Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Tibidabo & the Saint of Beekeepers

What a difference a good sleep makes! Last night I had a monk's dinner of felafel with pineapple for dessert and no alcohol. I slept like a baby right through until 6.45am. Late for me!

For the last few mornings I have emerged from my narrow doorway into the narrow medieval street (always dark) just before 8.00. Two women in reflective vests are always hosing down the street with water at this time. I can usually catch a taxi on Las Ramblas and I did that today at around 8.00. Oak House is up near Tibidabo and this morning the traffic was appalling. It took us forty five minutes and the driver was ranting and gesticulating the whole time. He was disappointed that I was relaxed about it but it was a beautiful sunny morning and I´d given myself plenty of time.

My organizer wasn't there but a brilliant technical guy named Tico had set up the state-of-the-art auditorium with a laptop connected to a big screen, and two working mikes. I also had a stage and desk. Another pleasant surprise was how well-behaved the pupils were, even though they were 99% Spanish. I was also impressed by the building, which is a beautiful converted villa with pines, acacias, olives, (everything but oak) and also mosaics and towers and fountains.

I did my introductory talk twice for an hour and a quarter which is stretching it for English pupils, not to mention Spanish kids. But we pulled it off.

Then I gave my First Lines and Writing Tips talk, and after lunch (at 2.20!)I gave my Writing Tips and Hero´s Journey talk to years 5 and 6. The kids were very bright and enthusiastic. Like the kids at St Pauls, they waved cheerfully at me whenever I passed by.

Oak House is not far from the school where I'll be tomorrow, so I went over there after I'd finished, dropped off my things and asked the way to Tibidabo, which was in sight. Tibidabo is Latin, of course. It comes from the passage in the gospels where Satan tempts Jesus. Satan takes Jesus up on a high mountain and says 'I will give you (tibi dabo) all these if you worship me...'

A nice teacher drove me up there but the teleferique was closed so I couldn't go right up to the monastery. I had a coke in a scenic bar with a breezy view over Barcelona, then caught a bus and metro down to Plaza Catalunya, which is the heart of Barcelona and only two blocks from my flat.

One of the kids at Oak House had mentioned he bought some of my books at the biggest department store in Barcelona, El Corte Ingles, so I went up to the 7th floor and found copies of all except the first book.

Then I wandered back towards my little flat via Zara, a women's clothing store which is much cheaper here than in London. I bought a silk shirt and succumbed to candy-striped socks. Then back to the flat to drop off shopping, then out again to my felafel place. It's called Moaz Felafel on Carre de Ferran near the Placa Reial and you can buy a felafel salad with a free drink for only 3.80 euros, which is brilliant! It was v. tasty.

I went back to the flat to wolf it down and while I was reading my Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Guide I noticed that today, May 11th, is a special festival day. It is Dia de Sant Ponce, patron saint of beekeepers and herbalists! 'Stalls along Carrer Hospital sell herbs, honey and candied fruit...' says the guide. Frantically I scanned the map to find Carrer Hospital. There it was! Just across Las Ramblas! I swallowed the last of my felafel, grabbed my camera and went out just as the bells were ringing 8.00pm. Thankfully the stalls were still out, dozens of them lining a fascinating street with a strong Middle Eastern flavour in a district which is called Raval. I bought some eucalyptus caramel, licorice strips and honeycomb. Took lots of great photos, too.

P.S. Richard just sent me this passage from one of our favourite historical writers, Patrick O'Brian. It´s from Master and Commander and it's at the beginning of the sequence about the capture of the Cacafuego. I asked him to look it up because I remember Stephen mentions Tibidabo. (Stephen and Jack are on board the ship looking towards Barcelona.)

'To the left of the smoke, southwards, that is the hill of Montjuic, with the great castle; and the projection to the right is Barceloneta.' said Stephen. 'And rising there beyond the city you can make out Tibidabo: I saw my first red-footed falcon there when I was a boy. Then continuing the line from Tibidabo through the cathedral to the sea, there is the Moll de Santa Creu, with the great mercantile port; and to the left of it the basin where the king’s ships and the gunboats lie.'

'Many gunboats?' asked Jack.

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