As I walked up the Ramblas I stuck to the sidewalk in the shade. The central isle was thick with tourists, the pale-skinned ones all burnt red, inching forward. You couldn’t hurry in that heat, I was sweating as it was. The dark-skinned men laid down their storefronts, spread out baseball caps and sunglasses and assorted tourist tat, then just as quickly whipped the cords strung to each corner, hefted the packs upon their shoulders, and briskly walked away. There were nervous glances cast as they retreated, undoubtedly the police were on their scent. These outlaw salesmen of contraband apparel. I looked hard for the victim of their crime, but the sunglasses I’d just bought were a bit dark. Perhaps the landlords of the buildings. Or the owners of the Oakley brand. The possessed and the dispossessed.

I rang the doorbell of an inconspicuous entrance in this street otherwise lined cheek-to-jowl with shop windows, made my way across the gloomy interior, rang a second bell under the staircase, walked down a corridor, through a third door and finally found myself face-to-face with a woman. She looked at me sternly and asked me why I had come. It was not the welcome I had been expecting, although I couldn’t tell you what I had been expecting. I glanced down at her cleavage, then met her steady gaze and explained that I had come to the understanding that I might procure marijuana in her establishment. She demanded to know who had given me that information. I cleared my throat and thought about perhaps making a run for the door. She really was quite sexy, annoyed perhaps more so. I explained that I had done some research online.

She closed her eyes for a second. Perhaps she was silently hoping people would stop writing about her club on their websites. She opened her eyes again. They were blue, shot with grey. She explained that neither the sale of marijuana nor public possession is legal in Spain. I nodded. She took €40 off me and gave me a membership card. They didn’t sell weed inside, but there was a dispensary where one could acquire a healthy dose in exchange for a donation. I looked hard for the victim of their crime, but I was carried away by the groovy music and the air conditioning.

The staff were all women, all sexy, all bad. They wore short dresses or tight jeans. I wondered how the selection process worked. The interior was more upmarket than anything I’d seen in Amsterdam. Tasteful decor, comfortable sofas, extractor fans keeping the air smoke-free, pumping tunes, cool drinks, video games, grinders and complementary rolling papers. It was smooth. The only thing missing were windows.

I wanted to talk to the staff, but my Spanish was awful, so instead I spoke to the other clients. From the four corners of the world we had gathered in this speakeasy, a welcome refuge from the prohibitive society outside, to partake in a vice which was certainly no worse than drinking booze. Complicit in our criminal habit, an openness emerged. They told me their stories, and I told mine. I met an Egyptian neurosurgeon, working in Dubai, where you definitely can not smoke weed. I met a Lebanese communications intern, sexier than any of the staff, and that is saying something. I think I may have a weakness for the Middle-Eastern girls. I met a Turkish guy, studying computer science in New York City, and we got to geeking about open source software and free culture. I met the loveliest young American woman, from Atlanta, she had pale skin and freckles and blue eyes shot red from the dope. What was she on about, IT project management or something? I met a wild Brazilian girl, she was just bouncing off the walls, dirty as a open sewer, great fun.

They might have been slackers, but they were not drop-outs. They were all interesting people and I delighted in discovering them. The Dragon club opened my eyes to new possibilities. To keep a low profile they were only open in the afternoons. At closing time I’d deposit my stash for safe-keeping. They had CCTV on the door and spotters in the streets, which was good because I did not fancy being arrested again. I’d don my sunglasses and wander down the Ramblas stoned out of my mind, drooling at young ass cheeks in every direction.

I’m glad the naughty shorts are still in style. I’m talking about those shorts so short that your ass hangs out the bottom, they seem to have taken the world by storm. A few years prior I would have fallen off my bicycle if I saw a pair in the wild, but now they were everywhere. I love summer fashion: bare legs, sandals, short shorts, tank tops, floaty cotton dresses, wide-brim hats, bikinis. I bask in it, as the long carefree days blend into carefree nights.

On my first night there was a huge street party. I got drunk and danced for hours and made new friends. The city was just as awesome as I’d always imagined it would be. I remember, when I used to live in France, I’d be driving south on the motorway, homeward-bound to Montpellier, to work and worries, and I’d see a sign for Barcelona. My eyes would light up, I’d start to fantasize about skipping my exit and instead cruising down the coast to the party destination, leaving all my worries behind and just having some fun. And in the background, Freddie Mercury would cry “Barcelona, Barceloooona”!

