We first collided months ago in the desert, a place we fiercely feel is home, a place that transformed us both, independently, he taken aback by his walls vanishing and I, my heart opening. He used the word first, but we are both drawn to the other’s magnetism, likely in part because we are cut from a similar cloth, and are all too easily seduced by adventure. Our bond is thus uniquely rooted in a deep, and yet arms-length intimacy.
And so Barcelona was a thrill, spending, again, less than 48 hours exploring its history, charm, and rolling hills above an expansive, shining sea.
I have a soft spot for this proudly autonomous place. Today, Catalonia–a region that comprises four provinces, one of which is Barcelona–is holding a referendum on independence that has been deemed illegal by the Spanish government. I’ve been to Barcelona on two other occasions, but this time felt more personal.
I landed on a Saturday evening, and he picked me up to go wander the eclectic streets of the Born neighborhood, once a medieval jousting site and now home of the Picasso museum. We ducked into a Peruvian joint for a bite and then hopped around its various bars. Eventually we split at my hostel, and I sat on the stoop for some evening autumn air.
Minutes later a guy rode up on his fixie and screeched to a halting stop several feet away.
“Oh,” he said, looking at me. “Can I stand here?” I raised an eyebrow. “You’re not scared of me, huh.”
“Why in the world would I be,” I stated, perplexed. He pointed to his arm. I raised the other eyebrow.
“People are scared of black folks here,” he shrugged. “I’m from Belgium and my mama, my name is Curtis by the way, I’m a DJ…” He was off on a rant about his ADHD, how his mama refused to medicate him as a child, how his girlfriend of seven years broke up with him because she didn’t appreciate him, how there were so many paradoxes in this world, “let me just give you a few examples and yeah, classism and shit, shit’s real, crazy, capitalism and the like, we gotta change! Can I sit?”
He sat on the stoop, lit a cigarette, and so I joined his steam of consciousness. Until another guy approached, also in his mid-thirties. With a menacing look, he approached us and asked whether there was a problem….
“Nope, no problem,” I said. But he got in Curtis’s face, glaring at him silently. They were blocking the door to my hostel so I tried distracting him with questions, but he ignored me. “What do you want?” I finally asked.
“I want you.” For real?? I decided before things blew up that the better option was to try and shove my way through them rather than loiter around for the fight. Curtis then created enough space behind him that I was able to squeeze by, ring the bell repeatedly until the hostel unlocked the door, and–after pushing both of their hands out of the way–stepped inside.
The next morning, my friend picked me up on his moto, and we spent the entire day exploring the city under an unusually warm October sun: beers on the beach, the Sagrada Familia (to no one’s surprise, nope, still not finished, but there’s been considerable progress with the interior in recent years), and–in that moving twilight hour–the hills sloping high above the city and quiet sea.
He exposed me to a mid-nineteenth century urban planner, Ildefons Cerda, and the philosophy behind his design of Eixample, one of the neighborhoods we had explored earlier in the day. Cerda’s vision for urban design at the time was visionary. With traffic, sunlight, and ventilation having been taken into account, the 7.5 square kilometer district is marked by a grid pattern with long, wide avenues and octagonal city blocks (distinctly Barcelona). Cerda’s goal was to tackle several social problems by allowing greater sunlight for housing, opening up space for gardens, and angling the street corners to allow a long turning radius for steam trams. The city planners, sadly, did not embrace much of his vision–refusing to install steam trams, to name just one example–and so Cerda’s vision for urban space was scarcely achieved. He vanished quietly from much of history.
Until recently. Over the last few years, the city has begun to implement Cerda’s concept of public green spaces behind buildings whenever a business is relocated for instance–the goal being to create one garden every nine blocks.
That evening, I discovered that my hostel was booked up so my friend kindly opened his home. You fellow long-term travelers know how your skin prickles when entering such a space–be it a positive or negative association. For me, the comforts of a home for an evening–a quiet couch upon which to write, towel, and clean, comfortable bed (memory foam!)–warmed the soul.
That night we ate delectable Lebanese cuisine–a first for me.
And then more mouth watering food the next morning at brunch! I spent the larger part of the afternoon wandering through one of my favorite places in the world: Park Guell, a UNESCO World Heritage Site built between 1900 and 1914. Magical, how creatively and seamlessly Gaudi wove nature through his architectural designs.
The time came for me fly to Santiago where I was to begin a four-day hike along the Camino de Compostela–a pilgrimage upon which people embark that takes them to the “end of the world.”
This brief and yet treasured connection and I came to an agreement about the heart. How it’s possible to feel an unbelievable magnetic pull to a person, and yet still not quite reach the inexplicable “it” factor.
In the simple words of Flo Rida’s anthemic pop song, Let it Roll: “Love is nice when it’s understood. Even nicer when it makes you feel good.”
There will always be some magic in this world that we have to trust with an unconditional confidence–a confidence that enables us to let go of our innate fear of not understanding.
“Thanks for being you,” we said to one another. And then, loaded up with deep affection, fresh music, and a farewell kiss, I was off to begin my pilgrimage.