|Newsletter No. 620
|A Quick Trip to Barcelona
14 to 20 March, 2005
For reasons I do not know, but I hope to discover when I am in Barcelona,
I have agreed to travel with John Flattau and Dalia M to Catalunya tonight
on the Talgo. Rush around town, pick up my ticket from Nicholas at Blue
Marble and meet his new daughter and the mother, then to the bank to deposit
a check. Home and meet Buddy & Cheryl Ratner. We dine in the Italian
restaurant (Da Geraldo) in the rue d'Alesia. And to my surprise, John
Flattau and Dalia M join us.
Collect three frames from the framer: one is John Calder's obit of Ted
Joans, one is a poster for Kewpie's restaurant in Kolkatta, the third
is John Giorno's poem about treating strangers as lovers.
We taxi to the Gare d'Austerlitz and sit in a café inside the station
and rest before the train is ready for us to board. Two lovely young women
sit next to us and I learn that they too will be traveling with us.
Then we find our compartments and soon move to the dining car for our
dinner. A fellow named Alphonse shares our table. His son produced the
hit movie in France about two tigers. The two Spanish beauties sit across
from us. They have been in Paris buying clothes for their shop in Alicante.
All in all, a fun dinner.
15th: A fairly good night's sleep. There is a knock on the door at
7. I was up at 6 and watched people leave the train at Gerona. John knocks
on my door and reports he got no sleep at all. Get up, dress, and go into
the restaurant car. The two beauties, Ana and Laura, enter and sit across
from us. Alphonse passes our table and gives us a warm greeting and wishes
us a successful voyage. We have toast and coffee and the conductor passes
and returns our tickets and passports. He reports we are ten minutes away
Back to my little compartment and quickly pack. John and Dalia do the
We are soon leaving the train, up the escalator, out of the station, into
a taxi and speeding away in the early morning sunshine to Las Ramblas
and our hotel, the Rivoli Rambla. Check-in goes smoothly and quickly.
We get rooms next to each other, 025 (me) and 027 (them). Make a call
to Anthony Pilley and he is free to pass and have a coffee with us. Call
Amanda Tolon and get her answering machine. Leave a message that I am
in Barcelona and that I would love to see her.
We meet Anthony in the lobby and after introductions are made, he suggests
we walk the short distance to Café Zurich. Anthony and I met during
an Edinburgh Festival some years ago when he had an exhibition in a gallery
near Broughton Street and, I think, Astrid Silins took me to see it. Since
that meeting I have sent a number of friends, mainly attractive Russian
ladies, to see him and he has always been kind and helpful to them. He
later sent me a poster he made of La Rambla that I have had framed. It's
a provocative poster. He tells us that he has sold thousands over the
years. When we are having our coffee, my mobile rings and it is Sasa in
Milano calling. She learned from her father that I had called and now
she is returning the call. She suggests we might like the restaurant Madrid-Barcelona
in the carrer Arago. The four of us talk about the gentrification of cities
and what has happened to Barcelona since it hosted the Olympic Games.
Anthony has a meeting and must rush off, but we agree to meet in the Rivoli
lobby at 13.30 and go for lunch. Our four coffees and croissant quinta
comes to less than ten euros. This is much cheaper than Paris.
I go back to my room to make a few calls to people Anthony thinks might
help me to find Xavier Corbero, Jaume Subirana, and a few other friends.
First call is to Ted Krasny and to his associate, Graham Thomson. Ted
answers and he gives me a few tips of people who might be helpful. He
and I discuss meeting at a Writers' Association club called Ateneu, located
only steps from the hotel in carrer Canuda later in the afternoon. Say
5 o'clock. Ted thinks I should speak with Jill Adams and Garry Smout.
They run The Barcelona Literary Review, a online magazine that comes out
in English, Catalan and Spanish.
