A Tale of One City

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’ doesn’t make any sense.”

Rumi

Behind me I could hear the girl screaming, her cries bouncing off the walls of the narrow streets. The man was a few metres ahead of me, both of us running flat out, and it seemed as if I would never catch up to him. But then he suddenly stopped and turned. He stared at me and slowly bent down, gently placing the phone on the ground, never losing eye contact. In that moment it felt as if someone had hit the pause button.  I saw him. And then he ran off. 

I didn’t see a robber. I didn’t see a wrongdoer. I saw him. I felt this overwhelming feeling of connection. He didn’t have to gently place the phone on the ground, he could have flung it down or continued running, I don’t know if I could have caught up to him. But in that moment the so-called ‘wrongdoer’ did something entirely unexpected and it was in that moment that we connected.  

I had been walking back home in Barcelona and it was about 10:30pm. I had passed a girl dressed up for a night out, something which stood out in a city then largely in lockdown, with no bars or cafes open to dress up for. A few seconds later she had begun screaming ‘ladrón’ (thief) and a man hurtled past me. I gave chase, and as we were close to my house I was able to easily navigate the familiar labyrinth of streets of the old town. And no, I wasn’t being brave. Bravery is overcoming fear and yet I had no fear. I just wanted to get the girl’s phone back to her and was hell bent on doing so. 

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An Ode to the Joy of Travel Moments not just monuments

 

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Joie de vivre may be a French expression, but it is the Spanish who truly embody it. Whilst any conversation between you and your average Spaniard will be heard by the entire city (my neighbours seem particularly keen to ‘chat’ with Barcelona and me, every day, particularly about each other), they truly are some of the most content, loveliest, most even-tempered and kindest people I have ever met. Indeed, one of my greatest joys of living in Spain is the Spanish and, fortunately for me, the behaviour of some of my fellow Brits in Spain hasn’t ever been held against me (although this may be due to the fact that being above average height and blonde means I am Dutch in the eyes of most Spanish).

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There absolutely are some truths behind some stereotypes; there are reasons they exist. In Barcelona we are a hotchpotch of nationalities and my closest friends are American, Polish and Russian (and yes, we did walk into a bar together 😉 My American friend is relentlessly upbeat, my Russian friend approaches her series of dating disasters (several of her dates stole the tip she left for the waiter) with a shrug and “oh well, my grandparents got together in a gulag”, my Polish friend offers ‘honest advice’ on my Russian friend’s dress sense and I act as the classic British diplomat, my speech bubble belying my thought bubble. There is much to divide us, but what binds us, above everything else, is our shared humour, our shared love of travel and our love of life.

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I work entirely with American clients in my work as a tour guide, and almost every single American group has turned up concerned about being perceived as loud and obnoxious. It is at this point I realise Americans really do need to travel more, if for no other reason than to understand that if they want loud, they should try being in a museum with a group of Italians or at a football match with the English, ten p(o)ints down 😉

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But in all seriousness, I always tell them that this simply isn’t true. In fact, and I am not just saying this because I work with Americans, they are the most popular tourists (and I am not just saying that because they tip 😉  The reason is that the majority of Americans that I have taken around Europe are kind, enthusiastic, have a sense of fun and are blown away by what they see; they make me see things through their eyes, eyes which are wide open in amazement at the sites which are all too familiar to me and most other Europeans.

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A ‘Crap’ Article

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No, not my being self-deprecating although you may well think it an apt title upon reading, but rather an article about the Catalan obsession with, well, crap or ‘caga’. This comes particularly into mind at this time of year as I am surrounded by ‘caganers’, ie crappers. Visiting the stands at the local Christmas market in front of Barcelona’s cathedral you are greeted by the usual suspects: Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, but you will also see stands upon stands of caganers. The most traditional caganer is the one wearing his red cap, however, now you can see anyone from the Pope to Obama caught in a compromising position (and no, not the same one Clinton was caught in). Literally, the figurines are all crapping and a pile of poo behind them is  included on the figurine.

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It could be said that the Catalans have a bit of an obsession with crap. The most famous (or nowadays infamous) avenue in Barcelona, the Ramblas is the riverbed of the Cagallel, literally stream of shit, in reference to the sewer that it once was. And as Robert Hughes mentions in his book on Barcelona, ‘the pleasures of a good crap are considered in Catalunya on a level with those of a good meal; “Menjar be i cagar fort/I no tingues por de la mort”, goes the folk saying: “Eat well, shit strongly, and you will have no fear of death”. Quite.

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