Bringing in the New Year
By Jennifer Cross
It is said that the traditional New Year's carol "Auld Lang Syne" translates roughly in Scottish to "Times Gone By." My last New Year's Eve in Barcelona was a memorable time -- that has thankfully gone by. Last summer I met a New Yorker on the beach. He was one of these slick Brooklyn dwellers, fresh out of film school who had come to Barcelona to harness some creative inspiration and enjoy the topless tendencies of Barcelona's beauties. I quickly realized that this alleged writer/movie producer/small business owner was all about talking the talk but fell short when it came to walking the walk.
He was clever though, and he had the ability to tell an engaging story and quirky anecdotes, one of which I think of often. I wish I could pass it off as my own, but then I would be as much of an impostor as he was. He likened returning to Barcelona after going "home" (in my case the US), to a spaceship crashing back into the atmosphere -- "You are always bound to loose a few shingles" were his exact words if I remember correctly. Meaning, it can take a few days to readjust to the city whose restaurants don't start serving dinner until 9:00, stores close for two of the most conducive hours for errand running and its country's inhabitants get the least amount of sleep in the EU.
Six months later on New Year's Eve I lost a lot more than a few shingles. Returning to Barcelona at about 3PM on Friday, December 31, was a calculated move. It would allow me enough time to sleep off my jet lag, yet still allow me ample time to refresh and bring in the New Year sufficiently. Heading out at around 11PM I was perplexed by the lack of people on the streets. For the city whose nightlife I had come to know and love it was disappointing to say the least. Heading into El Borne, most of the bars had signs hanging from their shut doors announcing that they would open at 12:30. Apparently in Spain where family actually matters, people stay at home with their aunts, uncles and countless cousins until the stroke of midnight has passed. Then they are released from the obligatory grip of their extended family members and let loose on the night.
With a bottle's worth of cava carbonation flowing through my blood stream, I chose one of the few bars that was open for tourists and lame people such as myself who lacked a party. Within moments of ordering a ridiculously overpriced bottle of cava I had knocked over the half drunk mojitos of the tourists sitting next to me. 'Tis the Season, and not wanting bad karma entering the New Year, I offered to replace their drinks. I felt a little less altruistic when I realized they were nine euros each but I bit the bullet and the fat, pinkish tourists thanked me for my generosity. All this conversing in English had attracted the attention of a lone 23 year old Canadian chef who had a name too difficult for me to pronounce. Her drink of choice was vodka up with a lemon and that was enough of a commonality to invite her to join our little group.
The New Year had now begun and we migrated to nearby Sal which always reminds me of a place I used to frequent in New York, namely because of the outrageous prices. But it was New Years and not to worry, I was armed and fully loaded with a credit card. We got wind of an "underground" party in the Barri Gotica which I was less than enthused about. The idea of spending the night in some cave-like atmosphere drinking wine from a cardboard box and listening to bongos did not suit me well. But I was persuaded, and off we went, but not before my card was rejected for reasons unknown to me.
The said underground party was taking place in a crumbling (cave-like) banquet hall in a location I am still to this day unsure of. The air was thick with smoke, hash, Christmas present perfume and sweaty dancing bodies. The music was not of the bongo variety though. It appeared that the hosts were gypsies and they were drawing the crowd into a frenzy with their ensemble of accordions, pipes and cymbals. In the middle of the gypsy orchestra was a small girl -- no older than 5 or 6 twirling around while a group of onlookers cheered her. She was as drunk as the spectators with the attention and she twirled faster and faster -- her little bare feet becoming a pink blur. It was at this precise moment that the seemingly vast amount of cava, vodka, beer and wine sent my system reeling.
My head was spinning as fast as the girl's little feet and I needed to get out of this "Fear and Loathing in Barcelona" reality fast. I grabbed my boyfriend and headed out. Barcelona's night air has strange effects on people, and within moments of hitting it I had a second wind. It was the first day of a new year and there were two more bottles of cava in my nearby fridge. What better idea than to watch the sunrise? I quickly stopped at home to grab them and we were off towards Barceloneta. We made a quick shwarma pit stop (something that always seems like a good idea at the time but has displeasing after effects), and soon were waiting for the sun to make her first appearance in 2005.
Somewhere in between my babbling about what had happened in 2004 and what I hoped to happen in 2005, I noticed that my bag was no longer next to me. This was not just any bag, it was the bag that my boyfriend had given me as a present for our first Christmas together. It was the bag that contained the expensive wallet my best friend had bought for me with laundered company money, it was the bag that contained my digital camera complete with rare photos of my miserly grandfather who had made a surprise appearance at Christmas dinner. Oh, and it had my rent for January in it as well.
I went through all the normal phases that happen when something has been stolen. First disbelief, when you look everywhere for it, then anger, when you hurl the unopened cava bottle into the sand, and then utter regret for being so stupid. These sorts of things happen to careless tourists who need to heed the spray painted advice on the walls of El Raval, "Pickpockets Love Tourists", not to me -- a seasoned expat! But it was true, it was all gone. I did not see the first sunrise of the year. I was at home, suddenly sober, canceling cards, calling banks and shuffling around money -- the last type of things you want to do in the beginning hours of a new year.
The next morning I joined the long line of other theft victims waiting to fill out their reports at the police station. We all seemed to be holding out on some impossible hope that our possessions would miraculously turn up. Some kind soul had found a dropped wallet or the thief had a change of heart. I took comfort knowing that I wasn't alone but still felt this return to Barcelona's atmosphere had caused a few extra shingles to fall off.