Life in the Gothic quarter // La vida al barri gòtic

As the air cools and Mother nature continues her preparations for the long winter slumber, I am reminded of the heat still radiating from the streets and buildings in the gothic quarter. The city of Barcelona is enjoying the late summer festivals. The wind has picked up a bit, but otherwise the days are still warm. Terraces are open, allowing el fresco dining at all hours of the day and night. Residents and tourists alike are visibly enjoying life in Barca.

During our stay, last year, we didn’t have a car to use, we walked or rode the rails of public transit. Every kilo of groceries, carried up 3 tall flights of stairs. The age of the buildings, be it residential, commercial or ancient ruins were a marvel to us at every turn. We tended to take pictures of everything, feeling in awe of human creation and engineering which has stood the test of time.

Our home in Canada is relatively new, built in 1969 and considered to be a tear-down. A name affectionately given to an often, perfectly good building whose value is only a tiny percent of what the land will fetch on the property market. Developers hope to score a good price on a small house like ours, which is old and easy to remove. The machines will come in and grade the land in preparation for the new monster home design. Modest and once affordable family homes make way for luxury dwellings.

In contrast, the pace of life on the Mediterranean sea flows at a different pace. It could be the warmer water or the gentle breeze. Maybe the color of the sand and surf, stretching out as far as the eye can see. The absence of seaweed, kelp, crabs and other marine life make for a less fragrant day at the beach. Instead the hawkers call out, cervesa, mojito, aqua! Up and down they stroll, trying to peddle their tray of drinks. I ran along the promenade most mornings and often made the trek back in the afternoon to soak up the sunshine.

With each day and every new experience, my perception of the world evolved. Molding my mind and mood to become more tolerant and accepting of whatever happened. Instead of being tied to certain outcomes, I chose flexibility. I had to let go of the need for certainty. Instead I dealt in possibility. Maybe I was learning to be a bit more Spanish and a little less Canadian?

You can’t live in a city with roots running deep into the ground and not come away a little changed. Once you are able to navigate all the narrow alleyways and passages, stopping into your favourite spots, then you are living like a local. You take on a little of the personality of a city that way. Barcelona is a fascinating character, full of life and zest, she lives for the moment. Her nature is vivacious and delightful. She draws you in.

We had the added bonus of witnessing history unfolding. The Catalonia crisis, as it came to be known was in full force during our stay. We watched the illegal vote and the ensuing struggle between those who wanted unity and separatists. Madrid sent police and helicopters flew overhead trying to thwart unruly demonstrations. Until La Mercè came to town. That festival was like a cease-fire. Everyone put away their protests and partied!

It was the strangest thing. Protests were quite orderly. Every night at 10pm, for about fifteen minutes, people all over the quarter took to the streets with pots and pans banging away and yelling out something in Catalonian we could not understand. And then it would stop. Presumably it was time for dinner. Late by our standards for eating, we were getting ready to sleep, the clanging in the streets was a reminder for our bedtime.

I started a habit of reading a book, particular to the region we lived in, which would carry me throughout the trip. In an English second bookstore I found ‘Andalus: Unlocking The Secrets Of Moorish Spain’, written years before by an American Jason Webster. He traced the origins of the Spanish language, food and culture through the people who called the Iberian peninsula home. It was a fascinating portrayal of how the past has informed the present and how old ideas and habits may continue to haunt the future, as evidenced by the current political upheaval.

From ‘Andalus’ – As Islam and the West prepare to clash once again, Jason Webster embarks on a quest to discover Spain’s hidden Moorish legacy and lift the lid on a country once forged by both Muslims and Christians. He meets Zine, a young illegal immigrant from Morocco, a twenty-first century Moor, lured over with the promise of a job but exploited as a slave labourer on a fruit farm. Jason’s life is threatened as he investigates the agricultural gulag, Zine rescues him, and the unlikely pair of writer and desperado take off on a rollercoaster ride through Andalucía.

We started another tradition in Barcelona involving olive oil. I think we consumed gallons of it by the end of our year away from Canada. The question I always asked in the grocery store was, “how big of a bottle should we buy?” Our son, especially, fully embraced the Spanish food culture. He would wander across the street each day and buy fresh bread. That was one of his stops as he rode around the city on his penny board.

