Oneness Awareness: Malaga and Barcelona, Spain
Malaga, Spain: Connection—Monday, 26 April 2010, daytime
My computer isn’t picking up a wifi Internet connection at my hotel, Carlos V, so I go in search of a nearby biblioteca (library) hotspot to test it there. On my way, roaming through this city’s charming streets, I spot a locaturio (Internet café). The owner speaks no English and my ears are not ready to comprehend his rapidly spoken Spanish. A young, tall, thin, dark-complected man interprets for us. The locaturio is an option, but I want to have an Internet connection in my room instead of coming out here to check emails. I set off again to the biblioteca to test my wifi settings there.
Within seconds, the interpreter is at my side. His name is Karim, a 24-year-old Arab Muslim from Morocco who is studying computer science in Malaga. He speaks four languages and offers to fix my computer for a cost of 30 euros. I invite him to come with me to the biblioteca and suggest that I will consider paying him some amount of money after we determine the problem and he performs some helpful service. He agrees.
In the biblioteca, we have a connection. But Karim shows me that I have two wifi connection programs on my computer that may be interfering with each other. We return to my hotel to test my computer there. Along the way, he tells me about the historic Arab influence on southern Spain in regard to politics, culture, religion, and architecture.
At the hotel, after some technical manipulation, Karim is able to connect with the Internet—and he shows me how to alter settings for various locations, here as well as elsewhere on my journey. This is valuable information, and I pay him 30 euros.
He offers to show me some of the sites of the area, including a nearby Arab fortress, a Phoenician castle, and ancient Roman ruins. I ask if there is a cost for this guide service. He says no; he is happy for the opportunity to speak English, his weakest language. I accept his offer, and we agree to meet later that day at 5:00 pm.
Stories within this chapter:
Malaga, Spain: Romano Teatro y Alcazaba—Monday, 26 April 2010, 5:00 pm to midnight
I eat my evening meal in the café across from my hotel, finishing a few minutes before 5:00. At a quarter after, Karim has not arrived, and I am thinking that he won’t when he suddenly appears. I buy him a Coca-Cola, and we set off to see the historic sites.
Romano Teatro is only a block away to the east. It was built in the first century during the reign of Emperor Augustus and used by the Romans until the third century. Discovered in 1951, it is still in a state of archeological excavation and restoration. Through a wire fence, Karim and I view its massive dimensions: radius of 31 meters, height of 16 meters, orchestra of 15 meters, and three main seating areas made of rock that rise for 15 rows. We look across the open pit from the stage area; a tour group of 60 people, sitting on the three upper rows, look like miniature dolls in the distance.
Immediately above towers the lower part of the Alcazaba, a Moorish fortress created in the 8th and 11th centuries, in part, with capitals and column shafts from Romano Teatro. From the Arabic al-gasbah, the name, in Spanish, means “citadel.” As we ascend the natural topography of the small mountain on which Alcazaba was built, we see the applicable description of that word: “a fortress that commands a city.”
A group of about 60 people look small in the seating area of Romano Teatro with Alcazaba towering above.
At first, we round a sweeping curve at the fortress’ base with a high wall constructed of stone and brick on our left, numerous parked cars on a narrow street to our right, a long incline and numerous towers ahead, and a hint of a peak in the distance.
Climbing our first set of steps, we get our initial aerial view of Malaga’s palm-lined streets and traffic plaza, the nearby bullring and government buildings, and the harbor about one kilometer to the south.
At the top of the steps, the path becomes a flat-stone mosaic. Climbing a grade of seven to ten degrees, we walk and stop to take photographs of the ever-changing scene below and a plethora of flowering plants, orange trees, and cacti growing into the hillside.
Finally, we reach the apex more than one-and-a-half hours after leaving Romano Teatro. There, we enter a museum that features a miniature model of Alcazaba, artifacts, and several mannequins outfitted as Spanish warriors from the 17th to the 20th centuries. Back outside, we walk among gardens and elevated stone runways and turrets with loopholes that would have provided the highest defensive positions.
Then we retrace our steps half way down the mountain, walking on the serpentine pathway that borders Alcazaba’s exterior walls.
