We spent 10 days in the capital of Catalonia and we were keen on learning more about the city’s distinct history, culture, and food scene… which we did–in large quantities! From historic walking tours in the Gothic Quarter, to overdosing on Gaudí architecture, to a 5 night run of eating at every sushi and noodle bar we could find in the Gracia neighborhood. We love Barcelona for all its unending greatness, but sometimes it is the trivial or nuanced interaction that leave the most lasting impression. These are a few that stuck with me:
Barcelona has a popular drink–and I imagine a variation of it exists everywhere in the world– the drink is called Clara and it is a simple mix of beer and lemon soda. Crisp and refreshing, a person can get away with drinking one or three with breakfast. I tried to order one every time we went out and it tastes relatively the same… delicious. Two simple ingredients. The city’s liquid manifesto.
The beach is fake, ya know? Created for the 1992 Olympics so event spectators would have yet another place to sit and watch things happen. The sand is imported from Egypt and the palm trees from the states, but it looks like it belongs and so it has stayed. Men walk up and down the length of the beach unfolding thin tapestries in the wind, the images of elephant mandalas wave and snap in the air, sometimes someone will buy one, but most of the time they do not.
In Barcelona, if a person lives on the third floor of a building, they actually live on the fifth or sixth! Many years ago, as the city was growing, regulations restricted the height of most buildings. To get around this annoyance, building owners simply did not “count” the first floor where the entrance is located, the second floor is charmingly called el principal (the main floor) the third floor is called primero, the fourth floor is called segundo and so on and so forth until the hallways and staircases begin to resemble an M.C. Escher drawing.
Quién es el último? Is a typical question blurted out upon entering an establishment that is busy or packed or where one would expect a line to form to alleviate the chaos in a coffee shop. Who is last? A simple question that allows the inquisitor to know who is last in line and who will be served right before they are served. Does this stop line-cutters or extroverts from jumping ahead in the invisible queue? No, it does not.
We walked in to the buzzing shop wanting nothing more than a hot drink to go, but there seemed to be dozens of people just standing about trying to make eye contact with the frazzled counter person. From behind me I heard those sacred words: Quién es el último? and after a dramatic pause, a weary woman raised her finger. I realized what had just happened– I lost my opportunity to stake my place in line by staying silent and distracted. No, NO, I am last in line!! I screamed in my head, but it was already too late… more people were pushing their way through the door, as if I never existed. The temperature was stifling in the small coffee shop and people were now bumping into me from all sides… and I did a desperate thing. I pushed Penelope and myself through the crowd until we were at the counter and I flung my order at a frantic barista running by. It worked. I felt no shame as we got the drinks and made our way to the door while the other weary customers continued to wait in their imaginary line.
The late night shopping and eating habits of the Barcelonés is inspiring to observe and remarkable to experience.. When one goes out to dinner in Barcelona, it is usually around the 10pm hour and the entire city is awake with an alluring energy. Countless independent store fronts are open selling clothing, books, and cosmetics while dinner is a seductive nocturnal ceremony not to be missed. Small wooden-walled tapas bars overflow onto the sidewalk, cigarette smoke puffing between sips of wine and ebullient conversations; or perhaps a table in one of the hidden plazas lit up by twinkle lights, children chasing one another around the central fountain while the adults continue with their languid meal and endless wine.
I watched as a group of 4 young women, dressed impressively hip, walked around the perimeter of the plaza, deciding which table to sit at. They chose two tables pushed together with 8 or 10 chairs around it. I thought it odd but soon understood as a procession of friends began to show up to the table. Each time a new person arrived, the 4 young women would each stand up and greet their friend with a kiss on the right cheek and a kiss on the left cheek. I couldn’t look away from this elegant and intimate reception occurring every time a new person arrived. The chairs ran out and still friends arrived, indifferent to the standing, I’m positive everyone was just waiting for the end of the night to receive their farewell kisses.
The weight of sadness resides in their eyes. A resigned knowledge that attempts to exterminate their existence was once a reality.
Your language is unacceptable, your way of life is unacceptable, and YOU, are unacceptable.
The message was made clear that day in 1937 when fascist leader Francisco Franco ordered military war planes to aerial bomb a Basque city in the north…
The leader of your country wants you dead.
Franco targeted regions in Spain for ethnic cleansing, to eliminate groups of people who posed a threat to his purist military dictatorship, which maintained very close ties to Hitler and Mussolini.
The savagery experienced a generation ago lingers behind the spark of resilience in their eyes, maintaining the profound knowledge that they will continue.