It is not an easy thing to adapt to life on the road. Being nomadic is more difficult than it sounds. Not only do you leave behind everyone you know, but all your routines and favourite things stay home as well. It is an easy exercise to rationalize the effect of particular changes, but when you land in a new country and realize most of what you know is not the same, it can be overwhelming. For our daughter, who had never been off the North American continent, the shock was immediate. Added to her misery and long recovery was, she didn’t want to leave home in the first place.

We all underestimated how unhappy our daughter might be. Even she did not comprehend it. Out of the gate, it took well over a week for her jet lag to dissipate. Recovery was made worse by the fact that she was sad, so staying in bed and sleeping was her preferred activity. Someone once said, “time heals all wounds.” We kept that thought in the back of our minds as a beacon of hope. Sadly, for our first month away from home, our daughter came out of her room to eat and then reluctantly spent a few hours staring at her computer during most afternoons. The dark cloud would eventually lift, but not while we were in Spain.

On the other hand, our son knew instantly that he loved Barcelona. Even on day one as we wandered around in a daze, grabbing some tapas near the beach. He declared that he could live in Barcelona. There are a few staples in life which make our son very happy. Good food, nice weather, an interesting culture and even a foreign language. He loves the process of learning by immersion. It was a balance for me to enjoy the city with my son and husband but with a nagging worry in the back of my mind for the child sitting at home in our apartment.

My husband and I had both visited Barcelona before. We knew the ropes. We assumed that by being in a European city where the language was somewhat familiar to us, our year of travel would build slowly, rather than jumping into the deep end. We had calculated wrong on a number of counts. Moving from our home in a small town into the heart of the old part of Barcelona was a culture shock in and of itself. Combined with the fact that our Spanish learned from various trips to Mexico was useless in Catalonia. We had not fully understood how regional Spain is. Maybe because of the distinct society, Spain was as different to us as many other places on our grand tour.

In hindsight, I’m glad we were surprised by Barcelona. We had much to learn and understand about life on the road. This was a soft introduction into all the foreign cultures we would encounter. Long-term travel is a marathon, not a sprint. Our relationship with foreign cultures had been one of short stop vacations where each day was jam-packed with must-do activities, eating in restaurants and sleeping in luxury accommodations. Becoming a nomad was not the same thing as a vacation, at all.

My deep understanding for why it is important to build a lifestyle you don’t need a vacation from, would come later on. That first month away from Canada, I still felt a little off-balance. Foreign foods, culture, sights and sounds; day after day can feel overwhelming once the honeymoon is over. As you pass the one month mark, the realization sinks in  – ‘there is no home to go back to’.

By that time, we started to get creative. The trick was to change our mindset. It was time to live like a Catalonian. We learned to make coffee, not by a drip machine. We embraced how alive the city was, late into the night. We perfected the Spanish omelette, which is largely made of potatoes! We shopped daily, eating in season and making everything from scratch. We gave up the complexity of our life back home, trading it in for a simpler pace. Some of these habits have stayed with us, even now.

Join me in this creative journey. I am on a mission to start a global movement, focusing on the importance of creativity in our daily lives. Together, let us see where we can take this. I look forward to hearing from you! Please share your thoughts. Feel free to send an email to: #creaspatreat

My creative year:
: : Developing, testing and enjoying a life I don’t need a vacation from while working in an office and commuting on public transit! 
: : This is where my ideas for creaspatreat will come to life. Don’t miss any of it by joining us!
: : Check out new projects on my youtube channel called creative wandering. #dailycreatives

Published books:
: : “Fruitless at 40: Rediscovering My Creative Power

Would you like a free download of….
: : The first chapter from Fruitless at 40 and
: : My tried and true packing list, developed from long-term, around the world travel?
: : Join us!

Daily Creatives Resources:
: : Travel changes a person
: : Anthropocene, Living in the Future’s Past and Daring to Lead
: : Teach women, invest in a community
: : what do you think it means?
: : Living in stress, moving to relaxation, looking for ikigai

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