Friday, May 13, 2011

One Friday the 13th in Barcelona . . .

FRIDAY, APRIL 13, 2011

Today is Friday the 13th, but I'm not superstitious about it.   In my whole lifetime, I've only experienced one unfortunate incident on Friday the 13th.  So it really hasn't been much different than any other day.  Nevertheless, I'm going to tell you about my one unluckly Friday the 13th. 

My husband and I stood across from a police station in Barcelona on a sunny August day in the summer of 2004. We were two Canadian tourists, unfamiliar with the city, unable to speak Spanish and desperately trying to gain entrance to the police station. It was then that our angel of mercy appeared out of nowhere. At a moment of extreme distress, he came to our rescue.

The previous evening my husband had been robbed of his wallet and passport while riding an escalator in a subway station. As we were constantly reminded, this kind of robbery is not uncommon in Barcelona and we weren’t the first tourists to experience such a crime. That’s very true, of course, but it is of little consolation when you are the victim.

On the night of the robbery, we had enjoyed a wonderful evening on the beach. After a scrumptious dinner there, we had started to make our way to the subway station when we noticed a television displaying the opening ceremonies of the 2004 Olympics in Athens. We just couldn’t resist sitting down in the pub to view the festivities. Consequently, we headed back to the hotel later than we had anticipated. Two young men robbed my husband on the subway escalator and within seconds our dream evening turned into a nightmare.

As soon as possible, we reported the theft to our tour guide. She helped us get in touch with the Canadian consulate and KLM airline. Fortunately, we had both made photocopies of our passports and left them at the hotel. After cancelling credit cards, the only thing remaining was to obtain a robbery report from the police. We soon discovered that the police report was a major obstacle.

Our tour guide assisted us by phone. She was very helpful considering that she lived in a village outside of the city and was not staying at the hotel with us. The one thing she stressed was that the police report was essential if my husband wanted to return home to Toronto. We had already visited two police stations on the night of the robbery and had not succeeded in obtaining a robbery report. Aside from language difficulties, the theft had occurred late in the evening and the police hadn’t shown much empathy for our plight. To them, it was just a routine robbery involving tourists. Given the lateness of the evening, we decided it was of greater urgency to return to the hotel and cancel credit cards.

The next day, our tour guide gave us the location of yet another Barcelona police station and we made our way there. When we arrived, we noticed that the police station also served as a prison. A woman in a booth informed us that we had to phone a number inside the police station in order to be allowed into the building. To our dismay, she would not permit us to use her phone. Instead, she pointed to a pay phone across the street.

We stood on that Barcelona street trying to figure out how to use the pay phone. It really is a frustrating experience to use a payphone in Europe when you don’t speak the language and you are not accustomed to the currency. We didn’t see anything telling us how many Euros we needed to make a call and many of the locals were using phone cards.

As we discussed our predicament and endeavoured to make a phone call, I held back tears of frustration and fear. Still, I was alert enough to notice a man walking by us. My every instinct was to stop him and ask for assistance. There was something about this man, an aura about him. I saw calmness and compassion on in his face. So I quickly asked him if he spoke English. To my relief, he replied in fluent English.

It turned out that he was a native of the Netherlands and that he also spoke Spanish.  For some reason, he though we were from England.  He was very friendly when we informed him that we were Canadians.  He said he remembered how Canadian soldiers had liberated the Dutch in World War II.

We told him of our quandary and he immediately phoned the police for us. He escorted us into the police station and conversed with the police in Spanish, explaining our plight to them. After his conversation with the officers, we were given a number and sent to a waiting room. The helpful Dutchman explained apologetically that he had leave. We thanked him profusely and told him we appreciated what he had done for us.

After the departure of our guardian angel, we waited for over two hours in the waiting room. There was just one person ahead of us. At that point, a woman who had been chattering constantly on her cell phone told us she has left a baby alone at home.  We never found out why the baby was alone because we were unable to converse with her in Spanish.  She pleaded with my husband and me to allow her go ahead of us. How could we refuse?

Not long after we exchanged numbers with the woman, a police officer called out our name. Since our name had been called and not our number, we decided we had better go into the room immediately. We didn’t want to risk losing this opportunity.

Our tour guide had just phoned the police and inquired if we were at the station. The police spoke with her as they examined the photocopy of my husband’s passport. We signed some forms and left the room. The whole process had taken about ten minutes. As we walked out, the woman with the baby at home smiled at us. She was relieved that we hadn’t taken very long and we were relieved to be leaving the station with the police report.

As for the kind-hearted Dutchman, we didn’t even learn the man’s name. Nevertheless, we will be eternally grateful to him because he’s the guy from Holland who helped two befuddled Canadians in their time of need. Without his assistance, it is doubtful that we would have gained entrance to the police station. Wherever he is, I fervently wish him the opportunity to read this expression of our gratitude.


The fear of Friday the 13th is called friggatriskaidekahopia.  The word is derived from Frigga, the Norse goddess for whom Friday was named, and triskaiedkaphobia, meaning fear of the number 13.


Vision at Fatima

On May 13, 1917, three Portuguese children reported seeing the Virgin Mary outside of Fatima, Portugal.  This led to mass pilgrimages to what would become a holy shrine.

Happy Birthday, Stevie Wonder!

On May 13, 1950, singer/songwriter Stevie Wonder was born in Saginaw, Michigan.  His birth name was Steveland Hardaway Judkins.  Stevie was born six weeks premature causing the growth of the blood vessels at the back of his eys to be aborted.  Due to the aborted growth, his retinas became detached.  The medical term for this condition is retinopathy of prematurity or ROP.  In Stevie's case, the condition was probably exacerbated by the oxygen pump into his incubator, resulting in his blindness.  Originally known as "Little Stevie Wonder," he signed with Motown Records at the age of 11. 

Stevie Wonder is 61 years old today.  Happy Birthday, Stevie!



Most hockey fans in Canada and the United States are fixated on the NHL playoffs right now.  I'm cheering for the Vancouver Canucks.  I hope they defeat the San Jose Sharks. 

As for the Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning, I really don't have any strong feelings about that series.  My only comment is that Steve Yzerman has done a remarkable job with the Lightning.  Kudos to Stevie Y.

While North Americans continue to follow the Stanley Cup playoffs, the 2011 World Hockey Championships are taking place in Slovakia.  Canada has been eliminated from the tournament by the Russians. 

- Joanne

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