Half way down, we divert toward an urban park that parallels a major boulevard. A wide pedestrian way is filled with international kiosks, representing the food, beverages, and customs of dozens of nations. A sign describes the locale as “II Festival Intercultural. Malaga abierta al mundo.” (open to the world)
All together, we walk and talk for seven hours, until midnight, mixing languages: sometimes English, sometimes Spanish, sometimes some of each. Karim fills in details about the origins of this citadel, its link with his Arabian culture, and the influence of Arabs on this historical nationality known as Andalucía.
Near the end of our walk, we admire the view of lighted Alcazaba on the hill above. Karim leaves me at the door of Carlos V then walks another 30 minutes to his home where he lives with several other Moroccan computer students.
Interestingly, I’m not tired, so I roam the ancient neighborhood, amazed at the number of people still out and the number of eateries and drinkeries still open on this late Monday night. Among the people working in the wee hours are street washers who use a long water hose, attached to a water truck, and a high pressure nozzle to clean the beautiful marble and stone streets. They do this most nights, starting at midnight.
In one establishment, I re-encounter Miguel and Nikita, two kiosk operators from northern Spain who we had met and spoken with an hour or so earlier. Miguel had noticed my Port Huron Yacht Club sailing shirt, an observation that initiated a conversation about sailing across the Atlantic, me aboard Royal Clipper and he aboard his racing sloop. In the tavern, nearing 1:00 am, we consider ordering food and drink but settle for a photograph when the bartendress makes signs that she wants to close for the night.
Malaga, Spain: A walk through history, Romans to Renaissance—Tuesday, 27 April 2010, evening
Karim meets me promptly at 5:00 this evening, ready to fulfill his promise of a mixed historical and cultural experience.
In the course of the next four hours: we linger in the interior of the Castle of Gibralfaro, built by the Phoenicians in the 14th century, which stands at the base of Alcazaba (first photo in right column); go into the Renaissance Cathedral of Malaga, which features two dozen altars and shrines (second, third, and fourth photos in right column, with the fourth photo being one of the “minor” side altars); view a theater devoted to Cervantes; and stand outside the birth home of Picasso (photo on left below) who lived in Malaga until the age of 19.
Nearby is a park with a statue of the famous painter (photo on right below) and only one block from Hotel Carlos V is a museum devoted to his work.
Malaga, Spain: Street culture—Wednesday, 28 April 2010, early evening
The streets of old Malaga fascinate me. Each is a work of art. Almost all are too narrow for cars. Some contain rows of parked motorcycles and scooters. One is a taxi stand. And most are filled with people walking, talking, strolling, and dining.
In just a little more than one hour, I am on 33 streets, including Plaza de la Constitution, a major gathering place. I walk past Teatro Romano, Castle Gibralfaro, Alcazaba, the Picasso Museum, the Cathedral of Malaga, other churches, numerous shops and outdoor eateries some of which were closed in the middle of the afternoon, and hundreds of people. I take 400 photos.
Malaga, Spain: Picasso—Friday, 30 April 2010, morning
The Picasso Museum is alive with visitors of all ages. Several school groups of 18 to 20 students who appear to be middle school age are there. The facilitator is animated. Six or eight students’ hands are in the air at any time, eager to ask the next question. Teachers stand in the background, sometimes gesturing for the youth to sit on the floor so people behind can see over them. And they do.
I roam, as I usually do in a museum, absorbing the overall sensations, stopping occasionally to gather nuance. Picasso’s malformed shapes and bacchanalia are engaging, but three quotations from the master cause me to take note. The messages speak to me about the journey of adventure and the adventure of life:
Malaga, Spain: Karim’s mosque—Friday, 30 April 2010, afternoon
Karim and I are at his mosque for the weekly Friday afternoon ritual akin. “This is the day I wear my galabiyya,” he says, his long legs covered in white and his white-shoed feet striding beside me.
Once inside, a man who speaks excellent English greets us warmly but tells me that I cannot go into the inner chamber. Karim had thought I could, but we both accept this decision. “Today is a special service, and it will be full,” the man explains. He notes my camera. “Please. No pictures. People come here to pray.” I agree, having planned not to take any photos anyway, my practice for reverence during a church service regardless of faith or denomination.
Karim apologizes to me, removes his shoes, and moves into the inner chamber as the man who greeted us provides me with a plastic chair and a suggestion that I place it in the courtyard, one side of which borders the inner chamber. After a few minutes, he comes back with a closed-network radio and an earpiece. “The service will be translated,” he says. “You can listen on this.”
