spain lulled me into siesta the next few days. i had been running around from place to place all over europe, and i was now struck with a travel fatigue. my friend micah in denver had warned me of this. he had told me there would come a point where i would just be tired. tired from exploring, tired of searching for a place to sleep, tired of adapting to a new language with new customs, tired of figuring out what the “must-see” attractions are of a new place. just…tired. i was tired.
martín had told me that he had come back to barcelona to finish off his trip so that he could relax on the beach and do nothing for his last week in europe, and that is exactly what he did. every single day i would ask martín what he was doing and he would respond with a big goofy grin and say “oh man, eets reeeallyy nice outside, man. i’m going to the beach!” and so i went with him, in need of “throwaway days,” as i like to call them, where i had absolutely no expectations for myself.
after a few days in the city, i received an email from an old denver friend named amy. working for a major international airline company, she happened to be in barcelona for the day and had seen one of my instagram photos and realized that i wasn’t far away. i happily agreed to meet up with her at park güell.
i met amy at the exit of the vallcarca exit from the metro, as she came walking elegantly up the stairs from the underground, her hair pulled back tightly along the sides and loosely on top, allowing for a little rise that presented a casual but fashionable look to match her stylish clothes. amy always knew how to turn heads.
we made our way through the neighborhood along steeply rising streets and up the stairs and into a side entrance of park güell. there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the air was warm, but it was early november now and people had begun to anticipate the approaching winter, so the park was nearly empty. neither of us knew what we should be looking for in güell, but since it was a gaudí park, we assumed that the eccentricity would present itself to us. we simply started walking, wandering in the general direction of the highest point of the park. we bumped into an old man with a jack russell terrier playing fetch. he stopped to show off how well disciplined the dog was, commanding trick after trick. i could tell the dog was very intelligent, and the old man had taken a great deal of care and energy in teaching the dog. i could see that the dog was his best friend and he was proud of him. the little jack russell had taken a liking to amy, so that’s probably why the old man had even stopped to speak with us. after about 10 minutes of me somehow conversing with the man in spanish, and him not figuring out that i was not in fact fluent, we went our separate ways, and amy and i continued our wander.
antoni gaudí the most famous park in barcelona designed by the face of catalan architecture: antoni gaudí. situated on the south side of a large hill, the park cascades down the hillside and is marked by random structures inspired by nature which interact with the landscape of the park. there are lots of random nooks and interesting little places to hide and take in the afternoon, but my favorite place is up near the top. there’s a dirt peak with little stairs that you can scramble up the top of, providing a panorama view of the entire city. it’s breathtaking.
as amy and i walked around the park, we caught up on life. it had been 2 years since i had last seen her, when she left denver and moved to dubai to work for emirates airlines. i peppered her with questions about the transient life and whether or not she missed home, and she countered with questions about my travels, and it wasn’t long before she and i were in a spirited debate about the different types of travelers and the interactivity of the cultures of the world. i remembered why it was that i liked amy so much. it wasn’t just because of her obvious beauty or charisma, it’s because amy could hold her own in a debate. well-read and insatiably intelligent, amy’s opinions have always been researched and thought-out, and she confidently presents her views in a logical fashion. and when someone disagrees, she doesn’t get upset or think less of someone. amy was a strong, independent woman, and i really appreciated that about her.
as the sun set, we decided to head down into the city. neither of us had seen gaudí’s other work and masterpiece, the sagrada familia, so we made our way across town to see it. on the way, we happened upon an organized fútbol (soccer) game being played in a small stadium. we walked by a side entrance that was wide open, with no one keeping watch. i stopped amy and coaxed her to follow me inside. we walked right up onto the field and saw that there were a couple hundred people up in the stands cheering loudly for their teams. i quickly darted up into the stands and walked around behind the goal and grabbed a seat as amy followed. there were only about 5 people seated in our section, so if we weren’t supposed to be there, we weren’t doing a good job of hiding it. it was a close game, and must have been between 2 local clubs, because we watched things intensify during the final 10 minutes of a very competitive game. once the game had ended and the obviously crowd-favored team had won, the fans rose and applauded gratefully as the players embraced and shook hands with their adversaries and then entered the stands to thank their fans. we snuck out of the stadium the way we had come in unnoticed and continued on.
