News of the Cruise (Part 3: Let me ‘splain you…)

Free at last, free at last……… out of the oppressive airport – in which we had been cooped up for so long – into the sunlight of a late afternoon September day in Barcelona. Let’s get on the right bus and get out of here as fast as we can!

Weeks before we arrived, we were asked to assign ourselves for all the land tours to one of three buses, based upon our personal assessment of our mobility, as follows:

  • Let’s pretend we’re young and spry
  • We’re not as decrepit as we look
  • We are as decrepit as we look

Each bus would have an AACI staff person as group leader, and each bus would have a different tour guide. Our friends The Levines were a lock for bus #3, and Barbara and I wound up on #2. Which meant that our guide would be Christian (not his religion, his name!), and he almost (almost!) made up for what had occurred before by being cheerful, well-informed, and speaking good English (even though he sounded like Ricky Ricardo [Let me ‘splain you]).  

The original plan had been for us to spend the afternoon exploring Barcelona (as much as one can explore anything on a bus!). However…..given the lateness of the hour and the fact that the city was packed with revelers, we headed up to the much beloved Park Guell, one of the many magnificent sites created by the Catalan master architect, Antoni Gaudi. Yes, there were lots of folks in the park and we couldn’t get into all of the buildings there; still, we did have sufficient time to get around and unwind from our airport ordeal.

Posing in Park Guell

Fortunately, the people- in-charge were keeping an eye on the clock, for we had a very important appointment: dinner at 7PM at the Maccabi Restaurant, which we were told was the only kosher establishment in Barcelona (although Rabbi Google says otherwise). Of course, it may be the only place large enough to feed 100+ people, which it did, presenting more food than I would choose to eat. Finally, we were taken to the Renaissance Barcelona Fira Hotel, one of these ultra-modern hotels where you wonder where the bathroom is – only to realize that what you thought was a full length mirror, when pushed to one side, is actually the door to it. Live and learn!

Barbara and I had been to Madrid and various places southward in 1984, but that was thirty years ago, and we were then in Spain. But, you inquire, isn’t Barcelona in Spain? The map says so; the Spanish government says so. But if you ask around town, you’ll be told you’re in Catalan – which if the locals had their druthers, would be their own country. They have, after all, their own language (except when Franco forbade the teaching of it), their own culture – which most emphatically does not include bullfighting. To which the Spanish government says, “No way, Jose.” Spain is in enough of a mess right now; why would they want to give up their most prosperous region? So, despite all the efforts of the Catalans, they are stuck. They haven’t become violent like the Basque separatists, but who knows what will be? I saw a recent article that mentioned that a Spanish court has set aside a Catalan law outlawing bullfighting. It’s starting to get heavy!

A good night’s sleep – well deserved – morning prayers and then get our luggage back on the bus. Time for breakfast! The restaurant was not normally opened that early, but with the promise of 100+ paid up customers, they could make an exception! What was surprising was that the non-dairy breakfast was actually more tasty than the dinner at this meat restaurant. One more entry to put into “Go Figure” bag we all carry around with us. Then we were off on our morning trek to the old part of town, in which was located the original Barcelona synagogue.

As we were walking, I took the opportunity to walk with Christian to discuss a little philology, about the development of languages in that part of the world. In western Europe some fifteen hundred years ago, the locals were trying to combine their local spoken tongue and the Latin of their Roman conquerors, which resulted in today’s Romance languages, French, Spanish, Italian, Romanian, Portuguese, and let’s not forget Catalan. But it wasn’t quite that simple. There were all these ways of speaking, each used in splendid isolation in a given location. So you had languages and dialects unwittingly in competition with each other – a phonetic survival of the fittest. What ultimately happened was that the pronunciation and vocabulary in the dominant center of the area – think Madrid, Paris, Florence – became the standard for an entire country. But this domination is fairly recent – say in the last 100 or 200 years – and it’s still a work in progress. One wonderful example of a language we wouldn’t expect to find is in the collection, Songs of the Auvergne, (a region of France somewhat south of Paris) put together as recently as the 1920’s by one Joseph Canteloupe. Here are the lyrics to the most well-known song in the collection, Baïlèro. If you’re wondering how the song goes, it goes like this. (Youtube clip featuring soprano Dawn Upshaw. Do yourself a favor and listen.)


