Let’s get this one out of the way first. I came here to write, and written I have. It’s actually been pretty easy. A piece of piss, in fact. All you have to do, see, is put one word after the other. If you keep doing that, for ages, you’ll have lots of sentences, and those sentences will eventually form paragraphs, and… well, before you know it, you’ll have a load of pages, all with “writing” on them…
Seriously, though. I’m doing it. What’s struck me most is how stressed I was about getting back into the flow. Before I arrived, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to navigate my way through the mess of multiple versions, paper copies of early drafts, and the various hand-written snippets I’d shoved into my bag before travelling. But I came up with a simple plan. I opened up a new document on Word and started over. Typed up some sections afresh, copied and pasted others that already seemed to work, and edited as I went along. I took breaks—walks around the barrio, taking pics and such. A lot of the hard work, I realised, I’d already done. Most of this draft I wrote over the last year or so, after classes, or in the morning, or sitting on a bench in MK shopping centre while I waited for the barber’s to open (true story.)
All that said, there’s still a lot of hard work to do. Leaving it and coming back to it has definitely been beneficial. It’s true what they say—doing this allows you to look at your work with fresh eyes, and you notice things that you hadn’t before. For example, my characters do a lot of nodding—especially before they speak.
It’s as if they’re all drinking-bird desk-toys, and this was something I had to address, along with a hundred other “tiny” things—tics and traits that each character needs, but which you, the author, have to make invisible…
Anyway, we’re getting there. I think. And I can’t wait to share it with you all, in one form or another.
(Note: I don’t care whether or not this is the way you’re *supposed* to do it, or even if this is the messiest process possible. It’s how I’m doing it, and it works.)
Speculators and development
Talking of the barrio, one of the hot topics at the moment is the debate over development here in Barcelona. From the slogans scrawled across the walls, to the articles in the local press, it’s all but inescapable. On the one hand, you’ve got the “especuladores”, who are taking full advantage of the vacant properties in parts of the city where the economic crisis hit, buying them and doing them up, and then selling them on for astronomical rates. Meanwhile, hotels and other forms of tourist accommodation are springing up all over town—including here in Poblenou—increasing commerce and cash-flow. On the opposite side, you’ve got all the residents of the area and other, regular Barcelonians calling for a halt to this ceaseless construction. Graffiti covers the walls around the building sites, and each barrio has at least one action-group pressuring the Ajuntament to step in and put a stop to it. It’s an age-old argument, and one that doesn’t look like it’s going to get resolved any time soon.
On top of that, I’ve been reading about “narcopisos”—the flats and apartments primarily located in the Raval district, which are occupied by drug-dealers. Evicting these scally-wags is very difficult, apparently, but the problems they bring to the neighbourhood are increasing and in recent months have gained attention from the media. Again, though, it’s only big business and private companies that can afford to buy these properties, for which they then charge prices well beyond that which most Barcelonians can afford. It’s a little crazy to think of buying a “luxury” place in the Raval, historically best known for its red-light district and top-drawer class A’s (or so I hear) but there we go.
No doubt I’m part of the problem, but I’m really enjoying living in Poblenou. I like buying fruit from the fruiteria, pastís from the pastisseria, and fish from the, er, supermarket. Away from the main drag, it feels like the industrial edge of the city, where all the old factories have been turned into creative spaces. The streets are a lot quieter than in other areas, and there’s a an abundance of warehouses, workshops, and “espais”, where the young and trendy mostly seem to hang out, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee.
As I mentioned in my brief guide to the City, Barcelona by the Barri, it’s very easy to set up shop in one part of town and never really venture too far afield. In Poblenou, that’s arguably truer than anywhere else, and when you have a spot like L’Atelier, a mere stone’s throw from your apartment block, it’s hard to justify traipsing across to the Born, or even Barceloneta. Serving bagels, freshly prepared salads, and a whole host of homemade cakes, this little place is an absolute gem—not least because the two women who run it are like your favourite aunts: warm, welcoming, and always happy to rustle up something different if you don’t fancy what’s on offer.
Fiestas, films, and other distractions
As I may have mentioned in a previous blog post, and on Facebook, September is a month of celebrations for much of Barcelona, as it’s when many of the neighbourhoods host their annual ‘festa major’. There are food stalls, pop-up bars, and stages set up in the streets, upon which bands of varying degrees of competence play music until the small hours. People wander round, kids run amok, and no-one bats an eyelid about the myriad health-and-safety laws being flagrantly ignored. As I may also have mentioned, these parties are not conducive to a good night’s sleep, or getting much work done. Still, if you’re not here to work (or sleep) I imagine they’re lots of fun…
Anyway, aside from the cacophony de la calle, I’ve managed to find several other ways in which to avoid writing, including watching a bunch of films. Thus far, I have watched:
- American Animals (2018)
- The Sweeney (2012)
- Lean On Pete (2018)
- One More Time With Feeling (2016)
- Suntan (2016)
- You Were Never Really Here (2017)
I’d be more than happy to wax lyrical about all of these films, but I’ll just do one for now. Suntan is a Greek film, and one of the most brilliantly uncomfortable pieces of cinema I’ve seen in ages. It depicts a lonely, overweight man named Kostis, who arrives on a remote Greek island to take over as the local doctor. The winter season is dead, but in the summer the island comes to life with an abundance of nubile young holiday-makers—one of whom, Anna, becomes the object of obsession for poor Kostis.
This was a painful watch, casting a stark light on the divide between youth and beauty on one side and age and ugliness on the other, as Kostis pursues Anna with increasingly alarming fervour. It’s not really an enjoyable film—and at one or two points it’s downright disturbing—but it was both sad and funny, with some brilliant acting, a superb visual language, and a strong message about knowing when you’re just too old…
I’ve also read the following books:
- Black Gum, by J David Osborne
- Watch, by Keith Buckley (which I reviewed, here)
- A Minor Storm, by J David Osborne (a sequel to Black Gum)
- Stoner, by John Williams
- Animals Eat Each Other, Elle Nash (for the second time)
In their own way, each of these books was brilliant, and you should probably go read them all yourself, right now. But Stoner, in particular… man, that is a fine-ass novel. Again, I’m not going to bang on about it for too long, but it definitely warrants a few words here, at least. For a start, it’s a book I’ve been recommended several times; however, it was only when Craig Wallwork handed me a copy that I decided to finally give it a go. Once I got over the fact that it wasn’t about a guy that likes to get stoned, I quickly became enthralled by it. Set during the early 20th Century, it tells the story of William Stoner—a quiet, unassuming man, who leaves the humble farm of his home to study at the University of Missouri, where he eventually becomes a teacher. Things do not go well for Stoner, but his story, which, on one level, is “boring” and unremarkable, is told with such skill that I could barely put it down. It’s essentially a love-letter to literature, and to the power and magic of the written word, which, as you can imagine, appeals to me immensely, but it’s also so much more than this, and by the time I finished it, I was openly weeping.
…some stray thoughts and random observations.
- I miss the kids—the one I tutor, the ones I taught, and the ones who liked to come up to me at break and lunch, just for a chat.
- In Barcelona, it costs just thirty euros to deliver and install a piano. That’s all. Thirty euros.
- Lots of talk on the internet these days about hustling. Well, you know those “cervessa, beer, agua” guys that trudge the beach from dawn till dusk? Now, that’s hustling.
- It sounds corny, but I really like helping tourists—especially on the metro, when they get lost, or put their ticket it in the wrong way ‘round. To quote that guy from the Blur video, it gives me an enormous sense of well-being.
Until next time,