I sit back in the chair and lean my head against a window ledge, which tucks nicely under my occipital ridge. I close my eyes and offer my own meditative prayers.
When I hear a loud voice preaching from the inner chamber, I put the earpiece to my ear. The voice from the inner chamber is speaking in Arabic. The translator is speaking Spanish. I don’t comprehend the words of either, but I devote one ear to each, wondering if there is such a thing as language osmosis.
Soon, my view through an open doorway to the inner chamber tells me that it is full. Men continue to pour in from the street. Their clothing—white Muslim garb, business suits, casual attire, t-shirts with recognizable brand logos, and athletic shirts that sport the names of American teams—is as varied as their skin color, ranging from mahogany black to extremely pale.
Men already inside the courtyard roll out blue mats. They start on the opposite side of the courtyard from where I am seated, nearest the door to the inner chamber. But within minutes, the last of the mats are rolled close to my chair. Men are filling them, too. More men are standing near me, leaning against a wall as they remove their shoes. Even here in the space where I was invited to sit, I am in their extended sacred space.
I pick up my rucksack, camera, and water bottle and vacate the chair. By the time I take five steps and look back to make sure I haven’t forgotten something, the chair is occupied by a man removing his shoes. He appears to have a handicap and remains seated there while others around him kneel and bow on the blue prayer mats.
I am now in an alcove closer to the main entrance. And that’s okay. The speaker has moved to a chant of the Koran and the translator is no longer speaking. I have found another plastic chair and sit in meditative silence, absorbing the spiritual energy of the place and those who are praying here.
Some people I know or have heard speak—those I call a vocal minority—promote separation by, ironically, utilizing the inclusive word “all” to drive divisive wedges into the minds of their followers. I have observed that this is true of Americans and Arabians, Christians and Muslims. Their rhetoric, regardless of political or religious belief, falls into the pattern of “all who agree with me are superior” and “all who disagree with me are wrong, bad, evil, impure.”
As Karim and I have walked and talked three of the last five days, he has told me much about his faith. He has spoken more than I can recall, but the principal spirit of his message is that Muslims are, in general, peace-loving and peace-keeping people. He has stated that there are some who create trouble and want war, and I have said there are militant Christians and Americans, too, some of whom promote war for their personal profit. On these points, we have agreed.
Yet, Karim sometimes exhibits a zeal that prompts me, later while walking from the mosque to his apartment, to ask, “Are you trying to convert me?”
“No,” he says, “but if you did, you only have to pray that Allah is the only deity to be worshipped and that Muhammad is His servant.”
“I do believe in God,” I reply, “but I also believe that each person is already a part of God regardless of which religion he or she practices.”
He doesn’t reply, and I’m not sure if he agrees with that statement or not.
I sense that his enthusiasm is a characteristic of youth, exhilarated by the opportunity to speak philosophically, in English, with a stranger from the West.
As we talk, he listens to my response, and I hear his voice soften. I feel my body, a bit tense and protective, also soften. That is the beauty of discussion, I realize again for the umpteenth time in my life, while also thinking of times when I had not allowed enough discussion to occur and salve wounds spoken by angry, hurtful words.
Then the majesty of the moment comes floating through my consciousness again. Here is a man 42 years younger than I, walking beside me. He has shown me his mosque, his home, his friends and classmates, his city, his religion, his culture, and his heritage. He has promised to take me to the beach in Malaga later this afternoon and make sure I get to the train station for my trip to Barcelona on time. And I have shown him me, an American Christian, with a different homeland, culture, heritage, and beliefs. He has enriched me during my time in Malaga, and he tells me that I have enriched him, too. Together, we have experienced our commonality.
Barcelona, Spain: Walk of glory—Sunday, 2 May 2010, late afternoon and evening
Majesty. Grandeur. Pomp. Glory. Ceremony. Grace. Fanfare. Gold.
These are the feelings that stir in my soul as I walk through the site of the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.
The experience has occurred slowly, so I am not overwhelmed by sudden immersion into this arena of elite athleticism. But the feeling of splendor is still strong, and I’m glad that I have come to savor it step by step.
