cheese, chocolate, potatoes, and legos

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We got a late start yesterday. As it was the glorious day of Sunday, O had the day off work, and so we gathered in the kitchen for some partially homemade gnocchi. O is a magical wizard queen in the kitchen, and the gnocchi she made was delectable in ways I can’t describe.

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After that, J decided to feed some more sleep to the brutal illness that’s been plaguing her. While she napped upstairs, I took my computer down to the kitchen and O drifted from room to room with music from her radio trailing behind her whenever she opened her bedroom door. I remember hearing Grease and Flashdance, and bobbing around the kitchen like the enthusiastic and choreography-less ninny I am.

I ate a brownie I’d taken home from Lolita Bakery, heated up in the microwave and topped with whipped cream O gave me.

When late afternoon arrived, I persuaded J to come with O and me to Barcelona to meet up with one of O’s friends.

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We liked the look of a German pub on the corner (re: we liked the look of the gelato display case) so we filed in and took a table perfectly situated between the bar and the football/soccer match on TV. I didn’t know the teams, but I enjoyed watching. When I move to Europe, that’s going to be one of the best highlights of living here.

We ordered some food, including the bravas shown above, slathered in a creamy sauce J and I still don’t know the contents of, and those crunchy flakes.

O: Oh, no. They might be onions.
SELF: …I can…eat…around them…under them…
O: [tests one] Ah! Garlic!
SELF: [weeps in relief]

The gelato was also delicious.

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Afterward, we walked O to her dance class. J and I continued on to La Rambla for souvenir shopping, but ironically the only souvenirs we ended up buying was a massive chunk of chocolate on a street ten minutes’ walk from La Rambla.

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We did, however, make a new friend.

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And the recent spell of rain gave the streets a wash of fresh color.

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I’ll miss this city when we leave on Wednesday. It has a very unique beauty and charm. ♡

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the park and the cupcakes

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So! Like I said yesterday, I visited Park Güell for the first time last year. It was bright, sunny, and I spent several hours wandering through the place Gaudí had originally designed to be a residential area full of sixty houses and their residents, but due to financial trouble became a public park instead.

Well.

It used to be a public park. Now, because of Spain’s financial trouble, authorities have chosen to charge tourists eight euros to visit certain areas of the park. Not everywhere, mind. You can still walk around, but places like the staircase featuring the famous mosaic salamander, the tiled balcony, etc. are all barred off from the public by brand new Park Güell staff and guards.

At first, I felt furious. Park Güell has been a public park for years and people have never been charged an access fee to it. Charging people for the pleasure of standing on a balcony or climbing a staircase is absurd.

Then, the more I thought about it, I just felt sad. Spain has such beauty – from the architecture to the art and the culture and the food. To see it struggling so much that tourism is its most flourishing industry is a true shame.

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On the bright side, it’s heartwarming that the work of Gaudí has created such a boon in tourism decades after his death. While we visited his former residence in Park Güell, I thought how amazing it is that a man who created such brilliant light and art slept in a place so austere and simple. He had such love for Barcelona, I think he’d be happy to know his work is supporting her still.

– March 29th –

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Yesterday, O took J and I to a local pub-ish place for bravas and small-sandwich-with-a-sausage-in-it-that-I’ve-forgotten-the-name-of. The food was incredible, and so cheap. Bravas are amazing.

We decided to head back to O’s house for what J and I were thinking of as siesta time, but we didn’t actually do the naptime portion of siesta. Instead, we watched South Park. I like to think of it as an American siesta.

J liked the sound of staying in and resting, so O and I ventured into Barcelona by bus. When we transferred to the subway, a duo of shrieking harpies boarded the same train car and proceeded to blast their obnoxiousness to the world at full volume. O and I handled the situation like mature adults and whined about the woes of public transportation in Japanese.

We got out at Arc de Triomf and O showed me to a magical place. A paradisical place. A magical paradisical place of cupcakes.

Welcome to Lolita Bakery.

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O and I have found a common bond in that we are both very passionate about sweets. Those cupcakes were nigh on a religious experience for the two of us.

While we ate, O reminisced: “The first time I tried a blondie, my happiness…acquired a whole new dimension.”

We mauled the cupcakes in the space of a blink, and then I moved on to the crumble.

