Photo by Michaela Xydi
Barcelona in Spring
My first visit to Barcelona was in springtime. I was riding through with a friend, on our way from Oviedo to Granada to see the famous Semana Santa processions and we planned a detour through Barcelona on our way south. The city was gearing up for the Olympics and was continually in the spotlight. A large, civil renewal project was underway, as happens when a city gets the games. People were talking about Barcelona. Though that wasn’t my reason for wanting to come here.
Serendipity played a role in our travels. Two weeks before leaving, I met a man in Oviedo while scalping tickets to see Paco de Lucía at the Campaomor Theatre. I got lucky, with an orchestra seat, centre stage. After the concert, he and I met up in the lobby. He pretended not to speak English though his English was quite good, and with the best Spanglish I could chop together I told him about my plans to visit Barcelona and Granada. He wrote his phone number and address on a scrap of card and invited my friend (who he had yet to meet) and I to stay with him when we arrived. “Si no estoy en casa cuando lleguéis, os dejaré la llave en el restaurante chino,” he said. I wondered at my good fortune at having met someone who would leave his house-key in a Chinese restaurant for a couple of strangers.
We couldn’t have done better if we had fallen in with the mayor. My new friend, Jordi, was the bohemian son from a well-to-do family. He was intelligent, well educated, and humorous. Like many people who I would come to know here, he was progressive thinking and curious about foreign people and new ideas. He welcomed us to the point that we didn’t want to leave, escorting us around the city as if we were George Clooney and the Chinese ambassador. He brought us to the Raval after dark. This was before the town council renovations had worked its way to the neighborhood, before the MACBA was built and the trendy bars opened, when transexual prostitutes outnumbered college students on the streets at night. It was wonderful! So much so, my travelling companion and I didn’t want to leave.
Jordi took us down Les Rambles, unmistakable then as now, past the human statues, and past stalls that in those days sold snakes and rabbits, turtles and doves. I fell in love with the Plaça Catalunya as we sat at the terrace of the old Café Zurich. When we stopped at La Font de Les Canalletes, Jordi insisted we take a sip of water. It is said that anyone who drinks from this particular fountain is guarenteed to return to Barcelona one day. All very charming, I thought, as I fell to the pressure to drink. But to my earlier, hypocondriacal self, a public fountain was equivilant to a public bath, so I kept my mouth clenched, only letting the smallest molecules of moisture dribble past my lips. “You will only come back for 15 minutes,” Jordi laughed.
That was more than twenty springs ago. I moved to Barcelona soon after that first visit. I have watched its seasons turn, been part of this wonderful city as it’s gone through a modern Renaissance. Since the Olympics, each neighbourhood experienced a transformation. Immigration has changed the face of the city as much as urban planning of the previous two decades had done. And Barcelona has responded to these modern upheavels with a progressive eye towards the future. For me, Barcelona will forever be represented as Springtime, a young woman with a band of daisies and honeysuckle in her hair. She is made of the soft pastel colours I associate with the season. With the hopefullness, despite the difficulties of the time, of youth and prosperity and growth. Perhaps that is what keeps bringing people here, year after year.
I used to have a dream, many years before ever coming to the city. I was flying around the spires of a skyscraper. Not an ordinary tower, something else, something mystical. Like a fountain that quenches more than a physical thirst, this tower was like a beacon, reminding me of something that was still to come. Everything about that first trip was sprinkled with that promise.
For me, what brought me here is what kept me here. Because I believe in magic, the magic of a fountain, the magic of dreams. The magic this beautiful city.
Enjoy your visit. And come back, soon.