I call Jill and Garry. Garry answers and we talk about his and Jill's
efforts. We, too, agree to meet later in the afternoon. He also suggests
I call Dolors Udina, who is the poetry and fiction editor of the Catalan
edition of the Barcelona Literary Review. I call and get her answering
machine and leave a message with her that I am looking for Jaume Subirana
and Xavier Corbero. Then try to reach a poet, Melcion Mateu, but no one
answers at his number. Call Jorge Herralde, who is the literary editor
of the publishing house Anagrama, and his secretary says, as I suspected,
that he is away in London attending the Book Fair and then will go to
Paris for the Salon du Livre. Leave a message with her to tell him that
Sit in the balcony and read today's International Herald
Tribune and watch the flow below of humanity up and down the Ramblas.
How many millions have made this stroll? And how many have purchased Anthony's
poster. Later he tells me that he has produced two others.
Go downstairs and meet John, Dalia and Anthony. We are taken on a long
meandering walk through the narrow streets of the quartier gothica to
a restaurant named Salvadore. It's a funny place, but we all four like
the atmosphere. Then a short walk to a place called la Maison du Café.
John is tired and he and Dalia depart for the hotel. Anthony has coffee
and I have hot chocolate and chorros. The hot chocolate is so thick the
spoon can almost stand straight up. The chorros are delicious and perfect
for dunking in the chocolate.
He and I walk back to La Rambla. He departs for his home and an appointment
with a builder. I return to the hotel for a short "power nap"
and then to my meeting with Ted Krasny.
The place is easily found. There is a warm old-fashioned quality to it.
Not a lot of people about. Stand at the bar and tell Jordi, the barman,
that I am waiting for Ted, the American. OK, no problem. I have no idea
what he looks like nor does he know anything about me. A young man enters
and stands next to me and orders a coffee. His name is Joan Miquel i Noguera.
He has almost completed his medical studies. He must travel to Madrid
to make a decision regarding his future area of speciality, but still
has not make up his mind yet on what it is to be. He speaks excellent
English and discover he worked as a waiter in a restaurant in Pinnar,
near Cardiff. We talk about Barcelona, London and Paris. He will travel
in a few days to London with his family. I suggest he call me when he
comes to Paris and give him the Chicago Tribune article. Discover he lives
outside Barcelona and travels into the city by train. Time flies and no
sign of Ted. Or of Garry who also said he might pass. Leave the bar and
go outside and sit in an open-air terrace. Joan comes out and joins me
and we talk some more. He has to depart. I have a coffee at the bar and
wait a bit longer. Then decide to return to the hotel. Leave a note with
Jordi to pass to Ted and slip out.
In the evening, John, Dalia and I stroll across the Plasa de Catalunya,
up the Paseo de Gracia to dine in the Madrid-Barcelona restaurant that
Sasa has recommended. We stumble across a Gaudi building and this is exactly
like I like discovering things. By accident. We continue on our way and
I am beginning to suspect we have walked too far. Ask an attractive woman
for directions. And yes, we have walked past Arago. Ask her if she would
like to join us for dinner. She smiles and says that she is off to meet
a friend and cannot. This is a pity. We immediately find Arago 282 and
the restaurant. Our waiter is named César Gomez and he is a sweetheart.
Warm, friendly and helpful. John wisely has a salad. Dalia and I foolishly
share a pasta dish for starters. Then she has lamb cooked in garlic and
I have a veal dish. I could have stopped with the pasta dish. The restaurant
fills and buzzes with life and energy. We pay, thank César and
slowly continue our stroll toward the hotel. We pause at Passoig de Gracia
33 to purchase Italian ice cream from Dino. Two small tubs for 5 euros.
Earlier I had managed to catch Almanda Tolon at her home, but could not
talk her into going out with us. She does agree to come to the hotel on
Thursday evening. Also reach Jill Adams. She, too, is busy. Late finishing
the new issue of The Barcelona Literary Review. But she will come with
Garry tomorrow night and we can go out for tapas. It's an early night
tonight for all of us tonight.
