Homage to Barcelona

Fayes T Kantawala succumbed to samosas in Gaudi's famous city

Homage to Barcelona
Leaving Rome was not a great experience for me, all things considered. It was raining heavily as I lugged my suitcase to the Termini, where I took a small breather in a café and ordered some seafood pasta. In retrospect I realise this to be the first of many mistakes that day. When I got to the airport the rain had delayed or cancelled almost every flight, but thankfully eight hours later I was boarding my discount airline (they charge for napkins) and was headed straight to Barcelona.

Everyone who has ever been to the city will tell you they like it. You can’t help but like it. Its weather is perfect, its streets are clean and everybody smiles at you in a way that makes you feel like an extra in The Stepford Wives. Here for ten days and traveling with disparate groups of people, I decided to split the neighbourhoods I would stay in to take full advantage of the city. The first five days I was in a rather nice flat in the hipster area called Gracia. It is young and trendy and the bars are replete with people wearing suspenders under decorative chandeliers made out of deconstructed motorcycles. The great advantage of being back in Spain is that I can have tapas again, a huge comfort for me after the cream-laden feats of Italy (that seafood pasta really did a number on me).

The main reason I chose Barcelona was because I wanted to go to the beach. I haven’t been near the water this summer and it has been tough. On the first morning I made a beeline for Barceloneta, the beach right in the city. I’m told it’s a fake beach built recently, but that makes no difference to me. The sand is white, the water a clean, cool blue and the sun just warm enough to allow me several hours of my rotisserie-style tanning regimen. We spent three days on that beach, my tan and I, becoming deeper friends everyday.
I would hate to live in what looks to me like a Klingon warship

As I slept in the sun by the shore, I heard occasional voices shouting “massage!” or “Sangria Mojitoooo!” and then, to my surprise, a plethora of Punjabi pronouncements. Turns out, most of Gujranwala has moved to Spain and they are all in Barcelona: Pakistanis behind the counters at shops, running restaurants, driving taxis, selling sangria, peddling clothes, you name it and we do it. So prevalent are we in the city that I’ve used Urdu more than any other language here!

spent my first few days taking in the vibe of the city. I saw Gaudi’s famous buildings because apparently you have to. I have never really liked his architecture, although I understand that it is unique and groundbreaking. I thought seeing the buildings themselves would change my mind but it didn’t. I’m glad they exist, but I would hate to live in what looks to me like a Klingon warship.

Before I knew it I had to move out of the cozy little place in Gracia and into a rather modest hotel in an area called Eixample (pronounced “Egs-shample”). Where Gracia was all winding streets and cozy cafes, Eixample has broad promenades and industrially cool restaurant ‘spaces’.  I’ve been traveling for a month now, and after a while it can be a bit demanding on your palette. I found myself craving rice the other day so I went to the Doner kebab place around the corner. It’s called Istanbul Kebab, but it also sells daal and samosas and so I made the safe assumption that it too was run by a Pakistani. Ashraf was the only guy behind the counter, and as he heated up my food we chatted about how he got here. He’s from Gujranwala and paid a guy in Lahore on the Main Boulevard 12 lakhs (1.2 million rupees) for false papers, which he then used to springboard to Greece. From there he walked or bused it until he eventually made it to Barcelona, where he knew absolutely no one except for his father’s friend. He’s been here five years and considers himself lucky to have made it, even though the jobs in Barcelona are tough to come by. He told me one of his friends died or went missing on a boat trying to get to Greece, while two others were caught and deported back to Pakistan. He is fluent in Spanish (and English) and has another three years to go before he gets his passport. “Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to leave home to begin with,” he said, handing me my food with a smile, “but I like the city.”

Aerial view of the Eixample district, Barcelona

Barcelona is intensely likeable. Being here isn’t so much about ticking things off a list of attractions as it is about simply experiencing the city. The pace of life, as in most coastal cities, is languid and leisurely. It encourages you to wander, to walk, to breathe. Its café’s are lively but its streets are quiet, and I’ve seen more unique architecture here (beyond Gaudi) than most Euro cities can boast. As I come to the end of my time in Spain, a part of me wishes I could have also visited the Muslim heritage sites in the South, seen Cordoba and Granada. While I was here a video of a man reciting the azaan in the Alhambra went viral on the internet. It was a rather fanciful rendition, and I was glad for some positive coverage of Muslims in Spain, but I think part of the reason it got shared as widely as it did was because the guy singing it was white and blond. You see glimpses of Moorish culture all through Spain, from the arches to the trees and even the colours, which is part of what makes people like me (and Ashraf) feel more comfortable here. But my time here is limited and you can never do an entire country in so short a period. In that way my visit here has been like the tapas I shall so miss, small but memorable, leaving me with a thirst for more.

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