“I remember the strange humidity during that first September in the city. I remember the rancid smells and the constant noise as steel shutters were pulled up and down. I remember the sound of the cars and motorbikes reverberating against the old stone buildings, the footfalls and voices which echoed in the narrow streets. It was 1975, two months before the death of General Franco. I was twenty years old and had just arrived in Barcelona.”
-Colm Tóibín, Homage to Barcelona
It was this first paragraph that allowed me to indulge in buying the book. I can never resist books. As a twenty year old who just arrived to Barcelona experiencing “the strange humidity,” I knew I needed the book. Another thing I can’t resist is learning more about this city.
I left the house to eat lunch, but instead I let myself delight in a chocolate croissant and a coffee. A croissant here is worth not having a full meal. A croissant is worth the flight over here. While I ate and sipped my coffee, I was inspired to go for a walk through the city rather than focus on the work that has been hovering over me the for last couple of weeks. I am strong enough to carry the weight on my shoulders for a glimpse of the possibility of discovering something new.
What I didn’t know was that I was going to carry that weight for three and a half hours. I started walking aimlessly uphill aching for a view. I made my way through Parc Guinardó avoiding counting the steps and focusing on getting higher and higher. Each path taking me to another and another while I disregarded the time. Parc Guinardó’s winding paths brought me to a neighborhood high in the hills and I recognized that I was not far from another park that I was pretty familiar with. I followed the paths of Parc del Carmel, stopped at every vista, and meandered down to Parc Güell.
Parc Güell was originally planned to be a luxury neighborhood for the upper class of Barcelona. None of the plots sold, and Gaudí moved into one of the houses already built. The park was built from 1900 to 1914 and is a classic example of Gaudí’s playful style. His house is now a museum, and hundreds of visitors go to the park everyday. The entrance to the park was inspired by the story of Hansel and Gretel, and it stands out from the view of the city behind.
I bought a bottle of water, walked through the park, and listened to various performers and musicians before stopping in the gift shop on a whim. I discovered that there was a bookstore on the second floor and fatefully found Homage to Barcelona. It’s a book about the history of Barcelona, and a twenty year old foreigner making it his home.
When I walk out the door everyday, a new surprise awaits me in this city. Whether it be a walk through a park I didn’t know about, a panoramic view, a chocolate croissant, or a book that jumps out at me with coincidence. Barcelona defines serendipity for me.