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Columns > John Zinkand - Improvise

Published: 2009/12/29
by John Zinkand

Spanish Jam

Back in late September I traveled to Barcelona, Spain for 10 days of fun, exploration, and pleasure. The weather was pleasingly balmy for the entire 10 day trip. Getting there from Portland, OR was arduous to say the least, but somehow I managed. It’s quite the bummer getting up at 7am local time, flying to Philadelphia, and then catching another plane to Barcelona…only to arrive at 8:30am local time after 24 hours of non-stop traveling. It felt like the final day of a music festival where almost all energy has been drained, but yet somehow you push bravely on. The fact that the guy in front of me on the plane leaned back so hard he dumped a full Jack-n-Diet on my lap didn’t help much, either. I arrived jet-lagged and sticky.

Trying to communicate in a country where you know only the very basics of the language is difficult even for the most rested of people. But I was not rested and it was very difficult to parse together a few basic phrases to be able to communicate. I was speaking, but using the wrong words. People speaking to me were using Spanish words I knew, but just couldn’t seem to make sense of at the time. I tried to get some food at a market and the salesman was telling me the amount it cost, but it seemed like he was saying something extremely perplexing. Back in my rented apartment the next day I was like, “Oh!! He just said that will cost 2.40 Euros. Duh!” But when you are extremely tired, not only do you babble, but other people sound like they are babbling, too.

Spain was absolutely incredible. Some highlights included visiting the Salvador Dali museum in the little town of Figueres, hiking in the Pyrenees, having a drink of Absinthe at Bar Marsella (along with the ghosts of famous artists who drank there like Hemingway, Picasso, Gaudi, and Dali), and visiting Antoni Gaudi’s absolutely awe-inspiring Modernist masterpiece of a church, La Sagrada Familia. I also was able to attend a football match (that’s soccer here in the good ole US of A) which was a surreal and intense experience. The players were great and the crowd was going crazy. I like how they whistle when they are unhappy instead of booing. And the food…oh, the food! Tapas, sangria, and paella…oh my!! All fresh and tasty. The people were friendly, for the most part, and the apartment was located deep in El Raval, the most crowded and diverse inner-city neighborhood in Barcelona. The densely packed tiny streets intertwined around old buildings with shops on the main floor and apartments on the upper ones. People of all nationalities filled the crowded streets in a bustling, swirling chaos.

Of course, after a few days of taking in the usual tourist sites and culinary delights, I got the itch for some live music. I had seen street performers, heard some flamenco, and even took in a guided tour of the mind-numbingly beautiful Palau De La Musica Barcelona ( check this place out ), but eventually a jam fan needs some heady jams to soothe his music bereft soul in a foreign land. Our hiking guide (who happened to be from Oregon!), told us about how he had free tickets to Green Day one night, but that wasn’t the kind of music I was craving. He also mentioned a free blues show, but it was a long walk or expensive cab ride to the blues jam from our apartment, and after hiking in the Pyrenees, I was quite frankly too bushed to make it.

A night or two later, however, after some tapas and sangria from a neighborhood restaurant, I was feeling spry and decided to peruse various tourist books in search of some nearby live music. One place was described as small jazz club near a music school that had nightly jams of Latin, African, Cuban, and Jazz, to name a few. Apparently, many of the students perform there and most people who attend the club are serious music lovers or players themselves. This sounded like the perfect spot! Upon further research, I learned that this little club, the Jazz Si Club, was located only a few short blocks from the apartment. After downing another Estrella Beer or two, it was time to walk down the three flights of stairs and out into El Raval towards the club. The streets were packed and noisy, there were some unsavory characters lurking about, and almost every adult had an open can of beer in their hands…I could get used to this place!

We arrived at the club in a few minutes and were inside in no time. There was a small cover charge at the door, but it also bought you your first beer…I had a Coronita, which is basically a Corona but for some reason they call it a Coronita in Spain (and no, it’s not any smaller than a normal Corona like those mini-Corona’s you can get at some bars in the states that come in a pail with ice). The club itself was a tiny little place. The bar was directly in front of you as you walked through the door with the stage off to the right and a small room in front of the stage. There was also a tiny staircase that led to a miniscule balcony (more of a parapet that hung just above the main room below) and the bathrooms, but to access the stairs you basically had to walk on stage and excuse yourself to the band. “Excuse me guys, need to piss here…thanks…”

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