Loving Again: First Few Thoughts, Barcelona, Spain


Hola de españa!

I haven’t yet caught up on all my Thailand and Myanmar posts, but I wanted to share a few thoughts about my first few days in Spain before back-tracking. It’s funny how time works – there are moments that seem to last a million years, and then you look back on days, weeks, months even, and they seem to be gone in a blink of an eye. Do you feel this way too?

A dear friend in Breckenridge who is now in her 50’s told me, “Just you wait, when you reach my age, the years will speed by. You’ll turn your back and all of a sudden, you’ve reached 50.”

I want to ask her though, “Do you remember moments from the years? Do you remember times when you were so impossibly happy or so incredibly sad? Did your mind keep specific memories? Or, like the years, did they pass quickly too?”

This is the dilemma I find myself in now. Time is passing, and the days feel long enough (though some hours feel like eternities), but with each day that goes by, I find myself worried that I will forget some past memory that I loved dearly. I thought that it would be enough to simply appreciate those moments of happiness as they were happening. And maybe it is enough. But I also find myself heartbroken for the possibility of forgetting how it felt to be so happy, to be so content.

I know that there may be more moments like that in my life, and these happy moments will layer over others, until perhaps the old memories will be like a favourite book that I read long ago. I’ll take that the book off the shelf, dust it off, and turn to the best sentences, maybe even read some of them aloud to the people I’m with, and then when the time comes, I’ll put that story gently back in the bookcase and maybe I’ll even forget about it.

But I don’t want to forget.

Maybe I don’t get a choice.

If only I could understand the intricacies of my own mind and how my neurons will age (well or not so well)…

One of the movies that I watched last year and loved immediately was The Arrival. It reminded me of the book Einstein’s Dreams where the author Alan Lightman ponders the concept of time. “Suppose time was a circle,” he writes, “bending back on itself. The world repeats itself, precisely, endlessly.” In The Arrival, the concept of time becomes circular. There is no beginning or ending to life events. The main character knows her future and sees her past. She feels nostalgia for the years even as she’s living them. She can simultaneously grieve for an ending while understanding and appreciating the poignancy of the current moment. Is this a blessing or a curse? I don’t know. Sometimes I wish I could see my future, just to reassure myself, even if the outcome isn’t good, even if I don’t end up with the person I’d hoped I would, even if it’s cut short, even if it holds pain.

Would it be better, as Alan Lightman wonders, to live in a world where time does not exist? Where the world is comprised of images?

“It is a world of impulse. It is a world of sincerity. It is a world in which every word spoken speaks just to that moment, every glance given has only one meaning, each touch has no past or no future, each kiss is a kiss of immediacy.” ~ Alan Lightman, Einstein’s Dreams

But life is lived out chronologically. Happiness might only be defined by beginnings and endings. Who knows?

My first few days in Barcelona have held a lot of new experiences – meeting new people, getting used to a new place, figuring out my surroundings. But there’s some familiar nostalgia too, from the last time I was in Spain. Barcelona retains the warm vibrancy and laid-back European flair that I remember falling in love with almost immediately. The old cobble-stone streets and wide tree-lined avenues, sidewalk cafes, evening tapas, warm Spanish golden light, the brick-stone and wheat-coloured buildings with blackened gray iron grates, the diverse architecture – it is all as my mind held it.


But there are new things too, and I arrived right at the beginning of a new period for the Catalan region. On Sunday, a referendum was held for Catalan independence, with more than 2.2 million people reported to have voted. Just under 90% of those votes were for independence, but the Spanish court banned the vote and nearly 900 people were injured as police used to violent means to stop it from going ahead. The Spanish government has also warned it could suspend Catalan autonomy.

It is a highly complicated matter that has been contentious for many years, and even within the region of Catalonia, it remains a divisive matter. However, what has struck the core of the Catalonian people is the amount of violence demonstrated by Spanish police and the response from the Spanish government. In this, I believe, they are united. I too could not believe the level of violence shown by the police and the lack of empathy from Spanish authority. In the quiet quarter of Sant Andreu, where I live, the voting was mainly peaceful, with long lines forming outside of schools and central poll stations.

This is the first time I’ve ever been this close to a major political event of this capacity in Europe. (There was the targeted terrorist shooting in Copenhagen, but that was of a different nature). Working at a Catalan school means that I’m directly impacted by the happenings (the majority of schools and public services in Barcelona are on strike today), but I still maintain an outsider status and perspective. I cannot begin to understand the complexities of the matter, but violence is violence, and neither peace nor understanding can be kept by force. The complicated relationship between Spain and Catalan remains to be seen, but certainly, it will be an interesting time to be in Barcelona.