The first bite was inexcusably delicious. My eyes opened as wide as advisable. “This is so good I’m going to morph into a being of nonbeing,” I said to her.

Strangely, this did not happen.

I will be revisiting this place soon in hope of further supernatural occurrences (and also to show J the magic of the cupcakes).

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We left the bakery as the clouds darkened overhead. O was disappointed that the weather wasn’t sunnier, since the walk along the promenade behind the Arc de Triomf is much more beautiful in sunlight, but I liked the look of the dark clouds hanging low over the city. It gave a cinematic kind of feel to the place.

We walked by a circle of teenage girls sitting on the asphalt path, apparently with a teacher or a cult leader, toward a park O guaranteed was breathtaking. As we got closer, though, O frowned and mused, “It can’t be closed. It’s never closed.” But sure enough, the wrought-iron gates were drawn shut, and as we crossed the street to investigate, a man in an earth-toned beanie told us in accented English, “It’s closed because of the police.”

O told me she’d never seen the park closed, not once in her entire life.

Spanish parks seem to be conspiring against me. I’m on to you, collections of grass and fountains.

We walked aimlessly for a while longer, but as the weather got chillier and chillier, O and I decided to find a café and hang out there. We saw police everywhere, men and women in hard-shielded kneeguards, police cars, even a freaking helicopter with a searchlight. I was fascinated, but O was nonchalant. “Someone important’s visiting,” she said. “The prince will be here on Monday, so maybe he’s here early for some political business.”

We explored a Chinese grocery store (along with the adjacent Japanese store), and retired to a café close by. Almost in the same moment we sat down, I noticed a crowd of people walking down the street outside. A staff girl in the café pressed a button in the maintenance closet, and the metal shielding started sliding down over the window.

Alarmed, I looked at O, but she shrugged and said, “Sometimes it gets violent. They paint on the windows, things like that.”

I’d heard of Spain’s economic problems, and I’d learned even more from my trip with J to Park Güell, but I didn’t know very much. O explained some of the direst problems going on in her country, and I listened. She gave me an insight into Spain that I hadn’t had before.

Talking with her made me appreciate just how complex our world is. Since I was very young, I’ve wanted to learn about the world. Ancient cultures were my favorite thing to read about. Places like Egypt, Greece, and Rome captivated me. In grammar school, we learned basics about the rest of the world. In high school, the curriculum widened a little more, and in college, a lot more. The problem is, the world is huge, and schools don’t have the time or – sometimes – the perspective to teach students about every facet of every country there is.

As an American, I always thought of Spain as a familiar entity. But the more time I spend here, the more I realize I know much less about Spain than I thought. For example, it’s more like Japan than I ever would have expected.

And now we’re making gnocchi, so I flee!

Good morrow, citizens of the complex~!

pay for park güell

Last year, I visited Park Güell for the first time, and I fell in love with it.

This year, when I took J to see it for her first time, we found out something pretty disappointing: the public park I’d visited last year, full of Gaudí’s art and designs, has been turned into a paid tourist attraction. For eight euros, you can have a half an hour in select parts (the most popular ones) of the park.

In tomorrow’s entry, I’ll write more!

the cathedral and the architect

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[PIRATE VOICE WARNING: We visited Spain’s only erotic museum yesterday, so thar be some labias later in this post. Arrrr.]

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In the interest of contrasts, we decided to spend yesterday visiting a cathedral and a sex museum. You know, for balance.

We started at one of my favorite places in the world, the Sagrada Família. The Sagrada Família is a cathedral designed by Gaudí, and it’s been under construction since 1882. Antoni Gaudí is one of the crown jewels of Spain’s history, a genius who carved a brilliant mark on the world with his creativity and passion.

I’ve been to the Sagrada Família three times now, and every time leaves me astounded by the sheer magnitude of his talent. The cathedral reminds me of what religion can be when the person practicing it has intentions motivated by the love of God, not the fear of Him.

Religion, as I see it, is motivated primarily by fear of the unknown. For as long as we’ve been a cognizant species, we’ve created religious explanations for the things we can’t explain. Death’s the biggest mystery out there, and we still haven’t figured that one out. As long as speculation continues, so will religion. What I’ve always been disappointed by is how religion is used as a manipulation tool to control people.

