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  • Tapas from Barcelona

    By Lee Jones

    No main courses today – just little dishes from the past few days of the European Poker Tour and rambling the streets of Barcelona.

    The Parrots of Barcelona

    Pass this plate to Lisa, John, Claudia, Michael, and Connie – the people in my life who most love parrots. In two separate parks today, I heard a noise that was clearly not coming from the flocks of pigeons that covered the grass. The first time I heard it, it took me a second to place the sound. But then I realized that it was the sound of a parrot (something I would not have recognized had our son John not bought a green cheek conure  some years ago). I looked up into the trees and there sat half a dozen green parrots (alas, I don’t know the genus and species). There were also a few of them picking up the bread that tourists had dropped for the pigeons. Unlike the pigeons, the parrots would fly up into the trees with their meal, protecting it from the others. Cool. People strolling through the park would stop to point and marvel. It was the first time I truly regretted leaving the camera in the hotel room.

    The Linguistic Gymnast’s Grip

    I stopped for a bottle of water at a small stand. I’m not good about staying hydrated in general, but in this climate, your body quickly drains of moisture to the degree that you notice it.

    Me: “Hola”
    Her: “Hola”
    Agua sin gas, por favor”.
    [She retrieves a cold bottle from the refrigerator]
    [I hand her a five-Euro note, she gives me the change]
    Me: “Muchas gracias” (with whatever Castillian lisp I can muster)
    Her: “You’re welcome”


    When my brother and I were small, my dad taught us a few gymnastic maneuvers. One of the first was the “gymnast’s grip” – made popular by trapeze artists. In short each person grabs the other’s wrists – it’s a bigger target and provides redundancy to the hold. I’m trying to speak her language; she’s trying to speak mine.

    I’m never sure in exchanges such as this whether they’re just practicing their English (as I’m practicing my Spanish), or they’re saying, “Look, your Spanish is a waste of time – let’s switch to English and quit the charade”. Since I speak about twenty words of Spanish, I’m quick to give in to the latter approach, but for a bottle of water, I’ll tough it out. On the other hand, the breakfast hostess at the hotel restaurant smiles at me when I tell her my room number in Spanish, and she wishes me a good day in Catalan.

    Coins in my shoe

    Early in my walk along the Barcelona boardwalk yesterday, I kept noticing my right shoe making some weird sound – as if a leaf or chewing gum were stuck on the bottom of it. So I’d walk thirty feet, stop and look at the bottom of my shoe. No sound. Gently put down my foot. No sound. Commence walking again – and the sound restarted. It was probably on my fourth inspection that my hand brushed against my pants pocket, and it made exactly the sound that my shoe was supposed to be making. It was the coins I’d gotten in change from my water bottle purchase. Sheesh.

    What’s also weird is that the sound drove me nuts when clearly had no effect on my gait or ability to walk. That’s bizarre.

    Gimme a Stone, Part Dos

    Scattered throughout the Casino Barcelona are a number of stone “sculptures” (for lack of a better word). They are, forgive me, hideous. They’re basically giant chunks of rock with some moderately bizarre gambling theme sculpted (or glued – I don’t know) onto them. One of them featured a full-color European Poker Tour logo.

    Toward the tournament end, two women (one young and stylish) began to frequently appear within the PokerStars/EPT staff circles. Turns out that young one is the sculptor and wanted to “donate” the EPT-logo’d rock to the winner. At the least, I imagine she wanted a photo to add to her portfolio, but she may have well been looking for an honorarium too.

    These two women approached every person who looked as if he or she had anything to do with EPT operations. I was relieved to say that I had no involvement in this issue and simply stepped away from the conversation. They even enlisted a respected member of the poker community to act as their entrée to the press room and other restricted areas. Our younger son, David, who spent 2005-2006 in Spain, warned us that it’s a mistake to get between a Spanish woman and something she’s headed toward. No matter how many times these women were told “No, gracias”, they persisted – even physically restraining people trying to step away from the lecture.

    I last saw the younger one last night, hand clasped around the arm of Sander Lyloll, the winner of the EPT Season Four inaugural event. If you see a blonde guy walking through the Barcelona airport carrying a 20 kg rock, give him a hand.

    The European Brassiere

    No, I didn’t mean “Brasserie”. Ever since I have moved to the UK, and spent a lot of time on the continent, I’ve noticed that the ladies on this side of the pond (and the societies in general) have completely different sensibilities when it comes to the bra. Specifically, they are optional, and when used, are there to provide lift and shape, not, as the American ones do, control. The Spanish ladies go even further than their British cousins in this respect.

    Furthermore, the women over here are not afraid to show a fair amount of décolletage (or, putting it more bluntly, cleavage). Even women of a matronly age seem to take the attitude that if they have it, they’re going to display it.

    Hurrah, says I. Frankly, I suspect that this attitude is a proxy for the generally less hung-up (and less hypocritical) attitude the Euros seem to take about their bodies, sex, etc. I mean, Hillary Clinton appears on the floor of the U.S. Senate showing a little cleavage, and people go nuts. Over here, that outfit wouldn’t get a second glance.

    But they have their weirdness too

    I have a handful of postcards, addressed and stamped (for US delivery). I hand them to the desk clerk here at the five-star Hotel AB Skipper where we’re staying (100 meters from the beach) and ask her to put them in the post. The woman says, “What room number please?” Two other clerks standing by nod somberly as if this is key information. “201”, in English, too nonplussed to say it in Spanish. “Okay,” she replies brightly. I’m trying to envision an American hotel clerk responding to the request with anything but, “Sure!” I can’t do it.

    Parts of my job that don’t suck

    ·        Having a three-hour dinner on the hotel patio with three colleagues under a warm Barcelona night sky, sharing a bottle of rosé and life stories. Not once do we discuss how to play ace-jack offsuit.
    ·        The welcome party for the WCP players was held at a delicious sushi restaurant, beach-side. They had these rolls that were sake, maguro, and avocado, inside wrapped, with tobiko sprinkled on the outside. And asparagus tempura. You get the drift. 

    Daniel Negreanu among friends

    Poker legend Daniel Negreanu  is now a member of Team PokerStars, so he’s over here for both the EPT event and the World Cup of Poker. He is always gregarious and outgoing and even graciously volunteered to help deal a short-staffed freeroll we were running for the WCP players. He carried on a loud and delightful commentary, much of it in Spanish, throughout. At some point, he relinquished the dealer chair (“The dealer has to go wee!” he cried). I later noticed him sitting around with a very small group of people, yakking away and having even more fun than usual. An hour later, they were still at it. I wandered by to see why this apparently random crowd could so captivate him. Heh – it was the Romanian WCP team, which had advanced to the quarter-finals, here in Barcelona. Daniel, as you can tell by his surname, is of Romanian stock (despite his Canadian citizenship) and he was having a blast chatting in Romanian with that team. He admitted that he had some mixed sympathies in the match, but that he’d give his Canadian teammates 100% of his ability. Still, it was cool to see him obviously basking in the company of his new Romanian friends.

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    Comment from Richard Whitehouse
    Time: September 13, 2007, 6:09 pm

    I hope Daniel Negreanu will come and do a guest spot for Bigger Deal!

    What do you think?

    Write a comment

    Lee checks these comments and will reply to them on a regular basis.