Dispatches from Abroad: Jay Stone watches his wallet in Spain

When in Barcelona, be Barcelonan, or is that do as the Barcelonese? It can be hard for a foreigner to figure things out in the land of architecture that conjures thoughts of The Phantom of Opera’s mask

Barcelona, Spain: Say you’re going to Barcelona, and everyone has a story about how their pocket was picked or, in some cases, their passport stolen right out of their purse while they were buying something – a soccer T-shirt, perhaps, or one of the Dali ashtrays that made to look is as molten as one of his clocks – and not watching their wallet. Someone had their purse stolen right from under a restaurant table. Someone met a guy who had ketchup and mustard poured on him out of squeeze bottles and, while he was wiping it off, lost all his luggage.

It’s something of a relief, then, to report that I arrived from the airport with pocketbook intact, perhaps due to the fact that my passport and cash were tucked into a money belt that fit nicely just over my underwear. The only way to pick my pocket would be to strip me naked, and the resulting loot would barely pay for the thief’s subsequent psychiatric care.

We arrived just in time for Saint George Day (Felic Sant Jordi!), which is, for some reason, a major holiday in the Catalan region of Spain. Rafael, the concierge of the apartment I rented, explained tha in honour of the man who slayed a dragon, men buy roses for their women and women buy books for their men; indeed, the streets are jammed with vendors of roses andThe view from Jay's window books.

I’m not sure why, and I’m not sure I want to know: I enjoy Rafael’s explanation that whatever the reason, it pleases the florists and bookstores.

But you can still squeeze your way through to see some of the apartments designed by Antoni Gaudi, patron saint of Barcelona architecture. They’re astonishing constructions: umbrella tops on melting limestone, with balconies that look the Phantom of the Opera’s mask. It looks like someone left the cake out in the rain; “Alice in Wonderland for adults,” as a friend put it. We’ll have to get into some of these buildings once the Sant Jordi crowds thin out. We’ll also visit the Gaudi park, and the Picasso museum, and the beach, and more of the thousands of sidewalk cafes where you enjoy a glass of wine (a jugo de vino blanco, I believe it’s called) and watch the world walk by, burdened down by single-stemmed roses. The book stalls are filled with customers, and there’s some fine satisfaction in watching the hordes browse through tables of them in full view of their arch enemy, the Apple store.

We spend the first day on a jet-lagged stumble along cobbled alleys, each more picturesquely authentic than the next. One store sells square candles shaped like Scrabble tiles that spell out “Sant Jordi” and it’s delightful to note that the J tile in Spanish is worth only two points, probably because it’s such a common letter (it gets you eight points in the English version.)

Or maybe it was just one too many jugos de blanco.

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