When we visited the national art museum a few days ago, we saw a lot of art inspired by Christianity. One, a depiction of the Final Judgment, drove the point home for me. “Obey the rules, or your intestines will get yanked out through your eye sockets,” the artwork said. (It totally spoke. It was creepy.)

That artwork wasn’t a painting. It was artwork that had been on the walls of a church. This is the stuff people raise their kids on to this day. “Don’t upset God, or he’ll drown you.”

It’s like the movie A Bronx Tale, where the kid Calogero asks Sonny, a gangster:

CALOGERO: Is it better to be loved or feared?
SONNY: Good question. It’s nice to be both, but it’s very difficult. If I had a choice, I’d rather be feared, because fear lasts longer than love.

That’s the message I got about religion growing up in the United States. Rather than emphasizing the loving part of Christianity, many, many religious sources instead preach the fearful aspect. People boast about being “god-fearing,” but I see that as missing the point completely.

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Gaudi designed the Sagrada Família with a love for God as his motivation. He took cues from nature, his greatest inspiration, to create every facet of the cathedral. From the arching tree-shaped columns to the many allowances for natural light to the swirls and whorls found throughout nature, the Sagrada Família is a loving tribute to what Gaudí saw as gifts from his God.

I don’t know Gaudí’s personal beliefs on religion – I don’t know how he practiced his religion on a day-to-day basis, but what lasted for people to see and experience is his beautiful Sagrada Família. Walking through this deeply spiritual space, I feel a spirituality that I haven’t gotten from a Christian place in years. Instead of severe columns and dark wood and wrought iron and cold gray stone floors, the Sagrada Família is bright and joyous, painted windows that spill bright color across the floors and columns, golden accents on the walls, and endless details that even now workers are painstakingly carving into place.

This is what Christianity was for me when I was a child. Awe and wonder for a Creator who loved me unconditionally. Even though my beliefs have changed, and I find more peace and comfort from imagining endless possibilities for the meaning of life and who created all this, the Sagrada Família moves me. It connects with the part of me that wants to believe in the good in everyone, that everyone has a passion and that that passion can create magnificent things.

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One especially beautiful thing I saw inside the cathedral was a couple of boys in their early twenties. They were standing very close to each other, and one had his camera lifted to take a photo of the ceiling. As he lined up his shot, the other boy, watching him and smiling, lifted up onto his toes and kissed him. The boy holding the camera laughed but managed not to lose focus on the photo. When it was taken, he bopped the other boy on the head with the camera and kissed him back.

It was sweet to see in such a spiritual place.

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Also, I think Gaudí had a hidden sense of humor.

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It’s a pity that Gaudí didn’t get to see the Sagrada Família completed, but he did see the first spire finished. It left him in awe, and he commented with pleasure that it really did seem to unite Heaven and Earth. He truly put his heart and soul into the creation of this cathedral, and I admire him deeply for how he devoted his life and his craft to it.

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the salty barrel girl

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This restaurant.

THIS RESTAURANT.

I have Things to Say about this restaurant. It was amazing, this restaurant.

ImageIt’s called Ginos and I stumbled on it yesterday afternoon during a mild fit of hunger following a massage. The staff spoke beautiful English, which just made me want to learn the local language even more so I could reciprocate.

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The menu completely floored me. Fourteen types of pasta followed by twenty-three recipes to combine them with. In other words, you could choose gnocchi and then pair it with carbonara or pesto or napoletana and – Italian food was already among my favorite things in life, and this restaurant just pushed that love to a nigh-on self-destructive level.

This pasta is now my soul.

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After lunch, I walked along Diagonal and basked in the cool weather. I’m only going to get a few more precious weeks of this gorgeous weather before I return to Japan for the Festival of Hellfire (known to some as summer in Japan).

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I found this shop, called a jola do gato preto. This is where I will purchase all the things to furnish my dream apartment when I have one. Cats, quirky things, the softest and most colorful blankets in all the land – I was in heaven. I left without buying myself anything, though the temptation was high.

