Back to Reality, Escorted by a Playboy Bunny (Barcelona, Amsterdam, New York)

So I’m already in New York City, feeling altogether despondent.

My last couple of weeks in Barcelona flew by. There was more Pac-Man eating, of course (all references to restaurants have been added to my July 4th post), and record cava consumption. I behaved most diligently (with work) and misbehaved most fantastically (mira mi brazo tatuado… ay Conchita Piquer!). There was more cultural activity: my dear Miss M and I went to a truly excellent exhibit at the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Del segon origen: Arts a Catalunya, 1950-1977. The show is enormous and includes too many key artists and interesting works to enumerate, but make sure not to miss the tiny monitor showing Pere Portabella‘s fascinating 1969 documentary Miró, l’altre, a quasi-absurd masterpiece that features Joan Miró painting his ephemeral mural on the glass windows of the Col.legi d’Arquitectes de Catalunya–and the building’s cleaning ladies washing it off immediately afterwards! It requires standing uncomfortably in a corner for fifteen minutes, but is totally worth it. And, knowing my bunch, it goes without saying that we started with lunch at Òleum and finished with an obligatory (if not photographically skilled) selfie in front of one of the best views in the city.

MNAC

There was also a goodbye brunch for The Boys and The Girls (latter formerly known as the Bilbao Welcoming Committee), whereby my luxe apartment was at once inaugurated and closed as a social space. I had an easy-as-pie foolproof plan: delicious make-ahead deviled eggs and salmon toast for guests to nibble on as I made pancakes on the spot; bottled Illy cappuccinos and mimosas all around. But things on that side of the ocean have that special way of becoming a Spain in the Ass, beginning with those inexplicably deformed, virtually un-peelable, and utterly traumatizing Spanish eggs (which I’m told I should have steamed instead of boiled),

Eggs  Screenshot

and continuing with my having to settle for baking powder instead of baking soda, such that my batter grew unstoppably while I slowly made pancakes for eight, two by two, in the one available tiny pan (and burned a few of them on that glass-ceramic cooktop). However, all’s well that ends sort of well,

Brunch 1 Brunch 2

and a good time was had by all. The mimosa part, at least, worked flawlessly:

B&G

It was a goodbye brunch, but I was SOOOOO sad to leave The Boys and The Girls that next day we followed with a goodbye dinner. I won’t say where (too embarrassed), but I’ll say there were ribs involved, and that this reincidence wasn’t my fault. (It was that tall one, dressed in black, who has also been known to let her hair loose around fried chicken.)

Where

During our subsequent goodbye lunch (yes, then there was a goodbye lunch, I just couldn’t release them!!!), over a fine vermouth at Can Punyetes,

Vermut

The Girls and I were psychoanalyzing the pros and cons of my nomadic lifestyle and I told them about this obscure 1978 film titled Same Time, Next Year, which I’m convinced shaped my entire psyche (another self-defining B-movie!). Mind you, I was thirteen at the time and never saw this presumably R-rated flick (to this day!), but my eighteen-year-old aunt who was allowed to see grownup movies always came home and narrated the plots to me in thorough and vivid detail–it was my first exposure to some of the best 1970s cinematography, and remains one of my fondest childhood memories. I remember being unnaturally enthralled by the story of these two lovers, both married and leading separate lives, who see each other exactly once a year over the course of their whole lives. I thought back then, and to this day, that no relationship could be better than that (it’s almost right up there with widowhood!). How my adult romantic behavior has quixotically clung to that beautiful ideal is common knowledge (impossible-odds love? my specialty! long-distance liaisons, anyone?), but it is somehow also the case that my relationship to the family, friends, and places most important to me is also always… cyclical. People and spaces that I find, leave, and revisit again and again and again: I’ve come to the realization that my life is, like the burger joint, In-N-Out. And that’s just the way I like it but sometimes, every so often, I can’t bear the hitting-the-road part. And the knowledge that things will never be exactly the same next time around (never again Portaferrissa!). Eventually, in any case, neither The Boys nor The Girls would accept any more invitations for another goodbye meal, so I had to take my leave. The cycle begins again, so same time next year, Barcelona (or way sooner than that!)…

Adventure awaited me in the form of an overnight layover in Amsterdam, complete with (tentative) international bollycao rendezvous! It found me way before I made it there, as the gods of the friendly skies never fail to make me their defenseless plaything. This time, as usual since the terrible broken-neck incident, I had to travel with the Thing,

Thing

with which I’ve come to make my peace, as it often gets you early boarding and lots of people offer to carry your stuff. This time, however, remembering how on that recent fateful trip to Athens on Vueling a tray table nearly split my liver in two, I woke up from deep sleep at five in the morning and purchased an extra-legroom seat. As it turned out, it was on the exit row, from which I was expelled the moment flight attendants lay eyes on the Thing (which I would have hidden in advance, had I known). After throwing a cosmic temper tantrum (no way in hell was I going back to The People’s section after paying my €17.99 premium), I was moved to another extra-room seat on the second row. And so it was that I became acquainted with my friend the Playboy Bunny.

