Barcelona by Barcelona

Part II

Katie Barcelona
Oct 24, 2014 · 6 min read

An introduction to this series can be read in the opening remarks of this Medium story.

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The bodega wine shop is a regular stop on my way home from work. Two guys are always there when I arrive: Dani, who is short, helpful, and enthusiastic, and Jose, who is tall, grumpy, and aloof. I assumed based on Dani’s constant eagerness to help me find the perfect wine that he was the owner of the shop, and so asked if he would be willing to take part in this little project. On the way to the interview Gustavo, my Spanish backup, asks casually, “So why are we interviewing Dani and not the grumpy one, anyway?” I respond somewhat surprised, “Why would I want to interview him?” Gus says, “Well you know since he’s the owner, and all.” I assured him that he was wrong. Why would a store-owner be so lackadaisical?

The other four interviews are of small business owners. Dani is the exception. He is just a friendly ordinary worker helping out in a family business. Realizing my misstep after the interview, when we came back for photographs a few weeks later, I directed the photographer to focus on Jose rather than Dani. When we arrived, I told Jose we’d like to include him in the book and well since we were here could I ask him a question or two? Jose’s face softened, posture straightened, maybe even a little grin creased the edge of his lips, and he said well sure I guess I have a little time and how would I like a glass of wine while we chatted, on the house?

Since then, Jose is a different person. Every time I see him he recommends a new wine to try. Just last week he was so excited about me trying a new wine that he stuffed it into my bag and said I was to pay for the bottle only if I like it as much as he thinks I will. I did.

There is something inherently different about the way businesses are run and their service here in Catalunya versus in the United States. Here you have to earn the respect of the owner before you get good service. In my case, sometimes this takes months. It’s worth it though, because once you make a friend in Catalunya you’ll watch from your privileged platform as all the less-fortunate customers battle their way through the sea of ambivalence.

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Where are you from?
I’m from Sabadell, the capital of Vallés Occidental.

How long have you been here?
Five years working here, but it’s been a lot of coming and going. When I didn’t have other work I would come and help Jose, the owner, and his family. But apart from this I’ve done a little bit of everything. Everything from transporting shipping containers down at the Barcelona port to working in a gym.

Why did you start with this kind of work?
Thanks to Jose my boss, who’s my ex brother-in-law. It’s because of him that I started into this marvelous and passionate world of wine and the like.

What do you like most about your job?
My relationships with people above all else, and of course the product: the wine (laughs).

And the least?
There’s nothing that I don’t like, and that’s the truth.

What’s the tradition or party in Spain or Catalunya that you like the most?
It might be Sant Jordi because my brother’s name is Jordi and it’s always a big party. Here in all the parties there’s a lot of drinking. But there are a lot of other traditions; I also like la Patum de Berga a lot because of the Castells de foc, Correfocs, and all the festivals things with fire. And I like San Fermin, too!

What is your favorite place in the city?
This neighborhood, Ciutat Vella and el Borne (Barri de Sant Pere). I get to come everyday for my work even though I don’t live here.

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All photos by Benjamin Julve

What’s so special about this bottle?
This bottle here is a Vega Sicilia — the only one around— from 1975, the year I was born. I’m waiting, god willing, so that I might drink this with my daughter when she’s old enough to drink wine. It’s a bottle that’s very dear to me. It cost a lot but here it is, patiently waiting in the cellar, for the right moment. Vega Sicilia makes really good wines for aging.

Jose’s wine shop is located at:
Gran Bodega del Maestrazgo*
Carrer de Sant Pere Mes Baix, 88
Barcelona, Spain

*New Yorkers beware: the word bodega means “wine cellar” in Spanish, not “corner market,” as it has come to mean over the years in New York City.

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For many years, Parc de la Ciutadella was Barcelona’s only park. Today, while it may not rival the variety nor size of Barcelona’s largest park, Montjuic, Parc de la Ciutadella still has a certain magical allure that’s best enjoyed with sunny days and picnics.

The name Ciutadella means citadel, or fortress in Catalan. The now-park got its name from the occupation of Spanish military in Barcelona after Catalunya was defeated in the War of the Spanish Succession. Lead by Phillip V of Spain in 1714, a star-shaped fortress was constructed to prevent the Catalans from rebelling again. The fortress was large enough to house 8,000 inhabitants, and required residents to pay taxes for its funding and work the construction against their will. The district La Ribera was destroyed in order to build the fortress in its place, leaving thousands of Barceloneses homeless. Finally in 1869 the fortress was destroyed, leaving only a few buildings that would later be re-purposed as government usage.

One of the new landmarks constructed upon Ciutadella’s repossession was the Barcelona Zoo. Here lived Snowflake the albino gorilla, Floquet de Neu in Catalan, from 1966 until his death in 2003. Visitors and locals alike flocked to see the un-pigmented gorilla, albeit often at their own expense: Snowflake had a reputation for his bad temperament, and often would throw his own feces at gawking tourists. Still, Snowflake was adored, and his spirit is a symbol of dear affection today for Barceloneses.

Thread of a tangent:
If you ever find yourself in Barcelona, head to the bodega and grab a bottle of wine from Jose (ask for local brands Casa Mariol or Bienbebido), then some cheese a couple doors down from Carles (more on him in the next part), then walk your picnic a quick 10 minutes to Parc de la Ciutadella.

Katie Barcelona is a graphic designer and wanna-be writer living in Barcelona. And yes, Barcelona is her real last name and yes, it’s just a weird coincidence that she’s living in Barcelona.

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