It’s a humid day, but a breeze is coming through the open window in la sala (the living room), carrying the sounds of a street performer playing the accordion and voices from the cafÃ© below. Picture a quaint European street, like you see in a movie, and that’s where I am. It still feels dreamlike at times like these.
My apartment is in the center of Avinguda GaudÃ¬ on the third floor, with a breathtaking view. At one end of the street is La Sagrada FamÃlia, and at the other end is Hospital de San Pau, both of which were designed by Antonio GaudÃ¬ in the late 19th century.
My location could not be any better, in the heart of the San Pau neighborhood. Its central location makes it easy to get around the city on the metro and the buses, and after a few days of using public transportation, I was surprised at how quickly I’ve adapted.
That seems to be the trend since the beginning of my adventure in Barcelona. Adaptation. My host mother speaks little English, and her primary language is Catalan, a unique dialect of Spanish that is prominent in Barcelona. This was intimidating at first; speaking another language can be nerve racking, especially when your only real practice has been in a classroom.
I now realize how quickly we as humans can adapt when it’s a necessity, but also how easily we can communicate even if we don’t understand each other fully. By the end of the day my mind is exhausted, but I’ve found the more I try, the better I get.
Just in my first week in Barcelona, I have learned an unbelievable amount. I’m trying to teach myself to not just see and hear things, but to really look and listen. I am determined not to be just another tourist.
Since the 1992 Olympics, Barcelona has had a sharp increase in tourists. In parts of the city, like Las Ramblas and the beach district of Barceloneta, the city is overrun with foreign visitors. It is not a surprise that it is such a desirable destination for its beautiful location and architecture, but it is taking a toll on the local people and culture, whose neighborhoods are being flooded with tourists. Many locals, like a middle-aged man who took us on a bike tour through the city, say that the city is completely different than it was just twenty years ago when he was growing up.
For this reason, I am extremely grateful to be living with one of the locals. My host has been so kind and welcoming, and I constantly learn something new from her. She is a wonderful cook, and makes me a huge dinner every night, usually consisting of fresh vegetables, meats and cheeses, bread from the panaderÃa across the street, and always a dessert.
Every night after la cena (dinner), we watch the news in Spanish. From this I have seen the world from another perspective, and I have also learned a lot about the local political atmosphere.
On September 11, Catalonia will also be celebrating a national tragedy, ironically on the same day as one for the United States. It is Catalonia’s National Day, which commemorates their defeat in the War of Spanish Succession. There was a siege on the city of Barcelona from July 1713 until September 11, 1714, when Barcelona was finally forced to surrender to the army of King Phillip V of Spain.
On this day, this year, the 300th anniversary, the people of Barcelona will celebrate their culture with demonstrations, feasts and political rallies across the city. Â Along one of the main roads, Avinguda Diagonal, people will join together holding hands in the shape of a “V”, wearing the colors of the Castilian flag.
This year’s celebration will also be marked by a call for independence from Spain after 300 years. Residents of Barcelona in favor of independence are pushing for a referendum in November, which could result in independence if the majority votes in favor. Catalonia has their own parliament already, but some hope this could be a step towards full separation.
For this reason, the U.S. consulate in Spain has sent a notification to all U.S. citizens staying in Barcelona, giving precautions that the celebrations on the eleventh could become dangerous and rowdy because of the upcoming referendum, although they are intended to be peaceful. Despite this, I feel very fortunate to be here during this pivotal time in their history.
Summer is coming to its end, although the weather here is still hot, and this week brings the beginning of my classes at Universitat AutÃ²noma de Barcelona. I look forward to sharing my experiences in the classroom with teaches and students from all over the world. And so for now, as they say in Catalan, adÃ©u!