Saturday, October 8, 2011

Intermission, Entry 4

I've found the other members of my generation -- those of us who don't have a spouse, kids, or steady employment, anyway. They have long hair, are learning Portuguese, and live in hostels in Barcelona.

Pablo works at the Sant Jordi Arago hostel and is the first person I met there. He's a tall late-twenty-something with a trimmed black beard and wide hands. A native of Barcelona, he flips off the tourist buses when he's drunk because they make him feel like he's in a zoo.

"Or maybe a safari. Like they're driving across Africa, looking at all the funny animals." Pablo speaks excellent English.

"Well, at least they don't have rifles."

He shook his head. "Worse -- cameras. Did you know that the first camera was attached to the scope of a rifle?"

When Pablo found out that I play jazz, he got excited and told me that there was a jam session that we had to go to.

The session was supposed to start around 11, and so naturally we left the hostel around 11:30. There were four of us at first: Pablo, myself, and two Brazilians. I had met Lucas the night before; coming back drunk, late at night, he was trying to climb into the bunk above mine without making any noise. Unfortunately, his ladder wasn't attached, and Lucas ended up falling backwards into the steel storage lockers and waking up the whole room (a multilingual chorus of protest). He has that permanently unshaven look that some Brazilians have.

The other Brazilian was Juliana, a dance teacher about Pablo's age. "I'm sorry, I do not speak good English," she told me. "Bueno, no hablo Castillano muy bien," I responded, not aware yet that she was from Brazil and speaks Portuguese . . . luckily the two languages are similar enough that she was able to understand me.

We picked up a couple of Pablo's friends at a cafe on the way there. I was glad for the company -- we were far enough back in the twisted side streets of the Gothic quarter (el gotic) that the cockroaches had come out (human and insect).

"So what are the guys holding the half empty six-pack of coke actually selling?" I asked Pablo. He laughed -- they'll say that they're selling cocaine, but really they're selling little pieces of white paper wrapped in plastic. An expensive lesson for some people. Since we were with the locals, though, they left us alone.

The "Harlem Jazz Club" was packed, which for a Tuesday night jam session was surprising to me. The crowd was almost entirely young people, late teens all the way to late twenties. Six euros bought me in the door and got me a drink ticket. A guitarist, bass player, and drummer were holding down a nasty slow blues as we squeezed in the door.

After hanging for a bit with a Spanish saxophonist and cute linguist friend, I found the session list and signed up. Bringing a brass instrument to a mostly acoustic (they were very lightly amplified) blues jam is kind of like bringing a bazooka to a water balloon fight, but the crowd loved it. After two songs, the Argentinian band leader handed me a drink ticket and told me to stick around -- he'd bring me up later after they got through the list. We played "When You're Smiling" (which the entire audience sang along to in English) and then the house band unplugged their amps and came down into the audience to play one last tune acoustic. They were on fire . . . there was some nasty slap-bass playing . . . the audience went crazy.

Afterward, we all stood outside smoking. Julianna and I were the only ones who didn't smoke, and so we were a little bit apart from the others.

She yawned. "Tengo mucho sueno."

"No, no tienes sueno." I replied.

She smiled. "Por que no?"

"Pero solo es la una y media."

"Si, es muy tarde."

"No es demasiado tarde."

"Necessito dormir, tengo que trabajar a la manana."

"A que hora?"

"A las ocho."

"No, no te vas a ir a trabajar en la manana."

She stopped and laughed at my funny Spanish. "Demasiado profesores." We'd been calling beers "professors" because my Spanish gets better when drink, and we decided that it would be cheaper in the long run to buy beer instead of hiring a teacher.

"No, hay nunca demasiado profesores!"

Meanwhile, we'd been joined by three other Brazilian women from the hostel and I was awash in a sea of Portuguese. One of them was drawing charcoal portraits of the other two by streetlight on a piece of discarded particle board found in the alley.

We ended up in another club housed in a series of walnut paneled rooms up a narrow stairway from the Placa Reial. This quickly turned into the after-hours hang for the Harlem Jazz Club crowd, and because of the piano there another jam session seemed likely (despite the complaints from the neighbors) but it was too tame for the Brazilians and we left (or were kicked out, not sure). Eventually we ended up back at the hostel, where I played the blues with Pablo (he plays excellent guitar) for a while before listening to a drunk Irishman explain the history of world profanity.

Finally it was off to bed. Wanderers are interesting people.


  1. When you and Kayla were on your Michener kick, did you ever read The Drifters? If not, you should now. It's good and somewhat relevant to your situation, just set in the 60's.

  2. That's what I keep hearing -- I'll probably get to that right after Kerouac's On the Road.

  3. Mitchener has been out though because I can't carry his books!