IKEA shelves, tomato stains and loud brits
Barcelona — you need a phone to call the landord. But the landlord doesn’t want to talk to you. Then you discover you need a bank account to get an apartment, but you need to have a permanent address to get a bank account.
To get a bank account you really ought to have a job, but if you get contracted to get a job, you really need to have a bank account first. Regardless, that apartment you wanted is pretty much impossible to get without a job.
And to get a job you need an NIE, a number that permits you to work in Spain, even though you carry an EU passport. The NIE permit office doesn’t like it much that you don’t have a job yet. They’re located in a police station.
So this is why you gave up a high-paying corporate job, a great apartment and friends and family back in Toronto.
Before jumping into the Mediterranean Sea and drowning yourself over the circuitous nature of living in stunning and stylish Barcelona, you notice a marina out of the corner of your eye.
You think, “Hmm.” So you ask around and it just so happens that the British gentleman who used to own a boat here died and you can rent it for a good monthly rate. But you’ll have to clean it up a bit.
Then you learn that this guy discovered Viagra before passing on, and entertained several lady friends, something that’s obvious from his collection of spirits and various-sized women’s sandals and sun hats.
You admire the guy — until you enter the toilet. You reach for the deodorizing spray (he has several kinds) and trip over his econo-size pack of pink toilet paper as you make a run for it. Coughing and sputtering, you enter the small sitting area, stub your toe on the badly placed table, trip on the stairs, bang your head and somehow squeeze your body back out the companionway into the fresh air.
Then night falls. Your inaugural sleep aboard. It rains hard. You have to pee in a cup. You snuggle into the front, which, even after hours of trying to bake out the smell in the previous afternoon’s intense sun, still reeks.
Your head is hanging over the end of the bunk. Your legs are scrunched at the end. You make like a fetus. The rain grows more intense. The boat starts leaking. The water is hitting the red plastic sleeping pads and landing in your ears. You shift around, and become caught in your small sheets, only to have your sticky, sweaty body seal itself to the pads. You don’t sleep.
You know that the dead guy’s boat won’t do. You check the exchange rate and begin to weep, as it’s getting worse by the day, and your savings in Canadian dollars resemble a mere week’s survival kit.
You check out a series of new places. Ikea shelves, tomato sauce drippings, people tripping over each other, clubbing Brits, grotty walls, suspect neighbourhoods and noise characterize your findings.
Just about every other night there are loud explosions outside your doorway that you at first chalk up to Morocco and Spain’s spat over the island of Perejil. No, its just fireworks. You learn that Spaniards spend more on fireworks than any other nation on earth.
Maybe it’s best to not worry about the living accommodations. You begin your job search.
First you try your specialty in a few business jobs. You scan the Internet and send off a mountain of CVs, only to wise up several weeks later to all your bad Spanish translations.
You start your cold calling, and address phrases like “I thrive within a multicultural environment and am excited at the prospect of entering your industry” to a condom manufacturer.
You get turned away from in-person visits to companies and spend ludicrous amounts at a cyber café hunched over a computer screen.
Then that cellphone that you’re scared to use because of its oppressive cost finally rings. The voice on the other end wants to give you a mini screening interview before inviting you in for the real thing.
But where did your Spanish go? Your command of the language makes you sound like a Canadian hockey coach. The voice on the phone is not convinced.
So, you start your restaurant-café search.
You rearrange your CV to highlight the busser job you had in your dead-beat hometown at age 14.
You get moderately dressed in black pants and white shirt, which are immediately soaked from the 37 degree weather.
After 50 places, a CV finally catches the interest of a restaurant owner who offers you the soul-destroying work hours of 10 am to 4 pm and 7 pm to 2 or 3 am, every day, with Monday as the only break — and for less money than you made 10 years ago at the busser job in your deadbeat town.
You think there are brighter skies ahead.
So you spend days walking in great circles around a Joan Miró statue where everyone tells you that you can get your hands on a NIE. Finally, you’re persuaded to head to the local police station.
You go to the front of the line. Shockingly, you have the right papers and the correct photo size and a colour photocopy of your EU passport to get the number.
You’ve discovered the lock and key. The labyrinth will open! With the NIE you can get the job, which gets you the apartment, which helps in getting the bank account, which gets you the money. And at that point you don’t care about the oppressive costs of cellphone use.
But you’re ahead of yourself.
The woman helping you at the police station sees your expression of jubilation.
She asks, “And your permanent address?”