Texas Troubadour Abroad: Barcelona
My name is Keegan McInroe, and I am a singer-songwriter from Lubbock who’s been living in Fort Worth off and on since 2001, when I began my four years of study at Texas Christian University. Over the course of my 10 years writing, performing, and recording original music, I’ve played hundreds of shows and traveled thousands of miles throughout the United States and Europe. My latest tour is taking me to New York City, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Budapest, Prague, Barcelona, and dozens of stops in between. Whether you’re an independent musician like me, a fellow budget traveler, or simply a reader who loves a good tale from the road, Texas Troubadour Abroad –– my (mostly) weekly travelogue published here on the Weekly’s website –– will have something for you.
“Go out yonder, peace in the valley / Come downtown, have to rumble in the alley / Oh, you don’t know the shape I’m in.” –– The Band
I’m sitting in the police station in Barcelona off the famed street and pedestrian mall La Rambla waiting to file a report. Last night, a transvestite prostitute and her squatty, swollen, pear-shaped prostitute partner-in-crime swiped my iPhone while I was trying to hail a taxi.
There are many people awaiting their number to be called. Theft is a common occurrence in Barcelona. A woman I just talked to somehow had her phone stolen out of the very bottom of her zipped bag a few hours ago. The magician was kind enough to zip the bag back up for her.
I don’t know how long I’ll be waiting, so I brought my laptop to get this report kicked off from a more dramatic location than another train.
Last night, after having a late dinner with a friend I made during my last tour in Europe –– let’s call him “Bob” –– I decided to take a stroll alone down to the beach and get knee-deep in the cool waters of the Mediterranean.
After several hours wandering the sand beaches and club-lined sidewalks where many young and able-bodied lady and gentleman were in the full throws of a Spanish techno-fiesta, I decided to head back to Bob’s house. I walked up to the road and began looking for a cab.
The first driver I spoke with didn’t know the destination I gave him, so I crossed the street where a line of taxis sat in front of the nightclub, Opium.
A tall and attractive woman, it seemed, approached me with shirt open, exposing a racy brassiere and enormous breasts. She began insisting I employ one of her services, a bold choice between those all-too-familiar couple of words every street-walker the world over must know: “suck” and the charming word for intercourse which rhymes with “suck“ –– the variation is to add a “y“ to the end of both words, producing an almost-musical entreaty.
I politely declined her offer. She persisted and began grabbing at my crotch. Clearly experienced in this endeavor, she made several direct hits as I tried to escape, even managing the proverbial kung-fu grip for a brief moment.
While this dance was in-process, a second and much-less-comely lady-of-the-night approached, lips puckered and smacking, those two words chirped between kisses. She was on me, aggressively. It took a stiff-arm and a spin into the streets to finally free myself from the pair of whores.
I immediately checked my person and realized that while freeing myself, they’d freed me of my phone.
I returned to them, demanding my iPhone back. The more aesthetically pleasing of the two was the first I approached. She assured me she was only a prostitute. She opened her purse to prove her innocence. Getting nowhere, I turned to her assisstant.
She indignantly told me I was crazy. I continued my line of questioning in a mix of broken, inaccurate Spanish and impeccable English. She rose from where she had taken a seat and tried to walk away. I followed. I told her I would follow her all night. She threw a plastic cup at me. I dodged it and continued my interrogation. She slapped me hard in the face. I told her I wasn’t leaving. She began angrily speaking into her phone, glaring at me with hate-filled, crazed eyes, and the image of a knife-wielding pimp began taking form in the back of my brain. I decided I probably didn’t want to meet whomever was on the other end of her call.
Across the street, several security guards were standing at the entrance of Opium, so I approached them, explaining myself and seeking some assistance. They told me I had been robbed by the prettiest she-male in Barcelona. So I got that going for me, which is nice.
A group of about four of the guards joined me to question the lady, but “Jenny,” as they called her, stone-walled us.
They suggested I return with some friends tonight and beat her to a pulp, and they lamented that they could not do it for me. This sort of criminal behavior is a song they apparently know well, and it is clear they loathe these women.
I confess, there is a certain cathartic release in the thought of going back to Jenny tonight, baseball bat in hand, and cracking her skull wide-open, bludgeoning her confused body into battered hamburger meat –– she is a man after all, so I would remain a southern gentleman, surely –– then carving out her fake breasts with a dull knife and shoving the silicon bags down the throat of her stumpy companion, until those batting eyelids flitter for the last time.
Never hit a woman –– even if she is a thieving toad-beast. Just asphyxiate her with her collaborator’s money-makers.
But this is my lesser-nature, not the answer.
