On the run from a celebrity encounter with social services in Barcelona, I found myself wrestling with my genius here in Tarragona. The good citizens of this most beautiful Spanish city hardly blinked as I erupted forth into their lives, quietly but powerfully stepping off the bus and crying, “Veni, Vidi, Vici!”
For here I will stay. I thought they hadn’t noticed, but once I’d stripped off my bus clothes, spent a couple of hobo hours talking to myself outside the market, done a fly loop through the Ramblas and followed an innocent young man for a while until he told me to go away, I felt they were starting to accept my humble presence in their little town.
As a dazzling urbanite from England, I smile my secret smile at this place’s attempts at cosmopolitan sophistication. Not only have I slept in a cardboard box in London, I’ve slept in a cardboard box in Berlin, too. But you can try. I said so to the waiter of a quaint cafe, as I asked for coffee-over-ice, marshmallows and cream.
He very politely, and in English, told me that unless I paid for the previous coffee, yes, that one, under the napkin, he would not hesitate to call the police. Already they love me here. Already I feel hemmed in by my capacity.
A burst of razzle and I was gone, running at speed into the old town, up the steep, steep hill to the cathedral where I am writing this from the sunburst plinth behind the gathering of bins near the architecturally and spiritually intimidating site.
Terragona. City Beautiful. Cities, of course, are each and every one of them unique, but they all seem to have this very pattern: their history is stratified and quarantined geologically, archeologically, chronologically into layers all packed neatly together like tupperware in the boot of a car.
Tarragona thrills me because it isn’t like that.
Like some diva or the madhead at the party, it displays all to you succinctly; the medieval old city skirting the hill, the Roman ruins hanging in there next to twenty-first century shopping malls, the bars, the cinemas, the Forum, the bay, the beach, everything, all blatantly there and waiting to be explored.
Where else would you encounter, walking down some perfectly ordinary stone steps from the city centre to the beach and glancing left through some chicken wire, the full-on preserved remains of a Roman amphitheatre camped in a dip in the hills. No grand eloquent announcements there, no tourist traps, no overkill. There it was.
And in between these magnificently exposed displays lie the secret places, not exactly hidden. Just tucked behind the busy main road and commercial pursuits of the central shopping district, the old Ramblas, there cuts off dead a craggy cliff overlooking the bay where in summer we will sit on the broad terrace watching the sun go down over the Mediterranean Sea.
Tarragona is like that.