It’s a Sunday afternoon and I am sitting on the metro. I am at the tail end of my daily 30 minute metro ride into the city, and as normal, trying to contain my shoulders and feet from moving around too much as I blare salsa music on my i-pod. An incredible Marc Anthony song comes on my shuffle and it is almost slightly painful holding back jumping out of my seat and doing a “shine.” Ok, definitely adding to Dominique’s Bucket List, “#27 Dance salsa to an entire Marc Anthony song on a moving train.” The speaker comes on, “Proxima Parada: Plaza Catalunia”…phew, it’s my stop, the suffering can end! I get off the metro and head up the escalators into Plaza Catalonia. I am headed in the general direction of the Picasso Museum and Santa Maria del Mar Cathedral (I told myself that it was time I started spending my weekends seeing some famous stuff…starting today!).
I am stopped at a red light, waiting for the walk sign to turn green, when a couple with a map approaches me. Their first question is (in English might I add), “Do you speak English?” They lack any strong accent (I could definitely rule out German, British, Canadian or Australian). Yup, definitely Americans. With a smile I reply, “yes, I speak English” and begin to examine their map and explain to them how to get to where they want to go (in my, what I thought to be, very obvious Californian accent). As they walk away, happy and content with my bit of direction, the guy turns back towards me and says, “Oh, by the way, you speak really good English!” and gives me this sort of “ok” symbol with his hands. Kind of like when Españoles say the word “buenísima!” My first response is, of course, “Thank you!” but then it dawns on me, “Hey wait a minute…I am AMERICAN, what do you mean I speak good English?” As I play the scenario back in my head I start laughing. Either I am developing some strange sort of accent in English, or that guy is just an idiot (I am going with that latter). But, I am mostly laughing because I am happy…happy that, to people passing by me on the street I have that look of a “local” rather than an extrañjera. It dawns on me that during the last two weeks I have been stopped by a handful of people asking for directions (in both English and Spanish) and I have, for the most part, been able to point them in the general direction they need to go. This feels really good.
It’s a pleasant autumn day and the weather is beginning to change. I can smell the hint of rain looming over the city. Normally, I hate the rain but as it starts to sprinkle, it’s warm and the water feels refreshing on my face. I bring out my map again (my Au Pair family mapped out all the points of interest for me), I know the name of the street, I know the general direction, but the map is rather annoying and cumbersome, so I tuck it back in my purse. With “Just Around the River Bend” playing somewhere in the “feel good” part of my brain, I stroll through the winding, Gothic back-streets, letting “my heart guide me.” (Side Note: My absolute favorite Disney movie of all time is Pocahontas and yes, I plead guilty for watching it last week, by myself, with pop-corn and hot chocolate in hand, singing at the top of my lungs to every song. Although I would like to add that it was one of the few English movies I had to choose from in the house, it’s still always my first choice.) Within 15 minutes, I stop at a small intersection hoping I am somewhere close to where I need to be. I look up and there is the street, affectionately called “Caller de Princessa” (‘caller’ meaning ‘street’ in Catalan). I walk right past the Picasso Museum as the line is wrapped around the building – damn, I should have known the Museum is free after 3pm on Sundays.
But, I am not too particularly disappointed, as today, the streets of Barcelona are gleaming with beauty, and bustling with energy. Within a few minutes I happen upon Santa Maria del Mar Cathedral and gently run my hands across the nearly 8,000 year-old building. You just don’t see things like this in the USA. I soon come across a small hippie-tienda…complete with hookahs, friendship bracelets, Rastafarian pull-overs, hand-carved wooden earnings, and parachute pants, which remind me of a Pachuco zoot-suit from the 1930s. For 10 euro, I purchase a warm colored, orange and yellow shoulder bag, complete with a variety of handy pockets and compartments. As the rain starts to come down a bit heavier, I duck into a small tapas restaurant called Allium. Their menu is pretty simple and I go with their mezcla of tapas plate – pan con tomate,;chunk of fresh tuna; patatas bravas (fried potatoes with a spicy tomato sauce); fresh green and red tomatoes soaked in olive oil, salt and pepper; and grilled baby octopus (sorry, I couldn’t bring myself to eat that one). And, of course, I glass of vino tinto to compliment. I take out my current read, The Geography of Bliss, and attempt to read over the English R&B music playing over the speaker, but am pretty distracted by songs like Boyz II Men’s, “I’ll Make Love to You” and K-Ci & JoJo’s, “All My Life.” It takes me back to one of my 8th grade dances, dancing awkwardly-close with some boy who is a foot shorter than me. Puts a bit of a damper on the ambiance of the place. Why are Españoles so obsessed with American Rap/Pop/R&B? I don’t get it.