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Recently, I’ve done a lot of research on floatation tanks, or isolation tanks. It’s basically a capsule filled with extremely dense salt water and you float there and have therapeutic experiences. Some people who’ve done it say it helps with physical ailments and even mental issues like depression. The idea is that the water, heated to exactly body temperature, suspends you and removes the stress of gravity pulling you down. You feel like you’re in zero gravity, the chamber is completely silent and lightless, and the detachment from your senses allows your brain to go into a relaxed state. Some people even see

I found a place in Barcelona that had such floatation tanks and I was curious to try it out for myself, so I headed there after my dalliance with pasta and the cat store. The woman there explained everything to me in English, gave me a bright smile, and left me to my float.

The experience was different from what I expected. It was fascinating on a psychological level especially, because for the first forty minutes or so, I couldn’t relax. My feet kept brushing the sides of the chamber, and that made me tense up, which just made my feet keep hitting the sides. On top of that, my body was just freaked out by the weightlessness. Something in me wanted reassurance that I hadn’t actually lost my body. I felt a little disappointed with the experience, so I played around with the water to at least get some fun out of it. Then, in the last ten minutes, that nervous part of me shut off and I drifted into this blissful, peaceful state of mind. Aaand naturally that’s when the music started to play, signaling the “out you get!” portion of the experience.

I’ve since read that the first time can be jarring, and some people do take a while to adjust. I’d be willing to try it again now that I know what I’m in for. If nothing else, it was fun to roll around in the water like a barrel.

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I was supposed to meet J and O at Joanic station around eight o’clock, and I had several hours to kill even after my float. I walked slowly through the labyrinthian side streets in the general direction of Joanic, stretching my limbs out and rolling my shoulders back. I got to Joanic faster than I expected and spotted a sandy park near the station exit. I took a seat on one of the long benches, tugged out my notebook, and started writing my book.

Children and their parents drifted in and out of the park, laughing and smiling and stopping each other to say hello. There’s a kind of magic in seeing families of a different culture interact with each other – the similarities always give me a warm feeling of familiarity.

I saw a little boy around three years old absorbed in kicking a crushed soda can through the sand and shooting up clouds of dust. His mother kept a steady eye on him and on the people nearby, making sure he wasn’t bothering anybody; whenever he strayed too close, she’d give him a casual warning and without looking up at her he’d change direction and continue his can-kicking on a less obtrusive path.

Then I saw a group of eight or nine girls between the ages of four and probably nine or ten playing together. They were playing some version of One Person Is It and She Counts and Then Yells Stop and They All Stop and Then She Has to Run and Chase and Tag One Person and I Know This Game Has a Name But It’s Been Too Long Since I Played It So I Can’t Remember Aging Sucks. At one point, one of the smallest girls was It and she ran with a lollypop in her mouth after one of the bigger girls. She was slow and sleepy-eyed, and even though most of the bigger girls seemed to be running just fast enough to make it interesting, she couldn’t tag a single person. When everyone escaped into the Safe Zone, she stomped away with her face creased with frustrated tears. An older girl smiled patiently and ran after her, cupping the little girl’s face in one hand and bending low to talk to her. The little girl wailed something back, not quite crying yet, and the rest of the girls gathered around her, all friendly and calm. The little girl eventually smiled and the game continued.

A mother and father not much older than I am had their four or five year old girl sitting with them on the bench while that game was going on. The mother was beautiful but severe-looking, and her daughter resembled a much softer, kinder version of her. As I wrote my book, I’d hear the mother barking at her daughter in sharp-toned Catalan, and I glanced over once or twice to see what the girl was doing, but the girl was just calmly playing with some colored strings, braiding them and unbraiding them. Her father joined them and talked to his daughter in a calmer tone. When I glanced over next, the father noticed me and gave me an exasperated smile. I smiled back, and soon the angry, heated atmosphere around them cooled down. Something made the little girl angry and so she stood up and shoved her mother’s legs and pouted, and then her father ruffled her hair and teased her, and the little girl whined and buried her face in her mother’s chest and whined some more. The mother’s face grew softer with amusement and she pet her daughter’s hair with long-suffering amusement.

Then I spotted J across the park on one of the benches opposite me. She told me O had gone home from work sick and so we’d have to change our plans for dinner. Poor O. ♡

I suggested an Argentinian restaurant I ate at last year and we looked around a bit, but we found a pizza place first and hunger dictated we eat there.

