TTT22 #8 Barcelona, Catalunya, España (x3)

Numero Ocho! Tres veces! Number eight on the list of destinations I made it to goes to the beautifully wonderful city of Barcelona! Legitimately, my favorite city on the planet, I was there three times this past year.

My April visit signifies my first time over an ocean in three years; my whole mentality jumps off the chart just getting the plane. Getting layovered > getting laid. Shit feels kind good though. Better is what I’m saying. Off the continent coming up, thank you. My mind wanders to the flight I’m boarding from Atlanta to Barcelona, because I’m sitting here right now. Being present in the present. Like right now right next. With an eight and a half hour flight in front of me. Hoping no one is in the seat next to me. Gimme some space. By any means necessary. I’m the El Hajj Malik Shabazz of this space-on-an-aircraft shit. That’s Malcolm X for anyone who’s never seen a Spike Lee joint. A moment ago I’m talking to the gate attendant. Laverne. She looks identically like a Laverne. Any hoo. Definitely not a Shirley. I don’t know why. Dunno. Maybe TV. Movies. I mean, she could conceivably star in Orange Is The New Black here in the dirty bird. Black is the new black. Hot Lanta. ATL. ATLIens. Yes, we done come a long way like them slim-ass cigarettes. That’s Virginia, but Andre3000 said it so I meant it. Whatever, thats none of my business here and we just gon’ continue and I’m happy as fuck because 1) I’m talking about Barcelona here and 2) Laverne confirms my seconds-ago, Delta app-induced (they don’t pay me) seat change with a simply-put “you’re a lucky man”. Southern charm is charming, eh? I’ll take it. And if you’re paying close attention at home you we just time travelled our faces off. I got places to go.

One cross continental flight later and my man is selling five euro agua in the Catalunya Plaza. I’m under cover of rain and it smells of piss. Barcelona is sophisticatedly elegant and beautiful, like it’s women. And language. Aesthetic. Design. All of it. Cosmopolitan yet unbridled. Historic yet modern. Dirty yet delightful. BCN resides on the same street inside my cerebral cortex as La Habana and NOLA. Locations I could live in. Homeskillets. No frying pan. No fire. Straight skillet steez.

I’m here with two friends named Jose. Neither of them go by Jose. But, if I don’t call them Jose, how can I make the classic firefighter joke: Hose A and Hose B? We might be a man-band.

The world is my oyster and I didn’t even order them. El Ramblero en la Boqueria de Barcelona on Holy Saturday. I mean holy shit. I’ve never seen any sort of food and drink service more busy and yet more smoothly run by the workers. Yay Unions. Or even Cooperatives. I’m at the counter, nomming a seafood platter – one person style. Squeezed inches between various people of various languages and this shit is delicious. And clearly no one is “the manager” as American customer after customer doesn’t seem to get it. This is hectic. For them. I’m on vacation. Vacated. Holiday. Fourth of July for the world bitch. They get paid well. Maybe I should tip. Maybe I shouldn’t. I wonder if they’re so good at what they’re doing because they’re paid well. OR. Are they paid well because they’re good at what they’re doing. America will never know. I will though. It’s called a worldview and I’m overcome with gratitude for having one. So my gratuity overfloweth. Gratuitous overflowicus. Muchas gracias motherfucker.

I hit the cathedral to at least acknowledge the Catholic guilt likely built into my DNA. Thanks a lot grandma. I feel bad for saying that…. it’s and endless cycle. Infinite plazas equals amaze balls. Damn I gotta piss. If this were Eastern European the church would offer a pissing place. Nah for real. Amsterdam. Brussels. Prague. At least the reformist religious fervor gives me a chance to let nature fall. Walden. Or Somethin. Oh look, a Starbucks. I’m entitled because capitalism ruins Monday for everyone. I breeze upstairs, following some Beckies. I think that’s the plural of Becky. Score. There’s a baño line five deep for the people who sit down. The most over-25-looking-one, her name is probably Cecelia. She’s all pointing and like, “the mens room is open” in American English. I’m all, “well lucky me”. Pissing whilst standing for nearly the next five minutes; the urinal separated by a door from a perfectly usable sit-down toilet straight up gives me all sort of of feminist revolutionaries ideas and emotions. I forget them before I write them down. The yooooshhzzz.

