DISCLAIMER: In the latest instalment of Dan Makes a Friend Called Spain, Daniel writes in a far more sentimental fashion than that to which he is accustomed. Snide remarks come at a premium and he may even make the odd comment that is commonly regarded as ‘cute’. For this, he can only apologise but he did really have a very nice day on Sunday 9th March 2014. That which follows in this blog entry is a detailed account of a walk that Daniel took around the city of Barcelona. And some other stuff. On a side note, he would like to inform you that his legs now somewhat ache. Soon, you might just understand why…
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I had a truly excellent day yesterday. A very tiring day at that, but my fatigue did not at all detract any enjoyment from what turned out to be a fine Sunday in Spain. As I opened the blinds of my bedroom window in the morning, I noticed that the weather was great; the sun was shining, the passers-by were out in force, donning T-shirts and sunglasses, and there was but a cloud in the sky. Having spent all of Saturday sat at home watching football – a perfectly good experience in itself, as Chelsea thrashed an amazingly hapless Spurs side at Stamford Bridge – I knew that today would be my day. Today I would leave my flat (and return at a later hour, I don’t mean to imply that I would be gone forever). Quickly, I decided upon going for a walk. Now, generally speaking, I do not ‘go for walks’. If and when I walk, I do so with purpose, with a destination in mind. I have never been one to simply step outside and see where the wind blows me. But on this Sunday morning, that is exactly what I did. Oh, how Spain has changed me.
So off I went to see the wind would take me… albeit initially with a place in mind: el Parc del Guinardó. I had previously heard that some excellent views of the city were up for grabs at the park in question, so, with the weather as good as it was, I took off on my solo mission to find myself some breathtaking views. And breathtaking views I found. I ambled through the characteristic streets of my Spanish home and, after a lengthy stroll, reached the park. Only then did I appreciate that, in order for me to enjoy the views for which I had gone there, a little bit of hiking would be required. It was certainly a warm day for a hike but I thought myself up to the task. Off came the jacket and on came the steely determination to reach the ‘top’ of Barcelona. I can now confirm that the reports are true, that the views from the top of Guinardó are simply astounding. The park stands as a lone mountain of sorts in the middle of the city, meaning that an extensive view of Barcelona can be enjoyed from practically all angles, regardless of where you are stood. And I must say, it is just lovely up there.
At the ‘summit’, joined by my fellow hikers and tourists, I hopped over a low fence to sit atop a raised platform that overlooked the city in an easterly direction, facing the sea and some of the city’s most iconic locations. A platform, I might add, that had no railing at its edge to prevent people from falling off and hurtling towards their imminent death, or at the very least, a severe injury. Meelie, my aunt and an impressive enforcer of Health and Safety regulations, would have surely reeled at such a sight. Yet my seated neighbours around me seemed largely untroubled by this hazard and I was fairly at ease myself. So there I sat, gazing upon such renowned sites as La Sagrada Familia, Barceloneta and some of the city’s finest and most famous hotels, listening to music which was perfect for the setting: the ominously titled Songs to Break Up to is a fine piece of work from Ta-ku, an Australian producer, and is certainly an album to evoke an emotional response. I will revisit this music shortly, but for the time being, I would like to focus on a pleasant discovery I made whilst sat overlooking these majestic views.
My discovery was that I had found myself a muse, and that muse was the city I live in: Barcelona itself. The proof lies in the fact that here I sit, typing away, when typically, it takes me a good few weeks to come up with any content worth harping on about. As I surveyed the city sites in all their glory, the thoughts came flowing in, ranging from the prospective to the nostalgic and I felt the sudden urge to document them all. Barcelona had inspired me to write! It was a nice feeling, to say the least. Now, if I were an author, I would undoubtedly have jumped for joy (and probably fallen from the perilous platform to my doom) at the thought that I had overcome my crippling writer’s block. But as it stands, I am but a lowly blogger. Regardless, it was an alleviating sensation. Barcelona has become my muse, and it is a beautiful one at that.
So these thoughts of mine then, inspired by the city I live in. Well, partly inspired by the city. Beyond doubt, the trajectory of my thought process was dictated, too, in no small part by the music which I sat listening to. Songs to Break Up to is an interesting title for an album, indeed, and a thought-provoking one. Each song is titled to describe a different stage of the break-up process and captures the essence of that title most fittingly. Ironically, I would suggest that it is definitely not an album to be chosen as listening material in the event that your relationship is brought to an end. It will leave you in pieces; a gloomy shadow of your former self. Now, here is where the music I was listening to and the sights I was seeing combined to inspire me. Naturally, they made me think of the ‘relationships’ of my short life and, thus, of the ‘break-ups’ which I have experienced. I have placed both words between inverted commas because, as you shall soon see, they hardly count as valid experiences of each, respectively. Thus, what needs to be noted at this point is that I am absolutely not an authority on the whole business of break-ups. Maybe Songs to Break Up to, in fact, should be a go-to album when you regrettably come to end a relationship with somebody. Maybe you need to allow yourself the time to be utterly miserable if you are to truly heal, and maybe that means listening to a 10-track album that will surely compound your misery, leaving you in a self-pitying and equally self-loathing mess. Then again, I could be completely wrong. I just don’t know. Such were the thoughts that ran through my mind as I sat atop Barcelona.
