We met shortly before I departed to Spain, I’ve heard of him through friends, but we didn’t acquaint ourselves until I was about to leave. I kept being reminded of him on my way to the hotel. I was supposed to meet him at 10:30 the next morning and then later that evening at his house.
The city by the bay was my last stop in Spain. Before that, I lost my voice in Sevilla, rushed down a Vespa to the train station in Granada, and watched the sunset from a rooftop in Gran Via. I wondered if my friend followed my advice and visited el Prado in Madrid, it boggled me that someone could live there and not take advantage of that.
I had the first afternoon in Barcelona to myself, and I decided to spend it walking through the gothic quarter. I got lost in between its narrow corridors and my memories. In Plaça de Sant Felip Neri, I couldn’t help but travel back to 1938. I could see the children running and then the blast. Franco bombed the place while trying to subjugate the Catalan country into the fold of his regime, and the children were killed trying to go from their school to the church to seek shelter.
The Catalan people knew hardship and it was painted all over town. It hanged from balconies with flags clamoring the liberation of political prisoners. Barcelona’s spirit proved to be a trailblazer in more ways than one. From the art that appeared to be everywhere, to the bike lanes that allowed me to zip from the city to the coast and back up the hills. I was in awe at the urban development success in every corner and structure of the town. It was a metropolis that doubled as a series of intimate boroughs; with each neighborhood maintaining a distinctive identity and pace.
The next morning, I arrived early at our first meeting. I was excited to meet him, but I took my time walking through a nearby park. La Sagrada Familia was gargantuan, over a hundred years and not yet finished, but best not to rush a work of art. He greeted me at the nativity entrance, explaining the story of Christ and the reason to use different styles for each facade. Making our way to the atrium, we took a walk through the forest of heaven; it was incredibly serene, controlled, and perfectly spaced, a contrast from the crowding and excess of the outside. The glass created patterns of light, just like in the forest.
We walked up the tower, the spirals revealed a panoramic view of the city, this was his city, and he had kindly offered to play tour guide. We said goodbye quietly, he needed to get back to work, and I was already late for a tour, he reminded me to meet him later that night.
I spent the day sightseeing, slowly processing the past two weeks. I traveled across time and town, and by the time the tour made it to Poblenou, I couldn’t help but ask for a ‘Horchata’ that brought me back to childhood. The city had been fantastic, I had only spent a couple of days there, but it had welcomed me with open arms. So, for the first time in all of my travels, I murmured the words ‘I could live here’ beneath my breath.
A bit after lunchtime, I walked back to the hotel; the smells of the Paella was too irresistible to pass. So, I took a seat, and waited patiently for the skillet to come; sipping wine, and listening to ‘señorita’ coming from the TVs at the restaurant. The last blocks to the hotel were so peaceful, the mansions along Paseo de Gràcia were beautiful. After tearing down the stone walls that suffocated the port during the dark ages; the city decided to look forward to innovation. In a departure from the majority of its European counterparts, a hexagon grid design was chosen. Gràcia soon looked more like the upper east side of Manhattan.
There was so much vibrancy, construction. Restoration appeared rampant, and I could see some of his designs as I walked up the hill. Back in the hotel, I only got a few minutes to shower and lay before we met at his house. I took the rest of the walk up the hill, and at the top, I could see the mosaics that lined his entrance, he was waiting for me at the door.
Entering his house, it was clear that he was inspired by nature; it reflected in every project he took on that house. Still, it was his understanding of movement within a space that made him a genius in my mind. He showed me some of the rooms, revealing clues of events and inspirations that appeared in his commissioned projects. We sat for coffee on the patio, I thanked him for the tour that morning, and for welcoming me to his home that night. I wished we would have spent the night together, reminiscing childhood memories and looking at the birds painted in the ceiling of his bedroom; but we were prudent, and we said goodbye quietly in the night. As I left, he reminded me to meet him at the park.
It was my last day in Barcelona, the last day of the trip actually. I was melancholic to say goodbye and wondered if it would be best to skip our meeting and just remain by the beach, soaking up the sun, and the breeze. It would not have been fair, he had been so generous to me, I would have been ungrateful not to come. I packed my bags at the hotel, storing memories in between every piece of clothing that I folded.
I picked my uniform, grey shorts, and a white t-shirt, he'd only met me like that. I wanted him to recognize me one last time. The hill streets proved to be a stepper challenge the last time; I must have been tired of dreaming or it might have been the bike rides the days before. I covered most of the city twice.
I arrived at the park through a side entrance, I could always count on the GPS to lead me astray. The walls of the park were laddered with mosaics, some with the shape of animals or flowers. They gained a third dimension while they merged along with the visitors on the stairs.
At the top, a broad esplanade with views of the city and the sunset awaited us; the perfect place to say goodbye. I sat at the edge; no proper words of gratitude yet. We looked at the hills, the city, the ocean, the castle of Montjuic at the edge of land in the distance.
Finally, I blurted out, thank you! Thank you for being a kind father to the city, for dressing it with jewels, for teaching it how to move. Thank you for welcoming me and guiding me through your work, your house, and your park. I'll remember you walking through Gràcia, and you will forever be in my heart. Goodbye Gaudí.