My second trip is just weeks later, on my way back home. Its a short one. I Rambla on to La Confiteria, a cocktail bar built in 1912. Awesome spot. Hand carved wood abounds. It’s definitely got a swing of carefreeness to it, like the Catalan were way ahead of their time with the roaring twenties things. Roaring ‘12. My mind is trying to place dates on the Spanish civil war and I realize that all this woodwork survived a four-sided feud. Brains across the Bible Belt explode at the mere mention of a more-than-two-party system. I’m rambling without La Rambla to the barkeep, this hipster wearing one of those Amish style hats. He’s got the beard to boot. His name is likely Jonas or Aaron. I tell him that I’m from Buffalo Nueva Yol and our entire city was burned to the ground by the British… in 1912. Well fuck. Godamnnit, I’ve misrepresented myself and my city by one hundred years. We burned in 1812. It’s embarrassing. Jonas doesn’t care. Aaron doesn’t know. Is it the Force that surrounds us all, Master Yoda? I think this is next level jet lag, on some three years coming. Off-continent, I realize my spacetime muscle has atrophied. I’m missing entire centuries. Centuries I was never there for. Well except for those last few decade of the late 1900s. Either way I’m def out of practice with this jet setting shit. Etta Fitzgerald’s silky voice paints to room, this tequila, mezcal, agave and ginger concoction hits just right. Until some drunk Australian guy comes up. Peter. He works for some company owned by a Russian oligarch here in the harbor. He hasn’t even bought a drink. It’s been Like ten minutes after I’ve given up being nice and twenty minutes before he shuts up. Fuck. The staff ask if I’m bien. Peter is tapping my elbow as I type. Hitting my arm while he’s blabbering about some drunken accented shrimp on the barbie. Like every six words he hits me. What the fuck is going on? Is this that two-new-moons this April shit?

Visit numero tres of 2022 is actually my 6th time here. I think. I’m losing count, wondering again “Why don’t I live here?” Barcelona… the more I know you, the more I love you. Like a good woman. Arriving late after my day long layover in Belgrade, I land with the full realization that I now intend to retire here once I’m ready to stop fighting fires and start collecting pension checks. I am assigned to passport control line seven. There’s no line, I cruise right through customs and jump on the “aero bus”. I get to my apartment in Grácia, drops bags, wash ass, and head out to link with Buffalo friends. Around the corner India, Sam and Harper greet me with hugs. They’re socialists. Like me. But they’re here on work, exploring worker coop models in Spain and Italy. I’m not that socialist, just my career is. Next time you wanna demonize the S word, remember the Fire Department. The US Post Office. Public Parks and Schools. The Military (if you support the troops – and you should – then you’re partially a socialist). Socialism is a political worldview that prioritizes the social ownership of the means of production rather than ownership by private individuals or corporations. It’s more geared towards public satisfaction rather than the accumulation of profit. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about public infrastructure. Livability. Streets For People. Like here in Barcelona. Drivers in Buffalo could be so lucky to not have to deal with streets full of people. On foot. Walking. Scootering. Being people. It’s a gorgeous September day and I spend a lot of time out in the plazas. I can’t walk more than 3 minutes without another one. With benches and water features. Inviting me to loiter, hang out, LIVE. Can I? The few cars drive along at 15-20 mph. They don’t dare even beep. This fits me. We grab some drinks and chill. It’s good to see people I know and love.