More than two hours earlier, well before sunset, I had looked through a window at flat of my friends Josep and Chus and seen an intriguing spire directed skyward. I had announced that I would walk there. “It’s farther than it seems,” Josep had cautioned.
I had eschewed both his advice and a bus, so, instead, I wandered through neighborhoods of high rise, high density population where multiple generations mingle in numerous parks and playgrounds.
Discovering a car dealership, I saw an example of Europe’s desire and ability to minimize their urban footprint by putting the showroom on the second floor and seven stories of apartments above that.
At the edge of the Olympic compound, I enter a soccer stadium where children are kicking a ball. Across the way, in a baseball stadium, men are playing cricket, their wickets set between second and third base. From a higher elevation, I look down on tennis courts, track arenas, and buildings that might be natatoriums or housing. Rising still higher, I follow a curving road and discover the source of my quest.
A ramp leads me into the arena where this artistic symbol of Barcelona’s modern Olympic Games is based. At the arena’s lower elevation, a man and boy kick a soccer ball in the grass and people run on a dirt track. Yet, there is a hint of a large expanse stretching into the distance.
Drawn toward the spire, I approach two rows of round columns, about 12 meters tall, and a broad ascending stairway on which a lone individual appears miniaturized.
The step risers are short and the treads deep. These are platforms on which the paramount of the world’ athletic youth stood and paraded, displaying nationalistic pride and global glory, in the early 1990s. The steps run perpendicular to gold-lighted fountains.
Rising above the pinnacle is the Stadi Olimpic de Montjuic Lluis Companys (Olympic Stadium Lluis Companys), a majestic, carved-stone building topped with bronze statues that typify ancient Olympic charioteers. I wonder who or what is Lluis Companys, and Josep later tells me he was a president of the Catalan government in the 1930s and during the Spanish Civil War. The Stadi Olimpic was built in his honor.
From there, I look back at where I have been and the sunset beyond. There is a temptation amidst such grand dimension to feel small, like the images of the people in my photographs. But I also feel the spirit of the athletes who sanctified this place. Their glory is that of ancient Olympic traditions from which they are descendants, and triumphant energy lingers from the glory and sound of their presence. So what I truly feel is, is … privileged to be here and to have walked these steps of gold and glory. And gratitude to the City of Barcelona for keeping this place open and accessible to the public.
Barcelona, Spain: The business of travel—Monday through Friday, 3 through 7 May 2010
The business of travel is time consuming, ever-changing, and sometimes redundant.
I had not booked all of my flight and passage and lodging reservations before leaving home a month ago, so I am completing that task from the road.
I expect to use a credit card for these purchases but am foiled when the booking agent for my passage aboard sail training vessel (STV) Kaliakra in the Historic Seas Tall Ships Regatta from Greece to Bulgaria informs me they do not accept that form of payment. Instead, this organization requires that I establish an account with an international monetary exchange, an extra time-consuming step that requires several days of monitoring and emails.
The first complication arises when the monetary exchange company’s instructions request a certain bank identification number with a certain quantity of digits. Their instructions use an acronym to describe that number, and I can’t find any number with that quantity of digits related to my bank account.
My cell phone isn’t working in Europe even though the technician at the local store where I bought it in Kalamazoo said it would. Josep and Chus tell me to use their landline to make international calls, assuring me the cost will be minimal and insisting that I not reimburse them.
I call my cell phone company and learn that the local technician was wrong. My cell phone will not work in Europe because my cell phone company doesn’t operate in Europe. End of discussion.
I call my bank and ask about the monetary exchange company’s request for the particular account-related number. The banking service person tells me she has never heard of such a number and that maybe it pertains to monetary exchanges between European nations.
I send an email to the monetary exchange company, seeking clarification. After several communiqués, they tell me that their instructions are incorrect and what they want is my bank routing number. Oh, why didn’t you say so in the first place? That’s easy.
The second complication occurs when the monetary exchange company takes several days to set up my account and process the exchange. Finally, on Friday, the last day of banking business before my departure to Volos, Greece, where I am to board Kaliakra and won’t have Internet access, the exchange occurs and I receive my electronic ticket. My passage is secure; all is well.
But another complication has occurred when I attempt to pay for an airline ticket with my credit card and learn that my credit card company has blocked usage of the card. I try another card and experience the same result. I again use Josep and Chus’ landline to call both credit card companies.
