Europe '96: People in Barcelona

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Marc Ignasi (his name goes on from there, but he's asked me to keep it to that part), who is that now almost uniquely Iberian combination, a progressive monarchist, sort of a Tory Chartist, actually, for any of you who know your British history well. We hung out, played go, wandered around. He is a very interesting person, of very broad interests: he is studying Medicine, he does excellent artwork, is very well read (including in English: several years of school in Ireland), has informed opinions on a lot of subjects, ranging from urban planning to literature, and has the sense not to have an opinion on subjects where he is not well-informed. He also may be the only person I know who prefers Modigliani to Picasso, but there's no accounting for taste.

Marc Ignasi's artwork tends to fall into two categories: meticulous sketches of places he's traveled, mostly of Romanesque buildings (his favorite architecture), very good perspective studies, almost photographic in their detail, although he tells me he tends to do a very minimal sketch on the spot and then fill in the textures etc. later. The other is what he considers his "finished" work, and very finished it is: very precisely executed oils, somewhat abstract but always identifiably representational, somewhat influenced by surrealism, but more formalistic. And this man is studying Medicine.

M.I. and his sister live in their parents' apartment -- and quite a place it is -- 6 flights up in the northwest corner of Barcelona. The parents were nowhere to be seen. Judging by the apartment there is enough money in that family that they are anywhere they want to be...

Late one evening, I went for a late dinner at a rather nice restaurant in Gràcia, Niu Toc. (If you are looking for it, it's in the Plaça de la Revolucion de Septiembre de 1868. And the lunchtime menu is an incredible deal.) [Addendum 2002: It's changed hands at least once since I wrote this. No promises.]

After my dinner I started sketching a man, who in retrospect we may call Pepe I, and as I was sketching him I overheard him talking to his tablemate (who we may call Pepe II) about Picasso's Els 4 Gats drawings. In Catalan. And god knows how I followed any of it, but I figured they were indirectly talking about me, so when I was done with the drawing I went to show it to them.

It turns out that Pepe II owns the restaurant and the two of them are old friends, did their 18 months military service together in '76 (they are about my age). We get to talking about this and that and they invite me to head with them after Niu Toc closes to a place in the Eixample (literally "extension", the modern -- roughly 100-year-old -- part of the city). I say "sure" & we end up at Cervecería Catalana, a place which lends new meaning to "tapas variadas." Tapas muy variadas, and they just about order one of each for their dinner. I've just eaten, so I only graze. They devour. (By the way, the food at Niu Toc is probably the better of the two, but I'm sure Pepe II gets tired of eating it all the time.) Lots of good conversation, partly about how the bar/restaurant business here compares to the states; they are amazed at the complexity of American liquor licences. I end up drawing a double portrait and giving it to them as a gift. They end up picking up the tab.

Another interesting person I've met here is a retired businessman named Jose Jimenez (and who had never heard of Bill Dana, nor probably have my younger readers) who works some nights as the night man at my hostal. Worked in something related to mining, stationed all around the world, based in England. Very multilingual -- he's ended up helping me with a few passages I couldn't understand in Eduardo Galeano -- and very well-travelled. We've ended up talking mostly in Castillian (Spanish). He's still travelling a lot, now just for pleasure, and I guess I won't be seeing him after another couple of days, because he's off on a trip. [Didn't end up seeing him again when I passed back through, because he quit the hostal. - JM 7/96]

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Originally written: 1996

Last modified: 1 March 2021

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