In the morning, feeling a bit hung over, I went for a walk. The streets were broad and straight as arrows, carrying a ceaseless ebb and flow of scooters, cars, taxi cabs, buses and trucks. I could just walk and keep on walking, there seemed to be no end to it. The solid walls of ten-story buildings towered over me, so many people racked and stacked. More shops and bars and restaurants than I could possibly visit in a lifetime beckoned my attention. The army of green men cleaned and kept on cleaning. The cops were forever racing around frantically with their sirens wailing. I saw so many women pushing prams and/or pregnant, post-crisis rebound I suppose, will the city have to grow even further? It was a giant throbbing machine and I was an ant crawling through its midst.

I sat down in Carmelitas for a think. It was my kind of place, very quirky, black & white photographs of random nuns hanging on the naked brick walls, marble Greek columns, intricate geometric floor tiles. They had good coffee too.

I had previously hatched a plan to buy a boat and sail around the world, but first I needed to get a stake together. Recently I’d been hopping around Europe, rather directionless, crashing at friends, using up goodwill. I guess it was one way to avoid paying rent. Mostly I’d been listening to them talk, and they had been expressing a lot of discontent: My skin keeps breaking out in sores; I want children, but I can’t find a decent man; My wife just fell pregnant, my social life is now over; My mother is dying of cancer; I fell in love with a man but he does not love me back; I fell in love with a man and he is dying of cancer. Through a long lens it’s just the drama of life really: birth, love, death. Up close is it a bit more messy. I was getting things in perspective.

I’d come to Barcelona to crash at the family of a friends with the vague idea of learning Spanish. When you move to a foreign country its always easier to get started in the big city. I was getting a bit tired of big cities to be honest, but I thought I should at least stick around long enough to find out what made this one tick.

So far, it seemed everyone was mad about the football club and the architecture of Gaudi. Young people came from all over to party, the clubs were overflowing. I wanted to see Rumba music played in the streets, but the police had put a stop to improvised performances. Some street art still clung to the walls.

I’d been reading with fascination Terry Jones’ tales from the Barrio Gótico, exactly the type of study of the contemporary human condition that I enjoy, and I quote:

It is 4:15am now, and in the time it has taken me to write the last two pages, at least three men have pissed against the wall under my balcony, and two others have divided up some white dry drug on the ledge of a bricked-up window. People walk past and no-one pays any attention to anyone else. The pissers piss, the dealers deal, and the drunken or semi-drunken youths walk on. Fights erupt, people scream and cry out at all times, bar doors open and the pounding music pounds harder.

I got in touch and he told me that if I wanted something even seedier than the Gótico, I should be on the other side of the Ramblas in El Raval. Sounds like fun. It took me a while to find an apartment. I was secretly looking for an Auberge Espagnole, and I found one too, full of Brazilian filmmakers and French scientists and Greek poets, but they chose someone else to live with them goddamit. I ended up with Perry, a Flemish photographer just back from the tiny island of Ko Tao. He told me it was sublime, beautiful landscapes, great diving, and if you happen to get raped and murdered by the son of a powerful family then some poor Burmese kids will take the rap. Go Thailand! He spent his time in his room smoking joints and editing photographs, actually quite the artist.

The street was rough, the building was rough, but the apartment was surprisingly nice. I put ink to paper on the dotted line and handed over a stack of bills to a shifty Italian who was supposedly a friend of the landlord. Whatever, he gave me the key and didn’t give me a hard time which is more than can be said for the French.

My own room… I cried in my pillow for a while. Old habits die hard. Coat hangers! I’d forgotten what they looked like. It was a novelty being able to unpack my suitcase. It’s good to be on the top floor, to look out the window and see the sky and a sea of rooves. I couldn’t see the actual sea. Someone kept urinating in the elevator. There was six flights of stairs. I got a workout.

The noise in El Raval was beyond anything I have ever experienced. The whine of scooters, the roar of drunks, the constant grinding and hammering from the building opposite being gutted. They placed a stack of beautiful wooden-framed glass doors out in the street. At 3 in the morning the garbage collectors dumped each individual door into their truck, shattering the glass. Who in their right mind? Made me wonder what exactly I was paying €500/month in rent for, when I could probably sleep better on the beach for free.

