May, 1999. I had just experienced three confident days on my own in Madrid. Music, museums, and majesty. The sink in my tiny bedroom was clogged, but my Spanish was up to par. Off to Barcelona!
Barcelona: I departed the overnight train from Madrid and realized I hadn’t brought enough money with me. Worse, the station concierge told me that all the hotels were full. (A couple days later, I learned that Manchester United and Bayern Munich were in town for a thrilling Champs League Final. So many chubby, pale, sunburnt drunkards, spewing their anthems, separated by black-garbed Spanish military/police carrying machine guns.)
I eventually sorted out my funds in the station, and realized that the Catalan language barrier (not Spanish!) had contributed to my confusion. (I was looking for a hostel, not a hotel.) I paid for my room, celebrated, and hit Las Ramblas.
As dusk became darkness, I noticed the increasing cacaphony of car horns. Crowds were gathering; people were hanging from lightposts, lighting flares, and singing. I asked around and learned that FC Barcelona had just won the league title.
Two days later, I happened upon a medium-sized square in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter. The Barca team bus arrived to greet the swelling of several hundred adoring fans. The players spoke from a second-story hotel balcony. I remember Figo, and I was in awe of the adoration. (Also on that balcony: Reiziger, Rivaldo, Kluivert…)
(The team that won La Liga during my first night in Catalunya also featured Xavi Hernandez and Josep Guardiola…)
Barcelona showed me Gaudi, as I stopped traffic to take pictures of his organic living spaces. Barcelona gave me La Sagrada Familia, again by Gaudi, perhaps the most beautiful of all unfinished architectural masterpieces.
I stood in line to see Picasso’s early sketches, accompanied by a street-guitarist. I watched young boys, in school uniforms, showing and telling a disturbingly large, silver handgun, out of sight of the cops, directly beneath the towering coastal statue of Columbus/Colon.
My one awkward memory: I had learned that Barca had won the league. People were celebrating all around me that night. There were pre-made cardboard cutouts of the trophy. I saw a woman who had 4 or 5 of those trophy cutouts. I asked her for one, using body language more than words. She shook her head, “no”.
I found my own cardboard trophy on the ground, trampled and dirty, with the handles torn off. I still have it.