Some racing around town

There is a famous 24 hour race that happens just outside of Barcelona in a village called Lliça D’Amunt. This race has been going on for 32 years and it has put this little village on the map. I’ve been meaning to check this race out for four years. This year, I finally went.

What’s unique about this 24 hour race is that it is an offroad race on 50cc MX bikes, primarily single speed two strokes though a few with gears and 4Ts thrown in, and a course is built every year because there is no track in the town. Teams of four riders begin the race at 7pm on Saturday and end at 7pm on Sunday and are required to switch riders every hour. It’s approached as a “fun” race, and indeed the atmosphere is that of a big party and there is lots of drinking and live music…hence the Saturday evening start. But what happens in between is pretty heavy duty stuff.

Racing is taken pretty seriously here. Sure they have a lot of fun and there is the camaraderie you find in any paddock, but it’s always full of professionals and teams who put it all on the line. This race is no exception, and for as lighthearted and crazy as the race sounds, it is seriously tough. There were 41 teams from all over Europe and a few heavy hitters in the ranks, including  the Spanish MX Championship multi, times champion Javi Garcia Vico, MotoGP (and Gabri’s former) rider Aleix Espargaró and other famous Catalan Motocross and Enduro riders. There was a conspicuous lack of media, (what I thought to be a news helicopter circling at the start was in fact present to give helicopter rides to attendees) which could be explained by saying that a race like this is unique but racing events like this are common.

I did nothing more than spectate, but that in itself was an experience. Here is a little pictorial for you all, enjoy.

24 hours lliça d'Amunt

A quarter of the pit lane.

GP’s rider Aleix from last year was raced it for the first time. And probably the last. He could barely speak on Sunday at the finish.

Team Italia’s camp.


Team Italia crew and riders. They quit at noon on Sunday due to fatigue.

Some of the team camp area.

View of the course from the pits. This is normally a flat field and part of a park.

Riders waiting for the start

Did I mention it was a Le Mans start?

First lap.

First lap mud pit.

Long shadows in the first hour.

Hay bale tree bumpers.

Too Close for Comfort

I live in a very dense urban environment. My windowed balcony doors look across the narrow street into the neighbors same doors. I don’t need much imagination to see how my neighbors live. The street is so narrow between the buildings that  I can step out onto my balcony and have a conversation with people living on the other side of the street.

I probably should check  if I am decent when I walk out into my living room in the morning, but I rarely do. I don’t really care what the gay couple, whose vantage point looks across and down into my flat, sees me doing. I’m sure they are less than thrilled to watch me make coffee and slouch over a computer in my underwear. It’s possible they are entertained when I struggle through my front door, sweating and swearing after hauling a mountain bike up three flights of extremely narrow stairs. Or perhaps it interests them how often I do dishes, or compulsively clean the wood floors that are constantly dusty from the crumbling brick wall that comprises the entire eastern wall of my place. I in turn can see them trimming each others hair, dining, or relaxing on a luxurious looking sofa in their beautifully furnished and much larger flat.

The place just below the gay couple is more exposed from my vantage point. I can see their messy dining table all covered in papers, computers, an iron, phones, snacks… I see what they eat for lunch and dinner at that table. I can watch them sitting on their couch in the living room, reading in the chair, petting the cat who’s litter box is on the balcony and is so close I can sometimes smell it. I see all this, just as they see all my activities, though of course we attempt to appear not to notice. This is how you live in such close proximity. Pretend not to be looking, unless both of you are on the balcony. Then you can make eye contact and visit.

Occasionally a neighbor will have a dinner party, and I’ll get to hear all their chatter and music until the wee hours. Or the old guy a few floors up and across from me will enthusiastically watch a football match, running out onto his tiny balcony in his underwear, jumping and hooting, sometimes singing. All of this is fine, I can tune it out, even be entertained by it, even with my balcony doors open. But recently, a new family has moved in, and my relaxed attitude toward urban living and it’s various and sundry music has changed.

This is a Pakistani family with at least five children, two of whom are very young twin boys. Maybe 3 years old. I think they have a special language that twins sometimes develop, you know the one I’m talking about? Yeah, that, except their particular special language is made entirely of screams, angry whining and crying. Lots and lots of crying. Seriously, I don’t know what is wrong with them, I don’t even think they talk, but they constantly squeal and  scream while standing on their balcony, or from just inside the doors of their balcony which are alway open, echoing the noise through these narrow streets and bouncing off the stone walls directly through my now constantly closed doors and into my living room. At all hours of every day. For example, it is presently 1:17am and I hear those little fuckers squealing and crying right now.