The next day, I hit the train and hit the beach. The nude one. People are good looking but no one stares at each other. We’re all naked under our clothes. It’s natural. I chill. I read. I drink. I eat. I walk. I live. I could live here…. Why don’t I live here? The flight home is the hardest flight to get on…EVERRRRR. The endless stream of aero buses is right across the plaza, taking people back to the airport. I don’t wanna be one of them. I wanna time them out but it’s hardly five minutes intervals and so I stop. Billions of pigeons. Some people drop bread and get pooped on. The seagulls are the worst. One pigeon tho. A mediating pigeon of plaza Catalan. Let’s name this pigeon Pablo. Pablo is a chill cucumber. Dill dip and all. He just wants to close his eyes. He’s in zen. Watching him. I’m in a zen. It’s surreal as fuck. We go for a bit. Basically until another pigeon almost lands on Pablo’s fucking head. I’m not sure who’s more annoyed. Pablo waddles and a human pushes by. Pablo wins again. No distinction between what something is and what it signifies. Thanks for the lesson little homie. I get on the bus… and the plane. Life With Pablo will have to wait. Fuck Kanye.

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TTT22 #9 New Orleans, Louisiana (x2)

Nein!! Number nine on my fave travel spots this year goes to my fave city in the USA, the Big Easy aka New Orleans. A former number on destination back a few years ago, this year I had the privilege of visiting the Crescent City not once, but twice in 2022. Those two visits represented the 6th and 7th occasions of my visit. So clearly I love the shit out of this city. And quite a lot of shit it has to love.

My visit in February affords me a glimpse of the start of Mardi Gras and a deep dive into “The Importance of Living” by Lin Yutang. Published nearly a century ago, this best seller is timeless and perhaps more relevant now than when it came out. Gems like “No one can really stop growing old; he can only cheat himself by not admitting he is growing old”. Pronouns didn’t mean so much in 1937, content, impact and knowledge reigns supreme over nearly everybody. Shoutout to KRS-One. I pour through pages in the sacred place that is NOLA City Park, yet the Krewe of Chewbaccus parade and a fully authentic crawfish boil with my homie Rock (that’s his real name) are truly the memorable happenings.

When I return in October, I find myself more at home than ever. I walk across Rampart. It’s clear I have concern amongst the pedestrian life hazards. Homie is in the same Frogger life existence, looks at me dead in the eye and says “Scary stuff”. I reply, “Yeah… cars don’t care”, thinking of my potential oncoming blunt force trauma injuries. And cars definitely don’t care. Moments later and a ring camera around the corner from Bourbon announces out loud that I’m being camera recorded. I lean against poles, eavesdrop on ghost tours and patio vooudoo banter. Various strangers continue to offer real treasure maps of wisdom, completely unprovoked. Sitting on a bench in Jackson Square, drunk moms and grandmas take a liking to me. We chat and laugh hysterically over whatever — until these KC natives find out I’m from Buffalo, “The Bills? Ugh”. Thats because my team just kicked their team’s ass. Later, I’m sitting in an Irish pub on Magazine Street when an ER doctor chats me up. We bond over emergencies and then the question presented: “Is it really spooky if it isn’t here?”. I don’t know what it means, but I like it. It’s halloween time… spooky season as the Beckys call it. So my friend and local celebrity MC Chrissy takes me out to eat and then to a hidden ghost/vampire themed speakeasy, it’s cooler than anything I’ve seen in a while — even if the drinks are mega overpriced. She’s a doll and one of the most genuine people I know. If that’s spooky, then I don’t wanna be fearless.

