up and move in a few days. It looks much as I remember it looking when I looked around, and the floor is definitely big enough to accommodate a guest (I've even been given a single mattress so that people don't have to sleep on the carpet), so come on over people, just let me know in plenty of time. I've had two full weeks of uni classes now, but it can hardly be described as plain sailing: because of a mix-up in the office and the ridiculous complexity of one of my modules, I was forced on Wednesday afternoon to change two of my classes. This really isn't as easy as it sounds, especially when you're slightly confused about what your home university expects of you academically, how all of the stuff written in Catalan can be effectively translated into something comprehensible and how you're going to avoid having to get up for 8.30 lectures two days a week. Mercifully, I found two that could be done as a straight swap, that is to say that my timetabled hours haven't changed at all, just the classes I attend (Literary translation of French into Spanish proved rather too challenging for me, I'm afraid). As I see it, I now have a comparatively easy 12 credits in German (the level of German being taught here, even though I signed up to the most advanced classes, is roughly equivalent to first year German, added to which, half of both classes are taught in Spanish anyway), a couple of challenging French modules for another 12 credits (one taught entirely in French because the teacher doesn't seem to speak any Spanish at all) and a lecture course on Spanish grammar for another 6. This results in a rather lopsided timetable which gives me two heavy days a week, two very light days a week and Fridays off (RESULT!). Speaking of time off, the last few days have been the celebration of the birth of the patron saint of Barcelona/Catalunya (nobody is quite sure which). This has essentially been a fabulous excuse for the Spanish workforce to do even less work than usual by shutting all the shops on Friday and staging massive concerts all over the city. It has also allowed all the bars (there's literally thousands of them, generally long, thin affairs with a Tapas bar and a couple of beer pumps in what used to be someone's front room) to increase what they charge for alcohol of any description from their already rather inflated prices (you recall the moan I had a couple of posts ago about €4 beers in clubs? It took a lot of walking to find somewhere on Thursday night that sold beer for less than that, and I mean A LOT of walking). In Britain, booze is comparatively cheap, both in supermarkets and, certainly in comparison to continental Europe, in pubs and clubs. Here in Spain, booze is ridiculously cheap in supermarkets (and the drinking laws are rather more relaxed: for example, I wouldn't dream of walking through the streets of London in the afternoon carrying a can of lager, but here, everyone seems to do it), but what costs you €0.58 in the little corner shop suddenly goes up to €2.50 when you take a seat in someone else's nicotine-stained drinking establishment. This is my other pet peeve (I keep it in a little cage under my desk and feed it sunflower seeds twice a day. I had it spayed though, so there'll be no little pet peeves) about Spain-there are smokers everywhere. Some are considerate, most are not. I am having to wash so much of my stuff so frequently to get rid of the smell of cigarette smoke that even my whites are starting to lose their colour. It really does ruin a night out, and all I can say is I miss the English smoking ban. However, as usual, I digress. Thursday night gave me yet another opportunity to be a shoulder to cry on for "tired and emotional" foreigners I've only just met. Before the Swedish guy makes the move across the landing to join me in this flat, there is the small matter of the Italian philosophy graduate presently occupying his room. In a less than sober state, we ventured out on Thursday night to go and see what all the noise was about. He told me that one of his girlfriend's exes was playing in one of the bands at one of the many venues dotted around downtown Barcelona, and that we should try and avoid it if we possibly could. We managed this for a good two hours (most of which were spent trying to find an open offie to buy some booze from-the music that the band in the main square was playing required a certain level of intoxication to make any sense at all, and an even higher level to even begin considering dancing to it, although a lot of the Spaniards seemed to manage fine. They will dance to ANYTHING). Alcohol purchased, we wandered around the back streets, stopping at bars, until we came upon a massive gathering of people in a square down by the Faculty of Philosophy in Ciutat Vella. You'll never guess whose band was onstage though-that's right, the girlfriend's ex's band, and much to the irritation of the Italian, people seemed to be enjoying it (the Spanish are the first people I've encountered who dance worse than me). I can understand his irritation, the music really wasn't that complicated, just two alternating bass notes and a whole lot of screaming. We found another friend of his girlfriend in the crowd, and joined her and her rather haughty Austrian friend (who talked to me at length about how much she hated Germans. In German) in the bouncing melĂ©e in front of the stage, where we somehow managed to waste an hour. Finally, "El Gaucho" finished ruining my faith in music and left the stage, and so we left to find somewhere else to go and something else to do. It was at this point (about ten past 2 in the morning) that the poor guy's girlfriend rang him, angrily demanding why he hadn't rung her. This evolved into a half-hour phone-rant, and I could tell when he'd finished that here was a man in desperate need of a beer. On our return home, we dropped into The Shamrock Sports Bar (I know, Irish bars are dreadful places and all over Europe like a rash, but desperate times called for desperate measures, plus it was about the only place still open at quarter to three) and encountered a very drunk man from Blackpool, who demanded that the Italian prove just how Italian he was. He was somehow unconvinced by the driving licence and ID card he was provided, and kept asking the Italian to order a beer in Italian. I had grown too tired to remember much else by this point, but all I know is we finally got home at about quarter past three. This one night has effectively ruined my sleep pattern for the entire weekend. I then spent a most interesting afternoon on Friday at the "Human Pyramid Building Competition" (impressively, the Spanish have condensed this into one word: "Castellers"), apparently part of Catalunya's rich cultural heritage. Essentially, teams from all parts of Barcelona and the surrounding area assemble massive teams of people to try and construct the tallest human tower in the fastest time without it collapsing on itself (as one did, and I was glad to see that I wasn't the only one who laughed slightly-it was ok, nobody was hurt). It was a remarkably well-attended event, and every available square inch of space in the square was filled with people, plus many of the rooves and balconies overlooking it. There was a palpable sense of anticipation when the big chunky blokes who were to form the bottom got into position, supported by scores of hands from all angles, and the tension increased along with the height of the tower. I really wish I could post the video I took onto this blog, and when I can be bothered I may put it on YouTube for you folks to see, but there must be plenty of better quality videos out there, not to mention ones where the cameraman isn't getting constantly elbowed by a huge Spanish woman searching in her bag for her cigarettes and lighter. I shall leave you instead with a selection of the many photographs I took that afternoon, and challenge you to a game of "Spot the Obvious Health and Safety Hazard".

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