About Windmills and Bathrooms on the Catalan Coast

April 5, 2009
Share this story:

bill-gervasiBill Gervasi is a chairman of an international standards group defining memory technology for the computer industry.  Traveling both for business and pleasure, he has visited 19 countries and most of the United States.  Rounding out an eclectic lifestyle, in his spare time he teaches aerobics classes for local health clubs, and he was a restaurant reviewer in the San Jose area before relocating to Orange County.

Bill’s reports from the road capture the fun and serendipity of travel. Bill enjoys relating the offbeat travel experience and human encounter as much as shining his wit and insight on a particular restaurant, museum or historical footnote.

Here’s Bill’s first article for LaVerneOnline on a trip to Spain’s Catalan coast.

Spain, land of history and imagination, where knights in rusty armor tilted with windmills and seafarers set forth to discover a new world.  My family was excited to spend a week in a timeshare on the Costa del Sol near Gibraltar, then go on the road to explore the Spanish coastal towns.  During our research, I stumbled across a book on Barcelona that mentioned, among many other things, that the culture of that region of Spain was very different, as it was part of a region called Catalunya that spread across north eastern Spain and south eastern France, and that over a million people there spoke Catalan as the regional dialect.

Our family travels took us to all over Costa del Sol, then out to Majorca to explore that island’s special charm.  A ferry ride back to the mainland brought us to the heart of Barcelona, where I was thrilled to learn that my family surname comes from a local patron saint.  By this point in the trip, three weeks in, my broken Spanish was getting better by the day, and I was pleased that I could communicate with the locals.

However, then I took the train two hours north to the tiny border town of Port Bou.  After checking into the hotel, we immediately headed to the pristine Mediterranean water there.  On the beach I met a guy named Pablo, and I practiced my Spanish while he practiced his English.  He surprised me when he asked me to slow down when speaking Spanish because, he said, “Spanish is not my native language.  When I was growing up, all we were taught was Catalan.”

Immediately, the pages of the book on Barcelona flashed before my eyes, and I told Pablo that I thought I remembered a bit of his language.  “Si us plau”, I slowly said, and he nodded, “Please.  Makes sense.  What else?”  I thought a moment, then said, “On es troben els lavabos.”

Pablo fell to the sand laughing.

Bill discovers the family name is centuries’ old.

Immediately, Pablo’s sister came running from their beach blanket saying, “Pablo, are you okay?”  He looked up, laughing, and said “Cristina, this tourist knows how to ask for the location of the bathrooms in our language!”  She joined him in laughing, and soon my family joined him on the beach, then later that night at their home where we spoke over dinner in some bizarre combination of English, Spanish, and Catalan, which got increasingly more difficult as the wine flowed.

Later that night we all went together to the waterfront tavern to watch World Cup soccer, and every time one of Pablo and Cristina’s friends joined the table, they asked me to speak in Catalan.  That night I became a local celebrity by saying a dozen times or so, “Please, where are the bathrooms?”  During the week we stayed in Port Bou, everyone in town knew who the funny, bathroom-obsessed tourist was.


Leave a Reply