Wednesday, 16th: Early
morning breakfast feast with John and Dalia. We read The International
Herald Tribune and stuff ourselves. I keep thinking of Susi Wyss and how
much she would enjoy the morning breakfast table. Because John was unable
to sleep on the Talgo coming down from Paris, he has decided to take the
day train with me on Friday. But Dalia will take the night train back
on Friday night. The hotel reception staff (Natalie from Flanders, Suzanne
from Germany and David from Spain) advise us to take line 3. It's a quick
metro ride to the station (Barcelona Sants). The fellow at the international
sales desk is fast and efficient. We elect to take the metro back to La
Rambla. But we purchase the wrong tickets from a machine and the controller
will not let us use them. A wee pain in the ass. So when we have purchased
new tickets, the total cost would have equaled a taxi fare. Still the
metro is fun. When we arrive back at Plasa de Catalunya, Dalia gives our
train tickets to a musician playing in the metro. Maybe he can use them.
Call Dolors Udina and she tells me that Jaume Subirana is now the Director
of the Institute for the Promotion of Catalan Literature. I call the Institute
and am told that Jaume is away for the day and I can reach him tomorrow.
I leave my name and hotel telephone number. Call Ted Krasny and he apologizes
for yesterday afternoon. He thought that I would call him again. But he
is available today for lunch and will come to the hotel at 13.45 to collect
me. Sit on my warm balcony and read the Cuban chapter (An Elegiac Carnival)
in Pico Iyer's book, Falling Off the Map. Also read the Allen Ginsberg
diary items in the book, India in Mind, edited by Pankaj Mishra.
Ted collects me and we walk to a place called Lluis de les Moles (carrer
Lluis de les Moles) he knows not far from the hotel. He is an excellent
fellow. We have a good lunch and a good talk. It seems he has been in
Barcelona a long time. Originally from the Washington, D.C. area, he has
lived in a number of places, but it seems that Barcelona has won his heart.
We go for a walk to have a coffee. He suggests the Maison du Café,
but it is packed and I tell him that I had hot chocolate here yesterday
with Anthony Pilley and let us try another place. He takes me to a café
in the old Jewish ghetto. Then we walk to his office. No one is there.
I check my e-mail site to see if I have had a message from Buddie Ratner.
He was going to give me the name of a Russian fellow who was a friend
of Ted Joans. Ted does tell me about a woman who has "a paladar"
in her home every Thursday, he thinks. Her name is Maria Lluisa del Rio
and she lives nearby.
When I get back to the hotel, I call Maria Lluisa. We speak in French
and we agree to have lunch together tomorrow. And I will attend her paladar
tomorrow night and maybe bring John, Dalia and Amanda Tolon.
In the evening, Jill Adams and Garry Smout come to the hotel. He is from
somewhere in the Midlands in England and Jill is originally from Indiana,
but she has wandered a bit about America and the world. They met the morning
she arrived in Barcelona some ten years ago and have been a couple since
shortly thereafter. They are also partners in The Barcelona Literary Review
- an on-line literary magazine in three separate language editions. They
are very attractive and I fall for them straight away. The five of us
walk to a very old tapas bar where we all have sardines. I also have a
sausage. Then we walk to a small place opposite their home called Can
Fly. It's run by two women. More delicious food is produced. And we talk
and talk. Not too late we walk back to our hotel and John and Dalia elect
to have an early night. The three of us stroll back down the Ramblas to
the Opera Café and more talk. Somehow we discuss the film, De-Lovely,
and I am pleasantly surprised to learn that they love the film as much
as I do. I tell them about my taking the entire cinema (65 places) and
filling it with friends and that everyone loved the film. Jill says that
they can give me a DVD of the film and they will leave it at the hotel
for me tomorrow. That's very nice. Jill leaves us for a minute and when
she returns, she finds us in deep conversation with two couples from New
Delhi. Very quickly all of us are talking and having a great conversation.
