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.