Everything here seems random/spontaneous, yet deliberate and well-planned. It confuses me. And it’s beautiful and old, yet functional, efficient, and cutting edge. How can a place be like this?!
Barcelona is known for its architecture, which makes me think of historic buildings to sightsee—in other words, boring. But there isn’t just that; the entire city is an eclectic jumble—or in more open areas, spread—of every building here. Every store has a different height, width, depth, dimension. On one block there might be a shoe store with an inset, outdoor foyer on a wooden floor. Next to it might be a nouveau electronics store that runs for a quarter of the block and is deep, with tall ceilings. Leading up to its entrance, a narrow passageway lined by a wall of lockers where you have to lock in your purse before going in. Next to that a short, perfect-square candy store with no walls or doors facing the street. Next, a glass doorway to a tiny pharmacy whose short, pastel purple painted wall runs diagonally to the previous store’s. Inside are small, shallow shelves of assorted remedies and a small counter framing a bleach-blonde, eyeglassed, earringed woman peering over a newspaper. Next, a butchery with a curved back wall and a glass wall/doors running the short width of the store. Hoofed feet attached to mystery animals’ legs hang from the low ceiling.
It’s hard to tell at street level, without looking up, which stores are part of the same buildings. Above all the stores are layers of balconies with lush potted plants. The windows behind them are usually tall and narrow, some with tall wooden folding panels, some sheltered from today’s rain by green nylon awnings. Down below, on some streets the sidewalks are four times as wide as I’m used to and jut out onto the street at random points; sometimes angled, sometimes rounded. But there’s always a method to the madness—it creates perfectly measured inlets for trash and recycling receptacles, or motorcycle parking, or drop-off points for trucks. In parts it seems so crowded—but there’s somehow always just enough room.
Squared stone tiles cover the sidewalks and look charming puddled with rain. On some sidewalks there are huge bowls of potted palm plants, so big that I and a friend or two could sit in them if they were empty. If you walk to a more open area the streets are four lanes wide in each direction, split down the middle by a sidewalk, just as wide as its street counterpart, running the length, and dotted with newspaper stands and trees poking out of dirt squares. The large streets can split off into any direction—diagonal or circular, for instance—to make room for a triangular patch of sidewalk with motorcycle parking or a stone statue or a really old and pretty faucet. I wanted to try one to see if it worked, but I’m always afraid there are things that aren’t allowed and some fiery Spaniard will yell at me if I make a wrong move! The streets are run by mini trucks, squished vans, familiar Hondas, pedestrians stealing an out-of-turn cross, and motorcycles who hop onto the sidewalks if it suits them. Turn a corner, and suddenly streets end, and there are only narrow sidewalks, walled in by tall apartment-building-topped-mini stores mushed in next to each other.
The people walk around in beautiful, yet reasonable (like the city!) boots and sneakers, and rarely make eye contact with other passersby. I took this as aloofness at first, but my 30-year old friends from the restaurant last night told me everyone’s just really shy. It actually makes sense, because even though most people aren’t quick to smile when I ask questions, I still tend to get a “kind” vibe. Plus, old men who don’t have as many reservations are playful. On his way out of the café I’m in, a man stopped by my shoulder to pretend to read what I was writing and nodded fake thoughtfully, which made me laugh. A man at the restaurant last night suggested that I come sit on his lap, which made the group I was sitting with tell me that I was sitting with the right table.
I’m pretty sure I look worryingly tense to all the people in this city. I also think I look pretty bald, since I don’t have flowing, highlighted tresses spilling onto my coat or tangled in big earrings.
I visited my school today for the first time and it is the most exquisite thing I’ve ever seen. From the street, it runs a really long block and is the tallest, widest, grandest, possibly oldest, and definitely stateliest stone building around. On each end (though you can’t see both ends at the same time), there are assorted huge trees, which are tropical and luscious, on a platformed grassy courtyard behind a tall iron gate. There are a few entrances to the school, the main one being a huge archway to an atrium that has doors on either of its wide sides, but leads to a sizeable courtyard straight ahead. If you keep walking straight ahead, you pass more high-ceilinged atriums and more courtyards, each with a different pond or fountain and collection of assorted breeds of plants and trees. One courtyard has perfect (and tall!) orange trees. Each courtyard is bordered with outdoor hallways where intimidating groups of Spanish students chat loudly. There are also many huge benches where less intimidating students sketch the courtyard quietly. If you look up, you can see the thick stone railings containing the outdoor hallways on the level far above. Inside the actual building, whose different wings are separated by these courtyards, each room and hallway looks different, but all covered with higher ceilings than I’ve ever been under (except in old churches) which catch and throw the noises of students in other hallways and rooms. When a hallway isn’t outside, it’s lined by huge, stately and beautiful windows, a different style for each place, that give a view to the courtyards.
Behind the school exists what I decided to call the secret garden. There are wide and narrow mossy stone paths outlining plant beds and ponds which contain drifting bright-orange fish who are being carefully monitored by random cats leaning their calculating noses over the sides. Yes, I said random cats!! On the campus! Does the school own them or are they strays? I like to imagine that they go home with the dean every night. Some cats slink up assorted stone steps or into palmy bushes when they see me. The courtyard has a few different levels, some only accessible from certain paths. Parts of the courtyard are sectioned off by leaning trees and there are various benches, hidden and not hidden, where I guess students come to pass their breaks with each other on nice days. The whole place seems private, cozy, and whimsical enough to be miles away from the city outside. By the way, outside the school there is a street stand where this hip lady sells… chestnuts and sweet potatoes(???).
In the student paper I picked up:
Front page—a picture of used condom wrappers on the ground. Why?--I couldn’t understand the article to figure it out.
An article about a new soap that attempts to “capture the day-to-day pleasures and troubles of homosexuals in Barcelona.”
A picture of a completely naked woman running on the beach, carrying an inflatable raft.
A drawing of a jaded woman whose cigarette smoke cloud says, “next thing you know, they’ll be banning orgasms.”
They are so scandalous here!!!!!
Importantly, though, there are also listings of concerts and shows going on in Barcelona, which means I’m going somewhere cool tonight!
The café I’m in now is loudly playing soulful Spanish pop, but the old man at the counter doesn’t seem to like it, since he brought his own radio and is singing/yelling along loudly with it and banging on the counter to the beat, least to anybody’s attention but my own. I’m finally leaving the café after sitting here for two-ish hours. I had to wait for someone to leave (a rare sight here, apparently) to figure out what I do with my used coffee cup.