Yesterday I fell in love again. And, as the day progressed, my love grew stronger. By tomorrow I fear that my love will run so deep I will soon be looking for a place to call my own, buying things like shelves and curtains and nesting in all earnestness with my new love — Barcelona.
About two months ago my wife was explaining to friends why we had decided to leave Berlin and head south to Spain. “Berlin is starting to feel like home. Like a girlfriend. And I was looking for a lover,” she said. “I already have a girlfriend called Toronto. Things are getting too serious so it’s time to go. I called Barcelona to see what they were doing on Friday and they’re free.”
And now here we are.
From the front floor-to-ceiling-window of our new El Raval sublet in the old city, I can hear the sound of the street below. Children laughing, dogs barking and the scooters on their way to somewhere reverberate off the buildings bringing the street-life up four storeys into our temporary home. Laundry hangs over the action 40 feet below adding texture to the building’s façade and in every minute there’s a sense that we all live together, separated by walls built for protection from the elements, rather than privacy and protection from each other.
The streets in this part of town (as well as neighbouring barrios Barri Gotic, El Born and Barceloneta) are filled with turns that lead to nowhere and where you have just been and in their names, memorialize the resistance fighters and heroes of the Catalonians. Even more than being a part of Spain, Barcelona is part of the province of Catalonia, a distinct culture within the country that encompasses the brash Basque and the beautiful shores of the Costa Brava. The citizens are fiercely loyal to their heritage, honour their history and celebrate everything that makes it unique. The official language, both spoken and written, is Catalan, with Spanish a distant second. It is like a Mediterranean Quebec. As a Canadian the similarities make me comfortable — among those proud of where they come from.
Unlike other places we have visited and “lived” this year (18 cities in total so far in the past eight months) I do not wonder why people come here and never leave. There is a sense of anonymity, opportunity and frivolity. Daylight hours are reserved for work, if you must. Lunch is long and lazy in the high heat of the day and dinner is well after dark. After the evening meal, anything is possible — stay out all night, sleep all day, eat too little and drink too much. It was in this city that we blew two months of our budget in three weeks, that we missed our flight to Italy due to a night that ended at 7am. This is a city responsible for the loss of many cell phones, hundreds of wallets and boatloads of dignity.
I am sure there are people here who hold down regular day jobs, have families and drive cars. People that visit home décor stores and spend their money on lamps and dishes rather than clothes and cava. But we don’t know any of them. Right now, that suits us just fine.
On our first full day in Barcelona we awoke with the dawn, not yet adjusted to the city’s schedule. We walked up to our rooftop terrace to see the sunrise over our new neighbourhood, down toward the port and to the mountains that surround the town. After some pictures and an “Oh my God. Look where we are” or two, we walked back downstairs for a leisurely coffee and a slow start to our new life in the land of siestas and cerveza.
All was well and as the morning progressed, we settled in nicely to the slower pace of things. That was until the doorbell rang. It was a friend’s birthday and a group of people we had met in January when we were here for three weeks were headed out for lunch (at 3pm). They stopped by to see if wanted to join them (which of course we did ’cause who doesn’t want to be invited out your first day in a new town?). After lunch we headed home for some more acclimatizing — laying still in front of the fan, praying that the all-consuming heat didn’t boil our insides. We made plans to meet up with them again, this time at their house, for a cocktail or two. We showed up at 10pm. This morning at 6am we returned home.
Welcome to Barna.