The service agents tell me they discontinued service because the cards have been used to make purchases or withdraw cash in Europe. I tell the service agents that I am in Europe and that I have made purchases and have withdrawn cash in the amounts they have on their records. I tell both service agents that I phoned their companies in March, while still in the U.S., and notified them I would be traveling in Europe, Russia, and India. I ask if my accounts contain a notation to that effect. They do. I am feeling frustrated with the duplication of effort and feel like saying, “What part of traveling in Europe do you not understand?” But I hold my tongue. One agent tells me her company was simply protecting me. I know this is baloney because the credit card companies are responsible to cover fraudulent use of a lost or stolen card, but, again, I speak no complaints and, instead, thank them for their diligence and for reactivating my cards.
One benefit of making these calls is that I learn how quickly service agents answer the phone when I dial the collect number for foreign travelers printed on the back of my credit card. There is no long-lasting automated recording, no option buttons to push, no account or zip code numbers to say, no messages telling me how many minutes I have to wait before my call will be answered, no music. Instead, a real live person answers immediately. I think I’ll try calling those numbers from the States when I return.
Through this process, I am grateful for Josep and Chus’ hardwire Internet connection over which I feel secure keying account numbers, personal IDs, and passwords. I am also grateful to my cousin and financial advisor Bill who warned me prior to departure, “Don’t key your account numbers or passwords into the Internet from a wifi hotspot. There are people trolling those places searching for such information to access people’s accounts.”
When discussing these series of events with Josep, he says, “Now you know the difference between being a tourist and a traveler. A tourist goes with all reservations in place. A traveler goes with only a destination from which he might not return.”
Barcelona, Spain: Montserrat—Thursday, 6 May 2010
Montserrat is a mountain one hour by commuter train from Barcelona. Its name means “jagged mountain” due to the appearance of its serrated skyline of pink conglomerate sedimentary rock that is popular with climbers. The mountain is the site of a Benedictine abbey, Santa Maria de Montserrat.
The huge basilica here is filled with people, many of them youth groups, who have come to hear L'Escolania the famed boys’ choir of alto and soprano voices, intone liturgical Latin as part of the twice-daily services.
Afterward, I light a votive candle to express my gratitude then go in search of a higher sanctuary.
I have already risen a few feet in elevation aboard the train from Barcelona, traveling to the station stop designated for this holy place that attracts over two million tourists and pilgrims each year. From the station stop, I took the aerial cable car, Aeri de Montserrat, quickly rising above a river and two-lane highway that snakes at the base of the valley. The next conveyance will be the Funicular de Sant Joan, a rail tram. Then, I will walk to Sant Jeroni, the highest point on the mountain at an altitude of 1,149 meters, nearly 4,000 feet.
The guide map says this walk, of about four or five kilometers, will take a little more than an hour. But I soon learn that estimate is optimistic or created by someone younger who may have been running, and I require nearly two hours to make the journey. But that’s okay. The place is lovely and quiet, and the walk is relaxing as well as tiring.
The rock formations are families of conical domes that, to me, appear as round gnomes, garbed in antebellum skirts, with flabby arms, bald heads, slitted eyes, and long flowing noses.
Each dome actually consists of what must be trillions of small to cobble-sized composited stones compressed together by Earth’s pressures, bound by now-solidified molten liquid, and partially eroded by once-prevalent seas.
From some vantage points, it is possible to look down upon the monastery and basilica complex that also includes souvenir shops, restaurants, and statue-lined meditation trails.
Sant Jeroni is said to offer a spectacular 360-degree view of locations far in the distance, but clouds have blown in and the wind is biting by the time I reach the top. I sit in the lee of a table-top compass dial that shows the direction of various surrounding locales, eating a candy bar and seeing nothing but gray beyond the handrail three meters away. Rested but cold, I start my descent only to encounter sunshine within a few minutes. I look back at the peak and see the cloud, so I choose warmth and continue downward.
The solitude here is pronounced. Birds and other noise makers are absent. Even the wind below the crest is silent. The eerie feeling is dispelled only be an occasional encounter with others—most of whom are coming down while I am still ascending. The few making the journey include one couple, two women together, four women alone, a grandmother and toddler, and a small group of teens—a number far fewer than the throngs below. All confirm that the estimated trail times on the map are exaggerated.
