If you're ever in Barcelona on April 23rd and you find yourself stumbling through a sea of red roses and books of all colors, you haven't lost your mind. It's Sant Jordi. The Catalan "Day of Lovers" celebrating Saint George, the patron saint of Catalonia. Book sellers and florists set up shop outside all over the city to sell roses to the men (for the women) and books to the women (for the men). It's true that you'll be hard pressed to find a woman without a single red rose in hand (you get one red rose as opposed to the dozen an American novia would expect). In 2002, I was that lone woman. My travel companion had already returned to Amsterdam and I was left to explore more of Barcelona on my own. Not one for crowds and feeling very sadly single, I spent most of the day in my hotel room. La diada de Sant Jordi feels like a national holiday of love as compared to Valentine's Day in the States. No one was working, that I could figure, other than the rose vendors and the stalls selling books. Everyone and their mother was outside basking in a public pool of adoration and emotion. It was a beautiful thing to behold, but without a novio to buy a book for and receive a flower in return I felt quite the spectacle and just wanted to get the hell inside. Maybe one day when I'm happily attached I'll return to Barcelona on an April 23rd and take a dip in the sea of love overflowing to all corners of the city and surrounding towns, too. (Before finally escaping to my hotel, I hopped on a train to Sitges and was met with a miniature version of the same sap-happy scene.)
For Gaudí's 150th birthday, 2002 was "The Year of Gaudí" in Spain. The festivities in Catalonia were particularly rich and enthusiastic, with Barcelona at the center of the events. I want to be on the bandwagon, but people would see through my cheerleading in a hot second. I'm just not into Gaudí. Or Dalí, for that matter. Parc Guell is nice and has its charms. And the chimneys at Casa Mila I do really dig. But on the whole I find Gaudí to be quite gaudy. That said, I respect the man for being an individual and an artist and making his passion his lifework. That is commendable and beautiful and not gaudy, at all.
Sometimes you see things abroad that make your jaw drop. "Are you fucking kidding me?," you ask yourself aloud in mumbled astonishment. Strolling down the Passeig de Gracia past the Corte Ingles and on to the Bari Gotic, my friend and I encountered the singing sambos that you see pictured, above. There were actually more. I didn't have the heart to include a shot of the rosy-red-lipped (grossly oversized, of course) jiving Aunt Jemima's in their colorful 'do rags, too. I figured one racist photo would suffice. That's the funny thing about Europe. There's madness going down here that strikes you as universally offensive, but get into a conversation about the singing sambos with a person of color who was born and raised in Spain, and you might be more shocked by their nonchalant, "Who cares?" perspective. The friend that I was traveling with happened to also be of Black African descent (her daddy was born and raised in Africa while mine was part of the African Slave Trade diaspora). We were equally and utterly appalled at the White Western European woman playing a Louis Armstrong tune while making her big-lipped Black dolls sing and dance to the music. I didn't know whether to laugh or to cry. The audience of locals and tourists was way into the performance and many people left her a Euro or two after the "show" was over. Some of those people were Black. Black from where, I don't know. But not the U.S.! I can tell you that much for sure. After snapping myself out of shocked paralysis and incoherent muttering, I managed to hold it together long enough to take a few pictures before alerting my friend that if we didn't leave immediately I might grab the lady's puppets and clock her with one of them. Or something to that effect. My friend, just as livid as I was, agreed and that was the last time we saw the singing Spanish sambos. Five minutes of that bullshit was five minutes too much. And I'm still not sure what to make of the onlookers. Especially the ones who should have clued in to the fact that it was their lips and looks that were being degraded and disrespected.
I try not to make a habit of real bacon and salami of any sort at home. Pigs are filthy animals and I don't care what organic bounty you feed them or how pristinely clean their pens are kept, I just as well have turkey bacon and a smoked turkey sandwich. Like so many others trying to adhere to a no pork diet, my trouble lies in my acute gastronomic memory. Bacon tastes good. Salami tastes good. And unlike chicken, I haven't found a meat substitute to match the real thing. While it's easy not to slip up at home, it's harder abroad. Bacon I can safely avoid, yes. But salami... More readily available than turkey and in a million different varieties to choose from, I find it near impossible to turn down a salami sandwich or fresh cheese and salami straight up from the grocer in Italy and in Spain. Nearly every day I spent in Barcelona was a day I overlooked the rules and ingested with guilty pleasure at least one, if not two, salami and tomato or cheese sandwiches from the Farga near my hotel. Spanish salami is something to crave. It's spicy and fantastic and if you've ever had pork before at some time in your life but have taken vows to steer clear of the stuff, I suggest you also steer clear of Spain (and Italy too, while you're at it) because chances are you'll cave at the first whiff.
Questions? Ask away! Please use the comments feature to ask questions rather than contacting Marisa directly. That way everyone can learn a thing or two, too.