Pastrè dè délaï l’aïo,

As gaïré dè buon tèms?

Dio lou baïlèro lèrô,

Lèrô lèrô lèrô lèrô baïlèro lô.


Pastré lou prat faï flour,

Li cal gorda toun troupel.

Dio lou baïlèro lèrô,

Lèrô lèrô lèrô lèrô baïlèro lô.


Pastré couci foraï,

En obal io lou bel riou!

Dio lou baïlèro lèrô,

Lèrô lèrô lèrô lèrô baïlèro lô.


(Shepherd across the river

You’re hardly having a good time

baïlèro lèrô


Shepherd, the meadows are in bloom

You should watch your

flock on this side

baïlèro lèrô


Shepherd, the water divides us

And I can’t cross it

baïlèro lèrô)

Now some of you went to real schools, where they teach you stuff like foreign languages. Think back to your high school French and Spanish, and look at these lyrics. They seem sort of familiar, but not quite. But that’s they way they spoke in the Auvergne region, maybe a few hours drive today from Paris, only a hundred years ago. And that is very similar to the language the Catalans speak to this very day on the other side of the Pyrenees Mountains (the border between France and Spain).

(I only wish that, while Christian and I were strolling along and chatting, I had access to an article that appeared several weeks later in the NY Times. It seems that if you were shopping in a farmers’ market in Rome (of all places), and you wanted to buy a watermelon, you would need to know that it would be called “anguira.” Except when it’s called a “cocomero.” Or when it’s called a “melone d’acqua.” Why three names? The correspondent, Gaia Pianigiani, explains that “in their daily lives, many Italians don’t speak Italian.” In 1861 when the country was unified, the vast majority of the population was illiterate and spoke some local dialect, which may have been a completely different language, “descended directly from Latin.” Only with the coming of television did many Italians begin hearing a standardized language – the dialect spoken in Florence. I find this kind of information fascinating. No idea if you do or not.)

Our conversation was abruptly ended as we reached our rendezvous with the other two groups at the Plaça Sant Jaume (St. James being the patron saint in those parts) in front of a church with a big banner welcoming refugees. I don’t know about refugees, but the plaza was packed with tourists doing what tourists do these days: take pictures of each other with their smart phones.

Photo Ops in the Plaza

From their we headed through some narrow streets – this being the older part of the city – to what is described as “the oldest synagogue in Spain…and Europe!!!” Which may or may not be the case, but it’s a very small structure hidden away in a basement with not much to see, and it’s not normally open for prayers on Shabbat.

With Christian, our ever-helpful guide, leading the way, we wended our way through more narrow streets until we came to an old courtyard with a little fountain in the middle, said courtyard being a playground for a host of school children. Here’s where I wished I weren’t on an organized tour. I had maybe four minutes to photograph, after which I could have chosen to remain and keep photographing – which is what I really wanted to do – or run to catch up with the group. Having no idea where I was, I chose the second option.

Boys Playing in the Courtyard
Children in the Courtyard

Good thing too. If I had waited much longer, I would never have been able to figure out which of the narrow streets the group was on (our cell phones did not work, so I couldn’t have called Barbara). And then I would never have been able to find my way back to our bus for our final destination, Montjuïc, (Jew Mountain)where Jews might or might not have been buried, but few, if any, of our living co-religionists would be there when we arrived. The attraction here is the cable car, whose sole purpose is to provide tourists with a breath-taking view of the city, said view including the harbor. A number of us kept looking, trying to decide which one of those big ships out there would be the one on which we were to spend the next week. Which one would it be? We would find out soon enough; we were scheduled to board the Costa Diadema at 2PM sharp – seven hours before it was scheduled to depart. That’s worse than the airports!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s