My Search for Bagels in BCN

Each morning, by 7, there would be a line out the door of the bakery across the street. Forn de Pan. People would be rubbing their eyes and skimming La Vanguardia for whatever scandal the king was getting into. The customers would walk out with bags of baguettes or pastries for breakfast. Bars would turn their lights back on around the same time. The usuals would pop on in and order an espresso and talk about how they slept, over a plate of eggs and red sausage and baked beans.

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That seemed to be the only option for breakfast throughout Barcelona. Really sweet. Like a dessert. Or really salty. Like a dinner. There didn’t seem to be an inbetween.

My morning routine palate started to miss the treat of those bagels my mom would drive an hour away to buy. Where they had lines as long as those for the croissants across the street. Where were the bagels in Barcelona? Any small bakery I came across, I stopped in and browsed. I’d take my time and hold up whatever line there was. I’d walk out with a chocolate croissant.

Even my boyfriend who was abroad with me was searching around. He lived on the other side of the city. His own grocery store. His own local bakery with a line out the door. Even the bars that opened for breakfast didn’t have anything on the menu.

Our search couldn’t stop. Each and every day we continued the search, leaving early for class and wandering around finding new shops to explore.

UAB Sant Pau Campus Interior at Guinardó metro stop

UAB Sant Pau Campus Interior at Guinardó metro stop

Our satellite campuses were on the yellow line. One was at Guinardó. There was a mini mart with avocados and other fresh vegetables and fruits in plastic crates. The back had a wall of prepackaged bread like Pepperidge Farm, Sara Lee or Wonder Bread. But no bagels in a plastic sleeve.

Further down the yellow line, off of Girona, there was a café next door to our other campus. All the other students went there for coffee and crowded the shop because of its convenience. There was a large island in the middle of the café with baskets spread around filled with assorted baked goods. But only pastries and loafs of hard crusted breads that could beat like a weapon. We left with a coffee and walked back to the metro stop, heading home in defeat.

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We soon found advertisements of Dunkin Donuts. Or Dunkin Coffee as it’s known there. The ad had a large cup of coffee with the logo and a bagel, stuffed tight with cream cheese, right on a poster down in the subway. Conveniently placed, there was a Dunkin Coffee at the Universitat cross over from the red to purple line underground. We eyed up the stand. The shelves were covered in donuts. We asked for bagels. We explained we saw an advertisement. Dunkin Donuts was a staple of my bagel diet back home in the United States. But I should remember, this was Dunkin Coffee. And Dunkin Coffee does not carry bagels. Great advertising. We got on the yellow line and made our way to the Girona campus.

Every day the teenage students that went to school nearby would stand outside in a large pack and skateboard around and share their lunches of chorizo baguette sandwiches wrapped in tin foil. One particular group was crowding just at the foot of the metro entrance in the way of the escalator.

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I could see a girl head inside the store that they were also crowding around on their lunch break. She came back out with a coffee and a baguette. We never noticed the bakery, every day on our way to class. The sign up top in yellow capital letters read FORN DE PA PASTISSERIA. We put out hands up to the glass to cover the glare and looked in like children at Christmas eyeing toys.

Baskets were filled with assorted breads, just like the café down the street by class. But there, in a basket filled to the top, were the holey rolls that we craved to put in a toaster and brown to the point of being a crouton. We opened the door fast almost hitting one of the teenagers crowded around. A little woman behind the counter poked her head out and asked what we wanted. We pointed to the basket of bagels. We said we wanted them all. She went over to basket and again asked how many. We looked her straight in the eyes. All of them. Every one.

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            We ignored the fact we had class, already late, and prepared to eat bagels. We took the metro back to my apartment. Went upstairs and cut the first one in half and placed it in the oven to toast. It came out brown and sounded crusty, ready to break. I got out a butter knife. And realized we had no cream cheese.

