Thursday, March 7, 2013

Bleepless In Barcelona

            Okay, now that the bitching about street thieves has been taken care of, I can tell you some good things about Barcelona. First of all, if you want to make a city look even better, put it on a large body of water like the Gulf of Mexico or Mediterranean Sea. This strategy isn't foolproof, as any normal person who's ever been to Holly Beach, Louisiana, can tell you. On the other hand, if it weren't for the Atlantic Ocean, almost every place on the Jersey Shore would be just another town full of Garden State shitheads.

            Barcelona is home to the coolest music store I've ever been to and this includes every one in New York City. We just stumbled upon this place the second day in the main tourist area of Las Ramblas as we strolled while trying to keep our wallets from being stolen. (Sorry, I said I was finished with this, didn't I?) Anyway, at 129 Las Ramblas I saw "MUSICAL EMPORIUM" above windows displaying, among other things, a SpongeBob Squarepants (Bob Esponja) ukulele.  Inside it's like stepping into the 1920's and while there were plenty of guitars, I didn't see one that needed a plug. Spanish guitars you expect but a Puerto Rican quatro, a Cuban tres and even a sitar hung on one wall. The whole place is narrow and dark with the north and south walls lined by shelves of what look like old leather bound books. These "books" contain sheet music for every instrument imaginable.  All the way in the back room, where they sell vintage vinyl, things are presided over by a talkative little old lady and her Chihuahua Neska (little girl in Basque). We picked up a guitar book for my nephew because I couldn't leave without buying something.
            Since I'm not much of a planner, I've usually depended on serendipity for live music. This has actually led to some pretty memorable experiences and this trip produced one as well.  The first day in town, not far from where we were staying, we were given a handbill as we walked past the Eglésia de Santa Maria del Pi.  That evening there would be a concert given at this church by guitarist Manuel Gonzalez If we had made the trip just for this it would have been worth it. Just listen.
            Then there were the parades for the festival of Saint Eulalie, one of the patrons of Barcelona and a local who, for the usual reasons, suffered one of the typically gruesome deaths favored by religious martyrs.  One parade lasted a couple of hours and featured groups of local school children and their geants. The geants are kind of like a big puppet, the heads of which look to be made of papier mâché. (A lot of people spell this 'paper mache' but you know those pretentious assholes like the ones that pronounce the word homage oh-MAHJ ? I could become the literary equivalent.) Some of these looked like the kids made them but others had to have been professional. All seemed to represent characters that, if you were Catalonian, you'd know all about. We just thought they were neat. 

            More often than not, the geant-ic groups included a kind of pipe band consisting of marching drums and these things that looks like the chanter from a bagpipe and Catalonians call a gralla. They're a double reed instrument found also in the Pays-Basque under another name that I don't feel like looking up and make a sort of oboe-bassoon-englishhorn-ish rasping noise. It seems to have the range of about a fifth, if what they were playing is anything to go by. I guess it was local folk tunes but one of them sure did sound like In Heaven There Is No Beer.  Anyway, these bands are interesting and fun but after about the third group get a little grating. I suspect that, like Scots and bagpipes, only the locals possess the stamina to endure lengthy exposures to the gralla.
            My theory is that, again like the bagpipe, its initial development was for use in wartime, probably as a means of breaking a siege.  If you found yourself surrounded by Visigoths, Huns, what have you, you simply broke out the local fireman's gralla band and before too long the marauding hordes put their hands over their ears and buggered off.
            Speaking of Bob Esponja.

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