I was wearing my normal air travel Do-Not-Dare-Talk-To-Me Unfriendly Face (the Good Lord did not grant me natural Resting Bitch Face) right up until we ran into the kind of turbulence that makes everyone on the plane lose their cool and begin assessing seat neighbors for their life-saving potential. One look at her and, despite (because of?) her platinum-blond mane, dramatic mascara-rimmed blue eyes, fuchsia lips, and perky bosoms imprisoned by a rhinestone t-shirt, I knew that she wasn’t in the mood for any freakin’ air disaster and she would get us both out of there with our makeup intact (or at least hers–I’d kind of skipped mine). And so a lively conversation began that would never have taken place had we not momentarily feared death. Impressively, she was being nice to me although my new seat was originally intended for a boyfriend she dumped in Barcelona so that, technically, it was hers (we all know what I would have done in her place, shame on me). I am not sure exactly what her job is but she made this joke about mine: “Oh, so yours is really a ‘profession!'” If the pun was intended, she had me right then and there–BFFs forever. To be fair, she wasn’t just interacting with me but with the entire front half of the plane, and everyone felt her beneficial influence: she was, in fact, instrumental in getting the meanest stewardess on earth to allow a guy who really had to pee into the bathroom she had locked for the duration of the fasten-your-seatbelts light (i.e., the entirety of the flight).

After grilling me on my plans for the evening (“I may or may not have a date”), Bunny made me take her phone number and promise that I’d call if I ended up on my own so that she could show me a good time around town. Then she asked me if I was on Facebook and later actually sent me a friend invite. And there she was, on her profile picture, in full bunny-suit with bowtie, ears and all. It would be unacceptable to show it here, of course, but it is marvelous. And even more marvelous: as per pictures on her wall, she spent the month of July traveling between Ibiza (staying at the Hard Rock Hotel) and Barcelona (the W). Upcoming trip: Las Vegas. My life suddenly feels dumb and boring.

I have not, alas, responded to her Facebook request, since I try very hard not to “friend” people I don’t really know. But who knows, I still might.

So WADDAYAKNOW (story of my life): mystery bollycao, delayed in European highways as he drove back from camping in Croatia (people do this!), did not arrive in Amsterdam environs until the wee hours of the morning, by which time not only was he unfit for human company, but I had developed a mortal cold (“from forth the fatal loins of these two foes / a pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life”). I did not call Bunny to show me that good time, but I did make it to the Red Light district (where I indeed happened to be staying). The Grand Amrath Hotel, it should be noted, was quite remarkable: a monumental building that used to house a shipping company, with impossibly high ceilings, enormous clocks, and art-deco stained glass everywhere (and awesome deep soaking tubs in the room to boot!). It was positively… steampunk! And quite reasonably priced (pre-paid through Orbitz), although extras are not on the cheap side.

I stepped outside and found myself smack in the middle of Amsterdam Gay Pride (for some reason I often find myself accidentally in the middle of gay pride!),

GP1  GP2

then made my way through the happy throngs for dinner at THE BEST CHINESE RESTAURANT where I’ve dined in at least twenty years (because after two months in Spain, no matter how nostalgic you immediately become, you just want Asian food). Seriously, the kind that used to be all over New York and Boston in the 80s and 90s but slowly began disappearing. It’s called New Season,

New Season

and not only is that crispy duck appetizer actually A KILLER; those are the least greasy and most impossibly crisp spring rolls I ever saw.

I already look moribund in that picture, but managed to squeeze in a swim in the starry-ceilinged hotel pool before going to bed with just-washed wet hair and sealing my fate. No exploring Amsterdam the next morning: as I lay dying, all I managed to accomplish was ordering an outrageously expensive yet inedible room-service breakfast and opening and closing my remote-controlled curtains for hours.

I suppose that, as I couldn’t leave the room that day, the layover ended up being relatively pointless–but I did get to walk among the Amsterdam canals on the night of the blue moon.

Blue Moon

And one can really only do that once in a blue moon.

Another hellish flight later (complete with exploding ears and public tears), I made it back to a home that still feels oddly unfamiliar, partly because of the long absence and partly because of the multiple hallucinatory drugs my cold-turned-into-throat-infection has required. Most of my lovely friends are still not back from their summer trips: I am ALL ALONE.

Most tragically, the air conditioner in my living/dining room died, so I’ve been forced to spend the last two days in the office, where various annoyances already found their way to me. So I have slammed the door and shut myself in here, because I’m too busy to be interrupted.

Gamper

(At least Barça just won the Gamper…)

It shall be necessary to get used to reality, but I ain’t too crazy about that. Groucho was wrong, do you hear that? It’s not at all the only place to get a decent meal.

About WRF

New York-based Spanish Cultural Studies professor and academic author venturing (nervously) into new forms of writing: travel and food-logue, cultural commentary, pseudophilosophical speculation, opinion, reminiscence, prophecy, examination of conscience.
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