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Our waiters were extremely friendly, and they gave good recommendations and explanations for the items on the menu that we didn’t understand. One of the waiters was from India, and he sat with us after we’d finished eating. We mentioned some of our preconceptions about India, since neither of us has been, and he showed us photos of his home in Punjab. At one point J mentioned her husband’s trips to India and I told a story about my ex-girlfriend, and he showed us photos of his wife and son, and then he left to get us the check.

When he returned, I had one of the most rewarding experiences in recent memory.

J was in the restroom when he returned with the check. He hesitated, smiling, and said, “May I ask you a personal question? If you don’t want to answer, it’s okay.”

I gave him a dubious grin and said, “All right.”

He said, “Before, you said ‘ex-girlfriend’ but then after I asked you if you were looking for a new girlfriend you said, ‘man or woman, doesn’t matter which.’ What did you mean?”

I couldn’t gauge by his tone what angle he was coming from, so I asked him the same question: “What do you mean?”

J returned and asked, “What’s going on?” with a cautious smile.

The waiter flushed, embarrassed, and said, “You don’t have to answer, of course.”

I shook my head and said, “No, no, I’m just not sure what you’re asking,” as earnestly as I could.

He explained, “Well, you said ex-girlfriend and I…I don’t usually ask. Two women come in together, two men, they eat here, they sit together, and I don’t ask. But you said ex-girlfriend and ‘it doesn’t matter’ so–”

The gears in my head clicked together. “Ohh. Well, I mean. That’s just – men or women. I fall in love with people, not their gender or sex, so that’s why I said that.”

He smiled, relieved, and said, “I see. That’s good. That’s a good way to think. You think with your head and your heart about the person, that’s very beautiful. Thank you.”

We spoke for a few more minutes and then J and I left. As we walked along the street bathed in the burnt-orange glow from the lampposts, I smiled to myself. Sometimes people are just curious, and I’m glad he asked me that question.

Yesterday was a good day for introspection, methinks. And barrel-rolling.

the dragonbacked roof

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Yesterday we took a memorable trip to Casa Batlló.

Last year, seeing Gaudí’s work for the first time was the highlight of my trip to Spain. This year, it’s looking like that’s going to be the case again. (Apart from O and her family, who have an indisputable, highly-ranked place in my heart forever.)

For me, where seeing Gaudí’s work on the Sagrada Família is powerful, seeing his work on Casa Batlló is calming. He devoted so much effort and thought into its design and creation, which is true of all his work, but the details of Casa Batlló are my favorite. The ambiguously-shaped balconies, the dragonbacked roof, the oceanic hues – the house feels like something lifted from a dream.

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There are so many clever, groundbreaking touches in Casa Batlló, like this light well. Gaudí designed the house to receive as much natural lighting as possible without sacrificing the privacy of its tenants or the structural integrity of the building. In the light well, he balanced the distribution of light through the colored tiles, dark blue on top and lightly colored at the bottom where the light doesn’t as easily reach. The result is tilework that appears to be one shade.

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Today, the house is privately owned, and reparations are constantly made to keep Gaudí’s work fresh and well-preserved.

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The dragon’s back/the roof of Casa Batlló

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When we left Casa Batlló, we discovered teensy cups of Ben & Jerry’s, and rainbows full of money ran wild in the streets as a result of our joy.

We had lunch/dinner at an Irish pub facing the Sagrada Família, and then we headed home. We hung out with O in her room, where she did a Russian Tarot reading for me. I’ve never had a Russian Tarot reading before, and the cards I was dealt were quite eventful. I had an owl, a star, a campfire, a herron, a casket, a snake – oh, sorry, you wanted to hear more about one of those? The owl, right?

Oh, the casket. Yes. That happened. O immediately saw that and winced. J mourned my imminent demise and I whined at Russia for wanting me dead. When it came time to read the meaning of that symbol, though, it turned out hat the casket upside-down was the only good position, and it meant either I’ll be narrowly avoiding death or narrowly avoiding danger of some kind. Mental or emotional or something, not just physical.

I decided to take a photo for my blog (“Should she do that?” J wondered as I positioned my iPhone up high over the bed. O shrugged and said, “It’s fine,” and snap went the iPhone) and then O finished the reading and tucked the cards away. Every reading had some positive connotation to it, for which I was grateful. In the kitchen, as we made dinner, I pulled up the photo to see the images again but – the image wouldn’t show up. The photos I’d taken before and after popped up from their thumbnails instantly, but the Tarot photo changed to black whenever I called it up.

