Barcelona: Three Weeks In

Jackson Berkley
January 25, 2013

Check out the video above for highlights from our study journey to Tarragona, a coastal region in Cataluña south of Barcelona — for a comprehensive write-up of our experiences, check out Marisa’s post:

Es lo que hay,” my host mother, QK, said as she swept her arm across the dusky living room, tracing a path from her small wooden desk to the creased leather couch and back around to the lone candle perpetually burning down on the bookshelf.  I did not feel compelled to respond with the compulsory bout of “sí sí sí, yo comprendo,” my go-to deflection of the past three weeks — QK’s contented smile immediately struck a chord with me, and I realized then that I’m not just living in Barcelona, but that I’m living with QK, sharing her treasured home, eating her food and using her water, becoming inevitably ingrained in the sleepy landscape of Carrer de Sardenya.

That’s not to say that living in Barcelona makes me any less American.  I am constantly reminded of my otherness each time I take the L4 down to the IES Center, passing the Irish pub where I’ve gone twice already to watch the NFL Playoffs — each time I get a strange look from a waiter after asking for separate checks, or start a conversation with “Hola” and receive “Hello” in response, or forget to turn off the lights in the hallway before sitting down for la cena.

However, what living in Barcelona has taught me so far is that becoming “more Spanish” requires more than just speaking the language: it entails a decidedly un-American lifestyle, a healthy lifestyle we should think twice before dismissing.  For one, “to-go” is not a common phrase in the Catalan vocabulary.  So many times while strolling across the UVA campus, I’ve found myself stuffing a sandwich down my throat or attempting to slurp down a cup of coffee without burning my tongue or spilling it all down my shirt — doing that here attracts a lot of furrowed stares, and eating while a professor lectures is ill-advised.  Setting out a few times a day to sit (or stand) and enjoy a meal has some amazing benefits: it’s a far more social enterprise, and a chance to try out some Spanish phrases; it curbs my appetite and keeps Barcelona one of the cleanest cities I’ve ever been to, a feat aided by the enormous recycling bins present on every other street corner.

Although it is currently enduring a social and economic crisis, Barcelona is doing some things very right, and has for centuries — in QK’s words, the Mediterranean diet is “el mejor,” and I agree.  Property, prosperity, and security — “the American dream” — has always loomed as an ideal, but I realize now that those concepts aren’t as grand as they once seemed, and not exclusively “American”: they’re simple comforts that take a lifetime to realize, having food on the table and “Atrapa un Millón” on the TV, comforts that QK shares nightly before retiring to the sofa with her cat Nina and her pack of cigarettes and her face cracked in a grin.

It’s easy to forget that this happens every day…


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Jackson Berkley

<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Hi! I&rsquo;m a third year English major and film enthusiast at the University of Virginia. I grew up in Great Falls, VA &ndash; a suburb a few miles outside Washington, D.C. &ndash; but have always wanted the chance to explore a city like Barcelona independently. In recent years I&rsquo;ve travelled through many cities in Western Europe &ndash; including Berlin and Prague &ndash; and I spent three weeks this past summer visiting my sister in Kuanton, Malaysia, where she was teaching English at a state school. The blog she kept up during her time in Kuanton inspired me to blog for IES. I hope you enjoy my musings!</span></p>

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