I'm reading John Hooper's, The New Spaniards. In it, he suggests that "Spain is a difficult country to come to grips with from almost any angle."
It was such a relief to hear an expert on Spain articulate the experience I'm having.
Finding my footing in Barcelona hasn't been easy. Each day I try to create associations in my mind in an attempt to understand the city that I'm in, the people that are here, and the culture, but I can't seem to establish any connections.
In El Born, where we're staying, there is a maze of beautiful and complex streets. I've walked these streets every day for the past two weeks and I still don't know where I am half the time. Landmarks I write to my memory disappear overnight. Depending on the day and the time, any street might look completely different. Stores and restaurants keep a variety of hours and if they are closed, a gate is drawn over the storefront.
There are dozens of cultures represented in a single city block. We've met more people from Argentina than we have people from Catalonia. While the diversity is exhilarating, it's made it difficult to get to the core of the Catalan culture. The complexity makes my head spin.
We made our way out of the city on Saturday to visit Cava country via train and I was surprised at the relief I experienced on a winery tour. The familiarity was comforting. The wine-making process is the same all over the world, it's something I know and it gave me a foothold to ask questions outside of "What is happening right now?" "Where am I?" Which are the primary questions I've found myself asking over the last two weeks.
The first winery we visited was Recaredo. It's a beautiful space with tunnels and tunnels of cellars. We ended up on a private tour with a knowledgeable and gracious guide. She shared the values and process of the winery—its dedication to biodiversity in their vineyards and the genuine representation of their grapes.
I learned about double fermentation, a cork's impact on oxidation, and most importantly, how delicious Cava is. Cava is the champagne of Spain. It tastes similar to Champagne but is half the price. The Cavas at Recaredo were nice and dry, without any additives, with fine bubbles that paired perfectly with the Catalan meats we ate as a snack.
Once back in the city, we continued our Cava cruise with a visit to a restaurant just two blocks from our place, El Xampanyet. Since arriving in El Born, we've peered into Xampanyet a dozen times, admiring the people inside and the lively atmosphere.
When I was in 7th grade, I was a lead in a play with a title that I don't remember. I sang a solo, the title of the song was "On the Outside Looking In" on the topic of exactly what you'd expect—feeling left out. Every time we passed the restaurant and observed the bustle—the people packed tightly into the small space, yelling and laughing—I sang that solo to myself in my head.
We had plans to go on Friday, but got there too late and it was closed. On Saturday, after returning from Cava country we went straight there. It was closed again. Three hours later, we made it happen. We got to be on the inside and it was everything we had hoped. It was packed. I spent two hours, standing at a bar, butt-to-butt with a stranger, drinking glasses of Cava that just kept coming and eating tapas with my fingers, while I watched the waiters and bartenders deftly make everyone in the space feel comfortable and cared for, even though the place was overflowing and you barely had room to lift your glass to your mouth.
It was a wonderful spectacle—people from all over the world, full of joy at just being fed and surrounded by other humans.
I finally felt like I got a bit of my footing in Barcelona. We can't wait to go back.