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Friday, September 26, 2003

++ Dust to Dust

++ Barcelona makes me wonder, sometimes, if I've led a sheltered life. There are things I wish I hadn't seen, at least first thing in the morning.

"Morning" might be a stretch, of course — after all, it's 5 pm. But when you've gone to bed at 8 in the morning, you're allowed some liberties. The front room of the house, swimming in quavering afternoon light (and if the frequency of a black hole can be measured musically, I wonder, do these heat waves also carry their own secret melodies?), is destroyed — an unruly pileup of overflowing ashtrays, empty beer bottles, drying pachar&aactue;n stickum forming ghost "O"s across the mirrored coffee table.

When I'd gone to bed, the beers were still sweating and the Basque liqueur bottle was half full; clearly the others didn't slow down while I slept. A small mountain of records descends from the stereo in a leaning succession of angled slopes, each outcropping reflecting another record box emptied in the wee hours, three DJs' crates plundered in the creation of an improbable, improvised geological formation.

I could peel away the layers and read the progression of the morning like sedimentary strata: at the base, chillout discs marking the post-gig return and comedown. Abruptly, a shift to rock: Echo and the Bunnymen, Creation, T. Rex. And then some seismic shift must have hit the room, because everything turns to house and techno, harder and louder strains making their way to the outer cliffs of the stack, evidence of the hour where energy kicked in and we reprised all the top tunes of the night, huge, horn-filled codas of the peak hour on the floor. That was when I'd turned in, and after that I remember only the silence of long hallways, heavy doors, and electric fans filtering air into the opposite of sound.

The house is silent now; wherever the others are, they're not moving. The dull sounds of the street — mopeds, squat snub-nosed cars pulsing "Papi Chulo," the twined murmur of Spanish and Catalan and Swedish and English and Pakistani tongues — filters up three flights and huffs rudely against the lace curtain. (Why do we have lace curtains in this house? One might as well ask why we have Gothic red velvet drapes in the hallway, or a forested photo-mural, pure dentists' office fare, pasted upside down on one wall of the front room — in other words, there are no explanations for these things. This house, a hodge-podge of styles, pocked and swollen where walls have been moved, rooms torn down and rebuilt, in the years when this was a chicken-coop of boarding rooms, makes the Winchester Mystery House seem positively well-planned; a feng-shui specialist would surely suggest immediate demolition and a fresh start for the whole block.)

++ But the lanky drapes are not the only things moving in the room, on further inspection: there, underneath the coffee table, running across the ancient, cracked tiles like an expedition crossing desert steppes or arctic tundra, a team of miniscule ants goes about its business, ferrying something down the line. I lean closer, and that's when I wish I hadn't. A black ball, like the head of a pin, lolls on the tiles. This, too, is an ant, or at least it was. His comrades are bodybagged in plastic on the coffee table above, the edible African ants Omar had brought home last night, the souvenirs of some colleague's trip to the Dark Continent.

That this is an "edible ant" should make it less disturbing that his dried carcass is slowly being dissected and devoured by this efficient crew of distant relatives, but it still feels unnatural. Worse still, they seem to be attacking their project with a particularly frenzied drive, and I can't help but wonder if it's because they're marching through a minor dusting of speed — the remnants of our Basque guest's stash, straight from the Spanish amphetamine capital, and presumably what kept our housemates up celebrating long after I turned in.

It's not hard to draw connections to rave culture: their robotic, chemical-fueled motions seem too much like the clenched-jaw fervor I've seen on the dancefloor, the bugg(er)ed eyes staring through time. I'm no puritan, but the excesses I've seen here could make even ardent legalization advocates start thinking about eggs and frying pans. Three years ago, on my first trip to Barcelona, I left a party sometime a little after sunrise only to stumble upon a young man turning blue in the dust while his friend desperately tried to convince the knot of concerned passers-by not to call an ambulance, presumably out of some fear of getting busted. The cool morning light bounced off the Mediterranean alongside us and his skin turned greyer and greyer, until the cigarette butts and crushed beer cans in the dust beside him came to seem likelier than this poor soul to get up and walk away. Thousands of people tramped by, while a few would-be Good Samaritans checked his pulse and fiddled with cellphones, the far-gone friend hanging on their arms, pleading, coddling, abusing. One suspected he'd have sooner consumed the body himself, destroying the evidence, than submit to whatever nameless authoritarian terror he imagined.

++ With a shudder, and a feeling of being somehow tainted — despite having happily abstained from the Basque national product — I leave the ants to their dread business, gather my keys, and venture out into the living world.


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