I actually find the idea quite charming. Up on Montjuic hill I met a hippie couple living in a park. I shared some of my tobacco with them. He told me that rain equals a free shower. She told me that restaurants would give her free food at closing hour, thanks to her pretty blue eyes. He told me about me about playing the guitar for money while avoiding the cops. She told me about living in squats in Berlin.

I looked at these vagabonds and I felt a mixture of jealousy and sorrow. They lived a life that I have never known. I wanted to get away from the grind, I wanted to stop working for the man, I wanted to break free from the system. Camping a few nights in nature is alright. But there are limits to what I will put up with, and I draw the line at sleeping in a city park. I’ve been homeless before, but these ones just had that look about them, like they were a few sandwiches short of a picnic. I’m not sure if I’m that crazy. I think a sailboat would be better.

The days were long, the nights were short. I was being eaten alive by mosquitoes. I had a fan running in my room 24/7 that provided meagre respite from the heat. The Spanish slept in the afternoon, but I couldn’t get into the habit. I was living in the wrong time zone. I’d get up at dawn and walk down to the beach for a dip in the sea. On the way I’d cross paths with the zombies, the staggering wretches on their last legs, who’d grunt or groan or hurl cans or worse. I’d forget them as I swam butterfly through the waves, soaring over the crests, out to the distant buoy and back. They were weak, I was strong.

Back in the narrow and crooked streets of El Raval the nasty looking prostitutes plied their trade. I looked hard for the victim of their crime, but even a sideways glance was enough to lead them on. The horror, my flesh crawled as they sauntered over to peddle their wares, I hastened my step. What combination of drug abuse, malnutrition and violence renders a face thus? I wanted to talk to them, find out the truth about their lives, but of course they’re not interested in any of that. No photography either. I hadn’t had sex in a long time, but I wasn’t that desperate, god help me if I ever am.

The one good thing about my neighbourhood was that most tourists were too afraid to enter. Wander in there wearing an “I love Barcelona” tee and you’d be eaten alive. This was not Disneyland, which is sadly what a lot of Barcelona has become. I went to La Boqueria market a couple times to do my grocery shopping but it was too much work trying to fight my way through throngs of people taking photographs of the fruit, as if they’d never seen a goddamned orange before.

There were a lot of especially crazy homeless guys hanging about in the otherwise very charming local garden, an oasis of peace and quiet in my wild neighbourhood, where I set up my office. I had to at least pretend to work for my corporate masters.

I turned away and when I looked back my Macbook was gone. It seems everyone gets robbed at least once in Barcelona. You might be tempted to blame the homeless, but the real thieves are from Eastern Europe and they are professionals. I had backups and cash to buy a replacement, but I worried about the data being compromised. There are secrets that shouldn’t see the light of day. I assume you don’t encrypt either, do you? Here I was, the victim of a crime, but I sure wasn’t going to the police.

Afternoon rolled around it seemed like a very wise idea to head up to the Dragon and bask in their air conditioning. I was weak, they were strong. Getting stoned was fun, but it wouldn’t get me anywhere. I was actually trying to quit smoking. Remind me why I am here? Oh yes, I wanted to learn Spanish. Now about that…

I had come to the wrong place. It’s like moving to the Netherlands to learn Dutch and realizing you’re in the part where they speak Frisian. You see, Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, where they speak Catalan, yet another Latin derivative. It was an unnecessary complication. Is a market a “mercat” or a “mercado”? Is a street a “carrer” or a “calle”? It was driving me nuts.

Most Catalans want independence from Spain. You can’t walk down a street without seeing a Catalan flag flying from a window. It was quite oppressive to be honest. I’ve been in Turkey, Greece, Northern Ireland, and wherever I see people waving flags it rubs me the wrong way. That land was there long before humans ever walked upon it. People keep asking me where I am from, and I keep saying “Same as you mate, planet Earth”. We’re all just human beings after all. Perhaps it would be better if they had their own state, and they could rope in Valencia and the Balearic islands too. I just can’t stand the them-and-us attitude.

I decided to stick to Spanish. I found a teacher for private classes. I’ll be honest with you, I chose her because I liked her profile picture. Maria Rosa had just got back from a year abroad in France, so we had that in common. She helped me translate one of my dream stories. It was interesting to watch and she composed sentences from my words in this strange and exotic language.