Barcelona, Spain: Cerveza—Thursday, 6 May 2010
Chus is asking me, in English, if I want a beer. Because of her accent, I’m not able to understand her; in fact, because she speaks Spanish and Catalan exclusively, I don’t even realize that she’s attempting English. She confers with Josep to see if she is saying the word correctly; he confirms that she is. Finally, I get it. “Oh, cerveza!” I exclaim. We laugh. Yes, I know how to order a beer en Espanol.
She tells me mi Espanol es mas claro than it was on Saturday, when I arrived. I tell her she is speaking despacio (slower), which makes it easier for me comprendo. Even when we don’t understand each other, we laugh and smile at our attempts. Overcoming language differences—I won’t say “barriers”—is fun.
Oh, and yes, I accept her offer.
Barcelona, Spain: Massage—Friday, 7 May 2010
I am looking for the massage studio. Josep has given me clear directions. I find the street and the building, but it is a four-story apartment complex. I look at the tenants’ mailboxes and security buzzer buttons; no clue there. I ask a teen on the street if this is, indeed, the building I’m seeking; she speaks no English but we are able to confirm that it is. She knows nothing about a massage therapist. She looks up to another teen standing on a third-floor balcony. This teen speaks no English either, but I learn that she knows of no massage therapist in this building. Perplexed, I return to Josep and Chus’ flat.
Fortunately, I had been on a scouting mission for an appointment that was still two hours in the future. But Josep and Chus are not at home. I use their landline to call his cell phone; he doesn’t answer, so I leave a message. I have no choice but to wait.
He returns my call ten minutes before the appointment time. I tell him of my quandary, and he rings off to call the therapist. He calls me back a few minutes later. Yes, I was at the right building, but the studio doesn’t have a name on the mailbox because the building is supposed to be for residential use only, not commercial enterprises. Josep gives me instructions regarding which security buzzer button to press. I return the six blocks to that location just in time for my appointment.
I press the proper button. The door buzzes, and I open it. Inside, I say, “Ola,” and a male voice echoes the same word. The therapist is waiting for me on the mezzanine.
He is dressed in a white lab coat comparable to what a doctor in the U.S. would wear. He speaks no English, and I tell him, “Mi Espanol es piquito.” Or is it pequeno? I often confuse those words.
Yet, I quickly ascertain that he is professional masaje terapeutico, licensed en educacion fisica. He also practices functional recuperation, chiropractic, and muscular laser therapy. I tell him of my journey and that I am collecting information about massages in various countries for an article that I intend to write. He gives me his card in case I need to contact him later.
He invites me disrobe, leaving my underpants on, and he stays in the room as I do. He directs me to the table, instructing me to lie on my stomach. So far, this is all similar to what I have come to expect from my annual physical examination.
His massage is efficient and comforting, albeit with lots of strong tapotement and delivered with more emphasis on recuperative health than complete relaxation. He does not massage my cranium, for example, nor my abdomen.
I ask him if he comprehends the words “medial meniscus,” and he says that he does. I tell him about the amount of walking I have been doing in the past month, the amount of sitting I have done in years past, my torn medial meniscus of a decade earlier, and the soreness I experienced in my knees while descending the trail from Sant Jeroni at Montserrat the previous day.
He suggests a laser therapy treatment, and I agree, not sure exactly what that will entail—either physically or financially. But he ensures me the procedure no es entrusivo.
He palpates the areas around my knees and, using a pen for marking skin, places seven small Xs around each kneecap. I say, “Acupressure points?” and he confirms the accuracy of my guess.
He then turns off the overhead fluorescent light that has been on for the entire previous part of the massage and switches on a soft-glowing desk lamp. Ah, much more soothing to the eyes. Then he wheels a machine closer to the table and my lower extremities. He holds a laser point on the designated Xs for 45 seconds each. I feel nothing other than the slight cool touch of the pointer. “Okay, let’s see what this is about,” I say to myself and relax in the dimmer, more appealing light. When he is finished, he wheels the machine away, turns off the desk lamp, and turns on the fluorescent. He then remassages the area around my knees.
Using mostly Spanish and a few medical terms common in both his native tongue and mine, I learn that this laser therapy should generate long-term benefit as it rectifies old muscular and ligament maladies. I have the impression that, if I lived in the area, he would recommend ongoing treatment.