My first day at the school held a mix of emotions, some a reflection of the political happenings the day before (there was an atmosphere of worry and sadness within the school, and a prayer held in the middle of the day for those affected by the violence on Sunday), and some a result of being in a new place and chapter in my life. Most of the children really had no idea about the referendum and were still kids – full of energy and chaos and life, talking a mile a minute, running to give hugs, cry and complain.

They are very affectionate and within minutes of knowing me would run to give me big bear hugs and climb all over me, saying, “Hola Isabelle! Hola! When are you coming to my class?” It is simultaneously easy to forget about the problems of the world and remember them all at once when a small 1st-grader is holding your hand and giving you a good-bye hug.

The school where I’ll be helping this year is called FEDAC Sant Andreu, and it’s a semi-private catholic-founded school, built next to an old factory. Because it’s a small school, there’s no playground, but the teachers and staff are hugely resourceful, and they make use of every single space in the building. No soccer court? We’ll build one in the courtyard. Space to run around? How about the building’s rooftop terraces? No gym for rainy days? The room next to the front desk will have to do. It’s a really joyful space, and the children all seem happy and well-taken-care-off and known by their teachers and the community. It seems that I’ll mainly be helping in the English classes for each grade (the school goes from Infant, 3-5, to Secondary (or ESO), 12-16), but for the Infants, I’ll do some Arts & Crafts and Storytelling time with them.

My mentor at the school is so wonderful, and she has introduced me to everyone and set me up with a schedule for the week. I’m mostly shadowing teachers this week and assisting some, but it’s largely a time for me to observe and figure out ways that I can help in the classroom. As with any new environment, I’m trying to determine my role in the school and my place among the teachers (they are all mainly Catalan and speak very rapidly in Catalan to one another all the time. I have a hard time following along).

I’m living with a host mother and her son (she trades off time with her ex-husband, so her son is with us only half of the time). Originally from Germany, but with Spanish parents, my host mother embodies both cultures and speaks a multitude of languages: Catalan, German, Spanish, English, Italian, French, and a little bit of Portuguese. Her son speaks German, Catalan, Spanish, and English, so it’s all very intimidating, but I’m picking up a few words here and there.


On Thursday, I’ll enroll in some Catalan classes, and I’m hoping to find an orchestra or ensemble to play in soon. My host mother sings in a choir that meets in the centre of Barcelona, and I’d love to play with them for a few concerts, but we’ll see if the director needs instrumentalists. For now, she doesn’t mind me practicing in my room, and I try to practice at least a couple of hours each day. I don’t know how feasible it will be to take auditions for anything while I’m here since I’ll be at the school five days a week, 9-5, but for now, I’m just enjoying playing again and not questioning it too much.

I’d forgotten just how much I miss playing and even practice. There’s something infinitely calming and affirming about the structure of it all – scales as meditation, Bach and Brahms. It’s therapeutic, in its own way, and ironically, it’s helped me process a lot of my stress about the unknown and the future. I’ve thought about this a lot – how I find it impossible to quit playing, and maybe I don’t (or shouldn’t) have to, even if the playing is just for me.

“Don’t get swept up in the romanticism of it,” a friend said to me, just before I left for Spain.

“Oh, I know,” I responded. He was referring to pursuing music as a career, but I was thinking about more than that – relationships, travel, chapters in life.

It’s a flaw of mine – romanticism. I’ve already lost some aspects of it as I move through parts of my life and learn more about the world, but I hesitate in shedding this particular part of my romanticism as it pertains to music. It’s at times like this that I’m reminded of Dr. Suzuki’s quote, “Music will save the world.” It may not “save” the world, and it certainly cannot solve the world’s problems, but it can save some heartbreak, and sometimes, I think it saves me.

That’s all for now – thank you for reading this NOVEL.

I’ll be sending more thoughts soon.





2 thoughts on “Loving Again: First Few Thoughts, Barcelona, Spain

  1. I’ll have to read Einstein’s Dreams — I saw The Arrival and liked it although not too many other people I know seemed to like it.

    Good luck in Catalonia – you should contact the US News Media – you could do on-the-scene reporting! And become the only Foreign Correspondent who is also a superb violinist. I’m pretty sure Edward R. Murrow couldn’t play the violin.



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