Three or four times a day I open my doors and command them to be quiet, sometime pointing a finger at them to get back inside their house. If their older sister sees me, she will pull them inside and shut the doors. Any of their brothers will ignore me. Mom will occassionally smile up at me and sheepishly laugh, as if to say “Oh kids these days. What are you going to do?” The neighbors, when one of them throws a particularly piercing temper tantrum is thrown in the middle of the night, are not so nice with their language. They’ll shout “Shut up, Muslims!” using the word Muslim as an insult, or offer a charming “Hey, Pakistanis, shut the fuck up!” (Which, for what it’s worth, generally works.)

I think from where I am situated, I get the worst of the reverberating screaming, or maybe the neighbors are more accustomed to living with noise. Either way, I won’t be able to keep my doors shut much longer. Summer is coming and it will be far too hot not to have them open. So unless the squealers shut up (unlikely), I’ll be moving again (likely). I told the owner here that I would stay until September, but I don’t think I can last that long. I hate to say it but those brats have won.

I guess it’s time to get out of my neighbors’ living rooms anyway.

My neighborhood music

On any given day in the summer, I am treated to a cacophony of street sounds. I live directly above a narrow passageway (it’s actually a street, and small cars do go down it, but not often. The street was built centuries ago so it’s quite narrow and twisty in places). My building is 6 stories and each floor has two apartments, except the top floor, which is part roof terrace for the whole building.

Sounds from the neighbors echo against the buildings as do noises from the park just around the corner, which is more like a dirt plaza surrounded by apartment buildings hundreds of years old. Some of the more common sounds I enjoy (or not) daily are as follows:

Toothless crazy lady who lives across the street and up a few doors, one floor lower than mine, standing at her balcony squawking obscenities at the Pakistani owners of the corner shop and all who go in and out.  Her rude, grating voice carries as if it were amplified –  she yells from her diaphragm yet still is able to project the volume through her nasal passages.  This begins at 11am, will break for a few hours around siesta and dinner time, and continues on until 2 or 3am. Nightly.

Firecrackers at all hours of the day and night. They are enjoyed and set off by tiny children to adults. The number and frequency increase depending on which of the hundreds of festivals are in effect, or how FC Barcelona is doing in a futbol match. If FC Barça are doing particularly well, firecrackers are not only set off en mass in the streets and plazas, they are throw out of windows at passers by. Note: if a Futbol match is indeed in progress, The neighbor man across the street punctuates the plays with a stings of praise or criticism at the top of his voice. If Barca scores a goal, he will run out onto his balcony (occasionally in his underwear if it is hot) and jump up and down with arms raised high.

Children played heated matches of futbol in the park weekday mornings (which is why it is a dirt plaza. No watering system means no grass.) It’s not as bad as it sounds, I think the kids are a bit older so there isn’t the usual shrieking that accompanies young children getting excited and/or upset. The layered shouts and calls of the match echo off the walls and drift over to my open bedroom doors. This, with the rising heat of the day, makes for a pleasant waking in the summertime.

The guy next door neighbor singing loudly in English. Fortunately, his voice isn’t too bad. Unfortunately, the songs are usually horrible 80s pop tunes. This usually happens late night for my evening entertainment.

Parades. Any given parade could be happening at any time, on any day of the week. For example, the other Thursday evening, around 5pm, GP and I were returning from a bike jaunt in the mountains in his van. (He keeps his van across town in a narrow parking garage under an apartment building my friend lives in – but that is another story). The main road to my place was closed because there was a pirate parade (Yes. As in the “Arrrrrr” kind of pirates).  Here is another ridiculous example: I heard a drum-line heading down the street a random Tuesday afternoon a few weeks ago. As joined the other neighbors looking off their balconies to watch, several Gigantes (giant paper-mache people) appeared in my street. Shortly, two Gigantes were positioned to face each other while people milled around and the drums continued. Then a couple of men popped out from under the robes of the giants and milled around as well. Finally, the men climbed back under their giant’s big skirts, hoisted them onto their shoulders (presumably), and left the street while my neighbors looked confusedly at each other.

Giants are under my balcony!

And lastly, bands playing in front of the Santa Caterina Mercat, 3 mins from my place. Outdoor are stages set up in any given plaza, park, or square in Barcelona for free, public music performances. These continue until late into the night, 1am during the week and until 3am on weekends.

Let me epilogue this post with this: I love that I can walk down my building’s stairs and instantly be in the middle of everything – the old and new mix together in a wonderful sensory experience that is difficult to capture in words, but I am attempting to capture some of it here, little by little. Where I live sounds like a noisy place, and it is. But it is full of life and excitement and new discoveries every day.

And if it gets too noisy, I can close the hundred year old wooden and shuttered glass doors to my brick and mortar flat and the outside world fades away.