Another week, and another Sunday reflecting on more than one horrifying terrorist attack on our European doorsteps. I wonder whether I’ll look back on these grateful blogs in years to come and feel shocked at how the theme of terrorism threaded itself throughout my musings across the year; not a box ticked and time to move on, but a constant and very real worry that moves in ebbs and flows, from severe to critical and back again. Always there, poised to blacken the brightest day with the unthinkable.
The days of terrorist attacks being confined to some faraway land where ‘it couldn’t possibly happen here’ are long gone. For my lifetime, the threat of terror is closer to home than ever before. We exist in a world where news travels faster, where images are less censored and where grainy mobile phone footage shows us the gritty reality of these dark days. We find ourselves subconsciously participating in twisted competitions of “I was there last week”, “I ate in that restaurant”, “It could have been me.” Why do we think like this? Does it bear any relevance? Perhaps we are trying to remind ourselves how lucky we are. We all know by now that terrorism is not selective in its victims. As I write this, a BBC News Alert confirms one of the Barcelona victims as a seven year old British boy.
I can completely understand the people who are undoubtedly changing holiday plans, making new arrangements or cancelling flights right now. But it is so important that we don’t become so fearful of our towns and cities that we lose our relationships with them. Today I am grateful for the beautiful city that is Barcelona, and for the wonderful memories that it has given me.
I first visited the city for a long weekend with my Mum about ten years ago. I must admit that Mum and I weren’t the most intrepid of travellers: after what seemed like hours trundling around the baking hot streets searching for our hotel, we both passed out in its air conditioned loveliness (way beyond siesta time) only making it outside for a quick pizza, whilst vowing not to tell Dad that we had gone all the way to Spain and eaten Italian food.
We made up for it during the rest of our trip: paella and tapas on Las Ramblas (overpriced for us tourists but worth it for the atmosphere alone), delicious baked Monkfish in an off-the-beaten-track restaurant recommended by our guide book (it was 2007 after all), freshly squeezed juices and exotic fruit salads from La Boqueria. We drank beers in a beachside cafe, shopped in H&M when a strong Pound was more than just a pipe dream, found the beach’s one lone palm tree to shade Mum’s fair skin whilst I sunbathed. We walked up and down Las Ramblas: found out that you can’t photograph the human statues unless you pay them, looked on in horror at the cages of birds for sale on the roadside, squealed at the displays of raw meat in the market. I have such happy memories of that trip with Mum: our photographs bleached with bright sunlight, our stories back home filled with vibrancy and colour.
When I returned to Barcelona in 2015, the world was a very different place. I had lost my darling Mum just a few months earlier and my dear friend Becky took me away for the weekend as a birthday surprise. I’ll always be so touched by the kindness and generosity of that gift; the chance to get out of London and focus my mind elsewhere. For a moment I felt a touch of anxiety: would the city bring back memories that would fill me with sadness? Of course not; why should it? I surround myself with reminders of Mum every day, and Barcelona only held good ones for me. A time when we were happy and carefree, the best of friends enjoying our lives.
And of course my trip with Becky gave me new memories too. More paella, more tapas (when in Spain…), more getting lost; accidentally ordering a huge breakfast complete with churros and hot chocolate (and managing to eat it all anyway), eating dinner unfashionably early (i.e. pre-10pm) and ordering way too much food; wearing every single item of our clothing, having been grossly ambitious about the weather forecast in November.
But without a doubt, my highlight was our visit to La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s famous and perhaps controversial masterpiece (George Orwell called it “one of the most hideous buildings in the world”). I’m not a person who usually goes remotely mad for architecture – we very nearly turned around when we saw the hour-long queue – but I’m so glad we didn’t. The church is absolutely breathtaking and I was completely taken aback by the beauty of the stained glass and the feeling of quiet serenity as soon as we stepped inside. Although the church is Roman Catholic, I was also struck by the literature that explained how the space is not solely for one religious denomination; that it is a place of peace and spirituality that can be enjoyed by all, transcending religion and belief. (I doubt that this was Gaudi’s original sentiment, but how all-the-more wonderful that as times have changed, so too has the building’s ideology). It is honestly so beautiful and I’m only sad I didn’t take Mum there on our first trip too.
In this devastating week for Spain, I am remembering all the things I love about Barcelona. It’s so key that we don’t take out our feelings towards these heinous terrorists on a wonderful city; that we turn our backs on the darkness and look for the light. If you haven’t already been, go! Eat the croquettes, drink the Cava, find that restaurant and order way too much. Walk along the beach, get lost in the streets, and take photos of the statues (after you’ve tipped them, of course). Thank you for the memories, Barcelona.