In order to experience a country, city or region, it is often required to venture forth, leave your temporary abode and wade into the whirlpool, mix with the locals, and in doing so, learn something. This was certainly the case in Reykjavik, where the scent of sulfur in the air tempted one to strap on the backpack, grab the toddler and run out into the streets saying, “Hey, I’ve arrived, time to get on with your everyday lives and pause just long enough to tell me all about it.” England was certainly structured in this way, however nice our Wiltshire farm-house actually was (and it was wonderful) it was essential to get out, mix with the locals and witness the “going on” to feel that you had experienced something of typical English life. Barcelona, and Spain for that matter, does not give off this impression. In fact, I’m not sure that it would be necessary for me to roam further than our balcony in order to experience the wonder, the complexity, the marvel that is Spanish (sorry Catalunyaian) life. Which is not to say that everything to do with Spain can be deducted from a seat above the street, it’s just that there is so much to digest from this vantage point that I don’t know where to start. So, I guess the best course of action is just to begin.
In America, our home is a retreat from the life that goes on around us. In Barcelona (at least in the neighborhood in which we chose to stay) people live life with boundaries between these two spheres (the “home” and “the public life”) significantly diminished. I expect that it is this way in most countries. Perhaps it is only in those that have developed the “net worth” to separate ourselves from everyone else that are now missing out. For example, our neighbor is a senior citizen that is fond of greeting each morning virtually naked, save only for a towel loosely wrapped round his waist. As he stands there, completing sun salutations and shooting the shit with another neighbor in the opposite balcony, Lily points and says, “that man noodie.” Such is the joys of travelling with a toddler. Thank God that he doesn’t understand the finer points of the two-year-old vernacular.
Narrow streets rapidly make neighbors family, as they become the people who see you clad in pajamas in early morning, witness your discussions, arguments, cooking, lounging and whatever else people might do in their living space on a daily basis. Washing hangs from small lines attached to each apartment’s balcony negating each occupant’s attempt to hide their choice of underwear (the young fella across the way prefers the small tight bikini brief). How could it be avoided when neighbors across the street are so close that if I held on long enough, I could summon a stream of pee with enough force to nail the center of their TV screen. Closed curtains might limit the intrusion, however most people in this neighborhood must lack the funds to purchase such a luxury and so submit to open windows and a closer relationship with those around them.
Evening brings a more sustained cacophony as the Spanish submit to that strange tradition (that boggles the rest of the modern world) and go out to eat their evening meal after 10pm. Dishes clanking in sinks, food cooking; the aromas of fish, grilled meat and steaming vegetables waft gently up to our balcony and tempt me to abandon the simple attempt that Ash and I made of dinner and run down to gorge myself on tapas of every imaginable permutation. Voices encompass everything; people chatting, arguing, debating, and instructing all spill up from the street below. We have made more than one attempt to capture this on film, trying to surreptitiously watch a man pleading with his lady-friend for just one more night of ecstasy, but both our limited photographic skill and respect failed us.
TV’s and radio noises trickle across the narrow street and cause us to wonder, “ What the hell are they watching over there?” Perhaps it is Spain’s version of “America’s Got Talent” or “Master Chef”. Whatever the program, I’m sure it is bringing enjoyment not only to those in the apartment but all others watching from the balconies surrounding them. Dogs bark and their owners take them for their evening walks. Vespas whine as people return from work. Cars grumble as their drivers struggle to maneuver them through the narrow avenues, and people walk; on the sidewalk, in the streets, where ever they can without getting run over by vehicles of every sort.
I think that sometimes we can exist in an environment that shields us from humanity. Blocking out everything else and creating a little shell that makes us feel safe, secure and separated from everyone else. In Barcelonetta there is no way to accomplish this. If we had stayed in a hotel, with room service, on demand TV and a mini-bar we would have missed everything; the debate between the old naked man next door and the young fella over the way, the lady on the street and her friend on the first floor who was upset about…. something, I don’t really know as I don’t speak Spanish. We would have missed the smells of the tapas bars, restaurants and cafes that do a lively trade in the street below. We would have missed the opportunity to wander the market each morning, looking at what is good and based on that, deciding what to have for dinner. We would have missed the chance to live with all this humanity surrounding us, bringing Spanish life right up to our balcony, meaning that with a few glasses of red wine, Marcus is a very happy boy.