Numbed by days of western indulgence we turn eastwards for dinner. Chinese in the heart of Spain, a regrettable betrayal. Inside, waiters jostle around a single screen while customers go unnoticed. An atmosphere of anticipation and intoxication. A game in progress. Barcelona and Real Madrid — old and terrible enemies. A single waiter serves us, drawer of the shortest straw and resentful of our intrusion.
We eat and eat till we can't eat more, and then we drink. Buoyed by wine and unseen magic — adventure beckons. Stumble onto the curb and spinning towards Les Ramblas. Past police with hard faces and a dog in Barcelona colours. Turn the corner to a world gone mad. Flags slash the air. Men dangle from trees and lamp posts. Youthful exuberance expressed through climbing. So primitive these urges. The noise is deafening. Explosions and choppers overhead. Flares, smoke and the smell of cordite below. A bad night for veterans.
We leap around, the excitement contagious. Eyes burn with mad fervour. Chanting and bodies embrace. How passionate these Cattelans. If this is victory, what of defeat? Better here than Madrid tonight. The only certainty that sleep is a long way off. Not for Barcelona and not for Nick — a glint in his eye, wine in his blood and fire in his belly.
Off down Las Ramblas in search of a man called Jesus. Follow the black rabbit. Falling, falling and a series of strange and inexplicable snapshots:
A shoe with no foot;
Nick: "Pull your man scarf up and hide your sensitive eyes...";
The man in the eye mask;
Nick: "14 Israelis walk into a bar...";
Jen rising like Moby from the depths of a hammock, then darkness descends.
But too soon awake. Head too small for the size of this hangover. Banging relentless to get out of my sorry skull in a private and unwinnable war. Everything too loud, too bright, too much. No choice but to rally, Barcelona awaits.