je ne sais quoi. “If you walk uphill when in Barcelona, you are walking away from the sea. If you walk downhill when in Barcelona, you are walking towards it.”
“I admire Barcelona’s subtle, poetic psychogeography,” I replied. “But aren’t Spanish identity politics frightfully complex?”
“Indeed,” my friend replied. “Many who live in Barcelona speak Catalan, a romance language with both Spanish and French roots. Those who live in Northern Spain—-specifically, the hardy Basque region—-speak Basque, a unique language whose origins remain shrouded. Thus, Spain-as-nation-state is reductive syllogism. When discussing the quote-unquote ‘Spanish people,’ one must always recognize the importance of regional power-structures.”
I considered my friend’s thesis. “I intuit, then, that you have moved to a Spain where, in fact, there are few quote-unquote ‘Spaniards,'” I commented.
“Your observation is correct,” my friend conceded. “Broadly.”
“I further understand that an Olympic Village was built in 1992 when Barcelona hosted the Summer Games,” I noted. “In addition, I understand that Los Angeles-based architect Frank Gehry constructed an enormous peix—-that is, a fish—-as part of this project.”
“In 1992, all the world was a stage,” my friend quipped, “but Barcelona was the featured player.”
“But now—-fifteen years later—-what is the function of the Olympic Village?” I inquired.
“Well…” My friend squinted at me. “I’m not sure. I believe people live there.”
“Do you know any of these people—-these alleged Olympic Village residents?” I persisted.
“No,” my friend admitted.
“Aha!” I exclaimed, moving in for the kill. “So, you then concede that Gehry’s enormous postmodern fish is an empty cipher—-the articulate, but simultaneously vacuous symbol of a fictional, citizen-less, would-be ‘international’ city reeling under the burden of hyperreal globalization?”
Unfortunately, my friend had no time to reply to my pointed challenge. At that very moment, I was called away to soundcheck at Heliogabal, a Barcelona speakeasy where sixty music enthusiasts were waiting for my band to “hit.” Will the audience tonight be real, or hyperreal? I wondered. Rustling in a warm breeze off of the Mediterranean, Barcelona’s limp palm trees offered only a melancholy “hiss” in reply.