7-7–There’s no doubt about it–weather can greatly influence your travel experiences. Unforunately the ola de calor (heatwave) is not letting up anytime soon. As soon as I woke up at 10 this morning I was hot–and not looking forward to doing anything in the heat. Even going to the beach sounded almost unbearable. In the end we all opted to take the train into Barcelona where Miguel hoped to meet a few California friends who were also traveling. We struck out with the first friend–we never found her–and had five hours to kill before meeting the second friend, his high school Spanish teacher. What do you do with five hours to kill in Spain? First off, we had a long lunch in an air-conditioned restaurant. It was overpriced, since it was right off Las Ramblas, the main thoroughfare in the old quarter of Barcelona. Also, the drinks weren’t included in the menu of the day and Peter had a few words with the waiter about that. The paella was mediocre; not our best Spanish dining experiennce. After lunch we walked up and down Las Ramblas, observing other tourists and the schlocky keychains, name plates and caricatures for sale. I felt like I was at Fisherman’s Wharf. Pretty soon it was time for a drink and I ordered a glass of cava, which gave me a little boost of energy. Then we were off to another neighborhood to meet Miguel’s Spanish teacher. We walked through the Exiample section of town, and it was just as beautiful as ever, with elegant 19th century apartment buildings and wide boulevards. Poor Peter was just about dying from heat stroke at this point though, so we rested a bit in a park. Seeing Beatriz, the Spanish teacher, was a lot of fun for Miguel. She grew up in Venezuela but is spending the summer in Barcelona learning Catalan. I could tell she really liked Miguel and was happy to see him. He told me earlier this year that she would always call on him to read things in class because she liked his Spanish accent–acquired during the year in Madrid. Que guay!
The end of our day made up for the overheated beginning. We arrived back at Esther’s house in Premia around 7:30 and she had already prepared a big spread of dinner for later on–plates of jamon, sliced salami, sausage, cheese, bread, etc. Always a bundle of energy, Esther suggested we take a swim before dinner. We headed out to the beach, only two blocks away and took a quick dip in the Mediterranean. It was still hot and sunny at 8 pm! Refreshed, we came home and showered, then enjoyed a late-night dinner with Esther, her husband Frank and three of their children on their charming back patio.
The Catalans are quite proud of their heritage and have strong opinions on many topics. Yesterday, while talking with Esther about Miguel’s college plans, I mentioned that Miguel might like to go to a Spanish-speaking country for a semester during university, maybe Spain or somewhere in South America. Esther responded with surprise. “Europe would be much better, don’t you think? The culture is much more similar for you. When we think of South America we just think of drugs and violence.” I told Esther that we’ve known many people who’ve had good experiences in South America, but she didn’t seem convinced. Probably it depends in large part on where you go. Today Beatriz, the Spanish teacher, said she no longer travels home to Venezuela because she is afraid of kidnappings. Her daughter is blond and fair-skinned, she said, and kidnappers might spot her and think she comes from a family with money. But Venezuela is one of the more problematic places, I think. Other countries, like Argentina and Peru, and more peaceful. It’s too bad that a few (well, maybe many) drug dealers have changed the image of a whole continent.
On the subject of Catalan nationalism, Esther and Frank had a lot to say. Like many of their neighbors, they have a Catalan flag flying on their house. They support Catalan independence and plan to vote in support of it in a regional election this September. They are quite adamant that the Catalans, the most economically well-off people of Spain, unfairly “support” the rest of Spain. They explained that their tax dollars go to help poorer regions, like Extremadura, while the central government in Spain rarely invests in the infrastructure of Catalunya. Case in point is the fact that the first fast train in Spain was built to connect Madrid with Sevilla in the south, instead of the much more traveled route from Madrid to Barcelona. Peter tried to play devil’s advocate a bit and argued that some states of the U.S., like Texas and California, sometimes play with the idea of becoming an independent nation, but this is really a joke. Sure, Texas and California are big economies, but would they really support their own armies, currency, etc.? The beauty of the United States is that it is a union of very different cultures and places. Spain is the same, said Peter. Esther and Frank didn’t buy this argument. They said Catalunya was once an independent nation and it has a long history of its own apart from the rest of Spain, not to mention a different language. And the central government does not treat it fairly. In the end, Frank conceeded, the vote this September won’t be successful. Now there are many people from other parts of Spain living in Catalunya and they won’t support independence.
Just as we wrapped up our talk about Catalunya, we heard fireworks overhead. It was midnight and the start of a five-day town celebration in honor of a long-ago battle with pirates. It seems every town in Spain has some kind of local celebration and we just happened to be here to see the beginning of this one. We wandered out on the streets to the local plaza, where we saw people dressed as giants (much like we had seen before in Tolosa) and a band of drummers. Tomorrow there will be a giant water battle in the streets, with children shooting water guns and others pouring buckets out of second-story windows.