I guess the universe is testing my memory.

Fare thee well, citizens of fate!

delectable pintxos

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Yesterday we swapped Sunday for Monday as a day of rest. J hasn’t been sleeping or feeling well, so we hung out at O’s place for the morning to let her recuperate a bit. We actually ended up learning a bit about the country that your average vacation wouldn’t have taught us. O’s mother walked J to the local chemist/pharmacy where J had blood drawn, and then a few short hours later they gave her the results of her bloodwork. It didn’t tell us much more than we already knew, but it provided enough information that educated guesses could be made.

When she felt up for it, we took the train into Barcelona. I had my stomach and heart set on pintxos from La Tasqueta de Blai. The pintxos this time were different from the set I saw a few days ago, and I had just as much fun this time experimenting with new flavors. We sat on a cushioned sofa sharing one side of the table, which gave us a perfect view of the bar and the sincerely adorable woman behind it. She had an intricate tattoo just above her collarbone, and a green streak through her dark hair. She called out friendly greetings to everyone who walked in, did a little dance to the music playing over the speakers, and once fumbled a dish she was washing and gave us a wide-eyed smile of relief after she caught it.

When we finished our meal of pintxos, we walked aimlessly around the pub’s neighborhood. J checked out shoes, and then I suggested we check out Casa Batlló, because Gaudí’s work was by far my favorite thing about Barcelona last year. I stopped in an open-air fruit store and found three staff gathered around the register as if it were a campfire. I asked the nearest one, a woman with a hesitant frown, where Passeig de Gràcia was, but she only blinked and turned immediately to her coworker sitting on a low step. She gave him a brisk gesture and stepped back, and the younger man, chuckling, stood up and said, “You want to go to Passeig de Gràcia? On foot?” in English. Relieved, I said, “Yes, please,” and he gave me directions in broad, sweeping gestures, smiling amiably. He said it would take about thirty minutes if we took our time, and that sounded more than doable.

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As we walked I gradually recognized the street we were on. I’d meandered onto it a few days ago, so I knew where we were headed, and before long the giant fountain and circle of traffic that make Plaça d’Espanya so prominent came into view. J pointed out the late time and we decided to give Gaudí a miss for the day, settling instead on gelato in the former bull-fighting arena-turned-shopping center.

It was miraculously delicious.

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An hour or so later we left the arena and found the world transformed. Everything was cast into shades of burnt orange, giving the city its romantic glow that I love. Last year, I was told by my B&B owner’s Barcelona-born girlfriend that the street lamps are the color they are because of light pollution concerns. Also, most of them have metal caps on top to prevent light from streaming up into the sky. As a result, you can see a reasonable number of stars at night.

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J and I, armed with a few groceries from the organic store, headed back to O’s place.

She and her parents were kind enough to show me how to cook a type of rice dish made from bomba rice that was surprisingly easy to make. Olive oil, salt, garlic, ham, rice, and the happiest me in all the land.

Today, perhaps, a Gaudí day!

sunwashed tarragona

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Yesterday, O took me and J to Tarragona, which is about a fifty-minute train ride from Barcelona. We managed to snag a four-seater and while we talked, O explained some Spanish words that I wrote down on my I Want to Learn Spanish the Slow and Informal Way page. Meanwhile, the scenery outside transformed from urban to rural and as the tracks met up alongside the Mediterranean, we had green and mountains on one side and deep azure blue on the other.

Sitting behind us was a group of Japanese guys around our age and occasionally we’d eavesdrop on their conversation. As we left the train, J overheard one of them saying, “The Spanish here sounds so different from what we were taught.”

J’d said the same thing about the Spanish she learned in school versus the Spanish here – the accent is completely different, and so it makes understanding the language more of an effort at times.

Me, I learned French, so for me the trip so far has been a game of, “Remember the French, figure out the Spanish, translate to English.” I’m also frequently catching myself trying to speak Japanese to the Spanish people around me, because that’s my default foreign language and the urge to use my default foreign language is stronger than my common sense. So when O’s mother says something to me in Spanish, my brain decides: “Ah, Spanish! Throw some なるほど back.”

