Barcelona Spain’s Two Faces


January in Barcelona has the ability to sidle its way innocuously into your life. There’s none of the wailing and gnashing of teeth that accompanies the new year’s investiture in Scotland, largely thanks to the absence of egregious cold that tends to dominate day-to-day existence back home.

Here, the three wise men disembark at the docks and gift the city its second Christmas, at the very point when most people in the UK are packing away their tinsel and baubles. The troop of colour and chaos is a welcome, uplifting start to the year, defying grey Catalan skies.

Procrastination thy name is January

Sant-Antoni-pet-blessingBut apart from that, and the Sant Antoni district’s Tres Tombs festival (where Inca got rather unceremoniously baptised this year, along with some pet chickens), January sees the city in subdued, hunkered-down mode. There’s a prevailing sense of inertia about the place, mirrored in my own inability to get my finger out. God forbid I write a blog post, while poems are just getting started before they skite to a stuttering halt.

“This is the city where fickle folk flock.

Which suited me fine – it was time
to up-end the tenable.”

Right, and then what happened?!

Resolve, goddammit

I’m not a fan of new year’s resolutions (if you really want to do something, shouldn’t you have done it already?), and as for ‘bucket list’, that seemingly mandatory feature of any blogger’s online arsenal, the least said the better. But I admit there is something about the disconcerting shoosh of January that lends itself to reflection.

It has occurred to me that in almost two years of living in Barcelona, I have never:

  • Climbed Mount Tibidabo (never mind hiked in its foothills)
  • Ridden a motorbike, moped, vespa, scooter or anything else with two wheels and an engine
  • Attended a concert at the whimsically Modernista Palau de la Música Catalana
  • Gone swimming (I did try, but got booted out for not owning a shower cap)
  • Heard opera sung at the world-famous Liceu Theatre (or indeed anywhere, for that matter)
  • Scoffed supper at any one of Barcelona’s 20 Michelin-starred restaurants.

And fair deuce, these are some wrongs I intend to put right in 2013. I’m also looking forward to cantering around the Costa Brava and the reopening of the long-shut-for-renovation Maritime Museum (Feb 16th, it’s free – get it in your diaries).

Dodging through doorways

Then again, a creepy incident recently left me appreciating humdrum monotony as an underrated circumstance.

I’d been round at a friend’s flat for dinner, and seeing that it was quarter to two in the morning, decided to call a taxi to get home. The taxi duly dropped me off just one block from my flat, and I unlocked my building’s main door, no headphones on and to all intents and purposes pretty sober.

I got in the lift and punched in the code that would take me to the back door of my flat. Just at that moment, the lift door was wrenched open, and a tall (non-Spanish) guy jumped in beside me. I was taken off guard (I was sure he didn’t live in the building) and remember exclaiming mindlessly “¡qué susto!”

Frightful it turned out to be. In what felt like an eternity, but was doubtless only a matter of 30 seconds, he proceeded to try it on, hands everywhere and probing questions in pidgin Spanish…“Do you have a husband? Do you live alone? Qué guapa eres…”

Still fending him off, I stepped out onto the balcony of my flat, and as I exited the lift he made moves to follow me out.

Pure instinct kicks in at these moments. You know there will be time for hindsight, instants, days and weeks later, but at the vital interstice itself, you react. Or don’t. I learned that my voice falters when under threat. But by god I can kick like a mule.

Thankfully he retreated, apparently thinking better of the whole thing, and I was left shaking on my balcony, fumbling around for keys. The pup greeted me in a dervish-like dance, and I clasped her tight for the next X amount of hours it took me to get to sleep.

The flip side

But Barcelona is not a city so easily dismissed. Or pigeon-holed. Doorways work both ways.

As I was reeling, and swapping the tale Monday morning with a colleague whose visiting mother had been robbed the same day in broad daylight outside her rental apartment, resolve of a more gritty kind was making itself felt.

Do not give up so easily. Remember the bigger picture.

And half an hour later, I had an out-of-the-blue invite to a Barcelona Burns’ Supper. That Friday, reeling around for real to plangent bagpipes, haggi-a-plenty and with Fergus calling me out in the middle of Tam O’Shanter (just at the line that goes “Auld Ayr, wham ne’er a town surpassses/for honest men and bonnie lasses“), the breathtaking spontaneity of my life here was brought home to me.

Burns Supper Barcelona

It might have been the eye-watering effect of the whisky, but stripping the willow in the middle of the Ramblas, acompanied by bagpipe wails that wouldn’t have been out of place on the Royal Mile, everything settled back into place again.

Julie Sheridan
GuiriGirlinBarca is written by native Scot Julie Sheridan, who left Edinburgh’s haar-stricken hills for the slightly sunnier shores of Barcelona in April 2011. Armed with a big red emigrating suitcase (called La Roja) she arrived in the Catalan capital without knowing a soul, or indeed any Catalan. Her blog is an honest account of the ups and downs of life abroad as a single woman, including now not to get stalked by men and how to avoid unfortunate incidents with hamsters on bank holidays.
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