A week later we were having sex on her balcony overlooking the evening city, watching the neighbours partying below, my hand over her mouth to muffle her catholic profanities. Actually I didn’t know what she was screaming, but it sounded unholy. She used to study literature at the university, where she took me to have sex in the library. Evidently, she had a weakness for writers.

I heard there was a nude beach in town, La Mer Bella, how progressive. Funny how the nudist beaches are always the nicest. At sundown I happened to see a couple having sex, a gentle, intimate affair, no one stared, I just glanced a few times to make sure as I sauntered past. I related my surprise to my new teacher. “You’ve never had sex on the beach?!” The shock, you’d think I’d told her I had a disability. She told me we needed to fix that, and so we did.

The Pakistanis wander up and down the beach selling cold beers. How do they keep them cold? I believe they lower bags into the sewerage pipes. I was up to the hilt inside my teacher and this guy makes a beeline for me. “Hey man, you want some beers?” Christ. Couldn’t he see I was busy? What the hell, I might as well. I buy a can, I crack it open, I take a swig, I carry on. I kept an eye open for the victim of our crime but no one around us seemed half bothered. I’ve never had sex in plain view before. Afterwards we swam naked in the sea, kissed in the surf, rejoiced in the liberation of it all. The summer was starting to get very hot indeed.

We went for a coffee at Federal, even more quirky than Carmelitas, where they had line drawings of ostriches on the walls. It was still morning, I was feeling pretty tired, I hadn’t slept a full night in years. She told me she had a serious boyfriend, an eventual marriage planned, two and half kids and a white picket fence and all that, but in France her heart had strayed, and now there was me. She wanted to be faithful, but she just liked sex too much. We agreed to try a polyamourous relationship, a first for both of us.

A poly-what you just said? It means you can have sex with other people and no one is going to get upset. Madness! Crazy talk! I suppose it is not everyone’s cup of tea, but personally I’m not the jealous type. I was about to put that to test.

We were riding through the night in the back of a taxi cab, heading to the outskirts, the upper slopes, where the wealthy lived in lavish houses. I was holding the hand of this young woman, she was looking out the window at the city lights. She was wearing a short skirt, I admired the line of her legs. Who was she? I hadn’t known her very long. She glanced at me and smiled and then gazed once again at the scene below. I was intoxicated by the smell her perfume. Her hair fell down across her bare shoulder, I could see a pearl earring.

I was much older than her, much taller, much stronger, but she was on her home turf and spoke the language. She was startlingly intelligent, of sound judgement, forthright, determined. Yet she had a certain vulnerability about her, as if she sought protection and had found it in me. It was undecided who was in charge.

We’d been talking about swingers clubs, something we’d both always wanted to try but never dared. To work up the courage we got to drinking, we ended having so much fun that we lost track of time. At 1am I hailed a taxi and instructed him to head to Training Pedrables. The taxi driver pointed us in the direction of a mansion, one of many in this very wealthy neighbourhood. My legs felt a little wobbly and I had butterflies in my belly. We rang the bell at the gate, rounded the marble sculpture and mounted the steps to the front door. We were greeted by the hostess, a beautiful young woman dressed only in lace lingerie, who provided us with a guided tour of the establishment.

There were changing rooms, a nightclub in the basement, an indoor heated pool, a jacuzzi, a sauna, a small cinema screening pornography, a terrace with deck chairs, it was all lavish yet tasteful, wonderfully classy, and replete with couples in various states of undress, many entirely nude. We were told we could have sex anywhere, even on the bar counter if we so desired, and people were gaily availing themselves of this privilege.

My heart was thumping in my chest. This was well above and beyond anything that I had ever witnessed. It was Eyes Wide Shut orgiastic. I wandered the halls and corridors bemused, looking into the dimly-lit interiors, listening to the moans of pleasure emanating from within, seeing the figures in their diverse array of positions, bent, leaning, standing, lying, kissing, sucking, touching, fingering, fucking.

It was too much for me, my attention was torn to pieces. The señorita was on fire though, she jumped on everything that moved. I sort of just followed her into the fray. She hadn’t had much girl-on-girl action for a long time so I think she was plenty hungry. As it happened, she kept finding her attention diverted to the man, and I found myself looking after the lady. She’s about to get fucked by a stranger, and I’m whispering in her ear, uh, is he wearing a condom? And she’s like, oh yeah, totally forgot, uh, sorry could you put a condom on? STDs, what a fucking kill-joy.

