When last I wrote, I was at TechEd in Barcelona. That evening my colleagues and I took the subway into the heart of Barcelona - the Ramblas - a vast pedestrian thoroughfare with narrow car lanes on each side bordering shops and restaurants and whatnot. For some reason, there were no fewer than eight open-air pet shops - apparently the good citizens of Barcelona make their bird and fish and small amphibian purchases when out for a stroll.
The entire area was a tourist trap, to my eyes at least, so we wandered off the main drag to side streets where we identified a small tapas bar. Tapas, for those of you who may not be familiar with the concept - is literally a "small portion" of food, best consumed with copious quantities of alcohol. The three of us enjoyed about a half-dozen such portions, including a ramekin of flaming chorizo, a selection of cured sausage, ham, cubes of baked potato in a garlic aoli, triangular wedges of cheese, a plate of white and dark anchovies, all accompanied by wedges of toast rubbed with tomato and drizzled with olive oil. The wine was a 2003 Castroviejo Rioja "Crianza", about 12 euros a bottle. I know if I ever manage to find it again, it won't taste anywhere near as wonderful.
Interested parties may inquire privately about the end of this particular evening, which involved a small Australian bar, a drunk Liverpudlian (Andy) and his even drunker father-in-law ("Sir" Joe) and a few cautionary notes about how to move quickly when the younger Liverpudlian leaves in haste to pick a fight with a flowerseller of middle-eastern descent. To give you an idea of the level of discourse we enjoyed with these two gentlemen, consider the following:
Joe: (momentarily flummoxed at being called 'sir') Care to show me your ring?
All In Earshot of British Descent: (uproarious laughter)
Bob: Here. (shows ring on left hand)
Joe: Not that one.
All In Earshot of British Descent: (more uproarious laughter)
Adrian (co-worker): That was funny.
Bob: Oh. It's a euphemism.
Bob: Sir, just so I understand you, am I to understand that rather than asking me to show you an article of jewelry on my hand, you in fact asked me to show you - here in this bar - my anus. Is that correct?
Joe: (straight-faced) Yes.
Bob: Then you'd better start buying me drinks, Joe.
All In Earshot of British Descent: (even more uproarious laughter)
The next day was more TechEd - which was an unparalleled joy, I'll have you know - then that evening we popped over to see Gaudi's fabulously odd Sacrada Famiglia cathedral, which looks a lot like a perfectly good cathedral that's gotten a bad case of stone fungus. The tapas that evening wasn't quite as remarkable as the night before, but I didn manage to finally have some fish tapas - more notably a plate of flash-fried whitebait - whole tiny fish curled and pop-eyed (and delicious).
Friday was a travel day. On my cab ride out of Barcelona, I was struck by just how much construction is underway across the city. I've never seen more urban renewal in my life - everywhere cranes, concrete, scaffolding and the ever-present sound of jackhammers.
I took the Heathrow Express into Paddington, cabbed to the Lennox, then went off to find a Decent Curry. The Star of Bombay didn't disappoint with a lamb curry and a small plate of aloo gobi and padadum. That evening I experienced what was to be the only rain in my entire trip to London - a record by any measure.
Saturday dawned clear and cool, and after a moment spent considering how I'd get my laundry done, I decided my remaining clothes were not in fact "all that stinky", and set off for the heart of London via the Circle Line.
I popped out the St. James station, walked about 200 yards east along the park, then emerged to find Westminster Abbey. I had visited there in the fall of 1978 with my family, but thought I might see a few things a little differently 28 years on.
It was very crowded - for reasons I will explain.
On the grassy lawns around the north face of the Abbey were a number of enclosed "plots" defined by tiny wooden crosses; upon closer inspection, they each bore the name of a particular unit of the military and in each plot were hundreds of small wooden crosses bearing the hand-written names of the fallen.
There was even a plot for the fallen of the United States - which contained a larger wreath of red poppies in memory of the fallen of the Iraq war.
Big Ben was just beginning to chime 11am as I stepped up to enter the Abbey when I suddenly noticed that everything had gone quiet - and that no one was moving. This went on for about two minutes. . .broken by the scream of four jets overhead.
It was the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, and all of London stopped to remember. When life came back to the world, I paid 50p for a poppy of my own and put it in my left lapel.