Recently, travelling through Spain, my girlfriend and I ended up in Barcelona. This was at the beginning of another wave of anti-austerity protests. There was a particular square where police were shutting down adjacent streets--we were surprised to hear someone say that these protests had predated the Occupy Wall Street ones. I was reading George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia--strapping, gaunt-faced, eager citizens, men and women, fighting for the republic and equality, dropping the "Señors" from their speech: inspiring, at least at first, before war made it muddied--and I felt friendly to his socialism. Other than that I was reading Hemingway stories, the bullfighting ones especially. It was that kind of trip. It was my girlfriend's birthday and we'd been to the beach, and the Olympic Stadium at Montjuic, and by the time we showered and changed and were ready for dinner it was 10:00, and I was cranky.
Where should we go, I asked.
You choose, she said. It's my birthday.
Fine, I said. That is good and fine.
I went downstairs to the lobby while she finished up in our room. Walking to the front desk, I rolled my shoulders back, stuck out my chest, walked confidently in the way I imagined Orwell or his anarchists or Hemingway would have walked.
Good evening, I said in Spanish. Do you know of a good place for dinner?
The man at the front desk looked at me and shook my hand, firmly, in a way that felt strong with solidarity.
Yes of course, he said. It is very close to here. First you walk out of the hotel, then cross the large street, then take a left, and walk down that street several blocks, keep going for several blocks more, after which you will find a very nice restaurant called La T--, which I will call ahead for you and inform them that you will be arriving, and you will get a table and it will be fine.
Good, I said. That is good. It is my girlfriend's birthday.
Of course, said the man at the desk. And he shook my hand again.
So we walked. The night was good. I was still cranky, which felt very un-Hemingway-like, and yet there was little I could do to help it. I was hungry. I could use food, perhaps spaghetti shoveled in the usual way into one's mouth, perhaps without utensils, the strings of pasta hanging down full length.
After we'd walked some blocks, we passed on our right what can only be described as a very happening restaurant. The restaurant was called Tickets. It was packed, and inside it was full of light and the good smells of food, and wine, waiters moving quickly back and forth. Huh, my girlfriend said. Let's ask how long. The other restaurant I have been informed of sounds fine, I said. I think it will be good. But it's my birthday, she said. Fine, I said. I walked into the restaurant, shoulders back, like Robert Jordan surveying an outcropping in the Spanish woods. A table for two will be how long, I asked in Spanish.
The waiter looked at me with his eyebrows raised. It seemed as if he might laugh. Well, he said, actually, we do in fact have one open table in twenty minutes. That's good, I said, and I gave him my name.
We walked to the other restaurant, the one which had been recommended, and it wasn't the same. Fine, actually. It wasn't bad. But nothing like what we'd just seen. Empty, for one, and very quiet. Some patrons here and there at tables sitting alone. We went back to Tickets and laughed about our near mistake. A very fine place, we mimicked our perfectly nice hotel front-desk man. You take a left, and walk on the other side of the street, past a beautiful world class restaurant, that is full of movie stars and other famous people, and continue on to the wonderful La T-- which is owned by my brother-in-law, and it is perfectly normal and regular, and you will not exactly enjoy yourselves but at least pass the time. A good place.
Later, we found out just how nice a place we'd just been to--it was owned by Ferran and Albert Adrià, for one thing. The bill was the other thing. We found out as we left. We were flying home the next morning. It felt good to spend money, to invite excess, to buy an extra bottle of wine. At the time, we didn't feel bad about it. We had jobs waiting for us in America--something plenty of Spanish youths did not. Some are struggling for food. The anti-austerity protests, as we left, would only get larger. But we left like Orwell and Hemingway did, and came back to the land of opportunity.