Thursday. We all took the metro home from class, jabbering about the weekend as only students can. We do not have classes on Fridays and this Monday, 12 October, is Fiesta Nacional de España. In the United States, this holiday is known as Columbus Day. We have a long weekend ahead of us. There is much to do here in Barcelona and we only have so much time. Our weekends are for exploring and getting lost. It is no wonder then that Thursdays hold a special place in our hearts.
We had a meeting with one of our site directors at 4:30 PM. She lived in the same neighborhood as us, and for the next couple of hours we would explore our neighborhood together and she would point out all of the cafés, restaurants, plazas, and markets that we needed to make ourselves familiar with. It was amazing all of the little things that had escaped my notice until this moment. We were shown cafés and markets that were awe inspiring. I must have walked right past most of them. A large part of my walk-abouts involve me wide-eyed and open-mouthed. With orifices agape, I struggle through crowds amazed at what is all around me. Amazed no doubt, at all of the big buildings and laundry that wave in the wind.
I am especially distracted by a good alleyway with laundry that waves in the wind. That is the most foreign to me and makes up almost all of my romantic visions of Spain.
The walk was lovely, and I was able to get off a few quick photos of all of the amazing things we were wandering past. I have never been especially good at knowing when to take a picture of something. I have not quite adapted to today’s obsession with capturing a moment with a photo. And I mean obsession in its softest definition. I understand the appeal in wanting to capture something beautiful, and to have it for quote-unquote forever.
I can never be certain that I will ever return to a particular fountain in a particular courtyard with that lock forever fastened to an iron ring with two sets of initials painstakingly painted onto it. And if I take a picture of that particular scene, I will forever be able to return to that moment in time. But that means that I have to first separate myself from that moment in order to take a picture. And I know that it takes but a second. And I know that once I have the photo, I can put my phone away and continue enjoying the scene. But taking a photo has never been my first impulse.
I have always been content to just look. To look and to smile at whatever it is that I am seeing. Much to the chagrin of my family and friends who want nothing more than to see and share in whatever it is that is making me stop, look, and smile. And it is for them that I am trying.
Our tour was complete and we returned to a favorite café of our tour guide to enjoy a cup of coffee and a mid-afternoon snack. The tables and chairs were outside scattered around pillars and tucked into little pockets of the brick-lined courtyard. Everything was bright and colorful and behind us on a shelf were old Spanish comics. To my left was a tunnel that ran from the plaza behind me to a street on the other side. An artist had taken and plastered hundreds of large black and white photos of people all over the tunnel. I assume that he took these photos of people that he found walking around the city of Barcelona. They were smiling, happy people and I was reminded of how beautiful we all are. An easy thing to forget in a large city such as Barcelona.
It is not that the people of Barcelona are cold or apathetic. They are quite the opposite in fact, in as far as my limited experience with the locals is concerned. But it is hard for even the most caring of people to escape the sort of apathy that a large city breeds. There is just too much going on for one person to notice it all. Simply walking down the street requires a level of concentration on my part that I have not experienced since the streets of Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay with a population size similar to that of Barcelona. There is so much stimuli in one city block in Barcelona that in order to get by you need to filter what it is that you are willing to perceive. And smiling and saying hello to every person that you pass is just not possible.
Growing up in Montana and Wyoming, it is culturally expected of you to smile and greet a passing stranger. I know there may be some who do not see that as a cultural expectation, but instead see it as a social nicety. And to that I respond; is not a social nicety a cultural expectation? I am sure that at some point I was taught by my mother or father to smile and greet a person whenever your paths may cross. Looking back on it now, I think nothing of it. It is just something that you do. I remember talking to an older gentleman once about Montana. He was a truck driver, and was not from Montana. He was from California if I remember correctly. He was driving through the hi-line of Montana on a delivery and happened to pass by a rancher out at pasture working. The rancher saw the truck and raised his hand to say hello. The man could not believe why in the world that rancher would have done that. He did not know that man, he said, and that man did not know him. I supposed then, he said, after continuing on passed the ranch and on up the road, that what he was doing was as simple as it looked; just saying hello to another human being.
That is not at all to say that those sorts of human connections do not happen here in Barcelona. This afternoon I was walking across town to a coffee shop near a bar that I like and on my way there I saw a father and his little boy on a scooter. His boy could not have been older than three, and he had on a blue helmet and was holding fast to the bottom of the scooter’s handlebars. He was sitting down on the deck of the scooter and his legs were splayed out in front of him. His father had one foot on the back of the scooter and he was pushing them along, weaving between the people walking on the sidewalk. Both the kid and the father were laughing and when I saw this I could not help but smile myself. The father looked up at me and saw my smile and smiled back at me in return.
While at the café with my roommates and the BarcelonaSAE representative, we played word games and riddles. And I do not think that I have laughed harder so far on this trip. There is nothing more fascinating than playing word games across languages.
By Cooper Malin
Oregon Community College
Check out our scavenger hunt from the student perspective! This is one of the many weekly cultural activities at Barcelona SAE that provides exploration of local culture beyond the classroom.