A few nights ago, I was on the beach in Barcelona - standing underneath a gigantic fish. I was hungry. I was also worried that I might be mugged. It was 10.30, and I hadn't eaten since noon. The fish wasn't real. It was Frank Gehry's famous, massive, metal fish.
My girlfriend had booked a table at a cheap fish restaurant called Xiringuito Escriba, on the beach in Barceloneta. Spaniards eat late, so she had booked, Spanishly, for 10pm. However, it was now 10.30, and we were not at a fish restaurant. We were lost, underneath a massive fish - without a head or tail, the metal carcass of a fish. If you're lost, you're much more likely to be mugged. And everyone is mugged in Barcelona.
We were lost because the Xiringuito Escriba restaurant is - the guidebook says - on F7 of the map. F7 is the very edge of the map. The map goes no further. And the Xiringuito Escriba restaurant is definitely not in F7.
The bright lights of the Marina shone in my girlfriend's eyes, sadly. Sadly, I offered to buy her an ice cream.
It is not easy being a successful tourist.
"I'm not sure I like it," my girlfriend said. We were standing outside GaudI's Sagrada Familia - looking at the construction cranes and some spires approaching meltdown. "No, no, it's lovely," I said. That is what you're meant to think - although at first you think it's weird. "Why are they all taking pictures?" my girlfriend asked. "It's so not photogenic." "I thought I might take a picture," I said.
My girlfriend sighed. I read the guidebook. Naively, I tried to understand the naive style of GaudI. I led my girlfriend to the other side of the cathedral. A coach driver was tapping the flip-top screen of his mobile phone against his chin while pensively ignoring the Facade of the Passion. No one likes this facade. It is totally grotesque and ugly. It was not designed by GaudI. The figures look like Darth Vader in Star Wars. They're not much like human beings - their connotations are too cartoonish, too unserious. I said this to my girlfriend. She didn't seem interested. Then I had another thought. The Darth Vader faces are actually borrowed from GaudI! They echo the chimneys on the roof of his block of flats, the Casa Mila. My girlfriend did not seem interested in this, either. She decided we would not just study GaudI.
We would also study the architecture of the less-publicised genius - Domenech i Montaner. According to the guidebook, according to my girlfriend, his masterpiece, the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, is now disused. The tourist is therefore free to wander - to admire the decorated pavilions, the elegant use of light and space. We walked. We admired. But there was a problem.
It was not a disused hospital. As I posed my girlfriend in front of a particularly elegant use of ceramics, a man trundled his drip out on to a porch. He sat looking like someone at death's ceramic portico. We left the hospital. Like the restaurant, it's off the tourist map.
It's hard being a successful tourist. So when I got back, I read up on Barcelona. I read Orwell's Homage to Catalonia. On 20 June 1936, during the civil war, the anarchists broke into the crypt of the unfinished Sagrada Familia, and burnt all GaudI's models and sketches. Orwell says that he wishes the anarchists had not just burned the plans, but had burned the whole cathedral as well. His comment made me very sad. Orwell didn't share my sense of style. He was not a good tourist. He didn't understand GaudI and the faux-naIf.
My girlfriend read Robert Hughes's Barcelona. From his chapter on GaudI and the Sagrada Familia, she read aloud: "Its ludicrous Darth Vader centurions - copied, of course, from the chimneys on the Casa Mila . . ." Something in her tone conveyed that my insight was confirmed - but belated and a touch naive.
It was so on the tourist map.
Adam Thirlwell's novel, Politics, is published by Jonathan Cape