I am in Barcelona, Spain.

This is my first time on the Iberian peninsula; odd, for someone who has so diligently applied herself to learning the ins and outs of the Spanish and Portuguese languages. I am here for a week, on a whim of sorts -- my original destination was Rome -- and am still somewhat amazed to be here at all.

For many years I saw Spain through South American eyes, as a distant place, separated from América by so much time and nostalgia, impossible to recover or re-live. South Americans have a homesickness for the Peninsula in a way that North Americans rarely feel for Great Britain -- perhaps because the Northern colonies have never failed as spectacularly as the Southern ones, and those of us in the United States who are decended from immigrants generally recognize that our lot is better than it might have been, had our people stayed where they were. Not so in South America, as the increasing numbers of Latin American immigrants here in Spain attest. It is a sad state of affairs when the New World cannot provide for its own and the empire's children come home to roost.

Barcelona was never quite Spanish -- or Castilian, I should say -- so being here means that I am still lurking at the margins of hispaneidad, of what it means to be Spanish. If all that is required to be Latino in the United States, as some say, is to speak Spanish -- the lowest common denominator among Chileans, Cubans, Mexicans and Spaniards -- then I certainly qualify. If one adds a requirement of "shared cultural heritage" to that label, then I would also belong, by virtue of having studied the poetry and art and music of these lands. Thirdly, I could belong by cultural affinity, the sense that something in Hispanic culture resonates well with whom I am as an individual: the manners, the warmth, the openness, the traditions of Spanish America fit well under my skin. Yet, like this city, I too am at the margins of lo hispano (that which is Hispanic), a position which is simultaneously delightful, and isolated.

Barcelona delights the traveler, with the winding streets of the medieval Barri Gótic; Antoni Gaudí's playgrounds and sanctuaries; the old haunts of Picasso and the Spanish avant-gaurde; the numerous cafés and bars sprinkled throughout; the shops of the Rambla; the democracy of the Mediterranean beaches.

Yet Barcelona also isolates the visitor who does not speak catalán and who does not understand the politics of Spanish regional integration; Barcelona is not always friendly to the traveller with a South American accent (as I have), demanding proof of identity for even the smallest transactions; and Barcelona, as all port cities, is more of an island than not, determinedly facing the infinite sea.

I'll come back to Spain again some day, to resolutely face the center of the empire in Madrid, or examine the Moorish influences in Andalucía, or ride the road to Compostela on my bike. This trip, I tell myself, is a sort of scout's mission, as I skirt around the edges of Spain and hispaneidad remind myself of the feel of Spanish in my mouth. Barcelona gives me enough of a taste of Spain to remind me that I want it, and that it is mine already, an adopted heritage that I needn't fear shaking loose.

*This photo comes from shapeshifter's photostream on flickr.com.

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