I invite them to dine the next time they are in Paris and one of them,
Rakech Bagai, gives me his card. He is a printer. I pull out Pico Iyer's
book which is a Penguin India and show it to him. He reports it was printed
by a cousin. I tell them of my recent trip to Mumbai, Calcutta and New
Delhi. Much later they leave. Jill and Garry walk with me almost to my
hotel and then they turn off to head for their home. It's been a great
It's bizarre, but I am the first up this morning. Out my door at
8.30 and knock on John's door. A very sleepy John opens the door and says
he will join me in a few minutes. After our breakfast feast, return to
my room to have a lazy morning. First I have a bath. Fill the tub with
warm water and let relax. First time in a long time. Because I really
do prefer showers. Call Maria Lluisa and she will collect me at 13.00
at the hotel and we will lunch somewhere. Call Jaume at the Institute
and leave a message for him. Call Ted Krasny and we have a good talk.
Then my mobile rings and it is Jaume. He will pass by the hotel late afternoon
and we can go out for a coffee.
Decide to go to the Opera Café and have a horchata. Sadly they
do not make them and I must make do with hot chocolate and chorros.
Back to the hotel and wait in my room for the arrival of Maris Lluisa.
When she calls, tell her I will be downstairs in one minute. She prefers
to speak French, so that is what we do the next few hours. We stroll slowly
to the Café de l'Académia. We are too early, so we walk
around the area and she shows me amazing places. Lunch is one of the best
I have had in Barcelona. We talk about her paladar and I tell her about
my salon. I also tell her that I will call her tonight to say how many
people will be coming with me. And, to say, if in fact I will be coming
at all because I am not sure what Amanda Tolon has planned. After our
meal we walk past her home and I continue to the hotel.
About 16.30, Jaume Subirana calls. He is downstairs in the lobby. I go
down straight away and after our warm abrazos, he asks where I would like
to have a drink. I tell him it is his city and he is to choose. He tells
me about a bookshop nearby that has a coffee bar inside. Perfect. I love
bookshops. We walk a short distance to carrer Elisabets 6 to a beautiful
bookshop called La Central del Raval. Jaume shows me around and introduces
me to a fellow who co-launched the shop with his wife. Then we sit and
have a coffee and catch each other up to date. He has only had his new
appointment six months, so he tells me he is extremely busy trying to
establish plans, projects and guidelines. I ask him if he remembers Karolina
Blåberg and we talk lovingly of her and the Lahti Writers' Reunion.
I tell him that she speaks Catalan and he had forgotten. Now he is pleased
to get this news. He wants to invite her to a poetry conference/meeting
in Barcelona. I pull out my Nokia and press Karolina and suddenly we three
are talking. The miracle of modern communications. Jaume tells me that
he will be traveling to Paris in May and in June and that in June he will
arrange to stay in Paris on a Sunday so he can come and dine. We talk
about Jill Adams, Garry Smout and Dolors Udina and he tells me that he
thinks they are doing a great job with the Barcelona Literary Review.
Jaume gives me two new cards - one to pass to Karolina when I am back
in Paris. (And this I do.) He shows me a new novel by Ecco that has been
translated from Italian into Catalan by one of his friends. Then he must
excuse himself and rush back to the Institute.
I walk slowly back to the hotel. Call Anthony Pilley to thank him for
all his hospitality and kindness and he suggests I walk the short distance
to his apartment for a cuppa tea. He lives behind the opera house in the
carrer Santa Margarita. About fifteen minutes later I have made it up
the five flights of stairs. We sit and I give him a report of our activities.
He shows me around the apartment and shows me photos of a farm he has
North West of Barcelona. I begin to feel tired, so excuse myself and return
to the hotel to nap.
By the time Amanda arrives, I am feeling ill. I think I have eaten too
much and my body is saying "enough already!". Amanda goes across
the street to a pharmacy and purchases something for me to take. Garry
Smout calls and brings the De-Lovely DVD. I thank him and Jill once again.
And remind him that they are always welcome in Paris to stay in my home.
Also remind him that he has promised to cook one of the Sunday dinners!
We three sit on my balcony and talk. I learn about Amanda and her two
sons (Uli and Pablo) and that she is busy and tired from too much teaching.
Tell her about Jane and Anselm Hollo. I am not feeling any better, so
very reluctantly decide to call Maria Lluisa and tell her that I cannot
come and dine chez elle tonight. She says she understands. I also tell
Amanda that I am going to go to bed and ask her to excuse me as well.
