This was the first photograph I took when I moved to Barcelona two years and three weeks ago. I still remember the excitement and anxiety I felt when I first stood on my tiny wrought iron balcony hanging precariously over the noise and busy-ness of Gran de Gracia. I had visited Europe only once before; DP and I had spent our Christmas holiday in Paris eight months earlier. Paris had been my idea, entirely, and I had researched and prepared for our week in France like a highly motivated high school junior taking her SATs for the first time. Now, here I was on my own in a city that felt more foreign than Paris in spite of many years of practicing (which is to say, not-quite-speaking) Spanish in both Mexico and Colombia.
It was 34 degrees Celsius the day I arrived and much hotter in my tiny, 45 square meter, piso (apartment). August would be “Africa-hot,” warned the teacher who had lived in the apartment before me and he had not exaggerated. The sun poured in through the open balcony doors and fell onto the traditional Spanish tiles in great golden puddles so that even the floor was over-heated. Slowly, I began to unpack my possessions: five bags of clothing, novels, teaching resources, music and movies. Slowly was all I could manage as I struggled with my jet lag (I often, mistakenly, call it “travel gap”) and the heat. It would be several weeks before I realized that I could use the ancient brown shutters to allow air – but not direct sunlight – into the apartment during the hottest part of the day. In Mexico, I had always had an air conditioner.
In the evening, it cooled down enough for me to catch my breath. I pulled a chair partway onto the balcony and took this photograph. As always happens when I move to a new city (or continent), I found myself trying to imagine how my Barcelona life would take shape. What shape it would take. I wondered about my teaching colleagues whom I would meet the next day at Cafe Zurich in Plaza Catalunya. I hoped the students would be as friendly and funny and kind as the kids in Mexico. DP would not arrive in Barcelona for six more weeks so this part – both the wondering and the reality – was all me.
With my arms draped over the railing of the balcony, I watched the procession of one-way traffic head up the street towards Tibidabo. As time passed and I relaxed into the still-warm evening, I began to notice a pattern in the architecture of the apartment buildings around me. For the most part, the buildings had been constructed in the early 1900s and, as far as I could see, into the Eixample on my left and Gracia on my right, the city stretched up only six storeys high. In the twilight of this first day, my Barcelona neighbourhood reminded me of Paris, a city that had already won my deep devotion. I took that to be an excellent sign. And it was.