March 02, 2011

Sangria and Spice in February; Or, Vagaries of the Weather

The greatest thing about being in Europe is that one can hop on an aeroplane and in two hours find oneself immersed in another culture, another language, another climate. Last Thursday morning in Berlin, as I made my way to the airport, the temperature slipped to minus eleven Celsius. By 2 p.m. I was sitting in Plaça Reial, just off La Rambla in Barcelona, where it was a comparatively balmy twenty degrees. Some of the locals, enduring their own winter, were wearing coats, gloves and scarves, but I’ve long since realised that how one feels in the weather is entirely subjective. In Englands old and New, everyone is so fed up with winter by April that the first hint of warmth brings out the shorts and espadrilles. The very same temperature in September will see the donning of woollens and scarves. A wise man once said that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes. In any case, the weather is always refracted through the psychology of the individual and his crowd.

A thirty degree temperature differential in a matter of hours will make the most objective meteorologist sweat, and I took the opportunity to shed all the accoutrements of winter and bask in the sunshine with a litre of sangria. In a place like this, so driven by tourism, it’s pretty difficult to isolate the Catalan ‘look’, especially in such a weird season as the Western Mediterranean winter. The people on the streets had generally just arrived from colder climes, and seemed altogether overdressed. The locals also represented a range of climatic origins – plenty of Latin American, South Asian and Middle Eastern natives here – and each had their own interpretation of what fifteen-to-twenty Celsius felt like. Disappointingly, very few jaunty hats were on show. I really thought I’d see some debonair headwear in Spain, but I’m afraid I rather stood out in that regard. Then again, there’s nothing so very wrong with standing out.

Best encounter I had in Barcelona: a broken conversation with a young Bangladeshi man about Irish cricket, while he sold me a Turkish kebab. He was very excited about it all, and told me, as he poured a liberal ladleful of chilli sauce on the kebab, that spicy was normal. I rather fancy that, in Barcelona at least, he was more right than he knew.


  1. I'm envious of your travels - how wonderful to be in such close proximity to so many different cultures and languages. Barcelona would be amazing - love the conversation you had with the man about Irish cricket. It's moments like that make traveling so worthwhile.

  2. I'm guessing the Bangladeshi man was talking of today's big Irish upset at the World Cup?

  3. I'll agree with the wise man, to a point. It's difficult not to consider -25 degrees Celsius bad weather, but the mercury does fall that low in Des Moines, IA (and our neighbors in Minnesota refer to us as the Deep South). I have boots that will make one's feet sweat in such temperatures, but the weather's still dismal.

    Glad you had a good holiday, and here's to the coming Spring!


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