She and Garry depart.
Later John and Dalia check on me. They suggest that I dine with them in
the hotel's restaurant for something light to eat. I guess that I should
have something, so join them and have a bowl of fish soup. They had lunch
in the market today and it seems that someone attempted to pick John's
pocket. It was a failed attempt, but his wallet fell to the ground and
John managed to secure it. A close call. Now it is early to bed
Friday, 18th: John knocks
on my door before the reception calls. So it is before 7. Tell him I
will meet him in a minute or two in the breakfast room. I am feeling
better this morning. I think I needed to take it easy last night. Quickly
dress and pack. We are soon out the door and into a taxi and zooming
through the quiet empty streets to the station and our Talgo to Montpellier.
We roll slowly through the countryside, pick up speed in France and
soon arrive. We have a 45 minute wait, so upstairs for two bowls of
soup. The TGV roars non-stop to Paris arriving about 17.15. A very long
taxi queue. But it moves quickly. Soon on our way to Tombe Issoire where
John drops me. He continues to the Hotel Pont Royal. Home again. It
has been a crazy trip. But I met so many nice people that it was valuable
and fun. It is always pleasant to have a trip to Barcelona. Surely one
of the most beautiful cities in the world! Thank you, John, for suggesting
I join you. Now a few hundred e-mail messages await my attention.
In the evening dine in a small Lebanese restaurant in the rue d'Alesia
with Karolina Blåberg. She tells me about the Salon du Livre and
I tell her about Barcelona. John Calder comes to Paris tonight, but
his train arrives very late. After midnight.
Mary Duncan calls to cancel her party tomorrow night. It seems the Russian
Embassy will have a party and many of her guests will attend. Russia
is the Guest of Honor at this year's Salon du Livre.
No one ever said it would be easy getting old. This morning I wake up
with a pain in my left foot that makes it extremely difficult to walk.
Damn. Cathy Monnet cooks tonight and we may or may not have an important
literary agent coming to dinner. She makes an endive, mushroom and blue
cheese salad followed by a cassoulet and ending with lemon pies. Cathy
comes in the afternoon and makes the pies and most of the cassoulet
preparations. She leaves the salad until tomorrow.
Tonight we are seven to dine in the Zimmer in Chatelet: John Flattau,
Isaac Flattau, Dalia M, Cathy Monnet, John Calder, Riley Salyards and
yours truly. A fun time. And the pain in my foot slowly disappears as
the day and evening go along. Bus 38 home with Isaac who stays the night
on the couch.
Great weather tonight. Once again pain in my left foot. Which is just
as well since we are over 80 for dinner. Cathy's endive, mushroom and
blue cheese salad, cassoulet and lemon pies are wonderful! Everyone seems
to like the dinner and each other. Once again the pain disappears as the
day turns into evening. By dinner time, it has disappeared. It seems to
have all the symptoms of gout. Something I am eating. Damn it.
Garry Davis calls several times and faxes me information about a new telephone
system he is using that he thinks might interest me. Very late, Hanna
Dalipi comes upstairs to tell me that she is moving home to Belgrade to
be with her elderly parents. She asked to stay one night about eighteen
months ago. She has been a great help, but it will be good to get the
basement room back again. We will make a super guest room for all of you.
Plan to come to Paris. Make your reservations soon.
Monday, 21st: Up early and find a clean kitchen. Hanna did another fabulous
job after everyone left last night. Make a fresh pot of coffee and read
today's International Herald Tribune. Call John Flattau at the Hotel Pont
Royal but he is already up and out. Get a call from Varda to ask if our
dinner is still on tonight or not. Yes, it is still on my dear. The pain
in my left foot has disappeared. Hooray for that. Print out the corrections
that Scott has sent me regarding this newsletter. Call Michel Puéchavy
and we arrange to meet tomorrow for lunch. I wonder if he will have the
Court de Cassassion decision by then or not. I have heard that Emile-the-Rat
has sold my old atelier, C-7, for almost 3,000,000 French francs (about
$600,000). This atelier was stolen from me.
83 rue de la tombe Issoire,