Hot Beer

I tried to always go to the beach. It was so convenient. Hop on the yellow train and you’re practically there. I love to tan, and the beach was free. But with my luck, the spring I was there was one of the rainiest that Barcelona had had in a long time. My one professor really stressed this fact a lot in class:
                  “I feel bad that it is always cloudy and rainy,” she would say. “Usually its always 80 degrees, with no cloud in the sky.”
                  Whenever it was nice out, I’d pack my things and make as much a day at the beach as I could. I’d lay out my towel somewhere closer to the side of the W hotel. I would relax and sometimes take a nap. Except, about every five minutes someone would be tapping my legs asking me to buy stuff.
                  “Massage?”
                  “Cold Beer?”
                  “Towel?”
                  “Sunscreen?”
                  “Coconut?”
                  “Beer?”
                  “Massage?”
                  “Soda?”
                  “Cerveza?”
                  “Beer?”

                  Everyone had something to sell and they wouldn’t leave you alone. The massages were the worst. I would repeat myself multiple times in any language I knew that I did not want a massage. But they would keep asking and start rubbing your feet and your hands and your arms. I just wanted to flick sand at them.

                  The men selling beer would usually listen to you right away and never bother you again.

Until the next day.

                  One of my friends said a man selling him coconut wouldn’t leave him alone. He was selling a small piece for about 5 euros which was an obvious rip off. She explained to the man that she did not want a piece of coconut, being that it was too expensive. He argued with her for a little and eventually let up. But before he left he said she could try a piece just as a sample.. She agreed and the man handed her a piece of coconut and as soon as she bit the fruit he said that she owed him five euros.

She was not happy.

The man obviously lied. But then she realized he had a knife in the back of his waist and she handed over the money before something worse happened. 

                  The vendors, if I can call them that, appeared to be mystical, appearing out of nowhere most of the time. But they seemed to travel in herds and would be by the beach day in and day out. I would even see them at night in larger groups down closer toward the clubs if I ever went. They sold beer and cold water bottle, but also hinted that they had drugs.

                  Maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing that it wasn’t always that sunny:



Hot Beer

She came in to visit around 3 on Friday, handed me her luggage off the bus and started talking about the clubs. She was ready for dinner at 6 even though it was early. By 8 or 9 she started to drink from the dollar wine bottles. She added ice cubes. She was dressed and ready to go in her dress by 10, bouncing in her heels excited to leave. I kept telling her it was early. But she was drunk enough to complain about not caring.

The clubs were lined up in a neon row by the beach. She said she wanted to take off her heels and jump into the sea as soon as she arrived. But she didn’t like the walk off the metro. She thought they would be right outside, in front of her. She thought she could tease the bouncer and get in for free, right away. She thought she would see someone famous, or have a boy buy her a drink.
We walked along the port, heading for the tip of the beach.

The W Hotel was tall, out in front, like a North Star for the city night. She just kept walking toward its distant spotlight.

She took off her heels when we got to the beach and she ran on the sand. The shore and water met in a black wade. The stars reflected off the sea and it looked like space was a mirrored wall that travelled up forever. She didn’t dip her feet in. But she found a palm tree nearby. She ran over and demanded a photo shoot. Her dress was slipping down her shoulders as she flung around the tree in different poses.

There were men wandering around the boardwalk with plastic bags full of beer. They started swinging over, whistling and begging for more of her attention. They kept shouting for our money.

“More beer? Hot beer? Cerveza? Beer?”

She got off her tree and went over to the packs of men. She hugged the one who was carting a bucket of coconut. I tried to pull her away before she got hurt.

“How much we talking?” she asked.

The vendors looked on and rubbed their fingers together asking for a lot. They stared at her chest and bare shoulders.

I grabbed her by the wrist, threw out some euros from my purse, and ran as we stumbled through the sand headed toward the W in the sky that still shown brighter than any other star across the sea.

