I’m in the Luton airport, which is the coldest, dumpiest airport I’ve been in since . . . no, can’t find an apt comparison. My fingers are numb. Perhaps it’s a beautiful world beyond security, but I’m not there yet. Have to wait for Natalie to make it from St. Pancreas, as no one calls it. Perhaps it’s just too obvious.

Lunch? Well, yes. There’s a Burger King! Taste of home! I just wanted a single hamburger, a lone hamburger, one small modest sandwich with ketchup and American mustard and pickles. It was not to be had. Everything is a Big Thick Thing, and they’re nine dollars. I went to Marks & Sparks food for a plastic container of British Chicken infused with Mexican flavors, and a banana. Sat in a chair that had been installed in 1972 and ate it with care and deliberate slowness, so as to chew up the time.

I have this horrible feeling we’re going to be turned away from boarding. I don’t know why. Documents. Something. But no, everything’s fine.

Woke at 7:30 to the lovely Luton view:


Checked out of the hotel at noon, and since I woke at 7:30 this meant a long interval of things to do. Breakfast! Proper English breakfast, too, although I had the small amount of beans. Went to the gym. Long hot shower. Reordered my suitcase. Wrote some. After checking out I had, oh, six hours to get to the airport, which happens to be a six minute bus ride away, so I just cooled my heels in the lobby, observing the comings and goings of people. Then I crossed an extremely busy road to get to the bus shelter, where there was one man sitting hunched in the corner. When I looked at my phone he approached me and pulled out a well-creased piece of a paper with a telephone number printed on it, and asked if he could use my phone. He was barely able to explain why. He was even more difficult to dissuade.

I’m at a Starbucks, finishing off an Americano. The price was $3.85, and I had it all sorted out in my pocketful of coins. Best to divest of the cash while I’m here. I’d paid for the bus with coins, too. Dump them in a tray, the driver flicks back change. (1 pound 40p to get three stops to the airport.) The woman who came behind me used “contactless payment,” and this meant getting out her phone, futzing, cussing, adjusting, beeping, trying again, switching cards, until it worked. At the Starbucks I saw a sullen youth just touch his phone against the terminal for a 6-pound sugared drink, and I thought two things:

1. People are bored with magic, and

2. As easy as it is, and as much as I appreciate the convenience when I’m shopping, nothing beats the comfort of a pocket full of coins, or a roll of bills. It is hard to have that emotion about English money, which is slippery and ruined by folding - I wonder if they’re intentionally making the money unappealing to hasten adaptation of the digital pound. But the coins are wonders.

To my surprise I saw someone who looked exactly like Natalie, standing in the terminal, tapping on her phone. Well, it was her. She’d texted me an hour and a half before that she was leaving St. Pancreas, and now here she was, with the gigantic blue suitcase and the smaller black one she’d picked up in Brazil. You made it! Hurrah. Let’s check in, and see if there are any problems.

I was certain there would be problems. When I’d checked in the night before it said that my destination wanted proof of a return ticket. I had a pdf of the reservation. They wanted proof that I had enough money to support myself. I did not have a wad of cash.

But no one cared. We dropped off the bags at EasyJet, the ugliest airline in the world:

. . . and headed through security to the bright wonderful world of the Luton post-security area. It was . . . okay. We ate peanuts and chatted and waited for the gate to be announced. Headed to the plane, strapped in, and off into the blue once more.

The plane left at 5:20 and arrived in the dark after eight, and I was worried that this would be too late for our hosts. Hah. No. We were in a different culture now.

We were on Spanish Time. We were . . . here.







We were in BARCELONA.

I capitalize that because . . . I don’t know, it’s like saying “were you in X?” And the answer is no, we were in the place that is X times ten.” We went to see Judith, our exchange student, and her parents put us up. Her father, a capital fellow, drove us not to the house, but said he would take us up the mountain to see the city. And so we drove up twisty roads to the top of the mountain to see the view, as above, and then oh the enormous church built on top of the mountain.

Okay, we’re going to do a lot of learning here, so let’s start.

The idea of building a Catholic church on the summit of the Tibidabo emerged in the late 19th century amidst rumors about the construction of a Protestant church and a hotel-casino at that location.

Heh. Well, we can’t have that.

This motivated a "Board of Catholic Knights" to acquire the ownership of the field and give it to Saint John Bosco in 1886, when he was visiting Barcelona at the invitation of Dorotea de Chopitea, a great patron and promoter of the project.

John Bosco! Patron saint of Chocolate Milk. Also: “He developed teaching methods based on love rather than punishment, a method that became known as the Salesian Preventive System." There’s a rabbit hole we’ll go down another day.

Bonus: “Bosco had been popularly known as the patron saint of illusionists, on 30 January 2002, Silvio Mantelli petitioned Pope John Paul II to declare Bosco formally to the patron of stage magicians." Catholic stage magicians who practice gospel magic venerate Bosco by offering free magic shows to underprivileged children on his feast day.

Gospel magic. Again, that’s for another day.

If I understand this correctly, an Expiatory church is built with donations, because the donations are a form of atonement.

Why it was lit this way, I don't know.

Nearby, the old Communication Tower, a strange modern apparition:

Stopped for the view and to take a picture of Natalie and Judith.

Down the mountain to the house, and then a late dinner, Catalonian style. 11 PM or so. A fantastic local beer, bread rubbed with tomatoes, hard cheese and Catalonian jamon, a dried ham. Mm-mmm.

Did a quick double-take when I saw the fridge door:

Then to bed.

A moment of amusement when our host asked when I rose, and I said I’d been getting up at 7 this trip, with jet lag. He laughed: hah, well, if you must. They would not be rising at 7 on a Saturday.

Of course when I woke and leaned over to touch the iPad screen to check the time, it was Seven AM. Cock-a-frickin’-doodle-do.


I went downstairs, made coffee, had a banana and a piece of bread with peanut butter (they have another American exchange student, and that’s her favorite) and waited it all out - eventually I realized that my iPad was an hour off, and it was actually 8:30!

Everyone else rose at 10 AM.

This is a civilized place.

Tomorrow: well, you know what's coming.




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