it was dark by the time we arrived, but the sagrada familia was well lit, and stunning. the moon was full and backlit the spires with the deepest blue i’d ever seen in the sky. the floodlights illuminated the front, revealing the strangest, most eccentric structure i’ve ever seen in my life. the texturized walls threw shadows in every random direction, adding to the impressive complexities of the façade and leaving me speechless. i could see why this building was gaudí’s labor of love, his sistine chapel. he died before it could be completed, and during his last years of life, he had been obsessively devoted to it. i stood in awe, wondering if i would ever be as devoted to anything in my life. a quote by charles bukowski snuck into my head: “find what you love and let it kill you.” now the sagrada familia lives and evolves on, a never-ending project for the people of barcelona, 133 years in the making.
It had been nice to a familiar face, especially so unexpectedly, but it was time for amy to leave. She had to catch a flight early the next morning. We stopped for some paella and wine and then said our goodbyes.
The next day I decided to forego the beach with martín, and I wanted to do some wandering. I had really wanted to find a Spanish market somewhere and just wander around, sampling whatever I could get my hands on. I remembered I had asked bree and cassie (the girls that martín and I had spent my first day in Barcelona chasing around town, only to find out they were a couple with no interest in guys) if they would be interested in such an activity and they had said yes, but I had also been a little embarrassed about the whole situation, so I hadn’t yet hung out with them again. But what the hell, I thought, I’ve embarrassed myself far worse on this trip already.
the ladies met me and we walked to a local market called “mercado de la boqueria,” just off the liceu metro stop. they hadn’t acted any differently toward me since clarifying that they weren’t interested in me or martín (or men in general), so I was grateful and assumed that I hadn’t made too much of an ass out of myself or they wouldn’t have been hanging out with me again. but as the day wore on, and we cordially wandered the walkways between the stalls in the boqueria, perusing the wares and and snacks and sweets available for purchase by the stall owners, my mind began to wander again. since the boqueria was such a vibrant and lively marketplace, with tourists and locals bustling about, it wasn’t a great venue for getting to know someone better or having fluid conversations. and so i was left to my own mind’s musings, which is a dangerous place indeed.
something still felt a little amiss with cassie and bree. even though i had solved the mystery from the previous day, when martín and i had discovered that they were gay, there was still a slight, palpable tension in the air that t couldn’t ignore. it was the same as the other day, but different, and i wasn’t sure why. i think it was only different because i had solved part of the puzzle, and i was now looking at old evidence with new eyes, but all the same clues were still there. the interaction between the two still seemed to have an awkward imbalance, as though there was a familiarity there, but also a hesitance at the same time. it was almost as if they were both acutely aware and intensely sensitive of every action that the other might make. and yet they still were hiding it well, but i was now tuned in to this hidden drama unfolding before my eyes, and it was impossible for me to let go of it. i knew i needed to wait patiently for an action or a conversation to emerge where i might discover my answers.
so in the meantime i busied myself with my camera. snapping photos, interacting with the locals, taking in the atmosphere of the place. the wonderful fragrances wafting through the air, of wine, cheese, dried meats, candies, flowers, and fruits all made for an intoxicating aromatic cocktail, and i was drunk on it. this, to me, must be spain. people wandering and walking about in the day, in their neighborhood, interacting with other shoppers and shop owners alike, buying and enjoying local delicious fresh food and desserts, laughing and smiling, drinking wine and enjoying the pleasures of life. if i didn’t love spain before, i definitely did now.
