I had become emotionally paralyzed by several colliding events from the last 18 months or so when I decided to break the vicious cycle by spontaneously taking a trip to Barcelona. As is also true for many of you, Trump's election (among many other things) has been a harsh wake-up call and a deep dive into insecurity and sadness. These feelings have stirred in me an immense urge to activate and search for radical changes. The direct daily threats and hatred towards the marginalized, their allies, and even the disdain towards those whose bigotry is fueled by ignorance and false promises, is just overbearing. This helplessness, sense of exploitation and lack of options for future growth has led me to decide to close a chapter and start a new one.
As an artist, but overall as a person eager to keep growing, I feel it's time to take a break and explore another place, another culture; find a new perspective. So I've embarked on a quest to find this place that can benefit my current circumstances by doing some research and traveling.
In this particular post you'll find my thoughts on a generalized Barcelona, since one would need a lot more than 8 days to really get to know such a historically mobilized city. So, here goes nothing. This is just another pretty blog post about yet another trivialized touristic wonderland. I hope you enjoy the photos.
The People: before going to Barcelona, I read several blog posts about other travelers' experiences and the thoughts of people with the intention of starting a new life there. Most, if not all, of these posts categorized "locals" as "rude". This generalization caught my attention, and I became hyper-aware and a little cautious when interacting with people in Barcelona. In my opinion, Catalans are to the point, honest, practical individuals willing to go the extra mile if you treat them with the courtesy they deserve. All my interactions with the locals were very pleasant, and for those bloggers who say that "NO ONE speaks English in Barcelona," I'm still a little confused about that statement. I actually had a hard time avoiding speaking in English, since most locals wouldn't believe me I spoke Spanish! Some of the "Turkish" food joints and neighborhood convenience stores are actually run by Pakistani people, who always seemed lively and eager to help you out. Yes, most of them don't speak English, but why would they? When tourists refer to locals as "rude," they are failing to unpack Barcelona's historical identity and the very relevant present situation. Barcelona is of course a city of born Barceloneses and Catalans, put it is also a city of refugees and all sorts of immigrants. Its eclectic population is diverse in cultures, each one very different from the other and from the White-American one.
So, if you are looking to find the forced, dishonest, capitalistic, Anglo-American courtesy of Starbucks, most of Barcelona is not for you. And honestly, if you want the American experience everywhere you go, why leave the US at all. But if you must, because you can, fear no more, there will always be a few Starbucks with indoctrinated smiley faces waiting just for you.
disclaimer: I decided not to share portraits depicting the locals. I feel uncomfortable exploiting other people's image without consent or fair compensation. We tend to racially and culturally fetishize those who seem "exotic" to us, so I don't think showing photos of brown children playing fútbol in the streets will do anyone any good.
Also, remember it is a fallacy to think photographs are factual. All the photographs you see in this post are a construct of my perception. They are made to fit a specific narrative. They are also digitally manipulated to match a personal sentiment.
The Food: I went for the Spanish tapas and stayed for the kebab dürüms, crepes, arepas, empanadas, arroz chaufa, french fries... the food here is as eclectic as its residents, and veeery affordable compared to Boston (where I live, which might not be a relevant reference since everything is so fucking expensive here.) Staying in the neighborhood of El Raval - which is located in the old city and it's home to many immigrants - there's no need to venture too far to find cafés, restaurants, bakeries, tapas bars, ice cream shops, markets, you name it. Since the area is both residential and commercial you can come down from your apartment to grab a beer, a coffee or a bite. This modality maintains the whole city (or what we saw, which was most of it) alive and full of people at all times.
Yes, you will find jamón serrano/jamón iberico and embotits pretty much everywhere you go and be mesmerized by the hundreds of dangling patas hanging from the ceilings, but you will also find fresh fruit, produce, fish and more in farmers markets around the city and in your local neighborhood stores. There are plenty of vegan restaurant options, smoothies and healthy-bowl joints, and the grand majority of food establishments even have allergen charts on their menus for your convenience! In conclusion, if you make an effort to explore your surroundings, you will find the right food option for you that can actually fit your budget. And everything is delicious.
