Strangers in Raval

We’re here for the second time this week, MACBA, and while we had expected all the waxed ledges and international burnouts on wheels – evidently the skateboarding hub of Europe, it’s real – we didn’t expect Modern Art to take a holiday for Assumption. Closed on Tuesdays, fine, but shuttered on a random Wednesday for a miracle? How sanctimonious.

Disappointed and exhausted (we had already walked 8 hours in the Catalonian sun, braving the Rambla in the mid-afternoon) we decided a drink was in order. We spotted a quiet bar with outdoor tables near the skateshop and took seats next to the only other two patrons, a couple of kids on a fling. She lit a cigarette and continued speaking with a thick italian accent about one competition or another in Berlin. He responded by telling her to chill and put the cigarette out on account of a baby (ours) present. It’s fine, we said, and that I had been chain smoking around him all week anyway.

We’ll take a beer, a glass of white wine (lots of ice) and one banana milkshake. Could you put it in this baby bottle? 

After a while as the italian girl smoked out of range, the other kid – who I now noticed was more than a kid, maybe approaching 40 but hadn’t modified his uniform in 20 years – asked me if I was from Philly. I touched my cap and said, South Jersey actually.

Jersey, he repeated. You know Freddy G?

Oh yeah, Fred Gallo?  (I was immediately embarrassed and probably even looked confused that I latinized my answer.)

Well, Gall, yeah – Jersey Scum, man! You still skate?

I’m not sure how I silently established in the 10 minutes sitting there that I had ever skated, but I decided the kid obviously had the more observant mind. He called Barcelona home for 15 years now, watching a certain kind of tourist pass by these stomping grounds of his. And I guess we share the same uniform.

Not anymore, no, but I keep in touch with a couple buddies back home. They got really good and I kinda fell off. But I still love it.

That’s alright, man, you’re still a rad human. (The compliment struck me as a little strange, like he was about to ask for a big favor or something.)

I wonder if you know one of the guys I grew up with, Steve D. from Habitat?

Oh, man – Stevie?!..

It went on like that for a few minutes until the italian girl came back and we introduced ourselves. I noticed that she had a fresh tattoo of three letters below her wrist: BCN. I liked that a lot and thought about it each time we passed a tattoo parlor the rest of the trip. We talked about Barcelona, whether he – a videographer that calls himself Winkle – had gotten sick of it after 15 years (I was sick of MACBA and the Raval after two days). He didn’t say one way or another, but cautioned against drugs, sadly warning that there’s only one alternate way of life: that of old ladies in the early morning. The word ex-patriot flashed through my mind, a word reserved for Hemingway novels or history books, but here, a real live flesh and blood example above polyurethane wheels. I respected it.

My son spilled his banana shake all over the table and Winkle rushed to send some napkins our way. Small, genuine gestures. I began to understand why so many skaters took breaks at his table, shooting the shit, finding the next party, planning some footage for tomorrow… if the weather holds.

By the time we said our goodbyes, his company increased copiously. One italian girl became a party of 20 bronzed and bruised youths, vacant tables and chairs squeaking across the plaza to repeat another day in the everlasting Court of Winkle.

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