after a couple hours of aimless meandering, we made sure we had enough items to concoct our own little picnic, and we left the market. we walked for a few blocks before ultimately finding a small courtyard in some sort of university or community center. people were lounging about, reading books or playing chess, it was all a very relaxing environment and perfect for us to enjoy our market procurements. a loaf of fresh-baked bread, dried pork meats and aged manchego cheese, marzipan treats, almonds, a bottle of spanish wine, and chocolate covered strawberries and bananas on skewers. it was a perfect picnic in the city.
it wasn’t long before a groundskeeper of some sort came by and told us we were not allowed to drink in the courtyard. this was a shock to us, as it seemed that spain (and europe in general) had pretty lax laws as it relates to drinking in public, but we were informed that this was private property, so the rules were different. not a problem, we complied and put the cork back in the bottle. it was no sooner than 30 seconds after he walked away, however, that we uncorked the bottle and divided the rest of the bottle amongst us, covering our cups with napkins and bags to disguise our sins. nothing was going to ruin our picnic.
after about an hour or so, cassie excused herself to go find a bathroom. this was it, my only chance. i asked bree directly, “you guys aren’t together, are you?”
bree looked at me through her glasses with a hint of hurt, but heavy on honesty. “it’s complicated.”
bree and cassie had been in a relationship for two and a half years. things had been great until june, when they had made the decision to relocate to boise, idaho. cassie had gotten a great job managing a restaurant that they were really excited about, but bree had encountered less luck, as opportunity after opportunity continued to fall through. they decided it best if cassie move without bree, and bree would join once she was able to find an adequate job and leave her current one in tacoma, washington. but that never really happened. the job market wasn’t as cooperative as they would have liked and finding the right housing situation was also proving difficult, so cassie and bree were in a long distance relationship for the next 5 months, straining things between them. they booked the trip to europe as a way to get away from it all and spend some much needed time together, but by the time the trip finally came around, things were all but finished between them. 3 weeks before the departure date, they broke up, and every time they talked, they would fight, culminating in a huge blowout 4 days before the trip, and cassie had decided she was definitely not going anymore. ultimately, however, they decided that this was the trip of a lifetime for both of them, and that they would both still go on their trip even if that meant just as friends, though that would prove to be difficult.
the first 3 days were spent in paris. things were already tense and they hadn’t really connected with the city, so they moved on to barcelona, where on the first day there, they had gotten into another big blowout fight and had almost gone their separate ways. they continued to tolerate each other’s existence, however, and things had progressively gotten more “civil” through the week, when they’d unexpectedly met two dashingly handsome and athletic, yet blindly unaware straight guys named brandon and martín (okay, i added the handsome and athletic part. bree never said that), whom had temporarily taken the focus off the tension between the two. bree intimated to me that she still had feelings for cassie, “she’s my girl. this whole thing is killing me,” but things were still very much in doubt, and not very promising.
cassie rejoined us and we changed the subject, leaving her completely unaware, but their story weighed heavily on my mind. everything made so much more sense now. i finally had the whole story, but instead of being satisfied, i was heartbroken. these two were clearly destined to be together, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind now, but here they were, in one of the most romantic and wonderful places on the planet together, and they couldn’t even freely enjoy each other’s company. and here was i, an ignorant bystander, yearning for a happy resolution to happen before my very eyes. but i knew better. in my own past relationships, if there was one thing that love had taught me in my life, it was disappointment and conflict. i’d been hurt so many times that i had become a horrible cynic, and i had begun to justify and accept in my own mind that it might be safer and better if i just remained alone going forward, or at least refuse to give over my whole heart to another. less collateral means less chance of being brutally punished for it. and yet… here i was sitting in front of these two beautiful people (my definition of beautiful had now changed. when i first met them, they were physically beautiful. they were women that i wanted to get to know for my own selfish reasons. but now… i was attracted to their souls. they were just two people lost in the same dark storm, headed in the same direction, but no longer able to see that they could be stronger together than they ever would alone) and i could feel all of the hope and simultaneous futility and helplessness of what they must be feeling. i knew exactly where bree was right now. just 1 year earlier, i had been right where she was. i was on the ropes of a long distance relationship with a girl in chicago that i was painfully in love with, but i knew i was losing her and there was nothing i could do about it. i was slowly dying inside, the color fading from each day into a dull gray, and all i really wanted was a clear sign, one way or the other, telling me if i was meant to be with this person or if i should just walk away. broad romantic gestures and superfluous expressions of undying affection were useless at this point, i could only sit back and wait. and hope.
