Cured Ham And No Sleep: How I Survived Mobile World Congress

Sebastian Junger used the term “The Perfect Storm” in his eponymous book to describe the confluence of several really powerful meteorological forces that produced the mother of all storms.

Having just returned from Mobile World Congress, or MWC, I can attest to how apropos the expression is in describing the mobile industry’s largest annual conference in Barcelona.

In Spain, late nights are the norm. Dinners are served after 8p and often last three hours or more. Spain also produces the best cured ham in the world. With all due respect to Parma, prosciutto doesn’t match the finest, acorn-fed Iberian pigs.

Trade shows naturally tend to produce long days and nights just about anywhere they take place. They also force attendees to forage for the nutrition they need to stay upright in uncomfortable footwear.

When all these elements come together, you get super late nights that attendees power through by inhaling so much ham that most of us won’t be able to touch the stuff until the next time we touch down in Barcelona.

What follows is a pork-laden chronology of my Perfect Storm experience at MWC last week.

Sunday, February 23 – The Calm Before The Storm

My hotel, the first-rate Hotel Catedral Catalonia, didn’t have my room ready, so I parked my luggage and wolfed down some eggs and, of course, cured ham. After breakfast, I walked to the Barcelona Cathedral for Sunday Mass. Built from the 13th to the 15th century, the church invites all parishioners to the altar to receive Communion. I’ve never felt more in awe in any other holy place, including St. Peter’s Basilica, than I did there.

Later that afternoon, I hunkered down with my team to prepare for Nokia’s Developer Day on Tuesday. We feasted on thin crust pizzas topped with more cured ham and worked on slides our executives would deliver in 36 hours. I crashed at about 11:00p and got seven hours of sleep, by far the most I’d get all week.

Monday, February 24 – Right Place, Wrong Shoes

Surrounding a quick lunch of cured ham sandwiches and fresh Spanish oranges, I had a day’s worth of meetings. That evening, I briskly walked 10 minutes from Nokia’s booth in the Gran Fira’s Hall 3 to Hall 8, where our developer day would unfold. I realized then, as I do at every trade show I attend, how absolutely ill suited my shoes are for such occasions. My arches protested more loudly than the anti-government throngs carrying placards outside the Fira. Because the room had been occupied by another company all day, it was being torn down and rebuilt to Nokia’s specs. Our rehearsal started 40 minutes late as a result.

In the rush to practice as much as possible, I forgot to grab dinner. I returned to the hotel at 11:30p and pleaded with the lone remaining waitress to give me two bread rolls. That bread and a glass of beer I drank earlier was all I had to eat until late the next morning. After polishing slides I would deliver at a company meeting on Thursday, my head hit the pillow at 1a.

Tuesday, February 25 – Developer Day Success

Up at 6a to arrive at the Fira by 7:30a. Our morning rehearsals had all the elegance and polish of a fresh hairball. Slides, speaker notes, audio and video all reeked of version control disaster. One of our speakers had gone MIA. Willy Wonka talked about everything coming out in the wash, and so it was that when the curtains went up on the real thing, we delivered a smooth, on-message keynote. Reminder to self: this is why we rehearse. I even got to have a ham and cheese croissant breakfast sandwich.

That night, we hosted our colleagues and partners at Sotavento, a night club right on the Mediterranean. This being a trade show taking place in Spain, and because my team was the official host, there was no way to avoid leaving before 1:45a. I returned to the hotel, worked some more on my slides for Thursday, and hit the sack at 3a.

Wednesday, February 26 – Slow Food Day

I awoke at 7a, ate breakfast (eggs and more ham), and made my first meeting at 10a. I’m grateful for the team at Qualcomm for inviting me to their experience theater to learn about the Snapdragon processor. Not only did I pick up some new things, but I did so in luxurious reclining leather seats.

That night, my team hosted a six-course Slow Food meal at the Convent Del Angels, a 16th century convent-turned multipurpose facility. I experienced some fantastic local flavors, including the finest cured ham I’ve ever had, plus pearls of salted caramel filled with Spanish extra virgin olive oil.

I had the pleasure of introducing our guest speaker, the voice of the Slow movement, Carl Honoré, for a talk about slowing things down. That’s a tough message for some tech-centric people to hear, but we’re also the ones who need to hear it the most.

Back at the hotel at 2a, more slide prep, and after my nightly call home, I fell asleep by 3a.

Thursday, February 27 – Escape from Barcelona

I awoke at 6a to rehearse my presentation, shower, and eat breakfast. The meeting went just fine. The catered lunch featured lots more cured ham. At this point, I don’t think I could taste the stuff. I’d like to say that the meeting lunch marked my final cured ham binge, but I had one more to go. That night at the airport, I ate a ham and brie sandwich for dinner. I was officially growing hooves at this point.


I staggered back to New York on Friday. For those keeping score at home, a statistical analysis of my week would reveal the following:

  • Total cumulative sleep: 19 hours over four days.
  • Miles trekked in bad shoes: I estimate about six.
  • Late night/early morning slide rehearsal time: eight hours.
  • Cured ham consumed: 19 pounds.

MWC is a must-see event for those in the mobile industry. Barcelona has preserved the best of its antiquity, inviting all who attend to leave the Fira and explore. Nowhere in the world can you experience so much of what is new with so much that is ancient and worth preserving.

Just remember to pack comfortable shoes, sleep whenever you can, and go light on the ham.

One comment

  1. Reblogged this on Matt Collins' Blog and commented:

    As Mobile World Congress 2016 ends, I’m reminded of my adventure at MWC 2014, which I reprise in this post. Since I wrote this, I once again have tried Jamon Iberico, the cured ham delicacy I devoured too much of two years ago. My recent experience was good, but still not quite as tasty as the real thing. Enjoy.


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