It is easy to preach and practice love and forgiveness and turning-the-other cheek when there is no anger to overcome, no forgiving to be done, no cheek in need of turning. Incidents of sticky-fingered prostitutes in the mad streets of Barcelona put that preaching and its practice to the test.
I will lift up a little prayer for Jenny and her friend tonight instead, in hopes that perhaps one day some light will shine in, and they will retire from their lives as seed-receptacles for lusty Barcelona’s filthiest revelers –– a sad life endured day in and day out, whatever their reasons for staying.
And now it is late in the evening, and I am in the small-castle-like home of my friend, Bob. Bob rents a room here from a French woman whom I’ve yet to meet, though she has essentially been my host for the last three nights in a spare bedroom I have all to myself, complete with desk and bed and towel. Rare luxuries.
Today was a long one at the police station. About five hours in total, and then a return trip to provide some final details regarding my phone.
Since I felt I could identify the culprits in question, I was taken to a room to look through a book of prostitutes they had catalogued. Some soul-crushing faces stared back at me.
I am almost certain I recognized my two friends from last night, but I needed to be 100% certain in order for action to be taken, and I couldn’t –– or wouldn’t –– say with that degree of certainty that the two individuals in the book were the two who stole my iPhone.
I don’t want to be responsible for someone getting wrongly arrested, so I told the police I could not be sure –– but I was pretty sure, especially considering I had been told Jenny, who the cops also know by name, was definitely one of the faces in the shorter “transsexual” section of the book.
The filing of the report was another production, but the police were friendly, helpful, and concerned, and so I didn’t mind the thorough process, as I figured it might assist them down the line, preventing some other poor fool on a stroll from meeting a similar fate as mine –– or worse –– though, judging by the number of individuals who continued to stream into the station while I was there, the police have their work cut out for them.
Last night was actually my second experience of note with the prostitutes of this beautiful and bustling seaside Spanish metropolis. The first was on the second night of a three night 30th birthday celebration here back in November of 2012.
I had joined forces with a trio of lads from Mexico, Australia, and Canada, respectively, whom I had met at my hostel’s bar, and one of our merry band of celebrators was looking for some hard medicine. La Rambla is a good place to find such things, so while our friend looked for his fix, three of us stood waiting.
Three strapping lads stationary for any amount of time late night on La Rambla are going to draw in the various night-crawlers like moths to a flame, and that is exactly what happened. If they aren’t selling sex, they’re selling cans of cheap Spanish beer that they store down in the sewer, supposedly, during the day.
As we stood there, we soon found ourselves surrounded by hard-worn bodies and haggard faces, all clucking those two words and trying to encourage our participation with some frantic groping and forced smiles.
Somehow, it got out that I was a touring singer-songwriter, and suddenly, the call was for me to sing them a song.
After several refusals, I finally caved-in and sang the first verse of the Aaron Neville spiritual “I Bid You Goodnight.” After I finished, the two familiar words came hurrying back to my ears from the mouth of one of the women present, this time with “free” proceeding them, as she pointed insistingly towards an alley. Flattered, I chose to pass on her kind offer.
But simply being offered a freebie by a Barcelonian street-walker felt like quite a birthday present at the time, and I still consider it one of my crowning achievements to date.
And that leads me to the past week’s achievements since Rudolstadt. I did make it to Verona that night, and onward to Fano the following day for my show at Bardàn Bar, the train ride of which officially ended my two months of Eurail travel.
I won’t repeat myself by going into the details of how much and why I enjoy Bardàn like I do, but I will add, that as a special gift to me that evening, seeing as how my normal abode in Pesaro was unavailable, I was provided with accommodation in a two-bedroom suit across the square from the bar.
Following the after-math of the show, I was in such shape that I slept on top of the bedspread in my clothes, boots, and all. They could have put me in a closet, and I would have slumbered just as happy and peaceful and oblivious. Still, it was a lovely gesture from my friend there who owns Bardàn.
The next morning I took a train back to Verona for a return performance at Malacarne, which enjoyed a fine turnout and about 27 a cappella renditions of David Allan Coe’s “You Never Even Called Me by My Name” at the insistence of and with assistance from an Italian punk-rocker who has at various times called Cleveland home.
The following evening I played a house concert in Vizzola, a beautiful and tiny town near Fornovo, Italy. The gig was organized by a young woman who had come out to my show in Fidenza at Arci Taun back in late May.
It was her first house concert to host, and they chose for a location the country home of her aunt and uncle. A small covered stage was created for me outside atop a little raised elevation, and a sound system was provided by one of the host’s musician friends. All of this was a lovely surprise to me, as I was expecting to simply play acoustic in a living room, which would have been good enough.