but bree and cassie were here, in spain, together. there was hope, and i inexplicably latched onto it. i wasn’t sure where it was coming from, but after a few minutes of silent digestion of this sad story (which i covered up by eating strawberries and drinking wine), i got a surge of ambitious energy and immediately took it upon myself to try and find subtle ways to bring enthusiasm and distraction to the group (something which i had honestly already been doing, but now i had a purpose) in order to contribute anything i could to make it possible for these two to rekindle an old romance. if there was an opportunity to give a compliment, i would take it. an opening to encourage someone in some way, i did it. if i sensed any sort of hesitation or tension on a topic, i steered the conversation away in a different direction. i doubt either of them recognized anything about my behavior, but that was the point. i didn’t want there to be a noticeable difference, but i did want there to be an emphasis on fun and positivity. this was a european holiday for them, and there should be as much fun as possible, regardless of the circumstance. and i really wanted them to fall back in love.
martín met back up with us that night and we got up to our usual shenanigans, wandering the city in search of cheap drinks and unexpected thrills. i was comfortable with this group, and i really liked spending time with them. while we walked i had a moment where i thought about all the random components that had to come together to create such a perfect scenario that would enable the 4 of us to come together and become such unlikely friends. i could easily see myself becoming great friends with any or all of these 4 back home. i lived a parallel life in a matter of seconds where all four of us all lived back in denver, or montevideo, or boise, or tacoma, and we were all great friends, getting together for drinks after work, like a tv show or something. it made me smile, in the wonderment of how the stars can randomly align and the world can allow people to suddenly find each other without explanation in the most unlikely of places, and they can immediately be on the same wavelength without any history or backstory, but it might seem as they should have been friends all along. normally i’m not a very open person, so these types of unexpected intersections were not typical in my life. but in that moment i had the realization that i really, really hoped that it would start to be in the future.
bree and i never got a chance to elaborate further on the conversation as the rest of our time wore out, but i had a firm understanding of where things were between them. as the night came to a close, martín and i walked the girls back to their part of town. martín and i were to head to madrid in the morning and the girls were headed to porto, portugal. i wanted so badly to let bree know that i knew what she was feeling and i wanted to encourage her, but i knew that wasn’t really appropriate. we all said our goodbyes, and as cassie and martín hugged, i hugged bree and lightly whispered “don’t give up” into her ear, and winked. she gave me a smile and we all parted ways.
as martín and i walked quickly backed to our hostel in the brisk night air, i had a good feeling about cassie and bree. had a feeling the universe hadn’t led them out to this part of the world for nothing. =======================================
update: since the end of my trip, i’ve actually had the chance to reach back out to bree via facebook and check in on her and cassie. after paris and barcelona, then continuing onto portugal, the two ventured off to rome to cap off their trip. when they returned to the states, cassie returned to boise, idaho where she quit her job after three weeks and moved back to washington and asked bree to get back together again. then on January 19th, cassie asked bree to marry her. the two are currently happily engaged.
for this week’s soundtrack, i have a song that isn’t particularly new, but for some reason i haven’t been able to stop listening to it lately. and it’s actually perfect for this story. brandi carlile’s “heart’s content” is a beautiful song that perfectly encapsulates all the hurt and confusion that often comes with love. enjoy…
and the link to our spotify playlist for those following along…