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2013/04/10 / tocovava

Sugar Packet | Barcelona

Sugar Packet | Barecelona

Last summer I went to the flea market at the Placa de les Glories Catalanes. I bought a charcoal drawing of feet, a 7-inch record of a man talking about his neighborhood, and a thick hardbound map of Barcelona from the 1980s. Bargaining was easy I named a price, then frowned before handing the stuff back to the merchant and walking away. Then a tap on the shoulder, a smile and two euros later the stuff was mine. I stuck the feet on the fridge, I listened to the record once, but the map has become part of something that seems like a project. The map depicts Barcelona as it was before the pre- and post-Olympic building boom, and then the Spanish Slump. Streets have disappeared (some people might say like sugar into coffee) and whole neighborhoods have been re-configured. As way to see the changes, without getting lost in a mapmakers memory, I’ve been walking Avinguda Diagonal. Although built-up and over-developed in many spots, Diagonal cuts the same rational path as it has done for generations. My plan is to walk from one end to the other. I take the occassional short jaunt off Diagonal before rejoining at the point where I’d turned off. I made two miles, last summer, starting at the Barcelona Sailing Club. I could’ve made it further but I’d stopped in a park to watch an insect, and that took up an hour, then I saw a couple arguing.

I’ll probably never write a book, or get one published, and yet following along with the old map I discovered a book I was writing and reading. It was all too real, there was truth in it, and lies, too, or mysteries. It was perfect and I was creating it. Wandering around aimlessly, a clear end in sight, way off and probably meaningless anyway, the journey is the cliche. This book was happening in real time, the narrative was loose and changing in the moment. There was a form that was followed (the map) but that could be cut-up quickly when I’d encounter some post-modern construction where a street used to be, dozens of stories shooting upward. For inspiration or content, I’d stop somewhere for a plate of jamon, or some olive-oil-soaked fish tapas that’d been warming to room temperature all afternoon, or a cortado, or a cava or a San Miguel, or buy a pencil or some markers, or a notebook that will sit empty on shelf (oh why couldn’t it be a map!) or anything just to show I was there. After paying I’d put the receipt on the page where the shop was located. Breaktime was over, time to get my feet writing again, back out to the Diagonal.

In March, in Barcelona, I flipped open to where I’d left off (the crease between pages 69 & 70) and, like Art Garfunkel, those pilgrims in Santiago de Compostela, and Terry Fox (but without a cause) or did he run?…anyway…I started to walk.

There was a cafe just over the edge into page 70. The cafe was bright and airy. I ordered a cortado. I opened up my three-day old Guardian. Before I could act like I was deep into my usual routine, I was sexually attracted to the figures set in front of me. A different routine. Stamped originally from a chiaroscuro woodcut and at some point transferred to a computer document and printed out endlessly these mass-produced sugar packets are a testament to something…oh who cares…note those figures! Those hats make me think of Spy vs. Spy. But neither spy had an ass like that, right? That’d be sexist and reductive if the genders of the figures was obvious. Maybe it is reductive anyway. Look at the figure on the right. The shoulders are broad (not a pun, but okay I left it in there after writing ‘not a pun,’ so it is a pun, now, probably). Fine bi-ceps, wonderful arms. Is that white bit in front simply a shadow or is a hint of a female breast? And the chin and cheek look feminine, somehow, certainly incongruous to the wide shoulders and sculpted arms. The other figure is somehow slimmer, but maybe that is woodblock carver’s representation of distance? His or her pants aren’t as tight as the pants of the other figure. Maybe the second figure has a problem with food, some mental hitch, or is physically sick? A smaller waist, too, and definite breasts. I’ve seen guys who have lost a lot of weight and they have breasts. Still not convinced on the gender. And what is that gray space under the hat, long hair or torn shirt? Who tore the shirt? Passion in the olive grove? Or caught on a branch mindlessly traipsing out to the grove, sick of the job. And is that a lightning bolt between his or her legs? Or the result of faulty bowels, part of the sickness, and yet so low on funds this figure must ignore the mess back there to earn a little bit of money gathering olives. And why are they gathering olives on a sugar packet named Las Rosas? Those aren’t olives trees. Probably rose bushes? And if the shirt was torn from being snagged on a rose bush thorn there’d be poetry in it. Those plants are too tall for rose bushes, aren’t they? Maybe the people are short. That short and yet those fine bodies…

I considered getting another cortado but this sugar packet was too much for me. I didn’t want any more floating thoughts making me disappear into something that didn’t exist. I marked page 70 with the receipt, and got my feet back to writing again, back out onto Diagonal.

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