If you missed the word play, we just watched the 2009 Woody Allen film Vicky Cristina Barcelona last night on Netflix. Having experienced some of the main sights, especially the amazing architecture of Gaudi put the film in a new light for us. And the acting was enjoyable in its own right.
As I write this I am listening to Louis Armstrong, in honour of my dad, Harry and his birthday today. He would have been 80. I’m sad that Sam never got to meet my parents, and vice versa. I think that Sam would have been very nurturing to my mum, and would have had some great talks about literature, and he and my dad would have had fascinating conversations about jazz.
Back to Barcelona…..
Our apartment on Carrer de St. Antoni Maria Claret in De Gracia neighborhood
We are coming to the end of our month in Barcelona. It’s been an unusual month, because we spent most of it either sick or nursing each other back to health. Sam got a horrible flu within a few days of being here, and was really out of it, so much so that I ended taking him to the “Urgencia” (ER/A&E) department of a local hospital. (Driving in the taxi to “Hospital del Mar” was our first glance at the sea in Barcelona!) It definitely put a different perspective on this trip. The day after we went to the hospital to get him checked out, he was still really exhausted and had spent a very feverish night, and slept almost the whole morning on the couch….(we have a nice pull out couch here, which we have used every day since then to rest on as a bedroom can get pretty depressing). I was sitting by him as he awoke from his nap, and looked out of the window and saw three bright green birds perched on a nearby tree. I had binoculars to hand, and my excitement at seeing these (apparently very common here) monk parakeets roused Sam, and it felt at that moment that we were able to appreciate even briefly something beautiful outside ourselves. That felt comforting. It reminded us how the world gets a lot smaller for those who are sick, especially with long term, life diminishing and limiting illness.
We certainly felt an excess of gratitude as Sam started to heal. To put things in perspective, as Sam was in the throes of his illness and was intermittently checking his phone, I actually got pleasure from hearing him exclaim out loud about the latest of Trump’s tweets, because even for a few moments he was able to focus on something outside of the world of illness. Almost three weeks later he still has a bad cough (viral bronchitis) but it’s at a manageable level, and I’m making him rest a lot. I did get sick too, with some of the same exhaustion but none of the more alarming symptoms like fever, disorientation, and severe congestion.
Amazingly, in spite of the above, we have still been able to hit quite a few of the points of interest in Barcelona. We went on a four hour tour of the city in a mini bus, and got to see at least the outside of quite a few of the wonders of Antoni Gaudi, (1852-1926) the inspired and inspiring architect Catalan architect, whose masterpiece La Sagrada Familia, has been under construction since it was started in 1882. Since the exposure of the Barcelona Olympics, Gaudi and his works received much more international interest, which increased the amount of visits, and therefore the revenue with which to continue building this Temple. Because of a yearly income of about 50 million Euros, they anticipate that it will be finished in 2026, during the centenary of his death.
Pillars like trees
Lots more Gaudi at Park Guell
This month we have continued to experience the Spanish phenomenon of “fiesta”. Early in our stay we saw the Parade of “Three Kings” from our window. In Spain children write letters to the Three Kings not Santa, and leave food out for them and their camels as they do the rounds with their bundles of presents. The parade was very loud and boisterous, and families with children lined the streets to catch sweets in their hands and confetti in their hair thrown by the kings and their helpers. Everything pretty much stops for fiestas. After the parades are all over, the streets are really empty, and people either gather in restaurants in large family groups or entertain at home.
The week prior to my birthday we took a few days trip to San Sebastian, on the Bay of Biscay. It’s a vibrant city in Spanish Basque country, with beautiful beaches, amazing views, and a surfeit of the Basque style tapas called Pintxos. They are basically a piece of bread pierced with a skewer, and piled high with a variety of fish, meats, vegetables and cheeses. The way to eat in basque country is to go from bar to bar sampling a few of these delights with a drink or so. Our taste buds were still a bit compromised, but Sam was able to really relish the pintxos.
I enjoyed some succulent spelt bread, juices, kombucha and apple sauces from a little health food store that we found, run by “Twelve Tribes”, a Christian sect, who observe the Jewish Sabbath. We also discovered two high quality coffee shops, one, “ in an indoor market which was mostly a sit at the bar affair. “Old Town Coffee” was a new enterprise run by two coffee aficionados, one of whom was from Brazil originally. The other, Sakona, served delicious breakfasts, and one of their owners also came from Brazil. They also served something that I’ve only ever had once, but loved, a drink that I had in People’s Coffee (also run by a Christian community) while doing my daily charting, after a long home visit in Uptown (neighborhood in Chicago). It’s called Cascara, and is made of “ sun-dried and lightly toasted coffee cherries. It is rarely exported from the coffee-growing nations where it is produced, such as Bolivia (where it is known as “Sultana”)”(Wikipedia). It was a nice re-discovery for me and I bought a big bag of it for an amazing 5 Euros!
We had decided to stay an extra night in San Sebastian, and it was a good idea, because their biggest fiesta of the year started at midnight on our last day! It’s their San Sebastian fiesta, called La Tamborrada, and is 24 hours of non-stop drumming and marching by hundreds of bands, including, starting about breakfast time, the Children’s Tamborrada, with groups of kids dressed as the adults are, in baker’s outfits, soldiers uniforms, based on a combination of the narrative of both folklore and history. The parades and drumming are followed by a lot of drinking in cafes and bars and on the streets.
