I had first come to Barcelona three years earlier as a tourist. I’d waited for two hours to get into La Sagrada Familia, done the obligatory walk up and down Las Ramblas, shuffled through Parc Guell with hordes of other sun-baked camera-wielders, and dropped by Camp Nou, home of FC Barcelona, for a stadium tour.
This time, I was here to visit a friend, and even though we skipped all the tourist stuff my return to Barcelona was memorable for other reasons. It was here where I almost broke my neck trying to ride one of those mini plastic skateboards, and where a tattooed old woman dressed all in black leather taught my friends and me how to slackline in the park (“if you know how to walk, you know how to slackline,” she insisted). It was here where I was introduced to the game Settlers of Catan and played it for the first time with a bunch of young Catalans, all of whom were drunk, loud, and unfailingly lovely. It was while playing this game that I learned the meaning of “cabron”, which translates roughly to “asshole”. Given the context, I had assumed it meant “your turn”.
In Barcelona there was a constant buzz of activity everywhere I went – the street artists and market traders, the hip young couples and sweating tourists, the hurried businesspeople checking their watches as they dash from building to building and the taxi drivers who slouch with an arm out the window of their cars while they smoke cigarettes and wait for a fare. There seemed to be no end of enticing little side-streets and out-of-the-way places, too. One afternoon, when I was out walking, I found myself in a small skatepark next to which was a little grassy patch with a few skinny, neatly groomed trees. It was hot and I took shade under one of the trees in time to see a boy of about 5 years old – kitted head to toe in protective gear – learning to skateboard under the tutelage of an older guy. Seeing the little dude summon the bravery to push himself halfway up a tiny kicker, and the warmth and patience with which his teacher guided him, made me genuinely happy, and I sat smiling at the two of them for a while. Then I got up and walked through the park and towards the beach, where I kicked off my shoes to feel the sand move between my toes.
The familiar sound of British accents coming from the showers made my ears prick up. I turned around, and at first wasn’t sure what I was looking at, but a second glance confirmed it: there were two naked men washing themselves (and leaving nothing unattended to)! I turned hastily back around, where I saw another couple walking hand in hand by the water. They were naked, too! I looked for others on the beach. All of them were naked. I was the only clothed person in sight, and man, did I stand out.
‘Should I be naked?’ I thought to myself. But I felt far too self-conscious, so instead I sat down and looked out over the water, feeling the breeze against my face and listening to the sound of the waves. It had been a peaceful day, and I didn’t know it then, but it would be a raucous evening of partying in the city. But for now I just sat, thinking about the little boy on his skateboard and feeling content with everything.