The Cheat cheats the system and finds himself a new base.
I woke up on a dark, cold January morning in my new place, feeling every bit as wrecked as that time in Toronto when I woke up next to a dumpster after my best friend’s birthday. I was freezing, my spine felt like it had been used as a pogo stick by that giant kangaroo in the Sylvester and Tweetie cartoons, and my mouth tasted vaguely of sick. This was my first night in the new place, a place that I had secured a month before Christmas and had been convinced would be the beginning to a new life in Barcelona. It turns out it was, but that first morning was not a happy one.
In the wonders of expatica, I discovered that renting (anything, from cars to houses to electrical equipment to women –I lived in Amsterdam, remember?) can be a complex and often daunting thing. Whereas in some places it is a simple matter of credit card and pointing your finger, in others it requires months of exhaustive research, dozens upon dozens of failed phone calls or even a possible trip to a lawyer (or in the case of Amsterdam, the doctor). You really never know what you are going to get, until the transaction has been completed (ahem), and even then satisfaction can be misleading. I always end up feeling somewhat ripped off, or at the very least misinformed. But hey, that’s all part of the expat game. We are the outsiders, Jack, and don’t you forget it.
So when I decided to set up my Spanish company, an S.L, my first step was to visit my vicious attack dog, Javier, who also happens to be my lawyer. He told me that I need an address from which to officially conduct this business, and by that I needed a lease. Ok. Then several weeks later, whilst in the midst of looking at commercial rental spaces I discovered that most of the agencies (fincas) demanded to see proof that I represented a company, because they would not lease to individuals. Hmmm. A bit of a chicken-and-egg thing here, I think. A quick return to my Rottweiler revealed that we could fudge the address for now and get the S.L. papers first. Sure man, whatever. After 3 and a half years here, I understand that the law is a flexible instrument.
S.L papers were obtained after several months of waiting in line to get other papers, such as my NIE, so rental heaven was now mine for the having. Only not really. The real estate situation in dear sweet Barcelona is, as any resident will tell you, extortionist. According to The Economist’s special issue “The World in 2008”, housing costs in Spain leaped upwards of 70% since the Olympics in ’92, on average. In Barcelona various estimates put the figure closer to 300%, depending on where and how they correct for inflation. I have had the run of flats in this berg, and most of them were rented at terms my lawyer would call “unfavorable” to me. I had had enough.
Armed as I was with an insatiable desire to live well, with quiet, ample space at affordable prices, I chose to go all trendy and get a loft. No, wait. I am not talking about some property developers new build condo with an artsy name and extravagant location, I mean loft in the original, New York sense of the word. I rented a warehouse space, or local industrial. Boom, all of a sudden I had a vast, 200 m2 3rd floor palatial flat with two bathrooms, a shower and a wall of south facing windows. Two freight elevators and a guy named Paco to greet me at the downstairs door. And cheap! Holy cow, buddy, this place was being given away.
So I slept my first night, in cold, damp misery on top of one of the beige office desks that had been abandoned in my unit, wrapped in a thin sleeping bag and warmed by my victory over the Barcelona property monster. Victory! Discomfort! No running water and no electricity! Well at least in principle I had done it and cheat the system.