The window is open and the barest of sea breezes perfectly complements the warmth of the summer night.
My fiance is playing guitar and singing a few feet away, perched upon faintly purple sheets provided by Ines, the owner of this quaint and lovely apartment on Carrer Bilbao.
The sounds of conversation drift through the window. I peer over the edge and see tables filled with cervesas and tapas, the seats haphazardly placed near tables, like tiny metal pieces drawn to magnets.
The green leaves of a a tree approach our window ~ maybe in a few years someone will have to cut off a branch to keep the tree in check. When it rains or is especially breezy I can hear the whispering, “shhh-shhh” sounds the leaves make.
I can smell patatas bravas and my stomach rumbles, but although locals eat this late (it’s nearly midnight) my body would protest.
I don’t normally like cities ~ I am intimidated by them. Large numbers of people make me feel uncomfortable. Yet I have loved being here, getting lost in the Gothic Quarter, walking until my ankles hurt and I’m become deeply annoyed at the way my sandals slip off my feet just a tiny bit with every step, until my eyes feel heavy and I am tempted into a cafe by the scent of coffee and somewhat-gaudy photos of croissants pasted on the doors.
I love walks to the small fruit and vegetable markets. In the morning-time these are full of little old women wheeling cloth grocery carts behind them, sometimes with husbands in tow. I once saw an old woman accept her bag of fruit from a cashier ~ she was startled by the weight of the fruit and fumbled the bag, exclaiming. She caught the bag, though, and looked up at me. We both burst into laughter.
David and I have a favorite cafe called “Tio Bigotes” which means “uncle mustaches” and is probably named so because of the mustache-shaped empanadas sold there. The woman who works there helps me with my Spanish and I give her English words when she asks ~ between this and a heavy reliance on miming, we communicate. As soon as we walk in (after the customary “Que tal?” “Bien, y tu?” “Bien.”) she smiles and asks if I want the empanada con albahaca (with basil). She refills David’s zumo de naranja, bringing over more of the fresh-squeezed juice in a small metal pitcher without charging for the extra cup.
Rachel (my professor at Rollins College) and I have spent many of our mornings in Raval, a neighborhood only 20 minutes of Metro time away from our own barrio, which is Poblenou. Our approach to our research has been to introduce ourselves at organizations working with migrants and to ask if we can speak with people, and this has worked startlingly well. We have spent hours with the most incredible, passionate, motivated, and intelligent women as they explain their work to us and what life is like for immigrants in Barcelona.
Rachel and I found a Moroccan cafe and as part of our research (and ultimate happiness) we’ve returned there often for mint tea and Moroccan treats. We’ve been back for dinner with Rachel’s kids and David, and then again with wonderful people we met during our research and more of Rachel’s family. Raval has begun to feel comfortable and familiar in a way you can trust a place to feel once you have walked its streets a certain number of times.
Last weekend David and I took a two-hour trip to Montserrat, a mountain which hosts a basilica just outside of Barcelona. We chose to hike the mountain instead of take the small train up, and spent 1.5 hours of pure bliss sweating our way up the sun-soaked path. We sat and stared at the vastness of the city from the height of the basilica. We could see the Mediterranean Ocean in the distance, delineating where Barcelona city was and where, approximately, our neighborhood lay. We walked into the monastery and sat in the back pews, absorbing the feeling of time inlaid in the stones and stained glass.
I’ve spent time reading, finishing Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, and Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant. Each of these books deserve more than any explanation of their power that I can possibly offer. The first is perhaps about pain and friendship, the second about adaption, the third about what memory means for love. Each, actually, speaks of love. Now I’m reading A Thousand Splendid Suns by Hosseini, which I should have read a long time ago.
David and I have brought our instruments to the beach, walking only a few minutes through the deepening evening to a rocky promontory near Mar Bella. I watched waves crash against the stones and we sang.
The gelato is beyond description.
Ines, who is hosting our Airbnb apartment, has slowly become our friend. Last night she saw me and David struggling with peeling and cutting potatoes for our Spanish tortilla and took it upon herself to guide us through the process, helping us dice the vegetables, whisk the eggs, and make it all into the tortilla on medium-high heat in a saucepan. Her dog, Linda (who is the wifi’s namesake), stuck her nose in David’s lap as we ate, her liquid eyes staring, unblinking, at him as he ate.
Earlier today, David and I found a cafe with board games and, excited, walked in. We found two game to play and bought our drinks then sat down and opened the boxes. Everything was in Spanish, a problem we hadn’t thought about. We considered Google Translate, but each card had writing on it. I scanned the cafe’s shelves for Scrabble (a great go-to game for international game-playing locations) but no luck. It was absolutely hilarious. We ended up outside the cafe on those lovely benches I mentioned earlier, me reading and David resting with the breeze sending dried leaves floating our way.