Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Humanoid Waiter Does Not Say “Res”

For any American visiting Europe, visitors soon discover waiters have nothing in common with the eager, overtly cheerful, tip-earning waiters in America. I can add to that well founded experience of rude European waiters with my current encounter with a dour, stoic, and robotic waiter at an outdoor café at L’illa on Diagonal.

After eating lunch at tasty Andele, we see an empty table for two at Central Café on a sun-drenched Thursday afternoon, and decide to have coffee there. Mistake.

We sit down at the table.
Waiter approaches with electronic order pad, stands in front of us and stares at my husband.

Husband: Hola.
Waiter: --------
Husband: Un tallat si us plau.
Waiter: --------

The humanoid waiter looks so real wearing glasses and a goatee, I could swear he could pass for being human. He scribbles on his electronic pad and turns his mechanical head 30 degrees to look at me and stares. I get a little bit scared and wonder if he might blast me away with laser rays as he turns to look at me. 

Me: Hello
Waiter: -----
Me: Un tallat.
Waiter: -----

The cold tallat now buit.

He scribbles on the pad, turns 180 degrees and walks to another table and repeats his mute actions. I watch the morose humanoid robot waiter and feel compelled to tell the manager that his robot waiter needs to be reset to speak mode.

The robot brings us two tepid coffees and walks away. We gulp down our cold coffee and pay the busy waitress wiping down the counter at the bar, "Adeu Senyor Humanoide!"

So foreign friends, tales of rude European waiters is the fault of those cheap humanoid robots and not actual people working to earn a living! Trust me, I have had pleasant experiences with waiters in Barcelona and the rest of Spain, except they were human.

Café dolent!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

La Casita Blanca meets El Changuito

My piso does not have a completed decorated look to it. I have missing pieces still to buy like light fixtures, a living room rug, a dining table I really like (my current one is from IKEA), and other bedroom pieces like a headboard.

I don't feel rushed to buy what I still don't have. I am some how expecting the pieces to find me by chance like the recent piece of furniture that purred at me from the window of an antique store in the Raval. It was a Sunday night and I was coming out of Cream Espai Creatiu after a free writer's workshop. In front of this locale was an antique store called El Changuito (the little monkey in Mexican Spanish) with large store front windows displaying 50s furniture and knick knacks from other eras. At the bottom of the window stood  a beckoning bedroom bench. An item I have been hunting for without too much effort.

 I returned a week later and found the bench still standing in front of the window, I think, for me. We entered the store and examined the bench with cheap upholstery and endless nicks on the legs, and blinked hard at the price tag. The salesgirl walked over and said the bench had a discount of 20 euros. OK, I thought. I can go for a 20 euro discount considering it would need to be refurbished and reupholstered. The salesperson quietly remarked that another bench was available in the store. So we walked over and examined our second option. That's when the salesperson decided to let us know that she had acquired the bench at an auction for La Casita Blanca. The what? I asked. My husband looked at me and grinned and said La Casita Blanca was historical building for amants for the last 100 years.

A brothel? I asked. No, La Casita Blanca was not a brothel, but a place where clandestine lovers met and were treated with the most absolute discretion ever known to those that visited this soon to be demolished place. Example: when you entered the building with your car, curtains covered each parking stall so nobody would know who was visiting with their lover. Each bedroom had three buttons, one to indicate you were leaving (personal ensured the couple would not cross with another leaving a room), one for room service, and another to ring a taxi. It took one year of apprenticeship for staff to learn how to guard a client's privacy.

Soccer games were the perfect cover up for a married man to meet with his lover. At the end of a romantic tryst, married men were given soccer game results to cover their domestic absence. This is only one example of how smoothly this place was designed to coordinate rendezvous. I wonder how many of these hourly dates my bench has seen, whose clothes did it hold, if it could only speak of the trobades appassionats it witnessed. I would listen attentively to its whispers of men and women who met  secretly  to relish in feverish appointments without their secret being discovered. The infidelities of wives and husbands alike in its long 100 year history.

