1 January 2012
My Dear Piece of Home,
I’ve been writing to you incessantly about the “good times” we’ve been having. But our adventures abroad must end here in Barcelona, after which we must return to sweet loved ones and bittersweet responsibilities.
If I could send my presence (and fresh paella) by post, I would. But for now, my words, delayed however long by the time it takes to travel to you, will have to do their best.
I received word that you would be spending New Year’s Eve alone. Strangely it’s been a mixed cornucopia of new life and loneliness this holiday season for all of our families. Two of my friends had parents spending Christmas apart. One friend’s mother was visiting a relative with cancer. Another friend’s mother was visiting a grandfather with Alzheimer’s. I was shocked to hear my own grandpa’s voice on the phone the other day, made raw and childlike by the progression of his mental regression. Sometimes, in the midst of our reverie in Europe, we listened to and comforted one another after an unexpected email or a skype call.
Why do we always forget how unexpected life’s events are? Sometimes we had to pinch ourselves and our blessings, traveling abroad in Europe with a group of fat-hearted girls. Sometimes we wiped tears, either alone, to one other confidante, or to the whole group remembering the immediate struggles of our loved ones. Sometimes we squealed with joy at the news of a relative’s pregnancy, or waved excitedly over skype at family, whose numerous faces hardly fit the skype screen.
When we arrived in Barcelona on the 30th, we were met with a series of unexpected events. The taxi driver took us to 2 Calle de Pi, not 2 Calle de Pi i Maragalle. But he was gracious about the misunderstanding and drove us across the city to the right–or what we thought was the right address–free of charge. Housekeeping was supposed to meet us in front of the apartment, but nobody was there. Scratching our heads, we rang the doorbell of a wonderfully helpful Catalan woman. She let us use her phone to call the proprietor, who cleared up the address: It was 40 Calle de Pi i Maragalle, apartment #2. We dragged our bags up the street to the right address, where we were met by the housekeeping and a cleaning fee we did not expect. Again we called the proprietor who again cleared it up. The lady handed us our interestingly square-ended keys and left us to rest.
First order of business was lunch, before everything closed for siesta. We clicked the door closed behind us as we left the apartment and decided to try the key just in case. We rolled the key to the left (click click click) and to the right (click click click) but either way the door wouldn’t budge. We rammed it, we took turns with the lock. We spent twenty minutes with various combinations of turning and pushing before we decided to call the owner. Locking onto whatever tendrils of wifi extended out from the room, we called him via skype. He sighed “If you want me to come over there I can, but usually people don’t have problems with the locks” and then click we lost the wifi. Almost at the same moment, AK rolled the key to the left, pushed in and then pulled out, turning the key further left like a doorknob. The door opened in. Immensely relieved, we didn’t give it a second thought and walked out to the nearest cafe for a tapas lunch and returned home for a sweet siesta.
We awoke to an awkward situation. Worried about us after our skype call dropped, the landlord had visited the property while we were out to lunch and sent us an email: “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do if you call for help and you’re not there.” Since our 5 am trip to Copenhagen airport that morning we had been running on fumes and hadn’t thought to let him know the lock worked alright. We apologized and explained the situation by email. And he replied “That’s alright. I was just worried about you guys.”
When we went to sleep, we were wondering how on earth Spaniards could eat dinner around 9 or 10 pm. When we woke up, we were on Barcelona time. By the time we walked down La Rambla the first time and reached restaurant La Fonda, it was past 9 and we were adequately hungry. Kicking off our shoes (not literally of course, it was quite a nice restaurant but for a reasonable price), we toasted our stint in Barcelona with a liter of sangria.
And then someone mentioned, “Wait, what time does NL arrive in Barcelona?”
You see, up until this point we were only four. Due to miscommunication in our planning, NL was due to arrive in Barcelona later that night, and we were completely sure we’d be home at 11 PM to meet her at the apartment. For a few hours we forgot that we found ourselves on Barcelona time, that in any other country we would for sure be at home at 11, but at the moment we were at La Fonda at 10:30 PM, and one or more of us needed to start heading back NOW. GB and I decided to leave the check to AK and EC, and ran for the subway at 10:50 PM. Twenty minutes of stairs, speedwalking, subway changes, and giggling later we arrived at the apartment, ten minutes after Nicole did, breathlessly apologizing and thanking God she was alright. We ushered her into the apartment and told her about our eventful day.
