Friday, May 15, 2009

I lived in Barcelona once. I left behind a job and apartment in Washington, and with the money I'd gotten from my ex for the house we'd owned together in Dupont Circle, I took an eight-month vacation, travelling here and there for nearly two months - Amsterdam and Paris, London and Berlin, Vienna and Budapest and Lucca, a week or so in each place. I ended up in Barcelona, staying for six months.

This was in the day of the peseta, and Barcelona was cheap. You could buy two kilos of tomatoes, two kilos of oranges, a couple onions, a dozen eggs and a wedge of cheese for about $2.50. I rented a room in the Eixample Dret not far from the Sagrada Familia, paying about $100 a month to Edu, a crazy Argentinian, who became my closest friend.

It was the strangest time of my adult life, those six months in Barcelona.

I loved it and loathed it, it was a trial to be so outside the culture and so alone and so purposeless. But Barcelona has endless charms that I couldn't help but be taken by. There is no place I feel stronger about. It is tied to the great crux of my life - meeting the husband and leaving behind the States.

When the husband and I returned last week for the first time in ten years, it all came rushing back: the smells, the light, the special tiles of the sidewalks, the cutoff corners at every intersection, the plane trees, the peculiar reticence of Barcelonans, the late dinners and later dancing, the alternately sluggish and hectic pulse of the place.

I missed terribly my friend Edu, who died nearly seven years ago. I couldn't even admit to myself that I was sad and a bit prickly and feeling very vulnerable and raw, as if I had suddenly reverted to the self I was when I lived there, on my long vacation.

Funny how a place can turn a crank in one's heart, ratcheting everything up, notch by notch by notch.

Stranger still, none of this was apparent until I sat here to write it all down.

The Swedish verb for the day is att återkomma. It means to return.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Han var en otroligt skön och underbar människa. Jag kände honom inte alls lika väl som du, men under den veckan jag spenderade i Barcelona I learned to love and miss him.
puss
tutti

Eva said...

I was only in Barcelona a few days, but they were indelible. I remember running through the rain late at night through ancient streets traveling between smoky clubs; that big thermometer; La Rambla...I'd love to go back.

Stefan said...

Yes, the smell! Part moped fumes, part perfume, part seabreeze.

And the sounds — the scratchings of aluminium chairs against pavement, the rustling of the wind in the trees of Placa del Pi, the buzz of street perfomances on the Ramblas... God I love Barcelona.

Loxias said...

Ah, Barcelona: the city, the mentality.

Anonymous said...

Hah! Some places are like that. I ran away from home (Minnesota) as a teenager, and bummed all around Arizona for a year or two. I don't know what it is about AZ, but it really made me lose my mind a little bit, and when I go back, I kind of lose my mind a little bit all over again. Not that it's really that mind-boggling there; I met plenty of glassy-eyed teenagers during my stay, bored to tears with the place. It think it's just the particular interaction between my own personality and the culture there that does it.

Heathar said...

While I haven't made it to Barcelona yet, it's on my list of top places to get to eventually. Reading this entry brought back a flood of emotions for me, and while they're obviously very different places, I can honestly say I know exactly how you felt there. I felt the same way during my six month stay in Edinburgh this past year. While the culture there is much more States-similar than Barcelona, that feeling of being an outsider was still very present. I fell in love with the city, though, and I completely checked out of the US mentally. Met my girlfriend for the first time during that stay and flew to Sweden for extended visits twice, and decided to make my life there if possible. Still, Edinburgh will always be my first, and I really couldn't have asked for a better city to start to find out who I am. Love the blog, haven't commented before but it's been a real joy to read. It's comforting to know that a fellow Illinois native has done so well for himself in moving to Sweden.

Elizabeth said...

Thank you for your very sweet evocation of place -- just enough detail, just enough memory -- it makes us all fill in the details for the place that was our own personal Barcelona. Lovely, lovely post.

leesean said...

Your post makes me nostalgic. I was an exchange student in Barcelona from fall 2000 to spring 2001. I was young, carefree, and partied a lot. I didn't learn as much Spanish/Catalan as I should have, but I made a couple lasting friendships and had some pretty incredible times. I also remember the pre-Euro peseta days when everything was cheap for us Americans. I went back to BCN once in 2001, but haven't been back since. I think I need to soon.

sarah said...

I live in Bcn and what you say is ever so true... I've hacked it out here the past three and half years and both love and hate it but can't imagine ever leaving... hotel califonia syntdrom indeed!

Nanc Twop said...

Ah, now I understand your two states of mind when you think of Barcelona. Lots of unique memories for you there. Thanks for sharing.

Clark said...

I have yet to go to Barcelona and yet it calls me. But Lucca! What a charming little Tuscan city, it is so heartwarming to see the name written. I spent 4 months living in Florence and I must say that though the people were tough exterior, stone like that of the buildings, it was hard not to fall in love with such a city. I yearn to go back not just to Florence but to Europe in general. Once I get my Irish dual citizenship, it's on! I am carving a nook out and living somewhere on the continent!

 


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