So Barcelona is one of his non-shitty books! That having been said, he devotes a section to the Catalan scatological obsessions. Apparently both of Barcelona's rivers are named after the turds that used to float down them, rendering them undrinkable even 500 years ago. And in their Christmas Bethlehem créches, Catalans always include a figure of a peasant taking a big dump - the caganer.
This is the Robert Hughes I love - the one whose books read like a smooth, literate compilation of decades' worth of semi-naughty bar quizzes, with the occasional wordgasm over art and architecture. The timing is fantastic, too, because he devotes a big section to Barcelona's medieval history, which actually makes some contextual sense to me now thanks to the stoned wading through the Cantor book.
And besides getting me very, very excited for our rapidly approaching trip to Barcelona, the book has done a few of other useful things in just the first 120 pages:
1. Taught me two new words: labile and palimpsest.
2. Given me the Catalan-Aragonese oath of allegiance, which I'd heard and could never remember properly: 'We, who are as good as you, swear to you, who are no better than us, to accept you as our king and sovereign lord, provided you observe all our liberties and laws - but if not, not.'
3. Given some context to a story which has always stuck in my mind of a medieval Spanish playboy who stalks a beautiful lady; before he can accost her properly she turns to him and bares breasts that have been hideously disfigured by cancer.
That playboy was Ramon Llull, and the woman was one of his real attempted conquests or one of his hallucinations, depending on who you listen to. Llull was a cleverboots who had the revolutionary idea that efforts to convert Muslims and Jews to Christianity should be made through rational argument, rather than, you know, the other ways. Consequently he believed that missionaries should be educated about their philosophies, languages and religions.
4. Given me this sentence about an awful dance club in the city: 'Mariscal and Arribas set out to make your big night on the town an uninterrupted barrage of the clichés of PoMo irony - as though Philippe Starck at his most morbid teamed up with Peter Eisenman at his most hostile to do the sets for Pee-wees's Playhouse.' That sentence alone makes up for the uninterrupted barrage of crap which was Things I Didn't Know.