Wednesday, November 29, 2006


The Irish girl says everyone is beautiful. "I suppose everyone has something beautiful inside them," I say, because it's evening and I've had a drink or two and I'm feeling expansive and generous, as if I'm finally about to become someone I'd actually enjoy being.
"No," she says, firmly. "I mean everyone is actually physically beautiful."
An old man walks past, leaning on a walking stick, his face collapsing in on itself and disappearing or preparing to disappear.
"Even him?"
"What exquisite eyebrows," says the Irish girl, with genuine longing.

Where are we? We're not in Spain. The signs are a jumble of oddly placed consonants, and the shopkeepers frown with deliberate incomprehension at carefully enunciated Spanish phrases. At the hostel, I get into an argument with a dreadlocked American who insists he's a traveller, not a tourist. "A traveller is someone who suffers," he says. "I walked through the desert for three days. The sand nearly blinded me. A tourist wouldn't do that." I instantly dislike him. All around us, people are flirting, kissing, drinking. A tourist is someone who takes pictures; a traveller is someone who wants to go home.

The Irish girl has an Irish friend who seems to have somehow got stranded in Barcelona. He's not in touch with his family; the embassy has given up on him, he says, looking shifty. "I don't have any money," I say, stiffly. The Irish girl laughs and suggests going for a beer - she probably thinks he's beautiful, too. By his account, he's dropped off the edge of his life, a feat as easy as missing a couple of flights. I make excuses and leave to go and look at the unfinished cathedral. Later that day, I see the Irish exile on La Rambla, mixing with off-duty mimes in their heavy make-up, released from silence, smoking and slapping each other's backs.


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