To walk down the streets of the center of Barcelona in the summer is to walk through many climates. Alternating zones of cold and hot air envelop your body as you pass storefronts whose open doors send gusts of air conditioning up your dress, only to be again smacked in the face with warm, stagnant air a metre later. A cocktail of pungent sewer gases seeps out of metal grates cemented into streets trodden by centuries of wandering feet. The shade of one building feels oddly as blinding as the rays of sun beating down on the plaza beside it as your pupils struggle to dilate and contract at the precise tempo of your rhythmic steps.
The temperaments of those around you are perhaps as uneven as the dappled light streaming through the few leaves of the few trees unfortunate enough to have been planted along the streets, trees that are watered more often by passing dogs than passing gardeners. Pleasant pharmacists will engage in a conversation about the scare natural skin care products available south of the Pyrenees and attendants at Spain’s third-largest super-market chain will call you “guapa” and patiently wait for you to pack economically priced ham and hair mascarilla into your drawstring backpack.
One woman will attentively listen as you search for words you might know in Catalán, and others will shun will you efforts to order “suc de taronja i poma” and tell you El total es tres con veinte while he tells his colleague next to him “Dona’m més d’això.” Other people will stare at you, offering you and the unidentified, but highly identifiable, tourists behind you, the special menú of paellas that have certainly not finished thawing.
You see American adolescents gaggle over brands they could buy at home, but will be somehow cooler for having been purchased abroad, while the Spanish girls passing slurp Starbuck’s frappathings up a straw and trip over uneven cobbles. Young people, who look like they could have just graduated college, sweep leaves into flexible plastic capazos, donning the yellow reflecting work suits of the local city government. An entrepreneurial Venezuelan, with the enthusiasm of someone who’s only recently opened the business of his dreams, asks you if you’d like molten chocolate over your scoop of chocolate ice cream made from the traditional family recipe. Because he asks, you assume that means some people must want their cone unadorned, but you understand little of the reasoning that would go behind that. Your first vegetable was chocolate and it has long since been your favorite.
A few blocks later, a man will stand in your way as you try to bike up (and around!) the pedestrian pathway, willfully ignorant of your attempt to get in the cycling lane. Some wonder if the dress you’re biking in might fly up around the next turn.
On your way home, you hear distant pops, mini-explosions, that in some other context would signal a Fox News ALERT, but since the biggest and most boombastic celebration of the year is tomorrow, the firecrackers hardly alarm you. You pass a shop on a side street to pick up another stack of postcards. One for your mom, one for the professor who took a selfie with you, and the last for the guy you haven’t seen in 9 days, 22 hours and…not that you’re counting…
Before you begin, you wipe your olive oily fingers on the dress that didn’t fly up your leg on the bike. You smear the first inky letter just the same because the one tube of natural sunscreen you did manage to find is more stubbornly greasy than the liquid gold that tops your toast. You begin to write and to tell them what it’s like to be in Barcelona in the summer…