Last fall, I read a book called Flâneuse. Of french origin, a Flâneuse is a female stroller, urban explorer, an idler. The book is a wonderful series of stories of women who walk in cities, their experiences, and their histories. It gave me words for one of my favorite things to do.
I have found no activity that is as simple and magical as walking in cities. There are so many surprises when I explore an unfamiliar place on foot. Time passes so fast as I experience dozens of small universes in just a couple of hours. The pace and spirit of each street, the shift in atmosphere as you move into a new area, daydreaming about the strangers and their destinations. I’ll often stop in a cafe that catches my eye and delight in the chance encounters and connections that otherwise wouldn’t be made if I were traveling with an objective, which I often am.
It occurred to me the other day, that just being in a new city, far away from my friends and family, offers a chance to experience way more than I usually would.
When I’m at home, stopping into businesses that I know well and visiting areas that I’ve been dozens of times, my senses are dulled. I’ve been here before, I have objectives, places to go, people to see. There isn't room for serendipity.
This week I walked all over Barcelona. To the beach, to nearby neighborhoods, through my area in El Born, in the Gothic quarter. One day, while on a solo adventure, I was walking down Passeig de Sant Joan. A street protected by trees, lined with businesses, a common thoroughfare. As I walked, I spotted a Cupcake shop. I’ve been craving a cupcake. There are lots of churros and an abundance of chocolate here, but not many cakes.
I stopped into the sweet store, La Cava Cakery and found that the owners were an Irish couple who had moved to Barcelona from Dublin several years ago. Without the urgency I usually have to hurry the transaction and get on my way, I had the opportunity to stay a while and indulge my curiosity. I learned about the couple, why they came to Barcelona, what they like about it, what they miss about Ireland. After talking a while, they shared with me an entire personally curated guide on what to do and where to go in Dublin. It was a goldmine! (email me if you're curious and I'll share it with you!) I made a lovely connection with this pair of strangers and it felt so good.
Over the weekend, Jonathan and I spent Saturday in a new neighborhood, Gracia. Our itinerary was pretty loose, but I still had an agenda and had made a reservation for dinner. Luckily, I had made room for wandering. As we made our way through the streets, we started to notice piles of wood on corners of roads and in the plazas. We came across a sign that suggested that there would be meat cooked in the street starting at 20:00.
We didn’t know what we were in for, but we knew it couldn’t be missed. We abandoned our dinner reservations and decided that we were going to experience whatever this was. We went to a movie at a beautiful old theater and when we came out at 8 pm, it was mayhem. The streets were full of people, there was a parade weaving its way through the neighborhood shooting off muskets, playing bagpipes, and carrying huge marionettes. The piles of wood were lit and people were huddled around them for warmth and to cook meat on the heat. Hundreds of people gathered in the main plaza to watch as the parade finished their route in the center to play music, dance, and set off fireworks. It was completely wonderful and totally insane. Had I stuck to the plan, we would have missed all of it.
A few days later, after a workout, we stopped into our favorite neighborhood coffee shop, El Magnifico, to buy new coffee beans for the house. While sipping our espresso, we ended up lingering a while and chatting with the owner, Salvador, about the different regions and types of coffee they were selling. He ended up extending an invitation to join him at a cupping that morning and told us to meet him back at the shop in an hour. I’ve never been to a cupping. I expected it to be a tourist thing that they held at their shop regularly.
When we returned to the shop, Salvador led us into the street, down an alley, into another store and into a basement where there were only a few store owners, employees of Magnifico, a coffee sommelier, and a coffee distributor preparing for a cupping of Colombian coffee. Much like a wine tasting, we heard about the region in Colombia that the beans come from and the people who grow the them. There were seven different coffees presented and then we embarked on the cupping. It was such a fabulous experience!
While I felt totally out of my element, being the only non-coffee professionals in the group, it was fascinating to see the process, hear the discussion (even if it was mostly in Spanish), smell the coffee, and learn how to slurp coffee off a spoon!
Had we not slowed down to connect with Salvador, we would have missed one of my favorite experiences of 2019. Of course, I wouldn’t have known what we were missing, but I’m now richer in experience and spirit than I was before.
As someone who spends a lot of time rushing through life, trying to gobble it all up as fast as I can, I tend to barrel through days, only remembering pieces of events. This month has provided me lots of reminders to slow down and take my time. I don't always do it, but when I do, I always discover something magical.
You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.
Take refuge in your senses, open up
To the small miracles you rushed through.