Here we are again: Another Sunday afternoon sitting in front of the open door of my balcony, watching the latest batch of laundry flutter and listening to the sounds of life outside and writing.
As should any journey, my first week in Barcelona brought some surprises — and not all of them good ones.
Take, for instance, the Airbnb’s total and baffling lack of either sharp knife or cutting board, leading me to tear heads of lettuce and broccoli apart with my bare hands. (As for meat, I’ve just stuck with thin-sliced cutlets.)
Or the sudden-onset, going-too-hard cold that had me tossing and turning last night with toilet paper stuffed in my nostrils. (Who knew walking ten miles a day, sleeping six hours a night, eating nothing but cured meat and drinking two bottles of wine and an absinthe after being basically dry for months could wreak havoc on the immune system? 🙄)
A positive negative: Spending a month here is almost sure to break my expensive and borderline-unhealthy coffee habit. There’s no drip pot, no pourover, not a single brewing method in this house, and I have discovered over a course of sour-faced mornings that I just can’t do Nescafé instant. Of course, there’s fantastic espresso on every street corner, but even a shot a day is nothing like the perpetual, IV-bag-style slow drip in which I consume coffee in America. And call me uncultured, but it turns out I actually do miss half-and-half, which product seems not to exist at all in this country.
But for every grocery store misunderstanding that leaves me setting off metal detectors and blushingly repeating “lo siento,” for every loudly-barking dog or disharmonic (but powerful!) metro whistler, there’s something lovely or charming or strange:
people actually getting up for the elderly on the metro, unbidden
opening my window to see my neighbor playing accordion and singing opera on the rooftop with his friends — well enough that I’d thought he was performing in the square a few streets over
the slightly-lost-in-translation English T-shirts: “I’LL NEVER STOP WEARING BLACK;” “NEVER REGRET OUR TATTOOS;” “I STRONGLY HOLD THAT KIND OF WILLPOWER” and, twice for some reason: “BETTER LATE THAN NEVER”
A bookstore’s libros en ingles shelf’s motley mix, including Lord of the Flies, a food-allergy cookbook, The Anxiety of Influence, A Teacher’s Guide to the Blogosphere and Fifty Shades Darker
The child in my building who is learning recorder and practices by playing a song — the same exact song — that I once practiced while I learned piano (even though it is maddening: how strange is the world)
When I started to make Barcelona-related social media updates, a dear friend of mine, who also lives in Europe and who didn’t know I was coming, reached out with not-very-well-guarded scorn.
“Everyone knows Barcelona is a tourist trap. But it was your choice, so I hope you enjoy it.”
At the time, his contempt irritated me. I made the best decision I could with the information I had, attempting to find a city that was A: relatively cheap to get to and live in, B: fairly navigable with elementary Spanish and C: warm this time of year. And besides, it wasn’t like I was staying on La Rambla; my Airbnb, which I intended as a home base for a swath of Spanish travels during October, is actually pretty far out of the middle of things, on the south end of Badalona.
That said, the ventures I have taken downtown have spoken to his point. This short documentary is a great and eye-opening resource if you’re at all curious. I especially appreciate the distinction drawn toward the end between tourists, travelers, and voyagers. It’s interesting to think seriously about which camp you roll with, although the speaker’s apparent diagnosis of the former two categories as necessarily problematic may come across as little condescending.
Anyway, I have a lot more thinking and writing to do about this, but suffice to say, visiting the “must-sees” I have so far haven’t held a candle to the simple things I’ve done without leaving my neighborhood:
walking to the Mediterranean and finding an absolute smorgasbord of sea glass, which I picked through with young volleyball players yelling “Que bueno!” on my left and an old woman sidling, topless and smiling, into the ocean on my right
opening the door to my apartment building to the scent of roasting meat and rice and beans and the sound of children laughing and old friends greeting each other in the stairway
how the man at the gym around the corner, where I now lift weights in kilograms and run in kilometers, frantically ran around trying to find someone to speak to me in English, although I assured him in my broken Spanish that it was okay, that I understood enough
watching my neighbors walk purposefully toward the metro station with their flags furled over their shoulders for yet another independence demonstration
And of course, it’s only the first week. Most of what I’m here to learn and see and do is still in the future.
Before we progress, a note about the photographs: You may notice they’re all fairly shitty cell phone photos, and this is by design.
One of the best parts of the trip so far was encountering a stunning flamenco dancer who’d set up a board outside the Cathedral in the Barri Gòtic. Watching him dance really was like watching human fire — technically incredible, visually intractable, unabashedly erotic. But he stopped suddenly to pick out a girl in the crowd who’d been, understandably, recording him on her cell phone, so concentratedly so that the screen itself was in front of her face.
“When we make art,” he said, scolding her in the kindest way I can imagine, “it is about being present. It is to remember how much we share in common, how much we are human.”
“I do not have a problem with the internet,” he went on, “but some things — being here,” he gestured to his chest, “– some things are more important.”
“Do not look at the screen. Look at me. I am dancing to you.”
All of which to say: I try not to go overboard on pictures, and I don’t devote bag space to a camera. (And no, you won’t find a photo or recording of that dancer in this post.)