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Flotsam in Barcelona


Barcelona is a gem of city, complete with all the stereotypical bits Spain is renowned for: tapas, cheap beer and dancing until dawn in a myriad of plazas that keep the city in a permanent state of frolic. Personally, I take comfort in knowing that on a whim I can still get a ham and cheese toasted, known fondly as a bikini!

I’m whisked off from the airport to a Pension at the top end of town not far from Parc Guell – the Gaudi masterpiece. Large, rustic iron gates give way to a behemoth of a house and my lodgings. An eccentric and elderly Japanese man greets me, extending a frail hand and a wide, but nervy grin from behind a wiry graying beard. Instantly I’m drawn to the long black wig atop his otherwise balding head. He’s sporting a white shell-suit to boot – you know, the kind you use to wear as a kid and thought you looked awfully smart.

Yeta, as I come to know him, moved here ten years ago. A solitary chap, settling in a foreign land, not known for its great fondness of other cultures let alone the eccentricities of our host.

‘New Zealand, Yes?’ Yeta says glancing at my passport.
‘That’s right.’
‘Yes yes, that very good. Not many from New Zealand we get here!’

Struggling to understand a syllable of what is being explained to me, there is no denying his cheery customer service and amiable manner. Scribbling a makeshift receipt, which could have been a passage from the Koran for all I knew, he scurried off into a darkened room leaving me to settle in and drain the very small beer he had proffered as a gesture of welcome.

I climb the stairs to my rooftop abode, finding the bathroom on the way.  The toilet, shower and basin all appear to be squeezed into a small broom cupboard. With four or five different bathrooms throughout the house, showers are either a trickle or a deluge, but rarely the latter, so bathing consists of scooting semi-clad between bedroom and bathroom to splash yourself with the equivalent of a small bottle of Evian, then depart as quickly as possible before your towel comes away and reveals you in all your glory.

That night Yeta joins a group of us on the porch for dinner and peppers us, in broken English, with stories about Japan and how it is he came to be here. He appears ill at ease with our company after a while and disappears. Later I find him nodding off in front of the telly as his wig teeters on the brink of accidentally finding his lap.

Making just enough noise, he stirs and regains his composure to look on me nervously.

‘Nice day today, wasn’t it?’

He looks back towards the TV and mumbles something about the football.

It’s only then I notice his name embroidered on the pocket of his jumpsuit.

Back out on the porch, the night appears unusually still and I can just here the faint sounds of six lanes of chaotic traffic floating up on a gentle breeze from the main road below.

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