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Liam Pieper's picture
Liam Pieper Joined: 8th December 2010
Last seen: 8th December 2010


Liam Pieper's picture
Liam Pieper Joined: 8th December 2010
Last seen: 8th December 2010

This is a story about overdoing it, about when you get so excited about food you lose track of right and wrong. The people in this story work in the media, so to protect their branding, I've hidden their identities with clever photoshopping.

Self Potato


I'll just call them Michael A. and Dr. Scott.


We'd just stumbled out of an informal Catalan Tapas bar, where we'd been gorging ourselves on beer and fried food for hours - we moved with the languid grace of toddler in a wading pool. The sun was going down over the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, a magical time when the narrow alleys between crumbling buildings flood with mood lighting and you can wander for a happy hour while your soul snacks on the romance of the crumbling buildings, the tanned, swarthy, beautiful people and eyes that flash from doorways, the smells and sounds, the frenetic energy of the tiny bars that spill out onto the street.


"Is anyone hungry?" asked Dr. Scott


"No!" I moaned. I'd been eating at fine restaurants for weeks without respite. I had started to dream of cool, deserted rice paddies at night. My liver ached. I was starting to feel like some kind of postmodern foie gras.


"I could have some dessert," suggested Michael.


"I suppose I could eat a gelati," I admitted.


"We could go to Cal Pep?" Dr Scott said lightly, in the tone of voice you might use to propose a one-night stand. Cal Pep is often called the best tapas bar in the world and, without hyperbole, probably is. They serve a rotating selection of 70 tapas, ranging from the very simple to Catalan-inspired masterpieces. We'd eaten there the night before and had to be pried off our bar stools after gorging on dozens of tiny toothsome dishes. It was the kind of place you feel lucky to have eaten at, even once.


Cal Pep


"No way!" I complain. "I'm so full."


Michael nodded. "Me too. But there's always room for gelati."


There are no heroes in this story, tragedy that it is, but I'm the furthest from the villain. If anything, I'm the hapless, Hamlet-like youth dragged into machinations beyond his understanding, as I marched, like a tubby Charon to the gates of the world's finest Tapas bar.


Normally the waiters flit behind the bar, cajoling the chefs in between dishes as they lovingly explain the history of the fish, the sourcing of the ingredients and the preparation of them. We weren't interested in the sustainable tuna terrine or the just-gathered wild razor clams.


"We want gelati," we told the head waiter.


He looked concerned, but soldiered on politely. "Of course. But can I suggest five tapas to start?" He spread his palm as a gesture.


I waved away his outstretched hand. "No. Solo dolci. Solo gelato e crème Catalan para mi, mi novia, e mi amigo ." I was so proud of my Spanish.


"Just dessert?" He looked, befuddled, then cross, then furious as our request registered. "You came for dessert? Just dessert? This is not a bar!" he scolded.


"Si" I said, not getting it. "Solo dessert!" He waiter shook his head, then at a nod from the head chef, fetched our sweets.


All at once I realise how horribly presumptuous we are, how grotesquely gluttonous. Like nightmarish bioforms, painted in the depths of Francis Bacon's alcoholic delirium we are creatures of lust and greed, just distended bellies with snapping jaws jutting out at obscene angles. To descend on this place - which has run for years on honesty and integrity of soulful, honest chefs - and occupy a precious sitting in pursuit of ice-cream is the worst kind of gluttony. I can't even taste the gelati; my palate is still salt-bombed and tingling from half an hour ago when I ate a bowl of pig lips.


Now the full horror of the open plan kitchen is apparent. While normally the staff make chitchat with the clientele, suggesting and customising dishes, they ignore us. When the customers before us vacated their seats the head chef shook their hands warmly.


The chefs stare at us with hatred as we cower in silence and spoon empty calories into our bong-holes. Their loathing is not nearly as bad as the pity the maitre de shows us. He refuses to meet our eyes, and clears our empty plates in silence and slinks off with the furtive shuffle of a man leaving a brothel.


The people in line behind, whose seats we have usurped, eye us balefully. I realise I speak enough Catalan to know that they are bonding over a shared disdain of us. One of them comments on the bar stool which strains under my paunch, another suggests that might be the product of inbreeding.


A few days earlier I had lost my spectacles, so I was wearing my prescription sunglasses of three seasons ago. Between the sunglasses at night, my receding hairline and short stature, I must have looked like Tom Cruise having a crack at an Oscar.


In an effort to ingratiate ourselves with the maitre de we order a carafe of Kava, sparkling Catalan wine that Barcelonan sommeliers are dementedly patriotic about. Buying their finest and dearest product to scull shamefacedly does not help our predicament.


Finally, the last excruciating bite of divine gelati slides down our dry throats, and we throw handfuls of change at the waiter, tipping way too much, then run giggling to the street.


"Oh god."


"That was awful."


"What the fuck were we thinking?"


We shuffle towards the metro, stopping to guffaw at the parodies of consummation and excess we'd become.


"You know," said Michael. "I never understood that phrase 'just desserts', until now."


We roll off into the gloom, laughing at ourselves. The next night we did it all again.