Please press play to listen a recording made while we explored Barcelona’s Parc Guell of a Spanish guitarist playing some lovely songs from memory. Let it set the tone of the piece as you continue to read.
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It was as if I was experiencing a memory without ever having lived it; a memory that had never truly been made, but had always been there, constructed of past vacation experiences, London tube billboard travel ads, and photos scattered across the internet and in the pages of guidebooks. The humidity in the air brought to remembrance of a time when I visited Florida during my sophomore year of high school, on vacation with my parents. We went deep-sea fishing and gallivanted around Disneyworld. I was peak emo at that point. Every morning I would get up, shower, dry-off, and then dry-off again before attempting to blow-dry and straighten my hair before the state’s dampness took it back to its natural state. The air in Barcelona, although so similar to that, still had a unique quality about it. It was as if there was a tension in the local atmosphere between desiring to be temperate or tropical. After the taxi dropped my wife and me at the base of the steep incline that was Passage Martas 2, we sweated our way to the front door of the Barcelona Norn house where we would call home for the next five nights. And it truly was like a home; a home we've always wanted but never have been able to have. It was the sort of place in which extravagantly humble gatherings could be held where conversations might transpire in hopes of ending world hunger and solving existential questions. This was the type of place where people from over 15 different nationalities could meet with one another, having never met before, and explore friendships with long-lasting implications. Our first evening in this historic city, spent dialoguing with people from near and far as a part of a conversations and cocktails event to mark the launch of this global network of homes, solidified our footing in the city as perhaps, even if just in our own minds and in our own little pocket of the city, more than tourists tolerated by the locals. We felt invited into the theatrical production of the locale’s ongoing story by means of a handful of the actors comprising its colorful cast. This temporary house became our home.
In London, I typically find myself awake in the youthful beginnings of the day, ready to experience every ounce of possible daylight that hasn't been overwhelmed by the imminent cloud-cover, to then finally close my eyes earlier than most my age, only to awake and do it all over again. My grandfather used to repeat the phrase, "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise." He typically shared this little thought with me after inviting me to his morning coffee at McDonald's that he attended every morning at 6am with his buddies before they all went back off to their retired lives. I always felt guilty after putting up a struggle to avoid getting myself up to go with him, but somehow its shaped me as an adult. I'm not sure my grandfather had ever spent time in Barcelona, though. Within the first 24 hours in this metropolis, we were swept up by its mid-day siesta lifestyle and late night tapas with wine and laughter; we cared not for time but for experiences. We slept in every morning, only to be awoken by the old men playing bocce ball in the yard next door and the wild parrots darting in and out of the surrounding trees.
In an attempt to escape the dreary melancholy that often rests upon the Big Smoke throughout the winter months, we escaped to this historical capital of the Catalonians in hopes of sunny days, only to be greeted with optimistic rain showers. Although we had a couple of days where the sun blazed brilliantly — in which my nose transmuted into the color of blended mixed berries — most of our days were spent opening and closing our umbrellas, attempting to keep our DK Eyewitness travel guide dry, along with our clothes and camera as we huddled together with other tourists under Antoni Gaudí's architectural accomplishments. The rain was pelting at times and kindly at others. There was one day in particular where after the rain ended and we crawled out of our siesta-shelter of a bed, I briefly caught the aroma of the rain that desperately clung to the pavement in pools of collected droplets, evaporating into the air. It transported me back to summer days in my hometown of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where the afternoon thundershowers would briefly release their frustrations out upon the earth below, then out of sheer exhaustion, scatter away into the vast blueness of the firmament with a sense of relief and resolve. It wasn't so much the smell of the dissipating rain alone that's become lodged in my mind, but the awakening of the tender blooms in botanical gardens and the unfolding blades of beaten-down grass.
The trip felt too short, though. Five nights in a foreign city could feel like an eternity if experienced incorrectly. Or they could feel as swift as a blink of an eye if enjoyed well, which was the case for us. Gabby, Barcelona’s Norn house manager, told us when we arrived that we should be careful to not be taken by this enchanted place, or else we may find ourselves succumbing to its siren's song. She explained to us how she once visited Barcelona and then just never left. She wasn’t the only one who warned of this danger. One of my colleagues also cautioned me to be careful that I don’t fall too in love with the city, but when I eventually do, that I should start a business there and then hire her so she could move back. Neither of them spread misinformation. Dictionaries would do well to place a photo of Barcelona next to the definition of Alluring, or replace it entirely with just that image. If you aren’t paying attention, it could become tempting to lose track of time, responsibilities, and real life altogether, and slip into the dream that is Barcelona.
What is it about this place that conjures up such intense and powerful emotions for those who visit? Is this way of life a legitimate alternative to the go, go, go mentality that plagues most of the world? Can a life spent in a place like this, where priorities are shifted to elevate personal relationships and quality of life, actually be something that’s attainable? It’s certainly of no question that the culinary dishes, rooted in Catalonian tradition and infused with a dash of modernity, are enticing. The aroma of wine mixes with the air and intoxicates those who are in its proximity. Admittedly, it must be more than the fruit of the Earth. Perhaps it’s the markets, filled with €1 juices, slabs of cured meats, and stalls of fresh bread? What is it exactly? It can feel as if all of Barcelona’s residents are all in on a secret of how to attain this beatific lifestyle and what makes the city so enchanting. It can be easy to think that they just know something you don’t, increasing the desire to understand and remain there all that more intense. Until one day, like Gaby, you find yourself rooted in this place, grafted into the DNA of its culture, carefully warning newcomers that this type of life that may seem like a distant memory of a dream you once had of paradise, could actually be real.
— — — — —To find out more about Norn and their global network at homes, follow them on Instagram or check out their website.