“Where you goin’?”
Little did I know when I answered this question in song, that I would actually go to that city. April, the flight attendant I played in a performance of the Sondheim musical, Company, many years ago, was getting out of bed after spending the night with the play’s main character, Bobby. Bobby asks April (me) where she was going, and began a song about the desire for company versus the equal need to be free.
I sang that word “Barcelona” over and over as it recurs in the lyrics and the song itself many times during rehearsal and performances. It always sounded so romantic, so distant, so beautiful. The word itself has a certain melody in it. Perhaps that’s why Sondheim chose it as April’s intended destination that day.
April was a traveler. She seemed to like her freedom. So Barcelona simmered for years subconsciously as a song of freedom and escape, some distant dream of waking in the morning and taking on a new adventure because it was what had to be done. My opportunity to travel to Barcelona took many years to come, but when it did, the appeal of this unknown city was like a shiny gem dangling before me, beckoning me to touch that glittering mystery and see what made it so alluring in my thoughts, an escape from the ordinary.
And now I think I should have walked the streets of Barcelona twenty years ago, around the time I was singing that song; when I was that young waif who loved to wander alone and to feel light and lovely and almost aggressively free. I might have been a more natural fit for Barcelona in those days because I didn’t question that lively abandon and would have fallen more naturally in step with it, rather than, as I did later, being in awe of it, wishful and wistful.
It didn’t take long upon arriving in Barcelona to feel the call to be free and, more precisely, carefree, and wander, watch, drink, dine, explore, and start that all in the (leisurely late) morning and continue it until the late night. The awareness of this spirit in Barcelona was almost heart-breaking in that it seemed to be everything I wished for but didn’t have and couldn’t, really, in the United States of Work and Worry.
Barcelona was such a temptation to me because it described in animated detail the life my rebel soul always really wanted and was to chicken to pursue.
Las Ramblas was the place. It was the lively street, a lovely walk from the center of the city down through a wide median to the ocean. Sure, it was an area that tourist flocked (who could blame them!), but that didn’t matter to me. To be one with the city, it seemed like I should have tried to discover some secret known only to the locals. But, not only did I not have the time on my short visit, I was so enthralled with being in the throes of that pulsing area, that I was content to be a part of it, tourists and all. I loved that it was alive with city life, but still completely manageable. The Ramblas was a walker’s median, where one could stroll easily, part of the city but not threatened at all by traffic and confusion. You were just right there where the action was—restaurants, shopping kiosks, and lively spirits—visitors and locals in a comfortable mixture; everyone , seemingly, enjoying the good life.
Our first day in Barcelona, jetlagged beyond belief, we dragged ourselves down that street, exhausted but needing the abundant sunlight and eager to see some of the city. We ambled more than rambled, the light breeze moved faster than we did, but we managed somehow to waft into a courtyard off the Ramblas. There were beautiful little sites a few steps off the main walkway if you took the time to explore—a quaint street here, a market full of the most beautiful and COLORFUL fresh fruits and vegetables and candies and unknown delicacies, there.
The courtyard where we finally collapsed was heavenly. It looked like a set from a period drama. The buildings enclosing it were all beautiful to look at and the foliage and scents and that enriching sunlight and quiet breezes just drew us in. We sat on the edge of a fountain, and we all began to nod off, catching each other before one of us toppled in. We were so pleasantly drowsy not only with jetlag, but with the natural lullaby of this courtyard, so close to the burgeoning street, and yet so far. I felt at peace with all life. Yes, maybe I was a little buzzed from weariness and sunshine, but that feeling of sweetness did not leave even after I was fully rested and starting the next day.
The tapas life suits me. If the culture existed in the US and in the same manner as it does in Barcelona, I would feel a lot less ready to bolt this country for the continent. Small meals, lingering walks, more small meals, a drink here, shopping there (oh, heaven!) and more tapas, maybe dessert, some music, and sleep, rinse, and repeat!
The language was incomprehensible to me. Catalan is NOT Spanish and I’m not sure what it is. The letters on the signage made no sense at all. But the language of the days was easy to learn. Too easy. I could have rambled the Ramblas without a purpose except to ramble for months. Literally.
But alas, the trip was not a long one. The playful me was awakened, teased, pleased, and left in a state of sensory joy and desire for more. But another part of me, the inner core of my being, was about to get a treasure to beat the pleasures of the streets.
Sagrada Familia. This great cathedral designed by Antonio Gaudi (whose influence can be seen all around Barcelona) made my soul cry “Hallelujah” followed by a silent sigh, “Amen.”
But, you’ll have to wait for my next installment to read about that!