Montaditos

I happened to live close to the center of the city. Right outside Plaça Catalunya. There were all kinds of shopping options at that main hub. They were all really fancy and expensive and I rarely bought anything. There were also plenty of places to eat. Candy stores and themed restaurants and bars dedicated to ham or tapas. My favorite were the patatas bravas. A heaping pile of potato squares or wedges covered in a spicy mayo sauce. They always came out with tiny plastic forks, about the size of sample spoons at ice cream shops. You could always take your food and eat out in the streets. There would be tents, covered if it rained, and large heaters stood like guards set up in the corners of the tent. 

                  I would always stop at this one little shop on Rambla de Catalunya. It was a franchise that sold a variety of little sandwiches. Actually, they sold 100 different variations of these little sandwiches. There’s apparently one of these 100 Montaditos in the DC area.

                  While in Barcelona, and you would eat outside on the street, gypsies and beggars would often pass you by. There’s a high unemployment rate in Spain. There would be a homeless person on about every block when you walked on the street. They held out a can and shook it but usually sat in silence. They might have a sign that explained their situation. But they were more in your face on the metro, or when you were eating.

                  They were all so tan sitting in the sun all day. They looked blistered and sick, and it felt like I was recognized each day on my way to class. It felt like I was the only one they looked at.

                  “Why aren’t you helping me?” I felt bad.

                  One girl in particular I still always think about. She was young. She didn’t even look 18. She was small and close to the ground. She had an old wireless piano that had a faded sound and she crouched on the ground, hunched over to press the buttons and sing along. Her voice was out of key and she yelled rather than searching for a tune. You’d walk by and she would sing to you. Angry and scared.

                  Alongside her every day was her dog. He was skinny like the girl and slept next to her. He never barked. He was only ever cuddled up against the sidewalk, trying to find some shade. They were always outside 100 Montaditos. She must still be there today.

                  She had a fanny pack and would walk her dog up and down Rambla de Catalunya. She looked so alone. She was too young.

                  Everyone that passed would try and avoid her, walking around her piano. Before I left for the US, I stopped to give her my change after getting lunch. She stopped playing her piano for a moment. The dog looked up from his sleep. She didn’t look at me. Only counted the money and ran inside the sandwich shop to see what she could buy:


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On the concrete, the gypsy girl’s dog panted, cooking in the Barça street heat, asleep beside an empty bowl. Her feet calloused when she danced in the eating tents. She sang in tongues and I checked for my wallet. They muffled my order over the speakers. After checking my ticket I was handed my sandwiches inside at the counter and settled back in my seat with a beer to cool off. The gypsy now blanketed her dog. He panted dryer. Her skin glazed sweat, the sun kiln-hot. She sat up. The dog crawled toward her lap. She smoothed its hair in the wrong direction. My beer foamed out its head when she stood again for another bout of dancing and singing. She took a chair from my table and slapped its wired back to drum. Others around were talking about her. I looked at her white eyes looking back. She was as small as my children with those hands. She kept clashing the chair back and chanting until I stood up with my tray. I finished my beer. Her mouth opened as if to bite but instead her dog barked at the passing man brave enough to leave her a bag of sandwiches. She tore past tin foil. She backed against the sidewalk wall and threw her dog a slice of meat. He ate it raw and licked the ground where it had laid.

Mes Que Un Club

One thing that always amazed me about the city was the fútbol club with the likes of Messi, crazy fans in blue and red, and Camp Nou stadium that boomed often. The first time I went, Barça scored three times in about five minutes. It was an amazing display of skill, but the fans in the stadium also lit up my experience with loud chants and horns and flags in numbers. Even outside the stadium in the streets and in bars was there just as much support. It was a different feeling, but everyone had their back for the team and felt like they had some part in a win or a loss:


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Cannon blares quake from the apartment rooftop as the winning goal gets scored. Outside Barcelona, underneath the orange street light of the hot-night city, the beer begins to flow from the taps, faster than the water beneath in the sewage system. The bar floors bend as the home crowd celebrates, pounding up and down with their chanting feet. They sing in pride as one bartender hugs his son, cries in his wet and worked apron.

