Monday, March 17, 2008

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

The air was thick with smoke and Catalan curses. Unlike the night of the Champion's League match against Celtic a couple of weeks ago, half the neighborhood hadn't stopped in beforehand to reserve seats in front of the giant projection screen, so by arriving unfashionably early by Spanish standards--a whole ten minutes before match time--and, luckily, showing up hungry and promising to order food along with our cervesa, we were granted seats in the VIP section of the bar. Said seats appeared to be parceled out in a strict hierarchical fashion, which allowed old men who'd been coming there for years to sit wherever they liked, order nothing, and smoke profusely for the duration of the match; the handful of outsiders who trickled in were largely turned away or sent to the other half of the bar with the regular-sized television. Only one table of nonregulars besides ourselves passed the mysterious test and were allowed to stay. Once you were in, though, you were treated as well as anyone, and the pub grub enough to make you weep when you thought back to what you'd uncomplainingly consumed in similar situations in America. How can we ever go back to frozen fries and indifferently assembled sandwiches when a neighborhood dive in Barceloneta delivers to us--as a series of well-orchestrated courses, even--little dishes of anchovies and olives, pa amb tomaquet (that's bread rubbed with olive oil and garlic and tomatoes), and pinxtos--succulent little skewers of still-pink beef accompanied by still more olive-and-garlic drizzled bread? The old men around us shouted and cursed the referee and Almeria and debated the lineup with passion; behind the bar a bell pealed to celebrate each Barca goal. Soon we were standing room only. Outside children boosted themselves up on the sills and pressed their faces against the windows, while a lanky youth followed the radio broadcast with his headphones while watching the action on the screen and smoking a languid joint. The place erupted with young Bojan's goal, and again when Eto'o scored, and cried out in anguish each time Almeria leveled the scoreline, as Milito was sent off, as things went from good to bad to worse for the Catalan side. It might have been a dream come true of a night if not for the final score, the impotent 2-2, Barca's inability yet again to capitalize on a Real Madrid loss pushing a victory for the season still further out of reach. The place finally fell silent after Almeria's second goal, though we all hung on till the bitter end, hoping for a miracle. Afterwards, though, the place cleared out in seconds, and we tumbled into the street, torn between infatuation with this city and, yet again, frustration with our team. We said, "We've still got Champion's League." But a lot of disappointed old men made their way home along our neighborhood streets last night.

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