Arriving fresh from Bolivia and alone for the first time in months, I internally struggled to see the beautiful city of Barcelona as anything more than a teeming hub of privilege, greed an excess. Sleep deprived, with ringing in my ears, I visited the landmarks on foot...
Forgetting to eat and with no real plan in mind, I walked until my legs were sore from the unforgiving tarmac and further. Past open air restaurants and girls who in another life could have been me- an expensive smell in the air- a mixture of perfume, food and cocktails that now stuck in my throat.
There were wide, clean streets, unnaturally pruned trees and push buttons for everything. Though I'd never been to the city, I felt like I'd seen everything before and began to search for artistic details. Barcelona is brimming with these, but despite finding something on every corner I felt nothing.
At the beginning of a big adventure I'm prepared for anything, but returning to Europe from eight months in South America, I hadn't anticipated how difficult it would be to readjust. A group of fat German men mocked an old lady begging- leering over her, hunching their backs and pointing to imaginary Euros on the ground. I felt sick. The more I walked the emptier I felt and the more I missed the sound of the river and the butterflies around me.
It was sunny and warm, but I kept on my paint-stained hoody and walked for hours until I reached the sea. Though after three months inland it wasn't the deserted paradise I'd been dreaming of, I was happy to look out and see the flat blue horizon.
I considered my scratty old shoes on the manicured sand and mentally shook myself. This was my continent and a city I'd always wanted to visit.
With an aching body, but more positive mind-set, I laughed at the ludicrousness of rich city life- families whizzing past on their Segways, well groomed meat-heads flexing on the outside gym and a voluptuous lady forced by social correctness to clean up the mess of her top-knotted chihuahua, but there were some I could relate to. A tired looking couple lay next to their suitcases in the sand, expensive boots kicked off and toes out in the sunshine. A man selling coconut smiled at me like an old friend.
Looking at a still silver man on a horse I overheard a tiny child in pink heart sunglasses ask her businessman father "Why?". Having just spent the last five weeks living on money we made selling bread, a recipe taught to us by a (now-settled) street performing clown, this fat man's answer- "Because he doesn't have a job", hit some kind of nerve with me. I didn't know this painted man's story, but from my experience talking with street-performers, I didn't feel this explanation could have done him justice. In my sleepy haze I decided to look out for other people making their living in alternative ways. The port end of La Rambla is a good place to start...
Further on, from a distance I spied into the closed circus and wondered what their lives were like inside. Despite having no skills whatsoever meeting other performers had given me a strange fascination with this way of life. The dedication and talent needed to perform their acts and the obvious care with which their wagons and tents were maintained suggested that this was not a home for jobless bums, but for people too easily bored to withstand normal life.
Along the seafront the next day, I wondered how the sand-sculpting men had kept thier intricate creations safe overnight and hoped that they made enough money for a bed when they wanted one.
AngloItalian's Feeling like a foreigner at home. sums up a lot of the problems you can experience fitting in when you return to a familiar place feeling like you've changed. Though I wasn't even back in the UK yet, I already felt detached from modern life. Nevertheless, as well as the ready availability of toilet paper, there were other things I couldn't help but feel grateful for despite my mopiness- people were kind to me, I could walk around the streets completely anonymously and there was readily available cheese.
The cheapest place I could find at the time was the invitingly named Cool Hostel. It's absolutely tiny, but has a kitchen and I found the staff really friendly. I could have easily stayed a little longer. The entrance is a little difficult to spot and you need to speak into an intercom button.
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