The siesta part of Spain takes a bit of getting used to. During siesta time (approximately 2-5pm) people shut up their shops (pulling down and locking up big iron grills usually covered in graffiti) and go home for a big lunch and a rest. Since Sam and I are late getting out, we always seemed to be arriving somewhere just prior to siesta! It speaks to how Spain is a very traditional country, and there is a lot to be said for that. Also, because of the generally mild temperatures, and the fact that people tend to live in very small apartments, so much of life here is lived outside here, in squares, outdoor cafes etc. Someone told us that the Spanish are lacking in a work ethic, but compared to the grueling hours and lack of vacation that we accept in our lives in the US, it sounds like the healthy work-life balance we talk about wistfully.
That person we met was an American expat on the Women’s sister march in Barcelona that we attended. There were about 1000 people present. It was an uplifting event, and I think everyone was stunned and pleased to see how many people came out to stand up for Women’s lives, and rights and to protest Trump’s inauguration. It was invigorating to watch the March in Washington and see coverage of the Sister marches all over the world.
After carrying our reading material with us for the last 7-8 months, and getting to the end of it, we decided to get E-readers, somewhat reluctantly. We deliberately didn’t go for Kindles, because of Amazon’s poor record especially with its lower paid/temporary workers, and because it has a stranglehold monopoly on the retail business. So after some research we bought Kobo readers, which have a huge library of e-books, and which is recommended by independent bookstores in the US. It was kind of like walking down the cereal aisle of a supermarket. Suddenly we had all this choice! Sort of overwhelming at first. We are really enjoying them, and as we hoped for they are as close to reading a book as possible, and there really are no distractions. So, any reading suggestions are welcome! To give you a taste of our reading interests, the first book I read was “My name is Lucy Barton” by Elizabeth Strout, and I am currently reading Alan Bennett’s diaries (“Keeping on Keeping on”), Jacqueline Winspear’s series about detective Maisie Dobbs that has a world war I theme, and Tara Brach’s book about Buddhism and addressing fear: “Radical Acceptance”. Sam spent a lot of time this year reading Don DeLillo (Libra and Underworld), in addition to E.L Doctorow, Graham Greene, and George Orwell. He started on his reader with Anne Tyler and is now reading Mrs. Dalloway, (never having read Virginia Woolf). I also read Libra, which is about Lee Harvey Oswald, which got us talking a lot about the Kennedy assassination, the political culture in Dallas at the time. (Sam of course being from Dallas, and he also did some training at Parkland hospital during medical school).
As we reach the end of our time here, let me tell about just two more occurrences that happened in the last week. Firstly, we attended a soccer game at FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium. It was a quarter final in the current league, and pretty dramatic with a final score of 5-3 win for Barcelona. It was fun walking to the game and seeing café tables piled high with filled baguettes for people to take to the game. They sell beer in the concessions areas, but there’s no selling of anything at your seat, which must decrease the amount of alcohol consumed. Anyway, it was a lot of fun, and felt like an authentically Catalan experience. We were really struck by how civilized the crowds were….a lot of singing and a bit of hissing, but no unruly behavior that we could see at all.
Secondly, and unfortunately we were also struck by something else….fake bird poop from somewhere on high, which pulled us right into a common but to us, unknown, Barcelona scam. As we were walking back from one of the more popular tourist areas, Passeig de Gracia, Sam felt something drop on his cap, and as we stopped to see the damage, which looked like a bird had it in for him, a youngish man with glasses and a beard appeared, and said “Oh my God, let me help you”. He seemed genuinely friendly and helpful, and we have had experiences with very friendly Spaniards, so we accepted his help. He had us step inside his (?) apartment building’s foyer, offered us some water and some tissue and then went off to get more. He came back and kept saying, “it’s your souvenir, I’m so sorry!” and turned us around and wiped us off, as by now, we realized that I had it on me too. All the time it was happening I had this doubt in my mind, like this is nice, but really strange. I think the unpleasantness of the “poop” had us a bit dazed. So when we were done getting cleaned up, the guy asked us to wipe some water off the floor and just disappeared. We did that and emerged. A little further on I told Sam, let me just check that my wallet’s in my backpack, and it was. He checked that he had his wallet and it was, so we were relieved and a little guilty that we were suspicious. It wasn’t until later that evening, that Sam went to get money out from a cash station that he discovered that both his debit and credit cards were gone. When we accessed our bank account, this very “friendly” guy had already spent thousands of dollars at places like Footlocker, and the Spanish lottery! Fortunately our bank, USAA were very helpful and we should get the money back. This was a reminder to us that in spite of the friendliness of Spaniards we shouldn’t get involved with people on the street who appear out of the blue, and that we need to restrict our interactions to people that we are engaging with like in a café/restaurant etc. Sad, though.
Strangely, I just came across a section in the Alan Bennett book, “Keeping on Keeping on” where he was the victim of a similar scam in Camden, only this time the offending substance was coffee “ice cream”, and apparently someone had followed him from the bank. This time the “good samaritans” were women, and A.B. described an almost identical feeling of gratitude that there are people who go out of their way to care for others, before having a sinking feeling and feeling for his money in his jacket…which of course was gone.
So, we are leaving Spain in two days. Sam particularly is sad about it. I’m looking forward to revisiting Amsterdam, but I do agree with him that the general level of friendliness and openness here has been really wonderful and heartwarming, more than any other place we have visited so far.