Have you ever fallen so head over heels in love with someone that you thought, at the time, there is no way I can ever find another person that I could love romantically like this and then to find out later in life that you indeed could and did find another that lit the flame of your heart? Or when you had your first child and then thought that there was no way you could ever love another human being with the breath and capacity that you had for your first born only to have your heart stolen away by the second born, then third, the fourth etc.?
This is the way I felt when I stepped foot in Barcelona, Spain. Paris had been my lover for so many years that the thought of another city replacing her seemed inconceivable. I had just left Paris only five days ago and our relationship was alive, intact and filled with the same passion as it had always been. That is when Barcelona caught my eye. Just like a Latin lover this city seduced me so quickly I didn't even know what had hit me.
Joy and I arrived in the city after a short train ride from the airport. We immediately headed to our AirBnB that we had rented in the heart of the city where we planned to meet up with our host, Carlos. Carlos is an expatriate of Mexico living in Barcelona after spending many years in San Francisco. As I got to know Barcelona a little bit on this short stay I came to understand why Carlos came from San Francisco to Barcelona. The cities have a very similar feel. Both cities are old school progressives who seem open to whomever is open to treating everyone with love and respect.
Carlos is exactly as one might hope a Spanish host to be. He came spryly ambling up to us wearing a Spanish fedora and an oversized smile that could make you buy a broken down used car from him and never get mad when it indeed broke down. Carlos is a naturally gregarious man who tops off his easy-going nature with a velvety Spanish accent. Carlos was everything we hoped he would be: he was efficient, he was generously polite and he quickly took on the role of tour guide.
Carlos walked us down one of the most quaint city streets you could ever imagine and took us to the front door of his apartment. The door looked like it might be the hidden door to the answers of the Universe. Amongst the ubiquitous graffiti was a sticker on the door that read quite inconspicuously, "Very Top Secret". The door, just like the Spanish people, is very precocious. This city has a friendly confidence that says, "Yeah, this is a secret door. What are you going to do about it? We both know you're not going to try to come in here."
Carlos gave us a quick preview of his apartment, which included an amazing balcony overlooking the hottest part of Barcelona. When he was finished he walked to the kitchen and he reached into a cupboard drawer and magically produced a city map (I am sure he has boxes of these somewhere for just this occasion which happens weekly) and then in a flourish of English he began describing in detail all of the places we should visit while he scrawled notes on the side of the map for reference for when we forgot every bit of guidance he offered us. Carlos then proceeded to launch into his bucket list of everything he felt we should do while we were in Barcelona. After we explained to him that we would only be in Barcelona for about 36 hours he quickly put down his pen and said, "Go explore the city. You can do no wrong."
Joy and I started our day with a cappuccino for me and a water (with ice, please) for Joy and we split the most delectable crepe I have ever eaten. This crepe was so incredibly good in it's simplicity that both of us decided it must be impossible to make because it seemed so easy and nothing this good can be this easy. We meandered out of that small café and found a beautiful outside market that was selling used books, old reel-to-real cameras, movie posters from a long gone era and other knickknacks that seem so much cooler because they are being sold in Spain, at an outdoor market no less.
This is traveling at its best. No plans, no agenda. We simply walk out the front door and let the universe take us. We strolled down small street after small street taking in this incredible city. The smell of fresh flowers wafted through the air and the squeal of sirens could be heard as two police cars whizzed by us in pursuit of someone going somewhere who had apparently done something wrong. None of it mattered much to me, I was slowly falling for a new city and her name was Barcelona.
I fell in love with Barcelona at first sight. I didn't even see Barcelona coming. The second I walked into the center of the city she gave me a smile so sly I didn't even realize I was cheating on Paris. It felt real the moment we arrived and as I write this I am secretly hoping that Barcelona is waiting downstairs for me begging me to come back into her seductive arms. I would drop everything if she would just let me stay one more night with her.
The thing I love most about Europe is how easy it is to get around on the metro. The metro in cities like Paris and Barcelona can drop you at the doorstep of the greatest neighborhoods in these sprawling metropolises and then magically come back and pick you up later to transport you to an equally exciting part of the city.
Each stop on a metro line usually introduces you to a completely new and unique neighborhood and even just walking through the train stations you will discover people singing, juggling or some other skill that seems incongruous in a subway station. This is the heartbeat of a great city, diverse in its acceptance of whatever causes the least amount of trouble. If it becomes trouble then that trouble must leave, out the backdoor and with as little commotion as possible. But if you are loving and kind, if you keep compassion in your heart, these cities will not only embrace you they will make you one of the family.
Barcelona is certainly no exception to that rule. Joy and I spent much of our first day climbing countless stairs and traversing multiple windy roads to reach Park Guell at one of the highest points in the city. Park Guell is a majestic perch that shows much of the city of Barcelona. Along the small roads that lead up to the park the path is graced with the presence of some of the most talented musicians that most likely will never have a larger audience than the twenty or so walkers climbing to the top to get to the park. It saddens me to think that the rest of the world will miss out on these artist which include an elderly man playing a solo violin and literally bringing tears to all that stopped to listen.
Around another corner Joy and I came upon a man playing a hang drum with such seduction that people couldn't help but watch and witness. Just when one might think no one else could be performing outdoor art there is a man who appears to be suspended in midair, sitting so perfectly still that for a moment he looks to be a statue of an old Spanish war hero -- that is until he waves breaking the spell.
People stop when they hear the screams of scared children as the sound echoes through the trees until the children finally realize the man is indeed not only alive and well but an expert mime. The children's screams soon turn to squeals of laughter when the illusion is broken.
Swarms of people surrounded the mime as people surreptitiously snapped pictures while others dropped coins into his cup to get a chance to take a picture with this very interesting artist. For joy's part she quickly grabbed a Secret Blue Butterfly card and sprinkled a handful of euros into the mime's cup and handed him a butterfly making him an honorary member of the Secret Blue Butterfly club.
In a world where most people don't know what their talent is or worse, won't share their talent -- here were these incredibly talented artists basically saying, "Hey, I am going to play. I am going to act. I am going to sing. I am going to paint. If you think it's a worth a couple of euros drop them in my guitar case or my plastic cup and if not, have a blessed day. But I am going to play. Why? Because what else would I do than express myself using the talent that the Universe gave to me."
Nothing could be more beautiful than this and this, my friends, is Barcelona. She is talented. She is alive. She is kind but if you cross her she will shoot you a look telling you to be cool. "You're a guest here. We love you but these are our rules. We are Barcelona and when you come here you respect me and when you do I will embrace in a way you have never been embraced before."
I love Barcelona. I respect her. She has been around a very long time. She has history. I can't wait to get to know her and if I don't learn everything I want to this time around I sure will be back. That is, if she will have me.