Longing for Barcelona…

It’s 3 pm and I should really be reading about Galileo Galilei for next week’s tutorial or perusing some fourteenth-century documents for the first chapter of my thesis; instead, I’m at a café near the library having just finished lunch (!) and now enjoying an nice espresso with a bit of hot milk with a tiny cookie, just large enough to add subtle contrast to the coffee. I’ve been in a classroom since 9 AM jumping from tutorial to tutorial and my eyes can’t really focus on a written page right now. This week was harder for me than for the students in many way. They had no reading to do for this week’s tutorial. I, on the other hand, had read and comment their proposals for the final essay – which they handed in last week – and then come up with handouts and design a workshop on how to research and write a proper history essay. Hopefully, some of them will take what I said at heart or will at least take a look at the handouts I distributed.

But enough of my babbling about work, after all, this is the wrong blog for that. I meant to talk about Barcelona and Toronto.

All this sitting-around-in-cafes-sipping-espressos-and-having-lunch-at-two-o’clock business reminded me of the life I had in Barcelona. It was nice. I woke up around 7 every morning, got ready, and Alan and I would leave the apartment around 8-8:30 and stop at the bar at the corner of our street to have coffee (picture beside) and often a small bocadillo, a cheese or cold cut sandwich served in a thin baguette bread, with some olive oil and tomato. Some days I would go to the gym before hitting the archives and in those days we would leave the house around 6:30 and have our coffee at a bakery near the gym. In both places – the bar and the bakery – we became one of the regulars pretty quickly and we never even had to order our coffees. At the bar, Kiko and Paco always knew what kind of coffee we preferred and had them ready by the time we sat down at the bar


I would make it to the archives around 9:00-9:30 and would work until around 1 pm or so. In the summer, when the archives closed at 2, I would have a short break around 11 for a coffee and not really stop for lunch but during the rest of the year, I’d take my hour lunch break at a nearby bakery. I’d leave the archives around 5:30 or so, Alan and I would have dinner shortly after I got home and we would then go out for a bit of a stroll around Gracia. In the summer we would stop for the best gelatto in town, in the winter we would go for coffee or a hot chocolate. On weekends we would either meet friends for ten-hour lunches, go to the beach, go hiking, or simply check out some nearby town. We were always meeting friends for endless chats.

I don’t know what it is. I like my life in Canada, I’m busy, I have lots of good friends, we go out frequently, but I often miss our Barcelona life. Maybe it was the nearly perfect weather that kept our spirits up. Maybe it was the fact that although we were busy, life seemed to go on at a slightly slower pace. Also, doing different things every weekend made us feel like somehow our life was more meaningful.

But I also think I’m in that phase after you move from one country to another in which you romanticize the life you left behind and forget the negative things. I don’t really remember now how uncomfortable I felt reading all the negative press about immigration and the way immigrants were perceived, how hard and how long my friends had to work to earn very modest salaries, the bureaucracy that often made daily life complicated, how disconnected I felt to my department here in Toronto…

But nothing like a few days there over Christmas to make me feel refreshed again. Can’t wait!!!

Author: guerson

Food-obsessed historian and knitter.

13 thoughts on “Longing for Barcelona…”

  1. I tended to romanticize my life in Valencia after leaving it as well. I actually hard a really had time readjusting to life in Toronto and that Fall (2001) was a pretty difficult time for me. The pace of life is just so incredibly different, and your focus is different too. I think it’s entirely normal and I very much enjoyed my return trip to Valencia this summer, which was entirely different from my life there as no one I knew in 2001 still lives in Valencia.

  2. I think I understand you…in Europe and in a city like Barcelona (I imagined even if I never came to Barcelona) everything is more “human”, even people’s problems, here it’s different and there are not many places to meet… Beijocas.

  3. Ana Lucia

    You touched on an important element. In general, I don’t subscribe to the whole notion that Canadians are cold or distant. I have never found that. Maybe it’s because I lived in Quebec where people hug and kiss, I dont know, but I always found people extremely friendly here. Even in Toronto, I’ve never had a problem talking to people. But Spanish life is certainly way more sociable. Spanish people live their lives on the streets and squares of their cities. They are ALWAYS out. They leave early in the morning, the stop and the café to have their coffee and chat with the barman and neighbours, they go back at breaks and lunch, on their way back from work they go to closest park or square to chat with neighbours and friends. If they have children, they spend at least a couple of hours, at the end of their day, every day at the local playground where the children run around free and play with the other children in the neighbourhood. The whole extended family meet in those occasions. Grandparents, parents, children, all sit in the square or walk up and down the boulevards. There is much less of the north american culture of enjoying one’s home, staying in, working around the house on weekends… I dont know when/how they do all the work around the house – maybe that’s why so many live in apartments – because there are endless festivals and activities calling them to the streets.

    I certainly miss that aspect of the life there.


    At least I have work to keep me busy. Alan is having a really hard time re-adjusting. I used to make fun of people who would leave their country for just one year and be endlessly complaining about having trouble resettling into their own country afterwards. But now I understand it better. Being the more sociable and easygoing of the two of us, Alan took to Spanish life like fish to water. He could easily have moved there for good, even though his Spanish wasn’t the best.