The experiences which for some reason were most on my mind were those initial interactions with girls, in which I would typically employ phrases such as, ‘will you go out with me?’ and, ‘yeah, I’m going out with [insert name here]’. For me, the relationships and the break-ups came thick and fast during my early days at school, spent amongst my peers of my class, 7 and 8SL. A 12-13 year-old lothario, the modern-day answer to Casanova, I made quick work of courting the attention of numerous girls of my class in my early secondary school career. I smiled in Guinardó on this most beautiful of Sundays as this thought came to me and I looked back fondly on this period, during which I spent much time thinking myself something of a player. What is so funny and so very ironic about it all was that, upon achieving my initial task of grabbing the attention of the girl that I did so ‘fancy’ the most, who inevitably topped the prestigious list of my ‘Top 5’ – an ever-changing list devised, perhaps uniquely at my school, denoting each of our five most desirable boys/girls of the time, certainly not to be sniffed at under any circumstances in those days – communications would subsequently and immediately be cut to a minimum between us. This happened each and every time that I found myself in a ‘relationship’ with such lady classmates as Lauren, Lizzie, Freya and Shadi, among others. These are names from such great times in which I was ‘going out’ – again ironically, doing the exact opposite, and not going out at all – with girls, which had my confidence brimming, as I was clearly something of a catch (what happened…?). Quite the player, Dan, quite the player indeed. Defining moments that stuck out in my mind on this fine afternoon in Barcelona were as follows:
- When I made the claim to some of my classmates that I liked Lauren more than peanut butter – the highest of honours.
- When I bought Lauren the DVD of Mean Girls and she hugged me for the very first time.
- In the same exchange as that mentioned above, in which Lauren gave me some Skittles and a brimming pack of multi-coloured and personalised pencils, all of which donning my name, Daniel.
- When Shadi and I spoke over the phone about a wet flannel she had found in her bathroom.
- When Freya and I lay on the carpet in her living room and shared an awkward moment of almost kissing and then wisely deciding against it (we would have been ‘going out’ for many weeks by this point in time).
These are the 5 moments which propped up my very early history with the opposite sex, when I, along with many of my other male peers, was just coming out of my shell and striking up the confidence to engage in different conversations with girls. These were the moments that I looked back on as I cast my gaze across Barcelona, wondering how on earth I had got to where I am now, having come from such an uneasy and uncertain navigation of my early teenage years. Of course, I was dumped on various occasions by my early ‘girlfriends’, who realised well before I did that our relationships were farcical by nature, that we were still so young and needed not to be tied down by such serious commitments as these, but instead just to move on with our lives. Lauren thought nothing of the sweet gesture of mine to buy her a DVD that I knew she would so enjoy (such was the rave for Mean Girls at the time) and cruelly disposed of me. We were destined to be ‘just friends’. Regrettably, on one occasion I was the one to do the dumping, an experience which cut me to the core. In a swift and brutally executed conversation, I suggested to Shadi that, perhaps, we were also better off just as friends. In grown-up world, when the ‘just friends’ suggestion is made, it very rarely comes to fruition yet, luckily for me, Shadi and I remain great amigos to this day and she has become a far more successful young woman than I could ever dream to be (although I don’t dream much of becoming a successful young woman).
What a strange way of living in those early days of school, I thought to myself in Guinardó. A way of living not only considered the norm at the time, but one which was enthusiastically encouraged amongst each and every one of us. It was as if, collectively, we had indoctrinated each other to think that there was no more to life than having an impressive set of names with which to comprise your ‘Top 5’. How funny it all was at this formative and important stage of our lives. Needless to say, it all soon passed; we grew up, matured and have all since come so far. As I descended down the side of the miniature mountain in the park, I thought to myself, ‘I wouldn’t change a thing’. At that moment, a flock of birds, which turned out to be a group of pigeons, caught my eye as they flew past me and into the sun, overlooking the city. It would have made for a great picture that would have captured the notion of ‘Freedom’ perfectly, had it not been for their refusal to a) stay in the air long enough or, b) take flight again after landing in their preferred spots, cooing away. I tried some gentle encouragement for them to give it another go but basically just ended up mildly harassing some poor pigeons, as I intruded in their congregation:
I spent much of the rest of my walk (towards the beach) pondering what had been a delightful experience at the top of a hill in Cataluña. The walk to come was a long one and afforded me much thinking time, which after a while came to focus less on my early experiences with the fairer sex (or lack thereof) and more on my dropping energy levels and increasing hunger. I strolled past my old neighbourhood, which again provoked much nostalgic thinking, past my old place of work, and eventually past La Sagrada Familia, which, as ever looked magnificent in the afternoon sun – but for a few cranes and scaffolding erected for the scheduled rennovations taking place. Walking on and on, I realised that I have so many great memories of this place and I was certainly justified in choosing it as my home for my Year Abroad. I continued past La Monumental, past the Hotel Arts – where I enjoyed such an amazing dinner on my 21st birthday with my family – and finally made it down to the beach, where I promptly took off my shoes, let out a sigh of relief and walked barefoot through the sand and the sea as I thought how dreamy the day had been.
I ended up in an old haunt, a pub on the corner of La Plaça Reial, watching rugby (which I enjoyed?!) as England beat Wales in the Six Nations, eating a well-deserved burger and getting tipsy off some potent pints of beer. I decided as I staggered up La Rambla that it would be perhaps be wise for me to catch the metro home after a full day of walking, in which I clocked up about 20km. A wise decision it proved to be, as I finally got home, slumped myself down on the sofa and promptly dozed off.
It was an excellent day.