love will come through

He looks around, around
He sees angels in the architecture
Spinning in infinity
He says amen and hallelujah…

Today I fell in love with Barcelona.

Today I found the Barrio Gotico…the Gothic Quarter. Having the afternoon off from school, I took the Metro down to Las Ramblas to take a few photos. I wandered down to the Boqueria, the famous food market. Under a canopy, small stalls are set up and piled high with all manner of domestic and exotic goods. Prickly pink fruits bare lush juicy centers and bananas of the most golden yellow catch your eye as you pass. Fish heads stare up at you, open-mouthed, from the ice, and mussels gape silently. Ham shanks hang next to garlic and chili peppers, and bright red tomatoes are stacked precariously next to cucumbers and carrots. Spices, candies, fruits, poultry, seafood, meat, vegetables, breads…everything in such abundance that the senses are overwhelmed and the appetite enticed. It is an art, truly, the Boqueria.

After the market, I made my way down Calle de la Boqueria, where the street narrows suddenly and the hostels and bars and vintage clothing shops begin to loom ever closer. The street darkens and the noise of Las Ramblas is left behind. This is somewhere else. The stone becomes darker, older, dirtier, prettier. The streets are no longer paved, but made of huge stone blocks sealed with mortar that has long since worn away. The architecture is not Gaudi, it is much older than that, reminiscent of Spain´s Catholic-Moorish heritage. The streets smell of incense and age and the sound of a faraway harpsichord is faint in your ears. This is the Barrio Gotico. This is the Spain I have been missing for so long.

I wandered around, looking into shops lined with jeweled dresses and flowing skirts and scarves, and red Egyptian lamps and carpets and jewelry, and dim bars where people lounge, mid-day, heavy with the heat and meal and the scent of the place. I looked around for hours, winding my way through unmarked alleys, yet always finding my way back to the tiny plaza.

Then I came across the most wonderful place I have ever been.

I was looking at my camera, reviewing my photos, barely paying attention, when I glanced up and stopped in my tracks. It was an unmarked doorway. There was no sign, no store name, no brightly painted signs advertising end-of-season sales. But as I peered in, there were books, just books, as far as the eye could see. And not just any books, but antique, thick, gold-bound, dusty books that should belong in a castle´s library somewhere and not on this tiny, not-very-special street in the shadows of Barcelona.

I went in warily, as I wasn´t even sure it was a business. The books were stacked miles high, in no particular order, as if they were nothing special. On top of the shelves were piles upon piles of vintage posters, ancient art, Latin scripts, postcards. Bibles. Cookbooks. Paintings. A model ship.

There were three people sitting in the back of the store, in the light of two dim lamps, two men and a woman. One of the men had a parrot on his shoulder. Yes, really. A dog lay on a carpet under the shadow of dusty furniture. I thought of Andrew and wondered if it was Empire style.

There were old records, old photo albums, and a metal briefcase that I could not open. There were old keys, the skeleton kind, and programs from plays and musicals long forgotten. Nothing was arranged in any sort of order, or with the kind of care that ought to be given to things of such value. As if these people didn´t know that contained within the pages of those old dusty volumes lay the keys to everything we have ever wondered about. They don´t make books like that anymore.

I bought a poster from the 50s that tells the history of one of the barrio´s streets in small pictures and rhyme. In Catalan, of course. It´s amazing and wonderful. I will post a picture.

I spent an hour in that place, though I could barely move around at all. There was so much to see that I knew I had probably passed by something priceless and wonderful without even knowing it. I will probably return.

When I emerged from the warm darkness of the bookstore, I felt like time had stopped. Only a few hours had passed since I left school, but I felt as if I had gotten lost in another world. I wandered around some more, until my meanderings led me once again back to the bustling centre of town. Feeling thirsty, I slipped into a Basque tavern and helped myself to some pintxos (tapas…bread with cream cheese and jam, bread with salmon and crab cake), and then headed back towards Las Ramblas to go home.

I was stopped by a boy on the street who was handing out fliers for a bar where many travelers go, and we talked for a few moments about America, about living in Europe, and about the passion of life, before he went his way and I went mine, back to the Metro, to modernity, to home.

