It’s been a strange couple of days. On Thursday night I took the EasyJet flight from Geneva to Barcelona. EasyJet is a budget carrier that offers low-cost for low comfort and is sometimes referred to as SqueezyJet. I travelled for 90 minutes in a chair that seemed built for someone much smaller than me and surrounded by more tourists than seemed reasonable for a Thursday night.
I’m used to SqueezyJet. I read my book and pretended to be somewhere else. The strangeness began when I arrived somewhere else and couldn’t pretend anymore.
I was picked up in Barcelona by a uniformed chauffeur who showed me to his sleek black Audi and then drove me to the Hotel Rey Juan Carlos.
I was tired and sweaty and looked like I’d just spent too long in a cramped aeroplane. The man on reception, who looked like he could win international awards for being well-groomed, chose to ignore my dishevelled state and treat me as one of the hosts of the conference my company was holding in his hotel this weekend
“Good Evening, Mr. Finn. Your suite is ready for you. All expenses during your stay will be covered by the company. If you need anything, please dial 9 and speak to me.”
A suite? Why the hell did I have a suite? Because I’m a Partner and Partners get suites I told myself. I wasn’t convinced.
All I need from a hotel is a quiet room, a comfortable bed and a clean bathroom. Now it seemed I had two sofas, an antique roll-top desk, a circular dining table, four chairs, and a large flat screen with home cinema sound system and I hadn’t reached the bedroom yet.
I dumped my bags (no, I didn’t let someone else carry them to my room -do I look like I can’t carry my own bags?) lay on the bed and phoned my wife. Fifteen minutes on the phone with her restored my sanity as it always does.
I picked up my copy of “Forbidden” by Jana Oliver (dreadful title. I much prefer the US title: “Soul Thief”) and headed down to find something to eat. The restaurant had all the atmosphere of a motorway service station. There was almost nothing vegetarian on the menu. I opted for a mozzarella and tomato salad. I opened my book, followed the adventures of Riley Blackthorn and drank a beer that was cold but tasted of nothing much. Twenty-five minutes later I’d finished the book but there was no sign of my salad.
Sometimes I get irrational about these things. Last night was one of those times. I told the nearest waiter that I was leaving and offered to pay for my beer. My waiter then turned up with my salad. I asked him why a caprese salad takes twenty-five minutes to prepare. He shrugged at me, gave me a smile that said “life is like that, get used to it,” pushed a plate in my direction and said, “It is here now.” I lost it. I told him what he could do with his salad and then I went back to my room and fumed. Fuming didn’t work so well. It just left me wanting to hit someone. So I phoned my wife for another dose of sanity and then went to bed.
Today I spent ten hours in a meeting room. Then.at 8.00 pm, we went out for a meal. I was pleased that we were not eating in the hotel. We were bundled into a line of minivans with tinted glass that somehow made me think of Federal Agents going on a raid.
We went to Dos Cielos which sits at the top of a tower with a good view over Barcelona. The food was good, the wine was better and the company was agreeable. For a couple of hours, I relaxed and felt as if I belonged in this room full of my peers.
If we had gone back to the hotel after that, I’d be asleep by now and reasonably content with the world.
But we were in Spain and no one goes back to the hotel just because it’s 11.oo pm. We went on to a trendy bar called Nuba.
Nuba is a dimly lit glass cage, with blue lights that sparkle but don’t illuminate. It seems to have been built so that the young and beautiful of Barcelona can gather to admire one another. Young women with long legs and short skirts wander around the tables, offering drinks and cigars. The music was loud and persistent. The air was smoke-filled.
I knew at once that I didn’t want to be there. I was even less keen to be there when I saw how some of my colleagues, married men whose wives I’ve met, looked at the young women who had to do a Playboy-Bunny-Bob to serve them drinks or else place themselves even more on display.
I went outside to get some air. By now it was after midnight and people were starting to arrive at the bar. To gain admission, the two tall, slim young men in black had to be convinced that you were sufficiently beautiful to enter. I watched for a while as they judged the people who were waiting in line and realized that, had I not been part of a party, I would never have been permitted to enter nuba. I went back in and sat alone, drinking a glass of water.
One of my colleagues came to check if I was OK and invited me to sit at a table he was at with four of my colleagues.
“Do you want a drink, Mike?” an Australian colleague asked.
“No thanks,” I said.
“You look like ya need one.”
“This is not my kind of place,” I said, by way of explanation.
My colleague looked around at the beautiful women in the room and asked, “So what is your kind of place?”
Before I could give it any kind of thought, I heard myself say: “Home. With my wife.”
Truth, I’ve found, tends to be greeted with silence.
I laughed to fill the gap and said, “Fine consultant I am, I hate to travel and happiness is a night at home sitting on the couch with my wife, talking about anything that comes into our heads.”
My colleague looked into his beer.
“I haven’t been home in a month,” he said.
“That’s way too long.”
“Yes,” he said. “It is.”
There was another silence.
Long legs covered by short skirts passed back and forth beside us.
“She’s only a few of years older than my daughter,” my colleague said.
I didn’t know how to reply to that. I couldn’t fix the emotion behind his comment. I don’t think he could either.
“I’m gonna see if one of the minivans is ready to go back to the hotel,” I said.
Half an hour later I was back in my suite.
It was too late to call my wife, so I decided to hit the keyboard to still my mind.
I was out-of-place tonight. It wasn’t just that nuba didn’t appeal. It made me feel sad.
The source of the sadness is not entirely clear: my own lack of skill in doing small talk? The sight of my colleagues, who I like, eating those young women with their eyes? My own lack of desire for women young enough to be my daughter`? Or the abiding sense that, even in my twenties, I would have found myself out of place in nuba?
Sometimes it seems that a part of me is missing or perhaps was broken a long time ago. I can’t just be in the moment. I give way to the urge to think and to judge. I can tell you, this is not the easy route to happiness.
So now, having spread my thoughts across my computer screen, I will go to bed and hope that tomorrow I get some time to myself and can avoid going to a fun location that surfaces in me feelings of dislocation that border on alienation