My waitress barely speaks English and I can see her struggling with two fairly unpleasant British women (hey, my English is really good, maybe I could work here!). Two young women, one British and the other Española, sit next to me and order two cups of tea. They begin speaking, going back and forth from English to Spanish…a real life intercambio de lenguas, sweet! I hone in on the Brit – wow, her Spanish is good…really good. I hope mine is that good in 12 months! I realize that they are both Yoga Instructors (go figure!). The Brit is in town for a week-long yoga conference and they are discussing techniques of teaching their classes – breathing exercises, flow positions, if there should be music playing during savasana etc. The Española explains how she has been invited to Vienna to teach a class, but discusses her hesitancy in having to teach the class in German, “German is such a harsh language for yoga. English and Spanish have so many more adjectives…I hope they don’t make me teach in German.” The Brit agrees.
My dinner is already 20 euro ($25 US dollars), almost 1/3 of my weekly income…and I have already splurged on one copa de vino tinto, but I am craving another. It’s getting dark and I should be heading back to the metro at some point, not to mention that the red wine served around here is always a bit cold which I hate (Españoles, red wine is NOT supposed to be cold!) But, I order another one. Eh, I’m 23, it’s the weekend and I am in Barcelona…no more explanation required. The Yogis next to me just ordered these amazing looking chocolate-brownie-things, with warm dark-chocolate lava sauce oozing out of the middle, with a scoop of vanilla gelato…ohhh, it looks so good. Oh, what the heck! “Lo mismo por favor,” I tell the waitress. This splurge is not helping my grand savings plan to buy a plane ticket to London or Paris in the next couple months. But, as the oooy-gooiness of dark-chocolate lava glides down my throat, with the cool contrast of the vanilla gelato, all those thoughts of “responsibility” and “planning” quickly leave my brain. The station finally changes to Spanish and one of my favorite songs comes on, “Looking for Paradise” by Alisha Keys and Alejandro Sanz. I am only slightly embarrassed as I lick the bowl with my finger and sing the lyrics to myself…”todo el mundo va buscando ese lugar…looking for paradise.”
My dull pencil is coming to an end (because I can’t find a damn mechanical pencil anywhere in this city, is that some kind of American luxury or something?) The rain has subsided and the sun has set over the quieting city. I look up at the clock…wow, I have been here for almost 3 hours! But nobody has pushed me to pay. In Barcelona, you pretty much have to beg for your check. In Castellano they have this great phrase, “hacer la sobremesa,” which in essence means to sit after dinner, drink wine or coffee and have endless conversation with friends and family as your dinner settles in your stomach. Although I was alone, the waiters and waitresses still respect my time to “hacer la sobremesa.”
I step out of the restaurant and the air is brisk, but the warmth of the wine keeps me cozy. Couples are out and about, holding hands, heading to romantic dinners, or just ending their weekends with time well-spent with their other-halves. I start thinking about my book, The Geography of Bliss, where a journalist travels to some of the happiest places on earth, attempting to find the answer to “happiness.” I think that happiness has a lot to do with time and space – about where you are in your life and what you are doing with it. Have you ever had that feeling that you are in exactly the right place, at exactly the right time, doing exactly what you want/should be doing? I think that’s happiness.