The bench has the number 66 painted in gold on the underside of it. Àide, who is not only the salesperson, but the owner, suggested it could mean the bedroom number. She tries to reassure me that couples did not have intimate moments on the bench. Do you want me to buy the bench or to or are you trying to get me not to buy this? Please, no more details, I tell her laughing. I don't think it's the bedroom number, since La Casita Blanca had only 43 rooms. It could mean the number assigned to it when auctioned, along with the wall sized heart shaped mirrors, lamps and other abandoned pieces of furniture losing their place in the lives of amants. It doesn't matter what 66 means now, it's new house number is now 43.

I couldn't read my neighbor's expression when I explained the bench's history.
It needs sanding and reupholstering. 

Blah, blah, blah

What is the worst part about returning to California to visit family and friends? Driving. I feel I spend most of my time driving up and down all the  freeways that end in 0 or 5s. Going west, now east, tomorrow south. I am in constant motion driving and gritting my teeth, thinking of how back "home in Barcelona" I don't worry about gasoline, jam packed lanes with over-sized vehicles, and a sense of never arriving to my destination because of dense traffic--I just hop on a metro or train and arrive at my destination in 25 minutes.

There's just one drawback to this alternative--the other passengers on the train. Most of the time riding a FGC train into Barcelona is not so bad if it's the weekend. Most wagons are half full. Now if you decide to take the train into Barcelona during a weekday, it's just not going to be the same experience.

The wagons are packed with university students, people getting to work, and South American nannies. All seats are taken and the wagon entrance is crowded with people gripping passenger bars, and that means you remain standing until the train empties somewhere between Gracià and Plaza Catalunya.

At first I felt lucky to quickly beat other standing passengers to an empty seat at the first stop after getting on the train. My misfortune lay with the person sitting next to me--a young university student who talked for twenty minutes straight to her friend who sat across from me.

I pulled from my purse a book by Salman Rushdie I had purchased for 3 euros at Gigamesh llibreria in Barcelona. This was my solution to not fixing my gaze on anyone person or spot on the train. It can get quite uncomfortable constantly shifting your gaze so people don't feel you are staring at them and also to avoid momentary eye contact with the person sitting in front of you.

I had just begun to read the first page of the book when the estudiant universitari next to me began to speak in Catalan. My ears were intrigued by her accent, it was very regional. I loved the way she stretched out her vowels and ran all her words close together, hardly a break in between them. She was not from the city. I wondered from which small, inland town she had moved from to attend university in Barcelona. Then she began to use her index finger to add emphasis to her comments, wagging it from right to left.

Her long lean hands reminded me of 17th century portraits of young women. The ones where young ladies of wealth and noble backgrounds stand regally dressed in heavy, dark, silk gowns contrasting with their porcelain skin, their elongated fingers lying languidly on laps or with hands and fingers spread out, suspended in the air at breast level. I could not read my three euro book. I was too distracted listening to her speak and zig zag the air with her cupped hand and index finger swaying back and forth.

But after listening to her explain for 15 minutes clothing bargains she found at Zara and H&M, I was molt irritada. I kept wondering when she was going to take a break from talking non-stop about her consumer shopping experience finding a purse, a grey cabled vest, and leggings. Then she switched topic and va parlar about her dislike for frozen fish and how she turned down a date because she was too tired to go out. I looked at the cool male university student with shaggy hair sitting directly across from her and wondered if he too had had enough of her incessant talking. I was no longer enchanted by her accent and was marejat by her loquaciousness.

The doors to the train opened at Peu del Funicular stop. A gypsy boarded the train and began to play the accordion and sing an outdated song. How he managed to open and squeeze the accordion was of great wonder to me because by this time the train was packed, body to body, including the aisles.

How I missed my car at that moment. Had I decided to drive instead of taking the train, I wouldn't be sitting here listening to the  bla bla bla and the accordion player sing off tune. I try reading my book, to focus on Rushdie's Italian character stealing from the drugged Scottish Captain. I look at the blinking lights that flash the remaining train stops and see four more to go until the bla bla bla next to me stops. Estudiant universitari gets off the train at Gracià, only one stop before mine and saunters off with her friend mouthing, bla bla bla. With only one stop to go, I quietly put away the Italian rogue with a stolen secret from Lord Hauksbank back in my purse and anticipate my return trip to be about the book and not on unintentional eavesdropping.

Where my journey began.