A few hours later, AK and EC arrived by taxi, breathless as well from relief. After we had split ways, they had attempted to find a grocery we passed by earlier in the day to buy sweets and snacks. While we were catching up with Nicole, they had become hopelessly lost and a wee bit scared in dark Barcelona alleyways. Eventually they found the market, but the subway in Barcelona closed at midnight, so they had to return to the apartment by taxi.
Laughing about our day, we decided to unpack and take showers. Only the hot water didn’t work. We didn’t figure out until the next day that we had to ignite some sort of gas flame, and then we were good to go.
The closing of 2012 was a series of unexpected events, but not a series of unfortunate ones. Thanks to a few helpful Catalans and each other, we each made it to New Year’s Eve in one piece.
New Year’s Eve was a blur of food and sunshine. When I heard you would be spending New Year’s Eve alone, I really wished there was some magic way to send you all the food I’ve tasted–every time I bit into some new scrumptiousness I paused scribbled down notes and took pictures, struggling how to share it with you in this way, even if I can’t share it with you physically.
The weather in Barcelona was like a Northern California winter. A bit nippy, especially when the wind blows, but the air is fresh and dry, and you feel warm enough in the sunshine. Perhaps also because Barcelona was by the sea, I kept being reminded of our home in California. We began our New Year’s Eve late with a simple breakfast of bread, nutella, butter, and coffee. In the afternoon, we took advantage of one last free walking tour, which took us through the historically rich and beautiful Old Gothic part of Barcelona. Endless terraces with hanging plants, quiet squares around trickling fountains, intricately decorated churches looming towards the sky, mysterious alleyways leading past windows of antique trinkets and bits and bobs.
The walking tour ended right where we wanted to be for lunch: the famed sandwich shop Bo De B right across the street from the water. A heavy Moroccan lady with a bandana around her head cooked the sandwich meat fresh to order while a younger Moroccan girl filled the best baguettes with fresh vegetables and savory sauces. We each grabbed a sandwich and headed towards the ocean, California girls happy to have a little taste of sunshine and ocean once again, even though it was San Francisco chilly.
We cooked our New Year’s Eve dinner and ushered in the New Year with Barcelona traditions: cava and grapes. We looked like five Asians preparing for the end of the world when we left the local Bonpreu supermarket. Each girl had an armful of supplies since we only paid for two plastic bags. EC began preparing her Mexican citrus and garlic marinade right away with the one knife we had: a serrated bread knife. Without a knife, I helped her fillet the chicken with scissors. With the lack of utensils, NL, AK, and GB helped in whatever way they could. Hours later, we set up a New Year’s Eve feast complete with napkins folded into swans.
Stuffed like turkeys, we painted our lips red and headed out the door with a bag of grapes. Some Spaniards wear red underwear for good luck going into the New Year. We decided to wear red lips instead (saves us money and time!). When we emerged from the Placa de Catalunya underground station, we were herded through guardrails by police officers who confiscated glass bottles. We settled ourselves in a spot by the main fountain, with a good view of the clock tower. While we waited, we noticed a local TV team was going around interviewing everyone, locals and foreigners, and asking them to say Happy New Year on camera. EC asked them to film us, but when the time came, with the bright camera light on us, our words tripped over each other in different languages: “HapFelizpyNueNewvoYeAnos…” We hadn’t agreed what language we would say it in… hahaha…
When the clock struck midnight, the bell chimed 12 times. Each time the bell sounded, according to tradition, we popped a grape in our mouth (which is harder than you think! It’s like playing chubby bunny with 12 grapes). At the end, we shouted and hugged “Happy New Year!” and avoided the spray of champagne as we left the square and made our way back home. We celebrated with our own Spanish New Year champagne, cava, at home, toasting to the new year.
I hope the warmth and deliciousness I’ve tried to infuse in this letter haven’t worn off by the time it gets to you. Write me back with what you did end up doing over New Years.
Love you. Miss you.