Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Midnight in Barcelona

Absinthe at the Bar Marsella -- Where It Began (photo credit Drew Smith)
If you read this blog, my bet is you have seen the Woody Allen Movie "Midnight in Paris" about the nostalgic young American writer who goes back in time to "The Dingo" in 1920s Paris every night at the stroke of 12, spending time with the "Lost Generation" of Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Picasso, Stein, Dali and more.

In Barcelona, on a little forgotten street a few blocks from "the tourist section" is a little bar named "The Bar Marella" where you can experience your own nostalgic time travel. This bar is 200 years old and has not been dusted or changed whatsoever since the 1920s. It is the place given credit for introducing Absinthe -- the drink of choice for many of the Lost Generation as well as others. It was outlawed once upon a time but came back after the wormwood used in the original form was removed from the process.
Notice the Dust (photo Drew Smith)
Drew, Dad and I went looking for the Bar Marsella -- where the likes of Hemingway, Picasso, Dali, and the famous architect Antoni Gaudi, the genius behind all of the wonders of Barcelona, spent time here drinking the famous drink. While Madrid was Hemingway's favorite Spanish city, when he visited Barcelona this was his favorite bar. It was also the actual location used in another Woody Allen movie, "Vicky Christina Barcelona" (2008).

After Drew left to meet a college friend from Spain, Dad and I met a wonderful couple and we asked them to join us. Laura and Eric were there for the same reasons... literary nerdism. We had run into each other earlier that evening. Once we found the bar, an adventure in and of itself, it looked like it might be closed down. Not to worry, the prostitutes of the area, as well as the policeman, informed us it would not open until 11pm. It turns out this is considered something of a "Red Light District" for Barcelona... and apparently prostitution is legal here since the policeman was working the same block. However, as we all agreed, since the prostitutes were there in the 1920s as well, back when this was known as the place to be, it actually led to the ambiance in strange way. There were no hordes of tourists, something we had been fighting (and contributing to) all day.
With Eric of Portugal and Laura of Atlanta, with Dad at the Bar Marsella
Nope. As the clock struck midnight, and Laura and Eric and Dad and I sat there trading rounds of absinthe (Dad only had one), it dawned on me that this new day was the anniversary of Ernest Hemingway's death. I took the occasion to offer a toast to the man, in his bar, with his drink, among new friends who shared a love of his work just as I do. Whether or not Hemingway's ghost was present, his spirit no doubt was there that night.

You can cut the nostalgia with a knife, almost literally. The paint is peeling. The bottles and pictures on the walls are from the 1920s. The bar keepers did not dress in period costume, but that would have just made it a tourist thing anyway.

Yep, this was a surreal experience -- my very own "Midnight in Paris" and my own Dingo Bar. It is all the more fitting since the greatest surrealist himself -- Salvadore Dali -- used to drink here as well

We shared more rounds of absinthe than I care to (or frankly am able to) remember. Just as I had read in a New York Times article, the real crowd did not show up until after mid-night as well. Eventually, the place was full of people from every walk of life. There was one college-age French Art Student in the corner who was lighting her sugar cube with a bic before the ritualistic pouring of water over the sugar cube to give it a caramelized taste -- a welcome thing if you do not like the taste of licorice. She also knew the reputation of the bar, and sat in the corner drawing the scene that night. The locals hung out at the bar and laughing with friends.

In short, it was perhaps the most memorable way I could kick off "the Hemingway portion" of my trip. Sadly, the Bar Marsella is under siege. The owners of the building in which it is located want to sell. There is a fear that the property will be redeveloped. The city sees it as a way to clean up an area that is very close to the main "tourist" area, if unseen and unknown by most of them right now.

There is a petition online to ask the city to buy it for the $1 million asking price and save it just like it is... no changes, no neon signs, just nostalgia, history, and the authentic and very real experience of traveling back in time. Please Google "Save the Bar Marsella" and sign the petition. Better yet, buy it and move there. You will not regret it.

Save the Bar Marsella!