It is hard to ascertain any immediate effect from the laser therapy, but over the next few days and even weeks, I feel that my knees are better, stronger. Whether that is due to the treatment or additional strength and tone from extensive walking is impossible to determine. But I do know that I am walking with greater confidence. Is that physical? Or mental? Or both? Is it spiritual?
Nor I am I weakened financially by this service. The total cost is 35 euros (about $45). When I offer a tip, a common practice in the U.S., he appears offended, so I don’t press the point.
Barcelona, Spain: Walking with Marina—Friday, 7 May 2010
Marina is Russian, an engineer, and speaks beautiful English. She lives in Moscow with her boyfriend who doesn’t like to travel, so she goes on her own four to six times a year. She also travels extensively for her work to many parts of Russia. She has come to Barcelona to view architecture, particularly Antoni Gaudi’s famed unfinished cathedral. We met on the train from Montserrat the previous day.
During that ride back to Barcelona, I told her I will be visiting Moscow in June, and she offered advice about several hotels along with warnings about the slowness of Moscow trains, the crowdedness of Moscow roadways, and the potential for delay when taking a Moscow taxi. “Leave early for the airport,” she insisted.
She also told me that Moscow has two airports, one on the north and one on the south, a valuable piece of information that I, a traveler and not a tourist, didn’t know. She said that, judging from the name of the airline I would take from Moscow to Delhi, the airport I want would be Sheremetyevo, the one on the north. When I checked my electronic ticket later that night, I found that she was correct.
I also found an email from her that contained web site links to several hotels in Moscow. I did more Internet research and selected the second of her three top choices.
Heeding her statement that she was bored with walking Barcelona alone and feeling that she had seen enough architecture for one trip, I responded with an email invitation to join me on a walk to the Olympic stadium. Because of that, we are now walking, having met near a plaza that is the roof of a major subway station as the setting sun marks the start of the weekend.
We walk toward then up numerous steps that lead to Palau Nacional (National Palace), which was built for the 1929 World’s Fair and renovated for the 1992 Olympic Games. The building is the site of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (National Art Museum of Catalonia), a vast collection of Catalan visual art.
As was typical of Malaga, people here in Barcelona are out in throngs, strolling, lounging, talking, laughing, holding hands, and playing games. Marina says this is typical of Moscow, too. I tell her it is not common in U.S. cities except on special occasions, such as festivals, or weekends in places like New York’s Central Park; I say that most of the time people in large cities use the sidewalks only to get to work or a store and that in smaller cities people drive. She says she doesn’t own a car and that her flat is tiny but she chose it because it is close to her work.
I begin to wonder if I can live without a car when I return to the U.S., and I calculate the savings in gas and insurance as well as what we Americans consider the inconvenience of not being able to go anywhere any time we want. With such musing, my appreciation for the European rail and mass transit systems grows.
I had boarded the train to Montserrat, for example, at a station one block from Josep and Chus’ flat. The bus to the airport, he has told me, is even closer than that. The train from Malaga to Barcelona runs about once every hour at speeds of nearly 200 kilometers per hour (125 miles per hour) on rails that are totally smooth. The reclining seats are comfortable enough for sleeping, and the conductors offer a free bottle of water, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a sleep mask.
Marina and I discuss the benefits of traveling alone versus with someone. When alone, we determine, it is possible to go where we want when we want without the need for consultation, discussion, and mutual decisions—or making sure that we are in the designated meeting place at the designated time. Traveling with a companion means having someone to talk with, to build memories with, and to notice landmarks and make joint decisions that might prevent becoming lost. We don’t attempt to decide which is better.
We make our way to the Olympic stadium, which she had not seen before. She comments on its vastness but doesn’t seem to be as impressed with the majesty of the place as I was five nights earlier. Maybe another characteristic of companionship is that each person gathers disparate impressions.
Later, we discover Poble Espanyol, an outdoor architectural museum that features full-size buildings that, collectively, cover 42,000 square meters, an area the size of a neighborhood. The museum contains 117 buildings, streets, and public squares, all reproduced to scale. It is considered an “ideal model” of an all-Spanish village that represents the typical structures of every region in Espana.