  4. Com o inverno chegando e as temperaturas com menos de 2 dígitos a gente começa a pensar nas coisas boas da vida.
    Depois de morar 4 anos na Bolívia voltei ao Brasil e 2 anos depois estava de volta para visitar meus amigos bolivianos. Que decepção!
    Era tudo tão diferente, ainda mais quando se é adolescente, as coisas mudam muito rápido e em 2 anos ninguém mais fazia as coisas que fazíamos antigamente. Alguns estavam trabalhando, outras engravidaram e eu com aquele sentimento de desespero querendo resgatar o passado.
    Durante esses 2 anos eu me sentia deslocada, alguma coisa como “I don’t belong here”. Sim, nem ao Brasil nem à Bolívia. Mas depois dessa viagem eu consegui finalmente me libertar do passado e me sentir brasileira de novo!
    Talvez sua experiência seja diferente da minha e você possa reencontrar todas as coisas boas que deixou por lá. Tomara!

  5. Nada como alguns momentos sozinho em um café para pensar na vida…

    Bom… meia-noite de um feriado e cá estou trabalhando em casa e tomando um belo chocolate quente. Os pensamentos também vão longe.

    Esse é um tipo de assunto que sempre vem à tona por aqui. Gen costuma fazer o mesmo tipo de comentário sobre suas visitas ao Brasil.

    Normalmente sempre nos perguntamos como alguns afortunados conseguem visitar países e culturas diferentes sem assimilar os pequenos e maravilhosos detalhes de cada cenário.

    Espero qe você consiga ver e viver em Barcelota cada um dos pequenos detalhes de antes. :^)

    Tudo de bom.

  6. my Spanish wasn’t the best but who was the one who always had a stranger engaged in conversation ??? I never had trouble communicating on the street and I’m sure another 4 or 5 years there would have had me completely catalan or spanish.
    Muy Bien

  7. Alexandra, I don’t know Spain but what you are talking about reminds me about France. I don’t think Canadians are cold, but depending on the city you don’t have markets outside (also because of the cold winter), in some places people don’t like to have children around… European cities like Paris, Lisbon, Madrid are warm, because even the space is not large, the places smell people, food, everything, and Barcelona is on the Mediterranean. When I came back after some months in Africa and Paris, I missed this. Enjoy your holiday there ! Beijocas.

  8. All of this talk reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend once. He came to visit us in Barcelona and he asked how we liked it there. We said we liked it a lot and found people to be very nice, but then we find people to be friendly everywhere we go. That’s when he told us this story:

    An old man sits by the road near the entrance of a town. A traveler goes by and asks
    “Old man, what can you tell me about city down the road? Are its people friendly and welcoming?”
    To which the old man answered, “How were the people where you come from?”
    “Oh, they were great! Everybody was so friendly and nice, I never had problems making friends!”
    “Then you’ll find much the same in this town”, said the old man, “people are friendly and warm”.

    The traveler continued his trip.

    A little while later, another traveler comes up to the old man and asks the same question:
    “Old man, what can you tell me about city down the road? Are its people friendly and welcoming?”
    To which the old man answered, “How were the people where you come from?”
    “Oh, they were rascals! They were cold, unfriendly, and uncooperative!”
    “Then you’ll find much the same in this town”, said the old man, “you’ll find the people to be cold and unfriendly”.

    I do believe that a big part in how we relate to other people has to do with what we project and how we interpret reactions we get. But that’s a topic for another post, perhaps…

  9. Ana Lucia

    You are right. The density leads to a dynamic of its own. With people living much closer together – and I’ve read somewhere that Barcelona has one of the highest densities in Europe, which surprised me becase it doesn’t feel so bad – people, by necessity, need to be more sociable. They have to learn from an early age to interact with others and share the space. There isn’t the same sense of entitlement regarding space…

  10. He vivido 29 anyos en Espana y 7 en Estados Unidos. Las vidas son muy diferentes en ambos sitios. Durante mucho tiempo hemos echado de menos los cafes por la manyana como describes. Y los seguimos echando de menos.

    Pero lo cierto es que despues de estos siete anyos aqui (5 en Washington DC y 2 en Chicago, por ahora) hemos descubierto que esto tambien tiene su encanto. Es mas silencioso, menos social quizas, tomarse un cafe en un starbucks. Pero ese silencio permite concentrarse mas si uno quiere leer, escribir o simplemente seguir sus pensamientos. Quizas demasiada influencia americana.

    Lo cierto es que los cortados solo se pueden tomar en Espana…

    Un starbucks con cortados en vaso y con un bocadillo de jamon… eso ya seria lo maximo.

  11. Jordi,

    El secreto es pedir un single long espresso with a bit of hot milk; and yes, you can put it in the espresso cup. El mas similar a un cortado por estes lados ;)

  12. Lo he probado… pero por alguna razon no es lo mismo…
    No importa, se puede sobrevivir a eso.

    En cualquier caso, a ambos lados del atlantico se puede vivir bien.

  13. Jordi,

    Estoy de pleno acuerdo! Lo que escribí no fue una crítica a la vida norteamericana – fue solamente un momento de nostalgia, de saudade como decimos en portugues, quizás causado por el invierno que finalmente llega al Great White North

    Y ahora me voy al mercado de Kensington, para tomar un cortado legitimo! El único de Toronto…

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