The seasons are changing. The sycamores along Passeig de Picasso have shed their seeds, the temperature is dropping—particularly at night—and, slowly but surely, the number of tourists wandering the streets is finally dwindling. Ironically—or perhaps serendipitously—these changes arrive at a time when, for one reason or another, I’m leaving the old town. It’s a sad time in many ways. But it’s a relief, too. I mean, I’m not saying I won’t miss the clack-clack-clack of high heels, the drunken “singing”, or the old man hacking up a lung at five o’clock in the morning, it’s just… um… I don’t know how to finish that sentence.
I love the old town—I do. For those who’ve never visited Barcelona, it consists of three districts: the Raval, the Gothic Quarter, and El Born. The world-famous Rambla separates the Raval and the Gothic, and to get to the Born you need only cross Via Laietana. Each ‘barrio’ has its own flavour, though you really only notice the distinctions after spending a decent amount of time there. The Gothic and El Born bear the greatest number of similarities, characterised as they are by narrow stone streets, ancient religious monuments, and, of course, the droves of tourists seeking photo opportunities or a quiet little café away from all the other tourists. In this sense, Barcelona’s old town is much like that of any other European capital.
In order to give you a better idea of its unique, um, charm, I suppose I could detail some of the stranger sights you might see—such as the woman who sits in a deckchair outside her artisan boutique, breast-feeding her baby. I could also describe for you the smells… but you all know what piss and marijuana smoke smell like, right? No; to gain an authentic impression of the ‘ciutat vella’, you’d do far better using your ears than any other of your sensory devices. And, aside from the typical noises of a tourist-centric European city (English voices, American voices, Russian voices…) there are a few sounds that I shall, forever more, associate with my time in the old town.
The Gas Guy: Some guy who wanders the streets dragging round a shopping cart loaded with butane gas tanks, banging them intermittently and yelling, “Butano! Butano!” You know, to let the residents know that best online casino if they need gas, he’s got it.
The Streetcleaners: Those little trucks with swishy things attached to the sides, which crawl through the old town in the mornings, spraying out tiny jets of water in a vague gesture of washing away the evidence of last night’s revelries. What they actually do is simply spread the pools of piss across a greater surface area and wake me up from my much needed beauty sleep. Grr…
The Dominican Woman: The old lady who has all of her telephone conversations on the balcony directly below. Speaks worse Spanish than me… and that’s saying something.
The Handheld Drill: No matter which part of town you live in, no matter what time of day, there is always, always someone drilling. One day I shall round them all up and make them listen to U2’s new album on repeat. For twelve straight hours.
The 6 A.M. Skateboarder: I’m no physicist but for some reason—because of the narrowness of the streets, I assume—all of the ground-level noises sound ten times as loud coming through the window of a third-floor apartment, and the reverberation of skateboard wheels on granite is like a civil war tank heading for your front door. Terrifying.