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Second Class on the Overnight to Drunkistan, or The Boozy Foreigners – Part 1

Being the first tale in the adventures of three travelers learning the international language of liquor

Catalunya was on fire. No train was going to make it through to Barcelona for at least a day, so in Perpignan we were packed onto a tourbus with all the kids south of Paris, goddamn, it looked like. Overdriven boombox speakers splatted and crunched on top of the low-gear roar of the engine as the bus curved down through the Pyrenees. The gang of weekending French punks sucked down cans of cheap beer and shouted to each other around the lyric imperative in the music:


Getting the fuck up, at the moment, would get you nowhere but the chemical toilet.

In trying to go to Fun Cities of Europe for the weekend in August you typically run into one problem – everyone else is doing it, too. The trains become clown cars, and then some asshole flicks a cigarette butt out the window and burns down Spain. So you wind up arriving a good six hours too late to meet your contact, and get three hours of “sleep” on the marble floor of the train station before the guard kicks you awake and out into the dawn sunlight.

We napped on a bench in the Plaça del Catalunya, with the pigeons, like a bunch of dirty winos, until the call came that Morgana was having drinks with her boyfriend Miguel at the local Hard Rock Cafe. She’d meet us at 3:00. We didn’t know Morgana at all. Our contact in Ireland, Emma, was a friend of hers in that geography-defying European way they have, and Morgana didn’t even blink when asked to host three unwashed American twenty-somethings for a couple of days. Shocking excesses of hospitality would continue to be a feature of our travels.

Morgana's FoyerMorgana lived in an apartment in the mazey medieval section of the city, the Ciutat Vella. Her flat was carved out of what was once probably a very swank residence for some international trader; her building had an indoor courtyard with an actual tree. We, being at least vaguely responsible types, set out for a grocery store in an attempt to make Morgana a thank-you dinner.

More important than the pasta shells and ricotta cheese, though, was the incredibly cheap bottle of Spanish rum we bought with our exotic pesetas. James, the youngest of we three, had spent his youth thus far as a teetotaler but was aware that this temperance, much like his veganism, simply wouldn’t fly in the Old World. He needed to be conditioned, broken in like a new pair of walking shoes, lest his liver fail in the weeks to come and he be forced onto the mercies of socialized medicine.

We let ourselves in to the apartment and were greeted by the sound of a Manu Chao album failing to cover Morgana enthusiastically fucking Miguel in the adjacent bedroom. This could only mean one thing: it was time to get James drunk.

Ciutat Vella

Miguel owned a bar (of course he did) called Vox Populi, and on the following day he set us up at a table, two beers apiece and a bottle of wine on the house. In a plaza nearby I stumbled across two people who’d shared their tobacco-rich joint with me as we’d sat outside the train watching brushfire smoke mix into the sky. They told me about Hostel Kabul, which was fortunate because we needed hosteling that night, and serendipitous because we’d idly talked about sticking together to find a place to stay back when I never thought I’d see them again. I gave them my address in New York.

Morgana teamed up with her friend Pierre to take us out to dinner or, in lieu of dinner, quite a few drinks. Depending on where we could get a table. Pierre guided us to a champagne bar having some kind of happy hour. 400 pesetas bought a bottle of fizzy wine-flavored candy and all the blood sausage you could eat, so naturally entering the place demanded a level of bodily contact punishable as a sex crime in many nations. I did not miss the chance to have my friend Cristian photograph me looking impossibly suave and cosmopolitan.

Champagne Bar, Barcelona

Being the drunken sophisticates we now clearly were and deserved to be, we settled on pizza as our meal of choice. The restaurant was, inevitably, full. Pierre softened our disappointment by taking us to the bar next door and introducing his good friend the mojito to whom, felicitously, we all bonded immediately.

My mutant power of navigation charted a wobbly course from wherever the hell we were through a tangle of streets once certainly stumbled by centurions in vino veritas. At the Hostel Kabul we sweat mint into the sheets. We used the morning’s hangover time constructively, sending a postcard to one of our number who couldn’t make the trip and confirming arrangements for Berlin. To celebrate our recuperation we indulged our pretensions by ordering absinthe at Bar Marsella, apocryphal scene of both Van Gogh’s and Picasso’s serial dalliances with the Green Lady. We were virgins, but she was gentle with her charms and sent us off with her blessing and remembrances to her kin in the cities ahead.

Train to ParisWe departed Barcelona, now wise enough to understand what kind of supplies would ease our trials-by-rail.