The Art: the whole city itself is a huge art collage. Yes, we already know about its famous architecture and architectural landmarks, but what really gives this city character and made it memorable for me, is the old city's urban-art covered walls. As you stroll down the tiny streets of El Gótico, the vibrant colors of graffiti sneak out of the penumbra to make some kind of political statement or just adorn a hip shop's façade.
Barcelona is not only a historical art city, but it has maintained it's relevance in the global contemporary art and cultural scenes by integrating these aspects into its citizens' daily lives. There is a huge offering of events throughout the year, and most of them are free and held in public places. If you're in Barcelona right now or are planning to visit during the summer here are some events you should attend: Eventos en Barcelona. Coffee shops, books stores and other organizations like museums and cultural centers also host exhibitions, concerts and readings on a daily/weekly basis, and entrance fees are very affordable.
If you are a tourist, keep in mind you are probably not paying any taxes that would be otherwise funding the expenses of these events. So be mindful and behave! Don't litter or cause unnecessary wear and tear, and donate a couple of euros if there's a tip jar or donation box.
The Vibe: Barcelona is a high energy city. I will admit I was overwhelmed at first trying to explore the neighborhoods while what it felt like rafting through rapids made out of people, cars, bikes, skateboards and scooters. The streets in the old city are tiny and a hybrid of pedestrian and vehicular use. You will be walking down a street packed with people when the crowd starts dispersing to let a truck pass by. Scooters and bikes zigzag and pass right by you at what seem like dangerous speeds when suddenly you fall into this river of tourists at La Rambla. Locals and visitors all walk together at very different paces in what seems like absolute chaos, and you feel like you're either going to get hit by something or yelled by someone. But somehow it works. After a couple of days you learn the drill and start feeling a bit more confident in a lot of ways.
Hypnotized by the endless and beautiful options of pastries, you go into a bakery and the staff expects you to know what you need immediately (which is very reasonable.) You feel a bit inadequate because you have no idea how things work. Do I wait to be seated? Do I order first? Do I pay before I get my food? Every establishment is a little different, so just ask politely! They'll realize it's your first time in there and provide you with instructions. As I mentioned before, people are to the point and their service has limits. They will not come to you unless you get their attention. This is not being rude. These are cultural customs. So, get in, order, eat, pay, use the facilities if you must and get out.
noun: custom; plural noun: customs
1. a traditional and widely accepted way of behaving or doing something that is specific to a particular society, place, or time.
The only 2 hours of silence in my neighborhood were between 4am and 6am, and sound carries through the streets in a way so extraordinary you can hear your neighbors chew on their dinners. There is an eternal chatter that becomes part your permanent environment, but it becomes white noise at some point. Like the buzzing sound of a refrigerator or an A/C. I can imagine some of the newer neighborhoods can be quieter and a bit more familiar in the American way, but in general, this city is alive at all times.
Overall, I've come to believe that Barcelona's inhabitants don't really know how to make small talk (not like they should.) I felt neighborly watching people stop on the streets to greet and catch up with their acquaintances, kids roam free and play ball at the plazas, and friends and couples passionately argue on the streets like they were in the intimacy of their own homes. If you eaves-drop on the conversation next to you at a bar (which is very easy to do due to the lack of prudence,) you'll hear real conversations about love, sex and politics. And if someone stands out from the crowd because of their friendliness they're most likely Latinx.
After 5 days I felt at home. There was no need to fake a smile, no rush to wake up early because very few places open before 9am, and there was an heavy pressure to take it easy and enjoy life. I could keep going on with details and details about this fascinating city, but this post in already long enough. I hope there's a takeaway for you in all my rambling, and you keep tuning in for future features. ;)
Thanks for reading,