So, maybe I’m just big into foreplay or something? Flirting is good right? Crossing eyes across the room, feeling the desire rising, doubt, curiosity. Does she like me? Maybe. Perhaps I should chat her up. This is the kind of thing I was thinking about, while already tongue deep in a woman’s vagina. Uncharted territory. I could have done with a guide. Someone to ease me in slowly. I’d just jumped into the deep end and I was trying to figure out how to swim. I was literally drowning in pussy.

I took my lady outside for some air and a cigarette. My hand was shaking as I tried to spark a light. Before my very eyes, a couple came outside, young, early twenties, hot, they lay down on the sofa before me and began to have very rough sex. I took another drag of my cigarette. Incredible. Such freedom. I rejoiced in it. This was my tribe, I had finally found them. These people had understood.

I wanted to invite a few of them to a more private affair, in a lavish country house, for a refined dinner with crystal champagne flutes and silverware and oysters and duck hearts, as you do, before going descending together down to the dungeon… but I let my imagination get away from me.

We rode home on the early morning metro, she sucked my dick in the carriage, I think we might have been taking this a little too far. In times past I’ve had some pretty wild experiences with girls, but there was no putting the lid on this one. We went back to mine, had sex, and slept forever.

I would now like to take a moment to relate to you Nacho Vidal’s pacifist manifesto. For those who don’t get Spanish, here is a very rough translation:

We continue to hurt each other, to kill each other. Killing out brothers, our sisters, our neighbours and our friends. We continue to manufacture weapons. We continue to commit terrorist attacks. We continue these attacks against all reason. Let us evolve. Let us love each other. Let us fuck. Let us exchange our missiles for vibrators, our weapons of mass destruction for multiple orgasms. Let us practice bondage and domination instead of enslaving our children. Let us cease to invade countries and start to conquer asses. Let squirting dissolve our tears. Let cries of orgasms replace cries of hunger and desperation. Let the 69 position allow us to forget the stipulations of the IMF. Yes, let us fuck. Fuck, and fuck some more. Let us cease with this hypocritical and cruel way of thinking. Let us cease to be scandalized to see our bodies nude all the while accepting to see bodies mutilated. Let us cease to choke on lies and eat garbage and instead let us choke on cocks and eat cunts. Let us do it now, immediately, no excuses. For only once every dick and every cunt on this planet is respected, will life be worth living.

Who is Nacho Vidal? The porn kingpin of Barcelona. I’m told he has a very big cock. This guy is my hero. He and his cronies put together the erotic fair, quite the splash, where I got to watch porn stars having live sex. This lot made the folks in Training Pedrables look tame. What sheer confidence. Dude lifts a women clear in the air, fingers her pussy until she cums, squirting her load all over the watching crowd.

There must be a victim of the crime here somewhere, I keep looking around, maybe it’s me. I want to be that guy. Where is my career guidance counsellor, I’m going to wring her neck. This is what I should have been doing all these years instead of programming fucking computers. Some people get to have all the fun.

Maria Rosa and I started talking about getting into the pornography scene. I’m mildly interested in Erika Lust and her fem-porn movement, along with Lucie who I believe to be her side-kick. Although I think I like what Bel Gris is doing more. I had a brief gander at the prostitution scene too, such as the friendly Apricots and the more daring Porn star experience. Is Barcelona the sex capital of Western Europe? I wanted to throw myself in but fear of the unknown held me back.

Fear, fear, fear. I understand vertigo. Falling into ravines is generally a fatal affair. Jumping out of airplanes with a parachute strapped to your back… well that’s just insane. Survival instinct quite rightly screaming “Don’t do it!” But what about sex-fear? What are we all so afraid of? I admire the courage of prostitutes and pornographers. You do the thing you are afraid of and you get the courage afterwards. I have to keep reminding myself.

I needed some air. Barcelona is sandwiched between the sea and a line of hills. Behind them lies a great forest known as the Collserola, a short trip on the train, most people I talked to had never heard of it. Out there I could forget the city existed at all. In a clearing a I met a boy who’d fashioned his own bow and arrows and was practising targets. He let me have a try. I was terrible. Just breathe, he told me. He was a wise kid.

I looked down upon the city, the great heaving machine, the enormous tentacle monster, and I realized that I needed to get out. I needed some quiet, a place to meditate and find myself. I fled for the Canaries.