We stroll through a courtyard, down narrow stone streets, up and down outdoor stairways, and past restaurants. We note the nuances of one structure from another. Each building has a small placard with a number that, if we had a guidebook, would have directed us to more particulars. Marina, who had come to Barcelona to view architecture, is delighted with this find.
Around midnight, the streets are still filled with people as we descend the steps in front of Palau Nacional and make our way back to the plaza where we met seven hours earlier. There, we part and head for different entrances to the subway system that will take her in one direction to her hotel and me in another direction to Josep and Chus’ flat. We shake hands, a sign of friendship and casual acquaintance, a symbol of thanks for an evening much enjoyed.
Barcelona, Spain: Josep and Chus’ wedding—Saturday, 8 May 2010
Josep and Chus’ flat is abuzz with excitement on the morning of their wedding. But the excitement is being generated not by the soon-to-be-married couple but by members of her family, five people in all, six including me.
The bride and groom have vacated—Chus early yesterday and Josep later last night—for diverse locations, as is the custom in Spain. They will not see each other again until meeting at City Hall, the site of their matrimonial ceremony.
The two men, Javier and Jose, who are married to Chus’ cousins and are the official photographers, leave early. The wives, Mari and Patricia, and Javier and Mari’s teenage daughter, Paula, and I share a taxi later, arriving at the plaza outside City Hall about 30 minutes before Josep who gets there before Chus.
We gather in the shade of the ornate antiquated building’s north side and wait as another wedding party slowly exits the building. Across the plaza, several dozen citizens are raising their voices and signs and blowing whistles in protest of Spain’s economic conditions. “It’s the same every day,” one of the relatives tells me. “The same people with the same issue?” I ask. “No, different people. Different issues. But a demonstration every day; everybody wants to change the government,” se replies. The whistle is particularly annoying, and I hope they will disperse soon.
Once the previous bride and groom and their wedding entourage depart, we enter City Hall, cross a marble-floored interior courtyard with a brilliant gold chandelier overhead, and ascend a long stone stairway with a Gothic-columned hand rail.
The wedding chamber has a vaulted ceiling, multiple chandeliers with light bulbs that give the impression of candles, a raised platform similar to a sanctuary, tapestries of royal gold and red, an exceptionally detailed ivory carving depicting heraldry, religious statuary, extremely high-backed wooden seats topped with numerous detailed columnar carvings suitable for a choir or deacons or judges, a multi-colored patterned tile floor, and dark wooden pews with hand-carved backrests. It is as beautiful as a church.
The ceremony is simple and elegant. Josep and Chus appear before a man dressed in a suit topped by a bright red stole.
Afterward, Josep and Chus descend the steps and emerge into the outdoor plaza as a married couple. The protestors have departed, and the scene is marked by smiles of love and groups who pose for photographs of their individual and now-combined families.
This is apparently the last wedding of the day here, and we linger even while a city employee makes her way among us sweeping up the red, pink, and white rose petals we have tossed in the direction of the joyous Josep and Chus.
We then walk several blocks among stone buildings of old Barcelona architecture with overhead arches, people who are enjoying beautiful Saturday weather, and street musicians. We pass through one of the city’s largest outdoor plazas where hundreds of people are mingling and a brass and woodwind orchestra is setting up to play a free outdoor concert.
Our destination is the Colon Hotel where we will enjoy a sit-down dinner. Along the way, the two photographers, Javier and Jose, emulate paparazzi as they make dozens of photos of the bride and groom from all angles.
Barcelona, Spain: Four language conversation—Saturday, 8 May 2010, at the wedding reception
Josep’s father, who is also named Josep, and two brothers of Josep’s mother, Luis and Fernando, and I are engaged in a challenging conversation. Collectively, we speak four languages—Catalan, Spanish, French, and English with a touch of German, I think—but each of us knows only one well plus a few words in one or two others.
Whenever one of us speaks, at least one other person gives the facial expression for not understanding. But another one or two know enough words in the speaker’s language to offer a crude translation. Voices overlap as the speaker and interpreters seek agreement, punctuated by si, oui, and yes. across one shoulder. He speaks to them with the caring of a clergy and the authority of a magistrate. Informality allows photographers to be in the sanctuary.
While the subjects discussed were obviously important at the time, the lingering memory is that of laughter and smiles and accomplishment—key idioms in the universal language of fellowship and celebration.