Barceloneta beach

Before explaining the degree to which Barceloneta beach sucks, I should probably acknowledge that I am hardly a connoisseur of beaches. There are people who can discuss the color and size of the grains of sand on a beach many miles away like others might inhale the vapors in a wine glass and know they’re about to taste a Burgundy or a Barolo. I am not one of those beach people.

I have swum or waded at beaches in several states and a handful of countries and tend to consider only water temperature and color and the surrounding scenery in assessing them. The je ne sais quoi factor is what I’d call “niceness.” If I sit on the sand or romp in the surf and think, “This is nice,” then it’s a good enough beach.

Los Angeles has nice beaches. So, I suppose, does Florida, except for the fact that they’re part of Florida, which is a place whose weather I detest. The beach at Piraeus, at the port of Athens, Greece, was not very nice when I swam there in 1973.

Barceloneta beach has a lot going for it. For one thing, there’s the Mediterranean. The water is very clear and it is cool but not cold and the waves aren’t rough, and on a warm afternoon if what you want to do is splash around a little between sips of your wine or beer then Barceloneta would give you that. There are also some topless women but that’s not a selling point for me.

Barceloneta is easy to get to, and maybe that’s part of the problem. Tourists find it simple to hop down there and spend an hour without it being an all-day commitment.

(I do not include lake shores here but surely enthusiasts will point out nice beaches in Michigan or Canada or elsewhere. I just have no experience with major inland beaches so don’t feel qualified to judge.)

I hesitated to gripe publicly about a place I otherwise like very much. There is a case to be made that my sour-ish attitude is tinted just now by a series of unpleasant events before and during our recent stay in Barcelona. One lost iPhone, one stolen iPhone and a ton of stolen money made for less-than-sunny emotions in an otherwise sunny city.

What I am about to say is the truth. There is no hyperbole or embellishment.

People selling things on Barceloneta beach exist in approximately a one-to-one ratio to the people trying to enjoy the beach. They fall into three main groups: drinks, massages and blankets. There are occasional outliers whom I’ll mention later.

South Asian men stroll around like ants, barking, “Beer, cerveza, agua, cola, beer!” Sometimes they’ll add Fanta to the list, just to mix things up. Some of them add a “t” to the end of “beer” but I don’t know why. “Agua, water, cola, cerveza, beert!” They carry little coolers such as construction workers might use for their lunches. Other men parade back and forth with little trays of drinks in plastic cups. “Mojitos! Fresh mojitos!” Sprigs of mint sticking out of the cups make for an attractive presentation but the bottles of dark rum the guys carry around with them frightened me.

In three visits over three days to Barceloneta beach, I saw two people buy mojitos and not a soul go for the beer, cerveza or agua. One of these men will walk past you every five seconds. The only good part of this situation is that the vendors don’t expect you to engage with them. They don’t seem to want interaction unless you buy something.

Then there are the massage ladies. All Asian and mostly over 40, they weave among the towels and beach chairs. “Ma-sa-hee! Ma-sa-gee! You want ma-sa-hee?” Unlike the drinks guys, these women stand over you and stare and grin until you say something. It doesn’t matter if you happen to be arranged on your stomach; they stand and wait for you to turn over and respond. And anything but a “no” is taken as “thinking about it,” only prolonging the encounter. Also unlike the beverage men, these women got business.

They carry little laminated cards with diagrams of the human body on them. I am not sure if this is some kind of credential, since, presumably, if you have a diagram of the body you must be good at soothing it, or for people who are unable to point to places on their body with their own hands and need to do so on a picture.

The massages I saw being performed created a lot of noise. Slapping, pounding, grunting – you have to hand it to these women for the energy they put into their work. But the whole thing annoyed me. Try reading a book with this going on. Further, I can’t see how the combination of massage oil and sand can be a good thing.

The massage ladies aren’t nearly as plentiful as the drinks guys. You only get asked if you want a ma-sa-hee or ma-sa-gee about every 15 seconds.

The third big group of people selling things on Barceloneta beach is men waving what appear to be blankets around. With several draped over their arm they’ll always hold one in front them, open so you can see the floral designs or pictures of elephants. There were many blankets with pictures of elephants. Their pitch was harder to make out than the beer guys’ or the massage ladies’. It is always a two-word call, the first of which I believe is “shawl,” though it comes out as “shell” or “shall.” The second word makes no sense but starts with a “b,” or maybe a “k,” and has at least three syllables.

These men are the least invasive of the bunch and only come by in the range of two or three a minute.

Besides these three groups of annoying people, women occasionally wander around offering to do hair braiding or sell skirts. Thankfully, they left me alone.

Humans are not the only bothersome creatures on Barceloneta beach. It would be not unreasonable of you to think, if you faced only the water and counted the flies, that you had been swept ashore on one of the islands off the coast of Africa. Or possibly that you were sitting in a feedlot. Flies abound and not just around or on me. Several 20-ish Norwegian guys nearby commented about the flies and said to each other that between the vendors and the flies they were having an awful time. “Will somebody please come around offering to sell silence,” one mused.

There are eight or ten other beaches in Barcelona, and maybe they improve as you go farther from downtown. I didn’t.