Friday, March 9, 2012

A little big city

Here we are in Barcelona. This sentence reminds me of my dad's voice at the beginning of all those videos shot in various towns around Europe when my brother and I were kids chattering and singing and bickering in the car until we got to "here we are".  I also think of my father now on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the morning when I walk down La Rambla and up Carrer de Ferran to my language class in Carrer d'Avinyo. I remember all his walks through Budapest on his way to learn Hungarian and the accompanying fascination, and I feel another small repetition of histories.

It's nearly a month since our first day here when we discovered these streets, wandering and wondering at the alleyways and boulevards. The famous La Rambla, with its huge trees that have seen so many years and changes. Of course, it is a complete tourist trap now but the street is nonetheless very helpful to me because it marks the middle of the centre of Barcelona, a place I can always seem to find my way back to through the myriad of winding cobblestones either side of it. Placa Reial, ringed with arches and restaurants and palm trees and centered on a fountain. And then, of course, Columbus (a huge statute pointing towards his discovery), the waterfront and the cafe/bar where we first ate tapas and where, a week later, a friend took us (one of those wonderful fateful coincidences).

Our first three days were spent in a similar enchanted state while we continued walking around the city and coming "home" to our shared apartment/hostel and our tiny sloping balcony with one euro bottles of wine and chorizo and gouda cheese. During this time we found the Catedral (google tells me it's officially "Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulalia"). Having earlier walked around outside Sagrada Familia, full of construction and hordes of people, this smaller work of Gaudi's blew us away with its eaves and inner courtyard, surrounded by buskers. The city is full of Gaudi, which for the most part seems to be a tourist gimmick, but we began to understand why when we visited Park Guell this week. This huge park (scene of a moment of seduction in the Spanish Apartment, for anyone who's seen it) is a landscape gardening masterpiece full of trees, bushes, cacti, colourful tile roofs, seats, walls, the lizard (one of his most famous pieces) and stone structures that look like messy collections of rocks but on closer inspection are intricate and patterned. The whole place offers fantastic views onto the city and, weirdly, (given that is it on a hill quite far above sea level) is sandy and dusty. In short, it's amazing.

(Actually, I have thought of the Spanish Apartment several times during the last few weeks and had my very own Spanish Apartment moment while we were riding the cable car and the same Chopin waltz as is played in the film was tinkling in the background. "Living the dream" has taken on a whole new meaning.)

"It's a small world after all" proved true again that first week when we met up with two Italian girls living in Barca who M had met in New York years ago. They took us to some bars where the "Spanish" (or, in this case, Italians) go, where the wine or vermouth is homemade and the place full. A few days later, we found a flat just around the corner from them. It's in El Raval, the "dangerous" (read: less touristy) part of town, where I am writing from now. To be completely honest, M found it while I was having a siesta one day, a practice which, we discovered after a while, is not actually practiced in Barcelona, although the smaller, owner-operated places do shut down for a few hours and reopen until late at night. We have found that after about 5pm is when the city comes alive and the streets and shops and restaurants fill with people, the football starts playing on the bar tv screens (with cries of "gol-ol-ol-ol-ooooool!!" from the commentators now and then, more regularly if Messi's playing) and the cops seems to multiply in numbers around town.

We have also found our own collection of bars where we have started to become regulars. Bar Muy Bueno, not far from where we live, where we get served a huge three course meal plus drink and coffee for 8.50 euros, if we make it there before 4pm (and, to our triumph, no English is spoken). Les Tapes, run by a Spanish husband and English wife, full of knick-knacks, a book exchange, and the most delicious tapas. Eating there is like going to the fridge at home for some leftovers where mum and dad make everything (including things you normally don't like, in my case eggplant) taste heavenly. And of course there is always football playing and the bar's very own collection of eclectic regulars also provide entertainment. (We were also treated to one of the owner's card tricks the other night, which I think probably officially marks our status as "regulars".) Among others ...

Our time here has been full of the excitement of being in a new city mixed with the ordinariness of "living" somewhere - walking up four flights of stairs with the supermarket shopping, hanging out the washing on a clotheshorse by the window, waiting for water to boil on the stovetop for the Nescafe ... (although, at this stage without having to go to work, a luxury as long as it is temporary). Doing the Stuff daily quiz, still ploughing through (savouring?) Janet Frame's Living in the Maniototo. I have rediscovered my (Hungarian?) passion for aqua con gas (ásványvíz or soda water) which M is gradually beginning to partake in, the empty bottles of which are currently full of flowers purchased on La Rambla one evening for the probably exorbitant sum of four euros (worth every cent despite the fact it would have bought me a pack of Lucky Azuls (Blues)). Old things turned new. Is it when these things become old again that we have "lived" somewhere or is that just a decision we make?

At any rate, we are currently very happy in our very own Spanish apartment and sending lots of love to everybody at home...hasta luego!


  1. Muy Bueno! Sounds choice. Makes the hum-drum a bit more bearable knowing the whanau are off adventuring. Keep it coming

  2. Lovely post Zsofi! Loved the photos. You write so well - a pleasure to read as always.