The next day, it’s 72 degrees and sunny. I’m back in my City Park happy space and riding around on a rental bike; I take a break, use the bathroom and seek shelter under a picnic shelter. Pensively relaxing, an elder approaches me. Initially, I’m apprehensive. I don’t wanna really talk right now. I’m not trying to be asked for anything. Instead, this man makes some of the most profound and impactful statements I’ve ever heard, Maybe he knows what I need to hear. “There’s no greater blessing than to travel to other places”. It’s like he know’s I’ve been to 48 US states and 43 foreign nations — and that I just spent last month in Europe. He’s been all over the world. He chooses to speak about his experiences in Saudi. He’s not Muslim, so I assume he was there as a contract worker. Doesn’t make much difference. He’s dropping science: “I would have taken better care of my body”. It’s like he knows how much I’ve been thinking about my own health and making intentions to improve my nutrition and exercise habits. I never get his name, but I’ll never forgot our twenty minutes together and I can never thank him enough for his insight and kindness in the moment. In the end, one question has always come up every single time I’ve come to New Orleans, “why don’t I live here”. Who knows? Maybe one day I will, or at least I’ll have the answer.

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TTT22 #10: Belgrade Serbia

Number ten city on my travels in 2022 is also my shortest trip of the year. Quite enjoyable though. My entry into foreign nation numero cuarenta y tres stands out in a plethora of manifestations. Manifestos. My flight out of IST requires an hour and a half long bus ride, so this journey to the cultural capital of the Balkan Peninsula and former Yugoslavia starts at 2am on zero sleep and continues with raised awareness. I’m flying to Belgrade, Serbia on Air Serbia and apparently I’m flying on business class. It’s an hour flight and I have full run of the entire menu. Plus an empty middle seat. Plus — since Serbia is technically a 13 hour layover on my way from Anatolia to Catalonia — access to their airport lounge. A ponder how well I could sleep a couple hours in there. The plane boss, the plane lands. It’s still dark. An hour later. But two hours with a time zone change. The Nik Tesla airport is minimal as fuck. Seems like a giant construction zone. No shops. No cafes. Toilets and passport control. I’m exhausted yet I stick to the script of hitting the city center and taking it in, cousin of death be damned. I have nothing to declare and step out into the crispy cool darkness. Fuck it. I step on the local bus. The driver confirms it’s heading to the center and waves me on when I ask “how much?”. Public transport for the win. I hop off the 72 at the downtown bus station. Much closer to things I wanna see.

A city which has been continuously occupied for over 7000 years, it’s early Saturday morning and nothing is open yet. Like nothing. Hoping for a comfy coffee shop, I instead head to Kalemegdan city park. Apparently it’s a nice drop into the Danube; the heavy fog is beautiful but occludes the view. The chilliness persists, nevertheless the sun has finally peaked out and I find a lit bench and pass out. Wake up and I’ve donated my body heat to the atmosphere. It’s still cold and I get up get walking. 4 fully backpacked miles later and I’m into a triple shot latte and a marvelous public poop. Pack up and Republic Square has a Saturday sweets festival of some sort. Ice cream. Donuts. Candy. Cakes. I could go on. I lounge up in the sun on the public statue steps. Everyone else is doing it. It’s feels good.

Turns out Belgrade hosts tons of various cultural events, BBC named them one of the five most creative cities in the world. Also turns out that Belgrade is considered one of the best — if not the best — nightlife cities in Europe. Lonely Planet named them best party city in the world back in 09. Too bad I won’t be here late, my flight out is at 6pm.

I walk more. There’s cool things being set up in another park I find. I have no idea what it is. No idea whatsoever. Dogs. Dogs. Dogs. Young people smiling. This is nice. Urban land mines. Not so nice. I almost step in some dog poop checking out graffiti: “remember Kosovo is Serbia”. I dunno I’m not feeling political. It might be. It might not be. I don’t give a fuck, I head over to get a taste of some authentic Serbia food, which is delicious. I decide to head back to the airport early, tired and desirous to soak up some free airport lounge access. There, I eat and drink more. And more. Eventually I board the plane, and trout is served with actual metal utensils as we hit cruising altitude. Superb Serbs when it comes to cuisine, and I eat two days worth of food in a half day. Maybe one day I’ll be back with more time to enjoy the nightlife.

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