In terms of second languages, I’m best at Japanese. I chose to learn it in college, so my motivation was strong. French, on the other hand, I learned because I had to. I started learning it in third grade because I lived in Vermont and my school seemed to think Vermont is in constant danger of a polite invasion from Canada so they only offered us French. When I arrived at high school, I had more choices, like Italian and Latin and Spanish, but my parents told me to stick with French since I had at least a (grudging) foundation in it. The fact that I hated French and French plotted my educational demise daily made no impact during my appeal process. Probably because my rebuttal was whined and accompanied by a sullen pout. Fourteen-year-old me had the words down pat, but not the delivery. So I was stuck with French. I remember my friends learning Spanish would sigh dreamily about how easy it was and how awesome their grades were. Meanwhile, I’d scowl in my gloomy French cave, covered in angry red Cs.

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Uh.

Back to Tarragona!

O told us Tarragona has a wealth of ancient ruins scattered around the city, so I – obsessed with ancient civilizations as I am – did a little dance in my head aaall the way from Barcelona to Tarragona. And, sure enough, one of the first things we saw of the city was the coliseum above. The city has some of the most beautifully old-and-new integrated architecture I’ve ever seen. Thick ancient stones pockmarked by sheer age slotted in a wall alongside crisp new bricks, crumbled ruins resting in the middle of a bustling square without a gate or a fence warning people away. It’s truly a city of old and new.

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[European Union, Catalonia, Spain, Tarragon]

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We paused on the side of the road to take photos of the sea. I imagined the same spot a thousand years ago. The difference in the view, the sounds of ancient languages and dialects, the feel of the road underfoot, the smell of the air.

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And then we found a place to spill our Euros.

This shop was run by a man born in Germany of, if I’m remembering this right, Irish and English parents, living in Spain. He was very friendly and he explained some of the origins of the things he’d made in the shop. At one time, he said, he’d backpack around and collect shells that he’d make into jewelry or other crafts. I bought a keychain made from a thick ribbed shell and a cork.

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Remember that stone thing I mentioned above? This is that.

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Toward the end of the day, we found this side street with two rows of iron pillars. Each one was painted differently, and we had fun identifying each one as we walked.

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[We think this is just Japanese gibberish. O and I walked in circles around it trying to make heads or tails of it, and I imagine we looked and sounded like we were trying to summon the Japanese god of pole dancing.]

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[Meow.]

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[Pencil!]

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[La vida és dulce. Life is sweet.]

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We pretty much finished the day there. We went back to Barcelona intending to take part in the swing dance class O was teaching, but J had a sudden wave of extreme sickness, so O’s parents were kind enough to come pick us up. They’re so kind, I’ll have to name my firstborn after both of them. ♡

Today, Gaudí!

mountaintop barcelona

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We spent most of the day at high altitudes, but first, a shopping mall.

A shopping mall that was once a bull-fighting arena. O explained that Catalonia has banned bull-fighting on the grounds of cruelty to animals, and so the arena was closed and changed into a shopping mall. That fact didn’t stop this kid from fighting the phantoms left over.

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We did not partake of this. Only lusted at it from afar. I can’t…remember why.

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After purchasing drinks and other assorted snacks to go with our homemade sandwiches, we hopped on a bus up to higher climes. At some point while we were waiting for the bus, I wondered aloud, “Can we walk?” and O’s expression said a very clear, “No, you crazy thing.”

(She clarified later that of course you can, but only with an excess of both fortitude and free time.)

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We had our picnic here, and were accosted just on the edge of threatening by a seagull the size of a bear. Approximately.

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O used to work at the art museum, so we were lucky enough to find out 1) it’s free after 3pm on Saturdays, and 2) she knew a lot about the contents of each wing. She walked us through, stopping frequently to greet former coworkers. It was fun listening to her speak at her natural speed in her own dialect. I’m determined to learn this language now.

Up there is what O told us is a gorgeous room one can normally walk in and around, but it’s been rented for the month by Porsche.

Damn you beautiful cars.

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A beautiful day in all.

Now we’re rushing out the door for Tarragona!

triumph in barcelona

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The day began with a triumph!