* * *

In other news, I finished teaching yesterday. The course ends Friday. I have no idea what I´ll do. I applied for several jobs, one in the Canary Islands. We´ll see.

In other random news, since coming here I have met people from France, Pakistan, Andorra, Amsterdam, Nigeria, Mexico, Ecuador, Cuba, Peru, Argentina, England, China, Germany, and Scotland. I have met very few Spaniards. I find this interesting. I also find it interesting when I meet someone from Pakistan, for example, and I am from America, and we speak Spanish to each other.

There´s more to say, but it can wait.


Should I stay or should I go?

So, I´ve probably written emails to many of you with this same problem, but I can´t seem to decide, so I´ll post it here and see if I can get some advice:

When I originally came to Spain, I had planned to be here for a year. I didn´t really know where I would go, but I figured Barcelona would be a good place to start. Turns out, I don´t really like Barcelona. Since then I have been thinking seriously about moving to Galicia or Asturias, but I have been told less-than-optimistic things about the area. Then I got it in my head to go to Germany, and I can´t seem to get it out. Where should I go? Here´s my pros-cons list:

-higher pay, but higher cost of living
-never been there (adventure!), but that might be scary
-don´t know ANY German, but I could learn
-sounds beautiful, but I might end up in a dirty city
-want to meet Europeans, but, again, might end up with tourists
-don´t know any of the culture, but could figure it out (trial and error, friends)
-know people there, but not very well
-i think i like spanish food better than german food

-supposed to be beautiful, but may be isolated
-more rural and ancient
-people say there isn´t a big market for TESOL teachers (less competition? or just hard to find a job?)
-culture is a lot like Scotland (celtic)
-far from the metropoli (?) of Spain (may be hard for people to visit)
-don´t know anyone there at all
-don´t feel like i should give up on Spain just yet
-never been there, either
-most ignored province of Spain (poor? uneducated?)

Anyone have other reasons for choosing either one? I´m really stuck but I feel like I need to make a decision ASAP. Help me out here!!!

A traveler´s world is a strange one. It is one of quick friendships and even quicker goodbyes. It is a world in which one is usually lost. It is a world where the normal social rules no longer apply. In a traveler´s world, it is perfectly acceptable to spend the night in the home of someone you met on the train that afternoon. It´s perfectly normal to exchange contact information with no pretense of ever seeing each other again. It is a world where some of your most beautiful memories may be with people you´ve only just met. In a traveler´s world, there is no time for formality, for technicalities. People work together to help each other, where an underground network of secret information is passed on to each generation: the cleanest hostels, the cheapest places to eat, that hidden bar down that tiny street that has the best sangria around. Though the destinations may be different, travelers share a common experience that changes them forever. It is a rare and complex thing, the traveler´s world.

* * *

This week was an interesting one. I went out three times this week to the fiesta in Gracia. It was crazy. All the streets were decorated (and everything was made out of recycled materials, like bubble wrap and plastic bottles). I´ll post pictures soon. We danced, we drank (only a little!), and we met some French people. I have new European friends. 🙂

Yesterday on the Metro, I saw an older man (in his thirties) looking at me. I was laughing with Rachel and the Metro stopped. The man moved towards the door, then tapped me on the shoulder. When I looked up, he just said, “You have a beautiful smile,” and then got off. Aww.

On Saturday Rachel and I went to Parc Guell, the park that is famous for Gaudi´s bench and lizard-shaped fountain. It was a beautiful day, and the view from the top of the hill was absolutely gorgeous. We wandered around for hours, until we heard some beautiful music coming from afar and went to search for it. We came across a man sitting under a bridge, playing an instrument called a hang, which was two steel drums put together with dips in them. When you hit the dip just right with your hand, it made a beautiful reverberating harpsichord-esque sound. He played the most fascinating music, so we sat and watched, enthralled. When he finished we talked to him briefly and then bought a CD. It will be a good memory of that moment. 🙂

