Friday, August 18, 2017

A Thought on Barcelona

Upon graduating college I didn't have a job but, because I've led an extraordinarily fortunate life, I did have two parents generous enough to send me to Europe for a few months.

I had an unpaid internship at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Outside of that, my responsibilities were nil. Once my internship was complete, I just toured around Europe on the cheap.

Sagrada Família in Barcelona. One of just
a few times I strayed from Las Ramblas.
I stayed in hostels, traveled by train and, when possible, hopped on the cheapest airline I could find. One such flight took me to Barcelona. I found a clean place to stay in the heart of downtown just off Las Ramblas, the spot where 14 innocent people were murdered in cold blood yesterday.

Las Ramblas is a picturesque pedestrian mall that stretches almost a mile from the Plaça de Catalunya square in the city center, south to an old Mediterranean port. It's lined with tall, leafy trees, shops, restaurants and teeming with street performers, tourists and locals. Centuries-old architecture abounds.

It's where I had paella for the first time or, more accurately, the first 45 times. It's where I drank cheap Spanish beer and watched the world wander by.

This boulevard and the blocks surrounding it are Barcelona's heart and a cultural epicenter. There are cathedrals, concert halls, a world-class aquarium and more historical sites than a short-term visitor could hope to see, never mind actually sit and absorb their importance.

As for me, I didn't see the aquarium, the old opera house, the history museum or the Picasso Museum of Barcelona. I never really got past Las Ramblas and, for the time I was there, I never wanted to.

From the moment I first stepped foot on it, I was smitten.

The Spanish and Catalan shop owners, the waiters, the bartenders and, really, all the locals, were welcoming and friendly. They bore no similarities to the cold shouldered, disaffected types that tend to inhabit world-class cities.

Along Las Ramblas there were painters, sculptors, hundreds of street performers and hundreds upon hundreds of travelers like me, just happy to be in a place that was so, well, happy.

As my time in Europe was running out, I could have hopped a train for another European city on my bucket list, instead I stayed at my shabby little room off Las Ramblas. My visit was supposed to be for just three nights, a pit stop to somewhere else. Instead I was there a day shy of three weeks.

For the duration of my visit, I was never scared. This was post 9/11 but pre-ISIS. As I spoke with my wife this morning about yesterday's events, she remarked that the goal of these attackers is to incite fear that resonates beyond the cold, instant brutality of taking innocent lives.

These cowards are also trying to mark a piece of land as their own. They're telling the people of Spain and the world that there's one less place you can feel safe.

"I am not afraid." Barcelona rallies on Las Ramblas
 the day after the attacks.
They wanted us to be scared when they hit New York City, San Bernadino and Boston. They wanted us to be scared when they gunned down innocents in Paris on two occasions in 2015 and when they drove a cargo truck through crowds in Nice and when they stormed a hotel in Mumbai and bombed buses in London.

Their methods may vary but, at their heart, these cowards share the same weak, sad, conviction that their beliefs elevate them above the innocent people they target. Their lives are worth more than ours and, because of that, they get to make our world smaller, one beautiful city at a time.

Thankfully, it's not working. Paris is still Paris. London is still London and the lights are still on in New York, Mumbai and Boston. And, less than 24 hours after the attack, the people of Barcelona showed up in the thousands on Las Ramblas to remind the world just who they are, what they stand for and what their beautiful city means to them.

My wife and I don't travel as much as we'd like but we managed to take a short trip to Europe last fall and, of course, we worried before we left. But we went and I'm so very glad that we did. Staying home might make us feel safe but what good is safety when making your world smaller is the tradeoff?

When you get a chance to go somewhere, please go. Don't listen to the fear that the cowards want to instill; listen to the voice they're trying to silence within you.

Go to New York, or Boston, or Europe and, of course, go to Barcelona and when you get there, go to Las Ramblas.

But book a room, I'm betting you won't want to leave.

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