But my new friends in Vizzola went above and beyond, and it was a stellar night full of music, many laughs, delicious food, amazing people, and the finishing off of that Żubrówka vodka I had brought from Poznan –– in fact, as me and my new fratello (brother) sat with sagging heads at the night’s end, running through the laundry list of consumed products, we inventoried beer, the aforementioned vodka, some homemade pear grappa a friend from Verona had sent me on my way with, wine, different beer, sambuca, different grappa, different wine, tequila, and finally more assorted beer. A fine and full evening. I slept like a bear out on the patio of the apartment we after-partied at.
The next day presented a slight difficulty in transport to Barcelona, just over 1,000 kilometers away. I had originally thought I would fly to Barcelona, but by the time I got around to looking into flights, they were too expensive.
After exploring various other methods of getting to Barcelona, it became clear my best option was a series of trains, south and then west to the French border, then all the way across the southern coast of France, finally making my way further south into Spain. After a wonderful home-cooked meal, I headed to the train station.
All-in-all, it was just shy of 30 hours of train travel and layovers –– including a six hour overnight stay in front of the Nice Ville station with a couple of other travelers and several homeless people and a Russian alphabet lesson –– leaving Fornovo at 2:06 p.m. on Friday, and arriving in Barcelona at 7:09 p.m. the following evening.
Upon arrival, I had to wait an hour for Bob to finish some pints with a few lovelies, before he made it to the station to snatch me up just in time to run to his house, grab a badly needed shower, and hustle up to my gig at Sala Rocksound.
The gig went very well and even earned me a write-up in an online Spanish music site, Ruta 66, regarding the performance.
As I was largely employing the French rails, it is probably needless to say there were several problems, near misses, and high costs getting to Barcelona. But considering the poor end of some other travelers just north of where I was on the same day, I won’t bemoan further my “difficulties,” other than to mention that there is a reason for the ancient Chinese proverb, which reads: “The wise avoid travel on French railways.”
And I will try and heed that advice when possible. I am journeying up to Paris via overnight bus in the next day or two, and I am flying from Paris to Dublin, so at least for this trip, my time riding the French rails is over.
After the show at Sala, Bob and I made our way to the clubs down along the beach and danced like teenagers with some young girls, before enjoying the sea a bit, and finally, boots in hand, with sandy bare-feet, stumbling through a rather large, early morning bicycle marathon of some sort which was about to begin, weaving our way to the starting-line, confused looks all around, rerouting ourselves out of the chaos, and eventually hopping in a taxi a little after 7 a.m.
It’s kind of funny. That night in Vizzola, amongst all the new and wonderful faces, on the heels of Rudolstadt and all that had come before it, I thought to myself that perhaps this was the greatest of all the many trips I’ve taken.
Then came 30 hours of mostly French train travel and a phone stolen by a penis-burdened woman-of-sorts and her associate.
But perhaps I will look back and still remember this as the finest run, yet –– or perhaps, these trips –– and even days back in Texas –– are like so many children, whom a parent couldn’t possibly choose between if it came down to it, each child possessing their own fascinating particularities and insights and lessons to teach.
Perhaps I’m drunk.
There is plenty of time for more catastrophe and debacle heading back into France and then Ireland and the United Kingdom, but there is also ample time for more amazing encounters and wild, vivid, unforgettable experiences.
On the road –– perhaps especially –– but also in general, each day is an array of infinite possibilities and unlimited potential shades of light and dark and vibrant color.
Strong contrasts, as in art, music, and relationships, make life all the more interesting, richer, and fuller.
As I get ready for bed, and I think about poor Jenny and her friend, I can’t help but feel a great deal of sorrow for them both. In their world, until and unless they choose a new reality –– and who is to say what it might take to realize a new reality is even possible –– it is unlikely that there is much in the way of contrast, just various levels of darkness –– and when your only light is darkness, how great must that darkness be.
I suppose it is possible they love their work and their lives walking the streets into the morning hours day after day, hustling and sucking and stealing and that other word that rhymes with sucking, but their faces didn’t tell me that. The faces of those women in the book I had to flip through earlier in the station certainly didn’t tell me that.
Losing a phone is a non-issue. It is ultimately a material irrelevance. I don’t wish those women any ill-will or harm. Just a little dark humor earlier to alleviate the rising temper of my sometimes fiery disposition, keeping myself at an even keel in a police station full of distraught people with varied Barcelona war stories.
The darkness of last night’s event heightens the light surrounding the other events of my life, helps me recognize just how blessed I am to live in a world of such staggering and spectacular hues, inspiring moments, and loving, beautiful people.
I hope whoever gets that damn phone needs it real bad –– not that it will matter. The phone is not international capable. They’ll get some entertaining photos and one heck of a WiFi device, though.
July 15, 2013