We wandered around a bit more but saw clouds beginning to rise over the horizon. We sat on the benches and wandered around a bit more, but the sky grew darker by the minute and we saw a dark shadow settle over the city from above. We hurried back to the Metro and headed to Las Ramblas, feeling tiny drops every so often. When we got off the Metro and headed upstairs, Las Ramblas was as deserted as I´d ever seen it. It was pouring rain outside and everyone was pushed up against the buildings, fighting for what little shelter they offered from the rain. The temperature dropped dramatically and I froze in my tank top. We hurried into an open shop to escape, and came out twenty minutes later with sale bags in our hands. We continued down a little street and came across the Bagel Shop, the only place in town that actually serves bagels. They just don´t exist here. We had excellent meals of bagels with hummus and homemade cream cheese and coffee, and then went back home to get ready for the evening. I think that was the one of the best days I´ve had since I´ve been here.

This week will be hectic, as I teach three days out of four. Maybe this week I´ll start to like Barcelona a little more. Maybe not.

our house…in the middle of our street

I´ve really begun to like our neighborhood. Far from Barcelona´s bustling city centre, Les Corts is lively but tranquil, and our little street, Jaume Roig, has a personality all its own.

The back of our apartment overlooks a strange courtyard strung across with laundry lines and the remains of fallen clothespins. The buildings are a bizarre mixture of tin roofing, brick, stone, and concrete, with an ancient-looking staircase that leads to an empty yard overhung by a large but dry and sad-looking palm tree. I never see anyone out there, yet the clothes on the lines change every so often, my only sign that there is life in this strange apartment of ours.

Across from our apartment is a tiny bodega, really more of a mini mart than anything. It´s owned by an older couple who spend their time wandering around their store or chatting with their customers, many of whom visit every day. As I open my windows in the morning to let in the early light, the woman will glance up toward my balcony and wave her hellos. I will wave back.

Next to the bodega is a cafe and restaurant which only seems to be open when I don´t have time to visit. Nevertheless, every day I wake up to the sounds of dishes clinking, and every day I ty to decipher the elegant daily menus posted in Catalan outside the door.

Next to the cafe is the elusive Bola de Oro pasteleria (bakery). It had been closed for vacation since I arrived, but reopened a few days ago with Chocolat-esque window displays. Their chocolate croissants are well worth leaving the house a few minutes early for.

There is also Paul, who works in the repair shop next to the bodega. Rachel and I found him preening, shirtless, outside the shop one night in an attempt to impress us, having seen us in our room laughing. We found him a little ridiculous, but he is nice enough and greets us whenever we see him, even when he scolds me for mopping the balcony.

Around the corner is the locutorio which has been out saving grace since we arrived. It´s a small hot place with a few phone booths and a few computers and a Pakistani-French owner who seems to always be there. We decided we should take him out one night, since he sometimes gives us discounts and we feel bad that he spends his entire life in that tiny place.

Though I´ve been told that our neighborhood is seething with prostitutes, I haven´t seen any of it. Generally it´s filled with the sounds of cars, motos, and people passing by. It took me forever to get used to the noises, and I am still awoken every morning by the shop windows being rolled up and the delivery trucks bringing their goods. There are dogs that bark and animals that howl and a strange assortment of music – I´ve heard everything from Coldplay to Britney Spears to Barry Manilow to tradition Gallega music played right outside my window. It´s a strange place with strange sounds, but for now at least, it´s my home.

the rain in spain falls mainly where i am…

I have been here one week. There is a lot to say.

I arrived last Wednesday, after one plane ride without any windows at all, and one plane ride with a whole row of leather seats to myself. There was a lot of crying involved.

I am still homesick.

It´s strange being here again, speaking mostly English, hearing snippets of the accent, seeing glimpses of the life, that I remember from so long ago.

It´s like pretending to be in Spain.

All the students in my TESOL class are American. It is disappointing and comforting all at once. Rachel, my roommate, is from Albion, and we have much more in common than I ever would have thought. She is like a little bit of home. We laugh a lot. A lot.

I unpacked the day I arrived and my mobile hangs brilliantly in between the French doors onto my balcony. The glass is beautiful in the morning sun.

I saw Enric soon after I arrived and he (and his girlfriend) took me to Montjuic, to Born, to Barceloneta, and to the best restuarant/bodega I have been to in a long long time.

Just a taste. More to come. Esperate un poquito…