The old men stand up with their canes and shake hands, congratulating each other with smiles. The aged and tired men then open up to chug the rest of their beers, pouring fast like a tap, and walk home together in sidewalk silence. On the street, they huddle under the corner lights as if planning an attack on the goal before the start of the half, but they plan on whose apartment they will stop by first.

When they break and go into their upstairs like a sub out for play, it is time to prep for sleep with their wives who have waited up with coffee to hear. Their wives smile and kiss them on the forehead like a quick kick at the net before they dream again about the past feeling of a winning power over rival Madrid, now when a whole city shared with them the glory and honor of history made that day.

La Diada

September 11th is much different in Barcelona than in the U.S. 300 years ago, this past Thursday, the country of Catalonia lost its independence to Spain. Every year, throughout the region of Catalonia they celebrate their lost country in hopes of independence. This year brought the biggest celebration, with around 2 million gathering in the streets of Barcelona, to promote a notion to vote for independence, like the issue going on in Scotland. It was even recognized as a world record. But I could not be there. The people and patriotism of Catalonia, when I went in 2013, were so amazing to witness. I have a lot of respect for their goals and support their mission toward independence:


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This year my father says I will be able to vote. He tells me this as he wraps me in a flag and holds me tight through the crowds. There is too much red and yellow around to move. On Gran Via we are stuck by Universitat. The rest of the city meets with us to celebrate our independent dream. Over two million, my father says, are here with us. The flags of Catalonia fly up toward the trees and sway hard in the wind, reaching for the apartment balconies. There is no traffic today. The crowds tunnel throughout this street and intersect at Plaça de les Glòries Catalanes, continuing up Diagonal. It is a giant red and yellow stripped V across the city. It’s calling for our vote. We call it Via Catalana. We stand and protest for our country waiting to gain our independence. It’s been 300 years. This year, if the plan passes, my first vote could be for our independence. We want that vote. We want our country back, my father tells me each night. All in the crowd start to sing and chant out the national anthem, pushing away the protestors in support of a greater Spain. We push through the crowds and see bakery vendors with red and yellow cakes. My father buys me one and tells me to eat it proudly. My grandmother trudges along slowly behind us against a walker. She prays to herself, waiting to see a separate Catalan nation herself. She is old and has to stop, turning her walker into a chair. I wait with her in the shade of a flag above us. I offer her some cake. She takes a bite and says how sweet it does taste.

Urquinaona

Barcelona has the best metro system around. It was the first time I had ever used public transportation like that, but it was so easy to learn. The trains were always on time. But there was always a crowd of people. Some of them looked like they lived underground, tattered and begging, giving their back story of how their family needs money for food. They would sell lighters and cards. They would get in your personal space and ignore your requests to back away. It was a tight space that you couldn’t escape immediately. It made me think of what would happen if a beggar didn’t stop:


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This man was touching my son. Michael held tighter to my hand and his blue backpack slid down his shoulder. The man was on his knees using a thumb to comb Michael’s hair and the other hand was searching through his pocket. “Euros per gastar-los. Por favor. Deniro!” He was on at the yellow line three stops back and I saw him slipping down the metro cabs. He would sit with women and their groceries, hold their hands and grab at baguettes. His pants were frayed like that beard. One eye was slate gray and lazy aimed now at Michael. I hunched down holding the man’s shoulders and Michael jumped into the corner of the door backing out. “I can give you nothing, hermano. Lo siento.” He sat across my son and threw his head on the floor. “Cigarrillo. Cigarrillo. Encendedor?” I reached inside my pocket, sifted out my pack and rolled the tobacco. I told Michael things were fine and let him lick the paper. I put in the filter, got out a match and held the two in front the man’s nose. The line was stopping at Urquinaona when the doors beeped and stuck open, “Only if you get off, ahora.” He took the cigarette and limped off the car before the last call rang. He looked for the exit and flowed into the crowded current, lighting up on the escalator. I picked up my son when we hit the next tunnel and rested his backpack against my calf. I told him, “We will stop for orange soda and jamón. Do not tell mama.” He held my neck and kissed my cheek saying yes.