The Moon Does Not Keep Grudges
Last night my Catalan class began again, and I have been inundated with reminders of how much I do not know.
We introduced ourselves, a United Nations of 17, with an overrepresented delegation from Venezuela. I was the lone estatunidenc. The girl from Pekin had left and returned to Barcelona, as others had. She loved it here she said. When the teacher asked her to explain why she was there in the class with us, she gave us all pause when she said she loved Catalan because es una llengua molt ‘sexy’. Indeed, we couldn’t contain our laughter. Of course, our profe loved it. I sipped my mint tea, stumbled through our review of last course, and watched the clock tick ever so slowly toward 22:00.
This morning, the blue skies quickly evaporated as I made my way through the city underground. I emerged from the metro to a gray and dreary day and walked the short block to the cafe where I drank a colombiano doble (tasting notes: elderberry and fresh cherries). Your order is served on small square wooden blocks with a tiny cup for water and no sugar, thank you, because we are a professional coffee shop. The pastries change daily and the morning’s croissants–pure butter like you’ve never had them–were from Hoffman.
I whiled the day away, braved a rainstorm without an umbrella, stopping at every other doorway to hide from the downpour, including Tea Shop where I warmed myself with Pur Eh and milk, and arrived to my lunch date with Kate (my Kate, not yours) completely soaked. We ate at La Pubilla, the restaurant that Viqui and Santi–who I randomly ran into at Nomad this morning, small world it is, Barcelona–recommended to me.
It’s been on my ever-growing list for a while now. It is cuina catalana, mercat fresh, at its finest. They managed to squeeze us into a table in the back away from the cold air that rushed through the door every time it was opened. I had a calçots salad–imaginate–dressed in olive oil, herbs and fat and juicy alcaparras. They’re under there somewhere, charred and tender, a flourish of fuet to top them off.
It was followed by a suquet de lluç surrounded by several tiny clams. A plump peeled pear soaked in vanilla and topped with thick whipped cream joined us for dessert. I couldn’t help but think it was a lunch you would have reveled in.
While we there, Kate told me stories about la pubilla—the woman not the restaurant–about how she is the oldest daughter, the inheritor of property when there is no male heir. It is a tradition that evolved in Catalunya during the Middle Ages, to save families and fortunes–a wealth of agriculture if not of love.
She told me, too, about Carrer de les Dones, a street I can’t seem to find on any map, tucked into the streets of the Born, its legend about fishermen and women. Of how the captain of the fishing boat claimed he would marry the first woman he saw on land should he survive the sea. Of how the women lined the streets where his ship sailed in, well-dressed in hats and finery.
I thought about the others that I know about: Carrer dels Banys Vells so named for Roman Baths, a testament to that older city buried beneath the one we know and love. And of the ones that speak of industry long past: Carrer de la Vidrieria, Carrer de l’Esparteria, Carrer dels Sombrerers–that word that so confounds my tongue–for windows, for wickerwork, and hats. What are the other stories of these streets? What, I wonder, could be the kitchen tales behind Carrer de Malcuinat? Les Olles? i Calders? I need more than simply words to know them.
It is so easy here to fall in love with a barri, each one distinctly drawn. When I walk through Gràcia, I am always charmed by its wiles, but even moreso now that I’ve been away a while. Something new is always popping up there. Once, it was the small shop of all Greek products. Love. Another time, it was Teicaway, the slightly overpriced Mexican food store. Love x2. Today, it was snails. Cages of them outside of a vegetable market, even though it’s not the season, because, well, why not?
I did a double take, of course, and stopped only long enough to snap a crappy photo for you, because it was pouring, and I had warmer places to be.
By the time I made it home, the sun had come back out, warming the green leaves of my plant collection, in their temporary home inside, away from the winter cold.
The sun set soon after.
Your letter was my favorite one of late, because it reminded me of that too-short but magical trip. My trips to Venice always seem like a fairy tale, but that one, especially so. For the art that we found in unexpected places
for the photographs of nighttime markets
for the look on your face when we found your heaven and you climbed a stair of soggy books
for the time-worn doorways
for night laundry and silhouettes
for the long water taxi rides we took to San Marco near the Bridge of Sighs, all the way out to Murano
for that restaurant–oh, that restaurant–that I’ll probably never be able to ever find again. I haven’t stopped talking about their glorious fritto misto (v1,22) since.
I miss aperitivo hour, and you.