About two years ago, I made the reckless decision to join the ranks of the redheaded. Every several months since then, when the color’s faded to brown or blonde or some shade in between, I’ve sought out a hair wizard to refresh it. The last time I visited one such wizard was around December, so I planned on making a date for updating when I got to Barcelona. I found the salon Anthony Llobet by Google searching English-friendly hair salons and, decked out in oversized Desigual jeans, my favorite black hoodie, and the dazzling pairing of snazzy socks and orange fusion shoes you see above, I ventured forth for the valiant sake of my lifelessly-colored hair.

I took the triumph chair to be a good omen.

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If you glance to the right of the photo, you’ll see a dirty reddish blonde shade clinging desperately to the fluffy strands of my hair. A trim and coloring were sorely needed. The stylist who restored my hair to beloved red impressed me immediately. He asked what I wanted, and I gave him vague instructions for the shade of red I wanted. Like: “Happy…?” I mentioned a few other points about the cut, like, “I like the length, but I thought I’d try a newish style, maybe layers? Possibly?”

Ten seconds of combing through my hair later, he gave me one of the fastest and most accurate observations about my hair that I’ve ever experienced. “You’ve got a lot of hair, but it’s fine, so I want to be aware of that,” he said, “and you’ve already got some layers in now, but your layers in back are kind of long, so if you want to make them shorter, it’ll make the whole cut look a little newer, like a new style without changing much.” Amazed by all these words that were both accurate and what I wanted, I knew I could trust him.

We talked color shade, and he went to mix something in the back. One customer had a baby in her lap who seemed fascinated and amused beyond reasoning with the expressions his mirrored self was making at him. Later, an older man walked in and talked with the stylists. My stylist told me that before the salon was a salon, it was a barber shop for eighty years, and the man had been a regular customer. Even after the place closed and changed to a salon, he continues to visit.

The stylist himself was fascinating, too. We’d both lived in New York, and he’d semi-recently moved with his partner from London, a city I’ve been planning on moving to myself. When he finished my hair, he asked what I planned to do with my day. I told him my friend J was sick and so I had the day to myself to wander around aimlessly. I mentioned hunger as part of my current state of being, so he walked me to a place nearby that he highly recommended.

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Before he continued on his way, he explained the system of this restaurant/pub: take a plate, choose as many pinchos as you want, and at the end of the meal the staff’ll add up your toothpicks. Each pincho is one euro, so my meal of six pinchos and Coke came to 7.30 euros.

I should also add that those pinchos were some of the tastiest food I’ve ever eaten, and pinchos are a genius idea that should be spread worldwide. It’s simple, too! Little slice of bread and two toppings. Bam, done.

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I ate: eggplant/goat cheese, chicken/lettuce, brie/other kind of cheese, ham/cheese, and sausage/tiny egg (not shown). It was a revelation. Also, they were playing “We Will Rock You” when I sat down to eat, so I was deeply entertained and besotted with the place even before I tried the food.

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After eating, I wandered the streets of Barcelona for a solid two hours before wandering up to the steps of the art museum overlooking the city. I remembered I’d taken a photo of myself up there last year, so I decided to recreate the shot.

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Voila! Intrepid explorer with newly red-stained hair.

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After my tiny photo shoot, I walked down to the subway and caught a train to La Rambla where I visited another Desigual and emerged with what will be my outfit for today. I wandered some of the side streets and found some vastly fascinating stores. Such as:

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SHOES FOREVER. I couldn’t decide on a pair, so I ran screaming for my life.

People occasionally spoke Spanish to me and I spoke the very little I knew back. Having these limited exchanges made me feel like part of the city, and it made me want to learn Spanish just so I could ask more questions and learn more about the city and the culture. I like the included feeling of knowing the language of a place – it’s made living in Japan all the more rewarding being able to talk to the people there, and it’d make traveling to Spain even more exciting than it already is.

As I walked and mused and wandered in and out of shops, I remembered something I’d wanted to try last year but didn’t:

Churros.

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I found the Chocolate Box on a street near Antoni Gaudí’s first church and ducked inside for some churros, chocolate, and reading time.

When I finished, I decided to head back to O’s place and spend the rest of the evening hanging out with J, who’d taken the day to sleep her mysterious disease away.

All in all, a day of triumph! Barcelona remains as wonderful as ever. ♡