postcard from barcelona

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Indy Lifestyle Online
We visit the Catalan painter Robert Llimos in his studio in Barcelona. The figures in his paintings cavort on Mediterranean beaches, and he explains that it is this Mediterranean influence which distinguishes Catalonia from the rest of Spain.

In reality, the Catalan coast is an expanding wasteline of hideous urbanisations, with unslightly beaches so polluted that Tallulah can build a sandcastle with used sanitary pads.

Within hours of arriving in Barcelona, we are burgled. The thieves must be gloating over their haul. But our Apple Powerbook - which was too expensive to insure - is safe in its strong-box, hidden under one of the seats.

Xanthe is too young to understand about the burglary and we lie to Tallulah (although she terrorises us, bouncing on her bed like an enraged monkey, shrieking at me: "Shut up, you horrible old biddy!"). She is a sensitive flower - lily-white skin, rosebud lips, slender form, wilts easily. It's vital that she does not become afraid of tucking up in strange places every night.

But Richard and I, in our metal box on the mean streets of Barcelona, feel newly vulnerable. Our heads lie level with the legs of passers-by, who, we now suspect, bear malign intent. Drunks bash the walls and Richard starts towards our sole weapon, a sacrid stick from Madagascar, which is supposed to scare evil spirits when brandished in their direction. It is also capped with a lump of horn, an effective cosh if we ever dare use it.

If threatened, we could drive away. But the windscreen is wrapped in an insulating blanket, like an eye-shade worn by an elderly American on a plane, which can only be removed from the outside. The anticipation is as stressful as the reality. Tallulah picks up the vibes and becomes exceptionally difficult. So, it's almost a relief when we are burgled again.

We are interviewing the Catalan sculptor Jaume Plensa at the Miro Foundation. He must be surprised when we are led away by the police. The thief has been caught, which cheers us up. But then we see the damage. The Powerbook, however, is still safe.

With the broken window flapping, there is no hiding what has happened from Tallulah. She is thrilled. "I'm going to give that burglar a big bruise," she declares. But, although we are kept waiting in a dingy police hallway, Burgler Bill was kept away from her - doubtless for his safety.

After days trapped in the industrial outskirts of Barcelona, seeking replacement parts, we attempt to get the hell out. Richard goes to do some shopping, while Xanthe sleeps and Tallulah sprawls in her bunk picking her nose and drawing monsters. I guard the children and the van, and write on my Powerbook to you, dear reader.

A knock at the window. Problem! Quick! The back of your van! I turn, and when I turn back the Powerbook has gone. Violated and foolish, I stand in the street and sob.

Soon they will take the van itself, and we'll be stranded in Catalonia, cavorting among the sanitary pads, with nothing to hide our nakedness but sheets of police reports.

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